Automakers and Energy Companies Team Up To Sell The World On Hydrogen

Sometimes plug-in vehicle advocates are accused of holding to conspiracy theories that deep-pocketed interests and carmakers resisting EVs want to promote hydrogen, but who needs theories when intentions are expressed in plain sight?

To wit, yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 13 CEOs and chairpersons from major corporations representing total revenues of $1.14 trillion and 1.72 million employees met as members of the newly formed “Hydrogen Council.”

The first global initiative of its kind, they plan in the next five years to invest $10.7 billion in hydrogen-related products. And, as a lobbying arm, their goal is to seek government funding, public acceptance, and otherwise pave the way for a hydrogen future.

Members of the Hydrogen Council presently are: Air Liquide, Alstom, Anglo American, BMW GROUP, Daimler, ENGIE, Honda, Hyundai Motor, Kawasaki, Royal Dutch Shell, The Linde Group, Total and Toyota.

Corporate logos of member companies in the Hydrogen Council.

Corporate logos of member companies in the Hydrogen Council.

Two co-chairs – currently represented by Air Liquide and Toyota – lead the council from different geographies and sectors.

The Hydrogen Council’s expressed “united vision” and “long term ambition” is to promote the energy source among policymakers, businesses, international agencies, “hydrogen players,” – and you, a member of the public.

Their key selling proposition is summed in the environmental benefits the Hydrogen Council intends to prove.

“Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier with favorable characteristics since it does not release any CO2 at the point of use as a clean fuel or energy source, and can play an important role in the transition to a clean, low-carbon, energy system,” said a statement.

What was not said is anything about upstream emissions at the point of refining or transport, as natural gas is used to reform methane into hydrogen.

The initiative goes beyond transportation to all sectors.

This process of getting the hydrogen to the end user does release emissions but the hydrogen advocates say in time more renewable sources will make hydrogen a more viable environmental proposition.

To be fair, plug-in electrified vehicles also have upstream emissions – and PHEVs do have tailpipe emissions. However, advocates have pointed to well-to-wheel analyses, and gradle-to-grave analyses from various sources to show plug-ins are net cleaner. And, they say, they make better sense from a variety of standpoints, plus the grid is getting cleaner year by year.

Speaking of which, infrastructure is also more in place for plug-ins. Although more public charging is still being called for, given that the energy grid is fully wired – and expensive hydrogen stations are few and far between – arguments against devoting finite resources to fuel cell technology are only amplified.

A sight not likely to be seen for a fuel cell vehicle -- a car charging at home. Furthermore, owners of solar and other renewable energy can cut off their need for refueling, save the hassle of going to a fuel station, and this potential independence frightens energy companies, advocates say.

A sight not likely to be seen for a fuel cell vehicle — a car charging at home. Furthermore, owners of solar and other renewable energy can cut off their need for refueling, save the hassle of going to a fuel station, and this potential independence frightens energy companies, advocates say. Fuel cell advocates counter FCVs make sense for those without a home base to charge, an issue likely to be compounded with increased urbanization.

Otherwise, a race is yet on, even as carmakers are also developing battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars which to date have sold about 2 million worldwide, next to a mere handful of fuel cell vehicles.

To gain parity for hydrogen, the Hydrogen Council thus seeks to put its money where its mouth is as it otherwise seeks increased commitment for fuel cell technology.

“During the launch, members of the ‘Hydrogen Council’ confirmed their ambition to accelerate their significant investment in the development and commercialization of the hydrogen and fuel cell sectors,” said a statement. “These investments currently amount to an estimated total value of €1.4 billion/year ($1.7 billion/year). “This acceleration will be possible if the key stakeholders increase their backing of hydrogen as part of the future energy mix with appropriate policies and supporting schemes.”

The Hydrogen Council’s goals are in sympathy with the 2015 Paris Agreement calling for the “ambitious goal” of reaching the 2 degree Celsius target set needed to save the planet from consequences of continued climate warming blamed on greenhouse gases.

This initiative goes beyond cars and trucks, and includes all uses for fuel cell technology.

This initiative goes beyond cars and trucks, and includes all uses for fuel cell technology.

“The 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change is a significant step in the right direction but requires business action to be taken to make such a pledge a reality,” said Benoît Potier, CEO, Air Liquide. “The Hydrogen Council brings together some of the world’s leading industrial, automotive and energy companies with a clear ambition to explain why hydrogen emerges among the key solutions for the energy transition, in the mobility as well as in the power, industrial and residential sectors, and therefore requires the development of new strategies at a scale to support this. But we cannot do it alone. We need governments to back hydrogen with actions of their own―for example through large-scale infrastructure investment schemes. Our call today to world leaders is to commit to hydrogen so that together we can meet our shared climate ambitions and give further traction to the emerging Hydrogen ecosystem.”

The Hydrogen Council said its invites “governments and key society stakeholders to also acknowledge the contribution of hydrogen to the energy transition and to work with us to create an effective implementation plan.”

And, it has a report, “How hydrogen empowers the energy transition” to further educate all involved on its position.


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