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Hydrogen takes centre stage in global clean energy transition

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By Colin Hay - 
Hydrogen centre stage global clean energy transition

Of all the renewable energy solutions that are involved in the global race to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, no fuel is as hot right now as hydrogen.

Billions of dollars are being poured in by government and industry across the world to create a hydrogen answer to fuel everything from the family car to massive sea going vessels to future space travel.

International research firm IDTechEx has forecast that a low-carbon hydrogen market will grow substantially over the next decade, reaching around $203 billion by 2033 based on projected production capacities.

Headwinds persist

However, there are still many challenges to overcome, such as developing commercially viable solutions, investing in the infrastructure necessary for safe and secure transport and storage, and developing the technology to take advantage of this new clean energy source.

IDTechEx says one of the primary challenges with hydrogen, despite its excellent energy characteristics, is its complicated storage and transportation due to its extremely low density at ambient conditions.

Large volumes of hydrogen must be compressed to high pressures or liquefied at cryogenic temperatures to store adequate amounts.

Governments remain optimistic

Nevertheless, governments are not holding back in their hydrogen support.

In mid-October, the US government announced an $11 billion investment in seven Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs across the nation and plans to accelerate the commercial-scale deployment of low-cost, clean hydrogen.

As a recent Bradley Intelligence Report noted, the US government has also provided hydrogen industry support as part of its $14 billion 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, with the US Department of Energy launching two initiatives: the Regional Hydrogen Hub program and the Electrolysis and Clean Hydrogen Manufacturing and Recycling program.

Elsewhere, the EU has approved up to $8.7 billion in public funding for hydrogen projects. The United Kingdom is reported to be planning around $7.7 billion investment.

The Bradley report also noted that Japan plans to invest around $168 billion over the next 15 years to supply the country with hydrogen, while India has announced a $3.6 billion plan to promote green hydrogen.

Local efforts

Locally, the Australian government continues to provide funding support for a whole range of initiatives.

Just this week, as part of the Advancing Renewables Program, the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency invested $5.43 million in local firm AMSL to develop a hydrogen-powered electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft named the Vertiia.

Similar in operation to a helicopter and fitted with eight rotors, the Vertiia will be capable of carrying up to five passengers over distances up to 1000km.

But is it enough?

Bradley noted that even with government support, the hydrogen transition will require significant investments in large projects using new technology without assured consumers and persistent questions on just how clean a hydrogen project lifecycle will be, and at what cost.

“The technology exists. The challenge is to bring it to scale so that it can become commercially viable. The industry will require staggering sums of start-up money and a pricing structure that offers a clear advantage over other forms of renewable energy. This is where governments are stepping in,” the report suggested.

The Bradley report found that supplying hydrogen at a competitive price point is only half of the equation.

It questioned whether enough projects can be viably built and enough hydrogen produced at the necessary scale, then consumed by a broader set of economic sectors.

Transportation is the big market

Companies all over the world are fast-tracking the development of unique hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

Local clean energy specialist Pure Hydrogen Corporation (ASX: PH2) has already successfully demonstrated the capability of its technology with the launch of its specialist Taurus truck earlier this year.

Australia’s first hydrogen-powered prime mover vehicle, the Taurus was manufactured for global food and beverage brand PepsiCo.

Pure Hydrogen has also executed an initial agreement for the supply of a hydrogen fuel cell waste collection truck with national waste management company Solo Resource Recovery and has a another trial in the pipeline with JJ’s Waste & Recycling, Australia’s leading waste management business.

Air travel also has a hydrogen future

A new study conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) found that powering aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells is potentially a promising zero-emission solution for aviation.

It identified that retrofitting existing aircraft with hydrogen fuel cell propulsion could mean zero-emission flying without having to develop new aircraft.

The ICCT study noted that while fuel cells cannot yet produce enough power to propel narrow-body aircraft, they can power regional turboprop aircraft. And while fuel cell retrofit aircraft also cannot match the payload and range capabilities of fossil-fuelled aircraft, they are more energy-efficient.

According to the study, while green hydrogen will in most cases likely be more expensive initially than jet fuel, the increased efficiency of the fuel cell propulsion system would bring the price premium down to 29–40% in the United States in 2030 and would make fuelling with green hydrogen cheaper than fossil jet fuel in the United States by 2050.

In the European Union, where hydrogen is expected to be more expensive to produce, the price premium for using green hydrogen would be around 100% in 2030, dropping to 50% in 2050.

Hydrogen in space

Engineers have used hydrogen in rocket fuel and hydrogen fuel cells since the early years of space exploration.

New Mexico, USA-headquartered WHA International says hydrogen’s high power and quick-refuelling potential make it an attractive clean energy option for new aerospace applications as well.

It says human-made flying vehicles must generate incredible amounts of thrust to combat gravity. They must also carry sufficient fuel to stay airborne for long durations across continents and oceans.

“By and large, electric batteries or solar power alone fail to supply both the power and longevity required for aerospace. Hydrogen, however, could provide both. Hydrogen has a few other major advantages for aviation.”

It is clear that while there are many questions to be answered, governments and industry are confident that hydrogen has a bright future in a global clean energy mix.