The green hydrogen boom
Photo: Nicolas Armer/picture alliance via Getty Images

The green hydrogen boom

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Good morning! Green hydrogen is where the money’s at right now, and thanks to the U.S.’s new climate law, the money will keep on flowing. But it needs to overcome some challenges if it’s to be a true climate savior.

It’s not easy being green hydrogen

The most abundant element in the universe is having a moment. Hydrogen’s chemical properties make it appealing as a fuel that could help clean up the hardest-to-decarbonize sectors, or as a sort of gaseous battery that stores up solar or wind energy for later use.

Green hydrogen is where the money is flowing. Hydrogen comes in a rainbow of “color” labels tied to how it's produced, ranging from gray (coal) to blue (methane gas) to pink (nuclear) to green (renewables). The first two are climate catastrophes. While pink hydrogen sounds very sci-fi, it’s green hydrogen that has the most transformative potential.

  • Green hydrogen uses renewables to power electrolyzers that take water (H2O) and split the “H’s” from the “O.” It emits basically zero greenhouse gasses, and the resulting hydrogen can be used to power ships and cars, drive industrial processes like steelmaking and even be cleanly burned in power plants.
  • Major companies like Siemens are getting into the business of producing green hydrogen.
  • End users from Amazon to shipping giant Maersk are buying contracts. Still other companies like Ford and members of the so-called First Movers Coalition have committed to buying green steel, giving cleanly sourced hydrogen another toehold.

The Inflation Reduction Act could drive the industry to new heights. Green hydrogen was the talk of the town in New York for Climate Week this week. At a panel I moderated on the topic for the Danish Consulate as part of its Citizen Sustainability Summit, it became clear the U.S.’s shiny new climate law is likely to be a game-changer.

  • While much has been made of changes to the tax credit that is meant to help boost carbon capture, known as 45Q, the 45V tax credit for clean hydrogen has flown under the radar outside hydrogen circles.
  • The most cleanly produced hydrogen qualifies for a tax credit of up to $3 per kilogram. A Rhodium Group analysis found that it’s “likely that the credit will shrink or eliminate the green premium for a variety of clean hydrogen options.” In other words, the clean stuff will be cheaper than the polluting stuff.
  • That along with other factors has the U.S. set up to “become the market of choice” for green hydrogen producers, Roeland Baan, the CEO of Topsoe, a Danish company that makes electrolyzers, said during our panel chat.
  • The IRA could have ripple effects beyond U.S. borders, spurring similar incentives in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere as countries look to develop their own green hydrogen industries.

Green hydrogen is far from perfect, though. There are challenges green hydrogen — or most any color of hydrogen, really — will need to overcome before declaring it a climate savior.

  • The 45V tax credit could also incentivize blue hydrogen tied to carbon capture, which has yet to work at scale.
  • Producing green hydrogen is incredibly energy intensive and will require a massive buildout of renewable capacity.
  • A Canary Media analysis found the world would need to install 18 times more solar power than we currently have in the ground to produce 550 million tons of green hydrogen annually. (That number is a best-guess estimate from the Hydrogen Council.)
  • Hydrogen also poses a safety risk since mixing it with oxygen can come with explosive results. That means pipelines that transport it need to be airtight. A report from Energy Innovation found just 1,600 of the 3 million miles of pipeline in the U.S. are ready for hydrogen.

Bottom line: the green hydrogen hype is real, but there’s still a way to go for it to meet expectations.

— Brian Kahn

It’s too late

The FDA this week announced that cooking chicken in NyQuil isn’t safe, which seems obvious; it came from a “NyQuil cooking challenge” video that went viral — more than a year ago.

Government warnings about viral online fads may come too late to be effective. The NyQuil chicken challenge resurfaced in January after starting as a joke on 4chan in 2017.

  • In June, the FDA warned of the dangers of keeping avocados fresh by placing them in water. That video was popular a couple years ago.
  • Schools and lawmakers took a few weeks to catch wind of, and warn parents about, a “devious licks” video that resulted in students damaging school property.
  • The Tide Pod challenge, which started as a joke on Twitter in late 2017 before making its way to YouTube and elsewhere, got the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s attention about a month after it went viral.
  • And French lawmakers needed a few months to warn against the 2018 “InMyFeelings” challenge, which involved getting out of a moving car and dancing.

Government leaders need a lesson on virality. The timing of these warnings highlights the difficulty of staying on top of potentially dangerous challenges, which can go viral in a matter of days. “The FDA is always playing catch-up with these things,” Jeffrey Blevins, a professor at the University of Cincinnati’s journalism department, told me. “It’s impossible for them to be ahead of it. Who in their right mind would have thought of NyQuil chicken?”

