Explore our expert insights and analysis in leading energy and climate news stories.

Energy Explained

Get the latest as our experts share their insights on global energy policy.


Hear in-depth conversations with the world’s top energy and climate leaders from government, business, academia, and civil society.


Find out more about our upcoming and past events.

Columbia Energy Exchange

Unlocking Hydrogen’s Potential


Daryl Wilson

Executive Director, Hydrogen Council


Daryl Wilson [00:00:00] Our solutions in transport require both battery and hydrogen fuel cell support vertically in the heavy transport area. Now, some will take the leap of faith and say all the batteries are going to get there. But I think if you look at the facts scientifically, that leap of faith is certainly larger than the belief that the hydrogen can do that job and do it on an efficient and low carbon intensity basis. 

Bill Loveless [00:00:29] Clean electrons are vital to the net zero economy. What about molecules? There is a global race to expand hydrogen production for industry in heavy transportation using wind, solar and biomass as a feedstock. North American countries are taking hydrogen innovation seriously, passing policy to spur innovation. The United States Inflation Reduction Act and Canada’s fall economic statement both offer production tax credits for clean hydrogen. China is the global leader in production, but the country primarily uses coal as a feedstock to make it clean. They’ll need to invest heavily in renewables and carbon capture. With so much attention now on the industry, will it finally live up to the hype? How have recent developments in geopolitics and policy changed the outlook for the hydrogen industry, and what sectors will it help decarbonize? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Bill Loveless. Today on the show, Daryl Wilson. Daryl is the executive director of the Hydrogen Council, a global CEO led initiative of 132 energy, transport, industry and investment companies dedicated to developing a hydrogen economy. Before joining the Hydrogen Council in 2020, he served as CEO of Hydrogen Fuel Cell, an electrolysis technologies provider. During his time there, he oversaw the world’s largest new electrolysis project and the world’s first hydrogen powered public train service. His 38 year career showcases an impressive track record in environmental innovation, including his achievements with hydrogen. He won a silver award in public sustainability reporting at Difalco, a steel company based in Ontario, and he implemented a 100% water recycling program at Toyota. In 2017, the Hydrogen Council released its first report and outlook through 2050. I spoke with Daryl about whether that outlook has changed with the recent instability of global energy markets and the war in Ukraine. We also talked about how new policy developments could spur innovation. Here’s our conversation. Daryl Wilson, welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange. 

Daryl Wilson [00:02:56] Good to be with you. 

Bill Loveless [00:02:58] Well, now, first, tell us a little bit about yourself. Was hydrogen something you thought much about earlier in your career? 

Daryl Wilson [00:03:06] Actually, early in my career, I was focused on environmental controls and water pollution. So now I’m taking water, hydrogen or water apart and making hydrogen from it. So water’s always been a part of the story. But no. Not hydrogen. But the last six years have in fact been all about hydrogen. 

Bill Loveless [00:03:22] Yeah, because you’ve had quite, quite a career with various companies, which we’ve just mentioned. And in introducing the show, you’ve been quite accomplished in your career. And of course now you’re in this field of hydrogen and have been for some time. It’s a field where there’s so much talk these days and so much interest. In fact, as we speak, I was looking at the headlines today and, you know, they’re fresh up with some good news for hydrogen. I read where the aerospace manufacturer Rolls-Royce, said this week it had successfully tested and run the world’s first hydrogen powered aircraft engine concept engine that would use hydrogen from wind and tidal power. And in Canada, where you are right now in Ontario, first Hydrogen announced it has selected a city in Quebec to develop its first green hydrogen ecosystem, with plans to develop sites for local production of green hydrogen and assembly of zero emission commercial vehicles. So there’s a lot of news like this that we’re seeing today. 

Daryl Wilson [00:04:27] Yeah, that’s for sure. At last count with the Hydrogen Council, we had a total of over 680 projects around the world at megawatt scale and graders. So yeah, the acceleration in the sector has been quite stunning. 

Bill Loveless [00:04:40] Yeah, you know, so, so the big question is, is how can hydrogen contribute to net zero emissions? To some hydrogen will change everything from electric power generation to mass transit because of its flexibility as a carrier of the energy. For others, it’s high cost and storage and transportation challenges raise some doubts regarding its fitness compared to other options. What are the biggest opportunities for hydrogen and what are some of its biggest challenges? 

