A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe

The EU Hydrogen Strategy will give a boost to clean hydrogen production in Europe. To become climate-neutral by 2050, Europe needs to transform its energy system, which accounts for 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen can be used as a feedstock, a fuel or an energy carrier and storage, and has many possible applications which would re­duce greenhouse gas emissions across industry, transport, power and buil­dings sectors. Green hydrogen is expected to play a key role in the decarbonisation of sectors where other alternatives might not be feasible or be more expensive. This includes heavy-duty and long-range transport and energy-intensive industrial processes.

Hydrogen accounts for less than 2% of Europe’s present energy consumption and is primarily used to produce chemical products, such as plastics and fertilisers (96% of this hydrogen production is produced through natural gas, emitting significant amounts of  CO2 emissions in the process). Hydrogen can however also be produced from renewable energy (so-called renewable hydrogen or green hydrogen).

Renewable hydrogen or green hydrogen:

Renewable »green« hydrogen can be produced in electrolysers by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen using renewable electricity. Renewable hydrogen can in turn be used to produce industrial products, such as green fertilisers and green steel. It can also be used in the mobility sector, especially in heavy-duty and long-distance transport applications. It is also compatible with an electricity sector that is increasingly dominated by renewable power generation, providing long-term and large-scale storage, and flexibility to the energy system. Renewable hydrogen can therefore help balance supply and demand of electricity in isolated or stand-alone regions of the EU, or for specific and local uses, concentrated in a city or restricted area. The EU Commission’s economic recovery plan »Next Generation EU« lists hydrogen as an investment priority to boost economic growth and resilience, create local jobs and consolidate the EU’s global leadership.

EU strategy for energy system integration:

The EU strategy for energy system integration will outline a vision to create a smarter, more integrated and optimised energy system, in which all sectors can fully contribute to decarbonisation. Main pillars of EU strategy for energy system integration are:

  1. »Circular« energy sistem, with energy efficiency at its core. The strategy will identify concrete actions to apply the »energy efficiency first« principle in practice and to use local energy sources more effectively in buildings and communities. The strategy explains a significant potential in the reuse of waste heat from industrial sites, data centres, or other sources, and energy produced from bio-waste or in wastewater treatment plants.
  2. Greater direct electrifaction of end-use sectors. The power sector has the highest share of renewables, so the EU can use electricity wherever its possible to do so; for example for heat pumps in buildings, electric vehicles in transport or electric furnaces in certain industries. A network of one million electric vehicle charging points will be among the visible results, along with the expansion of solar and wind power.
  3. Clean fuels, where electrification is difficult. This includes renewable hydrogen and sustainable biofuels and biogas. The European Commission will also propose a new classification and certification system for renewable and low-carbon fuels.

Hydrogen will be therefore an important element of that strategy, but its key role and its wider scope requires a specific approach. That approach is the EU’s hydrogen strategy.

EU hydrogen strategy:

In the context of previous mentioned strategy, the European Commission adopted  a new dedicated strategy on hydrogen in Europe on 8 July 2020, in parallel with the Strategy on energy system integration. It will bring together different strands of action, from research and innovation over production and infrastructure to the international dimension. The new hydrogen strategy (shortly: The strategy) will explore the potential of clean hydrogen to help the process of decarbonising the EU economy in a cost-effective way, in line with the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, set out in the European Green Deal. It should also contribute to the recovery from the economic effects of COVID-19. The strategy will explore actions to support the production and use of clean hydrogen, focusing in particular on the mainstreaming of renewable hydrogen. The gradual transition will require a phased approach, which is seen on the figure below:

Figure: The European hydrogen path (Source)

Certain sectors are likely to remain reliant on combustible fuels for various purposes in future. This means that the EU’s carbon-neutral ambition is unlikely to be achieved alone by the greater use of electrification. One potential solution is to convert renewable energy sources into hydrogen, as the processed hydrogen provides high-grade heat that can be used in transport as fuels, in industries as material and in agriculture for fertilisers. The storage potential of hydrogen is particularly beneficial for power grids, as hydrogen allows for renewable energy sources to be kept, not only in large quantities, but also for long periods. Significantly, this means that hydrogen can help improve the flexibility of energy systems by balancing out supply and demand when there is either too much or not enough power generation. This will also help boost energy efficiency throughout Europe.

 The Hydrogen will be promoted in Europe in various vays:

  • The production of clean hydrogen needs to be increased by creating a sustainable industrial value chain.
  • The EU should boost the demand for clean hydrogen coming from industrial applications and mobility technolgies.
  • Clean hydrogen needs a supportive framework, well-functioning markets and clear rules, as well as dedicated infrastructure and a logistical network.
  • Promoting research and innovation in clean hydrogen technologies is crucial.
  • Europe we will secure cooperation opportunities with neighboring countries and regions of the EU and work to establish a global hydrogen market.
  • The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance will help build up a robust pipeline of investments.

EU’s priority is to develop clean, renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy as the most compatible option with the EU’s climate neutrality goal in the long term. However, in the short and medium term other forms of low-carbon hydrogen are needed to rapidly reduce emissions from existing hydrogen production and support the development of a viable market at a significant scale. To target support at the cleanest available technologies, the European Commission will work to introduce a comprehensive terminology and certification, to define renewable and other forms of hydrogen. It will be based on life-cycle carbon emissions, anchored in existing climate and energy legislation, and in line with the EU taxonomy for sustainable investments.

Research initiatives:

The EU also promotes several research and innovation projects on hydrogen within the Horizon 2020 framework. These projects are managed through the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), a joint public-private partnership that is supported by the European Commission. The European Commission and FCH JU are association partners in Hydrogen Europe, the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association. Hydrogen Europe promotes hydrogen as the enabler of a zero emission society.

Sources for this article:

 Link to the Official document: A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe

Prepared by: Dejan Tasić, mag. inž. energ., project coordinator at Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Štajerska