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Air Liquide aims to innovate hydrogen power

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A Toyota prototype semi-truck powered by compressed hydrogen is driven by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) at the Air Liquide Innovation Center in Glasgow. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

GLASGOW – For all of the environmental and energy-efficiency benefits that electric fuel cell vehicles have brought to market in recent years, they are still not a perfect fit for all consumers.

They can take time to fully recharge, require expensive precious metals driving up retail prices, and, for many vehicles, lack a long range of travel without stopping to recharge. There may be another clean energy solution that could serve to solve those challenges though: hydrogen.

One of the four basic elements on the planet can also be used in fuel cells to power engines ranging from a forklift to a passenger sedan to a semi-truck.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons addresses Air Liquide and Toyota officials Monday in Glasgow as Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester listens. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Research and development on that solution has been underway at Air Liquide’s Delaware Innovation Campus in Glasgow for many years and on Monday, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (both D-Del.) got the latest look at how technology has progressed. They took turns driving a Toyota Mirai sedan and prototype big rig developed by Kenworth and Toyota being used at southern California ports.

The vehicles, which emitted nearly no noticeable sounds, have a range of 300 to 400 miles, comparable to the upper echelons of electric vehicles, according to Tom Stricker, group vice president of sustainability and regulatory affairs at Toyota. Hydrogen also provides one other major advantage over electric fuel cells: They can be fully refueled in about three to four minutes.

While Toyota has sold about 10,000 Mirais in California, primarily in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas where refueling stations exist, it hasn’t yet pushed out the vehicles to the national market because there isn’t a production or distribution network in place to convince consumers to dive in, Stricker said.

Coons has been one of the most vocal legislators working on that issue, introducing in March with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) the Hydrogen for Trucks Act, a bipartisan bill to support the adoption of heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen fueling stations. It’s one of four bipartisan bills aiming to invest in the deployment of hydrogen technologies and cut emissions in hard-to-abate sectors, such as global shipping or the production of steel, cement, glass, and chemicals.

Bikram Roy Chowdhury, senior research scientist at Air Liquide’s Innovation Center in Delaware, describes the advancements being worked on by their scientists. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“If we can’t move quickly [on hydrogen advancement], we can’t possibly meet the overall objective of decarbonizing the hardest to decarbonize sectors of our economy in the next 15 years,” Coons told Delaware Business Times on Monday.

Coons shared that the truck driver escorting him Monday noted that for many years that he drove a diesel-powered big rig, his clothes smelled so much like gasoline that his wife would wash them separate from any other clothes.

“If his clothes after a day of work smelled so bad, what did that mean for his lungs? What did that mean for his family and his children? What did that mean for our planet?” the senator said. “If we finally get this to commercial scale, then we must legislate to deliver this innovation to the commercial economy of the United States.”

Coons lobbied for the inclusion of $8 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Biden last year to build out “hydrogen hubs” around the country to increase the supply, infrastructure and research into hydrogen power. The senator hopes that one such hub lands in or near Delaware.

French industrial gas giant Air Liquide has invested more than $100 million into hydrogen work at its Delaware facility. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“We have a number of researchers at the University of Delaware, a number of commercial companies in this immediate area, and a refinery that is already producing and using hydrogen and its industrial processes that is an eager participant as well. Our geography right at the middle of the Northeast Corridor also makes Delaware a competitor for one of these hydrogen hubs,” Coons said.

Building out such a hub would inevitably include Air Liquide, the French industrial gas giant that employs 300 at the Glasgow area R&D facility. Marcelo Fioranelli, vice president of Air Liquide Group and CEO of AirGas U.S., noted that the company has already invested more than $1 billion in hydrogen energy in the U.S., including $100 million in Delaware, and more than $5 billion worldwide.

“The development and deployment of hydrogen is essential to reducing the carbon emissions of our transportation sector … Decarbonizing transportation, which is responsible for 27% of the U.S. carbon emissions, is critical to meeting America’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050,” he noted.

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