Daryl Wilson [00:05:09] You know, I always find Bill Gates book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, a very helpful. And he broke down the areas for decarbonization into, you know, five, five of five of the things we need to do. We need to get around. We need to keep warm and cold. We need to feed ourselves. And it’s interesting, out of those five sectors that Bill Gates identifies in that book, four of them are in the sweet spot for hydrogen. So decarbonizing heavy industry, the way we make steel, for example, the way we feed ourselves, the ammonia fertilizer side of things is an important area for decarbonization and, you know, currently a major contributor in transport, a very important area. And hydrogen has a lot to add there. Even though many people think that the battery story has won out. Actually, hydrogen has a lot to contribute in transport and then in other ways of bringing energy to our society. Hydrogen has tremendous versatility. It won’t be the same in every place, but it has a lot to contribute across a whole suite of applications. 

Bill Loveless [00:06:12] What are some of the big challenges that hydrogen faces? 

Daryl Wilson [00:06:16] You know, Bill, the original major challenge is it was just too expensive. You know, we’re competing against conventional energy systems, which have more than 100 year history, and they’ve had lots of time to get costs down and to scale up. And no one believed actually, that hydrogen would actually be competitive with the existing energy regime. And in one of the early reports from the hydrogen Council, we focused on that very intentionally. We’re scaling up with the costs come down. And indeed, we showed that there was a very significant cost down potential as the industry scaled similar learning curves to what we saw with wind and solar energy. That first report goes back five, six years now. And it’s very interesting. We’re basically on track with the predictions made five, six years ago as to where the cost of electrolysis and fuel cells would actually be. And then you add to that government policy and incentives to bring down the so called green premium hydrogen’s in the money in many places today. 

Bill Loveless [00:07:15] Well, in that report, I recall a report that the council did 2017. Right. I think this was done soon after the council was formed, where it offered, as you describe, a rather bullish outlook for a hydrogen economy by 2050. You know, one in which hydrogen would become a significant fuel for heating transportation and and an industry and a critical means of reducing emissions. But, you know, a lot has changed since then. The Ukraine war certainly given rise to global energy crisis, even as worries over climate change have have only intensified. Has your outlook for hydrogen changed at all since then? 

Daryl Wilson [00:07:56] You know, I sometimes say, Bill, hydrogen is almost antifragile. The harder things get, the stronger hydrogen gets. So if we look back, you know, the climate change issue has always been a driver, but that never seemed to be quite enough. But when we come into Colvin and governments in the spring of 2020 started to look at building back better and green recovery programs. Hydrogen was the place where a lot of incentive money went. And so in response to a crisis with COVID, actually, things got stronger. And then, of course, with the Ukraine war, we have a lot of focus on energy security and diversifying energy sources. And again, hydrogen has taken another big step up in response to that unfortunate crisis in the Ukraine. So if we’re revising our forecasts and our outlook, it’s actually upward. And maybe in the early days we weren’t ambitious enough. 

Bill Loveless [00:08:51] Yeah, interesting. You also had a report recently from the council saying that pipeline, the pipe pipeline of projects continues to grow, but it said that actual deployment is lagging. It noted that 680 large scale project proposals worth $240 billion have been put forward, but only about 10% of them are reached. Final investment decision, What’s going on there? 

