A Year in Hydrogen: Innovative Products, Progressive Policies, and New Players Emerge

January 3, 2020

2019 was a great year for fuel cells and hydrogen. The industry experienced a surge of development in many areas, with continued gains in deployments of consumer cars and material handling equipment, as well as a focus on new applications such as medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and shipping propulsion. The growth and viability of hydrogen and fuel cells was demonstrated by more products, new players in the industry, and policies that are setting 2020 up to be an exciting start to a decade of progress.

Accelerating Innovation and Ensuring Market Growth Through Policy

Several policy initiatives on Capitol Hill began last year that will be vital to continued market growth of the fuel cell and hydrogen industry. Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House and Senate to reinstate and extend tax incentives for transportation and stationary fuel cell applications. This includes the Driving America Forward Act, which would revive the Section 30B consumer credit for fuel cell vehicles for ten years, and the Renewable Energy Extension Act, which would extend the Section 48 investment tax credit (ITC) for five years for fuel cell systems, including those for material handling and stationary power equipment, among other clean energy technologies.

Congress continued to work on clean energy tax solutions as the year came to an end, such as the recently introduced GREEN Act.

Congress continued to work on clean energy tax solutions as the year came to an end, such as the House Ways and Means Committee’s recently introduced GREEN Act. This draft bill includes extensions of existing fuel cell and hydrogen credits along with new incentives for hydrogen energy storage, medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, and manufacturing for fuel cell and hydrogen energy systems. In addition, congressional leadership continues to negotiate an “extenders” package for recently expired or expiring incentives, including the 30B fuel cell vehicle credit, the 30C credit for hydrogen refueling stations, and the ITC. We are hopeful the Renewable Energy Extension Act and the Driving America Forward Act will be the cornerstones for negotiations.

To ensure that the US Department of Energy has the proper resources for its research, development, demonstration, and deployment agenda, the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee passed appropriations bills that include the highest level of funding for hydrogen and fuel cell activities in years. The legislation in each chamber also includes the most comprehensive direction language for these activities, while maintaining funding for the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Program. While a final energy appropriations bill has not passed yet, the level of support for hydrogen and fuel cell funding in the House and Senate over the course of 2019 is remarkable.

2019 also saw the introduction of many policy bills that would accelerate existing applications for hydrogen and fuel cells, while launching their adoption in emerging end uses. These bills include, but are not limited to, the Clean School Bus Act of 2019, the American Energy Opportunity Act of 2019, the Blue Collar to Green Collar Jobs Development Act of 2019, and the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019. As we move into 2020, we look forward to seeing all these bills, and more, progress through both chambers of Congress.

2019 saw the introduction of many policy bills that would accelerate existing applications for hydrogen and fuel cells.

The fuel cell and hydrogen industry excels best when it works together and builds partnerships across markets and applications to expand our outreach network and grow support. A strong example of this was the development and release of the Executive Summary of Road Map to a US Hydrogen Economy, which was developed in collaboration with a large group of companies and organizations representing the automotive, electric and gas utility, hydrogen production, and fuel cell manufacturing space, with assistance from McKinsey and Company and the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association. While the full report is set for publication in the first quarter of 2020, the Executive Summary offers a glimpse into how hydrogen can play an integral role in US energy leadership and widescale decarbonization within many sectors including transportation, electricity, industry, and more. The study highlights that hydrogen has the potential to generate $140 billion per year in revenue by 2030, create 700,000 jobs by 2030, and meet 15% of US energy demand by 2050, if we have the right policies in place and begin taking further action today.

Market Developments Across Sectors

Fuel cell vehicle sales have continued their development with nearly 8,000 cars now on the road and in customers’ hands in the United States.

In light-duty transportation, fuel cell vehicle sales have continued their development with nearly 8,000 cars now on the road and in customers’ hands in the United States. The growing number of vehicles was complemented by the opening of several new hydrogen stations in the Golden State, bringing the total to 44. In 2019, Hyundai began US sales of its Nexo Fuel Cell SUV, Toyota announced a next-generation redesigned Mirai set to launch in 2021, and more automakers are inching closer to releasing their own vehicles.

There has also been much development internationally on light-duty vehicles, with Germany reaching a total of 76 consumer hydrogen fueling stations, as well as significant strides in hydrogen in South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, and many more.

There are a wide range of players pursuing this space, from automakers and truck developers to start-ups and fuel cell manufacturers.

