Europe wants to use hydrogen to slow climate change - will it work?
Hydrogen is back. On 8 July, the European Commission will announce a new strategy to turn the universe’s most abundant element into a way “for the EU to achieve a higher climate ambition”.
Past grand visions of a “hydrogen economy” have failed to be realised, so the European Union is now taking a more targeted approach, pitching hydrogen as a crucial way to clean up industries that are hard to decarbonise, such as steel-making. Hydrogen trucks, trains and even ships could drive demand too, according to a recent draft of the commission’s hydrogen strategy seen by New Scientist.
There is just one big problem. While the plan notes that using hydrogen doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, it also acknowledges that most of its production today is filthy. Globally, around 96 per cent of hydrogen is made from fossil fuels via a process known as steam methane reforming. Even much of the the remaining 4 per cent produced using water and electrolysers is powered by coal and gas power stations. The figures are similar in Europe, which makes about 10 million tonnes of hydrogen a year.
That is why the strategy demands targets on what it calls “renewable hydrogen”, produced using electrolysers powered by renewable sources of electricity. It wants 4 gigawatts of electrolyser capacity by 2024, rising to 40 gigawatts by 2030, up from less than 1 gigawatt today.
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