October 11th, 2020 by Tina Casey
The US has just launched a sneak attack on coal, oil, and natural gas, with a new five-year, $100 million green hydrogen and fuel cell truck plan from the Energy Department, aimed squarely at pushing diesel out of the growing market for long-haul transportation. Where diesel will go after that is anybody’s guess, but the result is all but certain to cost jobs in the flailing domestic oil industry while stomping all over coal and natural gas, too.
Green Hydrogen And Fuel Cell Trucks
The timing of the new green hydrogen scheme is interesting, because the Energy Department announced it on October 8, just one day after something called The National Zero-Emission Truck Coalition issued an open letter to Congress calling for “a new $2 billion+, five-year incentive for ZET acquisition that accelerates the production and deployment of tens of thousands of zero-emission vehicles in U.S.truck fleets within five years.”
The ZET Coalition is bringing some heavy hitters to the table. Along with a raft of cleantech startups and other stakeholders, like BYD Motors and ChargePoint, the ZET member roll includes the legacy engineering firms Ballard Power Systems, Bollinger Motors, Cummins, Eaton, and Navistar.
The automakers Ford, Daimler Trucks North America, Mack Trucks, and Volvo Trucks North America are also on board with the coalition for zero-emission trucks.
In a proof of life twist, the startup Nikola has also signed onto the letter, though GM has not. Interesting!
Judging from the member list, battery electric trucks are front and center in the ZET coalition. However, some members are inclining toward hydrogen fuel cells for long-haul trucks. As one indication of where that is heading, check out the new fuel cell partnership between Volvo and Daimler.
For those of you keeping score at home, the following is the complete list of ZET members signing the letter to Congress. Drop us a note in the comment thread if you can spot any other members (or omissions) of particular interest: ADOMANI, AMPLY Power, Arrival Automotive, Ballard Power Systems, Bollinger Motors, BYD Motors, CALSTART, Chanje Energy, ChargePoint, Climate Resolve, ClipperCreek, Inc., Cummins Inc., Daimler Trucks North America, Danfoss Editron, DD DANNAR, LLC, Eaton, Electriphi Inc, eNow, Inc., Environmental Defense Fund, Ford Motor Company, Forth, Greenlots, GreenPower Motor Company, Inc., The Lion Electric Co., Mack Trucks, Meritor, Momentum, Morgan Olson, Motiv Power Systems, Navistar, Inc., Nikola Corporation, Odyne Systems, LLC, PACCAR Inc, Phoenix Motorcars, Prestolite eDrive Systems, Proterra, Revolv, Rivian, Roush CleanTech, San Diego Gas & Electric, Scale Microgrid Solutions, solutionLAB, Inc, South Coast Air Quality Management District, Southern California Edison, Stark Area Regional Transit Authority, Viatec, Inc., Volvo Trucks North America.
More & Better Green Hydrogen
Into this picture steps the Energy Department, with not one but two new consortia aimed squarely at juicing the field of fuel cell trucks and green hydrogen.
Announcing the plan on October, 8 the Energy Department’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Daniel R Simmons, noted that “we need to continue to drive costs down if we want to accelerate large-scale deployments across the country.”
That doesn’t sound like good news for the fossil fuel industry, and Simmons piled on with the observation that the two consortia are going to “significantly cut the cost and improve the performance of electrolyzers and heavy-duty fuel cells.”
If you caught that thing about electrolyzers, that’s where things really get interesting. The primary source of hydrogen today is natural gas, so all else being equal, the push for fuel cell trucks would be good news for gas stakeholders, except that one of the two consortia is aimed specifically at snapping that lifeline.
Electrolysis refers to “splitting” hydrogen from water with electricity. The new “H2NEW” consortium is tasked with the mission of “making large-scale electrolyzers, which produce hydrogen from electricity and water, more durable, efficient, and affordable.”
The electricity for electrolysis is source neutral, but the idea of using fossil fuels or nuclear energy to power the process is fading away as the cost of renewable energy continues to drop. The green supply chain trend will also make renewable electricity a more attractive selling point for purveyors of green hydrogen.
It does appear that the Energy Department is pushing renewables to the head of the line, considering that H2NEW will be co-directed by the agency’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory, which will leverage its expertise in solid oxide electrolysis cells.
The Renewable Energy Angle
If all goes according to plan, a vigorous market for green hydrogen will spur the construction of more wind and solar energy than is needed for local or regional electricity grids. That’s because hydrogen is an energy storage medium that can be transported by pipeline, vehicle, or watercraft, so it could be used locally or shipped long distance.
Specifically, the green hydrogen plan dovetails with the Energy Department’s plans for fostering the distributed wind industry and ensuring that every US household has access to affordable solar power.
The main point is that green hydrogen production can piggyback on distributed energy resources, without depending on the construction of major new electricity transmission lines.
That applies to the fuel cell truck angle because it raises the possibility of positioning both large-scale and small-scale hydrogen fuel stations throughout the country.
At the present time, hydrogen fuel stations are few and far between. However, that has not stopped the Energy Department from forging ahead.
The Energy Department’s Los Alamos and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories will co-lead the “M2FCT” fuel cell truck consortium, which is aimed at improving fuel cell durability and performance, and bringing down costs, “to better position fuel cell trucks as a viable option in the long-haul trucking market.”
So Much For All Your Oil & Gas Jobs
In the context of the ZET Coaltion’s $5 billion plan, the figure of $100 million falls a little short. However, it does build on a continuing series of high-dollar Energy Department investments aimed at zero emission mobility. That includes bringing down the cost of green hydrogen, scaling up hydrogen production, and improving the performance of hydrogen fuel cells.
The focus on green hydrogen folds into the agency’s long-term goal of building more resiliency into the nation’s energy supply, which is something to keep in mind as the Gulf Coast refinery hub becomes more exposed to the impacts of climate change.
In one especially interesting development, the Energy Department has just launched a green H2 partnership with the Netherlands, with significant implications for grid resilience and renewable energy buildout as well as zero-emission mobility.
Who Loves Fuel Cell Trucks?
CleanTechnica has spilled much ink over the Department of Energy’s cleantech initiatives despite the fossil fuel rhetoric emanating from the Oval Office*, but this thing about green hydrogen and fuel cell trucks takes the cake for directly contradicting the Commander-in-Chief’s professed love for all things fossil.
In a press release last week, the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy gave a warm welcome to the two new consortia.
“M2FCT and H2NEW will leverage world-class expertise and state-of-the-art equipment at National Labs and support DOE EERE’s H2@Scale vision for large-scale, affordable hydrogen production, storage, distribution, and utilization,” said EERE.
That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for fossil fuels, considering that hydrogen can replace oil and natural gas in a wide range of industries in addition to the energy sector.
Nevertheless, in another curious coincidence of timing the Energy Department issued another report last week, titled Benefits of U.S. Oil and Natural Gas: Providing Energy Security and Supporting Our Quality of Life.
Good luck with that! Aside from leaving coal out of the picture (shocker!), the new report makes a rather interesting case for the role of oil and gas in shepherding more renewable energy into the US energy profile. If you have any thoughts about that angle, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Image via US Department of Energy.
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