Engineering Toward a Hydrogen-Fueled World

Thu, May 16, 2024

Engineers and world leaders are navigating the complex task of sourcing clean energy as the demand for renewable resources rises. Of the growing options in renewable energy ecosystem, hydrogen is promising, but while it has potential the road to implementation is not without challenges.

COE-NAE-Regional_Meeting-041724-028.JPGThe 2024 National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Regional Meeting on “Clean Hydrogen for Energy Transition” convened experts in hydrogen production, storage, and transportation to discuss the status of a hydrogen economy and what is in store for hydrogen energy in the United States.

Hosted by the University of Delaware (UD), Exxon Mobil, and The Chemours Company in Newark, Delaware, on April 17, the event featured presentations, tours, discussions and networking opportunities that centered on the critical challenges and opportunities in the production, storage, transportation, and conversion of hydrogen for clean and efficient fuel cells.

“The strength of the NAE is its convening power. It is our ability to bring together diverse expertise to address some of the greatest challenges facing our nation,” said NAE President John Anderson. “Today, clean and sustainable energy is at the forefront of change. I thank the University of Delaware, ExxonMobil, Chemours and all the engineers and innovators who are working to make hydrogen power a viable alternative for providing lower-carbon solutions for a sustainable energy future.” Anderson added.

UD is a hub for hydrogen energy production because of its investments in research, industry, and training highly skilled clean energy workforce. Members of the NAE enjoyed a tour of the on-campus labs that are leading in hydrogen research, including the Chemours Discovery Hub and Bloom Energy.

Opening Session

Levi Thompson, dean of the UD College of Engineering and Elizabeth Inez Kelley Professor of Chemical Engineering, NAE President John Anderson, and UD President Dennis Assanis opened the symposium with remarks on the current state of hydrogen before presenters showcased the future.

COE-NAE-Regional_Meeting-041724-074.JPGDelivering the keynote address, Sunita Satyapal, director of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy, commented on the process of getting the nation to a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. “It’s not just what these goals are but how we achieve them,” she said. According to Satyapal, in the past, innovation often left socioeconomics out of the process. She encouraged current and future engineers to keep in mind that innovation serves everyone and that they need to “make sure we don’t make the same mistakes we did in the past.”

Kathy Ayers, vice president of research and development at Nel Hydrogen, discussed the growing production capacity of proton-exchange membrane electrolysis. Ayers stated that translating results from the lab to a marketable product “is a complex process,” but despite that, labs are ready and poised for expansion.


Afternoon sessions opened with video remarks from Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), followed by presentations by industry leaders on their current capabilities in hydrogen and their future goals.

Intending to make green hydrogen a ubiquitous fuel, Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh and Chief Technology Officer Tim Cortes highlighted Plug’s new liquefaction technology.

“This has been a labor of love for us,” Cortes said. According to Cortes, the expectations for Plug products are for the technology to reduce the number of turbo expanders, parasitic losses like heat leaks and gas, the required number of heat exchanger cores, and more. “It goes to show you it’s here, it’s today, and it’s happening.”

COE-NAE-Regional_Meeting-041724-002.JPGEngineers at General Motors are also gearing up to advance hydrogen technology, especially hydrogen fuel cells. Craig Gittelman, Engineering Group manager, detailed the company’s National Zero Emission Vehicle program, which includes goals for zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion. One avenue that General Motors is taking toward that goal is the proton-exchange membrane fuel cell, which is a cost-conscious take on hydrogen energy.

Many presenters acknowledged that collaboration is necessary in the hydrogen world. During his presentation, Dave Dankworth, Hydrogen Technology Portfolio manager at ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering Company, stated, “Individual technological hurdles are often solved by partnership.” Dankworth called on collaboration and technological innovation to bridge the gaps in large complex projects because creating hydrogen is difficult. The companies that can create, store, and disperse hydrogen can offer each other support during the clean energy transition, he noted.

Barry Sharpe, vice president of operations and general manager at the Bloom Manufacturing Center of Delaware, also encouraged collaboration in positing hydrogen energy. Sharpe noted that it will take a coordinated and concerted effort to make the hydrogen economy a reality.

Meeting participants were also introduced to UD’s 17-year Fuel Cell Bus Program. The research program aimed to build a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses and a hydrogen refuel station in Delaware. Begun in 2005 and dispersed in five phases, the program succeeded and showed the nation that a zero-emission, hydrogen-powered fleet of transit vehicles could be implemented. This success led to the creation of the University of Delaware Center for Fuel Cells and Batteries, which houses the base for all fuel cell- and hydrogen-infrastructure-related activities on the campus.

The event also featured an interactive poster session that provided opportunities for networking and information sharing between industry leaders and graduate students.

Photos courtesy of The University of Delaware.