The Hydrogen Renaissance: An Innovative Tool to Reach 100% Clean Energy

December 10, 2020

The end of the commercial airship era and the beginning of news radio share the same soundbite – “Oh the humanity!” On a seemingly ordinary day in 1937, a hydrogen filled airship, The Hindenburg, ignited and crashed to the ground, killing dozens, and creating a long-lasting aversion to hydrogen in U.S. industry. Americans and American enterprise have come a long way since the 1930s. Our technology, our needs, and our goals have changed dramatically. The change that’s on everyone’s mind though is the recent election.

The President-elect provides a starkly different vision from that of his predecessor in many realms, but perhaps Mr. Biden’s climate and energy goals offer the most jolting contrast. On day one, President Biden will rejoin the Paris climate accord. In his first 100 days, President Biden will pursue the most aggressive federal climate policy in American history. His expected Energy Secretary nominee, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, reinforces a realigned climate position, advocating for Zero Emission Vehicles, a broad clean energy portfolio, and the phasing out of traditional fossil fuels.

Governor Granholm’s philosophy could stem from a concern that America is falling behind foreign nations in renewable technology and deployment. Americans seem to share Governor Granholm’s concerns, as a recent poll conducted on behalf of the American Edge Project showed, “nearly two-in-three (63%) [of polled Americans] agree that ‘Chinese companies will surpass American companies as the world’s technology leaders if we don’t do something soon.’”

More than sentiment, America is ranked 10th in renewable energy as a portion of their electric usage. Energy companies will play a major role in delivering America’s energy future – a cleaner, safer, more reliable and resilient system. One way energy companies potentially achieve both the new President’s and its own goals is by exploring the role of hydrogen. An innovative thinker, Sandi Saffro, Partner, K&L Gates, joined EEI’s podcast, The Current, introducing an old element with new applications.

Hydrogen, the lightest of the chemical elements, derives from both renewable and non-renewable sources, and when combusted, the emission is largely water and oxygen. Scientists tinkered with hydrogen fuel cells back in the 1770s, and in the late 20th century, those cells powered the computer systems in the US Space Shuttle, while gaseous hydrogen ignited to take humans to space. Today, we value hydrogen for much more than its buoyancy, like its ability to mix with natural gas, significantly reducing pollutants, and its fuel cell capabilities, offering one alternative to gasoline engines. Energy projects require significant capital investment, but with some modifications, hydrogen can flow through existing natural gas and oil pipelines, drastically reducing start up infrastructure costs. If all goes well, perhaps passengers will soon fly on hydrogen powered planes!

Until then, regulatory and technological hurdles remain, which will require, among other things, a deft understanding of the law. Thankfully, people like Sandi Safro are on the case. Want to hear more about how hydrogen can play a role in diversifying and decarbonizing America’s energy future? Be sure to check out the podcast!

Episode 20: This week, Brad sits down with Sandra Safro, Partner at K&L Gates LLP. Sandi recently launched a hydrogen practice at her firm, and she joins The Current to discuss hydrogen as a source of energy and how it’s transforming industries.