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New transportation policies are essential to enable renewable gas standards and other benefits.

Kris Nelson, principal of Phoenix Finance in Portland, is an adviser to the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance.


Imagine a world where all transportation and power is supplied by renewable electricity: where trains, buses, ships, trucks, cars, even airplanes are fueled by hydrogen from clean power; where coal and natural gas plants are unnecessary because long-term storage of renewable power is efficient and inexpensive. Such a world is not just a dream; it is already emerging.

As hundreds of government bodies — cities, states, and countries — set goals for achieving 100% renewable power worldwide, the need for storing vast surpluses of renewable power is emerging as the main challenge to accommodating variable supplies of green energy.

Those surpluses can be used to create clean fuels if we recognize the potential and implement policies to make it so. In fact, achieving greenhouse-gas targets is dependent on dedicated policies and plans to use utility-scale, renewable hydrogen production to create clean fuels.

Europe and Asia already are demonstrating the technological and economic viability of renewable hydrogen-fueled transportation systems. Several European utilities are producing hydrogen from surplus wind power for transportation fuel. Sweden-based Vattenfall has tested hydrogen to power a train in Germany. Some 14 rail lines in Lower Saxony are planned to operate on hydrogen in 2021.

In South Australia, a government-industry partnership is planning to produce ammonia for fuel from "green hydrogen" using renewable power sources. Their Hydrogen Roadmap, released in October 2017, plans to leverage their abundant solar resource to supply hydrogen for transportation and industrial uses domestically and for exporting to Japan. Tokyo entities already have signed contracts with Australian utilities to supply large quantities of hydrogen by ship for the 2020 Olympics.

In the Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration routinely curtails significant surpluses of wind and hydro power. It dumped about 140,000 megawatt hours in surplus hydro and wind power in 2017 alone, the equivalent of the power consumption of 14,000 homes. We must use this energy more efficiently, and can do so by using it to create clean fuels.

California has allocated $160 million since 2014 to construct hydrogen fueling stations until 2022. Toyota Motor North America announced in December 2017 that it will built a 2.3 megawatt biowaste power station in Long Beach, California, that will supply 1 metric ton of hydrogen per day, enough to fuel about 1,500 fuel cell cars.

Plans to construct a "hydrogen highway" nationwide launched in November 2017 when Nel, a Norwegian electrolyzer and fueling station manufacturer, announced an order for two hydrogen stations from Nikola Truck: "The purchase order is the initial part of an exclusive partnership aiming at developing low-cost renewable hydrogen production and fueling sites for the potential development of 16 large-scale sites with a capacity up to 32 tons of hydrogen per day."

Anheuser-Busch has ordered 800 hydrogen fuel cell delivery trucks from Nikola. In total, Nikola plans to build some 600 hydrogen fueling stations nationwide.

Economies of scale from deployments of this technology around the world have caused rapid decreases in the cost of utility-scale electrolyzers to produce hydrogen.

Success breeds success, and the economic feasibility of a hydrogen-fueled transportation system from cost-competitive renewable power is being demonstrated.

New policies are essential to enable renewable gas standards, low-carbon fuel standards, funding for hydrogen vehicle fueling stations, and hydrogen-driven energy storage mandates.

"Producing clean fuels from renewable power provides the only scalable and economically feasible option for long-term storage of renewable electricity. It's a 'win-win' for transportation, industry, the economy, and the climate," says Ken Dragoon, executive director of the Portland-based Renewable Hydrogen Alliance (www.renewableh2.org). At the group's May 20 daylong symposium, some 200 attendees discussed policy initiatives, commercial opportunities, and technological advances. It mobilized energy-filled steps to attain a carbon-free transportation and power system in the Northwest.

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