Hydrogen Use in Thermal Power Plants

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Hydrogen power plants are facilities that utilize hydrogen as the primary fuel source to generate electricity. These plants offer a clean and sustainable alternative to fossil fuel-based power generation, producing only water vapor as a byproduct and contributing to a zero-emission energy future.

Impact on climate action

Hydrogen Power Plants within Low-Carbon Thermal Power advance climate action by producing electricity with zero carbon emissions. By utilizing hydrogen as a clean fuel source, these plants reduce reliance on fossil fuels, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy system, combating climate change.


  • Gas Turbines: Hydrogen can be used as a fuel in modified gas turbines, similar to natural gas. The hydrogen is combusted with air, and the resulting hot gases expand through a turbine, generating mechanical energy that is converted into electricity by a generator.
  • Fuel Cells: Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to convert the chemical energy of hydrogen directly into electricity, with high efficiency and low emissions.
  • Internal Combustion Engines: Hydrogen can also be used as a fuel in internal combustion engines, although this technology is less common for power generation applications.

TRL : 6-7 (depending on the specific technology)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Hydrogen Gas Turbine Development: Companies and research institutions are developing gas turbines specifically designed for hydrogen combustion, improving efficiency and reducing emissions.
  • Fuel Cell Advancements: Innovations in fuel cell technology, such as proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), are increasing efficiency and reducing costs, making hydrogen fuel cells more attractive for power generation.
  • Hydrogen Storage and Infrastructure: Advancements in hydrogen storage and distribution technologies, such as compressed hydrogen storage, liquid hydrogen storage, and hydrogen pipelines, are essential for enabling the widespread adoption of hydrogen power plants.
  • Hybrid Hydrogen Power Plants: Hybrid power plants that combine hydrogen with other renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, can provide a more reliable and consistent energy supply.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Hydrogen Gas Turbine Optimization
  • Hybrid Hydrogen Power Plant Integration
  • Renewable Energy Integration with Hydrogen
  • Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells
  • Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Development
  • Electrochemical Energy Conversion
  • Enhanced Turbine Performance for Hydrogen
  • Cost Reduction in Hydrogen Fuel Cells
  • Hydrogen Power Plant Infrastructure
  • Grid Integration of Hydrogen Power
  • Hydrogen Combustion Efficiency
  • Hydrogen Supply Chain Optimization
  • Hydrogen Power Plant Safety Measures
  • Hydrogen Emission Reduction Strategies