Daryl Wilson [00:09:16] So in some ways this is very normal. So when major projects are announced, they go through a series of stages. So in the early feasibility and conceptualization stage, it’s possible to formulate an idea and some companies and governments move ahead with an announcement at that time. But then the detailed engineering work has to be done and the final economics have to be worked out and confirmation needs to be made on financing. And during that phase, there’s still a question as to whether the project will proceed. And so the critical tipping point is what we call FID final investment decision. And in the reporting of the Council, we’ve tried to be very factual and accurate around where things are and where things are not. And so in that recent report, we drew attention to the fact that many announcements have been put on the table, but they haven’t reached that critical milestone. And we did that to point out that to make these projects finally go, there’s a number of things that have to be in place. One of them is regulatory and regulatory certainty. So what regulatory environment and policy environment is the company acting into? And we have a problem in Europe where there’s a fair amount of regulatory uncertainty. And so companies might have conceived of a project, but if they don’t have confidence that the policy will unfold the way it had originally been planned, therefore, the revenue streams and the cost profile of the project are in jeopardy. Then they hold off and they don’t move through that final investment decision mile marker in other places where the incentives are very simple, strong and clear, like the United States, there’s there is not that uncertainty. And I expect projects will move from announcement to actualization and passed FID fairly quickly in the coming years. So it’s important to understand that these are there is a lot of momentum. That’s true. There are lots of announcements which scale up the sector, but all the pieces have to be in place for all that to come to fruition. And we need that all to come to fruition because we’re really when it comes to hydrogen, we’re about a third of the way to what we need if we’re going to stay on track for a net zero 2050 outcome. Our forecast is we need to be mitigating somewhat over 700 million metric tonnes of of CO2 by 2030. And for that to happen, we need an investment level of about 750. Billion. And right now we’re sitting at 260 billion. So you can see we’re at about a third of the way with all of the announced projects. So we need all those projects to move ahead and we need two times more on top of that in order to meet the the aspiration for a net zero result. So momentum is important and then stability in the policy environment is very important so that these projects can move ahead with some certainty. 

Bill Loveless [00:12:07] Yeah, and I want to talk more about policy in the United States, in the EU and in other places, because a lot has happened in the past year when it comes to policy and regulation involving hydrogen as well as still, as you mentioned, a lot of uncertainty in some places regarding regulation. You know, I can’t help when we talk policy. I go back when I was an energy reporter in Washington back in 2005, President George W Bush launched a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative to reduce US dependance on oil by developing technology for commercially viable hydrogen powered fuel cells, hydrogen infrastructure for cars and trucks, homes and businesses. Yeah, you know, it appears not much came of that initiative. I’m always curious what happened and was he ahead of his time? 

Daryl Wilson [00:13:00] I think it was a visionary call. It was a fairly significant compliment to money back in those days. In fact, those numbers, you know, around 200 million a year over over five years was roughly 100 million in Germany back in those days a year that was coming into hydrogen. That’s when I started my hydrogen journey. And what that did was it supported a lot of research that was still outstanding, where the technology needed to make some progress and supported mature programs like General Motors in those days had a very large program in hydrogen, and it supported a fair amount of demonstration activities so that companies could get some experience. We could see the technology deployed and in use in busses and that sort of thing. So there was a lot of good learning that came out of that, but it wasn’t sufficient to scale up a whole sector. And indeed the sector wasn’t ready to to start scaling the way it has been in the last few years. 

Bill Loveless [00:13:59] Yeah, and maybe that wasn’t the impetus either. Back then, the early 2000, the concern in the United States and elsewhere was reliance on imported oil. It’s not so much well, it’s still it’s still a concern to some extent these days, but not the same sort of issue as it was back then. 

Daryl Wilson [00:14:13] I remember sitting in a session with Al Gore, he made his first trip to Canada and gave us, you know, his presentation to about 3000 businesspeople. And I remember leaving the room that day and listening to the conversation, and it was sort of half very doubtful. And the other half sort of maybe he’s right, but a lot of uncertainty around around the climate change issue. And of course, that’s changed very radically since those days. And so the impetus and the need to act is so much more evident today than it was back then. 

Bill Loveless [00:14:43] Right. You know, I’m looking, as you say, that I’m looking over at his book back in the you know, in the it was around 1990 that he wrote on climate change, which was sort of the seminal volume. But certainly it began as thinking a lot back then. And certainly ten or 15 years later, that much more was learned and more people are acting on it. You mentioned the importance of regulation. The uncertainty can cause trouble. I’d like to talk a little bit broadly about what makes good policy in this area. Then we can talk about the Inflation Reduction Act and some of the things happening in other other countries. But I was reading a report recently from the International Renewable Energy Agency which said, quote, There is no time to wait for green hydrogen technology to become cost competitive with current technologies due to the urgency of taking climate action and the fact that hard to abate sectors are only one investment cycle away from 2050, The change must be led by policymakers who, through policies and regulation, can accelerate the change and drive driving investments in this direction, close quote. What approaches to policy make the most sense? 

