All over the globe, leaders are looking at strongly addressing climate change. In December 2018 in Katowice, Poland, COP24 advanced a “rulebook” to bring the 2015 Paris Agreement to life which aims at keeping global warming well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Hydrogen is here to make that happen.
Europe should be at the forefront of the fight to decarbonize the energy system and, in this context, hydrogen has a key role to play. Hydrogen is multi-talented: it’s an energy carrier, a fuel, and a raw material. If produced adequately, hydrogen can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen energy independence and mitigate the challenges posed by variability and intermittency of renewable energy systems. Hydrogen offers a clean, sustainable, and flexible option to convert renewable electricity into a chemical energy carrier for use in mobility, heat and industrial applications. As the “gaseous form of electricity”, it is an enabler for sectoral integration. Hydrogen is indeed a key component of the future energy systems that will accelerate the transition to deeply decarbonized energy and mobility sectors, also presenting opportunities in terms of job creation, technological leadership, and environmental protection for Europe.
The ability of hydrogen to access and integrate each sector of the energy system opens opportunities for deploying and relying on renewables to a much greater extent. Hydrogen technologies in a power system that integrate Renewable Energy Sources (RES) can operate throughout long periods of non-consumption-oriented production of renewable energy by feeding hydrogen into one or more energy sinks (for example the gas grid, the storage tanks of hydrogen refuelling stations, and salt caverns). Stored hydrogen can be used on various timescales for meeting demand for heat, transport and power. Whereas electricity derived from renewables provides the power sector with a profound decarbonization pathway, the heat and mobility sectors as well as industry do not yet have decarbonization pathways of equivalent significance. The versatility of hydrogen enables these sectors to be integrated and to contribute to Europe’s energy transition.
Today, some 200 hydrogen refuelling stations are operational across Europe, while new stations continue to open almost every month.
The largest share of CO2 emissions (27 percent) comes from the transport sector in Europe, so decarbonizing transport and mobility is really an imperative now. In parallel, there is growing pressure to improve air quality for human health and well-being, with the European Commission opening infringement procedures towards some Member States for breaching EU rules on air pollution limits.
It is urgent to act now. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) provide a solution to tackle the big challenges Europe is facing in the transport sector: decarbonization and air pollution. FCEVs offer zero tailpipe emission and allow for a driving experience very similar to conventional engines, with large distance range and quick refuelling time (less than five minutes), thus no need to change drivers’ habits. How does this work? Simple: a fuel cell is used to convert hydrogen in electricity to power the electric engine.
Several examples are already present in the transport sector throughout Europe showcasing the maturity of this technology.
Concerning cars, given the remaining high upfront cost of the infrastructure and of the vehicles, we see first fuel cell electric cars in captive fleetssuch as taxis. An example is the taxi scheme in Paris: over 100 taxis drive long hours without refuelling needs, no loss in productivity and the hydrogen refuelling station, located at the Paris Orly airport, is used optimally at full capacity creating a business case for the infrastructure. The vehicles are also an excellent answer to growing new mobility types, such as private hire or car-pooling (for example CleverShuttle), thus contributing to reduce the environmental footprint of private cars.
Hydrogen offers an attractive rail passenger service solution like the Alstom Coralia iLint hydrogen trains that are today in commercial service in Lower Saxony, Germany. Hydrogen-powered trains are a clean alternative to the costly electrification of lines. This is particularly appealing in European countries with a low electrification rate. France, the United Kingdom, other German regions to name a few, intend to follow the path of Lower Saxony and invest in zero emission silent hydrogen trains.
Buses, coaches and trucks, represent one fifth of all road transport emissions and are, so far, not regulated at a pan-European level. This will very likely change in the near future: regulating CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles will help drive zero emission vehicles forward. Hydrogen makes sense today in heavy duty applications: hydrogen trucks offer longer range and heavier payload, as they have a high energy density per weight. Fuel cell buses have a daily range of up to 400 kms and are being deployed across Europe. Co-funded by the Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) under Horizon 2020, the JIVE initiatives will deploy 300 buses in the early 2020s in 22 cities across Europe, the largest deployment to date.
Hydrogen is the most promising zero emission alternative for long haul trucks. To name some of the latest developments: truck-maker Nikola has announced very ambitious targets in term of vehicle mileage, number of vehicles and associated hydrogen infrastructure coverage and has secured over $13 billion in pre-order reservations for its vehicles. Additionally, Nikola is now moving into the European market with pre-orders from several EU countries in the Benelux and Norway. Switzerland has just ordered 1,000 fuel cell trucks for the retailer company Coop. More and more manufacturers are joining the club and working on long haul hydrogen trucks and end-users are recognizing hydrogen as a key alternative to diesel for long haul transport.
And it is not only road and rail transport that can be decarbonized with zero emission fuel cell vehicles. Considering that maritime transport accounts today for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions and that these emissions are predicted to raise tremendously by 2050, there is also a need to develop solutions powered with alternative fuels. While the Energy Observer – the first hydrogenpowered vessel is touring the world to demonstrate the readiness of the technology – maritime key players are looking at hydrogen powered vessels from catamarans to large ships.
All of this cannot happen without the appropriate infrastructure. Today, some 200 hydrogen refuelling stations are operational across Europe, while new stations continue to open almost every month. The support from the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) has proved to be essential, while some stations are becoming commercially viable with a growing utilization rate. This shows that the European Union is committed to enhance decarbonizing solutions like hydrogen. This is even truer as hydrogen helps move towards zero emissions in transport and in other sectors: hydrogen is a bridge between sectors, a fundamental part of sectoral integration. The latest book by Thierry Lepercq – a pioneer in the solar industry – is called “Hydrogen is the New Oil”. He uses plenty of examples to showcase his point of view. And the International Energy Agency calls hydrogen a factor which is here to stay. Indeed, the number of qualified analysts grows who say: Hydrogen is the next big thing!