September – October 2020 Commentary

hydrogen economy illustration
Illustration by James Yang

Energy – Hydrogen Economy

As the world’s developed countries seek to limit carbon emissions from burning oil, gasoline, propane, coal, and natural gas, hydrogen is catching on as a clean alternative energy source. As the most commonly known element in the universe, hydrogen offers great potential in eliminating harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

September/October 2020 commentary inside the numbers

Consider Germany’s cabinet recently approved a measure to invest $10.2 billion into hydrogen technology that will reduce CO2 emissions. Along with neighboring countries like the Netherlands, Germany plans to create a regional approach to clean hydrogen generation and distribution using as much existing infrastructure as possible.

Other nations are expanding their use of hydrogen, including Japan, South Korea, France, Norway, Australia, and China. What’s more, major corporations such as Siemens, Honda, and Toyota are investing millions of dollars to produce “green” hydrogen from renewable energy sources already in place such as wind turbines and solar arrays.

To produce hydrogen, electricity is used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen through electrolysis. From there, once hydrogen is ignited, the resulting emission-free energy can be used to power factories, heat and cool buildings, and propel commercial and passenger vehicles. According to Siemens, hydrogen can be easily stored and further used or processed. In addition, it has the potential to reduce primary fossil energy consumption by 50 percent, even as power demand grows by 25 percent.

The good news is hydrogen is now being used to produce synthetic fuels for immediate applications such as e-methane, e-methanol, e-diesel, e-gasoline, and e-jet fuel. To prevent the costly changeover to a new energy system, hydrogen can be blended gradually with fossil fuels until they fully replace coal and other carbons as a primary energy source.

In turn, existing infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines, service stations, and storage facilities can generate or transport e-fuels, while hydrogen can be utilized in gas turbines or fuel cell power plants. And while wind and solar power are intermittent — the air must move or the sun must shine for the respective infrastructure to generate energy — hydrogen has no such drawbacks. It’s also temperature agnostic.

On the automotive front, vehicles powered by hydrogen offer benefits in weight and recharging times. Around two pounds of hydrogen is needed to drive 60 miles in a medium-sized car, and fueling a hydrogen car takes three to five minutes, according to Power magazine. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, take up to eight hours to fully charge, are less efficient in cold weather, and are limited in usage (emergency vehicles require a great deal of energy to operate).

Hydrogen and oxygen … used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable.

— Jules Verne, Novelist

To better tap hydrogen as an energy source, in late July the U.S. Department of Energy announced $64 million in new funding for 18 projects that will support the H2@Scale vision for affordable hydrogen production, storage, distribution, and use.

“Hydrogen has the potential to integrate our nation’s domestic energy resources, add value in industrial and energy-intensive sectors, and broaden technology choices for medium- and heavy-duty transportation,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “These projects will bring us closer to realizing hydrogen’s full potential for a resilient, flexible, and affordable energy system.”

Trade – Job Growth

With the official signing of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement in late June, Michigan and the rest of the country will benefit from a reduction of trade barriers, stronger supply chains within North America, and greater domestic components in cars and trucks. The state’s agricultural market will grow, as well, due to fewer restrictions on poultry, egg, and dairy products.

The agreement incentivizes vehicle production in the United States and North America, boosts domestic content of parts and production, and will encourage more foreign companies to set up shop in Michigan and across the country. As it stands, Michigan manufactures more vehicles than any other state in the nation — more than 2 million cars and trucks were produced last year across 11 assembly plants.

There’s more to come. General Motors Co. in Detroit had earmarked for closure its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, but it quickly reversed course and is bringing new vehicles like the next-generation, all-electric Hummer to the facility. Ford is producing the new Ranger at its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, and three new SUVs under the Bronco nameplate are now being assembled for delivery later this year.

FCA, meanwhile, is investing $2.5 billion to expand its Jefferson North Assembly Plant on Detroit’s east side for assembly of the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee and an all-new, three-row full-size Jeep SUV, along with plug-in hybrid models. It will also support the ongoing assembly of the Dodge Durango. More PPE equipment also will be produced across North America, which will greatly improve the sourcing of vital medicines, equipment, and related supplies.

Economy – Goodbye, Red Tape

The Trump administration had promised to roll back two regulations for every new one brought forward, but since President Trump took office, the federal government has eliminated seven regulations for every new one implemented. Such policy changes should continue as a means to boost economic growth as long as safety or the environment aren’t compromised. It will also keep the government from growing too large.

In one example, the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates that 20 of the administration’s deregulatory actions alone will save U.S. consumers and businesses more than $220 billion per year. Overall, the rollback of rules and regulations has saved more than $90 billion over the last 3.5 years, based on CEA data.

According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, it took five years to build the Hoover Dam but 20 years to build an additional runway in Taos, N.M., and 35 years to add a road in Alaska to bring food and medicine to a small community. By lowering regulations, there’s more incentive for businesses to expand and add jobs.

Limited government centered on public safety, infrastructure, and education has long proven to be a boon to economic activity. And by driving for school choice, the Trump administration limits the ability of public school unions to put their members’ needs (higher pay, fewer hours) in front of students. The role of government is to serve the people in the most efficient, effective, and inexpensive manner as possible, but too often politicians believe the people are there to serve them.