America's 'Huge' Hydrogen Opportunity

America's 'Huge' Hydrogen Opportunity
(AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The early days of President Biden’s Administration have been filled with important conversations, including a very impactful topic - the energy transition that is already underway. 

Biden’s presidential climate envoy, John Kerry, recently encouraged the U.S. oil and gas industry to embrace what he called the “huge opportunities” associated with producing and transporting hydrogen, an increasingly important technology in our arsenal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At Chart Industries, we have recognized and seized those opportunities because we know this is a critical moment for the energy transition and particularly for hydrogen.  And we are very familiar – Chart has been involved in designing, engineering and manufacturing hydrogen-related equipment for more than 50 years.

But while previous hydrogen bubbles burst – most notably in the 1970s and early 2000s – today’s energy environment is much more fertile for hydrogen as a part of the hybrid of clean energy solutions that will, together, address the numerous public and private sector carbon emission reduction targets.  

Today, global leaders are recognizing hydrogen’s unique capacity to carry and store low- or no-carbon energy which makes it a highly versatile solution in addressing climate change. Capable of being produced by renewables like wind and solar through electrolysis or by natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration, hydrogen technology is complementary to existing industries while still serving a unique role within the energy landscape.

And perhaps most relevant to Secretary Kerry’s remarks, hydrogen can even use existing infrastructure like pipelines to travel from areas where hydrogen is produced to its final destination for end-use. As hydrogen production and use expands, so too will the associated jobs in the industry, including pipeline construction jobs.

One recent study found that with policy support, a U.S. hydrogen economy could produce 700,000 jobs by 2030 and 3.4 million jobs by 2050. Another found that hydrogen could be a $130 billion domestic business by 2030.

Hydrogen’s potential is great because its applications are so diverse.

  • Fuel cell electric vehicles that run on hydrogen and produce no emissions can join battery electric vehicles in reducing overall transportation emissions, which account for 28 percent of total U.S. emissions.
  • Hydrogen’s energy density gives it a unique advantage in helping to reduce emissions in some of the toughest-to-decarbonize industries, like steel- and cement-making, which both require intense, high heat.
  • And its ability to store energy long-term makes hydrogen a suitable replacement for diesel back-up generators or even back-up power for the electricity grid.  Because solar and wind are intermittent energy resources, back-up hydrogen – produced during periods of excess wind and sun – can store energy and use it when its needed while providing an economically viable use for excess renewable energy.  Another example of the hybrid of renewables and how they can work together.

As a global company, we have witnessed the development of hydrogen economies in key markets, in particular in the past year, including the European Union and Asia.  We have seen firsthand the positive impact that hydrogen has had on spurring economic development in those regions.  Now is the time for the U.S. to take a leadership role at this critical juncture in the energy transition.  Proactive involvement of the public sector and private industry as we head into this decade of clean power, clean water and clean industrial applications is crucial to accomplishing the many climate goals that companies and governments have set out to achieve – many by 2030.

The U.S. is rich in diverse resources across its regions, each of which has a unique position in the hydrogen value chain - ranging from hydrogen production, distribution to end use.  We should heed Secretary Kerry’s words and embrace the “huge opportunities” that hydrogen presents to meet our climate goals, create additional good-paying domestic jobs and take advantage of our innovative culture to achieve cost competitiveness and scale in what will certainly be a key molecule in the transition to a more sustainable world.


Jillian Evanko is president and chief executive officer of Chart Industries, Inc., a member of the Hydrogen Forward coalition.

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