Hydrogen has long been hailed as the ‘fuel of the future’. As the most abundant element in the universe – although you’d be hard pressed to find it naturally in its pure form here on Earth – it has the potential for a wide variety of applications, from powering our cars to heating our homes. When used as a fuel by itself, the only by-product is water, offering a seemingly neat solution to our climate change conundrum.
But the ‘hydrogen economy’ has thus far failed to live up to its promise, held back by high production costs and overshadowed by the success of competing technologies such as lithium ion batteries. That said, this year has seen a resurgence of interest in hydrogen’s potential – the economics are starting to look more attractive and government pledges to invest in this space could help the technology achieve economies of scale. As the topic of decarbonisation gathers more attention, it is becoming clearer that electrification alone cannot solve our problems – it’s not a ‘winner takes all’ scenario. There is a sense that hydrogen will contribute to the clean energy future, but whether it plays a starring or background role remains to be seen.
Growing optimism over its prospects is reflected in the skyrocketing share prices of hydrogen-related stocks, both in the UK and across the pond. Wall Street seems particularly enamoured with the ubiquitous gas as of late – shares in fuel cell maker Plug Power (US:PLUG) have surged from a little over $3 at the start of the year, to $13 now.