What is the hydrogen economy?

21 July, 2021

The competitive production of green hydrogen and its use as an energy source will be key on the path towards decarbonisation

We often hear about the hydrogen economy, but what is it? Essentially, it is an economic energy model that consists of producing hydrogen competitively for use as a low-carbon energy source and a substitute for fossil fuels.

This is why the hydrogen economy plays an important role in reducing emissions, saving energy and integrating systems with clean and renewable energy.

Widespread use of hydrogen as a fuel seems a likely long-term option. However, technological efforts being made by companies and institutions around the world could speed up the timeline.

Hydrogen has three key benefits:

1. It does not produce greenhouse gases
When hydrogen combines with oxygen in a fuel cell, energy is produced in the form of electricity. This electricity can be used to power vehicles, as a heat source and for many other uses. The advantage of using hydrogen as an energy carrier is that when combined with oxygen, the only by-products are water and heat. No greenhouse gases or other particulates are produced in the use of hydrogen fuel cells.

2. It can be produced locally from numerous sources.
It can be produced from methane, gasoline, biomass, coal or water. In addition, it is possible to create it for local consumption or it can be stored and distributed.

3. When hydrogen is produced from water, we get a sustainable production system. Electrolysis is the method of separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. Renewable energy can be used to power electrolysers and to produce green hydrogen from water.

BloombergNEF’s independent global Hydrogen Economy Outlook study, published in 2020, concluded that the use of clean hydrogen in the coming decades would achieve up to a 34% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and industry, and that it would do so, moreover, at a fair cost.

Kobad Bhavnagri, lead author of the report, points out that: “Hydrogen has the potential to become the fuel that drives a clean economy. In years to come, it will be possible to produce it cheaply using wind and solar power, store it for months, and then distribute it on demand to power everything from ships to steel mills.”

The use of clean hydrogen in the coming decades would achieve up to a 34% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions

Mario Carrero, CEO of H2Greem, a company that was created as part of the Enagás Emprende entrepreneurship and open innovation programme, and that is dedicated to the manufacture of customised solutions for hydrogen production, also commented recently in an interview that we published in this blog that “the hydrogen economy is here. Technologies linked to the use of green hydrogen are mature, safe, and ready to be rolled out on a large scale”.

Making the hydrogen economy a reality requires a strong regulatory and financial effort. Society demands progress towards a model that is more planet friendly. Several countries, including Spain, have already seen the opportunity and have marked the roadmap, which sets out processes to follow and targets to achieve. The Spanish government thus approved the ‘ Hydrogen Roadmap’, an action plan to promote hydrogen as an energy vector for the future and to position the country as an international benchmark in this market. In this context, existing infrastructures can play a major role, because they are prepared for hydrogen transport and storage.

Hydrogen has the potential to become the fuel that drives a clean economy

Other countries moving towards a hydrogen economy are Australia, which is looking to take advantage of its large renewable capacity to start producing and exporting green hydrogen, or Canada, which has seen great potential in future green hydrogen markets, both as a gas producer and also as a fuel cell manufacturer.

France also has a big green hydrogen economy roll-out plan; Japan is possibly the most advanced green hydrogen market in the world; Norway has great potential to create hydrogen from hydropower as well as pioneering the use of fuel cells on ferries; the UK is one of the world’s leading offshore wind markets and sees renewable hydrogen as a fantastic way to reduce natural gas imports… There are a multitude of examples.