Hydrogen for Commercial Vehicles Has Traveled A Long Way

by | Apr 25, 2023

Heavy Duty Hydrogen Stations

(Credit: Canva Pro)

The commercial vehicle and bus fleet just got significant lift. JET H2 Energy will build 10 hydrogen stations in Germany and Denmark — with construction to start this year and finish by spring 2024. It says the hydrogen will be green.

Hydrogen is a critical pillar in a decarbonized economy — a fuel that can power the electricity and transportation sectors.

JET H2 Energy is a year old — a joint venture between Phillips 66 and H2 Energy Europe AG. Phillips knows commercial construction and operation, and H2 Energy Europe is an expert in hydrogen technologies. JET H2 is committed to the Paris Agreement and keeping temperature rises in check. To that end, it aims to construct 250 hydrogen refueling stations in Germany, Austria, and Denmark.

“We are pleased that the installation of hydrogen ecosystems in Germany, Denmark, and Austria has accomplished the following significant milestone. Throughout the coming years, we will be able to grow fast and profitably thanks to our relationship with Maximator Hydrogen,” said JET H2 Energy’s CEO, Olaf Borbor, in a prepared statement. Maximator Hydrogen is known for delivering high-quality filling station equipment.

Where in the world does this stand? 

Los Angeles is planning to host a separate plant, which, if it comes to fruition, will be one of the most extensive hydrogen facilities in the world. It will use plastics and recycled paper as feedstock — waste that would otherwise go to a landfill. It will be gasified at 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit before transforming into hydrogen.

The company doing this is SGH2 Energy Global, which is part of the Solena Group. It says its technology reduces carbon emissions two to three times more than green hydrogen produced using electrolysis and renewable energy. It also says that its technology is five-to-seven times cheaper. SGH2’s green hydrogen is cost-competitive with “grey” hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, it says, which is what makes up most of the hydrogen in use now.

“The beauty here, is that Lancaster will be using this for transportation but it could also be used to generate electricity,” says Robert Do, chief executive of SGH2, in an interview with this writer. “It can be stored and then used for multiple purposes. This will be the first large-scale green hydrogen plant in the world.”

He says the plant will produce as much as 11,000 kilograms of green hydrogen per day and 3.8 million kilograms per year. That is nearly three times more than any existing or planned green hydrogen facility. The complex will process 40,000 tons of waste annually, supplied mainly by the city of Lancaster, saving it $50-$75 per ton in landfill-related costs.

The plant is now in the engineering and design phase and headed by Fluor Corp. It will be located on five acres and will cost $55 million to build. Right now, the hydrogen will supply California’s 42 hydrogen fueling stations. The goal is 100 and eventually,  1,000. That depends on the demand for green hydrogen.

SGH2 is also negotiating projects in France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Turkey, China, Brazil and Australia.

Can it be done cost effectively? 

Bloomberg New Energy Finance says hydrogen could supply 24% of the world’s energy demands by 2050 while cutting CO2 levels by 34%. It can be done at a reasonable price if favorable public policies are enacted, including putting a price on carbon.

The advantages of hydrogen are that it is abundant, renewable and non-polluting. Water vapor is the only byproduct of a fuel cell car that runs on hydrogen. But it isn’t easy to store that gas, and it is about 30% more expensive to move it via pipelines than it is to carry natural gas.

But Dr. Do of SGH2 says a compelling case can be made, especially for transportation: cars and light-duty vehicles require 5 kilograms of hydrogen at 700-bar compression at a hydrogen fueling station. At $15 per kilogram, it costs about $75 to fill up. But with a range of 500 miles, the price is competitive. He says a combustion engine that burns gasoline has an efficiency rate of 30%, while a fuel cell car with hydrogen has one of 75%, explaining the better mileage per unit of energy.

“Countries around the world are waking up to the critical role green hydrogen can play in increasing energy security and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. But, until now, it has been too expensive to adopt at scale,” says Hanna Breunig, with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Sustainable Energy Systems Group, in a statement.

Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota are creating fuel cell-powered cars. Meanwhile, FedEx Express is running a delivery truck on hydrogen in New York State with a range of 240 kilometers on a full tank.

Progress on the hydrogen economy has been long and slow. But it is coming — a function of technological advancement, favorable public policies, and falling wind and solar prices. Indeed, governments worldwide see hydrogen as a catalyst to net zero and are targeting monies to research and development, propelling the hydrogen economy forward.

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