Air Liquide had a special gift for the U.S. on the little-known National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day this month: The French industrial giant announced plans to make renewably produced liquid hydrogen at an upcoming plant near Las Vegas.
The company said its facility will have a production capacity of 30 tons of liquid hydrogen a day. Most of this would be destined for California, where there are plans for 200 hydrogen filling stations by 2025, Air Liquide said.
The announcement adds to the sense of a trend in the emerging sector.
“Green hydrogen seems like it’s at some sort of possible inflection,” said Ben Gallagher, an expert on carbon and emerging technology at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. “There’s definitely something in the air.”
Investors and policymakers are starting to take note. Although green hydrogen is still very much in its infancy, here are 10 countries that are taking steps to be at the forefront of developing what could be a major source of energy in the future.
Australia has had an almost negligible presence in green hydrogen markets to date. But it is looking to step up its participation considerably as a way of replacing fossil fuel exports with an alternative created with the country's plentiful renewable energy resources.
This month, for example, Siemens joined a partnership to develop a 5-gigawatt combined solar and wind project aimed at powering renewable hydrogen production.
Likely destinations for Australian green hydrogen include Japan and South Korea. "Generally, we’d be looking for a country [that's] an energy importer and is seeking a low-emission fuel,” said Paul Graham, energy flagship chief economist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
Canada sees potential in future green hydrogen markets, not just as a producer of the gas, based on abundant renewable resources, but also as a manufacturer of fuel cells. Natural Resources Canada, a federal department, outlined the opportunity in a paper this month.
“Based on collaboration and investments made by both the public and private sectors in past decades, Canada has a hydrogen and fuel-cell sector that thrives in export markets and that includes global leaders Ballard Power Systems and Hydrogenics,” it said.
Ballard Power Systems made headlines last year when Chinese conglomerate Weichai Power invested $163 million, buying a 19.9 percent stake in the business.
Along with electric vehicles, Beijing sees green hydrogen as a potential way of decarbonizing transportation, WoodMac's Gallagher said. The country's targets include 5,000 fuel-cell vehicles by 2020 and 1 million by 2030.
There are also tax exemptions for hydrogen vehicles. And Wuhan, the capital of Hubei in central China, is being styled as a hydrogen city with up to 100 fueling stations for around 5,000 fuel-cell vehicles by 2025.
“In addition, there are targets to have something like 100 manufacturers in the greater Wuhan area that are manufacturing components for fuel cells or other elements of the hydrogen economy,” said Gallagher.
Green hydrogen was all the rage a year ago in France. In June 2018, then-Minister for Ecological and Inclusive Transition Nicolas Hulot vowed to make France a world leader in hydrogen as he unveiled a €100 million ($117 million) investment plan for the technology.
Meanwhile, Hydrogène de France (HDF) was touting a €90 million investment in a hydrogen project in French Guiana. Now Hulot is out of office, and the HDF project has gone quiet. But that doesn’t mean France’s green hydrogen interest has waned.
September saw the country deploying its first hydrogen-powered passenger bus, and this month the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region committed €200 million toward 1,000 hydrogen vehicles and 15 electrolyzers, to cite just two recent examples of progress.
Germany sees hydrogen potentially being used in “various applications, including transport and to decarbonize industry,” said Martin Hablutzel, head of strategy at Siemens in Australia.
The country, already a front-runner in hydrogen technology development, is aiming to up its game with plans for 20 research labs, with a total budget of €100 million ($110 million), being unveiled over the summer.
“Hydrogen is one of the hottest topics in the energy transition in the country at the moment,” Inga Posch, managing director at FNB Gas, the federation of Germany’s gas network operators, told Bloomberg in August.
Japan is arguably green hydrogen’s most advanced market worldwide, “especially with respect to importing hydrogen for domestic applications such as transport,” said Hablutzel.
The country leads the way in hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle development thanks to the efforts of auto makers such as Toyota and Honda.
And policymakers are keen to stimulate green hydrogen as an alternative to liquefied natural gas, which Japan imports more of than any other country. Last month it announced a global action plan to set up 10,000 refueling stations over the next decade.
Norway has vast potential to create hydrogen from hydropower and is pioneering the use of fuel cells in ferries. Earlier this year the country also had the dubious honor of becoming the first in the world to report a hydrogen filling station accident.
Nel Hydrogen, the filling station operator, moved quickly to share information and get to the root cause of the incident, in which two people were injured.
Michela Bortolotti, communications manager at the industry body Hydrogen Europe, said the event should not be a hindrance to the commercialization of hydrogen. “In many cases, hydrogen is safer than the fuel we currently use to power our cars,” she said.
The Norwegian filling station incident isn’t the only safety setback to plague the nascent green hydrogen industry this year. In May, a hydrogen storage tank exploded at a government research facility in Gangneung, South Korea, killing two and injuring six.
The blast has fueled concerns over South Korea’s ambitious hydrogen rollout plans, which include getting 850,000 fuel-cell vehicles on the road by 2030, up from 3,000 this year.
The government is also planning to hand out $1.8 billion in vehicle and refueling station subsidies, even though Reuters reported last month that stations were still not economical to run.
Looking increasingly isolated from trading partners in Europe yet blessed with one of the world’s top offshore wind markets, the U.K. is looking to renewable hydrogen as a way to reduce gas imports and help decarbonize the heating sector at the same time.
Last month, the U.K. government unveiled a £12 billion ($15 billion) plan to use 4 gigawatts of offshore wind for renewable hydrogen production in the early 2030s.
Meanwhile, U.K. hydrogen interests have been attracting international attention, with the chemicals giant Linde this month paying £38 million ($46 million) for a 20 percent stake in listed technology developer ITM Power.
While the U.S. as a whole barely merits a mention in terms of green hydrogen development, one state, California, is racing to become a world-leading market.
California’s interest in hydrogen is driven partly by aggressive decarbonization targets, including phasing out all diesel or natural-gas-powered buses by 2040, and partly by the presence of some of the industry’s most high-profile technology developers.
Foremost among these is Silicon Valley-based fuel-cell maker Bloom Energy. But the company is still struggling to achieve something no publicly traded fuel-cell company has ever done: turn an annual profit.