California Hydrogen Fuel Cell Summit

December 28, 2018

The California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC) hosted its 6th annual California Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Summit in Sacramento December 11-12. The Summit brought members of the industry together with government agencies to discuss the progress made in California and beyond in the continually developing hydrogen landscape. Throughout the two-day event, presenters highlighted the major accomplishments and challenges for the industry.

Summit Topics Discussed

Like the northern European region, California has vast amounts of intermittent renewable energy that is being curtailed from the electrical grid. The California Independent System Operators (CAISO), California Energy Commission (CEC), and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will need to address this issue by implementing and utilizing better energy storage systems. With the passage of SB 1369, which lays the groundwork for California to produce and utilize green electrolytic hydrogen, California must consider it a part of their plan. While batteries can provide short term energy storage solution, for longer, seasonal energy shifts, hydrogen will play a critical role.

Shifting excess renewable energy in long summer days to the heating demands of short winter days is an opportunity for hydrogen. Without the gradual energy capacity loss, hydrogen is positioned to be the solution for the California electrical grid to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. It is a viable resource with the capacity for California to meet its energy demand, via renewable energy, throughout the year. If the curtailed electricity in 2017 were converted into hydrogen, it could have fueled 34,500-51,700 FCEVs, six to nine times as many FCEVs as are on the road today.

Sector Coupling

The latest buzzword in the industry is sector coupling; the integration of the energy consuming sectors – industry, buildings and transportation – with the power producing sector, including renewable energy, through infrastructure and energy carriers. The motivation is to move towards a 100% carbon free energy economy. The future of renewable hydrogen generation is “power-to-X,” whereby surplus electric power generated from renewable energy can be used to produce hydrogen. The power and transportation sectors can be combined using electrolyzers to produce renewable hydrogen that can be used in a number of mobile applications and stationary power generation. Electrolyzers now have a millisecond response time, which is what was needed by the grid, which requires response in 1-2 seconds.

In Germany, hydrogen is being injected into the natural gas pipeline at amounts up to 20%, using the existing gas infrastructure as a way to store hydrogen from renewable energy. Another power-to-X project in Dunkirk, France is also targeting a 20% injection level into their natural gas grid. The hope is that large renewable hydrogen projects from wind and solar will become plentiful in years to come.

Policy Matters

Policy has been a very important topic for hydrogen in 2018 around the world. In California, the Governor issued an executive order in January for the deployment of 5 million ZEVs by 2030 with 1 million FCEVs and 200 hydrogen stations. Unfortunately, the California legislature did not approve the proposed $92 million budget for the 200 stations, which would be 100 more than is currently funded under AB 8.

However, the legislative year was a success in other ways, thanks to California Senator Nancy Skinner, who received the CHBC Public Leadership Award as 2018 CHBC Legislator of the Year for her effort to pass SB 1369. The legislation defines green electrolytic hydrogen and sends a clear message to the CEC, CPUC, and CARB to consider renewable, green, electrolytic hydrogen as an energy storage technology in future state agency proceedings. In her acceptance speech, Skinner spoke of the international climate negotiations that were taking place in Poland at COP24, and the IPCC Special Report released this fall, which warns that the planet has 12 years to significantly reduce carbon emissions to avoid the most catastrophic impact of climate change. This sends a message to governments around the world that policies must be put in place to decarbonize the economy now.

In California, close to half of carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. Medium- and heavy-duty diesel trucks are playing a larger role in goods movement and last mile delivery. The trucks that call on ports often sit idling for long periods, compromising the air quality in surrounding communities. Fuel cell trucks are gaining attention, as the only emission out of the tailpipe is water. CARB’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires the decarbonization of transportation fuels with a 20% carbon intensity by 2030, which creates the market-pull to adopt cleaner fuels. The world is seeing an increase of zero and near-zero emission vehicles, and steps are being taken to end the use of the internal combustion engine (ICE) that burns fossil fuels. The only way to reach the Paris Agreement global temperature reduction targets is if we rapidly decarbonize the transportation sector.

Hydrogen Future is Strong

The CHBC Summit ended with optimism for the hydrogen industry. For vehicles, the cost to build fuel stations is dropping, and the time to build a station is being cut in half. When comparing hydrogen fuel cell vehicle adoption to the early twentieth century history of the gasoline car and the growth of gas stations, initially there were many more cars on the road than there were gas stations. In those early days, by 2018 dollars, gasoline was over $6 a gallon. Within about seven years, the price dropped to just over $1 per gallon in today’s dollars. Today, on average, hydrogen is $14 per kg. With the predicted high-volume production of the fuel, prices will go down to $5 per kg.

Momentum in California

Today, California has 17,000 kg/day of hydrogen production capacity. The recently announced Air Liquide hydrogen liquefaction plant will significantly increase that capacity. The production method will be steam methane reforming of mostly renewable natural gas. Air Liquide is committed to reducing their carbon intensity by 30% in the next decade. The plant will provide 30,000 kg/day which can support 35,000 FCVs.

The momentum for hydrogen is increasing with more demonstration projects and the deployment of fuel cell buses and trucks. There are 23,000 fuel cell forklifts in operation in the U.S. Forklift owners have found it to be the “best decision they ever made.” That said, the hydrogen industry still has its share of challenges to overcome. More investment overall is needed. The different codes and standards need to be harmonized. The certification process needs to be simplified.

The global vision of the Hydrogen Council is to see thousands of fuel cell vehicles on the road, as well as trains, and the first hydrogen powered cruise ship. They have also committed to 100% decarbonized hydrogen fuel in transportation by 2030. California is doing its part to fight climate change, but the state only accounts for 1% of the total GHG emissions in the world. We need to go beyond our borders to show the rest of the world how we’re getting it done in California.