To reassert to the world that the United States is serious about solving climate change, President Biden assembled global leaders for a virtual climate summit on April 22 to announce a new target to cut U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in half by 2030. This announcement comes a few short months after he announced the United States would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, further underscoring America’s climate commitment.
As the world recently celebrated Earth Day, it is clear that the United States will be a key player in advancing the energy transition to establish the low-carbon society of the future. To achieve these ambitious goals, the public and private sectors must work together to find solutions that address climate change and grow the economy.
At Air Liquide, we understand the importance of investing in our future. But more than that, we know the importance of turning policy into action. Just recently, Air Liquide announced it will invest nearly $10 billion in low-carbon hydrogen by 2035 as part of a plan to more than triple sales of the technology and help substantially curb emissions.
Hydrogen technologies bring countless benefits to consumers, communities and our environment. For starters, hydrogen has the capacity to decarbonize a broad spectrum of industries, especially those traditionally hard-to-abate sectors like transportation, building heating and cooling, and chemical and industrial product processes.
Further, it has zero emissions at end use, and its ability to store energy in gas or liquid form for long periods of time provides reliable primary and back-up power. Since it can be generated from a variety of sources, including renewables, hydrogen is a strong complement to intermittent solar and wind.
But without federal policy support, these benefits to and investments in the United States might be delayed in delivering the climate and economic results which the technology is capable of contributing.
For its part, the Biden administration has demonstrated a commitment to hydrogen by incorporating several hydrogen-related projects in its recently announced infrastructure plan. The plan would commit $15 billion in demonstration projects for research and development priorities, including hydrogen, and commit to develop hydrogen projects in economically distressed communities.
Commitments like these elevate the pursuit of environmental justice by bolstering local economies, simultaneously decarbonizing industry and addressing the impacts of climate change in communities that need it most. Hydrogen is an innovative and equitable clean energy technology, one that is accessible to all. As an example, hydrogen for consumer mobility offers a fueling experience much like today’s traditional car, and a hydrogen refueling station that is placed within a community is open to anyone who needs it.
A growing domestic hydrogen economy will benefit the entire U.S. economy, a rising tide lifting all boats. A recent study from the Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability journal concluded that “growth in the hydrogen and [fuel cell] sectors of the U.S. economy will lead to vast new employment opportunities as businesses expand to serve growing markets and to meet new clean and sustainable energy requirements.”
Separate studies conducted by McKinsey found that, if scaled up, hydrogen can account for nearly 20% of global energy demand by 2030 and generate $140 billion in revenue annually, while adding 700,000 U.S. jobs in the next decade.
At Air Liquide, we understand that as we transition to hydrogen as an energy vector, we can also transition it to renewable production, making it a true zero-emission fuel for the future. In fact, this is an important pillar of our new climate objectives wherein we have committed that 50% of the hydrogen that Air Liquide supplies will be renewable or low-carbon by 2035, and by 2025, we will have reduced our carbon intensity by 30% (compared to 2015).
Having fully delivered on our 2025 objective, we plan to go even further with a commitment to decrease CO2 emissions in absolute value by 33% by 2035, a stepping stone to our overall objective of carbon neutrality by 2050.
But we can’t celebrate hydrogen’s potential successes before making firm commitments to the industry’s growth. The administration took a first important step by announcing ambitious climate goals. That is the easy part; the hard part is identifying and investing in the technologies that can help us achieve them.
We know hydrogen is up to the challenge of transforming our energy system and building the low-carbon society of the future. Now is the time for industry and government to come together to unlock its potential.
• Mike Graff is chairman and CEO of American Air Liquide Holdings, Inc., and executive vice president and executive committee member of Air Liquide Group.