Hydrogen has great potential for use in a wide range of commercial applications, but it comes with a set of challenges.
In the framework of the EU Green Deal, hydrogen is a versatile resource that can contribute to the decarbonisation of several sectors such as energy, transport and industry in general.
In a near future, our heating systems, our trains and cars, or the steel produced in the EU for example, could be powered by hydrogen. It could account for 24% of final energy demand and it is expected to generate 5.4 million jobs by 2050.
With this potential, the EU plans to lead on hydrogen technologies and large-scale deployment as it faces international competition from Japan and South Korea, for example.
Of course, hydrogen comes with challenges. At the moment, it is both difficult and expensive to produce. It is also tricky to work with: it is a gas that quickly escapes through leaks in storage or transport infrastructure.
On the production side, most of the hydrogen available today is called grey hydrogen, produced from fossil fuels. A greener intermediate solution would be to capture carbon emissions from traditional production through carbon capture and storage (CCS). This is called blue hydrogen. However, CCS technologies are still in early stages of development. The ultimate goal is using green hydrogen, which is produced entirely by electricity from electrolysis of water, but its high cost means it’s not yet an economically viable option.
On the infrastructure point, hydrogen could be blended with natural gas and transported through existing gas infrastructure, but the pipelines need to be adapted to transport higher levels of blending and to extract hydrogen close to the point of end use.
Despite these challenges, the hydrogen industry is rapidly growing. The Hydrogen Council says the cost of producing hydrogen could be halved by 2030, opening up commercial applications like heavy-duty transport.
Hydrogen has momentum in Brussels, and the EU is expected to propose initiatives to foster its development, whether it is a more specific gas strategy or included in overall industrial strategy.