Hydrogen: A day to celebrate
Rob Cockerill By Rob Cockerill, Global Managing Editor8 October 2018
When I began writing about hydrogen just over 11 years ago, I couldn’t have envisaged a National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day and may well not have believed that we would have the kind of infrastructure for hydrogen fuelling that we do today.
I can’t remember what I thought exactly, but as a younger and less schooled professional in the world of industrial gases and clean fuels, I don’t think I truly believed the hype back then. Looking back, I do think there was a lot of exactly that – hype. But clearly, there was a lot more ingenuity and forethought. Because look at what we have achieved in that decade gone by.
Admittedly, the hydrogen fuelling infrastructure today is far from at an advanced or perhaps even ideal level. I have been among those to point this out before, highlighting the need for ever greater stations, vehicles and commitment to both. I have actively compared the conventional fuelling infrastructure today to that veritable lack of a credible hydrogen fuelling infrastructure not just today, but potentially tomorrow as well (if funding commitments are anything to go by).
But on this, the fourth National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day in the US, let’s take a moment to celebrate what we do have. Because a lot has been achieved already and this day aptly coincides with the release of a somewhat damning report this morning into climate change, whereby the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures and state that the world is completely off-track in its goal to keep temperature rises under 1.5ºC.
The world is instead heading for 3ºC it says, highlighting that global emissions of CO2 need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and the aim has to be for global net zero emissions by 2050. Renewables are estimated to provide up to 85% of global electricity by this date (2050).
“…hydrogen will be a central pillar in the energy transition. And it has to be. A fuel that can begin as water and end as water emitted from the tailpipe has to be part of this energy mix. How could it not be?
Though it does not feature prominently in coverage of the report, with electric vehicles seemingly advocated due to more established perceptions, hydrogen will be a central pillar in the energy transition. And it has to be. A fuel that can begin as water and end as water emitted from the tailpipe has to be part of this energy mix. How could it not be?
Though it is clearly still widely regarded as an as-yet-unproven technology, those within the hydrogen business know that this is simply not true. Progress has been rapid in the last decade in particular and that all-important infrastructure required to break the chicken and egg argument is steadily growing.
I wrote several months ago, about the ongoing mega-merger between Praxair and Linde, that ‘this was always a marathon and not a sprint’. Those words resonate with me today. I think we could make a far better case for that statement to describe the hydrogen economy. It really was always going to be a marathon and to continue that analogy, you might say we are collectively still at the training stage. We’re comfortable running at say, the 10k stage. Maybe less? But we’re actively training for it, putting the miles in, building our capability, and working towards that end goal.
Having a more prescient timeline to that end goal is perhaps what’s required here, but that requires even more funding from governments, even more collective commitment, and maybe even mandated actions.
It was never going to be easy. Breaking the fossil fuel domination, the ease and convenience, the accepted norm is a paradigm change. That immense economy of scale – and it is some huge scale – has been built up over a century and cannot simply be matched overnight. But the progress in the last decade has been such that there is cause for celebration today and particularly in the US where, despite the reinvestment in coal production for example, there are significant pockets of a tangible hydrogen economy emerging (think California) for the future.