The Path to Drawdown: Fuel Cells
Internal combustion engine vehicles have dominated the transport and automotive landscape since the 1920s. But today, that landscape’s changing. Thanks to supportive policies and declining costs, there are millions of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road. The difference in their effect on the climate is remarkable. Compared to internal combustion engine 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 directly displaces hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. If the world is to keep temperature increases 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:
- <::marker> 0.3 GW of electrolyser capacity exists today
- <::marker> 5,000 GW of electrolyser capacity will be needed by 2050
That’s a CAGR of 39.8% between 2021 and 2050