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US hydrogen development must accelerate to meet 2030 net-zero goals: IEA

Highlights

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Although the US has recently stepped up efforts to develop hydrogen technologies, the proliferation of hydrogen across the nation is not happening at a fast enough pace to meet the country's 2030 net zero goals, International Energy Agency says.

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The IEA's 2021 Global Hydrogen Review, released Oct. 4, examines hydrogen's potential to become a pillar of decarbonizing the global energy system.

Despite the US being one of the largest producers and consumers of hydrogen, accounting for 13% of global demand, the projected deployment of hydrogen projects over the next decade is expected to "fall short of what is necessary to meet net zero goals," the IEA study said. And the shortcoming is reflected in all hydrogen applications.

According to the US Department of Energy's June 2021 hydrogen program record, the US has 17 MW of electrolysis for dedicated green hydrogen production in operation, with another 1.4 GW of projects in the pipeline. By 2030, the department projects that 13.5 GW of electrolysis projects will come online for green hydrogen production.

But that projection is well under the 44 GW of electrolysis capacity the country will need by 2030 to hit its net-zero goals, the IEA said. That number is based on the the agency's Announced Pledges Scenario, a benchmark determined by all national net zero emissions pledges a government has announced to date that are in line with the Paris Agreement.

US development of hydrogen produced using fossil fuels paired with carbon capture technologies is also projected to come up short of 2030 net-zero goals, despite the recent acceleration of CCUS uptake under the 45Q tax credit program, which awards money to projects that geologically sequester carbon or use carbon for enhanced oil recovery.

This year, the US produced 0.23 mt of hydrogen from fossil fuels using CCUS, and more capacity is expected to come online when the Wabash Valley Resources facility – the largest CCUS project currently under construction – is completed in 2022, which could bring fossil fuel hydrogen production to 0.3 mt.

But "to align with the Announced Pledges Scenario," the IEA said, "capacity should expand to more than 2.5 mt by 2030."

Acceleration is also needed in the US's deployment of hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles, although to a lesser extent.

By the end of 2020, the nation counted 9,200 FCEVs, the IEA said. Most of these vehicles are concentrated in California thanks to the state's Clean Vehicle Rebate Project and the increasing number of hydrogen refueling stations required by state legislation.

Under the US' Announced Pledges Scenario, around 1.1 million FCEVs will be needed by 2030. The California Fuel Cell Partnership, which aims to deploy 1 million FCEVS by 2030, will make up most of this ground. But the total number of vehicles it will generate will still be exceeded by the number targeted under the Announced Pledge Scenario, the IEA said.

More progress will also need to be made in exploring ways hydrogen can be used as a source of electricity for the power grid amid the growth of intermittent renewable energy sources, and how hydrogen delivery can utilize existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure through blending.

"The significant hydrogen uptake projected in the Announced Pledges Scenario, especially for new applications such as electricity generation and transport, would require rapid deployment of hydrogen infrastructure to facilitate deliver to end users," the IEA said.

Global problem

The US isn't the only nation behind the eight ball on hydrogen development. Although there are "encouraging signs' the globe is on the cusp of widespread hydrogen growth, all governments need to move "faster and more decisively" in implementing hydrogen policy measures, the IEA said.

Globally, $1.2 trillion needs to be invested in hydrogen by 2030, rising to $10 trillion by 2050, to put the planet on track for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury. Looking at already announced pledges, the IEA said commitments totaled $250 million by 2030 and $3.2 trillion by 2050.

Spending on research and development in particular is lagging. To reach net-zero by 2050, $90 billion of public money should be funneled into R&D, around half of which should go into hydrogen-related technology, the IEA said. Innovation gaps are found in end-use industrial applications, heavy road transport, shipping and aviation, the agency said.

Funding from governments will reduce risks for the private sector and spur innovation, the IEA said. Private banks, for instance, remain wary of non-recourse financing in the hydrogen space, citing technology risks and unclear creditworthiness of many specialist-equipment makers.