Future mobility could be hydrogen

A bare chassis of Toyota Motor Corp’s new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) sedan car “Mirai”, meaning “future” in Japanese, in Tokyo
It runs on water, sort of. Source: Reuters

With the widespread discussion of inner-city traffic bans, higher taxes on diesel-powered cars and even a total ban on combustion engines, one thing has become crystal clear: We urgently need to find new approaches, both in mobility and our entire energy policy. The age of fossil fuels is coming to an end, and given global climate change, the faster the move to a sustainable future, the better.

While battery-powered vehicles are currently in favor, they’re not the solution to all problems. This is a transitional technology, and will remain so. The real solution will come from hydrogen-powered fuel cells, despite what the skeptics say. Some of them claim hydrogen is too expensive. Others say the technology is too complex, or even dangerous. These claims are either false or outdated. All the challenges that hydrogen technology faced in the past have been resolved.

The technology is functional, sophisticated and affordable. It comes with unique advantages. Among them: hydrogen-powered cars create no emissions whatever. In addition, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles achieve excellent driving range and can be refueled as quickly as conventional cars, with no need to wait hours for batteries to recharge. If the hydrogen is produced using biomass, solar or wind energy, greenhouse gases are entirely eliminated.

“Hydrogen offers massive economic possibilities, as well as environmental advantages.”

Aldo Belloni, CEO, Linde Group

The research facility Energiepark Mainz, along with its partners, has already been producing “green hydrogen” for two years. Experts there are also working on using hydrogen as a means of storing electrical power. This capability is essential for a successful transition to sustainable energy, which must deal with fluctuating power levels. Only with hydrogen can large amounts of renewable energy be affordably stored for months at a time.

The move to a hydrogen society will not happen overnight. The journey will be a difficult one. For many years, the development of refueling infrastructure was slow, as was the mass production of hydrogen-powered vehicles. But this does not mean we lack the technology.

On the contrary, hydrogen offers massive economic possibilities, as well as environmental advantages. The Hydrogen Council – a coalition of 17 major industrial firms – recently presented a study by McKinsey, the first comprehensive overview of hydrogen’s global potential, which also set out a precise plan for further developments. The results are impressive: It claims that by 2050, hydrogen-related industries will generate worldwide revenues of $2.5 trillion, creating more than 30 million jobs. In addition, hydrogen-based energy can contribute up to 20 percent lower emissions, helping the world achieve the target of restricting global warming to two degrees. This objective is more urgent than ever.

Without hydrogen, the move to a sustainable future cannot succeed. To achieve the key convergence of mobility and power generation – what experts call “integrated energy” – there is no better building block than green hydrogen. The necessary technologies are all available now. The know-how is there. Mass-produced hydrogen cars are already on the market, and are in use with local governments and car rental firms. With rail transport too, all the signs point to hydrogen. In 2021, fourteen hydrogen-powered trains will go into service in northern Germany, replacing diesel locomotives for the state public transit authority of Lower Saxony. The municipal power company in the city of Mainz is to add 10 percent green hydrogen to its energy generation in one district, reducing the emissions of around 1,500 households. Everyday practice shows that hydrogen technology can have widespread use, and is safe and reliable.

The time is right for hydrogen. Let’s embrace change with courage and determination. It would be a mistake not to.

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