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Hydrogen roadmap lays out steps to make the gas 14% of US energy demand by 2050


Report issued by Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association

Mobility market to be biggest end-user by 2050

Houston — Hydrogen could help meet 14% of US energy demand by 2050, the equivalent of more than 2,468 TWh or 8.4 billion MMBtu per year, according to a study issued Oct. 5 by the Washington-based Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association.

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The association's "Road Map to a US Hydrogen Economy" said the integration of hydrogen into numerous sectors could reduce US carbon dioxide emissions by 16% by 2050 and generate roughly $750 billion in revenue for market participants by the same year.

"In the ambitious scenario, hydrogen demand potential across all these applications could reach 17 million mt by 2030 and 63 million mt by 2050," said the report. "This demand would be primarily driven by the use of hydrogen as a transportation fuel, as fuel for residential and commercial buildings, and as feedstock in industrial processes like ammonia and methanol production, and refining."

The report said US hydrogen production currently totals roughly 11 million mt per year, with 57% of that consumed by the oil refining sector and 38% by the chemicals sector, for the production of ammonia and methanol.

By 2050, the report estimates that of that 63 million mt of annual production, 27 million mt will be consumed by the transportation sector, which makes up the largest share of demand.

Driving such demand will be the adoption of hydrogen fuel by the heavy-duty vehicle sector, such as in long-haul trucks, as well as medium-duty applications such as captive fleets in ports and mines as well as commercial vehicles.

Light-duty, or passenger vehicle demand, is also expected to play a significant role.

In an Oct. 5 webinar hosted by the association, Andy Marsh, CEO of Plug Power, noted that hydrogen has attracted bipartisan support in Washington.

Plug Power builds hydrogen-powered fuel cell products that replace batteries in electric industrial vehicles, such as forklifts, and also the hydrogen refueling infrastructure to support them.

"We do about 27,000 fuelings a day, and use more than 27 mt [of hydrogen] a day," said Marsh, adding that during the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 25% of retail food in the US has been moved by forklifts powered by Plug Power's fuel cells.

He also said a Walmart employee could theoretically drive from Maine to California in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, by refueling at Walmart warehouses across the country that use Plug Power.

Marsh said Plug Power, with the recent acquisitions of United Hydrogen Group and Giner ELX, is also entering the hydrogen production market.

"We are ready to be a leader in the fuel cell industry, and plan to be a leader in green hydrogen," said Marsh.

Also on the webinar was Jackie Birdsall, a senior engineer with Toyota, who works on the company's Mirai hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicle. She said the company has recently increased its production capacity for the car by a factor of 10, in anticipation of greater customer demand.

"From our perspective, we see a lot more [hydrogen fuel-cell powered] light-duty cars on the road," said Birdsall, noting that the company is also involved in a demonstration project at the Port of Los Angeles that is currently operating two heavy-duty hydrogen fuel-cell powered drayage vehicles.

Birdsall said because heavy-duty vehicles require roughly 10 times more fuel cells as light-duty vehicles, the expansion of heavy-duty demand will lower the cost of producing fuel cells, which will also benefit the light-duty market.

The study also touts the benefits of hydrogen in a wide variety of other sectors, including power generation, residential and commercial heating, high heat industrial applications, such as the manufacture of concrete, and in distributed power demand, such as data centers.

Both the webinar participants and the association report cite a need for government incentives to help drive the adoption of hydrogen technology, including a need for codes and standards in the near term as well as longer-term mandates, such as California's recent announcement to ban the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035, as well as hydrogen-based options for government procurement.