As the fuel cell concept first came to light nearly two centuries ago, Bertrand Piccard has now declared, “this is the last century. It’s not only about protecting the environment, it’s a lot about making money,” and “to lose once and for all our virginity when it comes to cleantech!”
A Hydrogen-fueled world has been sex talk among teenagers for nearly two centuries. The comparison seems appropriate as everyone talks about fuel cell but no one’s actually uses it. A platitude of clean-cleaner energy solutions have knocked on the doors for far too long and too many times to fall on deaf ears, promoting solar, wind, hydro, and even geothermal and Thorium, to name the few. The latter being shelved mid way through the twentieth century for inferior destructive properties as a weapon over superior cleaner qualities as an energy source. And then came Hydrogen. Needless delving into why it didn’t take off in the U.S., one thing is clear in hindsight: clean watt-hour attributes were not a key consumption concern back in those days. Not much has changed today, apparently. Market data in the U.S. suggests only two or less car buyers out of a hundred that are able to afford a vehicle for urban purposes in the same price range with, e.g., a Prius.
Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss psychiatrist revered for having successfully completed the first around the world solar flight on July of 2016 with his co-pilot, André Borschberg, in the Solar Impulse, a zero-footprint fixed-wing aircraft, announced at the World Economics Forum in January, 2017, to commence the fuel cell journey and join the Hydrogen Council where 13 leaders from the energy, transportation and manufacturing sectors come together to create the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell technological framework for the benefit of business operators in a profitable manner while optimizing a capacity to manage a climate changing planet, in the same token.
Oil and gas to the rescue: energy incumbents to progress fuel cell
This time, not only will industrial gas and chemical giants like Air Liquide and Linde Group be able to produce and sell clean energy for a sizable market share, but, by applying fractional amounts of electricity from the power grid to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, oil and gas companies like Total and Royal Dutch Shell will be able to upgrade pipeline networks and gas stations to support and deliver clean energy directly to the consumers, as well. The development has garnered great appreciation for the oil and gas incumbents that have powered the economy thus far and now embracing clean-cleaner energy solutions in response to new challenges and get us where we need to be, heretofore. Hyundai, Kawasaki, BMW and Alstom views the development as the tipping point for Hydrogen energy and therefore zero-minimal footprint powertrains as the new channel for profitability. Although oil and gas are integrating clean-cleaner energy suppliers into energy supply chains, in the meantime, traditional investments will continue with a focus on environmentally friendly developments and fuel efficiency, along with fuel cell developments. For what going full regalia fuel cell is worth, such development presents a window of opportunity for small businesses and startups to compete in the energy sector in a competitive manner, as scalability permits.
A middle path outlook calls for an ecological-economical co-evolution. Ideally, the world of future energy will be both environmentally friendly and profitable for businesses of all sizes. New markets, industries economic development, and even the labor force will progress with matching knowledge and skill sets to take on new challenges that the Internet of Things throws at us, as a result of this transformation.
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