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Hydrogen could play a significant role in tackling climate change. Using it does not produce carbon dioxide, so it could replace fossil fuels in a range of applications. It may also provide valuable energy storage. However, almost all hydrogen production currently results in greenhouse gas emissions. Methods of producing it that do not emit greenhouse gases would need to increase for it to contribute to climate change mitigation. Governments and industry in the UK and abroad are aiming to increase low-carbon hydrogen supply. The UK Government will publish a Hydrogen Strategy in 2021.
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This POSTnote outlines different ways in which hydrogen is produced, and how these could be made low carbon. It examines how much low-carbon hydrogen may be needed in future, and the challenges in increasing production. It discusses hydrogen storage and transportation, commercial and regulatory challenges, and the potential global market. It does not examine potential end-uses of hydrogen.
Key messages include:
- Blue and green hydrogen production are the low-carbon approaches most often considered at large scale. The hydrogen molecules are the same in each case.
- Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas and is fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. It is closer to large-scale use, but still results in some greenhouse gas emissions. This is because CCS technology is not able to capture all CO2 from production, and natural gas extraction and transportation results in methane leaks.
- Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water using renewable electricity. It is currently more expensive than blue hydrogen to produce, but is expected to become cheaper in the 2030s. The UK’s offshore wind potential could be used to produce it at scale.
- Nuclear power or biomass could also be used to produce low-carbon hydrogen, but these approaches are less developed. The latter can help to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
- Some stakeholders advocate using the existing gas network to transport hydrogen. Doing so would require upgrades to network infrastructure. It could also be transported by road, rail or ship.
- If produced in large quantities, hydrogen would need to be stored. There are several ways to do this, but depleted oil and gas fields may have the greatest potential.
- The UK and Scottish governments have targets to increase low-carbon hydrogen production. The UK Government is expected to publish a Hydrogen Strategy before autumn 2021. It funds several demonstration projects for low-carbon production. It will develop a business model for producing and selling low-carbon hydrogen in 2021.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
- Ed Macfarlane, Abbott Risk Consulting
- Mark Neller, Arup
- BEIS Hydrogen Economy Team
- BEIS Science & Innovation for Climate and Energy *
- Mike Stephenson, British Geological Survey
- Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Professor Dame Julia Brown, Climate Change Committee
- Dr David Joffe, Climate Change Committee *
- Chloé Nemo, Climate Change Committee *
- Qamar Khan, CPH2 *
- Graham Bennett, DNV *
- Dr Janie Ling-Chin, Durham Energy Institute *
- Prof Anthony Roskilly, Durham Energy Institute *
- Dr Andrew Smallbone, Durham Energy Institute *
- Ben Madden, Element Energy
- Matthew Hindle, Energy Networks Association *
- Kevin Kinsella, ERM *
- Dr James Walker, European Marine Energy Centre *
- Dr Richard Lowes, Exeter University
- Prof Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Heriot-Watt University
- Dr Stuart Hawksworth, HSE
- Prof Paul Fennel, Imperial College
- Dr Robert Sansom, Independent energy consultant
- Tim Burnhope, JCB
- Sam French, Johnson Matthey *
- Philip Brain, Kiwa Gastec
- Mark Crowther, Kiwa Gastec *
- Anthony Green, National Grid *
- Dave Robson, NEPIC
- Russ Oxley, Northern Gas Networks
- Prof Philip Ringrose, Norwegian University of Science and technology *
- Michael Wagner, Ofgem *
- Dr Jan Rosenow, Regulatory Assistance Project
- Jash Rughani, Ryse Hydrogen
- Prof Benjamin Sovacool Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU)
- Nigel Holmes, Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association *
- Andrew Goodwin, Scottish Power *
- James Higgins, SGN *
- Matthew Knight, Siemens Energy UK *
- Mark Lewis, Tees Valley Combined Authority
- Flo Bullough, The Geological Society
- Dr Edris Joonaki, TÜV SÜD UK Laboratory *
- Oliver Broad, UCL Energy Institute *
- Prof Paul Dodds, UCL Energy Institute *
- Prof Vladimir Molkov, Ulster University
- Dr Grant Wilson, University of Birmingham *
- Professor David Cebon, University of Cambridge
- Prof Stuart Haszeldine, University of Edinburgh
- Dr Katriona Edlmann, University of Edinburgh *
- Jonathan Scafidi, University of Edinburgh *
- Dr Clair Gough, University of Manchester *
- Prof Seamus Garvey, University of Nottingham *
- Dr Marco Sacchi, University of Surrey *
* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing