South Korea is vying to win the race to create the first hydrogen-powered society. It wants to build three hydrogen-powered cities by 2022 as it positions itself as a leader in the green technology.
The plan will see the cities use hydrogen as the fuel for cooling, heating, electricity and transportation. Consultation on where the three cities will be located is under way.
The test cities will use a hydrogen-powered transportation system, including buses and personal cars. Hydrogen charging stations will be available in bus stations and parking spaces.
The hydrogen pilot city plan unveiled by the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Image: FuelCellsWorks
The strategy is part of a wider vision to power 10% of the country’s cities, counties and towns by hydrogen by 2030, growing to 30% by 2040.
This includes drastic increases in the numbers of hydrogen-powered vehicles and charging points in the next three years. The government has earmarked money to subsidize these vehicles and charging infrastructure.
The Moon Jae-in administration is set to spend around $18 billion dollars on hydrogen car sales and refuelling stations from 2018 to 2022.
The fuel of the future?
Countries including Germany, Japan and China are also looking to a future hydrogen society, with a number of Asian car manufacturers including Hyundai, Toyota and Honda sinking resources into creating a range of hydrogen-powered cars.
With fuel cell vehicles – or FCVs – generally offering greater range and faster refueling times than electric vehicles, there is great hope that they will accelerate the transition to cleaner vehicles.
But challenges remain with the technology. Although some FCVs are now on the market, for many the cost remains prohibitive and they have some way to go before they become mainstream.
And while the output from hydrogen-powered cars is certainly clean – they only produce water as a by-product – at the moment they are not necessarily as clean as they may first seem. Producing the hydrogen itself is an energy-intensive process, not necessarily powered by renewable sources.
The other major caveat is hydrogen’s explosive nature, which is still causing safety concerns. Earlier this year an explosion of a hydrogen storage tank at one of South Korea’s government research projects killed two people and injured others.
Storage of the gas requires a lot of infrastructure, and despite government incentives to support development, until hydrogen becomes more widespread private investors can still struggle to turn a profit.
On the road to the first hydrogen society
But none of these challenges are necessarily insurmountable. And as nations around the world look to limit global warming, hydrogen may be key in the fundamental shift required in our energy system.
Seven key roles hydrogen can play in the clean energy transition, according to McKinsey. Image: McKinsey & Company
Consultants McKinsey & Company envisage hydrogen transforming our energy and decarbonizing systems in seven key ways. And it is likely that FCVs will pave the way.
Globally governments are investing around $850 million annually in hydrogen, McKinsey’s 2017 report says, but much more investment is still required to reach scale and lower costs.