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The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), launched the H2@Scale initiative in 2016 to explore the potential for hydrogen to enable affordable, reliable, clean, and secure energy across sectors. The initiative brings together National Laboratories and industry experts to accelerate research, development, and demonstration of hydrogen production, delivery, storage, infrastructure, and end-use applications. More recently, H2@Scale has been working to identify new and emerging markets where hydrogen technologies can add value to economic, environmental, and energy resilience fronts. 

The key to H2@Scale is that it can integrate different sectors and uses that can benefit from hydrogen, help scale up the volume of hydrogen used, and reduce costs for the end user. Some examples include steel manufacturing, data centers, ports, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Here are five facts you may not know about the H2@Scale vision and projects:  

1. Hydrogen can be produced at a large scale from diverse domestic resources.

Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. It is found within water, fossil fuels, and all living matter, but it rarely exists as a gas on Earth—it must be separated from other elements. There are various domestic resources that can be used to produce hydrogen, including renewables (wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal energy), nuclear power, and fossil fuels (such as natural gas and coal – with carbon capture and sequestration). The U.S. currently produces more than 10 million metric tons of hydrogen per year, about one-seventh of the global supply.[1] Recent analysis reports from DOE’s National Laboratories explore the availability of resources within the U.S. to provide hydrogen under different demand scenarios. Resource Assessment for Hydrogen Production examines the resources required to meet demand for an additional 10 million metric tons of hydrogen in 2040.

Skyline with nuclear and renewable energy sources and a grain field in the foreground, shot with a clear blue sky.
Skyline with nuclear and renewable energy sources and a grain field in the foreground, shot with a clear blue sky.
Photo courtesy of iStock.com

2. Hydrogen has the highest energy content (by weight) of all known fuels, and is an essential feedstock in multiple industries.

Hydrogen has about 3 times more energy content by weight than conventional fuels like gasoline and natural gas, which is why it was first selected by NASA for space applications. It also has about 4 times less energy density by volume, so it is challenging to store in a limited space. Hydrogen is an industrial commodity today, mostly used for oil refining and fertilizer production. H2@Scale is also looking at hydrogen in industrial manufacturing. For example, take steelmaking. Nearly 6% of delivered energy in the U.S. is used to produce steel, primarily using a carbon product called coke fuel. New production processes are exploring the use of hydrogen gas instead of coke. Hydrogen reacts with iron oxide in a similar fashion to the carbon monoxide derived from coke fuel, but the only byproduct of this reaction is water. This is just one of many emerging hydrogen applications being demonstrated through industry-led projects supported by EERE. H2@Scale also supports more than 25 cooperative research and development agreement projects at National Laboratories and in collaboration with industry that focus on reducing barriers to emerging hydrogen applications, including heavy-duty trucks and blending hydrogen in natural gas pipelines.

Hot steel going through conveyor belt at a steel manufacturing plant
Hot steel going through conveyor belt at a steel manufacturing plant
Photo courtesy of iStock.com

3. Hydrogen and fuel cells can enable zero or near-zero emissions in transportation, stationary or remote power, and portable power applications.

When hydrogen is produced from renewable or zero-carbon sources, it becomes a zero-emission energy source. Today in the U.S., hydrogen powers more than 500 MW of stationary fuel cells, 35,000 forklifts, 60 fuel cell buses, and 8,800 fuel cell cars.[2] The H2@Scale initiative is researching the vast impact hydrogen can have on different applications, including heavy duty applications that are hard to decarbonize using other approaches. Examples include heavy duty trucks, rail transportation and maritime applications as well as backup power for data centers. One of DOE’s new National Lab consortia will accelerate development of fuel cells for heavy-duty trucks – an application receiving interest worldwide.  

Aerial shot of a cargo ship arriving in the Port of Long Beach, California
Aerial shot of a cargo ship arriving in the Port of Long Beach, California
Photo courtesy of iStock.com

4. Hydrogen can be used as a “responsive load” to enable grid stability and seasonal, long-duration energy storage.

H2@Scale efforts validated, for the first time, the ability of hydrogen electrolyzers to dynamically respond to voltage disturbances.[3] This flexibility allows energy storage systems to adapt to the variability of renewable energy sources while meeting energy demands. Electrolyzers can also make use of excess renewable electricity during times of low demand, ultimately increasing renewable energy utilization and lowering the cost of hydrogen. And hydrogen can be used as a form of energy storage for renewables, either feeding power back to the grid or using hydrogen as a fuel or feedstock for other applications.

 

 

Electrolyzer in the Energy Systems Integration Lab at NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility
Electrolyzer in the Energy Systems Integration Lab at NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility
Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory

5.  H2@Scale is supporting efforts to help cut the cost of hydrogen production.

Over the past few years, H2@Scale has overcome technical barriers to enable efficient and affordable production of hydrogen. R&D advancements have reduced the cost of hydrogen production from electrolysis to $5–$6/kg hydrogen at electricity costs of $0.05 to $0.07/kWh.[4] Nevertheless, there is more work to do to reach DOE’s target cost of $2/kg hydrogen. A new National Lab consortium will focus on achieving large-scale, affordable electrolyzers. These electrolyzers use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and can be powered by various energy sources, including natural gas, nuclear, and renewables. This research will complement the existing H2@Scale work to develop efficient hydrogen production materials and methods, infrastructure, and end-use technologies.

 

 

A 25 kW high-temperature electrolysis (HTE) flexible test facility at Idaho National Lab
A 25 kW high-temperature electrolysis (HTE) flexible test facility at Idaho National Lab
Photo courtesy of Idaho National Lab