Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day Highlights Clean Fuel’s Accelerating Developments

October 9, 2022

While it may be Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day, hydrogen has been having a heyday throughout 2022. This abundant element supports numerous activities in the global economy, principally refining fossil fuels and producing steel, fertilizer, and ammonia. In the last 18 months, its potential to decarbonize passenger and commercial transportation has attracted billions in first-time investments.

High costs, limited infrastructure, and ambivalent regulations have constrained the hydrogen market to meet only 2.5% of global energy needs. Demand in new areas is renewing efforts to resolve these adoption barriers. In 2021, consumption in new sectors — including commercial transportation — grew 60% in 12 months. While current hydrogen supplies are primarily produced with fossil fuels, project proposals in 2022 have shifted strategy to low- and no- emission processes, suggesting new climate benefits from a hydrogen economy.

Burgeoning markets for hydrogen-powered trucks are helping drive this demand, along with government targets that collectively require a 100x increase in production over the next seven years to achieve a net-zero carbon economy in 2050. 

A Favored Child for a Decarbonized Economy

In 2022, green hydrogen became a favored child of numerous corporate climate strategies and government programs. Supporting its 2021 finding that the global economy must decarbonize immediately to avoid breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, the IPCC observed that hydrogen in most of its forms can and should play a role in electric grid decarbonization, industrial power generation, and transportation. While renewable, or green, hydrogen is the climate-optimal fuel, the majority of hydrogen currently produced is based on fossil fuels. 

This year the U.S. government allocated an unprecedented $8.4 billion to hydrogen market development. One effort under the U.S. Department of Energy’s new Energy Earthshots Initiative aims to reduce the retail cost of hydrogen for transportation end users to between $4 and $7 per kilogram by 2030; prices typically hover between $8 and $16 per kilogram today. A separate Hydrogen Hub program intends to develop regional hydrogen production, distribution and consumption networks serving multiple end users across the U.S.

Strong Investments Attract Strong Debate

In mid-2022, EDF reported that their estimate of the indirect global warming potential of leaked hydrogen may outweigh its tailpipe emissions benefits. Several organizations including RMI identified important thresholds to guide the industry’s growth and noted that the use of green hydrogen improved construction and monitoring technologies, and focused regulatory reforms create a promising environment for mitigating the risk of leaks and optimizing hydrogen’s benefits.  

Fuel cell trucks meet real-world fleets

While demand for hydrogen-powered forklifts remains strong, on-road vehicle manufacturers have ramped up the pace and scale of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) development. This year, Hyundai launched North America’s largest heavy-duty FCEV demonstration with 30 Class 8 Xcients in regional goods movement service in Northern California. Another five units will begin operating in Southern California under a separate program.

Meanwhile, stakeholders completed a successful 12-month demonstration of a Kenworth T680 fitted with Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell technology for drayage services at the Port of Los Angeles. Ten demonstration trucks, dubbed “Ocean,” completed 500-mile routes daily with 15-minute fueling breaks at new stations built by Shell. Foreseeing increased customer appetite, Toyota will produce its first commercial fuel cell stacks at its Kentucky plant in 2023. 

Although the fuel cell has been prominent in vehicle demonstrations, engine manufacturers are also developing internal combustion engines (ICE) for hydrogen fuel. Although the combustion process results in some tailpipe emissions, the engine’s familiar architecture may reduce the time and cost for a fleet to convert from diesel to hydrogen fuel while providing significant emissions reductions. Cummins began testing its X15H with fleet partner Werner Enterprises this year, which plans to buy 500 engines, pending demonstration results.  

Short-Cut to Scale

Hydrogen technologies are being developed for widespread commercial use at a time when funding resources and legislation will recognize the need to build big and build green for a just and affordable clean fuel transition. The returns and lessons learned from this year’s first large investments and deployments will be important benchmarks for identifying necessary efforts in the second half of this decade. 

It Takes a Village

GNA works closely with the fleets, manufacturers, fuel providers and community stakeholders who are scaling the hydrogen industry. As public and private providers map out hydrogen production and fueling networks, GNA is supporting site selection and evaluation and optimizing designs to benefit from programs like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Community engagement is essential to ensuring that a decarbonized economy is also a just economy.

With deep experience across the southern California region, GNA is engaging numerous community and environmental justice organizations in projects developing hydrogen fueling resources to ensure a positive outcome for all. As the State of California prepares its bid for the federal government’s Hydrogen Hub program, GNA is facilitating collaboration between vehicle manufacturers and community organizations with interests in and around the San Pedro Bay Ports, an area that endures some of the worst air quality in the nation.