Decarbonized hydrogen, i.e. hydrogen produced without emitting any greenhouse gas emissions, is expected to play an important role in the decarbonization of industry worldwide.
In this new series of analyses, Institut Montaigne will be looking at the different angles of the debate: first by identifying the issues underpinning the production and transport of carbon-neutral hydrogen; then by analyzing the hydrogen strategies of other countries, notably in Asia. Institut Montaigne will end with recommendations for a realistic EU hydrogen strategy that benefits not only the European Union (EU), but also France.
An inescapable energy vector with significant technical challenges
Hydrogen has a broad range of potential applications and several sectors are already using it, including for refining, chemical production, and transport purposes. Hydrogen cannot be easily sourced from nature - instead it must be produced from electricity or from fossil fuels before it can be used. Fossil fuels are still the main source of hydrogen production today.
Having long been confined to a small role in states’ energy mixes, hydrogen is now considered a central technology for advancing decarbonization efforts in world economies. Whether we are talking about green hydrogen – produced from renewable energy – or pink hydrogen – produced from nuclear energy – hydrogen is expected to play an essential role as an alternative to fossil fuels in many aspects of industrialization: from heavy and long haul transport, to steelmaking, cement and the chemical industry. It could also be used to store electricity produced from renewable energies - a significant opportunity given their intermittent nature.
Yet hydrogen still faces many technical challenges regarding its production, storage, and transport. These constraints, which stem from its physical properties, limit the scope of its development and use.
Tomorrow: an emerging global hydrogen economy?
Like the US, China and Japan, the EU is adopting its own hydrogen strategy. Each country will face choices in balancing the two options available to them: prioritize their own hydrogen production capacities or pursue a strategy of importing hydrogen from regions where green hydrogen production is abundant and cheaper.
With comparatively limited production capacities, the EU risks becoming dependent on producing countries. Such risks will have to be carefully examined and taken into account in any import-focused strategy.