Hydrogen Council Report- Decarbonization Pathways

Hydrogen Council Report- Decarbonization Pathways Part 1: Life cycle Assessment (above)
Hydrogen Council Report-Decarbonization Pathways Part 2: Supply Scenarios (below)


This report shows that low-carbon hydrogen supply at scale is economically and environmentally feasible and will have significant societal benefits if the right localised approach and best-practices for production are used. The report also demonstrates that there is not one single hydrogen production pathway to achieve low lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but rather the need for a fact-based approach that leverages regional resources and includes a combination of different production pathways. This will achieve both emission and cost reductions, ultimately helping to decarbonize the energy system and limit global warming.

In 2020, more than 15 countries launched major hydrogen plans and policies, and industry players announced new projects of more than 35GW until 2030. As this hydrogen momentum accelerates, it is increasingly clear that decision makers must put the focus on decarbonization to ensure hydrogen can fulfil its potential as a key solution in the global clean energy transition, making a significant contribution to net zero emissions. To support this effort, the two-part Hydrogen Council report provides new data based on an assessment of the GHG emissions generated through different hydrogen supply pathways and the lifecycle GHG emissions for different hydrogen applications (see report part 1 – A Life-cycle Assessment). In addition, the report explores 3 hypothetical hydrogen supply scenarios to measure the feasibility and impact of deploying renewable and low-carbon hydrogen at scale (report part 2 – Potential Supply Scenarios).

The report outlines that there are many ways of producing hydrogen and although GHG emissions vary widely, very high CO2 savings can be achieved across a broad range of different hydrogen production pathways and end-uses. For example, while “green” hydrogen produced through water electrolysis with renewable power achieves the lowest emissions, “blue” hydrogen produced from natural gas with high CO2 capture rate and storage can also achieve low emissions if best technologies are used and best practices are followed. Across eight illustrative pathways explored in the report, analysis shows that if hydrogen is used, significant GHG emission reductions can be made: as much as 60-90% or more, compared to conventional fossil alternatives. The study also looked into the gross water demand of hydrogen supply pathways. Water electrolysis has a very low specific water demand of 9 kg per kg of hydrogen compared to cooling of thermal power plants (hundreds of kg/kg) or biomass cultivation (hundreds to thousands of kg/kg).

Furthermore, low-carbon hydrogen supply at scale is fully achievable. Having investigated two hypothetical boundary scenarios (a “green-only” and a “blue-only” scenario) to assess the feasibility and impact of decarbonized hydrogen supply, the report found that both scenarios are feasible: they are not limited by the world’s renewables potential or carbon sequestration (CCS) capacities, and they do not exceed the speed at which industry can scale. In the Hydrogen Council’s “Scaling up” study, a demand of 21,800 TWh hydrogen has been identified for the year 2050. To achieve this, a compound annual growth rate of 30-35% would be needed for electrolysers and CCS. This deployment rate is in line with the growth of the offshore wind and solar PV industry over the last decade.

Hydrogen Council data released in January 2020 showed that a wide range of hydrogen applications can become competitive by 2030, driven also by falling costs of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen[1]. The new study indicates that a combination of “green” and “blue” production pathways would lead to hydrogen cost reductions relative to either boundary scenario. By making use of the near-term cost advantage of “blue” while also scaling up “green” hydrogen as the most cost-efficient option in many regions in the medium and long-term, the combined approach lowers average hydrogen costs between now and 2050 relative to either boundary scenario.

Part 1 – A Life-cycle Assessment

  • The life-cycle assessment (LCA) analysis in this study addresses every aspect of the supply chain, from primary energy extraction to end use. Eight primary-energy-to-hydrogen value chains have been selected for illustrative purposes.
  • Across the hydrogen pathways and applications depicted, very high to high GHG emission reduction can be demonstrated using green (solar, wind) and blue hydrogen.
  • In the LCA study, renewables + electrolysis shows strongest GHG reduction of the different hydrogen supply pathways assessed in this study, with a best-case blue hydrogen pathway also coming into the same order of magnitude.

Part 2 – Potential Supply Scenarios

  • Currently, the vast majority of hydrogen is produced by fossil pathways. To achieve a ten-fold build-out of hydrogen supply by 2050, as envisaged by the Hydrogen Council in its ‘Scaling Up’ report (2017), the existing use of hydrogen – and all its many potential new roles – need to be met by decarbonized sources.
  • Three hypothetical supply scenarios with decarbonized hydrogen sources are considered in the study: 1) a “green-only”, renewables-based world; 2) a “blue-only” world relying on carbon sequestration; and 3) a combined scenario that uses a region-specific combination of green and blue hydrogen based on the expected regional cost development of each source.
  • The study finds that a decarbonized hydrogen supply is possible regardless of the production pathway: while both the green and blue boundary scenario would be highly ambitious regarding the required speed of scale-up, they do not exceed the world’s resources on either renewable energy or carbon sequestration capabilities.
  • A combination of production pathways would result in the least-cost global supply over the entire period of scale-up. It does so by making best use of the near-term cost advantage of “blue” in some regions while simultaneously achieving a scale-up in electrolysis.
  • In reality, the decarbonized supply scenario will combine a range of different renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production pathways that are optimally suited to local conditions, political and societal preferences and regulations, as well as industrial and cost developments for different technologies.

You can download the full reports from the Hydrogen Council website
Hydrogen Council Report- Decarbonization Pathways Part 1: Life cycle Assessment here
Hydrogen Council Report-Decarbonization Pathways Part 2: Supply Scenarios here
An executive summary of the whole project can be found here

Related subjects: Applications & Pathways
Countries: Belgium; European Union

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