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Mischievous boy looks in toy catalog

Hydrogen is used for more than you think

Clean hydrogen is on the rise. In many areas, it’s one of the few, if not the only, viable solutions to reduce CO2 emissions. The areas of use are many and varied. Providing a complete list is impossible, as new applications are emerging almost daily. To give you a sense of how diverse the market is, this post describes the five key areas of hydrogen applications, first at a glance and then in more detail. The post ends with a selection of applications from the different areas.

The title of this post, Hydro­gen is used for more than you think, is per­haps too pre­sump­tu­ous. Per­haps you know all the uses of hydro­gen. But the fact is that if you take what is writ­ten in news­pa­pers and said on the radio and tele­vi­sion as any reflec­tion of the uses of hydro­gen, you are miss­ing out on sig­ni­fic­ant applic­a­tions. In this art­icle, we go through known and less-known uses of hydro­gen. You may dis­cov­er a new area that you didn’t already know about.

Catalog of uses

To avoid this blog post degen­er­at­ing into an encyc­lo­pe­dia, where every applic­a­tion is explained in length and breadth, I must curb my desire to delve into the topic.

There­fore, this text doesn’t dis­cuss dif­fer­ent uses and applic­a­tions, explain the pros and cons, or dis­cuss his­tory, tech­no­logy, and examples. All of which could make for many inter­est­ing blog posts in the future. (Feel free to com­ment on Linked­In about what you want to know more about). Instead, this is an incom­plete cata­log of more or less known uses of hydrogen.


(This is import­ant to keep in mind.)

I only men­tion applic­a­tion areas that are already com­mer­cially viable (e.g., fer­til­izers) or on the verge of com­mer­cial­iz­a­tion with sol­id fin­an­cial back­ing (e.g., e‑fuel). I omit any odd, eso­ter­ic, or futur­ist­ic uses.

Gold rush

Right now, there is a gold rush in the hydro­gen field. Every­one wants to strike gold with hydro­gen. Of course, not every­one will suc­ceed. But frankly, that’s not a threat to the ambi­tion to reduce CO2. On the con­trary, the more people try, the more likely the goal of keep­ing glob­al warm­ing below 2 °C will be achieved.

Only time will tell who suc­ceeds and who fails.

But we can be sure of one thing: Just like the 19th-cen­tury gold rush in the US, only com­pan­ies selling the neces­sary equip­ment can be sure of mak­ing a for­tune. So, what equip­ment are we talk­ing about when it comes to hydrogen?

Exactly! PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers. And what do they depend on to work?

Pre­cisely! Iridi­um. And what’s the prob­lem with that?

Cor­rect! Iridi­um is scarce and can­not be extrac­ted in much great­er quant­it­ies than today. So, with the demand for PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers skyrock­et­ing, the avail­ab­il­ity of iridi­um is becom­ing a head­ache. The only viable solu­tion is to reduce the amount of iridi­um needed in PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers. And who has the tech­no­logy for that?

Bingo! Smol­tek has both the know-how and pat­ents for the tech­no­logy, mak­ing it pos­sible to come down to as little as one-twen­ti­eth of today’s use of iridi­um while main­tain­ing efficiency.

Cards on the table

This is, of course, a biased piece. I want you to under­stand that the mar­ket for Smoltek’s tech­no­logy is big­ger than it first appears. Much big­ger. That’s my motive for com­pil­ing this cata­log of applications.

Enough about that. Let’s get down to business.

Ini­tially, we’ll embark on a high-alti­tude fly­over to gain an over­view of the land of clean hydro­gen. We will then des­cend to a lower alti­tude to circle over each of the five key areas of hydro­gen applic­a­tions. Finally, we will execute pre­ci­sion low-level flybys over selec­ted applic­a­tions that stand out as par­tic­u­larly intriguing.

Clean hydrogen Swiss army knife

We make our first fly­over at a really high alti­tude. What do we see? A huge Swiss army knife?! Yes, it’s called the clean hydro­gen Swiss army knife. A cliché, of course. But it is an apt descrip­tion of how use­ful clean hydro­gen is. Notice the five key areas for hydro­gen applic­a­tions: heat, power sys­tems, chem­ic­als and pro­cesses, avi­ation and ship­ping, and land transport.


Let’s des­cend to a lower alti­tude and fly a lap over each key area.

