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Ryan Myers
Ryan Myers

Fuel Cells And Hydrogen Production

Most fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are powered by hydrogen (H2) and considered zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). FCEVs are like battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in that they are both electric vehicles (EVs) that use an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine to power the wheels. However, while BEVs run on batteries that are plugged in to recharge, FCEVs produce their electricity onboard. Hydrogen can be used as fuel in a variety of fuel cell electric applications to generate power, emitting only water and heat as byproducts. The conversion of hydrogen to electricity emits no pollutants that affect public health and minimizes greenhouse gases (GHG) that contribute to climate change.

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Production


Hydrogen has the potential to meaningfully reduce GHG emissions in the transportation sector. It can offer benefits to the heavy-duty transportation sector applications (i.e., long-haul trucks, locomotives, ships, etc.) where current battery technology might not yet be suitable for certain transportation modes (e.g., the necessary battery weight would be too substantial). Hydrogen can also store energy for long periods of time. As additional renewable electricity from wind and solar technologies is added to the grid, hydrogen could be used to help balance intermittent supply with varying demand. Integrating fueling infrastructure for hydrogen into our local and national roadways, similar to what was done with traditional fueling stations and is currently underway for BEV charging stations, will take some time.

Globally, there is a lot of interest in hydrogen as a low- and zero-carbon fuel option. Hydrogen is abundant in the universe and is a highly versatile energy carrier. It can be produced from many domestic resources and has a high energy content by weight. It is also extremely light, so it needs to be compressed or liquified, which can make it challenging and expensive to transport, store, and use. As hydrogen scales up across the economy, the costs are expected to continue to drop and become more competitive with other sources of energy.

While hydrogen is abundant in the universe, it must be separated from other compounds to be used as fuel. This process can be energy intensive. The quantity of emissions associated with producing hydrogen fuels depends on the source of feedstock and method of production. Currently, almost all hydrogen in the U.S. is derived from natural gas by stripping and recombining hydrogen molecules from methane and water in a process called steam methane reforming. This process is well established but also energy intensive and results in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere if they are not captured and sequestered, and methane (CH4) emissions due to leakage throughout the natural gas supply chain. However, there are EPA efforts to reduce CH4 emission, in particular in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, where $1.55 billion will fund the Methane Emissions and Waste Reduction Incentive Program.

Hydrogen also can be made from plant materials. It can even be produced from your trash. Pilot projects have used landfill gas and wastewater to make hydrogen fuel. Check out What if Garbage Fumes Powered More of Our Cars, Trucks, and Buses? for more details.

Technology and Market: Following the effects of the global pandemic in 2020, the fuel cell and hydrogen industry has rebounded strongly. The global number of fuel cell system shipments increased by 75.7% in 2021, totalling 2,330.4 MW. The number of shipments to Europe grew by 33% to 197.8 MW from 149 MW in 2020. Similarly, after a period of slow growth in 2020, HRS deployment in Europe rebounded, with 170 stations in operation by the end 2021, an 11% increase from 2020. In the same direction, 3,885 new FCEVs were registered in Europe in 2021, an increase of 36% from 2020. Following a sharp decline in the number of electrolysers commissioned in 2020 (only 2 units totalling 1.5 MW), 2021 saw 14 new units in Europe, with a total capacity of 27 MW. All these numbers are expected to grow significantly over the coming years.

Supply and Demand: The European hydrogen market remained relatively stable in terms of supply and demand. Total hydrogen production at the end of 2020 has been estimated at 11.4 Mt per year, while hydrogen consumption has been estimated at 8.6 Mt, which means an average capacity utilization of 76%. Hydrogen production capacity of electrolysers also remains low, with 114 identified operational projects in EU, EFTA, and UK totalling 99 MW.

European and international Standards: The report presents the developments in European and international standards. 11 new standards have been published in 2021 & 2022 in the areas of fuel cell technologies and safety and measurement protocols of hydrogen technologies. In the upcoming years multiple standards are expected to be replaced.

