Big Plans for a Big Future

Written by Adam English
Posted December 8, 2020

It's one thing to have the technology. It's another to have the infrastructure.

We've covered the explosive growth of hydrogen fuel cell technologies and the rapid deployment of test programs across a wide range of vehicles.

From cars and trucks to railroads on land. From ships of all sizes — civilian and military — to the world's first hydrogen-fueled flight.

An entire prototype city center is even in the works.

The tech is out there and impressing investors and governments alike.

But the infrastructure to support it? That's been a big question mark.

We're starting to see progress there, and it looks like it could be extremely rapid.

We’ve already seen progress on the domestic front to make sure that hydrogen tech and infrastructure will have a more cohesive and comprehensive rollout.

Now we’re seeing another kind of group forming. One that may be far more influential on the international stage.

Some of the world’s biggest “green” hydrogen developers have pledged to work together in what they’re calling the Green Hydrogen Catapult.

Without going into the specifics and an organic chemistry lecture, fossil fuels are packed with hydrogen atoms. Even the simplest, methane, has four hydrogen atoms and a single carbon atom, as compared to water, a strongly bonded molecule with one hydrogen atom and two oxygen atoms.

That’s not a big deal when you just need a relatively small amount of hydrogen. It sabotages the emission-free or reduced-emissions goals of a transition to hydrogen fuel power at scale.

That’s what makes this new working group so important. That and its influential members. The companies involved include ACWA Power, CWP Renewables, Envision, Iberdrola, Ørsted, Snam, and Yara.

Not exactly household names, but they're heavy hitters in the industry, especially in Europe, where strong investments are being made in hydrogen power’s future.

Green hydrogen produced by cracking water molecules can cost between $3.50 and $8 per kilogram today. The firms aim to drive the cost down to $2 and make it truly competitive with fossil fuels and battery-powered vehicles.

Even better, this is intrinsically supported by European nations’ heavily subsidized push into renewable energy for their national and international grids.

The goal is to deploy 25 gigawatts of renewables-based hydrogen production through 2026, an aggressive but possible five-year timeline.

Of particular interest is the involvement of ACWA, a Saudi-backed venture with obvious ties to a nation with some of the cheapest solar power possible.

As Paddy Padmanathan, president and CEO of ACWA, notes, "From an industry perspective, we see no technical barriers to achieving this, so it's time to get on with the virtuous cycle of cost reduction through scale-up.”

That raises a question obvious to any fuel source: Where are you going to put all that?

In that regard, we can look to the USA for the first large-scale work for storage — very, very large-scale.

Out in Utah, old salt mines and naturally occurring domes are being repurposed to store hydrogen on a large scale.

This is nothing fancy. It's already been done with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, along with the Strategic Helium Reserve.

A fundamental problem with helium is it’s capacity to embrittle metals and leak out of storage systems. Repurposing old underground storage with a recapture system at the top is a tried-and-true system for a wide range of existing fuels and gases.

It's low-hanging fruit as far as tech goes, but it needs to have a flagship program, and it needs to start sometime.

We’re seeing that happen now, and we’re seeing it on a massive scale in anticipation of what’s to come.

To get a sense of the scale, it would initially have enough energy to power 150,000 households for one year and should be operational by 2025.

Plus, salt caverns and domes can be found worldwide and require little to no engineering. Pump out water, pump in hydrogen, then pump it out on demand.

The last several years, especially the last two, have seen rapid progress for the tech needed to make hydrogen work at scale.

The fact that large-scale industry work groups and projects are following up is a clear vote of confidence, and one that needs to happen to push hydrogen fuel cells into both consumers' and business’ hands.

Make no mistake about it: Hydrogen is coming. It may not be in the tiny cars we drive around ourselves, but the transportation industry will have to adapt to greatly reduced carbon emission schemes.

With lithium-ion batteries — like the ones Tesla is hopelessly dependent on for the foreseeable future — a semi truck may carry as much weight in batteries as it will in cargo. It only gets worse as you scale up to larger vehicles.

Jimmy Mengel has been covering fuel cell tech for his readers, and all of the evidence suggests he made a prescient decision to get in on some of the best fuel cell companies around.

You should check out what he has to say. It’s worked out wonderfully for his readers so far, and looks like it will for years to come.

Take care,

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Adam English

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Adam's editorial talents and analysis drew the attention of senior editors at Outsider Club, which he joined in mid-2012. While he has acquired years of hands-on experience in the editorial room by working side by side with ex-brokers, options floor traders, and financial advisors, he is acutely aware of the challenges faced by retail investors after starting at the ground floor in the financial publishing field. For more on Adam, check out his editor's page

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