Clean Hydrogen Swiss Army Knife
Clean Hydro­gen Swiss Army Knife. Source: Michael Liebreich/​Liebreich Asso­ci­ates, Clean Hydro­gen Lad­der, Ver­sion 5.0, 2023. Concept cred­it: Adri­an Hiel, Energy Cit­ies. Image: Wenger (concept cred­it: Paul Mar­tin). CC-BY 4.0


We are approach­ing the hydro­gen applic­a­tion area of heat at a lower altitude.

Hydro­gen both com­busts quickly and gives off a lot of heat in the pro­cess. This can be used every­where where heat is required: industry, com­mer­cial build­ings and spaces, and homes.

High-tem­per­at­ure heat, above 500 °C, is used in pro­cesses such as steel mak­ing, glass mak­ing, and some chem­ic­al processes.

Mid-tem­per­at­ure heat, between 150 and 500 °C, is used for vari­ous indus­tri­al pro­cesses, includ­ing dry­ing, steam pro­duc­tion, and some chem­ic­al reactions.

Low-tem­per­at­ure heat, below 150 °C, is often used for heat­ing in build­ings and green­houses and for pro­cesses such as cook­ing, pas­teur­iz­a­tion, and some drying.

Simply put, clean hydro­gen can be used as a fossil-free fuel in indus­tri­al fur­naces instead of nat­ur­al gas, coal, or oil.

Mischievous Boy Plays Toy Model Steel Mill

Power system

Our flight con­tin­ues to power sys­tems, an inter­est­ing applic­a­tion area for hydrogen.

As a Smol­tek investor (or soon to be, I hope), you know that elec­tri­city can be turned into hydro­gen through elec­tro­lyz­ers. You also prob­ably know that hydro­gen can be con­ver­ted back into elec­tri­city. There are two main ways to do this.

The most well-known way is via fuel cells. This pro­cess essen­tially reverses what hap­pens in a PEM elec­tro­lyz­er. Hydro­gen gas splits at the PEM; pro­tons pass through while elec­trons are forced to take a detour through an extern­al cir­cuit, gen­er­at­ing elec­tri­city. On the oth­er side, they recom­bine with oxy­gen to form water. Pretty clev­er, right?

But there is a much sim­pler way: a reg­u­lar gas tur­bine. In simple terms, a gas tur­bine can be described as a jet engine where fuel (hydro­gen in our case) is burned, and the jet stream causes a power tur­bine to spin. The rota­tion of the tur­bine is propag­ated via a shaft to an elec­tric gen­er­at­or. Out comes elec­tri­city. Ta-da!

The abil­ity to con­vert elec­tri­city to hydro­gen and back to elec­tri­city opens up many excit­ing applic­a­tions. Basic­ally, they all involve stor­ing elec­tric­al energy as clean hydro­gen for a short or long peri­od. Short-term stor­age can be used to bal­ance the elec­tri­city grid. Longer-term stor­age can be used to cap­ture excess energy from sunny or windy days to feed into the grid when the sun is not shin­ing and the wind is not blow­ing. Altern­at­ively, hydro­gen can be used as a fossil-free fuel in backup power plants dur­ing cold winter days.

Mischievous Boy Plays Toy Model Power Plant

Chemicals & processes

Our flight has now reached the per­haps least known and least talked about applic­a­tion area for clean hydro­gen: Repla­cing the dirty hydro­gen, known as gray, brown, and black hydro­gen, with clean hydro­gen, known as green hydro­gen. (Won­der­ing about the col­ors? See our tech­nic­al brief on the col­ors of hydro­gen.)

Chem­ic­al and pro­cess indus­tries use huge amounts of hydro­gen every day. One of the biggest uses is the pro­duc­tion of life-sav­ing fer­til­izer, but there are many more.

More than 95 per­cent of the hydro­gen used in the industry comes from nat­ur­al gas con­ver­ted into hydro­gen with huge amounts of CO2 as a by-product. A small frac­tion of this CO2 is cap­tured and tucked away in the ground or used for some­thing bet­ter. How­ever, an over­whelm­ing amount is emit­ted dir­ectly into the atmo­sphere, where it con­trib­utes to the green­house effect.

To meet the goal of stop­ping glob­al warm­ing at 2° C, vir­tu­ally all of this hydro­gen must be pro­duced by elec­tro­lyz­ers fed with fossil-free elec­tri­city. This is a huge but often for­got­ten mar­ket for clean hydrogen.

