University of Tennessee Professor Matthew Mench reviewed the recent history of hydrogen research in Foreign Affairs, “High Hopes for Hydrogen: Fuel Cells and the Future of Energy.”
Most folks know the history of George W. Bush’s push to develop the hydrogen fuel cell car around 2004. Today we have the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Tucson, and Honda Clarity to thank for making the dream a reality. This all came in spite of Barrack Obama’s dismantling of the US hydrogen research infrastructure in 2009. Steven Chu, the lead of the Department of Energy at the time famously said “four miracles are needed for the hydrogen economy… Saints only need three.”
As it turns out, and I’m very glad I didn’t know about it at the time, 2010 (aside from 2009) might have been the worst time in history to start a hydrogen research lab. We just so happened to start the HYPER lab in 2010. A glut of hydrogen researchers were suddenly on the market without a chance of getting funding for the foreseeable future.
The one other questionable thing I did during this period was to invest heavily in the stockmarket in January of 2009 (or 2010?) when everyone was terrified of global economic collapse. At the time I thought there was no safer bet in history. I invested in raw material providers for energy and information infrastructure, knowing that the Obama administration would use these in stimulus. Within 4 months the three stocks I invested in tripled in value. We made a clean break and haven’t gone back.
The same line of reasoning can be used to explain why 2010 may have been a very good time to start a hydrogen lab: no competition. This has allowed us 5 years to build core lab capabilities now that the US hydrogen economy is coming around.
To some it up, Mench’s article concludes with, “One can debate whether all of Chu’s four miracles have actually occurred. But what is clear now is that entities outside the United States will be the ones most likely to profit from them.” While that may be true Matthew, don’t count us out just yet!