For a century, our country has relied on fossil fuels to power our economy. But that's starting to change with wind, sun, renewable fuels, hydrogen, advanced nuclear options, and more.
Efforts to decarbonize our economy and protect the planet from greenhouse gas emissions are now aggressively underway in the US and other parts of the world. This huge effort to reduce CO2 emissions requires a new fuel that is clean, widely available and storable.
The use of hydrogen and fuel cells for clean, reliable and off-grid electricity is an exciting commitment to a fuel that is available everywhere and only emits water as a by-product. Clearly, hydrogen and fuel cells must be an integral part of our energy future.
If we want to achieve a clean power grid by 2035 and use wind and sun for this power grid, we must have a way of storing energy for the interruption characteristic of these power options. Hydrogen can be used to provide this storage.
And if our goal is a pollution-free transport system that refills within minutes and does not have to be connected or limits the range, how does that compare to other options?
Neither of these technologies is a distant dream. Today, thousands of fuel cells use hydrogen for forklifts, cars, buses and trucks, as well as for stationary electricity. In the warehouse behind your Walmart or Home Depot, zero-emission, fuel-cell powered forklifts are increasingly being used. Every few seconds a customer fills up with hydrogen in a warehouse. In addition, hydrogen can decarbonize basic industries such as steel and ammonia production, allowing these industries to expand both domestically and in export.
Some critics of hydrogen still say the fuel isn't exactly clean as much of its current production is from reformed natural gas. But that criticism quickly becomes obsolete as advanced approaches, including electrolysers and high temperature nuclear reactors, go online with their ability to use heat to produce hydrogen.
But because other countries invest significantly more in hydrogen and fuel cells than the US, we run the risk of losing our leadership role. Other governments have allocated more than $ 70 billion for hydrogen. Global industry predicts hydrogen demand will increase tenfold by 2050 compared to today, generating $ 2.5 trillion in sales and 30 million jobs. The USA has already ceded the leading role in the field of clean energy in the manufacture of systems for solar and wind power as well as batteries. We can't afford the same story with hydrogen fuel cells.
Why hydrogen? It is a versatile source of energy. Several economic sectors can be addressed with hydrogen. Power generation, energy storage, industrial products like steel, cement and fertilizers, including buildings and even entire communities. It is also an enabler for solar and wind technologies by producing and storing hydrogen for later use. It can enable a clean network for charging electric vehicles and make the next generation of small, modular and inherently safe nuclear reactors economically competitive. All of this can be achieved while achieving the global goals of carbon dioxide reduction, improving air quality, energy resilience, energy independence and job creation.
Let's remember that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Finding the best, most cost-effective ways to produce, store, and use hydrogen will dominate the energy industry in the late 2000s and beyond. Those nations that act quickly now will realize much cleaner power generation with the only emission being water. And the economic benefit of combining advanced nuclear power with clean hydrogen production will double the revenue stream of hydrogen and clean electricity.
These are the opportunities that our country cannot miss. Today, thanks to investments by the US Department of Energy, we hold more than 1,100 US patents and 30 commercial technologies have been developed by the industry, with 70 more to come in the next few years. We are really on the cusp of widespread commercialization. But it takes sustained research and development to reduce technology costs and ensure policies at local, state, and national levels that encourage and support hydrogen use. The just announced Hydrogen Energy Earthshot – making $ 1 for 1 kilogram in a decade is a bold, ambitious goal for the best minds across the nation to join. It's the moon shot of this generation.
There is an incredibly bright energy future ahead of us if we only make the right decisions. Imagine a fuel cell electric car in your garage has a range of 400 miles, can be refueled in five minutes, and can be plugged in like a generator when the power goes out in your house. Imagine heavy long-haul trucks that only emit water, travel hundreds of kilometers, and can be refueled quickly. Imagine a power grid made up of clean energy generators that have hydrogen storage capacity to ensure reliability. Imagine entire industries able to grow their presence with clean and efficient energy. Imagine leadership for the US in the multi-trillion dollar hydrogen economy that is emerging with millions of jobs. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize that this has to be part of the future.
–Byron Dorgan, a former Democratic Senator from North Dakota, is senior policy advisor to Arent Fox and co-chair of the company's Government Relations Practice. Robert Walker, a former Pennsylvania Republican Congressman, is CEO of MoonWalker Associates.