The ‘Hydrogen Olympics’ Lit a Torch for the Clean Fuel’s Future

Cortez Deacetis

Ahead of they have been postponed to this yr, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game titles ended up billed by some as the “Hydrogen Olympics” mainly because of programs to electrical power a lot of the event’s infrastructure with the clean-burning fuel. The Olympic Village, home to the athletes all through the Games, was slated to run on it. A person hundred hydrogen-gas-cell-run buses and 500 hydrogen-powered automobiles ended up meant to transport competitors and workers concerning venues. Even the legendary Olympic torch and cauldrons were being established to be lit with hydrogen-run flame. The Olympics, organizers and stakeholders claimed, would be a focal stage for Japan’s significant aims to increase hydrogen use and grow to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

But stories suggest these initial objectives have been scaled back for reasons that are presently unclear. (Tokyo 2020 and the Worldwide Olympic Committee have not however responded to requests for remark.) The hydrogen bus program was scrapped. Only one constructing in the Olympic Village is basically hydrogen-driven, and propane was made use of for element of the torch relay. Although the Summer Olympic Games’ use of hydrogen may not be as common as planned, Japan even now is severe about its strategies to shift to a program based on the gas, claims Keith Wipke, a hydrogen and fuel cell researcher at the U.S.’s Countrywide Renewable Strength Laboratory. “I surely have seen no indications that Japan or any other place has backed off on their rather formidable aspirations for hydrogen,” he states. “If nearly anything, I assume they have doubled down on it since they understand, just wanting at what is likely on all over in the surroundings, climate alter is taking place. And we’re not performing fast sufficient.” Scientific American spoke with Wipke about hydrogen energy at the Olympics and past.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

The Tokyo Olympics experienced to roll again its authentic hydrogen options. Is that likely a final result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID transformed every little thing. Based mostly on what I’ve viewed in our laboratory and with the providers we get the job done with, it is also not just the ailment itself—it’s the source chain disruption. You’ve possibly listened to in the news about applied car charges going up due to the fact people today simply cannot get new cars—because there is this kind of a offer disruption triggered by COVID. The ripple effect of it is continuing to have a key effects on all forms of industries in sudden strategies that no one would have actually been able to prepare for. I think it is definitely incredible what they’ve performed [at the Tokyo Olympic Games] in spite of COVID. I’m pleased to see that, hey, they did follow by way of with some hydrogen pursuits and attributes as section of the Olympics.

What are the added benefits of working with hydrogen as fuel?

Hydrogen is a single of quite a few techniques to get serious about [climate change] without halting commerce, without halting relocating cars, with out halting our factories or agriculture. We can change these items over comparatively immediately to hydrogen if we can get the charge down. Hydrogen gives a whole lot of the rewards of diesel gasoline, this sort of as rapid refueling and lengthy driving selection, without the need of the carbon emissions—or any emissions, for that subject, as very long as you make the hydrogen from a cleanse supply. The way it works is by way of electrolysis: a engineering that can take any electrical energy source—whether it’s wind, solar, geothermal, hydro or nuclear—[and use it to split] h2o into hydrogen and oxygen.

Japan’s clean-electrical power plans go beyond this push for a “Hydrogen Olympics,” appropriate?

With Japan, they have been preparing for a hydrogen economy—and hydrogen to be aspect of their strength system—for a long time. And then, I believe, they just put a stake in the floor, saying, “We’re going to host the Olympics—let’s use that to get visibility and attention for what we’re already scheduling.” But they weren’t doing this simply because of the Olympics they had been doing this due to the fact they don’t have a great deal of organic assets, and they import a good deal of electrical power. Most of that electrical power is imported as fossil fuels that produce a whole lot of carbon. Hydrogen really enables them an chance to import zero-emission carbon fuels, for illustration, from solar electric power in Australia, wind electricity in Norway or anyplace about the world. If you can get it to hydrogen and likely [store and transport it in] a hydrogen electrical power provider, you can still be importing your vitality and doing it in a carbon-neutral way.

Are other countries also investing in hydrogen?

This is definitely a throughout the world exercise appropriate now. If you look at the options coming out of Europe, South Korea, China, the U.S., Canada, most nations have rather very well formulated, or at minimum obviously stated, aspirations to hydrogen turning out to be a aspect of their electrical power technique. I imagine Japan was just one of the earlier ones to get out in front with it, likely back 10 or 15 several years in the past. They laid out, in a timeline format, what they were being likely to do, beginning with their gas-cell-auto demonstration exercise, which was heading on in parallel with the U.S. There have been a large amount of actions in Europe and other areas that have possibly gotten a lot more focus recently—with greater-scale demonstrations and [the conversion of] refineries to use hydrogen from electrolysis and renewable power rather than purely natural gas.

What uses of hydrogen will we see in the coming yrs?

We are just at the suggestion of the iceberg with hydrogen. And what’s been visible—that top rated portion of the iceberg—has been light-duty gasoline-cell cars and trucks. But below that is all this other action. This is heading to be a lot far more commercially driven—not based mostly on somebody’s thoughts but a lot more about the business perception. For case in point, heavy-duty hydrogen-gas-mobile vans are heading to be driven by the need for transporting goods across extended distances in the two an affordable way and an environmental way. On local shorter routes, battery-electric 18-wheel vans can do just fine, and they’ll be ready to arrive again and cost bit by bit. But if you go out to I-70 from Denver, going west up into the mountains, you are climbing practically 5,000 to 6,000 feet at a 6 {0841e0d75c8d746db04d650b1305ad3fcafc778b501ea82c6d7687ee4903b11a} grade. If you’re pulling 80,000 lbs . of cargo, you never want 10,000 of that to be batteries. When you get over the Continental Divide, you may possibly want to refuel in 5 to 10 minutes and retain heading for the reason that you’re on your way to Utah just before you invest the night—or in advance of you swap drivers and retain likely all the way to California. That is where by hydrogen really shines: the increased-electrical power, long-period functions that are challenging—not impossible but challenging—to do with battery electrics only.

What is subsequent for hydrogen in the U.S.?

We’re not completed nonetheless. All that other stuff [including producing hydrogen via solar power or biomasses such as crop residues] is beneath the iceberg and continue to needs operate to create it further more. The secretary of power [Jennifer Granholm] introduced the hydrogen energy “Earthshot” to reduce the price of hydrogen manufacturing to $1 per kilogram [$0.45 per pound] in a single 10 years. That’s challenging—like an 80 {0841e0d75c8d746db04d650b1305ad3fcafc778b501ea82c6d7687ee4903b11a} reduction in expenses. That is reinforcing and spurring a lot of our investigation in the market to try and get to that goal. If you can get to that low-expense eco-friendly hydrogen, it opens up all kinds of business possibilities [such as converting hydrogen to electrical power or building heat] that really do not exist when you are at, say, $5 a kilogram [$2.27 per pound]. You can be refining oil into diesel and gasoline utilizing hydrogen from photo voltaic and wind electrical power relatively than hydrogen from purely natural gas. That, correct there, tends to make a major dent and cleans up from a carbon viewpoint.

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