Hydrogen is back! Actually, it never went away – but excessive hype followed by a realignment of expectations, like with so many budding technologies – pushed it off most investors’ radars. The emergence of lithium-ion batteries deflated the bubble even further as hydrogen’s need for an extensive fuelling network drove the notion of fuel-cell passenger cars down a side alley.
Picking the right tool for the job
Nonetheless, just as we do not hammer nails with screwdrivers or strip wires with garden shears, there is a correct use for each tool. This is very much the case with hydrogen. Fuel-cell forklifts with centralised fuelling and none of those worrisome emissions have found a spot on the factory floor. Looking to the future, the idea of centralised and fast fuelling makes sense for heavy trucks and city buses where time is money and batteries less practical.
More applications for hydrogen – like storage for renewables
The applications of hydrogen are also expanding. Battery cars need to be charged, preferably from zero-emission sources, and the best renewable sources of solar and wind, while much more effective than a generation ago, still need storage. Batteries have been touted as a solution, but making hydrogen looks a lot simpler and it can then be used in multiple ways.
A way for industries, such as steel, to decarbonise
Moreover, hydrogen could help to decarbonise other industries. For example, it may make sense for steelmakers to build their own renewable energy plants. Hydrogen also has excellent properties as a reducing agent. And all this is far from being an academic exercise: companies are already running actual projects.
Perhaps we will go full circle
And who knows, the increasing use of hydrogen for diverse purposes over time may eventually lead to the construction of the decentralised fuelling network necessary for passenger cars, thus bringing us full circle.
How hydrogen rises
Dr David Hart, who introduced us to fuel-cell technology back in 2011 with his ‘Fuel cells get real’ CLSA U Blue Book, remains actively involved as an advisor, consultant and researcher into hydrogen energy and fuel cells and has just published another Blue Book, ‘Hydrogen rises. This nascent industry with its enormous potential offers myriad investment opportunities with lots of companies operating in multiple supply chains, and many based in Japan and Korea.