The icing on the cake, if the expres­sion is allowed in this dire con­text, is the emer­gence of new indus­tri­al applic­a­tions for clean hydro­gen. Most not­able are steel mills, whose pol­lut­ing pro­cesses can be replaced by new­er and clean­er ones using green hydrogen.

Mischievous Boy Plays Toy Model Chemical Industry Plant

Aviation & shipping

With a sense of hope, we leave the industry behind and approach our own air­space: trans­port­a­tion by air and sea.

When it comes to light air­craft and small boats, bat­ter­ies may have a future. But as soon as we talk about planes for more than one or two people and boats that trans­port people and goods over long dis­tances, bat­ter­ies become imprac­tic­al. These applic­a­tions would require bat­ter­ies that take up far too much valu­able space and weigh way too much.

Since I am singing the praises of hydro­gen (obvi­ously), you now anti­cip­ate that I will say that clean hydro­gen is the solu­tion to all pol­lu­tion from avi­ation and ship­ping. Right?


Clean hydro­gen is not the solu­tion. Not dir­ectly, that is.

Although hydro­gen has a very high energy dens­ity by weight (approx­im­ately three times the energy of jet fuel or dies­el), it has a very low energy dens­ity by volume (approx­im­ately one-sixth the energy of jet fuel or dies­el at 200 bar pres­sure). This means that gas tanks to pro­pel air­planes and ships would take up far too much space.

The volume can be reduced by cool­ing the hydro­gen to a liquid state. How­ever, hydro­gen only becomes liquid at −253 °C. That’s only 20 °C above abso­lute zero! Safely keep­ing the gas that cold is tricky. Moreover, it would require a lot of energy, which means that even more fuel would have to be trans­por­ted. In the end, the reward for all the trouble is lim­ited. Liquid hydro­gen still has a very low energy dens­ity per volume (about a quarter of the energy in jet fuel or diesel).

So, what’s the solution?

Mar­ine engines are tough bug­gers that can run on almost any­thing that burns. So, the best solu­tion for them is to replace dies­el or crude oil with e‑fuel or clean ammo­nia. As you can read in the art­icle on e‑fuel and fer­til­izers, these fuels can be pro­duced from clean hydrogen.

Air­craft engines are more del­ic­ate creatures. But again, e‑fuel is the solu­tion in the form of e‑jetfuel.

Mischievous Boy Plays Toy Airplane

Land transportation

Finally, we have arrived at the last applic­a­tion area for clean hydro­gen: land transportation.

It is a vast field span­ning everything from excav­at­ors, bull­dozers, and back­hoe load­ers through tax­is, par­cel deliv­ery, and ser­vice vans to buses, trains, and trucks. But none of this is likely to be what the Joneses think of when talk­ing about uses of hydro­gen for land transportation.

Ask any­one around you, and the chances are pretty good that they will men­tion hydro­gen-fueled cars. If they can spe­cify what they mean, they are almost cer­tainly talk­ing about fuel-cell cars. I think it’s safe to say that the fuel cell car is the poster child for hydro­gen. Don’t you agree?

A fuel cell con­verts hydro­gen from a tank and oxy­gen from an air intake into elec­tri­city and water. In a fuel cell car, this elec­tri­city powers elec­tric motors. So, a fuel cell car is actu­ally an elec­tric car where the bat­tery has been replaced by fuel cells. The biggest pro­ponents of this approach are Toyota, BMW, Hyundai, Honda, Jag­uar Land Rover, Pin­in­far­ina, River­simple, and Hyper­ion Motors. (I hope I didn’t for­get anyone.)

But why over­com­plic­ate things? Why not dir­ectly fuel the good old intern­al com­bus­tion engine, found in all gas­ol­ine and dies­el vehicles, with hydro­gen? After all, hydro­gen is highly com­bust­ible, as evid­enced by the infam­ous Hinden­burg dis­aster. The only thing that needs to be done is to make the engine more res­ist­ant to high­er tem­per­at­ures and great­er forces. Some car man­u­fac­tur­ers seem to agree. Honda, Kawa­saki, Suzuki, Toyota, and Yamaha are all explor­ing this route.

