Today, the urgent need to invest in hydrogen technologies is at an all-time high. According to McKinsey’s Hydrogen Insights 2022 report, the world needs to invest some USD $700 billion in hydrogen through 2030 to hit net zero emissions by midcentury. Currently, we’ve only committed to 3% of that. Needless to say, there’s quite a large gap.
Hydrogen will accelerate the energy transition
There’s no denying it – our entire global energy infrastructure is built around the need for fuel. Hydrogen doesn’t require that we go back to the drawing board, but instead provides a solution that aligns with that current infrastructure. It too is a fuel that can be used just like gasoline or diesel, and is of particular interest within the heavy duty transportation industry. Hydrogen can also be used as an energy storage medium, locking away excess renewable energy for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. And, just like other fuels today, it can be transported long distances, either by pipeline or ship. So what’s the holdup?
Historically, hydrogen has been produced using a process called steam methane reforming. The problem? It creates a lot of emissions (although using the hydrogen itself is clean). In order to produce low carbon hydrogen, we have two main options available at the moment: reformer technologies that utilize carbon capture and storage (CCS), or electrolyzers, which split water into hydrogen and oxygen using low or zero carbon energy sources (like solar). The truth? We need both if we want to be on track for net zero.
23,000 TWh of renewable energy for clean hydrogen? Sounds unlikely
While it would be great to get emissions-free hydrogen from electrolyzers alone, the reality is that we would need enormous amounts of renewable energy to make it happen. According to BloombergNEF’s New Energy Outlook 2022 report, we would need roughly 23,000 TWh annually for just hydrogen production, assuming that 88% of all hydrogen would be produced from grid-connected electrolyzers. According to the report, “That makes hydrogen the single biggest source of power demand globally by 2050, equal to total global demand in 2020.” Maybe not impossible, but certainly a steep challenge. By integrating some steam reforming technologies, combined with CCS, we can make electrolyzer energy demands more attainable.
Investing in hydrogen infrastructure
So let’s say we do successfully ramp up hydrogen production to the necessary levels. Do we have the infrastructure to support it? Both yes and no. While hydrogen can be transported using pipelines, much of this infrastructure would have to be repurposed to be compatible with the new fuel. But some companies are getting ahead of the curve, like Global Composite Piping Solutions headed by CEO Doug Jones. Their piping solution can be custom fit for hydrogen applications by applying different composite wrappings. To learn more about this tech, check out Doug’s interview on Energy Superheroes.
2023 is the year for hydrogen
It’s clear that investments will need to be made in the hydrogen infrastructure space, as well as in fuel production itself. This can only be achieved through both public and private sector participation. This next year will be huge for the future of hydrogen – investments made in 2023 have the potential to accelerate projects from proposals to final investment decisions, scale up supply chain capability, and build up necessary infrastructure. Time to hit the ground running.