This article is sponsored by Plug Power.
Green hydrogen will be essential to meeting the decarbonization goals of the Paris Agreement. Nearly everyone wants to take better care of the Earth, but achieving a global warming limit of below 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 without a broad set of zero-carbon energy sources is challenging.
The growth of renewable energy adoption, while rapid, has been hindered by intermittency — environmental, seasonal and daily cycles that can limit their use or efficiency. To close the last mile of decarbonization, these renewable energy sources need a partner when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
The top three sources of climate-warming emissions in the U.S. come from transportation, power generation and industry. Emissions from certain portions of the economy are difficult to eliminate. In Plug Power’s opinion, green hydrogen is the only zero-carbon option that can decarbonize industries such as aviation, shipping, long-distance trucking and concrete and steel manufacturing.
Hydrogen is abundant, and its supply is virtually limitless. Green hydrogen — created by splitting water by electrolysis and produces only hydrogen and oxygen — is an emissions-free source that can be "always on" and turn the tide against resource scarcity. It can be used where it is produced or transported elsewhere, via pipeline, over the road in cryogenic liquid tanker trucks, or gaseous tube trailers. Unlike batteries used for electric vehicles and stationary power that are unable to store large quantities of electricity for extended periods of time, hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored in tanks in large amounts for a long time.
Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as fossil fuels, so less of it is needed to accomplish a task. Likewise, an advantage of green hydrogen is that it can be produced wherever there is water and electricity to generate more electricity or heat. By splitting the H2O water molecule by electrolysis, you have hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O) ready to be deployed.
Green hydrogen can be stored in existing gas pipelines to power households. It can also be a renewable energy source when converted into a carrier such as ammonia, a zero-carbon fuel for shipping, for example. It can also be used with fuel cells to power anything that uses electricity, such as electric vehicles and electronic devices. And unlike batteries, hydrogen fuel cells don’t need to be recharged and won’t run down, so long as liquid hydrogen is available to refuel them.
Although some industry experts predict it will be 10 years before widespread adoption, green hydrogen is here and ready. For example, Walmart is using green hydrogen to power its forklifts at distribution and fulfillment centers, Edison Motors is using green hydrogen fuel cells for its city bus fleets, and auto manufacturers, such as Toyota, have been realizing the benefits of hydrogen fuel for years. A recent McKinsey study estimated that by 2030, the U.S. hydrogen economy could generate $140 billion and support 700,000 jobs, while a report by the Hydrogen Council estimates that 18 percent of the world energy market will consist of hydrogen by 2050.
Green hydrogen alone cannot address the world's emissions concerns, but we cannot fully decarbonize the economy without it. Plug Power believes green hydrogen is only one piece of the puzzle and that we must build an integrated renewable energy architecture, consisting of solar, wind, batteries and green hydrogen. This is the energy infrastructure of the future, and it cannot be achieved without green hydrogen.