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EU stakes claim to hydrogen future

Integrated plan sets bloc on course for world-leading role and to hit its Paris Agreement commitment

The EU launched its much-anticipated strategy for a climate-neutral economy on 8 July and confirmed—following earlier leaks—that clean hydrogen will play a central role. Indeed, the plan has just two central components: energy system integration and a hydrogen strategy.

While the debate around green hydrogen, created through renewables-powered electrolysis, and blue hydrogen, utilising methane steam reforming and carbon capture and storage (CCS), is not definitively settled it is very clear where the supranational organisation’s heart lies.

“The priority is to develop renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy,” the strategy document stated. “However, in the short and medium term other forms of low-carbon hydrogen are needed to rapidly reduce emissions and support the development of a viable market.”

The EU’s aspirations are backed by its commitment to a series of milestones. It will support the installation, by 2024, of at least 6GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers and the production of 1mn t of renewable hydrogen. And by 2030 this will rapidly increase to 40GW and 10mn t before reaching maturity and being deployed at large scale across all hard-to-abate sectors in the run-up to 2050.

“In developing and deploying a clean hydrogen value chain, Europe will become a global frontrunner and retain its leadership in clean tech,” executive vice-president for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said at the launch.

“Europe will become a global frontrunner and retain its leadership in clean tech” Timmermans, European Commission

The European Commission will exercise its forte in creating standards, terminology and certification while newly created entity the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance—made up of industry leaders, civil society, national and regional ministers and the European Investment Bank—is charged with securing investment.

“It will develop a pipeline of concrete projects to support the decarbonisation efforts of European energy-intensive industries such as steel and chemicals,” said the EU’s commissioner for internal market, Thierry Breton.

The Commission estimates that cumulative investments in renewable hydrogen in Europe could be up to €180-470bn by 2050.

Falling costs

The strategy is underpinned by the rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy technology and the assumption that the cost of green hydrogen technologies, including electrolysers, will follow a similar trajectory.

The EU announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by Juergen Wollschlaeger, CEO and managing director at Heide Refinery in northern Germany. The refinery’s Westkuste 100 project entails developing the country’s largest green hydrogen project and includes further plans to establish a 700MW electrolysis unit by 2030. “We welcome the publication of the EU hydrogen strategy, particularly its focus on boosting large-scale electrolyser installation and paving the way for a green hydrogen future,” he says.

40GW – EU commitment for electrolysers by 2030

Heide is also working on specific use cases for hard-to-abate activities and is encouraged by “the attention given to the role that hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels could have in significantly decarbonising hard-to-reach sectors, such as aviation and shipping,” says Wollschlaeger. His company’s KEROSyN100 project is an example of the progress being made in synthetic aviation fuel research and development.

“Through this project, we have partnered with Lufthansa with the aim of providing 5pc of Hamburg airport with synthetic kerosene by 2024. With a CO2 abatement potential of c.80pc, compared to fossil fuel equivalents, there is clearly huge potential for this type of fuel development to drive the energy transition as we look to the future.”

National plans

Plans are underway at the national level across the continent, to varying degrees. The Netherlands, France and Portugal have set out strategies, but Germany’s is the most ambitious and advanced.

Germany launched its national hydrogen plan on 6 July, when federal minister for economic affairs and energy Peter Altmaier made his country’s intention clear: “We are paving the way for Germany to become the world leader in the field of hydrogen technologies. We must therefore harness the potential for economic output, employment and the climate, and do this now.”

The strength of the German economy’s industrial and chemical sectors, together with the availability of otherwise-curtailed wind power—as well as its relative lack of legacy North Sea infrastructure that the Netherlands and the UK are considering for CCS—makes it ideally positioned for green hydrogen.

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