Hydrogen beyond the hype

Hanno Böck - https://hboeck.de/

Hydrogen tank


There is currently a lot of interest in hydrogen as a climate solution

The idea of a "Hydrogen Economy" goes back to the 70s and was popular again in the early 2000s

Not much came out of it, but it may be different this time

Hydrogen Roadmap Wasserstoffstategie

The EU plans to invest 140 Billion Euro into hydrogen projects

Hydrogen is interesting because it can help bring emissions down in hard to decarbonize sectors

Hydrogen today

Hydrogen is a dirty business

Today most hydrogen is made from fossil fuels and it is responsible for around 2 % of worldwide CO2 emissios

Hydrogen is primarily used for ammonia production and sulfur removal in oil refineries

The Future

Green Hydrogen


Using renewable electricity and electrolysis to split water

Hydrogen from electrolysis only exists in very small scales today

So what can and should we do with hydrogen?

Every energy conversion step introduces losses

Whenever you can use electricity directly this is likely better

It's not about cars!

Hydrogen fuel cell car

There are areas where using electricity directly is difficult or impossible


Steel Blast Furnace

Grubb, Public Domain

In steel production coal is used to reduce iron ore, steel is responsible for around 8% of worldwide CO2 emissions

Several companies are working on a process called direct reduced iron that can use hydrogen as a reducing chemical

Plastics and Chemicals

Hydrogen and CO2 can be turned into Methanol (CH3OH), which can then be turned into plastics and many other chemicals

Problem: Where do you get the CO2 from?

Ammonia (NH3)

Ammonia for fertilizers is made from (fossil) hydrogen and nitrogen, replacing this with green hydrogen is an obvious step

Ammonia may also be an option as a fuel in some sectors, especially shipping

The advantage of Ammonia (NH3) over Methanol (CH3OH) or other hydrocarbons is that it does not contain carbon and thus it does not need CO2

More things to do with hydrogen

  • Aviation (challenging, but probably needed)
  • Shipping (may be crushed between electric and ammonia-powered)
  • Heavy transport, trucks, busses (questionable)
  • Hydrocarbon E-Fuels (expensive, inefficient)
  • Heat (questionable)
  • Seasonal electricity storage (expensive, but likely needed)

The scale of this is enormous

Some numbers for Germany

55 TWh of hydrogen used per year.

80 TWh is expected to be needed for steel in 2050.

251 TWh renewable electricity was produced in 2019.

(conversion losses 20% - 10%)

A lot more renewable electricity is needed

Wind energy

For some countries (like Germany) this probably means importing hydrogen

Hydrogen is difficult to transport, so the question is if you import hydrogen or products made from hydrogen (like ammonia)

A molecule of ammonia (NH3) contains more hydrogen than in a molecule of hydrogen (H2)



George Hodan, PublicDomainPictures.net, CC0

Today green hydrogen is more expensive than fossil hydrogen

Cheaper green hydrogen needs cheap renewables and cheap electrolyseurs

Technology gets cheaper at scale

Wind and solar energy became cheap because some countries started installing them above market prices

The same needs to happen with electrolyseurs

Hydrogen, Politics and Lobbying

The natural gas industry is heavily trying to influence the discussion around hydrogen

Today's hydrogen production is usually based on natural gas, and often today's hydrogen projects use fossil hydrogen

The industry advocates for fossil gas based "low-carbon" hydrogen options like CCS-based "blue" hydrogen and methane pyrolysis

The natural gas industry is pushing for hydrogen in residential heating

This does not make a lot of sense, heat pumps are extremely efficient

Why residential heating?

The natural gas grid

EUGAL Gas meters

Gas meters: Raysonho, CC0

EUGAL: Hanno Böck, CC0

If the world gets serious about climate change then most of the gas grid becomes worthless

The industry hopes to repurpose that grid for hydrogen

It is a good idea to use existing infrastructure for hydrogen

In a scenario where hydrogen is used primarily in industry there is no need for a large grid, and definitely not for a grid extending into people's homes

Summary Hydrogen

It looks like a hydrogen boom is coming.

This is good news, but hydrogen should be used wisely.

Want to discuss more? Climate-neutral Industry Q&A session at 7pm, see DiVOC Wiki