Questions and answers: A Hydrogen Strategy for a climate neutral Europe
Hydrogen can be used as a feedstock, a fuel or an energy carrier and storage, and has many possible applications across industry, transport, power and buildings sectors. Most importantly, it does not emit CO2 and does not pollute the air when used. It is therefore an important part of the solution to meet the 2050 climate neutrality goal of the European Green Deal.
It can help to decarbonise industrial processes and economic sectors where reducing carbon emissions is both urgent and hard to achieve. Today, the amount of hydrogen used in the EU remains limited, and it is largely produced from fossil fuels. The aim of the strategy is to decarbonise hydrogen production – made possible by the rapid decline in the cost of renewable energy and acceleration of technology developments – and to expand its use in sectors where it can replace fossil fuels.
How is hydrogen produced and what is its impact on the climate?
Hydrogen may be produced through a variety of processes. These production pathways are associated with a wide range of emissions, depending on the technology and energy source used and have different costs implications and material requirements. In this Communication:
- ‘Electricity-based hydrogen' refers to hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water (in an electrolyser, powered by electricity), regardless of the electricity source. The full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of the production of electricity-based hydrogen depends on how the electricity is produced.
- ‘Renewable hydrogen' is hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water (in an electrolyser, powered by electricity), and with the electricity stemming from renewable sources. The full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of the production of renewable hydrogen are close to zero. Renewable hydrogen may also be produced through the reforming of biogas (instead of natural gas) or biochemical conversion of biomass, if in compliance with sustainability requirements.
- Clean hydrogen refers to renewable hydrogen
- ‘Fossil-based hydrogen' refers to hydrogen produced through a variety of processes using fossil fuels as feedstock, mainly the reforming of natural gas or the gasification of coal. This represents the bulk of hydrogen produced today. The life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of the production of fossil-based hydrogen are high.
- ‘Fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture' is a subpart of fossil-based hydrogen, but where greenhouse gases emitted as part of the hydrogen production process are captured. The greenhouse gas emissions of the production of fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture or pyrolysis are lower than for fossil-fuel based hydrogen, but the variable effectiveness of greenhouse gas capture (maximum 90%) needs to be taken into account.
- ‘Low-carbon hydrogen' encompasses fossil-based hydrogen with carbon capture and electricity-based hydrogen, with significantly reduced full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to existing hydrogen production.
- Hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels refer to a variety of gaseous and liquid fuels on the basis of hydrogen and carbon. For synthetic fuels to be considered renewable, the hydrogen part of the syngas should be renewable. Synthetic fuels include for instance synthetic kerosene in aviation, synthetic diesel for cars, and various molecules used in the production of chemicals and fertilisers. Synthetic fuels can be associated with very different levels of greenhouse gas emissions depending on the feedstock and process used. In terms of air pollution, burning synthetic fuels produces similar levels of air pollutant emissions than fossil fuels.
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