An international consortium is developing a green hydrogen corridor between London and Cardiff for heavy-duty trucks. It will have more than 100 fueling stations by the decade’s end.

That’s a snippet of the innovation now taking place—an effort to decarbonize the transport business and industrial concerns. The goal is net zero by 2050. Indeed, hydrogen is a vital piece of the puzzle, which is coming together and becoming more noticeable. To achieve its potential, developers must scale their technologies and infrastructure.

“If you are investing away from fossil fuels, you do it because there is a competitive advantage or because your shareholders or customers require it,” says Chris Jackson, chief executive of Protium Green Solutions, in a talk. “We don’t think customers will switch to grey hydrogen produced from natural gas. Green hydrogen will be a big market. If you invest in this stuff, you don’t want to get challenged, and it must be easy to explain.”

Coal, oil, and natural gas account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity production and heat comprise 31% of all CO2 releases worldwide. Transportation and manufacturing account for 15% and 12%, respectively. The goal is to electrify as many of the processes as possible. While it requires an upfront investment, customers will likley pay less for energy.

The demand for fossil fuels must fall by 25% by 2030 if the global community is to meet its targets under the Paris Climate Agreement. It must drop by 80% by 2050, said the International Energy Agency .

The agency predicts that renewable energy demand will escalate. However, hitting net-zero goals remains a challenge, requiring an investment of $45 billion yearly. It said that global spending on clean energy must rise from $1.8 trillion annually now to $4.5 trillion yearly in 2030. That investment will pay off by creating jobs and improving quality of life. Furthermore, consumers will save money.

To that end, hydrogen developers are flexing and demonstrating that decarbonization can occur anywhere along the value chain. Hydrogen can power corporate fleets and industrial processes—from steel mills to breweries.

“We are truly committed to the Paris Agreement,” says the Volvo Group’s chief technology officer and hydrogen expert Lars Stenqvist, in a conversation. “The fleet must be fossil-free. For us, that means net zero by 2040. There is no silver bullet—no single technology.”

Volvo breaks down the transport fleet into battery electric, fuel cell electric, and internal combustion engines—one that can use hydrogen or other low-carbon alternatives. Electric batteries were first out of the gate, and they are thus the easiest to understand: plug them in and depart the station about 30 minutes later.

Fuel cell electric trucks and buses are more complicated and are suitable for heavy-duty trucks and buses. They convert energy in the form of hydrogen to electricity, which is more costly. The infrastructure must catch up, making the London and Cardiff hydrogen corridor invaluable. Volvo has some test vehicles on the road—a technology the group will commercialize by 2030.

The company is also improving the internal combustion engine to run on sustainable fuels, including hydrogen. Given the lower production costs and existing infrastructure, that transition will be smoother. However, the combustion process still results in NOx emissions, albeit at lower levels.

“The price does not matter if I do not have access to low-cost hydrogen or the ability to charge,” says Stenqvist. “We are vehicle agnostic. However, if the transformation is serious, we aim to be fossil-free and zero carbon”—using green or blue hydrogen with carbon capture.

Hydrogen vehicles typically have a longer range than all-electric cars. Moreover, if the infrastructure exists, a hydrogen station can charge multiple vehicles simultaneously in about 10 minutes. Most importantly, the exhaust gas from a hydrogen engine consists of pure water vapor. It is, therefore, emissions-free. The carbon footprint is neutral if renewables generate electricity to break down hydrogen and oxygen.

Green hydrogen is also gaining a foothold in the industrial sector. Consider AB InBev: One of its beer facilities in the United Kingdom uses a 10-megawatt hydrogen unit and renewable energy to hit net zero. That energy will displace natural gas and diesel in the brewery’s production process.

“These things start small and grow very fast,” says Protium’s Jackson, whose company works with AB InBev and is part of the UK-hydrogen corridor. “The infrastructure takes so long to build. But once it is there, we forget it is there. Initially, it is inefficient, causing people to question the changes. But it signals modernity. People can be skeptical, but it is working; it will change the world.”

The global economy is decarbonizing and using hydrogen. While the transformation may create uncertainty in some corners, the benefits will become apparent—a carbon-free economy that creates a wealth of opportunity. Witness the auto industry and industrial sector, which are already making inroads.

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