Hydrogen Council Launched at World Economic Forum

20.01.2017 -

Among the “firsts” launched at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, were – unusually – two projects in which the global chemicals-related industry got its day in the sun. Plastics recycling and the circular economy have been hot topics for some time, and this year’s presentation by the Isle of Wight-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, calling for a 70% quota for plastics recycling, and upstream and downstream companies in plastics packaging, such as Dow, Borealis, Unilever or Danone drew quite a bit of attention.

Among the fresher faces spotted at the meeting of the world elite in the Alps were representatives of 13 companies active in the hydrogen sector – along with industrial gases producers, the list included global players in energy and transport. Together, the companies have formed the Hydrogen Council, billed as the first global initiative of its kind, whose primary purpose is to advance the knowledge and use of the element as an energy source.

The group representing total revenue of €1.07 trillion and 1.7 million employees worldwide is led by two co-chairs from different geographies and sectors, presently Air Liquide and Toyota. Other members include CEOs and chairpersons from Air Liquide, Alstom, Anglo American, BMW, Daimler, ENGIE, Honda, Hyundai, Kawasaki, Royal Dutch Shell, The Linde Group, Total and Toyota. Together, the companies have committed themselves to help achieve the ambitious goal of reaching the 2° Celsius global warming target set own in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In introducing itself, the Council said it is “determined to position hydrogen among the key solutions of the energy transition.” It members point out that hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, in addition to being a versatile energy carrier is also a promising source of clean fuel. As hydrogen does not release any CO2 at the point of use as a fuel or energy source, they believe it can play an important role in the transition to a clean, low-carbon, energy system.

Driven in particular by the industrial gases industry’s market leaders, including Air Liquide of France and Linde of Germany, hydrogen technologies and products have significantly progressed over past years and are now being introduced to the market, the Council representatives stressed. To get this message across to the general public, the industry body said it plans to work with and provide recommendations to a number of key stakeholders such as policy makers, business and hydrogen players, international agencies and civil society.

During the launch at Davos, members of the Hydrogen Council confirmed their ambition to accelerate their significant investment in the development and commercialization of the hydrogen and fuel cell sectors. Monies invested in such projects currently amount to an estimated €1.4 billion per year.

"Thanks to the substantial progress in hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies in recent years, the much-quoted 'energy carrier of the future' has finally become available,” said Linde CEO Aldo Belloni. “It is now up to us – the industry, policy makers and customers – to make full use of the potential these climate-friendly technologies can offer,” he emphasized, noting that Linde as a pioneer and leader in hydrogen production, distribution and dispensing supports the new Council as a means of paving the way towards a sustainable hydrogen economy.

Benoît Potier, CEO of Air Liquide, remarking that the Paris agreement to combat climate change is a “significant step in the right direction,” said it also requires business action to be taken to make such a pledge a reality.” The Council, he said, brings together some of the world’s leading industrial, automotive and energy companies with a “clear ambition” to explain why hydrogen emerges among the key solutions for the energy transition. However, the technology requires the development of new strategies at a scale to support it.  “Industry needs governments to back hydrogen with large-scale infrastructure investment schemes.”

Toyota, said the Japanese carmaker’s chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada, “has always tried to play a leading role in environmental and technological advances in the automotive industry, including through the introduction of fuel cell vehicles.  Hydrogen also has  the potential to support the transition to a low carbon society across multiple industries and the entire value chain, he stressed.

A report entitled , commissioned by the Hydrogen Council,  goes into greater depth about the potential for the future that hydrogen is ready to provide. It also sets out the vision of the council members and outlines the key actions they consider fundamental for policy makers to implement, in order to fully unlock and empower the contribution of hydrogen to the energy transition.

While use of the technology is growing rapidly – more than 500 electric vehicles are now powered by hydrogen in Europe and more than 120,000 fuel cell co-generation systems are installed in Japan – the industry sees challenges in particular from a lack of funding and fragmentation of legislation as well as a lack of critical mass and insufficient infrastructure.