Mischievous Boy Plays Toy Steam Locomotive

Circling back

We have now com­pleted two over­flights of the land­scape with clean hydro­gen applic­a­tions. The first was a quick over­view at a high alti­tude. The second flight was at a lower alti­tude and gave us a good oppor­tun­ity to see all pos­sible areas of use for clean hydro­gen. Now it’s time for some flybys. We can’t take a closer look at all the applic­a­tions; there are too many. But we’ll have time for a few any­way. So let’s begin one last lap to flyby some of the more intriguing applic­a­tion areas.


We start with the cement industry, which is an example of high-tem­per­at­ure indus­tri­al heat.

To pro­duce cement, the cement industry heats lime­stone, clay, and min­er­als in rotary kilns to 1,450 °C. The res­ult­ing clinker is then ground into a fine powder and mixed with gypsum.

The heat­ing comes at a high cli­mate toll. Approx­im­ately 1 bil­lion tons of CO2 are emit­ted annu­ally when the kilns are heated with coal, oil, and nat­ur­al gas. On top of that, comes addi­tion­al 1.5 bil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide inev­it­ably pro­duced by the chem­ic­al reac­tion that occurs when lime­stone (CaCO3) is reduced to cal­ci­um oxide (CaO) in the kilns. Togeth­er, the cement industry’s car­bon foot­print accounts for almost 7% of the world’s car­bon emissions.

Clean hydro­gen can be used togeth­er with bio­mass to com­pletely decar­bon­ize the heat­ing. The reas­on why they want to mix bio­mass has some­thing to do with the shape of the flames. Don’t ask.

But what to do with 1.5 bil­lion cap­tured CO2? One idea the cement industry is con­sid­er­ing is to use it in the pro­duc­tion of e‑fuel – which, as you know, also requires clean hydrogen.

Grid balancing

As we head towards the next flyby, we ask ourselves how dif­fi­cult it can be to main­tain a power sys­tem? Damn hard if you ask any­one with know­ledge about it. The dif­fi­culty lies in ensur­ing that elec­tric power plants feed into the grid exactly as many elec­trons as busi­nesses and house­holds take out of the grid – at any giv­en moment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Keep­ing this bal­ance is called grid balancing.

If there is an imbal­ance between sup­ply and demand, gen­er­at­ors absorb extra energy by spin­ning faster or pro­duce more energy by spin­ning slower. How­ever, since the rota­tion speed also con­trols the fre­quency of the grid (ideally 50 HZ or 60 Hz), this reg­u­la­tion leads to an increase or decrease in frequency.

Only minor devi­ations are allowed to pro­tect elec­tric­al equip­ment from being dam­aged. There­fore, elec­tri­city pro­duc­tion must also be planned so that more elec­tri­city is pro­duced when demand is expec­ted to be high (for instance, dur­ing the day), and less elec­tri­city is pro­duced when demand is expec­ted to be low (for instance, at night).

But renew­able elec­tri­city is not so easy to plan.

The sun rises and sets every day and plays peek-a-boo behind clouds in between. And the only con­stant about the wind is that its strength is ever-chan­ging. That’s why it’s com­mon for wind farm own­ers, for example, to be paid to shut down their wind tur­bines when the wind blows. Not what you expec­ted, huh?

A more effi­cient approach is to have sol­ar pan­els, or wind tur­bines gen­er­ate elec­tri­city when pos­sible and use any excess elec­tri­city to cre­ate hydro­gen using a PEM elec­tro­lyz­er. This hydro­gen is stored until there’s a high­er demand for elec­tri­city than what the sol­ar or wind farm can sup­ply. At that point, the stored hydro­gen is turned back into elec­tri­city using fuel cells or gas turbines.

A related use for clean hydro­gen is as fuel for peak­ing power plants. You know, the ones that are dormant most of the time but are star­ted up on peak demand, like cold winter morn­ings, for example. These plants often run on coal, oil, or nat­ur­al gas, lead­ing to car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. An altern­at­ive is to use clean hydro­gen as fuel. This hydro­gen can be pro­duced by an on-site PEM elec­tro­lyz­er that gets its elec­tri­city from sol­ar cells or a wind tur­bine on the roof.


Next, we set the course for areas of applic­a­tion in chem­ic­als and pro­cesses, where one of the more not­able and prom­ising applic­a­tions is steel production.

Glob­al steel pro­duc­tion res­ults in the release of 3.7 bil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide into the atmo­sphere. This is more than 10% of all car­bon diox­ide emit­ted by human activ­ity. A fig­ure that def­in­itely needs to come down if we are to meet the 2 °C cli­mate target.

