Working group 4 report, 2021

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The most abundant chemical element in the universe, hydrogen, has been a source of hope for two centuries now. But the post-carbon era, where hydrogen will have contributed to ousting fossil energy, has not yet come. For now, its uses are indeed very concentrated in the chemical industry (ammonia for making fertiliser) and the petrochemical industry (for refining), but this hydrogen is very “grey”, 95% produced using gas and coal (the H2 molecule not being available in the natural state). As part of the fight against climate change, still far from hopes, hydrogen, for now, is part of the problem, causing the emission of close to one billion tonnes of CO2 per year across the world.

But the European Union, which aims for carbon neutrality by 2050, rekindles hope of the emergence of a clean hydrogen economy in its Green Deal: echoed by Germany, France or Italy for example, which have planned for billions of euros to build a hydrogen sector. The goal is to mass produce hydrogen by water electrolysis, using low-carbon electricity (wind, solar, hydraulic, nuclear, etc.) or which emissions will be captured and stored. Apart from the fight against global warming, the challenge is to improve air quality and the security of energy supplies, while shoring jobs and added industrial value in Europe.

This initiative targets the potential of the hydrogen carrier in the greening of sectors hard to decarbonise such as industry (refinery, metallurgy) and heavy transport (buses, trucks, ships, planes). The boom in variable renewable energies also raises a storage issue, which hydrogen could contribute to resolving.

This report highlights the conditions of a drop in hydrogen production costs by 2030. It also focuses on the most efficient uses of hydrogen by 2030 and questions about “phasing them in” over time and the development of associated infrastructure. Industry and safety stakes hydrogen raises are also highlighted in the report.