UK government launches first Hydrogen Strategy
Nissan launches of Note Aura NISMO in Japan; e-POWER electrified powertrain

Energy researchers: clean US hydrogen economy is within reach, but needs a game plan

Addressing climate change requires not only a clean electrical grid, but also a clean fuel to reduce emissions from industrial heat, long-haul heavy transportation, and long-duration energy storage. Hydrogen and its derivatives could be that fuel, argues a commentary by four energy researchers in the journal Joule. However, they note, a clean US hydrogen economy will require a comprehensive strategy and a 10-year plan.

The commentary suggests that careful consideration of future hydrogen infrastructure, including production, transport, storage, use, and economic viability, will be critical to the success of efforts aimed at making clean hydrogen viable on a societal scale.

The authors are:

  • Arun Majumdar, a Jay Precourt Professor and Co-Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University and lead author of the commentary. He served in the Obama administration as the Founding Director of the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) (2009–2012), as the Acting Undersecretary for Energy (2011–2012), and as the Vice Chair of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (2014–2017).

  • John Deutch, an emeritus Institute Professor at MIT. He has served as Chairman of the Department of Chemistry, Dean of Science, and Provost. In the Carter administration, he served as Director of Energy Research (1977–1979), Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Technology (1979), and Undersecretary (1979–1980) in the US Depart- ment of Energy.

  • Ravi Prasher is an Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He has more than 20 years of experience in working in R&D in large industry, startup, government, and academia. He was one of the first program directors at ARPA-E. Prasher has published more than 100 papers on thermal energy science and technology and holds more than 30 patents.

  • Tom Griffin specializes in identifying high-impact technology investment opportunities in the manufacturing sector for Breakthrough Energy Ventures. He has more than 25 years of industrial experience in applied technology development and deployment, including contributions over a wide range of energy and environmental sectors. He served as CTO at both Edeniq and Pennsylvania Sustainable Technologies (where was also co-founder), pursuing capabilities and applications in biofuels and catalytic fuel upgrading.

We applaud the US Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, for launching the ambitious Hydrogen Earthshot program with a technology-agnostic stretch goal of greenhouse gas-free H2 production at $1/kg before the end of this decade. Similar R&D programs with techno-economic stretch goals are needed for H2 storage, use, and transport as well. The Hydrogen Earthshot is necessary to create a hydrogen economy, but it is not sufficient.

—Arun Majumdar

About 70 million metric tons of hydrogen are produced around the world each year, with the US contributing about one-seventh of the global output. Much of this is used to produce fertilizer and petrochemicals, and nearly all of it is considered “gray H2,” which costs only about $1 per kilogram to produce but comes with roughly 10 kilograms of CO2 baggage per kilogram H2.

An H2 economy already exists, but it involves lots of greenhouse gas emissions. Almost all of it is based on H2 from methane. A clean H2 economy does not exist today.

—Arun Majumdar

Researchers have plenty of colorful visions as to what a clean H2 economy might look like. “Blue H2,” for example, involves capturing CO2 and reducing emissions, resulting in H2 with less greenhouse gas output. However, it currently costs about 50% more than gray H2, not including the cost of developing the pipelines and sequestration systems needed to transport and store unwanted CO2.

To make blue hydrogen a viable option, research and development is needed to reduce CO2 capture costs and further improve capture completeness, say Majumdar and colleagues in the commentary.

“Green H2” has also captured scientists’ attention. Green H2 involves the use of electricity and electrolyzers to split water, without any greenhouse gas byproducts. However, it costs $4 to $6 per kilogram, a price that Majumdar and colleagues suggest could be reduced to under $2 per kilogram with a reduction in carbon-free electricity and electrolyzer costs.

“Turquoise H2,” which is achieved through methane pyrolysis, when methane is cracked to generate greenhouse gas-free H2, is also creating a buzz in the research world. The solid carbon co-product generated in this process could be sold to help offset costs, although Majumdar and colleagues point out that the quantity of solid carbon produced at the necessary scale would exceed current demand, resulting in a need for R&D efforts to develop new markets for its use.

Whether blue, green, or turquoise, greenhouse gas-free hydrogen or its derivatives could be used in transportation; the chemical reduction of captured CO2; long-duration energy storage in a highly renewable energy-dependent grid; chemical reductants for steel and metallurgy; and as high-temperature industrial heat for glass and cement production. But for these applications to become a reality, H2 production will have to hit certain cost benchmarks—$1 per kilogram for the production of ammonia and petrochemicals or for use as a transportation fuel or fuel cells.

The researchers also emphasize that the US will need to consider how H2 pipelines will be developed and deployed in order to transport it, as well as how to store H2 cost-effectively at a large scale.

Developing and siting new pipeline infrastructure is generally expensive and involves challenges of social acceptance. Hence, it is important to explore alternative approaches for a hydrogen economy that does not require a new H2 pipeline infrastructure. Instead, it is worth using existing infrastructure to transport the feedstock for H2—electric grid for transporting electricity for water splitting; natural gas pipelines to transport methane for pyrolysis.

… While there has been some systematic study of geological storage, the United States Geological Survey should be charged with undertaking a national survey to identify the many locations where underground storage of hydrogen is possible while also considering the infrastructure costs needed to use these caverns.

—Majumdar et al.

Other recommendations from the authors include:

  • Hydrogen R&D should be integrated with a private-public partnership for technology demonstration program to address economic, regulatory, supply chain, and policy considerations and thereby establish a credible de-risking approach to attract private investors.

