“Momentum has been building as a confluence of factors drives increased interest and investment.”
– GreenBiz, on Hydrogen, March 27, 2019
A confluence of factors, as GreenBiz refers to the lowering of costs and advancement of technologies in their recent article, is bringing about the much anticipated Hydrogen Economy. We see growing evidence everywhere: from the 2020 Olympic games in Japan being dubbed the Hydrogen Olympics because they will be powered by the number one element; to hydrogen-powered cars populating the roads of California, Germany, South Korea, Japan, and soon China; to zero-emissions hydrogen replacing natural gas in boilers. As the wave continues to gain momentum, hydrogen is poised to play a significant role as society transitions to a low-carbon new normal.
This week we explore some of the accelerators of the hydrogen revolution, all of which share three common themes: falling production costs, technological progress, and clean energy demand. We seem to be reaching a tipping point after which hydrogen energy will be adopted at an exponential pace because it makes economic and environmental sense for governments, companies, and consumers all over the world.
Hydrogen: Fueling society’s transition toward a low-carbon economy.
Economics, Environment, Technology: The Three Pillars of the Hydrogen Revolution
The GreenBiz article gets straight to the heart of the economic/environment/technology triad driving today’s hydrogen revolution:
“Policymakers are supporting hydrogen as a tool to decarbonize the global economy — a huge challenge, especially in some sectors where hydrogen could perform well, such as heavy transportation. Technology improvements are driving interest: Fuel cells and electrolyzers continue to fall in price, even as renewable feedstock electricity from wind, solar photovoltaic and other sources hits new low costs. As these and other drivers coalesce, corporations have been contributing to the momentum with investments across the hydrogen value chain to stake out positions in this developing market.”
Decarbonizing the global economy has become a policy imperative everywhere as the effects of global warming become apparent and begin to cause economic losses. Countries, cities, and corporations the world over are placing clean energy at the top of their agendas. This wave of environmental responsibility is driving the adoption of hydrogen energy in sectors where it currently can be adopted without economic tradeoffs.
One of the initiatives that clearly demonstrates the strong drive to decarbonize our economy with the aid of hydrogen is The Hydrogen Council, announced two years ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with the aim of accelerating the adoption of clean hydrogen energy. The steering committee includes the CEOs of 3M, Airbus, Air Liquide, Air Products, Alstom, Anglo American, Audi, BMW GROUP, China Energy, Cummins, Daimler, EDF, ENGIE, Equinor (formerly Statoil), Faurecia, General Motors, Great Wall Motor, Honda, Hyundai Motor, Iwatani, Johnson Matthey, JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation, Kawasaki, KOGAS, Plastic Omnium, Royal Dutch Shell, Sinopec, The Bosch Group, The Linde Group, ThyssenKrupp, Total, Toyota and Weichai.
A Roadmap for the Hydrogen Economy in Asia
Governments, in their role as coordinators of the economy, have a big role to play in the emerging hydrogen revolution. Adoption of technologies developed by the private sector, especially in transportation and energy infrastructure, needs to be championed by governments at all levels. One example of how this is coming about is South Korea. A few weeks ago, FuelCellsWorks reported that the country’s Ministry of Science announced a multi-ministry collaboration to coordinate “on a technological roadmap for the hydrogen economy implementation,” which included ministries of Economy and Finance, Trade, Industry and Energy, Environment, Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and Oceans and Fisheries.
The article notes that the ministries will “divide hydrogen energy technology into the five fields of production, storage and transport; power generation and industrial utilization; transportation; safety and environmental application; and infrastructure in preparing the roadmap,” adding, “short-term, mid-term and long-term R&D strategies and plans will be prepared, and obstacles to R&D activities will be analyzed for early field application of related technologies.”
Australia is also going all-in on hydrogen. The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, “is developing a national hydrogen strategy with the support of the Council of Australian Governments.” In March, the government released a discussion paper to gather industry, citizen, and government views on hydrogen policies that “include safety, environmental and community considerations and Australia’s strengths and weaknesses.” The goal is to use Australia’s abundance of sunshine to produce clean hydrogen energy and export it to the rest of Asia.
With Japan hosting the “Hydrogen Olympics” and supporting moves from South Korea, Australia and China, all indications are that hydrogen will be a hot issue in Asia in 2020 and beyond.
The Future is “Difficult to Imagine” Without Hydrogen
In January McKinsey published a list of nine technological innovations that would drive the sustainability agenda in 2019. They used two criteria to select innovations based on their ability to dominate global discussions and to have the greatest impact. Included on the list in ninth position is “hydrogen in the energy transition.” McKinsey asserts, “It’s difficult to imagine how we meet ambitious global warming benchmarks without including hydrogen as a critical part of the solution.”
Specifically, McKinsey’s research led them to project that hydrogen “could help the world meet its goal of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent,” adding that, “hydrogen-led pathways to cleaning up the environment forecast hydrogen powering more than 400 million cars, 15 to 20 million buses, and more than 20 percent of passenger ships and locomotives by 2050.”
This is Only the Beginning
Have we finally unleashed the energy potential of the universe’s most energetic element? We’re close but not quite there yet. For all the steady progress we have seen over the past decade, hydrogen still powers just a tiny fraction of what it could. Technology needs to continue to advance so that hydrogen production becomes a truly low-cost, zero-emissions fuel to power all kinds of applications across all corners of the world. The work we are doing to make Hydrogen 2.0 clean and affordable energy for all is just one example of the potential of the coming hydrogen revolution. Great things are happening with hydrogen, but I believe the best is yet to come.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.