Car­bon diox­ide emis­sions in steel pro­duc­tion mainly come from two sources. First, coal, oil, and nat­ur­al gas are used to heat blast fur­naces. Second, and more sig­ni­fic­antly, coal is added to the fur­naces to cre­ate car­bon monox­ide, which reacts with iron ore, spe­cific­ally hem­at­ite (Fe2O3) and mag­netite (Fe3O4), con­vert­ing it into pig iron.

The good news is that hydro­gen can replace coal in the pro­cess of redu­cing iron ore to pig iron. It’s cur­rently being tested in sev­er­al sites inSweden, Ger­many, Spain, South Korea, UK, Nor­way, and Austria.

By using clean hydro­gen both to heaten the fur­naces and to replace coal in the reduc­tion pro­cess, it is pos­sible to com­pletely reduce the car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from steel mak­ing and thus pro­duce green steel.

Long-distance cargo shipping

We steer our flight towards the ocean. On the hori­zon, we see cargo ships with sooty dies­el exhaust trail­ing behind them like long, dirty tails. The mari­time industry is a sig­ni­fic­ant con­trib­ut­or to car­bon emis­sions, with long-dis­tance cargo ships releas­ing about 1 bil­lion tons of CO2 annu­ally. For these ves­sels, bat­ter­ies are imprac­tic­al due to their size and weight, mak­ing green hydro­gen a key part of the solution.

How­ever, using hydro­gen dir­ectly in intern­al com­bus­tion engines poses chal­lenges due to its low volu­met­ric energy dens­ity, mean­ing it requires too much space. This makes it unlikely for large ocean-going ships to adopt hydro­gen com­bus­tion engines or fuel cell-powered elec­tric motors. The most prom­ising altern­at­ives are syn­thet­ic fuels. The con­tenders are e‑methanol, e‑methane, and clean ammonia.

E‑methanol and e‑methane, on the one hand, are pro­duced by com­bin­ing car­bon diox­ide and clean hydro­gen. In the best case, the car­bon diox­ide is cap­tured from the air, which is cli­mate neut­ral; in the worst case, car­bon diox­ide is cap­tured on its way to be released, which only post­pones the release.

Clean ammo­nia, on the oth­er hand, is pro­duced by com­bin­ing nitro­gen taken dir­ectly from the air with clean hydrogen.

So far, e‑methanol has taken the lead. Both e‑methanol pro­duc­tion facil­it­ies are being built, such as Flag­shi­pONE, which I talked about in the post on e‑fuel, and e‑meth­an­ol-powered ships, such as the Laura Maersk, which will be launched in 2023.

How­ever, clean ammo­nia is the new and cool kid on the block. It has recently gained a lot of trac­tion in mari­time circles and is being act­ively pro­moted around the globe.

The con­struc­tion of clean ammo­nia pro­duc­tion facil­it­ies is under­way in sev­er­al coun­tries, includ­ing Nor­way, the Neth­er­lands, South Korea, Chile, and Japan. Com­pan­ies like MAN Energy Solu­tions and Mit­subishi Heavy Indus­tries are lead­ing the devel­op­ment of innov­at­ive ammo­nia-powered engines. In Nor­way, the first con­tain­er ship powered by clean ammo­nia, Yara Eyde, will be launched in 2026.

Coastal and river shipping

E‑methanol, e‑methane, and clean ammo­nia can all be used by fer­ries, coastal freight­ers, river­boats, tugs, barges, and oth­er ves­sels oper­at­ing over short­er dis­tances and time. But for these ves­sels, it’s per­fectly reas­on­able to use hydro­gen dir­ectly to pro­pel them. The pre­dom­in­ant approach is fuel cells that con­vert hydro­gen into elec­tri­city to power elec­tric motors.

An example of this approach is HEAVENN in the North­ern Neth­er­lands, which aims to build a ded­ic­ated hydro­gen trans­port infra­struc­ture includ­ing pipelines, stor­age facil­it­ies, and refueling/​bunkering points for vari­ous applic­a­tions, includ­ing mari­time shipping.

On the ves­sel side, MF Hydra serves as a not­able example, being the world’s first ferry powered by hydro­gen. Delivered in 2021, this 82.4‑meter-long ferry can carry up to 80 vehicles and 300 pas­sen­gers, cruis­ing at a speed of 9 knots. It’s oper­ated by the Nor­we­gi­an com­pany Norled.

