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Global Land and Water Limits to Electrolytic Hydrogen Production Using Wind and Solar Resources


Proposals for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 include scaling-up electrolytic hydrogen production, however, this poses technical, economic, and environmental challenges. One such challenge is for policymakers to ensure a sustainable future for the environment including freshwater and land resources while facilitating low-carbon hydrogen production using renewable wind and solar energy. We establish a country-by-country reference scenario for hydrogen demand in 2050 and compare it with land and water availability. Our analysis highlights countries that will be constrained by domestic natural resources to achieve electrolytic hydrogen self-sufficiency in a net-zero target. Depending on land allocation for the installation of solar panels or wind turbines, less than 50% of hydrogen demand in 2050 could be met through a local production without land or water scarcity. Our findings identify potential importers and exporters of hydrogen or, conversely, exporters or importers of industries that would rely on electrolytic hydrogen. The abundance of land and water resources in Southern and Central-East Africa, West Africa, South America, Canada, and Australia make these countries potential leaders in hydrogen export.

Funding source: The research of D. Tonelli is funded by SPF Economie - Fonds de transition énergétique. His research stay at the Department of Global Ecology at Carnegie Institution for Science was funded by the Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles (FWB) Mobility Grant. The research of P. Gabrielli is partially funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) Exchange Grant No. 214037, for his research stay at the Department of Global Ecology at Carnegie Institution for Science.
Related subjects: Production & Supply Chain

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