Daryl Wilson [00:15:47] I A report of the Hydrogen Council. This time last year we went through six pillars. I won’t go all through all of them, but naturally we need to stimulate supply and and you know recently the IRA which we’ll talk about with the $3 a kilogram by now, that’s an example of stimulating supply. We need to stimulate demand. So there needs to be a policy that says we want hydrogen to do this job. Over here, for example, in China, the very, very clear intention that hydrogen provides support for heavy transport, decarbonization, similarly in Korea. And then we need to match supply and demand. This is a balancing act. An example here is in Germany, where the H2 global program has an auction to procure low carbon hydrogen and an auction to sell that hydrogen into the German market and then a contract for difference to match supply and demand. And the. Financials and costs and price are a very, very intelligent balancing policy. And that that element of supply and demand matching I think is a very critical in many jurisdictions today we have a carbon tax or a price on carbon. I think that’s a good signal contributor but it typically doesn’t have the specificity to indeed, you know, activate markets. And then there are issues around tracking the environmental attributes of hydrogen. So if I go to buy hydrogen from this pathway or this jurisdiction, you know how clean or how green is that hydrogen? And how did the seller come to the conclusion that the carbon content of that hydrogen is so many, you know, kilograms of potential CO2 emission per kilogram of hydrogen produced? And so the whole issue around certifying the environmental attributes of hydrogen is another element of policy. When you put all this together, it’s a lot more complicated than the good old days of feed in tariffs with with wind and solar. And that’s why it’s taking countries a little while to get all the pieces in order. But over the last few years, we’ve seen tremendous progress and some experimentation and innovation, which I think is healthy. 

Bill Loveless [00:17:52] You mentioned green hydrogen, and I think it’s always helpful when discussing hydrogen to sort of go over the kaleidoscope of colors. Right. And we don’t have to hit each color because it seems a new one is added all the time. But for those who may not be quite as familiar, we have green hydrogen, which you mentioned is made by using clean electricity, is made by using clean electricity from renewable energy sources with no harmful emissions. You have gray hydrogen, which is the most common form of hydrogen production today created from natural gas, but without capturing carbon emissions and blue hydrogen produced mainly from gas with carbon capture and storage to trap and store carbon emissions. Do I get that right? 

Daryl Wilson [00:18:34] You won’t find me using the colors below. We find them misleading and confusing. And I understand the whole system that someone developed to try and help people understand the complexity of hydrogen. But unfortunately it’s caused a lot of polarization and a lot of misunderstanding. What we need is a protocol for calculating what is the environmental footprint of hydrogen from a CO2 point of view or other environmental attributes and have a standardized method. You know, if you buy a car in in Europe, it will have a very clear sticker on the window that says, you know, the carbon intensity per kilometer traveled of this particular vehicle is so many grams of either five grams of CO2 per kilometer traveled. And we need that kind of mechanism for all of the hydrogen that’s produced in the future so that there’s very good transparency and a and a certified method for actually talking about the environmental profile of hydrogen. And unfortunately, there’s been a lot of kind of moralistic thinking, you know, green is good, blue is bad. In fact, we need all forms of hydrogen from all different pathways if we’re going to meet our our imperative around mitigating climate change and have hydrogen do the job that it can do. I find typically, you know, where you stand depends on where you sit. So throughout North America and Canada and the U.S., there doesn’t tend to be as much polarization. There’s a recognition that we can harvest fossil fuel resources in a responsible manner and sequester the carbon. In other places. There’s a tendency to heavily focus on hydrogen coming from renewable sources. I expect that over time, we’re all going to realize that hydrogen is a colorless molecule and it can do a great job in decarbonization. So we’d like to turn our back on the colors, frankly. 

Bill Loveless [00:20:23] Okay, Colors aside, let’s talk about the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. It’s passed by the US Congress, as we know, as signed by President Biden. It includes, by some accounts, the largest hydrogen subsidies in the world has a lot of people who are applauding it. Natural Resources Defense Council among them saying the assistance, quote, undoubtedly marks the inflection point in the arc of the technology’s development. It may provide a sea change in the hydrogen market, yet what are those subsidies dial and how do they work? 

