Readers may not know that October 8 is designated National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day by the US Department of Energy and hydrogen advocacy groups around the country. The date represents the atomic mass of hydrogen (1.008), suggesting that energy scientists may have originated the dad joke genre.
Here at the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance (RHA) we are chastened that this marks the second year we have planned no celebratory event. All you got for National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day is this letter!
You may be wondering why hydrogen deserves a National Day and why you or anyone should care. It turns out the Northwest has a lot to gain from this new industry. There is much well deserved talk about hydrogen vehicles, but 10 million metric tons of hydrogen created in the US each year, the energy equivalent of 7% of US gasoline sales, goes mostly to industrial processes. Unfortunately the hydrogen from this multi-billion-dollar industry is almost entirely derived from fossil fuels. It doesn’t have to be, and that’s where the Northwest stands to gain.
Hydrogen can be produced by passing electricity through water, splitting H2O into H2 and O(2). Using renewable electricity to do this creates a completely clean source of hydrogen. The Northwest is bursting with renewable electricity, often more than we need and sometimes so much that we turn it away for lack of demand. Wholesale market prices go to zero, which sounds good until you realize it’s your utility trying to sell into a weak wholesale market, not to you at your house! In fact this can drive up rates for some utilities. We need a new use for our renewable electricity; making hydrogen can be that use.
This really explains why RHA was founded, just over a year ago, and here in the Northwest where there are low wholesale electric prices and most electricity already comes from renewables. We are already deeply involved in multiple new projects. In May we put on a sold-out symposium with 160 attendees from four countries, and in August we helped the Eugene Water & Electric Board put on a Hydrogen Roundtable at the behest of Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio. We’ve grown to 54 members including nine utilities as well as manufacturers, developers, clean energy organizations, and hydrogen vehicle companies including Toyota and Nikola.
All these folks want to create hydrogen from renewable electricity, helping reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. That is certainly worth celebrating. So happy National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day!