On the eve of gasworld’s annual Hydrogen Edition, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a very different kind of challenge we face in the transition to a hydrogen society. A challenge in perception that perhaps runs even deeper than we may realise.

I don’t know about you, but I keep seeing the term ‘hopium’ or, to be more accurate, #hopium, as this is largely found on the social media channels we’re all so familiar with today – and that doesn’t just mean it’s something from the wide open forum of Twitter. It’s trending on other networks too.

It’s the terminology for irrational or unwarranted optimism; false hope, essentially. More than that, it’s an apparent ‘addiction’ to those false hopes. A great many in the wider energy sector and particularly the all-electric niche, at least from what I have seen, are taking great pleasure in playing on this term and making the most of simultaneously fusing ‘h’ for hydrogen and hopium. It’s become a hashtag for deriding the notion of the hydrogen economy and all those that believe in it.

There exist echo chambers of scientific arguments and strongly worded statements. Claims that hydrogen is painted into bright colours (blue, green, pink) to make it seems a workable technology; claims it is energy-negative and economically too costly; that regardless of the method of production, more energy is required to produce and compress the hydrogen product than it can later generate; that it is not a source of energy but merely a carrier, and not a particularly productive one at that.

Central to many or all of these claims is the argument that green hydrogen is a flawed fantasy and the notion of blue hydrogen is merely a ruse by the oil and gas elite to preserve and prolong our fossil fuel domination long into the future.

I have only conveyed some of the arguments here, and in a much calmer manner than I regularly see in such echo chambers. Sadly, these threads and rants more than border on the vitriolic. I’ve had the misfortune to be tagged into at least one such thread myself, some time ago, and it was not a pleasant experience.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well clearly, like you, we firmly believe that hydrogen is a central part of our energy future; the nexus between our energy past, present and future. But many claim we’re in an echo chamber of our own. They say we’re too evangelical about hydrogen. Our industry is regularly being dragged into that so-called ‘dirty’ bracket with the fossil fuel sector, simply for being producers, innovators and believers when it comes to this incredible molecule.

”Have we taken the moniker of the ‘invisible industry’ too far? When it comes to an issue as critical as the hydrogen society, we need to… make our science, logic and expertise known?”

So are we ourselves, as an industry, in an echo chamber? It’s good to at least ask the question, to dare to take a step back and critically deconstruct the argument – but I think there’s an even more pertinent question to pose.

Have we taken the moniker of the ‘invisible industry’ too far? Has it become a self-fulfilling tag that, when it comes to an issue as critical as the hydrogen society, we need to not so much shout from the rooftops but certainly make our science, logic and expertise known?

Perhaps the same argument could have been made prior to the Covid pandemic and the escalating medical oxygen shortages that suddenly positioned our industry front and centre of the public health conversation. Is it time for our industry to definitively knock down these hydrogen myths once and for all?

Hydrogen – September 2014

Source: Linde

Benchmark

There are many things we’ve already learned about hydrogen and indeed from merchant hydrogen, across more than a century of its usage.

As Rommel Oates (Oates Energy Solutions) explains in an upcoming feature in our hydrogen edition, it is the road travelled in grey hydrogen that has paved the way for our low-carbon path forward; that expertise learned in the production, handling and storage of hydrogen. And he knows, because he spent years in the gases industry and played a major role in helping Linde (formerly Praxair, Inc.) commercialise the industry’s first high purity underground 2.5 BCF hydrogen storage facility and business. In fact, his novel ideas and inventions generated over 16 patents in the area of hydrogen storage technology.

In addition, Oates’ is also a Board Member for the International Association of Hydrogen Energy (IAHE) and with his own ventures into the hydrogen space these days, he has a strong understanding of both sides of the hydrogen coin.

This is something that our regular contributor Art Anderson (AH Anderson Consulting) also concurs with as he discusses the past, present and future of the hydrogen industry in his own feature for gasworld readers this month. He, too, acknowledges that the potential for hydrogen was clear well before World War II, but it went through decades of industrial use and development to become the recognised fuel that it is today.

Or, as Lars Martiny, Head of Hydrogen Economy Future at The Chemours Company, said to Anderson during the writing of that article, “Like all truly game-changing technology, hydrogen use has undergone an evolution to give it the critical role and tremendous value and potential it has in today’s world.”

His feature also alludes to some of the pressing challenges we’ll need to overcome in the years ahead, not least the sheer scale-up effort required in electrolyser capacities and the distribution infrastructure. Both drill down into far more complex, splintered challenges themselves.

Which brings us back to that big question – can we do it? Is it the best means of resource and effort to do so? Plenty say otherwise, so maybe as an industry we need to do an even better job of addressing those questions, refuting those negative claims, and calmly shooting down those barbed comments with indisputable facts.

“…as an industry we need to do an even better job of addressing those questions, refuting those negative claims, and calmly shooting down those barbed comments with indisputable facts”

Tell us what you think: send us your views, your thoughts, your insights and your equations on this. We’d love to see them! If you all share your perspectives, we’ll run that article in our next issue – your discussion, your debate, our conversation. We’ll run it online and maybe, just maybe, we can help to convince others that it’s most definitely hope and not hopium when it comes to hydrogen.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of content coming to get your synapses firing, your thoughts provoked and your expert answers flowing. Enjoy the reads ahead as they drop online in the coming days and then let’s come together to take on this perception challenge that evidently runs far deeper than we may have once thought.