Green Hydrogen: 3M Increases R&D in Decarbonization and Renewable Fuels


Green hydrogen is created from renewable energy sources through the electrolysis of water. Green hydrogen has a lower carbon footprint than grey hydrogen. Hydrogen is harmless to the atmosphere and is stored and converted into electricity and heat. It is one of the important approaches to the circular carbon economy (CCE) as it is generated with solar energy. It is produced using renewable energy sources instead of the carbon-based energy found in natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Green Hydrogen Market value was worth USD 1.45 billion in 2021 and will reach USD 75.72 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 55.1% during the forecast period 2021-2030.

Current scenario 

Currently, almost all hydrogen produced in the world is “grey,” which means it is derived from natural gas. Grey hydrogen is inexpensive but adds to the challenge of improving environmental sustainability. On the other hand, green hydrogen is created through electrolysis, which splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity. Green hydrogen is a better long-term solution to help decarbonize economies because it doesn’t require fossil fuels. In some regions, green hydrogen is more costly than grey hydrogen, costing between €3 and €8/kg.

The markets with an abundance of affordable renewable resources are the most desirable for producing green hydrogen. Green hydrogen, for instance, could currently be produced for €3 to €5/kg in certain regions of the Middle East, Africa, Russia, the US, and Australia. Production costs in Europe range from €3 to €8/kg. It is easiest to achieve the lower end of these ranges in areas with access to inexpensive renewable energy plants.

However, production costs will decline over time as a result of continuously declining costs for producing renewable energy, economies of scale, and technological advancements. Green hydrogen will consequently become more affordable.

3M is increasing its research and development into cutting-edge technology to reduce carbon emissions and utilize renewable energies. 3M is investing and developing materials for green hydrogen and low-carbon intensity energy separation through cross-functional international teams, 3M Corporate Research, and 3M Ventures, the company’s corporate venture arm.

3M developing solutions to lower carbon emission

3M uses materials science to make green hydrogen production more cost-effective and efficient. Green hydrogen is a sustainable fuel that is created using renewable energy and emits no operational carbon emissions. This type of hydrogen could provide a solution for hard-to-decarbonize industries like steel and long-distance transportation. The company is developing a catalyst technology utilized in water electrolysis, which is the primary method of producing green hydrogen, with help from the US Department of Energy (DOE).

  • The Nanostructured Supported Iridium Catalyst Powder developed by the business decreases the amount of iridium, a rare precious metal, needed to meet the stringent efficiency and longevity criteria of water electrolyzers.
  • Customers may benefit from significant cost savings as a result of the catalyst technology, removing another barrier to the implementation and development of green hydrogen production.
  • Given that over 95% of present hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels, 3M sees a significant opportunity to meet customer needs in the area of green hydrogen, which is predicted to increase from a $450 million market in 2021 to a $4.3 billion market by 2026.
  • 3M is also exploring new applications in low-carbon intensity energy separations by leveraging its experience in membrane separation technology. While membrane separations are well-established technology in a variety of industries (many of which 3M has advanced), the business believes that new solutions can improve and scale up renewable fuel generation, battery recycling, and decarbonization technologies such as carbon capture.
  • When fully commercialized, this climate technology research will enhance 3M’s portfolio of climate solutions, which includes a substantial focus on automotive electrification, and expands on external investments by 3M Ventures, which include continued support of the TPG Rise Climate fund.

Climate Innovation

These advancements are part of 3M’s broader cross-industry climate portfolio, which has the potential to have a scaled impact on some of the most vital areas, such as manufacturing, transportation, construction, and retail. Solutions, in addition to green hydrogen catalyst technology, include:

  • Passive Radioactive Cooling Film: When placed atop Sky Cool Systems panels and coupled with a building’s HVAC or refrigeration system, this multi-layer film offers 24/7 passive thermal management and 10-20% energy savings.
  • Prestige Series Sun Control Window Film: This film delivers energy savings and solar protection while keeping natural light and interior aesthetics by rejecting up to 97% of the sun’s infrared radiation and 60% of the heat coming through a window.
  • Natural Pozzolans: This technology can be used as a partial cement replacement to reduce concrete’s carbon footprint. CO2 emissions can be decreased by 0.75 tonnes for every tonne of natural pozzolans used to replace concrete.
  • Scotch Cushion Lock Protective Wrap: To aid in the sustainability of shipping, this wrap is composed of 100% recycled paper and is curbside recyclable after use. It can expand to fill a box with up to 60% less material than a plastic bubble (based on a 1-cubic-foot box vs. a 3/16′′ plastic bubble).
  • 3M Cool Roofing Granules: When used in shingles, this product can help save energy and money by absorbing less heat and reflecting sunlight than a typical roof. It can also help lessen the impacts of urban heating.
  • 3M Smog-reducing Granules: This embedded technology in roofing tiles can help reduce smog pollutants and enhance urban air quality.
  • 3M Thinsulate 100% Recycled Featherless Insulation: Made of 100% post-consumer recycled materials, this material is as light as natural down and functions well when it is wet.
  • 3M Boron Nitride Cooling Fillers: By incorporating this technology into a variety of thermal management solutions, manufacturers may simplify critical heat removal in electric vehicle battery packs, motors, electronics, and antennas.

Its new objective is to use 20% less water in 2025 and cut CO2 emissions by half by 2030, making its operations more sustainable. At the same time, 3M is committed to reducing waste and boosting recycling rates. It also wants to use more renewable resources in its products and packaging.

Key Opportunity

The emergence of new applications and users for hydrogen may present new business opportunities for the global green hydrogen market sector. Electric vehicles, nuclear energy, renewable energy, airships, energy storage, electrification, ammonia and fertilizers, water generation, transport and mobility, petroleum products, and the steel industry can now use green hydrogen. In 2020, the International Energy Agency estimated that approximately 26,000 passenger cars, 6000 buses, 49 light commercial vehicles, 3000 medium-duty trucks, and 14 heavy-duty trucks would use hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel efficiency of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is twice that of conventional gasoline vehicles.

The broadening and penetration of newer markets might promote the expansion of the global industry. For instance, establishing the green hydrogen markets in the US and India could boost the hydrogen economy and propel the overall expansion of the hydrogen industry and the green hydrogen market. According to the US Department of Energy, there are currently 6500 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road.