IEA: Hydrogen’s got ‘unprecedented momentum’… but it’s not as clean as many people think
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The number of countries with policies directly supporting investment in hydrogen tech is increasing — but there are some big hurdles to overcome if it is to play a key role in the future energy mix, according to a new report.
There are around now 50 government targets, mandates and policy incentives in place supporting hydrogen, with the majority focused on transport, according to the IEA’s new Future of Hydrogen: Seizing Today’s Opportunities report, released over the weekend at a meeting of G20 energy and environment ministers in Japan.
A slew of recent developments add weight to the IEA’s assertion that hydrogen-fuelled transport is “enjoying unprecedented momentum around the world”.
Delivery giant DHL is adding 100 hydrogen fuel cell vans to its German fleet from 2020, while Korean conglomerate Hyundai wants to unveil a hydrogen fuel cell-powered train to replace diesel by the end of 2020.
In the US, Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM) will partner with impact investment fund Switch Maritime to fast-track development of hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferries.
And fellow US start-up Alaka’i Technologies has unveiled a hydrogen fuel cell powered air mobility vehicle called Skai:
All these announcements have been made over the past few weeks.
So it looks like more money could be trickling into hydrogen, but the tech — plagued by a number of false starts over the past ~50 years — still has to overcome some big hurdles.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks right now is the cost of producing hydrogen from low carbon sources.
The IEA says hydrogen is used on an industrial scale; but this stuff is almost entirely supplied from natural gas and coal.
“Its production, mainly for the chemicals and refining industries, is responsible for 830 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year,” Birol says.
“That’s the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of the UK and Indonesia combined.”
But scaling up global hydrogen production could slash costs of production from renewable electricity 30 per cent by 2030.
Mckinsey senior export Godart van Gendt says the cost of building electrolysers — the technology that separates the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in water — could come down by 70 per cent over the next decade.
Global spending on hydrogen energy research, development and demonstration by national governments is growing, but still remains lower than the 2008 peak, says IEA boss Fatih Birol.
“Tackling this is likely to require planning and coordination that brings together national and local governments, industry and investors,” he says.
The sluggish development of hydrogen infrastructure is a holding back widespread adoption. This requires additional government intervention, says Birol.
On June 15 — the day after the IEA released its report – the respective Japan, Europe and the US energy agencies issued a joint statement “affirming their shared desire to strengthen trilateral cooperation on hydrogen and fuel cell technologies”.
The organisations recognise the importance of reducing the cost of hydrogen for its affordability as well as reliability,” they said.
“[We] strongly believe that their envisaged cooperation can lead to expansion of international collaboration and contribute to scale-up hydrogen in the global economy.”