Clean hydrogen for a lower carbon future
The transition towards a lower carbon emissions future requires mobilizing a wide range of technologies to ensure that energy supply remains secure and affordable. Clean hydrogen offers significant potential to reduce CO2 emissions, especially when produced from decarbonized electricity or combined with carbon management technologies, such as carbon capture and utilization or storage (CCUS) technology. Furthermore, hydrogen is capable of facilitating energy transitions in sectors that are technically difficult to decarbonize, such as flexible power generation, transport, heating, and energy-intensive industry.
Clean hydrogen can be produced from different sources, including renewable electricity (green hydrogen) and natural gas reforming with carbon management technologies (blue hydrogen). If hydrogen is produced with biomass or biogas with carbon management technologies, this would result in negative emissions, removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Nearly ¾ of hydrogen produced in the world today comes from natural gas reforming, which produces hydrogen and CO2. When the reforming process is combined with CCUS, the CO2 is captured and then utilized or stored underground, making the so-called blue hydrogen almost carbon-free. Available CO2 capture technologies for hydrogen production from natural gas can achieve capture rates of over 93% (Hydrogen for Europe, Ifpen and Syntef, 2019). An alternative low-carbon process to produce clean hydrogen from natural gas is pyrolysis, which does not release CO2 to the atmosphere, but rather produces solid carbon as a byproduct. Moreover, even when combined with CCUS, investment costs for producing hydrogen from natural gas are currently significantly lower than those for electrolysis from renewable electricity.
Industry – Hydrogen can be used in a wide range of industrial applications as an alternative to current fuels and feedstocks, or as a complement to the greater use of electricity in these applications. In transport (heavy-duty vehicles and in the maritime sector), heating, energy intensive industries such as steel production and in flexible power generation – hydrogen can be directly used or converted to hydrogen-based fuels, including synthetic methane, synthetic liquid fuels, ammonia, and methanol.
Power generation and storage – Power generation offers many opportunities for hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels: Hydrogen and ammonia can be flexible generation options when used in gas turbines or fuel cells. At the low-capacity factors typical of flexible power plants, hydrogen (which costs under USD 2.5/kg) is a financially competitive option. In the longer term, hydrogen can play a role in large-scale and long-term storage to balance seasonal variations in energy demand.
Transport – Hydrogen can be used as fuel in several different ways: in fuel cells for vehicles or vessels, in a dual fuel mixture with conventional diesel heavy fuel oils (HFO), as a replacement for HFO for use in combustion machinery, and as the basis for producing synthetic jet fuel.
Heating – The largest near-term opportunity in buildings is blending hydrogen into existing natural gas networks. The potential is highest in multifamily and commercial buildings, particularly in dense cities, where conversion to renewable heat pumps is more challenging than elsewhere. Longer-term prospects in heating could include the direct use of hydrogen in hydrogen boilers or fuel cells.
Clean hydrogen, along with other low carbon technologies, are key for a clean and secure energy future. As the global energy demand rises, as well as the hydrogen demand, this is a crucial time to scale up the future of hydrogen, keeping in mind the great potential of natural gas as an abundant, cost-effective, and reliable source.