First there were the dreamers, the conceptualisers. Then there were the innovators, the technologists, and gradually came the required compliance to match. Now we have the big heavyweights really weighing in too…

Shell, TOTAL, BP, et al.

Not that they weren’t always there of course, but now their presence is so much more prominent – and that is why the time is now for the evolving hydrogen economy.

These are companies that are very well positioned to be at the forefront of the clean energy transition but who, one might suggest, could continue to dine out for some time on the riches of their fossil fuel empires. There is still much ‘life in the old dog’ yet when it comes to conventional energies and fuels, and these huge multi-billion dollar conglomerates continue to sustain strong balance sheets year-on-year.

Yet rather than drag their heels and persist with 100% focus on their traditional oil-based assets, they are taking their opportunity to move now. Like so many of the Arab states scrambling to reposition their economies and carve out a new long-term future out of tourism, clean energies and blue chip industry, the major oil and gas companies are using their wealth today to capture their potential tomorrow.

They believe in this, they are backing up the rhetoric, they are investing.

That’s why this is real. That’s why this is the time now for the hydrogen economy. That’s why this has accelerated so far beyond words and wishful thinking; there exists a credence, a gravitas, now in the hydrogen economy. You only have to look at a selection of developments in the last six months alone to see this.

tm power inc

Source: ITM Power

In September, for example, Shell and ITM Power revealed plans to install a large-scale electrolyser to produce hydrogen at the Wesseling refinery site within the Rheinland Refinery Complex (Germany). In the same month, Toyota and Honda announced their collaboration with Shell Oil for the construction of another seven new hydrogen stations in Northern California (US).

In October, Plug Power Inc., announced a new agreement with Toyota Material Handling Norway (Toyota) to provide hydrogen fuel cells to Asko, Norway’s largest convenience goods wholesaler, for its forklift fleet. And in November, Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (TMNA) declared that it will build the world’s first megawatt-scale carbonate fuel cell power generation plant with a hydrogen fuelling station to support its operations at the Port of Long Beach in California. Announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Tri-Gen facility will use bio-waste sourced from California agricultural waste to generate water, electricity and hydrogen.

By December, Air Liquide and TOTAL had opened a new hydrogen filling station in Hirschberg an der Bergstrasse (Germany), the 14th public hydrogen station in Baden-Württemberg and Germany’s fourth station at a motorway service area.

With the advent of the New Year, energy storage company Hydrogenics Corporation received a $7.8m order to supply fuel cell power systems for zero-emission vehicles in China (January), and just this month Toyota Australia joined forces with industry heavyweights to accelerate the reality of a hydrogen society built upon clean and renewable energy technology in the South Pacific region. The automotive manufacturer became a foundation member of Hydrogen Mobility Australia (HMA), established to support the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

This is just a sample cross-section of what’s going on in the global hydrogen economy, and demonstrating how this is moving beyond mobility and into industry too. All of which will be keenly discussed at gasworld’s Clean Energies conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands this April (23-25).

Last week I was challenged on social media to answer what progress the Hydrogen Council had made since September-October time. As I’ve shown above, you can clearly provide a whole raft of notable developments and announcements in response to this (and I duly did). But it is arguably the arrival of some of the biggest and most recognisable names in the energy and automotive sector that is the strongest statement of all in recent months and years. What we really need now is even greater government-level support around the world.

See you in Amsterdam, then.