Hydrogen’s Expanding Role in the Energy System


Realizing the vision of H2@Scale will require research and investment in efficient hydrogen production methods and upgraded infrastructure. Advances in hydrogen production will allow new applications, such as steelmaking, biofuels production, and fuel cell electric vehicles, to thrive.

H2@Scale is a U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) initiative that brings together stakeholders to advance affordable hydrogen production, transport, storage, and utilization in multiple energy sectors. H2@Scale will improve the resiliency and reliability of the energy supply chain, increase the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing, create jobs, and reduce emissions, thereby improving environmental sustainability.

Hydrogen has a unique ability to transfer energy across time and economic sectors. The electric grid was designed so that the generated load varies with changes in demand. However, wind and solar power technologies can only generate electricity when each resource is available, making it more difficult to balance the grid. Because hydrogen production can be a large-scale controllable load, it can help address that challenge. Hydrogen can serve as a clean feedstock for diverse applications within the transportation, process industries, and energy sectors.

This article describes hydrogen production, application, and infrastructure opportunities. The first part of the article discusses hydrogen production and describes current costs and potential cost reductions that could be enabled by research and development (R&D). The second section discusses key applications that take advantage of hydrogen’s chemical properties and its potential as an energy carrier. The final section of the article describes the current hydrogen infrastructure and how it must grow to meet the H2@Scale vision.

Author Bios: 

Mark Ruth

Mark Ruth is the Group Manager of the Industrial Systems and Fuels Group in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO (Email: mark.ruth@nrel.gov). In that role, he is leading the multi-laboratory effort to analyze the potential of H2@Scale — a concept where hydrogen is an energy intermediate that complements electricity. He has also led an effort to analyze optimal configurations and operation of tightly coupled nuclear-renewable hybrid energy systems and is leading other analyses that are...Read more

Bryan Pivovar

Bryan Pivovar, PhD, is Fuel Cell Group Manager in the Chemistry and Nanosciences Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO, where he oversees NREL’s electrolysis and fuel cell materials R&D. He has been a pioneer in several areas of fuel cell development for vehicle applications, taking on leadership roles and organizing workshops for the Dept. of Energy in the areas of sub-freezing effects, alkaline membranes, extended surface electrocatalysis, and H2@Scale. He received his PhD in chemical engineering from the Univ. of Minnesota and led fuel cell R&D...Read more

Josh Eichman

Josh Eichman, PhD, has more than a decade of research experience in the energy system modeling and analytics area. His interests focus on optimizing the use of current and emerging energy technologies to support renewable electricity and gas grids. In his current role at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, he is exploring planning and operation of grid systems, techno­economic valuation and integration of renewable generation, energy storage, demand response, and electric transportation into the electricity and natural gas networks. Prior to his position at NREL, he participated in...Read more

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