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Planning practically for hydrogen

| By Mary Page Bailey

The U.S. Energy Information Admin. (Washington, D.C.; projects a nearly 50% increase in global energy use by 2050. Coinciding with this demand explosion, ambitious sustainability targets are necessitating a widespread transition to more climate-friendly technologies. Hydrogen is poised as a solution to provide energy relief on both fronts. The prominence of hydrogen in industrial decarbonization was highlighted at the HydrogenNext conference, presented by Chemical Engineering and POWER (


HydrogeNext featured technical presentations and panel discussions with experts covering a wide range of topics, from carbon capture to hydrogen storage to safety and economics

Workforce and infrastructure

“There’s no pathway to net zero without low-carbon fuels like hydrogen and ammonia,” emphasized event keynote speaker Robert Chapman of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI; Palo Alto, Calif.; EPRI estimates that the hydrogen economy will require a workforce of 30 million jobs by 2050. In another keynote presentation, Thomas Smith of Caterpillar Inc. (Deerfield, Ill.;, posited that the energy transition — especially hydrogen-based solutions — will require complementary skillsets to the existing industrial workforce, such as mechanics and maintenance technicians. Similar to leveraging analogous labor skillsets, a major benefit of hydrogen-based decarbonization is the ability to repurpose existing infrastructure. “One of the greatest things about hydrogen is that you can re-use existing assets like boilers, engines and combustion turbines, keeping infrastructure in use rather than forcing it to retire,” said Patrick Daou of Sargent & Lundy, LLC (Chicago, Ill.; during a panel discussion on hydrogen usage, market and demand. Specifically, explains fellow panelist Jeff Chase of SoCal Gas Co. (Los Angeles, Calif.;, natural-gas distribution systems are a very advantageous place to leverage existing assets.


Overcoming hurdles with research and demonstration

There are many technical hurdles to overcome before the hydrogen economy is fully realized at scale, including storage and transport, but industry experts remain optimistic. “At this point in the evolution of the hydrogen economy, demonstration projects at any scale are extremely helpful,” said Scott Conway of Caterpillar Electric Power. Several such demonstration projects were detailed at HydrogeNext, including the world’s largest hydrogen fuel-blending project at the McDonough-Atkinson power plant in Smyrna, Ga. Panelists discussing this industry-leading project reiterated that a crucial key to success was fostering a deep relationship between plant management teams and equipment manufacturers.


Cost concerns

A major concern for operating companies investigating renewable hydrogen projects is cost. Although the current costs for renewable hydrogen may indeed be higher than other established platforms, there is optimism around the lowered cost of production (especially via electrolysis), as well as the incentives of the recent Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. “Hydrogen is the only thing that makes sense when you look at the scenario of the next 20–30 years,” said Hari Gopalakrishna of Mitsubishi Power Ltd. (Lake Mary, Fla.; When considering costs, he encouraged examining the total system cost for hydrogen use, rather than the commodity cost of hydrogen itself, to get a better view of the hydrogen economy.

HydrogeNext will take place again August 14–17, 2023, in Savannah, Ga., where the conversations about the latest advances will continue. ■

Mary Page Bailey, Senior Associate Editor