South Korea: its hydrogen roadmap based on R&D and innovation

16 February, 2023

South Korea has become a pioneer in the field of hydrogen, with a strategy that has been praised worldwide. Strong regulation and an ever-developing infrastructure are making the Asian country a leader in the production and use of green hydrogen, which it is working to deploy.

The construction of the first hydrogen-fired power station in 2007 and the creation of the first hydrogen supply network in 2010 already signalled South Korea’s interest in hydrogen, although it was not until 2021 that the country began producing green hydrogen. Since then, it has reached several milestones:

  • The construction of a green hydrogen production plant with a capacity to produce 30 tonnes per day in Ulsan.
  • Jeju City’s pilot project to supply 200 cleaning vehicles and 300 buses with fuel
  • The Samcheok plant, with a capacity of 365 tonnes per year of renewable hydrogen for the province’s filling stations

The Asian country is aware of the advantages it offers, which could be summed up in its versatility, as renewable hydrogen can be used in a wide variety of ways and in different sectors, even those that are difficult to decarbonise; sustainability, as it emits only water vapour; and its capacity to manage and store energy massively and for long periods.

South Korea’s hydrogen strategy

The Republic of Korea began to take an interest in hydrogen technologies in the early 21st century, with a Hydrogen Master Plan in 2005, but it was not until 2019 that the Hydrogen Economy Roadmap materialised as the cornerstone of a public-private partnership that has enabled the deployment of renewable hydrogen in different sectors.

Already in 2021, the country passed its first Hydrogen Law, with a clear vision to spearhead the hydrogen economy by 2040 through R&D&I, awareness raising and the development of a hydrogen culture.

The country has developed a plan to have 33% of the country’s energy needs supplied by renewable hydrogen by 2050. This means that more than 23% of energy generation will come from renewable hydrogen by that date.

The country has developed a plan to have 33% of the country’s energy needs supplied by renewable hydrogen by 2050

In addition, it aims to reach 5.3 million green hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2050. To this end, they will promote around 2,000 hydrogen refuelling installations.

South Korea’s hydrogen development is no coincidence

The current Korean government’s strategy focuses on promoting research and development, building infrastructure and promoting the adoption of hydrogen in industrial applications and transport. Its ambitious targets include the production of 6.5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2040 and the conversion of at least 14% of vehicles to be powered by hydrogen by the same year.

The foundation of South Korea’s hydrogen strategy is solid:

1. A benchmark in R&D. We are talking about a country that is a benchmark in innovation, especially in the transport and heavy manufacturing sectors.

2. Shortage of energy resources. South Korea is a relatively small country with a large population and a dynamic economy. But it does not have the natural resources to sustain both, forcing governments to focus on energy diversification, with an emphasis on renewable energies.

3. Political vision. The South Korean authorities have been and are working towards ambitious targets for the development and adoption of new technologies, including in the energy sector. Investment in research and development, as well as the creation of infrastructures. It is one of the countries that invests the most public money in energy, behind only Germany and Japan.

4. Automotive. The automotive industry has great weight and influence in the country. Its flagship Hyundai has a strong commitment to electric vehicles and fuel cells. It reveals a sector that is always on the lookout for new innovations such as hydrogen, which could be adopted on a massive scale.

5. International collaboration. South Korea is a technology leader, with a large number of leading companies in their respective industries. As an exporting country located between two major powers such as China and Japan, it has established partnerships with countries and organisations that help it to set international standards, harness new hydrogen technologies and promote hydrogen development.

South Korea has the potential to remain a leader in the field of renewable hydrogen by driving innovation and collaborating with other countries to achieve a sustainable hydrogen economy that is a global benchmark. With a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency, it is becoming a role model.