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The Clean Mobility Future will be Electric – with Batteries and Hydrogen

The coronavirus outbreak caused a significant decline in global carbon emissions, mainly from a 17% drop during lockdown, with road transport emissions decreasing by 43%, prompting questions about returning to pre-pandemic norms and highlighting the need to invest in scalable clean transport solutions for lasting change.

This article was first published in H2 View.

By Amy Adams, VP Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Technologies at Cummins, and Valerie Bouillon-Delporte, Hydrogen Ecosystem Director at Michelin, members of the Hydrogen Council

The coronavirus outbreak has kept global communities confined for months. Though the main objective was stopping the spread of the virus, it also resulted in the steepest one-year decline in global carbon emissions since World War II. Daily global emissions fell by 17% at the peak of the lockdown, with road transport emissions responsible for 43% of this drop.[1] However, as economies regain strength and people get back on the move, it is likely emissions will rapidly rebound. But is going back to business as usual really an option? With existing clean transport solutions ready to be scaled, better air quality and cleaner urban life don’t need to be short-lived. It’s up to governments, industry and investors to redirect stimulus and investments for positive, lasting change.

Batteries and Hydrogen are Two Sides of the Same Coin

If we want deep decarbonisation, we need deep electrification. Analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that two solutions will be particularly crucial: batteries and hydrogen-powered fuel cells[2]. Yet batteries and hydrogen fuel cells are often talked about as a zero-sum game. This way of thinking needs to change, as they share a symbiotic relationship and are mutually beneficial, so development and investment in both needs to happen in parallel. If our common goal is decarbonisation, this is no time for tribalism. This is time for collaboration. We need all hands (and technologies) on deck.

Though essential for electrified power solutions, battery transport applications are limited by recharging time and range. That’s where hydrogen comes in to enhance battery performance. While battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are the most competitive alternative for small vehicles and short ranges, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) offer increased flexibility by supporting long distance driving and high intensity in usage, as well as heavy-duty transport (trains, trucks, coaches, taxi fleets and forklifts). Whereas each technology has strengths for different uses, battery and hydrogen solutions can be combined in hybrid systems to overcome the limitations of each technology on its own, making a dent in overall carbon emissions, and supporting local air quality improvements and noise reductions[3] for the full spectrum of transport.

Benefits of Scaling Up Fuel Cells and Batteries in Parallel

Fuel cell and battery electric vehicles make use of similar and complementary technologies, so developing and scaling both in parallel will allow steeper innovation and learning curves – plus economies of scale in development and production, resulting in faster cost reductions and availability. Up to 70% of future cost reductions for hydrogen in transport applications will be from manufacturing scale-up of end-use equipment, according to a recent Hydrogen Council study.[4] With both BEVs and FCEVs, the transport market can offer the diversity and flexibility that consumers need, helping to effectively shift demand over the coming decades and decrease the sector’s dependence on fossil fuels. Governments today are looking to boost economic growth. Investing in zero-tailpipe emission technology like battery, hydrogen and fuel cells can help lower emissions and spur economic recovery. As battery and hydrogen industries scale up, more jobs will be created, strengthening countries’ cleantech industries and futureproofing their workforces for the jobs of tomorrow.

Leading the Charge for a Clean Transport Future

As government and business leaders are currently injecting trillions of recovery stimulus into essential sectors, such as transport, and deciding how best to reboot economies, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment for the future of clean mobility: this crisis should be the stepping-stone to accelerated decarbonisation. COVID-19 has shown us the clear impact of our current transportation systems on urban environments, emissions and air pollution – and what a difference just a few months can make. Imagine the progress in the coming decades if we make smart decisions today, working together with industry, governments and investors to scale up the right portfolio of cleantech solutions – including hydrogen and batteries – to get the clean mobility future on track.

[1] Nature Climate Change, ‘Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement’, 19 May 2020

[2] International Energy Agency (IEA), ‘Batteries and hydrogen technology: keys for a clean energy future’, 3 May 2020

[3] Hydrogen Council, Vision Document, 2017

[4] Hydrogen Council, Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness: A Cost Perspective, January 2020

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