Sustainable, carbon-free methods of large-scale hydrogen production are urgently needed to support industrial processes while decreasing carbon dioxide emissions. The realities of product development timelines dictate that existing commercial technologies such as low-temperature electrolysis will have to serve the majority of this need for at least the next 20 years. At the same time, even a cursory understanding of device design principles and real-world constraints can help to inform basic research. Accelerating the impact from fundamental material discoveries in related technologies therefore requires improved collaboration between academic, government, and industry sectors.
Renewable hydrogen is a key component to global decarbonization and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. A common misconception is that the need for greener sources of hydrogen is dependent on whether fuel cell vehicles significantly penetrate the automotive market. However, hydrogen is a critical feedstock for many industrial processes, with an annual demand of 65 million metric tons globally. The large majority of this hydrogen is made via steam methane reforming, which represents the major carbon dioxide contribution for industrial processes such as ammonia production. Sustainable manufacturing of hydrocarbons also requires a sustainable source of hydrogen. Deep decarbonization and meeting 80% reduction targets for carbon dioxide emissions thus requires carbon-free sources of hydrogen. Based on the technology readiness levels, the reality is that existing commercial technologies will dominate the market for the next 20 years and beyond. To accelerate the impact of fundamental work in long-term technologies, improved collaboration between researchers across academic, government, and industry sectors is essential, to inform basic research as well as to leverage technology breakthroughs in the near term.