The need for alternative energy sources to reduce our fossil fuel use has put the spotlight on hydrogen, and its potential is promising. Hydrogen could become a main power source for cars, trucks and other vehicles in the future. And it could even be a solution for heating buildings. While we are still relatively in the early days of this technology, there are already many investment opportunities. We get into these investment opportunities later in this article, but first, we give you some background on hydrogen.
What is hydrogen?
Hydrogen is a molecule that is a combination of two hydrogen atoms, i.e., H2. It has long been used for a variety of industrial processes, such as fertiliser production or semiconductor manufacturing.
Production of grey hydrogen
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it's not often found on Earth on its own. It’s usually made by combining it with other elements. One way to make hydrogen is by heating hydrocarbons from oil or gas with steam. This requires fossil fuels and releases carbon monoxide and a small amount of carbon dioxide. As a result, this method is not a sustainable production process, which is why this hydrogen is also called grey hydrogen.
Blue and green hydrogen
Another way to produce hydrogen is by using electrolysis. With the help of electricity, water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity needed for this can be generated in different ways, for example, by using a gas or coal plant. The hydrogen made is also therefore considered gray hydrogen. If the CO2 released in electricity production is captured, it is called blue hydrogen. Of course, the electricity can also come from renewable sources, such as solar or wind energy. In this case, the hydrogen produced is called green hydrogen.
Driving on hydrogen
As mentioned, hydrogen-powered automobiles are currently on roads. This is possible thanks to fuel cells. A fuel cell allows hydrogen and oxygen to be combined, generating electricity, with the only residual product being water.
Compared to an electric car with a battery, a hydrogen car has several advantages. A hydrogen car can travel farther on a full tank than an electric car on a full charge. Also, filling up with hydrogen takes about the same time as filling up a gasoline or diesel tank. Charging the battery of an electric car takes much longer.
The downside is that there is hardly any refueling infrastructure for hydrogen cars yet. On the other hand, charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is growing rapidly. This is one reason why electric cars are more common than hydrogen-powered cars.
Hydrogen cars have been a big promise for a long time
People have been talking about the potential of hydrogen cars for years. For example, back in 2003, former US President George W. Bush said that the first car of a then newborn baby should be able to be a hydrogen car. This did not become a reality, but due to the great interest in sustainability because of climate change and the importance governments attach to it, hydrogen has been in the spotlight again for a few years.
Besides cars, there are also some hydrogen-powered trucks currently in use. And this technology has the potential to be used in other forms of transportation in the future, like shipping. Outside the transportation sector, green hydrogen could be used in industries that require high temperatures to reduce CO2 emissions. It could also be used for households that heat their homes with gas.
Development of demand for green hydrogen
Currently, the vast majority of hydrogen produced is grey hydrogen. But this is expected to change. Globally, governments have committed themselves to a rapid reduction of CO2 emissions. Large investment programs have been set up in both Europe and the US for the development and rollout of sustainable technology. China has included the hydrogen industry in its latest five-year plan (2021-2025) as one of the six industries of the future.
Fertiliser producer OCI, for example, is betting heavily on the rise of hydrogen. The company, which has a stock exchange listing in Amsterdam, thinks demand for green hydrogen will increase tenfold in the next ten years. At the same time, technological developments should halve the price of green hydrogen.
Investing in hydrogen stocks
The growth of the hydrogen industry and its potential uses have created many stock-investment opportunities. Several large companies are active in the production of hydrogen or fuel cells that can power vehicles. An important advantage of investing in these large companies is that they also have many other streams of revenue aside from hydrogen, which helps with diversification. For example, if hydrogen developments are slower than expected, these companies may suffer less than one solely focused on hydrogen. Here are a few examples of large companies involved in hydrogen:
Energy giant Shell has been researching the possible applications of hydrogen for decades. The company has a lot of expertise in-house and believes it can play a leading role in the development of the hydrogen economy. In addition to hydrogen, Shell invests on a large scale in other sustainable technologies. Of course, Shell depends on oil and gas for most of its sales and profits. An investment in the company is therefore only partially exposed to the hydrogen industry.
France's Air Liquide has long been a major producer of hydrogen. The company has over sixty years of experience in this field and has unique knowledge of the entire hydrogen value chain. The company wants to make hydrogen production progressively more sustainable. Since 2020, it has increased investments in hydrogen-based mobility.
Japanese group Toyota is a frontrunner when it comes to the hydrogen car. It was the first automaker to put a hydrogen car into production, the Toyota Mirai, in 2014. As of 2022, global sales of the Mirai were just over twenty thousand. Toyota has great hopes for the hydrogen economy. It started building Woven City at the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan's highest mountain, in 2021. This is a small city that runs entirely on hydrogen and will be a testing ground for the widespread use of hydrogen as an energy source.
Korea-based Hyundai is another car manufacturer working with hydrogen. The company wants to introduce a hydrogen version of all its models from 2028 onwards. To make this possible, it is investing billions in the development and commercialisation of hydrogen technology. Right now, only its NEXO Fuel Cell model runs on hydrogen.
Investing in smaller hydrogen stocks
You can also invest in smaller companies that focus purely on the development of hydrogen as an important part of the energy transition. Since these companies are smaller and less diversified, there can be more risk involved. If the development of hydrogen ultimately is slower than expected, these smaller companies may see more consequences. Stock prices of these companies may also be more volatile. However, where there is a big risk, there can also be a big reward. Here are examples of smaller hydrogen companies:
This Swedish company was founded in 2008 as a spin-out of Volvo Group. It has patented fuel cell technology, putting it at the forefront of technological development. Its products are used in a wide range of industries, such as aviation and marine.
Ballard Power is based in Canada and manufactures fuel cells for a variety of applications, from buses to ships. The company was founded in 1979 and has been publicly listed since 1993.
Norwegian company Nel ASA has several technologies to enable the transition to a hydrogen economy. It provides devices for electrolysis, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, as well as equipment for storage and hydrogen refueling.
This American company offers complete hydrogen solutions mainly to large businesses, including Amazon, BMW and Boeing. It can supply a complete fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles but also a hydrogen-based emergency power supply for data centers. The company went public in New York in 1999.
FuelCell Energy focuses on large plants to produce electricity from hydrogen with fuel cells. It has power suppliers, universities, municipalities and other government agencies as customers. In addition to a facility in the US, FuelCell Energy also has a facility in Germany. The company is listed on the Nasdaq in New York.
Investing in hydrogen with ETFs
In addition to investing in individual shares, you can also invest in a basket of hydrogen shares with ETFs (exchange-traded funds). In this way, you invest in many fractions of hydrogen stocks with a single investment. One example of a hydrogen ETF you can invest in is L&G Hydrogen Economy (ISIN: IE00BMYDM794).
- Hydrogen is growing as an alternative energy source, with the potential to have widespread use in powering vehicles and cutting down CO2 emissions in other industries.
- Most hydrogen produced is grey hydrogen, which produces CO2 as a biproduct. More green and blue hydrogen will need to be produced to play an important role in our clean energy future.
- Increased hydrogen use presents many investment opportunities, including stocks and ETFs.
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The information in this article is not written for advisory purposes, nor does it intend to recommend any investments. Please be aware that facts may have changed since the article was originally written. Investing involves risks. You can lose (a part of) your deposit. We advise you to only invest in financial products that match your knowledge and experience. Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protection against loss in declining markets.
Sources: Shell, EIA, OCI, Nikkei, Toyota, Air Liquide, Powercell Sweden, Ballard Power, Nel ASA, World Economic Forum