The global data on Patents for the period 2014-2021 provides an indication of the evolution of research and development activities in the fuel cells sector. Over the period, the total number of patent filings in the sector increased. The number of mobile fuel cell patent filings far outpaces portable and stationary fuel cells and patent filings for hydrogen production dominate the hydrogen economy filings.

With respect to fuel cells, the Act extends the 30% fuel cell ITC through 2024 before transitioning to the technology-neutral clean-energy investment tax credit in 2025. There is also a new 30% ITC for energy storage, including hydrogen storage, again available through 2024 before transitioning to the technology-neutral clean-energy investment tax credit.

The Act also includes tax incentives to facilitate use of clean hydrogen. These additions include an increase to the 30% credit cap for the Alternative Fuel Refueling Property Credit from $30,000 to $100,000 and credits for fuel cell vehicles, including commercial vehicles. These incentives will increase the demand for clean hydrogen throughout the transportation sector.

The incentives included in the Act will make existing and proposed clean hydrogen projects more economic. In addition to providing significant tax credits for clean hydrogen production and hydrogen-related energy storage, the Act also provides incentives for end-use hydrogen applications in transportation. The Act sets the stage for significant investment in the production and use of clean hydrogen in the United States.

Lohscheller: I think we need to be pragmatic. First of all, to our earlier discussion, diesel trucks have to disappear, right? I obviously want to have green hydrogen, but if it is gray at the beginning, I think we have to be pragmatic and say, "Okay, that's the first step." But obviously at the end of the day we all want to go with green hydrogen for sure. I don't want to announce things and always talk about things, I want to do things. I feel good that we launched the fuel cell truck this year, and that we are also able to offer hydrogen. And yeah, if it is green, great. If it is gray at the beginning, I think that's also fine.

Lohscheller: I think a lot of things happened in 2022 which support hydrogen; the Inflation Reduction Act here in the United States is obviously very helpful, right? There is a lot of support for the production of hydrogen, and also for the dispensing. I think once people like Nikola come out with trucks and can ramp up the volume, I think we can see meaningful volumes in the next couple of years. As well, everybody investing in hydrogen is looking for an offtake, and of course our truck is perfect for this. I think we can see a breakthrough of hydrogen in the truck business very, very soon.

In his State of the Unionaddress, President Bush announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative toreverse America’s growing dependence on foreign oil by developing the technologyfor commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power cars, trucks, homes and businesses with nopollution or greenhouse gases. The hydrogen fuel initiativewill include $720 million in new funding over the next five years to developthe technologies and infrastructure to produce, store, and distribute hydrogenfor use in fuel cell vehicles and electricity generation. Combined with theFreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) initiative, President Bush is proposing a total of $1.7billion over the next five years to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cells,hydrogen infrastructure and advanced automotive technologies.

Under the President’s hydrogenfuel initiative, the first car driven by a child born today could be powered byfuel cells. The hydrogen fuel initiative complements the President’s existingFreedomCAR initiative, which is developing technologies needed for massproduction of safe and affordable hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. Throughpartnerships with the private sector, the hydrogen fuel initiative and FreedomCAR will make it practical and cost-effective forlarge numbers of Americans to choose to use clean, hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesby 2020. This will dramatically improve America’s energy security by significantly reducing the need for importedoil, as well as help clean our air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Fuel Cells are a ProvenTechnology: America’s astronauts have used fuel cells to generate electricity sincethe 1960s, but more work is needed to make them cost-effective for use in cars,trucks, homes or businesses. Additional research and development is needed tospur rapid commercialization of these technologies so they can provide clean,domestically produced energy for transportation and other uses.

Lowering the cost of hydrogen: Hydrogen is four times as expensive to produce as gasoline (whenproduced from its most affordable source, natural gas). The hydrogen fuelinitiative seeks to lower that cost enough to make fuel cell carscost-competitive with conventional gasoline-powered vehicles by 2010; and toadvance the methods of producing hydrogen from renewable resources, nuclear energy,and even coal. 041b061a72


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