(p. B1) SHEFFIELD, England — Rachel Smith has lived through green hydrogen’s bumpy journey from scientists’ dream to an industry that may be on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. An engineer, she started out two decades ago working in a converted barn on early devices for making the clean-burning gas.
Now she is part of a team racing to build giant machines that will use electricity to separate hydrogen from water for major companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Orsted, the Danish offshore wind developer.
“We have gone through those toddler years,” said Ms. Smith, an executive director at ITM Power, which is run out of an expansive new factory in Sheffield, a faded center for steel mills and coal mining. “We are playing in the grown-up world rather than in research labs.”
A consensus is forming among governments, environmentalists and energy companies that deep cuts in carbon emissions will require large amounts of a clean fuel like hydrogen.
Proponents of hydrogen have identified more than a score of potential applications of the element for cutting carbon emissions. It could be used to power long-haul trucks and train and air travel. Energy companies are experimenting with blending hydrogen with natural gas for home heating and cooking.
All told, more than 200 large-scale projects are underway to produce or transport hydrogen, comprising investments of more than $80 billion. Daimler and Volvo, the world’s largest truck makers, plan in a few years to begin mass producing long-haul electric trucks that run on devices called fuel cells that convert hydrogen to electricity. Water will be the trucks’ only emission.
“You could imagine an economy that is supported almost entirely by very clean electricity and very clean hydrogen,” said Ernest Moniz, secretary of energy in the Obama administration and now chief executive of the Energy Futures Initiative, a research organization.
(p. B5) But he warned that “a lot of things have to happen” for a gas now mainly used in specialty areas to become a “part of the backbone of the energy system.”
Among the obstacles that must be overcome: creating enough of the right sort of hydrogen, at a price industries and consumers can accept.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2021, and has the title “Hydrogen Is One Answer to Climate Change. Getting It Is the Hard Part.”)