Why is Hydrogen Fuel cell EV technology still popular | Drivers of Hydrogen economy

Why is hydrogen technology still popular; and several bigger economies of the world continue to fund Hydrogen/ fuel cell development projects – knowing that their wheel-to-wheel is terrible?.... these are some of the questions that I receive frequently. This post tries to answer some of your questions. All the credit goes to the insights from: Michael Sura Energy analyst and strategist, Researcher & presenter: Dave Borlace, and statistics from IRENA – International Renewable Energy Agency.

I have provided links to research papers and videos explaining tons of details on the topic. But if I have to give a short summary: Hydrogen is still popular because it is advantageous for fossil fuel companies. The supply chain to the technology infrastructure of today’s hydrogen technology is built for/by the oil companies – who don’t want to lose the market due to the advancement of battery electric vehicles. I think the below paragraph is sufficient to understand the full story.

In the year 2021, there were ~120 million tonnes (Mt) of hydrogen produced – out of which only 0.035 million tonnes (Mt) were green hydrogen (produced via water electrolysis!). This is just 0.04% ; the remaining 99.96% of the hydrogen produced was from fossil fuels. Now, you know why the oil companies are very bullish on hydrogen vehicles.

The main sources of hydrogen production were: Natural gas (63%), Coal (19%) and Oil (18%)

Hydrogen economy

And the next important question: Where were these 120 million tonnes of hydrogen used? Most of them are in industrial sectors :

i) at oil refineries 40 Mt (hydrogen is used for the removal of undesired impurities, especially Sulphur, and to upgrade heavy oil fractions into lighter products)
ii) At ammonia production 34 Mt
iii) at methanol production 15 Mt
iv) at Steel production 5 Mt (DRI - Direct Reduced Iron) and
v) just ~30 kt (0.03%) in the transport sector

Is hydrogen an alternative for BEVs? Yes, they are – but a very expensive one. Because the production of “green hydrogen” is expensive.

Of course, the price will come down if we scale the production of green H2 and to some level, these numbers will change towards green H2. But how much? Energy will never be for free and hydrolysis will always be energy intensive. H2 transport/storage will remain an issue as well, due to...- simple “Physics”. For a green H2-based society, we would need a breakthrough on several aspects of science and technology by several orders of magnitude and it is simply not wise to bet on that to happen any time soon.

Until then all we see is our politicians trying to convince us to start building a so-called "hydrogen economy" using fossil hydrogen (with the hope that this grey hydrogen will become green in the future). So, the hydrogen economy will be a continuation of the fossil fuel-based economy packed in a green package with a green tag – for quite some years to come.

If you want to know more, you may watch this video:

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