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Hydrogen As the Next Big Leap in Global Supply Chain Tech

SNA (Brighton) — Japan discussed hydrogen technology at the G20 Summit in Osaka this year, which isn’t surprising as the country is leading the way in global sustainability efforts centered around hydrogen power.

Around the world, industries and governments are following in Japan’s footsteps. In Germany, they’ve launched a hydrogen-fueled train, while hydrogen tech is being used in the United Kingdom to decarbonize heating in homes and offices. These moves towards a hydrogen-run world could significantly transform the global supply chain in the near future, as hydrogen tech makes its way into the mainstream and onto ships, planes, and even homes.

Hydrogen-powered machines aren’t a new concept. In fact, NASA has been using hydrogen fuel to launch space shuttles since the 1950s, specifically liquid hydrogen that propels rockets into orbit without producing any pollution. However, there is now a surge in incorporating hydrogen into more common machines like cars and trains.

In 2017, Toyota Motor unveiled its hydrogen-powered minivan dubbed the Fine-Comfort Ride, a futuristic yet achievable vision for the future of environmentally friendly vehicles. According to journalist Tim Hornyak, Toyota is still leading the way with groundbreaking research on hydrogen power and has even partnered with competitors in an effort to fast track the industry’s journey to sustainability.

Efforts to use hydrogen to power machines are based on the fact that the gas is extremely high in energy; yet pure hydrogen engines emit almost zero pollutants. Hydrogen fuel cells even emit clean water as a byproduct, which is even safe enough to drink. The current process of using hydrogen relies on combining hydrogen and oxygen, which produces electricity, water, and heat. This process happens in fuel cells, which are a lot like batteries, except they never lose their charge if they have a constant supply of hydrogen.

In many developed countries, the government are partnering up with the private sector to make a hydrogen-powered future possible, but it’s certainly no small undertaking. The Australian government estimates a global demand for 530 million tons of hydrogen per annum, which means there will need to be enough factories ready to produce this huge amount of hydrogen on a daily basis.

The estimate above may seem generous, but it is worth keeping in mind that although hydrogen is being used mainly for cars, it will eventually be used for other transport vehicles like airplanes and trains. This shift, when combined with other emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, could signal huge improvements to how quick and efficient the global supply chain runs on renewable energy. In line with this, Verizon Connect points out how there are always new ways to optimize routes and supply chains which can save companies precious time and resources. A sustainable future allows for a myriad of opportunities to optimize industry processes without fear of emission regulations.

While this all sounds very promising, the road to a hydrogen-powered world is still a long way off. To illustrate, the US Energy Information Administration details the unfortunate cycle that is preventing hydrogen-fueled cars from going mainstream—there are no refueling stations so companies refuse to build the cars, but they also don’t build the stations because there are no cars.

On top of that, there are too few manufacturers of hydrogen fuel cells right now, which make them expensive to produce and buy. It also costs a lot to transport them in small quantities around the world. 

Only time and cooperation between governments and the private sector can steer global industries towards hydrogen power. The potential benefits are huge for supply chains, the economy, and the environment. Hydrogen could truly redefine what it means to aim for a thriving and sustainable society.

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