  • federal and/or state authorities must adopt policies to support a hydrogen market either by a charge on GHG emissions or via clean energy standards that involve GHG-free H2 as an option, or a combination of the two. These policies should also include the enabling market creating policies for solid carbon produced via methane pyrolysis. Furthermore, governments should use their purchasing power to create a demand for GHG-free H2 and, most importantly, use a reverse auction to foster a globally competitive supply chain in the private sector.

  • Despite the strong interest in green hydrogen from electrolysis, the economic reality suggests that there could be a significant fraction of the hydrogen originating from natural gas. Therefore, a holistic hydrogen strategy should also be aligned with a national carbon management plan, which should include an infrastructure for carbon capture, transport, and sequestration derived from processes yielding either gaseous (SMR) or solid (pyrolysis) carbon co-production.




I think H2 would work in aircraft and sea ships; but, the only application I believe makes economic sense for road vehicles might be long-haul semis; however, we haven't hear from Tesla yet...we'll see.
Of course there are those here on the site with a hydrogen bias, what say you?


Hydrogen bias?

Perhaps if the detractors could come up with any way at all of decarbonising without extensive use of hydrogen the phrase might make some sense.

In fact of course for heavy transport of all kinds, for steel, fertiliser and glass production, not to mention seasonal energy storage it can't be done, and any source which is not completely barmy knows that very well.

The only thing we don't know is since it has more advantages the heavier the load and the further the distance to be traveled is how far down in vehicle size it will make a substantial contribution.


Put power plant emissions in the ground
They are doing that for enhanced oil recovery


There are a number of uses for hydrogen that would be hard to do away with. Ammonia based fertilizer is probably the prime example. It is also possible to use ammonia as a fuel. Hydrogen is currently used in oil refining to make lighter hydrocarbons for fuel but if we switch to more electric vehicles, this need for this hydrogen would diminish. The use of hydrogen has been proposed for direct reduction of iron ore to iron but it is also possible to use high temperature electrolysis of molten iron ore to produce iron directly.

I am concerned about the production of "blue" hydrogen in that the CO2 must be sequestered forever without much loss. Methane pyrolysis or "turquoise" hydrogen looks more promising but there is no way that there is a market for the trainloads of carbon black that would be produced at scale so that need to be sequestered but at least it is a solid. To me the best way to produce hydrogen would be high temperature electrolysis using nuclear power. Now all we need are even more nuclear power plants which we already need to produce green electricity for base load power. No easy answers for the low cost production of hydrogen.



You learn a lot on this site!
I did not know it was possible to produce iron directly by electrolysis.
I dug out the process here:

It is in a pretty low state of development though, and what the steel companies are ploughing ahead with is using hydrogen for reduction:


Back in the 1950s, I can remember the standard saying, "fusion is just around the corner". That saying was switched to, "fusion is just 20 years away".
Fusion, on earth, is an extremely difficult subject matter but the latest developments let hope surge that it may be "just around the corner". The H2 and Boron11 fusion (HB11 )has been enabled with the advent of the CHIRP-Laser. First lab results have been so overwhelming that they have overshadowed all achievements of the Tokomak and Stellerator designs. It may well be that fusion is now "just around the corner". With HB11 FSR, all energy problems would be solved and prove that H2 finally fulfills its true destiny.



I nearly forgot to mention: it is not possible to operate a H2 fueled vehicle without a battery but a BEV can be operated without any H2.


For the last 50 years or so, fusion was just 20 years away. Maybe for the next 30 years or so, it will only be 10 years away:) I think that we should keep up the research on fusion but meanwhile, we should start building the new modular fission plants for base electric load and to generate hydrogen as needed.

I believe that NuScale has their final licensing in place and are ready to start work on the first site in Idaho. Also, a Nuscale modular reactor facility has been proposed to be built in Wales, UK to be used in conjunction with wind turbines. When there is sufficient wind, the wind turbines will provide the electric base load and the reactor will be used for high temperature electrolysis. When the wind is insufficient, the reactor will supply the grid to meet the base load needs. We need more of this.

A Facebook User

It is very important that the economy develops in the countries. This will give a boost to business and software that is being developed for business. For example, the pest control software is developing and it helps the business a lot. By the way, this software is good for many industries. Try it.

OP> “greenhouse gas-free hydrogen or its derivatives could be used in transportation… (etc). But for these applications to become a reality, H2 production will have to hit certain cost benchmarks—$1 per kilogram … for use as a transportation fuel...

That seems about right.

Yoatmon> “… H2 finally fulfills its true destiny.”

…mic drop…


Perhaps the anti-hydrogen brigade here would explain how they propose to produce fertiliser and power ships and aircraft other than tiny ones with batteries.

They are incredibly one-eyed.

Batteries are also lousy for long distance heavy road transport, but that is at least within the fantasy battery specs they imagine are a done deal, shipping etc sure aren't

The news is that if we can't produce hydrogen in a green way then decarbonisation in major segments simply can't happen.

Their 'principled opposition' to hydrogen, just like that to nuclear power, is a major obstacle to doing anything effective about the global warming they profess to be so concerned about.

Check out the realistic reports from the IPCC etc, they rely on 'all of the above' including hydrogen, nuclear and CCS.


CCS with fast reactors


@ Davemart:
If you'd have checked the link on HB11 that I posted, you'd have noticed that the metallic sphere comprising the reactor has a radius of merely one meter. The corresponding weight of the total reactor is almost negligible compared to Tokamak or Stellerator designs. These reactors could easily be implemented in trains, ships, airplanes etc. etc. supplying more than necessary power for electric drives; definitely H2 for fueling reactors but not Fool Cells.


I'd have absolutely no objections to use renewable energy for the production of minute H2 quantities needed to fuel HB11 reactors.


Turquoise H2 with the carbon catalyzed into carbon fiber would be the ideal solution if only it was possible.

The comments to this entry are closed.