The Future of Hydrogen

by , , | Mar 20, 2024 | Sustainability, Sustainable Energy

Jim Cahill

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Social Marketing Leader

North American Energy Insights - The Future of Hydrogen and Industry ChallengesI recently attended The Future of Hydrogen, presented by Emerson’s Measurement business organization in Houston. The event’s objective was to provide insights into the latest advancements, market trends, and applications of hydrogen energy and to serve as a platform for networking, sharing ideas, and exploring hydrogen’s future potential.

Speakers and panelists for the event included senior executives from the Center for Houston’s Future, Veriten, Green Star BSC, Chevron, and NASA.

The Center for Houston’s Future CEO kicked off the session by describing the acceleration of the Texas and Gulf Coast hydrogen ecosystems. The Gulf Coast region has a long history of producing, distributing, and consuming hydrogen in its industrial processes. He shared Peter Drucker’s quote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Regarding the low-carbon economy transition to hydrogen, the focus is on bringing manufacturers, producers, educators, researchers, suppliers, and government agencies together to make progress.

Renewable energy applied to water through electrolysis and natural gas through steam methane reforming (SMR) is the predominant way hydrogen is produced. When coupled with carbon capture, SMR can become carbon neutral. Hydrogen is used for refining & petrochemicals, energy storage, transportation, and exports. The vision is for Houston to be the epicenter and leader of a global clean hydrogen hub by 2050.

Over 1600 miles of hydrogen pipelines in Texas and Louisiana, from Freeport to Lake Charles, serve the refining and petrochemical industries along the coast. Salt caverns and depleted oil wells are plentiful in Texas for storage. Wind and solar are abundant, especially in West Texas.

Developing the hydrogen ecosystem has many facets, including hydrogen sector development, manufacturing cluster development, international trade, marketplace development, and demand creation.

Emerson’s Arif Mustafa and Seth Harris presented their perspectives from a supplier’s perspective and the automation technologies required to help drive the energy transition, in this case, as it applies to hydrogen as an energy carrier. Seth shared Emerson’s sustainability framework of Greening Of, Greening By, and Greening With. This is greening Emerson’s global operations, helping our customers make their operations more sustainable, and collaborating in communities like Houston to drive their sustainability visions forward.

Seth moderated a panel with senior executives on critical initiatives driving the hydrogen energy transition forward. After introductions, Seth asked Ian about a recent interview with the Chevron CEO about the key levers to drive the energy transition–scale, speed, and solutions. The Chevron panelist noted that we are currently in the solutioning phase, experimenting with many different technologies to find what is promising and what is not and can be abandoned. He mentioned energy storage in salt caverns in Utah. Renewable energy creates hydrogen, which can be consumed in high electrical demand.

Hydrogen is unique in its ability to save energy without significant loss, unlike other forms of storage, such as batteries. Companies must be profitable to remain sustainable, and governments are obligated to ensure the nation’s R&D dollars are spent as efficiently as possible. Experimentation for success and fast failures are essential to drive innovations.

Europe and North America are very different in their engagement with the public. Europe has a mandate-based approach to carbon reduction through sustainable fuels. North America is very production-focused, such as tax credits for hydrogen production. Mandates are more strongly resisted in North America.

The question is how the public should be engaged in the conversation to help drive it forward. An analogy of trying to sell open-heart surgery was used. Why is it needed, what are the risks, what are the alternatives, what are the costs, etc? We need to communicate better, and better public dialog is needed. Hydrogen is inextricably linked to electricity and prices. It’s essential to focus on the journey and be incremental to avoid backlash.

Some things, like diesel to renewable diesel, can transition incrementally. Some areas, like electrical power, are more challenging, as we see with some grid instability from intermittent forms of energy production. Ian highlighted the number of startups trying new ideas and resurrecting old ideas in the Solutioning phase.

The government is better at “quantum leaps,” which are things that commercial enterprises can’t do for economic reasons. The space program is one example, and the hydrogen hubs are a current example.

The panel closed with the panelists’ thoughts on the future. Many promising technologies are not yet ready for scale-up. Ian stated that it is a matter of making a lot of bets and seeing which ones show promise for additional funding to see how they scale. Micro-nuclear is the most promising for non-carbon-based, baseload energy for electrical power grids.

In the day’s final presentation, the speaker from NASA shared how we’re in a tsunami of technology innovations. While we all operate in different silos, communications have enabled a crossing of innovations between silos for novel breakthroughs. He shared an example of a subsea pipeline inspection. Ships cost $1 million per day. They found a technology in the mining industry that could do these inspections at a fraction of the cost, disrupting their sector. S&P companies that used to last over 90 years on average in the early 1900s now last less than 15 years on average.

At NASA, they have curated communities to leverage the passion and diversity of their employees to provide value to organizations. Often, challenging problems are solved by someone outside the domain which “connected the dots.” Challenges with prizes have proven to be the best way to innovate new technologies, ways of doing things, etc.

The final area discussed was the rapid change toward part-time “gig” work versus traditional employees. Special skills are more challenging to find and hire, but more and more can be acquired on a short-term or contracted basis. COVID accelerated the shift from employees to freelancers to collaborate with organizations to tackle problems. This trend is only accelerating as we move forward.

As noted by Peter Drucker, essential discussions like these help create the next steps to creating the future. Visit the Environmental Sustainability section on for more information on how Emerson is helping manufacturers and producers drive more sustainable performance.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.

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