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Data-led development can build a responsive and resilient green H2 sector

Digital Technologies

H. GULATI, AVEVA, Lake Forest, California

With $500 B in the investment pipeline, the hydrogen (H2) economy has taken off in 2022. More than 350 large-scale H2 projects have been announced, including 28 giga-scale H2 production projects. Data-led development will help us build a responsive and resilient clean H2 energy sector. 

The world has shown its determination to slash greenhouse gas emissions and bring global warming levels down to 1.5°C on the road to tackling climate change. Achieving these ambitions is the task ahead of us, and the global community will need to use every tool in its arsenal. 

Technologies that utilize H2 to create energy show great promise. H2 gas can power households and factories and serve as fuel for cars, ships and planes when deployed effectively. In the process, it could play a vital role in reducing the use of fossil fuels and minimizing carbon emissions across several industries facing strict climate targets. 

H2 may be the missing link in the clean energy transformation. H2 is the simplest and most abundant element on earth and burns clean when mixed with oxygen. Pound for pound, H2 can deliver nearly three times the amount of energy as fossil fuels. Green H2—created using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels—can be produced wherever there is water and renewable electricity. Not only is it helping to decarbonize the chemical, industrial and transportation sectors, but since it can be produced during peak cycles, green H2 can be a way of storing excess energy to be returned to the grid when demand rises. 

A 2021 study1 produced for the sector’s major players estimates that H2 gas could help cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20% between now and 2050 and satisfy 15%–20% of energy demand. There are now 359 H2 fuel projects in development worldwide, with a total investment pipeline worth $500 B. That includes $150 B in mature investments.

The digital road to the green H2 sector. More companies are beginning to seek a place in this new H2 economy. Producing green H2, however, will require a multipronged approach that maximizes efficiency gains at every step along the way through optimized value chains and consistent operations.

As a sector that has come of age in the digital era, the new H2 economy will naturally depend on advanced technologies—including data, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)—to achieve the scale necessary for an actual transformative effect. By applying digital learnings from other sectors, we can avoid costly mistakes that could have long-term legacy effects. 

Let us look at four ways that technological advancements are making the most of the H2 transformation: 

  • Promoting shorter engineering and design cycles. Producing H2 gas requires building new electrolyzers. Given the tight deadline to realize our low-carbon goals, these facilities must be designed and constructed to function at the highest level with sustainability in mind, right from the outset. Therefore, short but effective design cycles are key to success. In both greenfield projects and brownfield renewable energy plants, digital process simulation can bring agility to the entire lifecycle of designing, prototyping, training and operating to accelerate the engineering cycle. Integrating design and build processes onto a single platform will allow businesses to function with global business footprints and remote working models so engineers anywhere can explore all dimensions of a potential design and quantify its impact on sustainability, feasibility and profitability.
  • Unifying data to improve decisions and optimize collaboration. In modern industrial organizations, every aspect of the production process is monitored and analyzed with sensors that can generate hundreds of thousands of data points. When collated across siloed departments and geographies, this information improves edge-to-enterprise visibility while promoting integration and collaboration across functional departments to enhance daily activities and processes. Along the way, operational inefficiencies are exposed, empowering critical decisions and adjustments that directly impact the bottom line.
  • Staying responsive with optimized value chains. The H2 economy is emerging during a complex time when it is essential to optimize every element of the value chain to derive maximum operating profit while satisfying regulatory requirements. Industrial data can be harnessed using cloud and digital twin technologies to improve responsiveness across the value chain. By closely monitoring operations in real time, optimization techniques can sharpen plant performance and profits while enabling troubleshooting production processes and rapid analysis using rigorous models. Concurrently, advanced supply chain oversight enables predictive responses to fluctuations in demand and available resources.
  • Expanding plant reliability through AI-infused predictive analytics. Reducing downtime is a constant challenge for industrial organizations, and it is no different for H2 production plants. Early warning notifications and diagnoses of equipment performance are essential to ensure that plants can operate to capacity when required, preventing mechanical or process failures. AI goes a long way to help asset-intensive organizations reduce equipment downtime and increase reliability while reducing operations and maintenance costs. The lack of historical data here could pose initial challenges to reducing downtime. However, facility staff can foresee equipment failure from the outset by applying lessons from related industries and embedding process simulation with predictive analytics from the start.

Green H2 is enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum, with an increasing number of policies and projects worldwide promoting and incentivizing its use. One example is a leading Australian power company working with the author’s company to build a new clean H2 project blueprint, using built-in templates and visualization tools to increase efficiency and improve collaboration, taking steps to advance towards its sustainability goals. This is just one of many examples of how companies turn to technology to help with a sustainable transition and shift to the responsible use of resources. Demand for H2 to power industrial processes has grown more than threefold since 1975, and supplying the gas is now a major business sector worldwide, according to International Energy Agency (IEA) reports. Both increased electrification and other fuel-switching strategies are expected to drive innovation and emissions reduction. Converging power and process can deliver energy efficiencies and cut industrial waste. Smart and green electricity with renewables and storage can shift how we power machines, processes and plants, tackling the use of resources across industrial value chains. 

Unlocking the enormous potential of green H2 will help us reach our climate goals faster. To do so within a limited time window, it is vital that organizations arm themselves with the most advanced tools available. 

We have been presented with the rare opportunity of building a new industry from the ground up. We must seize the moment to create the cleanest, greenest and most resilient energy sector.H2T


1 McKinsey & Company, Hydrogen Council, “Hydrogen insights: A perspective on hydrogen investment, market development and cost competitiveness,” February 2021, online: 

HARPREET GULATI has more than 23 yr of experience in the fields of process design, optimization, operations management, MES and enterprise supply chain. Dr. Gulati earned a PhD in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University and a BS degree in chemical engineering from IIT Technical Institute.