Hydrogen Innovation Around the Globe

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on June 28, 2016
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Hydrogen innovation has accelerated in the past decade. Just last week, for example, a second pan-European hydrogen refueling infrastructure for passenger and commercial fuel cell electric vehicles was deployed. This six-year Hydrogen Mobility Europe 2 (H2ME 2) project brings together 37 partners from across Europe for the deployment and operation of 1,230 fuel cell vehicles and the addition of 20 extra hydrogen refueling stations to the existing hydrogen European network. This initiative marks just the latest milestone in the progress we’ve seen for hydrogen energy in the past several years.

One of the key drivers behind the surge in hydrogen progress is that governments, research institutions, and industry around the world clearly see the potential of hydrogen as an abundant and clean energy source and are working together to unlock its enormous market value. This progress is underscored in the latest report from the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE) which states, “A decade of sustained global research, development and demonstration is now producing the necessary technological breakthroughs for hydrogen and fuel cells to compete in the market.”

Numerous countries have committed significant resources to hydrogen to power factories, cars, and public transportation. Here, I highlight examples in Europe, Asia and North America that are producing tangible results to enable a hydrogen economy, which can also serve as models for other countries and regions.


Hydrogen powering mobility in Europe: “It’s ready.”

We start our hydrogen globe trek in Europe. The pan-European hydrogen refueling infrastructure for passenger and commercial fuel cell electric vehicles that was deployed last week builds on the success of an earlier initiative known as Hydrogen Mobility Europe  (H2ME). Launched last year, H2ME is “a flagship project giving fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) drivers access to the first, truly pan-European network of hydrogen refueling stations.” H2ME aimed to tackle both sides of powering vehicles with hydrogen: fuel infrastructure availability and a sizeable fleet to make their investment pay off in the long run. The project brought together Europe’s four most ambitious initiatives on hydrogen mobility in Germany, France, Scandinavia, and the UK to initially place more than 1,000 hydrogen fuel cars on the road, supported by a network of strategically placed hydrogen refueling stations. It also included a program to spread awareness and education of the benefits and safety of hydrogen. For this first wave as well as the second one just launched, major energy companies across the continent are working with car manufacturers and governments to make hydrogen broadly available for all kinds of private and public transport.

In a region such as the EU, whose modus-operandi is through partnerships and collaboration, initiatives like the H2ME 1 and 2 not only make economic sense, they help tackle the key issues to make hydrogen an economically viable and clean fuel alternative for industry and transportation. There is also the consumer awareness challenge. In a recent interview with EU research and innovation magazine, Horizon, Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, stressed the need for consumer education, “People don’t know that hydrogen-fueled vehicles and home heating systems are already on the market, and that is the biggest obstacle to their uptake.”

Within Europe, Germany, in particular, continues to make significant strides in hydrogen technology. Germany got serious about hydrogen energy in 2002 with the creation of The Clean Energy Partnership (CEP) as a joint initiative of government and industry managed by the German Ministry of Transport and Industry. CEP aims to enable motorists to reach any destination in Germany without refueling. The association has attracted support from 20 industry partners to pave the way for the market launch of hydrogen vehicles including: Air Liquide, Bohlen & Doyen, BMW, Daimler, EnBW, Ford, GM/Opel, H2 Mobility, Hamburg Hochbahn, Honda, Hyundai, Linde, OMV, Shell, Siemens, SSB Stuttgarter Strassenbahnen, Total, Toyota, VW, and Westfalen. One of CEP’s most recent initiatives, known as H2 MOBILITY Deutschland, launched last year with the objective to put 400 hydrogen refueling stations in place by 2023—that is a huge increase from the 18 in place today. Last July, Germany also witnessed the opening of the first wind-to-hydrogen plant by Munich-based Linde, which uses wind power to convert water into hydrogen gas. Their goal is to complete the circle for an “almost” carbon-free fuel—from the extraction of the gas to refueling facilities and the vehicles themselves. Just last week, the German state of Schleswig-Holstein announced plans to electrify its railway network using hydrogen fuel cells. According to Hydrogen Fuel News, “The state expects to have a hydrail system in place by 2025, making the railway system more environmentally friendly and, potentially, efficient.”

