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GM forms ‘green’ alliance for hydrogen

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DETROIT, MI – General Motors is partnering with Hydrogen US, a subsidiary of Nel ASA, to advance the industrialization of Nel’s PEM electrolyser platform.

The goal of the agreement is to make “clean” hydrogen sources more competitive with other hydrogen sources – primarily hydrogen produced from fossil fuels.

Nel has an excellent reputation and track record in the field of hydrogen technology. It was, for example, the first company to establish an automated production line for alkaline electrolysers. The joint venture with GM is intended to produce Nel’s proton-exchange membrane electrolyser on a larger scale.

“The addition of Nel as a strategic collaborator is an important step in helping us commercialize fuel cell technology. Electrolysis is key to creating consistent, clean sources of hydrogen to power fuel cells,” said Charles Freese, GM executive director, Global HYDROTEC.

“Nel has some of the most promising electrolyser technologies to help develop clean hydrogen infrastructure, and we believe our HYDROTEC fuel cell IP can help bring them closer to scale.”

Uncle Sam and Europe want hydrogen

The timing is no accident. The US government, in the Cut Inflation Act signed into law in August, is allocating $8 billion to establish hydrogen centers in strategic locations across the country. The purpose of this provision is to accelerate the conversion of North America’s heavy-duty truck fleet from diesel to hydrogen, as well as the advancement of stationary hydrogen for commercial buildings and residential developments.

According to the Department of Energy’s website, eligible projects include those that “demonstrate the production, processing, delivery, storage and end use of clean hydrogen.”

Both companies are seeking government support to achieve this goal. A coalition of seven Midwestern states (IL, IN, KY, MI, MN, OH and WI), dubbed the Midwest Hydrogen Coalition (M-H2), has announced plans to secure a share of funding to advance four hubs of hydrogen that would reside somewhere in the states of the group. New Mexico has joined Colorado, Utah and Wyoming in a similar coalition effort.

Most of the hydrogen produced today is a byproduct of the production of fossil fuels, primarily natural gas. Electricity – from the grid or from renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal or biomass – is also used to produce hydrogen, but not on a desirable scale.

Hydrogen demand is estimated at 10 million tons per year in the United States, of which approximately 55% is used in oil and gas refining processes and an additional 35% in the production of ammonia and methanol. Ammonia and methanol plants are a logical first wave of conversion to green hydrogen generated from wind, solar and geothermal sources.

“Increased hydrogen use will no doubt come in part from electricity powered by fossil fuels, but the goal must be to ‘green’ as much electricity as possible from renewables… otherwise we might as well burn fossil fuels to power electricity rather than using it to produce more hydrogen,” says Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen. The company is based in New Mexico and is developing a hydrogen-powered turboprop passenger aircraft.

New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado represent a seemingly ideal location for a hub. New Mexico has an average of 310 sunny days; Utah 226; Colorado 300; and Wyoming 208 days.

Hydrogen Bulls

Of all the automakers, GM has been the most optimistic about hydrogen, not just as a mobility fuel, but also for powering commercial buildings and residential homes. As early as the 1990s, GM envisioned hydrogen trucks and stationery generators that could carry the GM brand.

GM develops and markets both Ultium batteries and HYDROTECH hydrogen fuel cell systems. The development and commercialization of these technologies opens up potential new business for GM as the US and European hydrogen economy begins to develop in aerospace, trucking, locomotives and power generation.

The idea behind the alliance with Nel is to take GM’s fuel cell technology and develop it on Nel’s PEM platform to position itself as the leader in green hydrogen generation among automakers. The automaker has fuel cell development sites in Michigan, New York, California, Washington, DC, Hawaii and Germany.

GM sees an opportunity to do for hydrogen what Tesla did for BEVs. Tesla established a power generation and storage company in 2015, launching a line of home batteries, which could be charged using solar power, providing backup to the main grid. Additionally, Tesla has developed a series of solar panels and an all-solar roof.

It is believed that with the advancement of BEV light-duty vehicles and hydrogen-powered heavy-duty trucks, there will be less revenue in the future from parts and service. Charting a future in energy generation and storage for multiple industries can more than offset the loss of commercial revenue from internal combustion mobility.