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. ZeroAvia:
    • Technology Enhancement: ZeroAvia focuses on developing hydrogen-electric powertrain solutions for aviation applications. While not a traditional hydrogen power plant, their technology aims to replace traditional aircraft engines with hydrogen fuel cells, enabling zero-emission flight. Their approach involves converting hydrogen into electricity through fuel cells to power electric motors, offering a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to conventional aviation propulsion systems.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: ZeroAvia stands out for its ambition to decarbonize the aviation industry by leveraging hydrogen fuel cell technology. Their approach to hydrogen-electric aviation has the potential to revolutionize air travel by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. By pioneering zero-emission aircraft technology, ZeroAvia aims to address one of the most challenging sectors in terms of carbon emissions.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: ZeroAvia targets the aviation industry, including commercial airlines, cargo operators, and regional transportation providers. Their hydrogen-electric powertrain solutions offer a sustainable alternative to conventional aircraft propulsion systems, catering to airlines seeking to reduce their carbon footprint and comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations.
  2. Universal Hydrogen:
    • Technology Enhancement: Universal Hydrogen focuses on developing a modular hydrogen distribution and storage infrastructure for aviation and other transportation sectors. Their concept involves using standardized containers to transport compressed hydrogen, which can be easily integrated into existing aircraft and refueling infrastructure. By providing a scalable and cost-effective solution for hydrogen logistics, Universal Hydrogen aims to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Universal Hydrogen stands out for its holistic approach to hydrogen transportation and storage, addressing critical barriers to the widespread adoption of hydrogen as a fuel. Their modular infrastructure concept offers a practical solution for overcoming the challenges associated with hydrogen distribution, enabling seamless integration into existing supply chains and infrastructure.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Universal Hydrogen serves the aviation industry, including airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and airports, seeking to transition to zero-emission hydrogen propulsion systems. Their modular hydrogen distribution and storage solutions cater to stakeholders looking to decarbonize air travel and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  3. HyPoint:
    • Technology Enhancement: HyPoint specializes in developing hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for aviation and urban air mobility applications. Their technology focuses on high-power-density proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells optimized for aerospace use. By leveraging advanced materials and design principles, HyPoint aims to deliver compact, lightweight, and efficient fuel cell systems capable of powering electric aircraft with extended range and endurance.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: HyPoint stands out for its expertise in high-power-density fuel cell technology tailored for aviation and urban air mobility. Their focus on maximizing power output while minimizing weight and volume positions them as a leading provider of hydrogen power solutions for electric aircraft. By offering scalable and efficient fuel cell systems, HyPoint aims to enable long-range zero-emission flight and accelerate the adoption of hydrogen propulsion in the aerospace industry.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: HyPoint targets the aerospace and urban air mobility sectors, including electric aircraft manufacturers, air taxi operators, and drone developers. Their hydrogen fuel cell powertrains offer a sustainable alternative to conventional aviation propulsion systems, addressing the need for zero-emission aircraft solutions in urban air transportation and regional air travel.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT is at the forefront of research on Hydrogen Power Plants, focusing on developing novel technologies and systems for utilizing hydrogen as a clean and sustainable fuel source in thermal power generation.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves exploring various pathways for hydrogen production, storage, and utilization in power generation applications, including gas turbines, combined cycle plants, and integrated energy systems. They investigate advanced materials, catalysts, and reactor designs for efficient hydrogen combustion, as well as carbon capture and utilization (CCU) technologies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in electricity generation, grid stabilization, and decarbonization of industrial processes. By advancing hydrogen power plant technologies, MIT’s research contributes to reducing fossil fuel dependency, mitigating air pollution, and combating climate change.
  2. Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford University conducts pioneering research on Hydrogen Power Plants, leveraging its expertise in energy systems, catalysis, and renewable fuels to develop innovative solutions for integrating hydrogen into thermal power generation infrastructure.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the development of hydrogen-fired boilers, steam turbines, and combined heat and power (CHP) systems for generating electricity and heat from hydrogen fuel. They also investigate novel hydrogen production methods, such as electrolysis, steam methane reforming (SMR), and biomass gasification, and explore the synergies between hydrogen and renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in district heating, industrial steam production, and backup power generation. By advancing hydrogen power plant technologies, Stanford’s research supports the transition to a hydrogen-based energy economy, enabling grid decarbonization, energy storage, and sector coupling across power, heat, and transportation sectors.
  3. Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Research Focus: TUM is engaged in innovative research on Hydrogen Power Plants, leveraging its expertise in thermodynamics, process engineering, and hydrogen technologies to develop efficient and sustainable solutions for thermal power generation using hydrogen.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves designing and optimizing hydrogen combustion systems, gas turbines, and combined heat and power (CHP) units tailored for hydrogen fuel. They also investigate the integration of renewable energy sources, such as biomass and excess wind power, with hydrogen production facilities to enable green hydrogen production and grid-balancing services.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in decentralized power generation, industrial cogeneration, and hydrogen infrastructure development. By advancing hydrogen power plant technologies, TUM’s research contributes to enhancing energy security, reducing emissions, and fostering the transition to a sustainable energy future based on hydrogen and renewable resources.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Hydrogen power plants are still in the early stages of commercialization, but several demonstration and pilot projects are underway. For example, Mitsubishi Power is developing a hydrogen-fueled gas turbine combined cycle power plant in Utah, USA.