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Hydrogen fuel can power clean economy

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

We reported in 2018 that Japan was busy building a hydrogen society. While plans to make this a legacy of the Tokyo Olympics – in the same way the Bullet Train was a major legacy of the 1964 Olympics – will have to wait a little longer, a strategy pursued by a country synonymous with innovation is one others are likely to follow.

Highlighting the sense in this direction of travel, and its potential as a global decarbonising solution, today’s study: Hydrogen Economy Outlook, by BloombergNEF (BNEF), sets out a future where its widespread adoption can deliver an emissions reduction of 34% by 2050.

“Hydrogen has potential to become the fuel that powers a clean economy,” said Kobad Bhavnagri, head of industrial decarbonization for BNEF and lead author of the report.

For this to happen, the study says hydrogen power must be harnessed using clean energy sources. And with the cost of this process continuing to fall, the day when it can become a game changing fuel edges every closer.

“In the years ahead, it will be possible to produce it at low cost using wind and solar power, to store it underground for months, and then to pipe it on-demand to power everything from ships to steel mills,” added Kobad.

Renewable hydrogen is produced when water is split into hydrogen and oxygen, with electricity generated from clean power. Since 2015 there has been a 40% drop in the electrolyzer technology that does this. To capitalise, Kobad is calling for a rapid scaling up of investment. Doing so, he says, will slash emissions in industries heavily reliant on fossil fuels, including steel and shipping.

“Hydrogen is promising and powerful because it can be used for so many things. Renewable energy has paved the way to carbon-free electricity. But to meet net-zero emissions targets, we need to go beyond electricity and have carbon-free fuels. That is the role for hydrogen.”

He added: “This needs policy coordination across government, frameworks for private investment, and the roll-out of around $150 billion of subsidies over the next decade. That may sound daunting but it is not, in fact, such a huge task – governments around the world currently spend more than twice that every year on fossil fuel consumption subsidies.”

Here is a summary of the study’s key findings.

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Iain Robertson
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