Hydrogen is the simplest element on earth and the most copious element in the universe. It is an energy carrier as it has high energy capacity per unit of weight. And it has the potential to become a mainstream energy technology and a key clean fuel source in the future that could also help decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
The evolution of hydrogen research and technology in the next few decades could make hydrogen a multi-billion industry in the United States alone, Jeffrey Rissman, Industry Program Director & Head of Modeling at climate policy think tank Energy Innovation, writes in Forbes. By 2050, the hydrogen industry could produce as much as US$170 billion in annual revenues and make combined profits of more than US$100 billion, if hydrogen demand as a vehicle fuel leads to 5 percent hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road in 2050, and if hydrogen is made entirely from electrolysis—the process of splitting hydrogen from water using an electric current.
This scenario is one of three possible options for hydrogen that Energy Innovation examined. This is the ‘hydrogen demand plus electrolysis (HD+E)’ outline.
This plot assumes that hydrogen will be produced without greenhouse gas emissions and using electricity from renewable sources for the electrolysis.
The other two possibilities are ‘business as usual’, in which hydrogen is not expected to be a game-changer, and ‘hydrogen demand’, where hydrogen demand in cars and industry is similar to the HD+E scenario, but 95 % of hydrogen will still be produced from natural gas.
In the HD+E case, emissions could be reduced by as much as 120 million metric tons (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent annually in 2050. This would be equivalent to removing 25 million passenger vehicles from U.S. roads, Energy Innovation’s Rissman says.