Government Investments in Hydrogen: How Does Your Country Compare?

On September 3, the British renewable-energy news portal reNEWS.BIZ ran a story with an intriguing headline: “Scotland launches £3bn green project portfolio.”  At first glance, that number (which equates to USD $3.7 billion) looks out of scale with Scotland’s relatively tiny population of 5.5 million.  Close reading reveals that the £3 billion is not the amount that will be invested by the Scottish government, but rather the value of the “investment portfolio” of green businesses the program is intended to galvanize over the next three years.  But still one wonders, how does £3 billion stack up against other national programs aimed at supporting the sustainability transition?

One perspective came 17 days later, when Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) released its “Hydrogen / Fuel Cell Technology Development Strategy.”  According to a story in the Japanese newspaper Kankyo Business, the goal of the Strategy is to “achieve the Hydrogen / Fuel Cell Strategy Roadmap [that was] revised in March 2019.” (Ammonia Energy ran a story on the Roadmap in April.)  METI’s corresponding fiscal-year-2020 “budget demand” for the program is ¥80.7 billion (USD $754 million).  The population of Japan is 127 million.

Activity in Scotland

Per a Scottish government press release, the Green Investment Portfolio is intended to “give local authorities, developers and third sector organisations the opportunity to pitch for large scale investment to support projects reducing Scotland’s emissions in areas like renewables, waste, transport and the circular economy.”  It works by “matching projects which are reducing emissions with investors so we can fully maximise their potential and promote them globally.”  It is aligned with the country’s just-passed Climate Change Bill that “commits Scotland to a target of net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045.”

Neither hydrogen nor ammonia is mentioned in the press release.  Hydrogen is cited in the reNEWS.BIZ story only as a possible funding category should the Portfolio expand in scope.  However, both hydrogen and ammonia are securely situated in Scotland’s energy strategy, “The Future of Energy in Scotland:”

Scotland’s considerable renewable generation capacity could be used to produce hydrogen, or ammonia, and help balance networks, support local energy models, and decarbonise our heat and transport systems. International markets are also emerging as demand grows for flexible energy system technologies.

Scottish Government, The future of energy in Scotland: Scottish energy strategy, December 20, 2017

Scotland is also home to at least one new enterprise with an explicit ammonia orientation, the HIAlba-IDEA “policy think tank” which was launched to explore the potential of “low-cost extraction of hydrogen from renewably generated ammonia used as a storage medium and carrier of hydrogen.”  (Ammonia Energy ran a story on HIAlba-IDEA in April 2019.)

Activity in Japan

METI’s allocation of ¥80.7 billion (USD $754 million) is only 20% as large as Scotland’s investment mobilization target for the Green Investment Portfolio, but the entire sum will flow to hydrogen-related pursuits.  The three main categories for funding are fuel cells, hydrogen supply chain, and water electrolysis.  Included within the hydrogen supply chain category is the sub-category “transport and storage technology” – the presumptive home for research related to the three commodities (ammonia, liquid organic hydrides, and liquid hydrogen) that were the focus of the Energy Carriers initiative within Japan’s Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP).  A total of ten sub-categories are listed across the three main categories.

While Scotland’s energy strategy has a clear orientation to the international arena (“The Scottish Government is committed to building on Scotland’s international reputation for excellence in energy, and to forging collaborative partnerships with other countries”), Japan’s “Hydrogen / Fuel Cell Technology Development Strategy” strikes an even more outward-looking note:

It is also important to take strategic measures, such as accurately grasping trends in other countries, building a network of hydrogen-related research institutes around the world, and promoting international joint research in order to effectively use domestic resources. And willingness to call for international collaboration based on the strategy developed this time.

Kankyo Business, “Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announces hydrogen / fuel cell technology development strategy, identified 10 priority items,” September 20, 2019

United States Perspective

There do not seem to have been any major announcements of government-backed emissions-reduction investment programs coming out of the United States of late, but the perspective from the world’s largest economy (population: 327 million) provides an interesting counterpoint to the Scottish and Japanese data points.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydrogen & Fuel Cells Program Web page, the Program’s budget in 2017 (the last year for which figures were reported) was $122 million.  Although the missions of the two programs appear to be roughly similar, this figure is 16% the size of the projected Japanese spend.  Further comment is eschewed.