Moving Towards a Hydrogen Economy

Mon, 09 March 2020 4:12

Where energy demand is growing at a rapid pace, there are strong grounds among environmental organizations, industry leaders, and policy-makers for believing that hydrogen is the fuel of the future that will transform and revolutionize the way we generate and use energy. Over the long haul, our dependence on finite fossil fuel is obviously unfeasible in terms of economy and environment. The rising prices of oil have created quite a turmoil lately, pointing out the energy-security risks of depending on oil & gas, and have resulted in the growing belief that the world is starting to fall short on inexpensive fuel, accelerating the need to move towards more secure and greener energy technologies.

Hydrogen is broadly held to be the most favorable of different such technologies that could be deployed on a large scale over the coming years. Replacing finite fossil fuels with much cleaner technologies such as hydrogen could lead to major environmental benefits.

Hydrogen Economy: An Introduction

'Hydrogen Economy' basically alludes to the vision of using hydrogen as a clean, low-carbon energy resource to meet the growing energy demands across the world, replacing fossil fuels, petroleum derivatives. As per the Hydrogen Council, the global hydrogen market could be worth up to US$2.5 trillion by 2050, meeting 18 percent of growing energy demands across the world, creating 30 million jobs around the globe and eliminating CO2 emissions by 6 gigatonnes per year.

There are a number of reasons why it is considered as one of the most efficient alternative energy resources. Along with the global demand for more environmentally efficient fuel sources, advancements in hydrogen technologies, considerable support from governments of different countries (e.g., Japan, Germany, and Korea) for climate-friendly fuel diversification, and modifications in global energy policy, global energy scenario, and in emission standards all support the need to move towards a hydrogen economy. It is also essentially considered that hydrogen has the potential to decarbonize a number of industries across the world.

Being a versatile and climate-friendly resource, hydrogen is one of the rising stars of renewable energy and produces only heat and pure water when combusted. Previously, even though hydrogen was used as a feedstock in many industrial processes (including crude oil refining and synthesis of ammonia), recent developments demonstrate that the element can also be used or a number of applications such as transportation, energy storage, and generation of power.

Recent Developments

Given its various uses and decarbonizing perspective, countries and organizations around the world are increasing their investments in hydrogen. Throughout the last decade, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has provided funds for hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells, ranging from roughly US$100 million to US$280 million every year, while DoE’s investments for hydrogen was likely to be US$150 million since 2017. For the Japanese government, producing cheaper hydrogen fuel is the topmost priority, with Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) having estimated the market for hydrogen to be roughly US$ 8.65 billion by 2030. In addition, METI is estimated to spend roughly US$975 million in hydrogen projects by the end of 2020. On the other hand, China has declared that the hydrogen investments for the transport industry will be more than US$17 billion through to 2023.

Japan is one of the leading nations to aim for the world’s first ‘Hydrogen Society’ and is one of the top leaders to end its dependence on foreign oil and gas imports. Japan’s goal of becoming the Hydrogen Society involves plans to construct 900 hydrogen-powered stations in the nation by 2030. Moreover, the country’s energy ministry has set objectives in the lead up to this year’s Olympic Games, aiming to deploy a fleet of more than 100 Toyota hydrogen fuel cell buses as the preferable mode of transportation for the games (which is a part of a major effort of deploying 200,000 such public vehicles in the next 6 years). Japanese-based Chiyoda Corporation is also planning to establish the first-ever international hydrogen supply route by importing at least 210 tons of hydrogen (which is enough to fill 40,000 fuel-cell vehicles) from Brunei, in a demonstration project this year.

In September 2019, IHI Corporation declared that it had started constructing a 1,000 sq. m. hydrogen facility in Fukushima, focusing on building hydrogen carriers that can later be used in the supply chain and logistics. Toyota has set a goal to curb global average carbon dioxide emissions from its vehicles by around 90 percent by 2050.

In Germany, hydrogen is presently seen as an important vector to fill the energy gap left from the imminent closure of atomic power plants and the elimination of coal-fueled power. In 2019, the German government expressed that it set a goal for the nation to become "the number one in the world" and reported that 20 new research labs would get an aggregate of €100 million every year to test new hydrogen technologies for industry-wide applications. Additionally, NPG pipeline owners in the country have approached the German government for rules and regulations that would permit them to carry more hydrogen in their pipelines. In September 2018, the world's first passenger train fueled by hydrogen fuel cells, which can run for as much as 1,000 kilometers on a tank of hydrogen and store abundant energy produced by the li-ion batteries, also started operating in Germany.

The Future of Hydrogen

Without a doubt, hydrogen has the potential to be a major part of the global energy mix as nations and organizations endeavor to meet their climate change and decarbonization targets. The several applications and advantages of using hydrogen to produce power make it especially attractive and are core reasons governments and enterprises across the world are making huge investments into hydrogen. Hydrogen is a viable and scalable solution to the global greenhouse emission challenges, governments’ energy security goals, and the deployment of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, which makes it highly versatile to be a part of the global future energy mix.

While hydrogen faces a number of difficulties (especially with regards to the expenses related to its production, storage, and transportation), recent developments have demonstrated that progress is being made on these, giving the infrastructure for hydrogen to become the energy resource that is most widely used around the world. The time to act is now.