The New Yorker had a characteristically superb compendium of stories last month about the climate crisis. The best one was “Climate Change from A to Z” by Betsy Kolbert. She relates important facts about climate change, going through the entire alphabet: A for Arrhenius (who scoped the physics of global warming in the late 19th Century) to Z for Zero (in which she recounts how the “Colorado River basin has been called ‘ground zero for climate change in the United States.'”
She touches on the promise of clean tech but neglects one of the key burgeoning areas that is going to help us mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis, namely hydrogen. I wrote a letter to the magazine and, just for the record, I want to share it here.
Elizabeth Kolbert has been our preeminent environmental journalist for years. Her breadth and depth of reporting, her clarity and eloquence are showcased in her article, “A Vast Experiment – The Climate Crisis from A to Z.” (Nov. 28, 2022) But there is a gap in her coverage of clean tech: the vast potential of the hydrogen economy. She laments, for example, the limited range and passenger capacity of battery electric planes. But Airbus is on track to produce three zero-emission aircraft by 2035, one with as much as a 2,000 nautical mile range for 200 passengers. She also notes the limits for decarbonization of both the steel and concrete industries, major contributors of greenhouse gases. Swedish steelmakers, however, are forging ahead with hydrogen-based tech that will, in one case, reduce the carbon footprint of commercial steel production to 5% of conventional production methods. Similarly, a Spanish company, CEMEX, uses hydrogen as part of its fuel mix in all its European facilities and promises a 35% reduction in its carbon footprint by 2030. Zero-carbon “green” hydrogen is produced by electrolyzing water using renewable power from wind, solar, and hydro. Both the feedstock and the energy source for this process are inexhaustible, and the costs are coming down quickly. Surface transportation applications for hydrogen fuel-cells are advancing rapidly and even the maritime industry is on board, having pledged at the latest COP in Egypt to aim for full decarbonization by 2050 using green hydrogen.
Hope is the H in Kolbert’s A to Z list. Perhaps it should have been hydrogen.