Public transport buses

We fly in over land again and come to the last applic­a­tion area for hydro­gen: land trans­port­a­tion and non-road mobile machinery. There are vari­ous applic­a­tions here. Let’s flyby some of them.

Hydro­gen-powered buses, mainly driv­en by elec­tric motors using elec­tri­city from fuel cells but also intern­al com­bus­tion engines run­ning on hydro­gen, have been on the agenda for dec­ades. Many cit­ies, includ­ing Lon­don, Tokyo, and Los Angeles, have integ­rated hydro­gen-powered buses for pub­lic trans­port­a­tion into their fleets. The appeal lies in their zero emis­sions, longer range, and quick refuel­ing times com­pared to bat­tery elec­tric buses.

Passenger trains

The French train man­u­fac­turer Alstom is invest­ing heav­ily in hydro­gen trains. They devel­op, man­u­fac­ture, and sell hydro­gen-powered trains for inter­city and region­al ser­vice. The trains are called Cora­dia iLint and have been eval­u­ated in sev­er­al countries.

Alstrom is far from alone. Close behind are Siemens, CRRC, Toyota, Hyundai Rotem, Bal­lard Power Sys­tems, and Stadler Rail.

There are sev­er­al coun­tries and rail­way com­pan­ies that are hot on their heels, includ­ing the USA, Japan, United King­dom, Japan, and India, and even more are think­ing about get­ting hydro­gen-powered trains.

But when it comes to adopt­ing hydro­gen-powered trains, Ger­many has taken the lead. In Septem­ber 2018, Germany’s Lower Sax­ony launched the world’s first hydro­gen-powered pas­sen­ger train for com­mer­cial use. Then, in August 2022, Lower Sax­ony intro­duced the first rail­way line run entirely by hydro­gen-powered trains in Bremervörde.


Driv­ing a car in Par­is requires a Crit’Air vign­ette – a wind­shield stick­er show­ing how envir­on­ment­ally friendly the car is with num­bers from 0 (zero emis­sions) to 5 (most pol­lut­ing). From 2024, only vehicles with Crit’Air 0 or 1 vign­ettes are allowed in Par­is. From 2030, Crit’Air 0 will be required. These tough require­ments have spurred the Parisi­an taxi sector’s interest in hydro­gen cars.

Hype describes itself as the first zero-emis­sion mobil­ity plat­form. We mere mor­tals call them a taxi com­pany. In 2023, they had 550 hydro­gen tax­is oper­at­ing in Par­is. By the end of 2024, they plan to have 1,500 hydro­gen taxis.

In 2019, Hype, Toyota, Air Liquide, and Idex joined forces to form HystCo with the aim of build­ing a net­work of filling sta­tions for hydro­gen and mobil­ity-related applic­a­tions. The lat­ter has so far mani­fes­ted itself in the pos­sib­il­ity of pro­fes­sion­als leas­ing a car or van run­ning on hydro­gen. Since its cre­ation, more com­pan­ies have joined and pumped mil­lions of euros into the com­pany. By the end of 2023, HysetCo will dis­trib­ute more than 23 tons of hydro­gen per month to its cus­tom­ers and man­age a fleet of more than 550 hydro­gen vehicles.

Both Hype and HysetCo have ambi­tions to rap­idly expand their oper­a­tions through­out France.

Parcel delivery pickups and service vans

From tax­is to par­cel deliv­ery, it’s a short step. From an oper­a­tion­al per­spect­ive, they are very sim­il­ar. In both cases, the vehicles typ­ic­ally drive 400–600 kilo­met­ers per day and need to count the time to refuel in minutes instead of hours. There­fore, hydro­gen is an inter­est­ing altern­at­ive to bat­ter­ies as these sec­tors move away from gas­ol­ine and dies­el to car­bon-free alternatives.

But unlike tax­is, which are well on their way, most par­cel deliv­ery com­pan­ies are still in the park­ing lot, with only a few small-scale pilots run­ning in the field. One example is Fed­Ex, which has star­ted a tri­al of a hydro­gen-powered vehicle in its pickup and deliv­ery oper­a­tions in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

The same is true for ser­vice vans. But it is only a mat­ter of time before green hydro­gen fuels every van or light com­mer­cial vehicle (LCV), as it is called in industry lingo. At least that’s the belief of First Hydro­gen – a Cana­dian-Brit­ish start-up that is devel­op­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing its own light com­mer­cial vehicle and set­ting up a net­work of refuel­ing stations.

