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To make green hydrogen, electricity is applied to water in an electrolyzer. Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

The Electric: Hydrogen Is Again Confounding the Dreams of Its Promoters

Photo: To make green hydrogen, electricity is applied to water in an electrolyzer. Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

This Tuesday: The global lithium shortage stands to severely stunt the production of electric vehicles through the end of the decade. To discuss how the industry is responding—and China's dominance of the supply chain—I'm excited to host Eric Norris, president for lithium at Albemarle, the world's largest lithium producer, for the next Live Chat With The Electric. Register here for this event, to be held Nov. 1 at 11 am ET.     

Last week, we held the first meeting of the Electric Council, a small group of subscribers who are among the biggest thinkers in the industry. If Council membership interests you, just drop me an email and I'll put you in touch with the right person.  

For a century and longer, hydrogen has captured the imagination of inventors and companies fixated on its possibilities as a fuel for passenger vehicles, aircraft and ships. But they have always been confounded by element's cost and inefficiencies, not to mention its dangers. This week, we look at the industry's latest attempts to commercialize hydrogen, and the Biden administration's move to bankroll them.

For years, automakers including Toyota, Hyundai and General Motors touted a future of nonpolluting hydrogen-powered cars and trucks. Over the last year the U.S. government has thrown its weight behind that vision. Two laws passed by Congress provide tens of billions of dollars for the large-scale production of clean hydrogen. But the money will do little to make hydrogen competitive with batteries, and hydrogen-powered vehicles remain as distant from reality as ever.

Hydrogen has a long, miscast history: Going back to the 19th century, companies and individual inventors have repeatedly touted hydrogen, the lightest and most ample element, as a potential magic fuel, if only inventors could wring a few bugs out of its physics and lower its cost. Now, yet again, hydrogen is largely confounding its promoters.

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