In the United States, California and Hawaii double down on hydrogen

Further west, in the United States, key hydrogen developments are taking place across several states including California, Connecticut, New York, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. I’ll highlight two here, California and Hawaii.

A few years ago, California created the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) with the goal to stay “engaged on a day-to-day basis to move fuel cell electric vehicles closer to market and to collaborate on the ideas and actions that will create a sustainable future for zero-emission transportation.” This is an important partnership between the state government, major automakers, public transportation agencies, and energy companies to create a critical mass of vehicles, buses, hydrogen fuel stations, and citizen education to enable the transition to sustainable fuel for transportation. California already has about 300 cars and a few dozen buses powered by hydrogen on its roads, supported by a relatively small network of 20 hydrogen refueling stations. According to the state’s DriveClean initiative, by 2020, automakers expect to place tens of thousands of fuel cell electric vehicles in the hands of California consumers, supported by a growing network of hydrogen stations. In their 2015 Annual Evaluation of FCEV Deployment and Hydrogen Fuel Station Network Development report, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) shows that FCEV deployment in California is anticipated to accelerate more rapidly than previously projected, pointing to the need to increase the pace at which hydrogen infrastructure is built out.

A second major initiative underway in the U.S. can be found across the Pacific. Hawaii has a ‘closed’ electricity and land transport system that is unique in the world which, unfortunately, imposes one of the highest electricity prices in the U.S. This has spurred Hawaii to find new local sources of energy. In 2008, the state launched the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), a partnership between the state of Hawaii, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Navy. The goal is to transform Hawaii’s energy economy from fossil fuels to indigenous renewable energy. The goal of the HCEI is to meet 70% of Hawaii’s energy needs by 2030 through energy efficiency (30%) and renewable energy (40%). Last year, Hawaii’s governor signed an energy bill that further commits the state to 100 percent of electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2045. The Hawaii Renewable Hydrogen Program supports attainment of the HCEI goals in electricity generation and delivery, transportation, and fuels. Hawaii’s small size provides excellent grounds to transition to hydrogen, so much so, that some have stated it could be “the world’s first renewable energy/hydrogen economy.” It is significant that an “experiment” in a relatively closed system like Hawaii’s can be a “test market” for hydrogen energy from which to expand to much larger economies.

Japan has bold plans to implement “abundant, clean, and flexible” hydrogen energy

The last initiative I’d like to highlight is in Asia. In March, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry set a target of 40,000 hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles on its roads by 2020 with 160 fueling stations to support them—up from the 80 hydrogen stations operating right now. They also set an 8,000-dollar price target for household hydrogen fuel cells (using polymer electrolyte technology) by 2019. Private industry is a major player in the initiative. Toyota launched the hydrogen-powered Mirai in Japan two years ago, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Iwatani partnered with Kobe city to build an $84 million liquefied hydrogen import hub. At the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. in April, Kazuo Furukawa, chairman of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) of Japan said, “Hydrogen is attracting attention as an energy source that can solve problems such as global warming and depletion of energy resources.” He referred to their hydrogen initiatives as “abundant, clean, and flexible” energy options for his country. It is worth noting the last term Mr. Furukawa mentioned: flexible. Hydrogen fuel could, indeed, provide the flexibility to tackle important issues—from climate change to economic viability—that policy makers need when it comes to energy.

The steady and incremental hydrogen progress we’ve seen in the past decade cannot come at a better time. The world has finally aligned to tackle climate change and committed to the ambitious carbon-emission reductions of the Paris Climate Change Agreement signed by 177 countries, including all major economies. To get there, countries need to take concerted steps to speed up viable hydrocarbon alternatives that can become widespread. Because of its abundance and zero-emission potential, hydrogen is fast becoming a serious alternative to fossil fuels across the globe, as we’ve seen in the examples above. In particular, hydrogen has garnered significant traction over the past decade based on advances in technology and the creation of working partnerships between government, research institutions, and industry.

Work still needs to be done to produce hydrogen fuel on a cost-competitive basis and to leverage the existing fuel infrastructure to accelerate adoption (and avoid the need for expensive subsidies). Our focus at Joi Scientific is to advance these two fronts by making clean and cost-competitive Hydrogen 2.0 available everywhere to help move the world even closer to sustainable energy solutions without compromises.


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