Line-haul and long-haul transport

From the many but short dis­tances covered by par­cel deliv­ery pickups, we enter the realm of heavy trucks. They can be divided into line-haul and long-haul. The dif­fer­ence lies in how far they drive. Line-haul refers to trans­port to des­tin­a­tions such as ports or logist­ics cen­ters, usu­ally with­in one day, while long-haul refers to longer trans­ports that take days or weeks to com­plete. For both applic­a­tions, hydro­gen is on the rise.

In Switzer­land, for example, 47 heavy trucks by Hyundai are in use by logist­ics, dis­tri­bu­tion, and retail fleet oper­at­ors. These trucks are named XCIENT Fuel Cell. As the name sug­gests, they have elec­tric motors powered by hydro­gen fuel cells.

H2Haul is an EU-fun­ded pro­ject that aims to run 16 long-haul heavy-duty fuel cell trucks for more than one mil­lion kilo­met­ers under nor­mal com­mer­cial con­di­tions to demon­strate high reli­ab­il­ity. The pro­ject also includes hydro­gen refuel­ing infra­struc­ture. Users include BMW in Ger­many, Car­re­four in France, Coop in Switzer­land, and Col­ruyt Group in Belgium.

HyTrucks is a con­sor­ti­um star­ted by Air Liquide, DATS 24, and the ports of Rot­ter­dam, Ant­werp, and Duis­burg. Today, it con­sists of over 70 com­pan­ies and coun­tries. The con­sor­ti­um is based on two simple ideas: First, the trans­ition from a dies­el eco­sys­tem to a hydro­gen eco­sys­tem can only suc­ceed if all rel­ev­ant parties are involved. Second, hydro­gen is very suit­able as an energy car­ri­er for heavy-duty trans­port­a­tion. HyTrucks wants at least a thou­sand heavy-duty hydro­gen trucks on the road by 2025. At the same time, they also want to have at least 25 oper­a­tion­al hydro­gen refuel­ing sta­tions. The trucks will be deployed mainly in the tri­angle between three of the major logist­ics hot­spots in West­ern Europe – the ports of Rot­ter­dam, Ant­werp, and Duis­burg – as well as in Ger­many, Lux­em­bourg, and France.

Non-road mobile machinery

Non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) is a bit of a mouth­ful. The term cov­ers all types of work machines, includ­ing excav­at­ors, cranes, fork­lifts, bull­dozers, har­vesters, back­hoe load­ers, tract­ors, and plow trucks.

Hydro­gen for dir­ect com­bus­tion, fuel cells, or in the form of e‑fuel is very attract­ive to use in NRMM for sev­er­al reas­ons. Bey­ond the obvi­ous one that they don’t con­trib­ute to the green­house effect and have quick refuel­ing times com­pared to a bat­tery, there are two major bene­fits spe­cif­ic to this cat­egory of vehicles.

First of all, they don’t pol­lute where they oper­ate. This is par­tic­u­larly desir­able when used in con­fined spaces, such as ware­houses or mines, but is also desir­able in agri­cul­ture and sens­it­ive nat­ur­al areas. (Notice that e‑fuel doesn’t have this bene­fit; the com­bus­tion of e‑fuel releases the CO2 cap­tured dur­ing production.)

Second, with its abil­ity to be trans­por­ted and stored, hydro­gen is a viable option for remote and off-grid oper­a­tions where elec­tri­city is not avail­able to charge batteries.

Sev­er­al well-known con­struc­tion equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, includ­ing Volvo Con­struc­tion Equip­ment, Hyzon Motors, and Lieb­herr, are invest­ing heav­ily in hydro­gen, either in the form of fuel cells or hydro­gen-powered intern­al com­bus­tion engines. How­ever, the com­pany that has made the most head­lines is JCB, one of the world’s largest man­u­fac­tur­ers of con­struc­tion equip­ment. They have developed a back­hoe load­er with a hydro­gen com­bus­tion engine and a fuel cell-powered forklift.


Oh boy. It was a long flight, but now we have landed. It was excit­ing, wasn’t it? Clean hydro­gen is indeed on its way. So many applic­a­tions! And they all need PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers galore. And since we’re sit­ting on a key tech­no­logy to enable this growth at a reas­on­able price, it’s hard not to think that Smol­tek Hydro­gen will be a suc­cess. Don’t you agree?

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