Daryl Wilson [00:20:57] So there’s a very important BI down of the green premium. So renewable hydrogen has a $3 a kilogram buy down that takes what would have been four or five $6 hydrogen to produce down into the one $2 range, which makes it completely competitive with fossil fuel alternatives. So when people talk about the IRA as a game changer, there it is. It brings hydrogen right into the competitive business model regime. And then there are tax incentives as well. And when you put the whole package together, you have a really strong supply side push. And it’s many people say it’s it’s a game changer. And it is. I sometimes like to draw. Some parallels, though, and look around the rest of the world, because while it does distinguish a very strong initiative on the part of the U.S. government, you have five years of portfolio of projects under development in Europe, and the U.S. doesn’t have that. Now, that portfolio projects in the in Europe is somewhat stalled because of the regulatory uncertainty I mentioned earlier. But a lot of work went into that portfolio. It’s very thoughtful. And when it gets unblocked, Europe is going to surge ahead very strongly. And then in China and Korea, we have policy and funding and very focused demand side measures for hydrogen and transport especially, which did not show up in the in the regime in the U.S. And I said earlier, matching of supply and demand is very important. And so there’s other places in the world where the demand pull is is incentivized more strongly, which I think is a very good thing. So for me, there’s multiple horses in this race very much still. I’m very glad to see the incentives that exist in the U.S. I think it’s going to do very well for business interested in clean technology in the U.S. So I think it’s great, but it’s not so much so that the rest of the world is going to turn off and and the U.S. is going to run away, run away with the game. I think there’s there’s just too much on the table in terms of making sure we meet our goals for climate change and too much interest and maturity in these other markets that they’re not going to fall behind. In fact, they’re going to up their game even more. 

Bill Loveless [00:23:10] Well, in addition to the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, there was also the sweeping infrastructure bill which passed Congress and provides 7 billion in federal funding to create up to ten hydrogen hubs across the U.S. These would function as a network of clean energy producers and potential clean hydrogen consumers and connective infrastructure. You know, I find it interesting that you say that. It sounds like you’re saying this is not necessarily these laws passed by Congress, so not necessarily the game changers, The things that changed the global playing field for hydrogen as compared to what’s happening in other countries. 

Daryl Wilson [00:23:48] Well, I think they’re absolutely power and powerful incentives in in the North American context, there’s no question. But what I’m saying is the the sense of urgency and commitment around these things elsewhere means that everyone else is going to absolutely stay in the game. When you allude to the hydrogen hub idea, that’s another thing that we’re seeing play out around the world. And I think it’s it’s a strong initiative because what that does with with a hydrogen hub or they’re sometimes called hydrogen ports or hydrogen valleys, it concentrates the funding initiative in a focused way so that we get to a larger scale project or cluster of applications in one area. And I think that’s a very important vector for scaling up hydrogen so that we learn in in a concentrated jurisdiction or geography how to get the job done at scale, and then it can spread from there. So I see these two pieces initiatives coming a year apart in the U.S. as actually, you know, facilitative and constructive for each other. There’s so much more money in the IRA that the former initiative with the hydrogen hubs almost pales in comparison. But I do hope that those hubs will go ahead and get built, because I think there’s an important learning learning journey there as well. 

Bill Loveless [00:25:05] You know, speaking of the European Union, the concern there naturally is of reducing its reliance on Russian fossil fuels. And recently, I understand the EU set one of the most ambitious hydrogen deployment targets in the world to deploy 20 million tonnes of renewably produced hydrogen as a fuel and feedstock by 2030. How is that? But yet there’s some there’s is, as I understand it, and from what I hear from you, Daryl, is there’s still some concerns there over regulatory uncertainty. What sort of uncertainty are you referring to? 

