Renewable Hydrogen Will Drink The Fossil Fuel Milkshake

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The field of renewable hydrogen has been blowing up in recent years, and the latest news broke just in time for Christmas. Well, it was good news unless you have a stake in the fossil fuel industry, in which case it was a lump of coal. Hydrogen-fueled personal mobility is still but a distant twinkle in the sky, but renewable hydrogen is poised to suck up shares of the market for industrial energy supply, long-haul shipping, and other sectors where coal, oil, and natural gas still have a toehold.

renewable hydrogen US DOE
Renewable hydrogen is the end game. (Credit: US DOE)

Good News About Renewable Hydrogen

For those of you new to the topic, hydrogen is a zero-emission fuel. That’s the good news. The bad news is, hydrogen does not just pop out of the air. It has to be manufactured, and the primary raw material right now is natural gas and other fossil fuels.

And now for the other good news. Hydrogen gas can be pried loose from water, by deploying an electrical current. In fancyspeak that’s called electrolysis.

In terms of saving the planet from catastrophic global warming, electrolysis made no sense in past years, because where would you get the electricity except by burning fossil fuels, unless there was a nearby hydropower dam to lean on.

Now that wind and solar are here in force, the renewable hydrogen board has flipped.

In addition, wind and solar arrays can produce far more electricity than their local grid can absorb at times. Rather than curtailing production, they can monetize the excess by producing hydrogen, which can be stored or transported elsewhere.

Something Is Renewable In The State Of Denmark

The US Department of Energy is already looking at the interplay of curtailment and energy storage as a feature, not a bug, in the sparkling green grid of the future.

With that in mind, Let’s take a look at a new renewable hydrogen project taking shape in Denmark.

CleanTechnica caught wind of the project a while back at an energy conference in New York. The basic idea is that Denmark has far more offshore wind potential than its population can absorb. Rather than letting it sit out there in the ocean gathering dust, Denmark is going to develop offshore wind farms anyway.

The question then is what to do with all that excess electricity, and it looks like producing renewable hydrogen for vehicles is one of the winning tickets.

Yesterday, Denmark-based Ørsted let slip word that it has secured funding to build a 2-megawatt electrolysis facility, which will deploy electricity from offshore wind turbines.

Ørsted’s partners in the project are Everfuel Europe A/S, NEL Hydrogen A/S, GreenHydrogen A/S, DSV Panalpina A/S, Hydrogen Denmark and Energinet Elsystemansvar A/S.

The target market for hydrogen from the new facility will be a fleet of 20-30 buses, with the potential for testing in trucks as well.

The plans for testing may also include taxis, which is interesting because some experts have concluded that battery-electric vehicles have effectively crowded hydrogen fuel cell EVs out of the market for passenger cars, at least for the foreseeable future.

Renewable Hydrogen In The USA

If all goes according to plan, Ørsted’s renewable hydrogen venture could have huge implications for the renewable energy transition in the US.

That’s because Ørsted is already a major player in the US clean power market, and the curtailment-storage scenario is already a thing here.

The company’s recent moves include the acquisition of the leading Texas-based onshore wind firm Lincoln Clean Energy, which puts it front and center in the growth of renewables in “red” states that have been reluctant to dip a toe in the clean power waters — until now, that is.

Ørsted is also a major player in the US offshore wind market, which is barreling up and down the east coast.

Meanwhile, Maine is already considering a power-to-gas project that would enable it to resolve an electricity transmission bottleneck with renewable hydrogen (power-to-gas refers to generating renewable electricity and using it to produce hydrogen gas from water).

US Is Ready For Its Renewable Hydrogen Closeup

Speaking of red states, the Energy Department has been aggressively promoting renewable hydrogen in recent years with a focus on California, Connecticut, and several other coastal states.

Now it looks like the trend is hitting the so-called heartland states. Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas have been enlisted in a new hydrogen-promoting effort called the Midwest Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition.

If you caught that thing about Nebraska being a member of the coalition, well that’s mighty interesting considering Ørsted’s interest in Nebraska.

Another thing that adds more sizzle to the pot is the fuel cell truck startup Nikola. The company is focused on the long distance market (and a couple of other interesting niches). It first launched with a plan for all-renewable hydrogen fuel stations, but then it ramped its fuel station plans and switched gears to include conventional hydrogen.

Considering the wider effort to promote renewable hydrogen in the midwest, it looks like Nikola could re-revise its plans again.

Meanwhile, our friends over at the Rocky Mountain Institute have just produced a full-blown analysis of the global renewable hydrogen marketplace and they have some interesting things to say about long haul trucks and other hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to RMI to see what they think about prospects for a renewable hydrogen revolution in “real” America, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Image via US Department of Energy.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3234 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey