Community Voices: Is the Hydrogen Economy Finally Within Reach?

Community Voices: Is the Hydrogen Economy Finally Within Reach?

Collaborating with stakeholders across the entire value chain while advancing industry capabilities can unlock tomorrow’s hydrogen economies.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is an annual United Nations climate conference that brings leaders from government, communities, non-profits, and businesses together to embrace sustainability commitments and limit global temperature rises. COP 28, held in Dubai in December 2023, took stock on climate action progress from a global perspective. The consensus: we need a lot more meaningful and holistic progress that is financed and implemented at a greater scale and in a shorter timeframe. Simple enough!

Language was included in the final text of the COP 28 declaration on phasing-down fossil fuels, accelerating the decommissioning of unabated coal power, phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and other measures that drive the transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems. Such language has never been included in a COP declaration, and as you’d expect, there is much debate about the final text. While some believe the language doesn’t go far enough, others applaud the practical progress being made.

Two declarations related to hydrogen were the  “Declaration of Intent around Hydrogen” and a joint commitment on the uptake of “Green Hydrogen in the Maritime Sector.” 

Although an aggressive focus on renewable energy is key in the shorter-term, a long-term pathway to green hydrogen may determine the decarbonization of hard-to-abate industries and thermal applications, and the ultimate achievement of net-zero ambitions by 2050.

Enabling the hydrogen economy 

For a successful energy transition, we need to enable both green electrons and green molecules, closing the “green premium” gap between renewable energy sources to produce hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and sustainable aviation fuels and traditional fossil fuel energy sources used in current production processes. For many, achieving scaled investments into hydrogen feels as if it is consistently “one-year” away.

ASME Responds to Climate Change

Since 1880, ASME has taken on society’s biggest and most technical challenges. Today, humanity is facing one of its largest challenges ever: climate change.

Although COP 28 fell short of any declaration from countries on doubling or tripling hydrogen capacity by any set date, progress is being made. For example, Black & Veatch, where I am the Global Advisory Leader and Global Head of Sustainability, is the only engineering and construction company building three active green hydrogen projects. These include the Advanced Clean Energy Storage (ACES Delta Hub) Project which will produce and store utility and industrial scale green hydrogen from renewable energy sources. 

Pragmatically, as we transition, blue hydrogen can be ramped up. This will unlock more affordable supplies for industries building hydrogen end-use applications. In parallel, the electrolyzer supply chain has time to mature and scale.

Then, in addition, to see other large green hydrogen projects come to fruition, both supply and demand need to be concurrently incentivized. Hydrogen’s versatility across industries applications—transportation, chemicals, steel, concrete and even food service—represents both the opportunity as well as the challenge of scaling demand for hydrogen across these disparate end-users.  Sector-coupling, which allows supply and demand to be matched and developed in conjunction, can be an effective approach to address the market inefficiencies of emerging end-uses.  Aligning volumes, investments and development timelines between suppliers and end users is a key requirement as well as outcome of effective sector coupling design. 

The U.S. Department of Energy's Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs Program (H2Hubs) attempts to catalyze this dynamic. Seeking concepts for regional hydrogen hubs brings together suppliers and end-users as well as contractors, financiers, and local community stakeholders.  By engaging the full range of enabling stakeholders, the program accelerates conversations, enables sector-coupling and brings a more holistic and aligned understanding on what a project will need in order to be successful. Seven applications were ultimately selected by DOE and will collectively receive $7 billion towards the development of regional hydrogen hubs exploring multiple supply technologies as well as end-use applications.

Globally, COP 28 was successful in establishing more of these building blocks. The Declaration of Intent, signed by more than 30 countries, sets a framework to work toward important mutual recognition of hydrogen certification schemes to help facilitate a global market. This complements ASME’s own Hydrogen for the Green Economy Steering Committee recommending and assisting on green hydrogen products and services which includes a focus on advancing standards for hydrogen production, transport, storage, and usage. All is incredibly important progress.

Finally, given the most predictable demand for green hydrogen will likely come from port/bunkering and maritime uses, the Green Hydrogen and Green Shipping Joint Commitment was also a significant development at COP 28.  Notably, it brought together ship owners, operators, financiers, ports and port enablers, equipment manufacturers, cargo owners, and suppliers, in another key global example of mobilizing the entire value chain to create sector coupling by simultaneously incentivizing supply and demand and aligning other critical stakeholders.

It's a journey

Roadmaps to green hydrogen point out as far as 2050 because we are trying to create new economies, inclusive of entire value chains and ecosystems. This requires global and local mobilization with shared purpose.

People, too, will advance this journey. From early engagement of the broadest set of stakeholders through to the talent that will deliver the change itself, we must come together to drive change. The ASME Committee on Sustainability is shaping that future by encouraging and enabling the training and retraining of engineers in traditional energy sectors. These are key ingredients in making green hydrogen commercially feasible for the long term good of our planet.

Deepa Poduval is a founding member of the ASME Committee on Sustainability and Senior Vice President, Global Sustainability Leader, Black & Veatch. 

For more, 
read ASMEs position on climate change.

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