Editorial Feature

Will Hydrogen Satisfy Enough Global Energy Demand by 2050?

Hydrogen production is a potential solution to the worldwide energy crisis and has gained attention as a substitute for fossil fuels due to its high energy content and potential for zero emissions. In this article, we delve into the evolving landscape of hydrogen demand, policies driving its growth, and the challenges that lie ahead.

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Growth of Hydrogen Demand for Energy Purposes

Hydrogen demand for energy purposes will grow substantially in the coming decades. In the 2030s, 23 Mt of the 131 Mt hydrogen produced worldwide will be used for energy.

By 2040, hydrogen demand for energy will catch up with the non-energy use of hydrogen. In 2050, only 30% of the global hydrogen supply will be used for non-energy purposes. A total of 39% will directly use hydrogen as energy, while 31% will be converted to ammonia or e-fuel for energy end users.

The Next Three Decades of Hydrogen Demand

During this decade, the high cost of hydrogen is expected to hinder its widespread adoption. Consequently, governments in Europe, North America, OECD Pacific, and China are anticipated to stimulate demand through policy support and incentives.

In the 2030s, the average price of hydrogen will reduce by half compared with the early 2020s. Despite growth in the global use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, it will remain smaller than its non-energy use.

In the 2040s, demand diversification is projected to be significantly emphasized as various hard-to-abate sectors will be compelled to utilize hydrogen or its derivatives to achieve decarbonization.

Policies for Hydrogen Transition

Renewable and low-carbon hydrogen is important as strategic energy carriers for an energy-secure future. However, realizing any innovation journey depends on regulatory frameworks promoting stakeholder cooperation and aligning decisions and collective competencies.

There is a need to co-evolve the hydrogen value chains and ‘ecosystems’ from production, distribution, and use. Simultaneously, the policy must facilitate the exploitation of additional renewable power capabilities and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) implementation, as both are essential for producing renewable hydrogen.

Current Limitations in Policies for Fulfilling Hydrogen Demand

There has been inadequate progress in implementing policies to stimulate demand. The majority of policies in place focus on supporting demand creation in transport applications, mainly through purchase subsidies (around 20 countries have subsidies in place for the purchase of FCEVs). 

Despite constituting a significant portion of present hydrogen demand and offering the most viable short-term avenue to generate demand for low-emission hydrogen, only a few policies are directed toward industrial applications.

What Barriers Policies and Regulatory Frameworks Must Target

Regulatory frameworks and policies need tailoring to overcome administrative, technical, and economic barriers to hydrogen scale-up, with safety as a cross-cutting priority.

These barriers involve costs, financial support, demand and competition, technology and manufacturing, safety and hazards, infrastructure and indirect enablers, and standards and certifications. These potential barriers must be overcome to facilitate a safe and accelerated scaling of hydrogen production, enabling infrastructure, and supporting new offtake.

Key Considerations for Policymakers to Enable Hydrogen Satisfy Global Energy Demand

Policies must target multiple sectors as renewable/low-carbon hydrogen can be a sustainable energy carrier, fuel, and chemical feedstock. Hydrogen can assist decarbonization where electrification is complex and will be used in making sustainable end products (e.g. ammonia/fertilizers), green materials (e.g. steel and aluminum), and low-carbon chemicals (e.g. methanol and plastics).

Policies must facilitate the acceleration of technological advancements that can support the utilization of hydrogen. To facilitate the production of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen, policies should prioritize expanding renewable power capacity, capturing and storing carbon technologies, and the development of new or retrofitted gas and power grids.

Policies should aim to remove barriers to large-scale investments.

Primary obstacles encompass the absence of a structured framework to ensure the source and traceability of hydrogen, the necessity to expand renewable power and CCS capacity while concurrently lowering CAPEX/OPEX expenditures, and the vital role of support mechanisms, such as elevated carbon pricing on fossil hydrogen, in facilitating low-carbon hydrogen adoption.

Regional Hydrogen Policy Developments

The European policies provide substantial funding to kick-start hydrogen production and cluster development scaling. In Europe, cost competitiveness against conventional fossil-fueled technologies is advanced through tightening carbon pricing.

The OECD Pacific and North America regions trail Europe. They also have strategies, targets, and funding pushing the supply side, but with lower carbon price levels and fewer or no carbon-pricing schemes.

China has recently provided a comprehensive outline of its funding and hydrogen prospects for 2035 in conjunction with expanding its national emissions trading scheme. However, definitive policy frameworks have yet to be established in sectors other than road transport.

Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa each include a few countries where the hydrogen policy agenda is firmly established with strategies and funding, mainly targeting hydrogen production for exports.

The Indian Subcontinent, where India holds a dominant economic position, has recently announced a hydrogen mission and funding program. This initiative emphasizes the domestic industrial consumption of hydrogen and aims to replace the current use of unabated fossil-fuel-based hydrogen. Nevertheless, the area has not yet implemented all-encompassing policies and regulatory structures, such as the imposition of carbon pricing.

Will Hydrogen Satisfy Enough Global Energy Demand by 2050?

Hydrogen currently represents a small fraction of the global energy mix, and its production is largely dependent on fossil fuels, which can result in greenhouse gas emissions.

To meet decarbonization and sustainability goals, significant advancements are needed in hydrogen production technologies that rely on renewable energy sources, low-carbon feedstocks, and advancements in hydrogen storage and transportation technologies.

There are ongoing policies by governments, industries, and research institutions worldwide to accelerate the development and deployment of hydrogen technologies. If these policies successfully address the technical, economic, and societal challenges, hydrogen could significantly satisfy global energy demand by 2050. However, it will require sustained investment, innovation, and collaboration among various stakeholders to realize the full potential of hydrogen as a clean energy source.

Conclusion

The potential of hydrogen to satisfy global energy demand by 2050 depends on technological advancements, economic viability, policy support, and societal acceptance. While hydrogen has the potential to be a versatile and clean energy carrier, overcoming challenges related to production costs, storage, transportation, and safety will be crucial for its widespread adoption.

References and Further Reading

IEA (2021) Global Hydrogen Review 2021. International Energy Agency, Paris. https://www.iea.org/ reports/global-hydrogen-review-2021

Jordal, K. et al. (2015). High-purity H2 production with CO2 capture based on coal gasification. Energy, 88(7), 1234.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360544215004788

Mneimneh, F. et al. (2023). Roadmap to Achieving Sustainable Development via Green Hydrogen. Energies16(3), 1368. https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/16/3/1368

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Usman Ahmed

Written by

Usman Ahmed

Usman holds a master's degree in Material Science and Engineering from Xian Jiaotong University, China. He worked on various research projects involving Aerospace Materials, Nanocomposite coatings, Solar Cells, and Nano-technology during his studies. He has been working as a freelance Material Engineering consultant since graduating. He has also published high-quality research papers in international journals with a high impact factor. He enjoys reading books, watching movies, and playing football in his spare time.

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