  • But the fact that the FDA and other government agencies need months — even years — to identify and warn people about dangerous viral trends defeats the purpose of the warning. Once the alert comes around, the damage may have already been done.
  • The way in which the FDA responds to harmful viral videos might not be that effective anyway: The ones making the posts go viral — kids — probably aren’t following government alerts, Blevins said. “I would really encourage these agencies to think about being a little more creative in how they respond,” he said.
  • The FDA could post TikToks or poke fun at the absurdity of cooking chicken with NyQuil while also explaining the harms, for example. (The FDA didn’t immediately return a request for comment.)

It’s not just the government; pediatricians, schools, and other organizations are aware of the dangers of social media trends and are trying to catch on to them quickly. But word spreads fast, and in order for the government’s warnings to be effective, they need to happen sooner.

— Sarah Roach

‘The pandemic is over’ in tech offices, too

This week, President Biden told millions of viewers on “60 Minutes” that the pandemic is “over,” signaling a shift in how the country is living with and thinking about COVID. The announcement proved more than a little controversial — but tech offices are already moving in the same direction.

Many tech employers have relaxed COVID restrictions, letting go of mask and vaccine mandates and doing away with symptom questionnaires, Protocol’s Allison Levitsky reports.

  • Rather than treating the virus with extra precaution, companies are behaving as if it's a “manageable problem,” Joe Du Bey, co-founder and CEO of Eden Workplace, told Allison. “They are returning to the office and to corporate events in a meaningful way.”

This summer seemed to be a tipping point for companies relaxing their rules. Du Bey said use of Eden’s vaccine tracking tools dropped off, and the desk-booking tool Officely returned half as many health surveys in August as it did in March.

  • Though this seems like a return to pre-COVID norms, companies are still reluctant to mandate that employees come back into the office.
  • “You can’t say we’re going to roll back the mandate to require a vaccine to come to the office, but then force people to come to the office,” said Christopher Kenessey, CEO of AlertMedia.

The pandemic might not be as “over” as people think. For example, after returning to the office, Google employees received notifications of colleagues’ infections. Plus, loosened restrictions can make high-risk employees feel less safe at work, Allison told me. But even as COVID persists, she said, “Some employers are deciding that some increased risk of COVID transmission is worth the benefits of bringing workers together.”

— Nat Rubio-Licht


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People are talking

Peter Thiel thinks Florida real estate is getting just as pricey as California:

  • "If we’re going to have a high-growth alternative, the test is, do the real estate prices come down? ... I worry that’s evidence you’re becoming like California.”

DIsney CEO Bob Chapek said he’d love to integrate Hulu into Disney+, but it can’t happen yet:

  • “That obviously takes some level of propensity for the other party to have reasonable terms for us to get there. And if we could get there, I would be more than happy to try to facilitate that."

Making moves

Larry Page's Kittyhawk is winding down. The flying car startup said in a LinkedIn post that it's “still working on the details of what’s next.”

Dinna Eskin is Tesla’s new legal chief. She’s worked in Tesla’s legal department since 2017.

Satjiv Chahil is Inery’s new principal adviser. He’s Apple’s former SVP of global marketing.

Dave Ripley is replacing Jesse Powellas Kraken’s CEO. Powell will stay on the board as chair.

Jacky Wright is McKinsey’s first CTO. Wright was previously Microsoft’s chief digital officer.

In other news

The U.K. plans to investigate cloud competition between Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, as well as digital markets like FaceTime and Zoom.

Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy can't avoid testifyingas part of the FTC's probe into Amazon Prime, the commission said. Amazon had asked the FTC to cancel subpoenas for the two.

Florida wants the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether states have the right to regulate how social media companies moderate content.

Meta’s looking to cut even more costs, which may include job reductions rather than formal layoffs, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Google wants to offer HDR video and 3D audio under a new consumer-recognizable brand for free, aiming to compete with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision.

TikTok is banning videos aimed at political campaign fundraising. The company will also require all accounts run by U.S. government departments, politicians, and political parties to be verified.

Microsoft said it won’t label fake news as disinformation, in order to avoid looking as though it's censoring free speech, company President Brad Smith said.

More than 80% of tech companies have taken climate actionor have committed to doing so by 2030. That compares to 42% of Fortune Global 500 companies that have made climate pledges.

Mark Zuckerberg’s expecting his third child. Congrats!

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