Q&A with Morry Markowitz, president, Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association
The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA) advocates in the United States for the development and deployment of fuel cell technologies and hydrogen energy. FCHEA members include automotive original equipment manufacturers, industrial gas suppliers, the material handling industry, fuel cell system manufacturers, power users, component and service suppliers, and more.
In this Q&A, conducted in December 2020, FCHEA President Morry Markowitz explains how the organization is building on the surging interest in hydrogen as a source of low- and zero-carbon energy.
IHS: It's an exciting time for fuel cells and hydrogen. What is driving the attention now?
Markowitz: Interest in hydrogen energy and fuel cell technology has grown tremendously in the last 18 months, largely due to the recognition that hydrogen can and must play a role in our global efforts to improve our environment and, equally important, to reduce carbon. The wide applications for hydrogen energy make it an ideal candidate for broad adoption. It can be used in transportation, including light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles, ships, airplanes, material handling equipment, buses, delivery vans, and more. It can be used in stationary power, from multi-megawatt utility-scale generation, microgrid deployments powering hospitals, data centers, grocery stores, and other critical facilities, and is even used today as remote back-up power units keeping our telecommunications systems running across the country.
What has become recognized as increasingly important is hydrogen's ability to provide long-term and large-scale energy storage for renewable energy generated by solar and wind. Everyone recognizes that the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow all the time, and in order to make renewable energy generation feasible for the percentages everyone is looking for in 2030 and 2050, you're going to need massive energy storage capabilities. With this view, hydrogen looks to be the most capable storage resource, especially for seasonal applications.
IHS: Which of those many applications is showing the greatest growth in interest?
Markowitz: We are actually seeing activity across the entire spectrum of applications. In light transport, we have seen the introduction of the second-generation Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai NEXO [the world's first hydrogen fuel cell SUV]. But increasingly, it has become clear that for medium- and heavy-duty transport, especially heavy-duty, hydrogen is the best solution to get you to zero emissions.
There's also increased research and development and commercialization of renewable energy storage. The European Commission announced in July an investment in excess of €400 billion [approximately US$488 billion] to make hydrogen energy available throughout the EU. Japan has for years been working toward developing a hydrogen society. South Korea and China have similar programs. China, for instance, has a program to deploy thousands of fuel cell buses.
IHS: Given those worldwide investments, where does the US stand today?
Markowitz: We still remain competitive…. The concern we have as a national trade association is the possibility is that we may begin to fall behind, as other major economic blocs are investing far more than the US.
IHS: Has the incoming Biden administration given you any indication that hydrogen is a priority?
Markowitz: We believe that hydrogen will be a part of any new energy strategy developed by the incoming administration. In addition, the industry will have an extensive program in which we will be reaching out to the new administration and the new Congress. We recognize that there is still a need to educate these stakeholders—policymakers, investment community, and the media—on the potential for hydrogen energy and fuel cell technology in addressing our economic, national security, and environmental challenges.
We educate various audiences that we are a transformational technology. But being so, it still takes time to get to point where it can become commercially competitive with incumbent technologies that been around for generations. We let them know that dramatic changes have been made to lower the costs of fuel cell technology, and the increased use of hydrogen will bring down the cost of hydrogen itself as more and more production facilities come online.
IHS: As we move forward in the next few years, are there milestones that will mark a key turning point for hydrogen and fuel cells, or is it going to be a more gradual and broad expansion?
Markowitz: As we move forward, this is going to be a steady progression. We expect to see growing application and use of hydrogen, further reduced costs, and greater private sector investments and government support. Those would be the indicators that this industry is taking a greater hold.
IHS: For the person who wants to get up to speed on hydrogen and fuel cell developments, where should they go?
Markowitz: McKinsey & Co. prepared a report this year, Road Map to a US Hydrogen Economy, which was developed with the support of 20 companies, as well as input from FCHEA, the Electric Power Research Institute, and several US national laboratories. The report can be found online at our website, which also hosts a number of resources, including reports, articles, and other information.
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