Are Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Finally—Finally!—Ready For Prime Time?

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Are Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Finally—Finally!—Ready For Prime Time?

I’ve subscribed to the theory that “hydrogen is the fuel of the future (and always will be)” for most of my 30 years on this beat, but a confluence of recent developments suggests maybe we’re nearing a tipping point for the universe’s smallest known molecule.

Accelerated development of fuel cells for use in heavy-duty trucking promises to boost infrastructure and bring the economies of scale needed to hasten light-duty fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) adoption. Proliferation of renewable energy is increasing demand for ways to store surplus grid power, which can be done using hydrogen, and a novel means of inexpensively producing green hydrogen is emerging.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory senior research fellow and fuel cell group manager Bryan Pivovar tipped me off to this tipping point during a recent panel discussion on Autoline Detroit. His lab has teamed with five other national labs on the HyBlend project to investigate blending up to 20 percent hydrogen into the natural gas infrastructure. With said hydrogen being produced by electrolysis from surplus solar and wind energy, the project could lower the carbon footprint of the natural gas infrastructure.

The HyBlend project will spend two years assessing the safety and efficiency of such hydrogen/methane blends, as hydrogen has lower energy density and is more explosive than methane. It will also study the effect these smaller H2 molecules, which are also three times “more permeable,” have on the pipelines themselves. Such blending would create a market for clean hydrogen accessible via the nation’s $1 trillion natural gas infrastructure while we work to expand our currently meager 1,600-mile hydrogen pipeline network. For the full story, check out this article from Motor Trend.

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