The Future of Hydrogen, and the debut of Hydrogen Digest : Biofuels Digest


In a new report from the International Energy Agency, the IEA’s executive director  Dr. Fatih Birol writes, “This is a critical year for hydrogen. It is enjoying unprecedented momentum around the world and could finally be set on a path to fulfill its longstanding potential as a clean energy solution.”

We agree, though the path to sustainable hydrogen will be long, controversial, and filled with technical, finance, scale-up, infrastructure, policy, and application development challenges. That’s why today we are launching Hydrogen Digest as a unique stand-alone newsletter, to track this incredibly fast-moving, lucrative and important new chapter in sustainability.  

You can become a charter subscriber here, and get the news you can use first, fast, concise, and free.

What will Hydrogen Digest cover?

Upstream: the production of sustainable hydrogen from biomass, water and electricity or other clean sources.

Midstream: Conversion to hydrogen based fuels and feedstocks that are easier to store, transport and use; storage, pipelines and transport.

Downstream: Hydrogen in light-duty road transport, heavy-duty transport, sustainable oil refining, sustainable chemical and materials production, iron and steel production, high-temperature heat, building heat, power generation and electricity storage.

The IEA Report

The report goes on to say:

“The time is right to tap into hydrogen’s potential to play a key role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future.  IEA notes that “hydrogen is currently enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum, with the number of policies and projects around the world”

Why?  In a word, hydrogen is versatile. Hydrogen offers a decarbonization pathway in long-haul transport, in the chemical production and with heavy-duty industries such as steel. And, other technologies may have less to offer in these challenged sectors. That’s in part because we already know how to produce, move, use and store hydrogen, as a liquid or as a gas, and it can team up with other technologies such as solar and help solve storage problems there.

We’ll analyze the IEA report in coming weeks, or you can download it right here and now:

The Heavy Duty Imperative

As the US Department of Energy observes:

“Trucks carry more than 70% of the nation’s freight on both a tonnage and value basis—at some point on their way from manufacturer to consumer, virtually all goods travel by truck. The movement of goods requires energy, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks (Class 3-8) consume 25% of annual vehicle fuel use, despite comprising only 4% of the total number of U.S. on-road vehicles.”

The challenges are striking — there’s no-one ready to hand out commercial success as a Christmas present. 

4 Grand Challenges

The IEA identifies four grand challenges:

1. Costly production, for now, from low-carbon feedstocks

2. Infrastructure development is slow

3. Natural gas and coal dominate as sources.

4. Regulatory barriers make it difficult to start and sustain a clean hydrogen industry.

The 4 Key Opportunities

So, IEA has identified four areas to work on:

1.  Make industrial ports the nerve centers for scaling up the use of clean hydrogen.

2.  Build on existing infrastructure, such as millions of kilometers of natural gas


3.  Expand hydrogen in transport through fleets, freight and corridors. 

4.  Launch the hydrogen trade’s first international shipping routes. 

7 Key Recommendations

The IEA’s 7 key recommendations to scale up hydrogen

1.  Establish a role for hydrogen in long-term energy strategies. 

2.  Stimulate commercial demand for clean hydrogen. 

3.  Address investment risks of first-movers. 

4.  Support R&D to bring down costs. 

5.  Eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers and harmonize standards. 

6.  Engage internationally and track progress. 

7.  Focus on four key opportunities noted immediately above.

The DOE steps in

Vehicles powered by internal combustion engines and liquid fuels will continue to make up a large share of the automotive market for decades to come. How can we maximize efficiency and performance with solutions that make sense for consumers, businesses, automakers, and other stakeholders?

Just this week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $50 million for new and innovative research of technologies for trucks, off-road vehicles, and the fuels that power them.  Funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), these selections highlight the DOE’s priorities in gaseous fuels research, including natural gas, biopower, and hydrogen; heavy-duty freight electrification; hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell technologies for heavy-duty applications; and energy efficient off-road vehicles.

“As the fastest growing fuel users in the United States, it is important our trucking industry has access to  advanced technologies, such as electrification and fuel cells, as a way to move goods efficiently and economically,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes.

And the winners are…

Here are the award winners in this landmark $50 million federal investment in early-stage R&D for Natural Gas, Hydrogen, Biopower, and Electrification Technologies:

Especially worth noting

Two projects in this FOA were funded by the Bioenergy Technologies Office. North Carolina State University’s project for Renewable Natural Gas from Carbonaceous Wastes via Phase Transition CO2/O2 Sorbent Enhanced Chemical Looping Gasification. They picked up $2.49 million. And Washington State University ’s project for Developing an Efficient and Cost-effective Novel Anaerobic Digestion System Producing High Purity Methane from Diverse Waste Biomass. They landed $2.23 million in federal cost shares.

And in the world of hydrogen

We spotted three projects of note here with federal cost shares of between $1.67 and $2.99 million. All for High Throughput Hydrogen Fueling Technologies for Medium- and Heavy-duty Transportation. The winners are:

1. Air Products and Chemicals’ Ultra-Cryopump for High-Demand Transportation Fueling.

2. NEL Hydrogen Inc. High-Speed and Dynamic Diaphragm Compressor for High-Capacity Fueling 

3. Electricore, Inc. High-Pressure, High-Flow Rate Dispenser and Nozzle Assembly for Heavy-Duty Vehicles 

It’s critical, this infrastructure. Makes no difference if we have affordable hydrogen if we can’t re-fuel with the same convenience and safety levels we are used to with conventional fossil fuels. New fuel has to be as safe as the previous incumbent, and rapidly dispensed through a method that doesn’t require a contortionist or must take place 100 miles from human habitation.

The Bottom Line

As interest in sustainable hydrogen builds, we will be there to create and sustain the community of experts, customers, financiers, technologists, analysts, marketers and policymakers who will power the hydrogen sector. The supply and value chains are complex and, to succeed, the key players will have to network like crazy. You can speed up that journey with a charter subscription, here.

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