Consumer vehicle use was, however, only the tip of the iceberg in fuel cell development for the transportation industry. In 2019, we saw massive growth in both the medium- and heavy-duty market. Hydrogen fuel offers an excellent opportunity to decarbonize the trucking and delivery van sectors, which, due to weight and range requirements, have been traditionally hard to electrify. Hydrogen instead offers a lightweight zero-emission alternative that can be scaled to the size of a semi-truck. There are now a wide range of players pursuing this space, from automakers and truck developers including Toyota, Hyundai, Cummins, and Kenworth, to start-ups like Nikola Motors, and existing fuel cell manufacturers expanding their applications, such as Plug Power, PowerCell Sweden, and Ballard Power Systems. Anglo American took trucking in a unique direction, incorporating fuel cells into an ultra-heavy-duty mining truck with the goal of creating a zero-emission mine.

Hydrogen railways, or hydrails, have gained popularity across the globe, as countries seek alternatives to diesel engines for long regional routes that are hard to electrify. Alstom is developing and demonstrating fuel cell trains in Germany and the United Kingdom, with many other countries including France, Canada, South Korea, and Japan taking steps today for a hydrogen-powered rail future.

Fuel cells are not just moving people, but moving products and goods that are used the world over.

Fuel cells are not just moving people, but moving products and goods that are used the world over. In 2019, the material handling market for hydrogen continued to grow, with Plug Power reaching over 29,000 fuel cell-powered forklifts and other equipment in operation across the United States with leading customers in Walmart and Amazon. Material handling fuel cells offer a dramatic reduction in infrastructure footprint compared to their battery counterparts, as well as significantly reduced recharging/refueling time, providing significant gains in efficiency and cost-savings for end-users. In addition to Plug Power, Toyota, Linde, and Nuvera Fuel Cells have all developed their own forklifts and other equipment powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Fuel cells also began to take to the air and sea in 2019. Aviation and maritime have traditionally been difficult to decarbonize, since they rely heavily on conventional fuels and have weight limitations that make battery use difficult. Some examples of fuel cells taking flight in 2019 include startups like Alaka’i launching a fuel cell air taxi developed in partnership with Hydrogenics and ZeroAvia developing a single-propeller short-haul aircraft, as well as several companies ramping up their efforts in unmanned aerial vehicles including Plug Power, Intelligent Energy, Doosan, and Ballard Power. At sea, vessels large and small are making waves, with Bloom Energy announcing a collaboration with Samsung Heavy Industries to develop the first large cargo ship powered by fuel cells, the Water-Go-round fuel cell passenger ferry making strides to launch in the San Francisco Bay, riverboats being developed for the Netherlands, fishing boats off the coast of Japan and South Korea, and many more.

Fuel cell vehicles of all shapes and sizes are clearly gaining momentum and are geared for success going into the next decade.

Industry Events Grow to International Scale

Hydrogen and fuel cell events and outreach efforts gave investors, consumers, policy advocates, and other stakeholders an opportunity to learn about the incredible developments in the industry. Knowledge spurs growth and can lead to further collaboration between companies, government, and other institutions.

The biennial Fuel Cell Seminar and Energy Exposition was a huge success, bringing together over 600 attendees to discuss the growth of the fuel cell and hydrogen industry. Congressional support flourished; speakers included United States Congressman Mike Levin (CA-49), Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42), and a visit from Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47). Speakers came from all areas both inside and out of the fuel cell industry, including the Department of Energy, the California Governor’s Office, the Port of Long Beach, Toyota, Plug Power, Ballard Power, PowerCell, Microsoft, SoCalGas, and ExxonMobil to name a few. The Fuel Cell Seminar exhibitors and technical sessions demonstrated the diversity and versatility of applications, including light-, medium-, and heavy-duty transportation, hydrogen fueling, hydrogen energy storage, maritime capabilities, and more.

In addition, the industry celebrated the 5th annual National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day on October 8th, in recognition of the atomic weight of hydrogen (1.008). Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day was massively successful, receiving recognition from the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and states including Colorado, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In addition, Australia hosted activities of its own, making 2019 an international celebration.

2019 has seen the development of new applications and continued advancement of existing products entering the mainstream.

Hydrogen and fuel cells are gaining recognition as a clean power and transportation alternative the world over. 2019 has seen the development of new applications and continued advancement of existing products entering the mainstream. We look forward to seeing the continued versatility of fuel cells and hydrogen, and the exciting momentum we have carrying into the new year, and the new decade.