Daryl Wilson [00:25:40] Well, the ambition is clear. The EU raised their target from 10 million metric tonnes to 20 million metric tonnes with the anticipation that about half of that would be domestically produced and half of it would be imported. We have to be clear that hydrogen is not going to solve the energy security, you know, pressing issues facing the EU in the short term, but in the longer term as they want to meet their long term goal of decarbonization alongside diversity of supply and energy security. Hydrogen is a major part of the story, and these ambitions have made that clear. The European Union has a very interesting governance model. It runs by consensus of many nation states, and so they sometimes have difficulty managing complex issues to get a cogent conclusion and get on with things. And so I respect their richness of of their approach. And and right now they’re just struggling through some of the more complex issues, which are partly, you know, natural with hydrogen with so. Many different dimensions that need to be managed. My hope is that in the coming months and with the IRA as almost a provocation, that some of these complexities are going to get sorted out and they’ll move more in the direction of simplicity, such as we have in the U.S. market. And then we can get get on with the important job that hydrogen can do. I have every confidence that that is going to happen. Underlying some of the tensions in the U.S. is a mentality around the electrification of everything. And this is where we don’t have that same issue elsewhere in the world. Of course, we need to electrify more than we have today. But when you understand our energy system today is about 80% coming from molecules and only 20% from electrons. We are not going to get to 100% electrification of everything. And there’s going to be an important role for decarbonized molecules to to contribute for energy storage stability. Just the sheer scale of energy that needs to be transported. So there’s this is an important area for hydrogen. And in the EU, getting the right balance in perspective between electrification and hydrogen as as complementary solutions as is, I think part of the way through some of the the difficulties that they’re having. 

Bill Loveless [00:27:57] Yeah. Even let’s talk about where you are right now. Canada, your home country. They had the government there announced a big initiative this fall, a significant tax credit for hydrogen production worth at least, what, 40% of if certain conditions are met? 

Daryl Wilson [00:28:14] That’s right. Canada has a rich history in energy. We have lots of hydro and fossil fuels and nuclear energy as well. And so I think we have quite a balanced policy across the country which supports the use of renewable energy and hydro from Quebec, in Ontario and Eastern Canada, through to carbon sequestration and capture and storage in western Canada, where we have our fossil fuel resources. So the government has had a challenge to bring a balanced approach, put the right incentives in place to activate the markets, and I think that’s coming now. I was somewhat critical around the, you know, resourcing and leadership of this policy in recent months. But even there, we’re starting to see some movement where there’s money on the table. So I’m quite encouraged. In some ways, we consider the modern hydrogen industry to have had its birth place in Canada with my former company Hunter Gen-X and Ballard fuel cells leading the way over many decades now. So hydrogen has a warm place in our heart, and it seems to be also having a productive contribution in the future. 

Bill Loveless [00:29:23] Yeah, let’s look at some other countries. China, for example, is the largest producer of hydrogen today, with most of the volume produced from fossil fuels as feedstocks and refineries and chemical plants. Is China shaping up as a leader in hydrogen going forward? 

Daryl Wilson [00:29:41] Well, I don’t claim to be an expert on all things China, but I didn’t make my first trip there in 2014 and then followed that by 12 more. And I was stunned at the speed of adoption that I saw in those years. And it’s only continued since my last time there, which is more than four years ago. There is a very focused effort to move hydrogen, especially into the transport area, to help with improving air quality arising from transportation emissions, with trucking in busses in the major cities. And so we’ve seen more deployment of fuel cells in China than almost any other country of the world except for Korea. So I think folks would be somewhat surprised to know the largest operating a new electrolysis plant is in China. The largest number of heavy transport trucks converted to hydrogen use is in China. And and the real momentum in deployment actually hitting the streets is today in China and and then also in Korea. This is where all the policy places are being put in in policy points are being put in place with incentives, with demand profiles in and direct to policy to change methodologies and approaches in transportation. So very strong movement there. And I think a lot of the technology resources reside in Europe and elsewhere. So Europe is not going to be out of the game just because China’s moving ahead strongly, nor is the U.S. But we need to recognize that China is very much on the move in this area as well. And I sometimes remind people that China is is battery land in every other respect. And so you might be surprised to hear that their heaviest concentration of hydrogen and transportation is is in China, but that’s, in fact, the case. So they recognize the complementary aspect of of hydrogen and transport alongside battery electric vehicles. 

