The Path to Drawdown: Fuel Cells
Internal combustion engine vehicles have dominated the automotive landscape since the 1920s. But today, that’s changing. Thanks to supportive policies and falling costs, there are millions of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road. The difference in their impact on the climate is remarkable. Compared to gas-powered vehicles, CO2 emissions drop by 50% if an EV’s power comes from the conventional power grid. If powered by solar energy, emissions are cut by 95%.
While electric passenger cars and vans can be powered using lithium-ion batteries, there are other segments in the transportation sector that are more energy-intensive and harder to decarbonize. These include long-haul transport, shipping, and aviation. For these segments, hydrogen fuel cells will play an important role.
Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be produced by using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. “Green hydrogen” is the process of obtaining hydrogen by using renewable power, which displaces hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. If the world is to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius, green hydrogen needs to account for 12% of final energy use by 2050 (p. 24). And for this to happen, global electrolyser capacity -- that’s the system that breaks down water molecules into hydrogen -- needs to expand rapidly:
- 0.3 GW of electrolyser capacity exists today
- 5,000 GW of electrolyser capacity will be needed by 2050
That’s a CAGR of 39.8% between 2021 and 2050
Plug Power Inc. (stock ticker: PLUG) is an American company engaged in the development of hydrogen fuel cell systems that replace conventional batteries in equipment and vehicles powered by electricity. Headquartered in Latham, New York, it has facilities in Spokane, Washington and Rochester, New York. It’s currently targeting Asia and Europe for expansion.
PLUG's Role in Drawdown
Plug Power has deployed over 40,000 fuel cell systems (p. 8) and over 100 hydrogen fueling stations (p. 15) in total. In 2020 alone, it deployed 9,800 fuel cell units as well as building 27 hydrogen stations. To get to this point, Plug Power’s fuel cell sales have grown by 47.94% annually.
Driving this growth are three categories of fuel cell products. Plug Power’s ProGen fuel cell engine suite supports light, medium and heavy-duty electric vehicles and stationary power products. Particularly applicable for delivery vans, cargo trucks and long-haul trucks, ProGen fuel cell engines offer fleets to achieve long range and rapid fueling.
More than 100 fuel cells comprise Plug Power’s GenDrive fuel cells series, designed for electric material handling equipment, like forklifts, pallet jacks, automated guided vehicles, and tuggers. These fuel cells recharge in a matter of minutes as opposed to several hours for lead-acid batteries.
And finally, GenSure is Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell backup power solution designed to meet critical backup power needs for markets with both low-power and high-power requirements and a variety of applications.
PLUG: What We Like
This recent sales growth positions Plug Power to expand further over the next five to ten years. And they’re taking advantage of this position:
- Plug Power has recently completed acquisitions (p. 8) that’ll enhance its vertical integration and strengthen its position in the hydrogen industry.
- They have ambitious plans to expand its green hydrogen generation (p. 16) to produce 500 tons per day by 2025, and 1,000 tons per day before 2028
- They expect to build the first green hydrogen generation network (p. 16) across the US, targeting multiple green hydrogen plans in the country by 2022
- Plug Power is aiming (p. 4) to hit $1.2 billion in sales and build 5 green hydrogen plants by 2024
On top of these plans, Plug Power and Universal Hydrogen announced a partnership to develop, build, and certify a commercially-viable hydrogen fuel cell-based propulsion system designed to power commercial regional aircraft. The partnership announced its plans to continue scaling up its construction of fuel cells for experimental flights by 2023.