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Net Zero with Hydrogen Is on the Horizon, We Need the World on Board to Get There

In a remarkable shift, "net zero" has evolved from a buzzword to a concrete goal, with major economies representing 80% of global GDP now committed to decarbonization, driving significant investments in clean energy, particularly hydrogen-based solutions.

This article was first published in H2 View.

By Amy Adams, Vice President – Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Technologies at Cummins, Hydrogen Council member

A few years ago, “net zero” was still considered a buzzword by many, but bold decisions over the past months made by governments, businesses and investors have shown that net zero by 2050 has become a concrete goal. Major economies around the world are firming up commitments to decarbonise, and countries with net zero ambitions today make up 80% of global GDP – a huge leap forward since the beginning of the year, when that number was still at 50%1. These developments are driving massive investments in clean energy, including in solutions based on the molecule that readers of this magazine know best: hydrogen.

When the Hydrogen Council mapped global market deployment in its Hydrogen Insights report in February this year, 228 large-scale hydrogen projects had already been announced across the value chain. Less than six months later, the total number of projects in the pipeline is up to 359 [1] – and not just the number and size of projects has grown, but the number of countries and regions getting on board is growing rapidly too. Although Europe and East Asia continue to lead on hydrogen, the mentality shift is now spreading far beyond with more and more governments and companies embracing stricter emission standards by moving into cleaner technologies.

Regions rich in renewable energy and carbon storage are working to take on their natural role of clean hydrogen suppliers, developing an increasingly international ecosystem. China is one of the countries that stands out as another hydrogen leader: since the country committed to net zero emissions by 2060, over 50 Chinese hydrogen projects have been announced, and green hydrogen projects specifically are set to benefit from the ramp up in renewable energy production that China is planning1. Within the next decade, the country aims to more than double its capacity of renewable energy, up to 1,200 gigawatts. On the other side of the Pacific, after re-entering the Paris Agreement earlier this year and introducing a new 50-52% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030, the U.S. is also back in the game.

Until recently, policy initiatives in the U.S. to stimulate the hydrogen economy were mostly limited to the state level, with California leading the charge. But the Biden-Harris administration has put solving the climate challenge back on the U.S. agenda and clean energy deployment is making serious headway. Just one example of this includes the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot initiative launched by Energy Secretary Granholm as part of a broader effort to drive breakthroughs in clean energy technologies.

Industry has mobilised to contribute to this endeavour through Hydrogen Forward, a new U.S.-focused coalition of companies working to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen solutions, collaborating with numerous partners from academia, think tanks, associations, NGOs, labour unions and other stakeholders. The goal is to help the U.S. position itself as a global leader in cleantech innovation. Cummins, along with several other Hydrogen Council members, has taken the lead in this new initiative, because we see the massive potential that hydrogen holds – not just to drive net zero emissions, but also to strengthen the U.S. economy by creating new jobs and building a profitable export market.

It’s encouraging to see the rising number of countries that have hydrogen strategies in place, but we must remember that hydrogen is a systemic play, and to make the most out of its decarbonising power, our ambitions must be truly global. Today, almost all hydrogen is used in the location of production, but this is set to change. Roughly 30% of announced production capacity by 2030 will be transported by ships or pipelines from countries with ample renewable energy resources such as Australia, Saudi Arabia and Chile. [2] We need comprehensive international action to firmly establish these trade routes, spur innovation, and build the cross-border infrastructure we need at large scale. By engaging in multilateral partnerships, businesses can stimulate trade flows between supply and demand centres, and drive competition.

The clean energy policies that are being announced around the world send clear signals to the market to step up investments in emerging technologies. To maximise hydrogen’s contribution to a world with net zero emissions, consumption should increase to 212 million metric tons by 2030 – more than double today’s levels [3], and industry should lead the way. Through the data and insights we collect in our studies, the Hydrogen Council wants to guide industry players, policymakers and the investment community as they work together towards this goal, because if anything, this time of massive political and societal change is hugely exciting, and we should all feel empowered to drive the change we want to see. 

[1] Hydrogen Insights 2021 – July 2021 Update, Hydrogen Council, July 2021

[2] Hydrogen Insights – July 2021 Update, Hydrogen Council, July 2021

[3] Net Zero by 2050, IEA, May 2021

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