Bill Loveless [00:31:39] Yeah. Let me let me run by you some of the the what? What some of the criticism of hydrogen’s better maybe not necessarily criticism, but some of the questions that have been raised. And you’ve you’ve already brought up one when you’re talking about electrification. But you know there are those who caution who urge caution in providing support for hydrogen. I read recently in the new service utility dive commentary that said cheap hydrogen should not be used in applications better served by direct electrification like buildings or transportation. This commentary went on to say regulators should remain wary of gas utility proposals to blend hydrogen into pipelines as they would achieve few emissions reductions before facing costly dead ends and while increasing threats to public safety and finally adds that state policymakers should use caution before directing public funds towards hydrogen light duty refueling station as electric vehicles have substantial cost and performance advantages. Fair criticism. 

Daryl Wilson [00:32:44] So virtually all of those arguments set in this electrification of everything mentality. And and what I find is unfortunate is there’s kind of a mixture of truths that are getting mingled here. It’s absolutely true that a Tesla battery electric vehicle is 92% efficient, but the efficiency of the end use appliance is not the basis of considering how we manage our our energy system. So, you know, the fact that I have a more efficient toaster than you do doesn’t much matter. The real question is what’s happening behind that electrical plug where I plug my car into my toaster? And when you when you evaluate total energy systems, as we say, from sun to wheel or sun to end use, you find a very interesting outcome. In our study on transportation published last year, we compared running a battery electric vehicle in Germany versus running a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in Germany. And on an efficiency basis and on a carbon footprint basis, the two solutions in Germany are almost equivalent. You go to other places like Korea and Japan, where they have to import all of their energy. The dream of solar panels on my garage and my battery electric vehicle in the garage, it just doesn’t work out because they don’t have the wind and the sun resources to actually deliver that dream. And as they import a lot of energy, they’re going to import a lot of clean hydrogen. And so a hydrogen oriented transportation system makes a lot more sense in China and Korea. And that’s why you see Hyundai and and Toyota very strong still on the hydrogen vector. So this is an important point around not drawing the energy efficiency box too small around just the end use appliance, and then also realizing the nuances of different use cases and different geographies. And so that report that I mentioned, I didn’t create, encourage your listeners to have a look. What we say is that our solutions in transport require both battery and hydrogen fuel cell support, and particularly in the heavy transport area, we don’t expect batteries are going to rise to the challenge on the amount of energy that’s required to drive a truck long distances or to have public transport on trains, etcetera, or in aviation. Now some will take the leap of faith and say, oh, the batteries are going to get there. But I think if you look at the facts scientifically, that leap of faith is certainly larger than than the the belief that the hydrogen can do that job and do it on an efficient and carbon low carbon intensity basis. So these are important debates and discussions for us to have as we choose our future energy infrastructure. But it’s important to be, you know, complete and thorough in the evaluation of these things from a total system point of view. 

Bill Loveless [00:35:45] Daryl, you mentioned before the accuracy of emissions accounting, when when you look at the various options for hydrogen systems and, you know, we want to make sure ensure that the hydrogen source claiming a subsidy, for example, is indeed low emitting, as well as the applications where the low cost hydrogen would be used. Well, are there different attitudes or attributes for assessing hydrogen’s impact from, let’s say, in the European Union or the United States or other countries? 

Daryl Wilson [00:36:19] Well, here I’d love to give a shout out to my good friend Sydney, to Sacha Paula, who’s head of the hydrogen program in the U.S. under her leadership with the International Program on Hydrogen Energy, IPG. There was a development over the last three years of a protocol for how to calculate the environmental footprint of the different use cases and pathways for hydrogen, and that work is ongoing and working on even more cases as we speak. It’s thoughtful, it’s scientific. It takes the whole system approach that I was talking about. It looks at the entire lifecycle. And so some very good work with the leadership of Sunita and her government colleagues from Departments of Energy around the world has already been done and I expect that that will undergird the ultimate ISO standard for the methodology of calculating the hydrogen footprint. Sorry, the carbon footprint of hydrogen. 

Bill Loveless [00:37:18] Yeah. These are I would imagine when you look at the priorities you’re setting up for your new year 2023, this would be among those that you’ll be giving close consideration to. 

