Insights from Daryl Wilson, executive director, Hydrogen Council
The Hydrogen Council was founded in 2017 by 13 companies, and it's grown quickly since then to more than 100 organizations, reflecting the surging global interest in hydrogen as a zero-carbon energy source. In this Q&A, IHS Markit talks with Daryl Wilson, who became the group's first executive director in October 2020.
IHS Markit: How would you describe the Hydrogen Council?
Wilson: The Hydrogen Council is a CEO-led organization that uses its global reach to promote collaboration between governments, industry and investors, and to provide guidance on accelerating the deployment of hydrogen solutions around the world. We're a group of industry leaders who recognize that hydrogen is an essential part of the global energy transition and will help to decarbonize our economies and societies.
IHS Markit: Looking at the membership list, it seems to include hydrogen producers and users from many industries.
Wilson: We're a very diverse group, encompassing the wide range of sectors across the hydrogen value chain. The council's membership includes companies like Air Liquide and Linde that have been handling hydrogen as an industrial commodity for decades; transportation companies like Hyundai, Toyota, Daimler; utility operators like ENGIE, and several oil and natural gas companies. This speaks to the holistic and multidimensional nature of hydrogen.
One of the benefits of our diverse membership is that collaboration is going on across sectors that previously had not rubbed shoulders. New business models and opportunities are opening up. Through the council, companies experienced in handling hydrogen can share their knowledge, expertise, and insights with members who are still relatively new in the hydrogen space.
IHS Markit: One of the misconceptions among many who are new to hydrogen's potential benefits is that it's actually a new technology—as demonstrated by some of your members.
Wilson: Hydrogen has been around for many decades, and it's used to serve different purposes in a wide range of industries. For example, hydrogen is used for making ammonia, which goes into fertilizer. This means that to make fertilizer, you have to make hydrogen first. For the desulfurization of liquid fuels, hydrogen is a critical part of the refining process. It's also used to make glass and steel. Steel and fertilizer are just a few examples of industries looking at hydrogen to decarbonize their processes.
IHS Markit: You became the Hydrogen Council's first executive director in October 2020. What do you bring to the table?
Wilson: Prior to joining the Hydrogen Council, I held a variety of roles operating at the intersection of environmental and sustainability issues across sectors. I started my career in the steel industry and then migrated to automotive, where I was head of manufacturing for Toyota in Canada. Then I spent 14 years at a pure-play hydrogen company, Hydrogenics, which developed fuel cell and electrolysis technologies. Hydrogenics contributed the fuel cell train system for an E.ON power-to-gas project in Germany to convert surplus renewable energy to hydrogen. The company's electrolyzer was selected last year by Air Liquide for a 20-MW project, the world's largest, in Canada. Ultimately, the company was purchased by Cummins, and that acquisition is a signal that major companies in the fossil fuel world want hydrogen in their portfolios going forward.
So, I come to this exciting new role with the Hydrogen Council with a grounded understanding of what is needed to develop hydrogen solutions and the emerging hydrogen economy. It's an incredible opportunity, but not without its challenges.
IHS Markit: Looking at your background, where do you feel your impact will be—on the technical side, the policy side, education, elsewhere?
Wilson: When you work in an emerging field in the early stages, you have to work in the whole realm. Throughout my career, I've been involved in technology development; I've worked to drive cost reductions, which has long been a challenge for hydrogen; I've led engagement with governments around the world showing how they can support hydrogen from a policy point of view. I've also worked with industry to develop standards for deployment and safety.
With this experience, my goal is to have a real impact in terms of helping the Hydrogen Council turn all of the current positive momentum into action—taking the hydrogen sector to the next level globally.
IHS Markit: The year 2020 seemed to be a period of major accomplishment for hydrogen as energy. What are the highlights for the Hydrogen Council?
Wilson: 2020 was an amazing year for hydrogen. The Hydrogen Council has supported major progress and industry accomplishments, but it hasn't done it alone. Who would have believed that an energy vector that has until now struggled for awareness, adoption, and acceptance would have so much success in such a difficult year? But a lot of important groundwork had been done in past years, which led up to this point of recognition and awareness.
The Hydrogen Council was started in 2017. In 2018, we participated in the Hydrogen Energy Ministerial Meeting held in Japan with nearly 30 countries. Ministers looked carefully at the topic and recognized the need to develop supportive policy frameworks. We were able to show ministers the tremendous progress in renewable power generation cost, and why that input is critical to make hydrogen at large scale. Over 80% of the cost of making hydrogen is energy. So, the renewable energy industry has been a big accelerator.
In January 2020, the Hydrogen Council published a report that showed the profile of cost reductions for the sector. This captured a lot of attention because it showed that across a good number of applications, hydrogen will become competitive by 2030 with many incumbent solutions, and it was shown to be the best in some applications.
Today, governments are well informed about hydrogen's potential and the promising cost trajectory. As policymakers are developing strategies to help economies recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the desire for a "green" recovery and to "build back better" is growing stronger, and hydrogen can contribute to this goal.
IHS Markit: Where are the near-term opportunities greatest?
Wilson: Encouraging projects are being rolled out around the world. Europe is very strong because the EU has had a conviction on deep decarbonization for some time. It's probably the leader today, with strategy, policy, targets, and funding in place.
China is promising as well, where there's a serious interest in improving air quality. The electrification of transport using hydrogen fuel cells will deliver a much cleaner transport system.
South Korea and Japan have long and deep hydrogen activity, particularly in transport, led by Toyota and Hyundai.
Canada announced in December a strategy and funding for hydrogen in many provinces. This includes support for "blue" hydrogen in Alberta, using natural gas and carbon capture, and green" hydrogen using hydro power in Québec.
In California, the California Fuel Cell Partnership envisions 1,000 hydrogen refueling stations and 1 million fuel cell electric vehicles by 2030.
IHS Markit: What are your priorities for 2021?
Wilson: A key milestone will be the Hydrogen Council's new flagship study, due to launch in January, focusing on hydrogen decarbonization pathways.
Speaking generally, we will be building on the much higher awareness we garnered in 2020; we need to prioritize where hydrogen can contribute most strongly to the objectives of each country. The council has worked very hard to be fact- and science-based, collecting industry data and insights to support decision makers.
We will also continue to roll out the Climate Ch2ampion campaign, a diverse and inclusive global campaign to encourage people to learn about hydrogen, which we launched in 2020. With this campaign, we aim to help the public to better understand what hydrogen is about, and how it can contribute to decarbonization.
IHS Markit: What's a big challenge?
Wilson: A major focus for us is scaling the technology. Most of the core technical issues have been solved, but they have not been deployed at scale. For example, Hydrogenics developed the 1 MW and 2 MW electrolyzers that are operating today. Plans have already been made for 100 MW or even 1 GW electrolyzer projects.
We expect the growth of the hydrogen market to follow the same trend we saw with wind and solar. That very same scale-up journey is starting to happen with hydrogen, but that means as an industry we have to scale facilities for production and field deployment experience. At the same time, we are very conscious of maintaining a strong safety record, so the council will continue to contribute to identifying and developing new codes and standards.
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