Hydrogen to the Rescue: U.S. Manufacturing Jobs are Already Coming Back

renewable-hydrogen-fuel-cells

When Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., he probably did not have hydrogen in mind. However, this “clean” fuel is already generating new manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and it is positioned to play an important role in job-creation moving forward.

Before we dig into the details, one important caveat: Hydrogen is now sourced primarily from natural gas. Until renewable sources edge out the fossil version, a hydrogen economy is not necessarily a clean power economy.

Three key states for hydrogen

Hydrogen is alluring as a future energy source because it produces zero airborne emissions when used to generate electricity in a fuel cell. Hydrogen fuel cells work by creating a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, so the only byproduct is water.

The U.S. hydrogen and fuel cell picture is laid out in a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy. The DOE spotlights three states leading in the field: California, Connecticut and New York.

Here’s the rundown on the latter two states:

“The northeast hydrogen and fuel cell supply chain contributed nearly $1.4 billion in revenue and investment, supported more than 6,550 direct and indirect jobs, and industry labor reported income of approximately $620 million just in 2015 alone,” the Department of Energy concluded.

With one of the world’s largest economies, California also plays an outsized role in job creation related to fuel cells:

“California’s advanced energy economy is growing six times faster than the overall economy and represents 3 percent (500,000) of workers across the state.”

Hydrogen = New jobs

The Energy Department hopes to leverage the new report to accelerate job creation by pushing for streamlining and standardization in the hydrogen and fuel cell manufacturing sectors.

In conjunction with the report, the agency also issued a formal Request for Information which invites industry stakeholders to help develop manufacturing pathways leading to the rapid adoption of hydrogen and fuel cell technology:

“While not all components can or should be standardized, the cooperative development of certain components with universal sizes, functions, and materials will encourage competition and advanced manufacturing to drive down costs and increase product durability,” the agency insisted.
“Standardization can also help to maximize compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability and quality.”

The numbers are already adding up nationally. To date, the Energy Department tallied more than 235 megawatts of large stationary fuel cells in operation across the U.S.

Furniture giant Ikea is one important corporate driver behind the fuel cell trend. Though not all of its fuel cell installations are powered by renewable hydrogen, Ikea is moving in that direction. In the latest development, the company will install biogas-powered fuel cells two California stores. It also has plans for fuel cells at three more stores, two in California and one in Connecticut.

Other key markets include the telecom and rail industries, which use fuel cells for off-grid backup power.  According to the new report, there are now hundreds of such installations operating in more than 40 states

Fuel cell electric vehicles have been slow to hit the open road, but they are surging in off-road sectors. The new report notes that more than 11,000 fuel cell forklifts are already operating in the logistics sector, in at least 26 states.

A monkey wrench in the hydrogen economy … or not

The incoming Trump administration could very well throw a wrench into the hydrogen economy works. But the new DOE report strongly suggests that state-level, bipartisan support for hydrogen and fuel cell initiatives will continue to drive progress, regardless of federal policies.

That’s especially true in the three states where the hydrogen economy is most advanced. Not coincidentally, California and New York are two states where Democratic voters wield a strong influence. That’s also true of Connecticut, though to a slightly lesser extent.

Another interesting factor will be the influence of ExxonMobil on Trump and his policymakers. The company doubled down on shale gas in recent years and dropped hints that it will work aggressively to push coal out.

That puts ExxonMobil in a good position to keep its hand in the growing hydrogen and fuel cell sector. In one interesting development, it has piggybacked on a federally-funded carbon and methane capture project involving the company FuelCell Energy.

What may be at risk under the Trump administration are the federal renewable energy research programs aimed at pushing natural gas out of the hydrogen market, so stay tuned for that.

Image: via U.S. Department of Energy.

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Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

9 responses

  1. So why is plasma gasification being totally ignored? This process can be used to transform practically any substance, other than nuclear waste, into gas. The only byproducts are trace amounts of metals and a glass like substance, all of which are sold to industrial use. Such a plant is powered by a small percentage of the gas the the plant produces.

    Instead of hauling trash to landfills it could be turned into power. Existing unsafe landfills could be fed into such a plant, contaminated soil and all, to produce. This type of plant can use coal. The U.S. military has even used this type of plant to turn nerve gas into power. Japan uses these types of plants to turn harmful chemicals into energy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_gasification

    I envision a nation wide group of such plants to process existing trash and to clean up unsafe landfills. Why does not anyone cover this at all. Its proven technology.

  2. Delta Energy Solutions has the process and methodology to generate the necessary foodstock (methane gas). Contact delta for assistance as this may be established adjacent to the plants that use will use hydrogen

  3. What is staggering is the extreme stupidity of people that think that they have to have their hands held by the government for every single thing that goes on in this country. It is time to kick these sorts so far out of sound that you wouldn’t hear them from one inch away.

    Hydrogen is a fuel. And it is a clean fuel for the most part. The fact that it is a dirty process that manufactures it generally goes over the heads of those who think that lithium ion batteries are clean or that solar cell farms actually make more power than it takes to manufacture, install and maintain them.

    One would think that in a capitalist society that the almighty dollar would make decisions a great deal easier. In and around cities you would use hydrogen as long as it wasn’t polluting the areas in which it was manufactured.

    But environmentalists are hypocrites from the word go. While telling you to ride a bicycle they are driving SUV’s and heating their homes to 76 degrees in the winter and glorying in the fact that from space you can see every major city in this country standing out like a miniature sun with the extreme power levels expended to do nothing else but put holiday lighting on buildings and bridges and so many street lights that you can drive your car down the street on a very dark night without headlights on.

    Whenever I see an article that pretends to care about the environment by taking things away from you and I all I can say is to hell with you liberal idiots.

      1. Well, I think that I was a little too harsh with Ms. Casey. It bugs me to see things like this that are so obviously untrue. Hydrogen has about 1/6th the energy density of any of the fossil fuels and to generate the hydrogen to begin with requires energy that is highly unlikely to come from “renewable” resources (which really aren’t – in most cases you expend more energy constructing, installing and maintaining these plants than they generate in their useful lifetimes.)

        ONCE you have hydrogen in hand indeed a hydrogen fuel cell is a source of electricity for electric cars. Hydrogen has ALL sorts of safety problems though we can handle most of them. Hydrogen is odorless – how would you like to have a leak into your passenger compartment? Totally aside from the effects it has on the human lungs (it can convert to Hydrogen Peroxide which can kill lung cells) there is always the chance of someone, say, unplugging the smartphone they’ve been charging and even that tiny spark could elicit a large explosion in a confined space.

        So you have to be extremely careful writing articles like this that a large percentage of your audience will interpret as free energy that the industrial people are keeping from you.

    1. You are exactly the reason that I got angry with the author for writing such a stupid article. People like you that make these articles seem almost worthy of the Encyclopedia Britannica are always the first to shoot your mouths off. Tell us all where you got your engineering degree since you seem to know so much about this. Or perhaps you have a physics degree which would show you that this entire idea is highly inefficient? We really need people like you in this world to show us why we need people like Trump in office.

  4. Trump and the Nazis will almost certainly kill this as they destroy the US Economy, which is normal for every Republican administration since 1890, except Eisenhower, who was pro labor and pro-America, an anomaly for Republicans.

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