Daryl Wilson [00:37:27] Yes. As hydrogen becomes a means of trading energy, you know, we move a lot of energy over long distances that is today to support our energy system. And that’s not going to change in the future. We need to draw on the renewable energy resources and low carbon resources around the world and move energy over long distances. And our recent report of on trade flows in hydrogen shows that two thirds of more than 660 million metric tons of hydrogen will be in pipelines or ships by 2050, moving over long distances to supply energy from decarbonized sources. So what we need for that to happen for this very large amount of trade flow to happen is some standard basis of calculation for these environmental attributes so that customers know what they’re buying and they have confidence in the the declaration of the environmental history of that particular hydrogen. 

Bill Loveless [00:38:22] Yeah. When you talk about the movement of hydrogen around the world, it reminds me of a conversation we had with Elizabeth Press, the director of planning and program support at the International Renewable Energy Agency. She joined us on the show earlier this year to talk about the geopolitics of energy, which she said should not be overlooked in preparing for greater global use of hydrogen. How do you how do you think geography, economics and demography might play into hydrogen trade? 

Daryl Wilson [00:38:49] The key thing here is diversity of sources. You know, any time in in the human. Political and social system. We concentrate power or energy in a particular place. Then we run into trouble and and it leads to war and all kinds of other tragic outcomes and also economic disparity and inequity. The nice thing, I think, with renewable energy plus hydrogen is there’s a degree of of democratization and sharing where many more nations have a contribution to make. That, of course, will lead to healthy competition between those nations. But there won’t be the same concentration of energy and power in as few places as it is today. In some ways, the Russian war is all about this, that Russia is one of the last economies that’s entirely dependent on the old economy and fossil fuels. And we need the future leaders of Russia to recognize the contribution they can make alongside everybody else in a peaceful manner to move energy using renewable resources and hydrogen. They can make a contribution just like that. And we need to stop fighting over fossil fuel resources and start recognizing the equality of of renewable resources that can be enabled by hydrogen. 

Bill Loveless [00:40:04] Well, a molecule of hydrogen is the simplest possible molecule, but one that offers the potential for tremendous change in the way we produce and use energy and meet our emissions reduction goals. Daryl Wilson, thank you for joining us today on the Columbia Energy Exchange. 

Daryl Wilson [00:40:21] My pleasure. Great to be with you. 

Bill Loveless [00:40:27] Thank you again, Daryl Wilson. And thanks to all of you for listening to Columbia Energy Exchange. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by Jason Bordoff and Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Erin Hartig, Steven Lacy and Cecily. Mr. Martinez from Post-Script Media. Additional support from Daniel Prop, Natalie Volk and Kyu Lee. For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at Energy Policy dot Columbia dot edu or follow us on social media at Columbia U. Energy. And if you like what you heard, consider giving us a rating on Apple Podcasts. It helps the show reach more listeners like yourself. We’ll see you next week.

Clean electrons are vital to the net-zero economy. What about molecules?

There is a global race to expand hydrogen production for industry and heavy transportation – using wind, solar and biomass as a feedstock.

North American countries are taking hydrogen innovation seriously, passing policy to spur innovation. The United States’ Inflation Reduction Act and Canada’s Fall Economic Statement both offer production tax credits for clean hydrogen.

China is the global leader in production. But the country primarily uses coal as a feedstock. To make it clean, they’ll need to invest heavily in renewables and carbon capture technology.

With so much attention now on the industry, will it finally live up to the hype? How have recent developments in geopolitics and policy changed the outlook for the hydrogen industry? And what sectors will it help decarbonize?

This week host Bill Loveless talks with Daryl Wilson, the executive director of the Hydrogen Council.

Before joining the Hydrogen Council in 2020, Daryl served as CEO of Hydrogenics, a fuel cell and electrolysis technologies provider. During his time there, he oversaw the world’s largest new electrolysis project and the world’s first hydrogen powered public train service.

In 2017 the Hydrogen Council released its first report – an outlook through 2050. Bill talks to Daryl about whether that outlook has changed with the recent instability of global energy markets and the war in Ukraine. They also discuss how new policy developments could spur innovation.


More Episodes

Our Work


See All Work