The world is facing an urgent need to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Industries play a significant role in this crusade as they contribute to around 32% of the global GHG emissions (IPCC). Energy use in industry is the major source of GHG emissions. Using green hydrogen has been seen as a promising solution to decarbonise the industrial sector.

When renewable energy (RE) is used in the electrolysis process to split water into hydrogen molecules, it is termed green hydrogen.

Producing hydrogen from methane or natural gas releases greenhouse gases and resulting hydrogen is called grey hydrogen. If the released carbon is captured and stored, then it is blue hydrogen.

Green hydrogen is the cleanest form when compared to other forms of hydrogen production, as the only by-product is water and renewable energy is used to power it. Hence, it is touted as an important tool in the transition towards clean energy.

Green hydrogen has the potential to revolutionize various industries by providing a clean source of energy.

  • Hydrogen is light in nature, can be stored and transported easily and can act as a form of energy storage.
  • It can be used as a fuel in various modes of transportation in the form of hydrogen fuel cells.
  • It offers longer ranges than batteries and can be refuelled rapidly. It can replace conventional fuels in industries that require high temperatures and energy in manufacturing processes.
  • It can also be used in the production of ammonia, which is currently an emission-intensive process. It will reduce the emissions of the agricultural sector as ammonia is an important component in fertilizers.
  • It can be used in the heating systems of buildings.
  • Green hydrogen can be blended with natural gas in existing pipelines and provide clean cooking fuel. It can power the gas turbines to generate electricity at scale and hydrogen fuel cells can also provide off-grid electricity to remote areas.
  • According to studies, green hydrogen can be used in aviation and shipping as fuel albeit the development is in an experimental stage. There is immense scope for using hydrogen as a primary fuel in several economic sectors.

Despite a rich portfolio of use cases for green hydrogen, there are certain challenges in the large-scale adoption of green hydrogen.

  • Cost: The production cost associated with green hydrogen is higher when compared to other forms of hydrogen. The capital expense to set up electrolysers is very high. The efficiency of the current electrolysers needs improvement. According to IEA, large-scale electrolysers would require around 44 MWh to produce 1 ton of hydrogen.
  • Energy intensive: Global hydrogen demand was 87 million tons in 2020 and is expected to touch 500-700 million tons in 2050 (IEA), which would require 22,000-30,000 TWh of renewable power. To put things in context, global renewable power generation in 2020 was just ~7,500 TWh catering to the energy needs of multiple sectors. The commissioning of large-scale renewable power projects is essential to meet the demand that will arise with the increased adoption of green hydrogen. In 2050, three to four times this capacity is needed to meet the green hydrogen demand alone.
  • Water intensive: Green hydrogen production is also water intensive requiring approximately 10 litres of water to produce 1 kg of hydrogen. This could be a challenge in water-stress regions.
  • Safety: Hydrogen is highly inflammable and requires strict safety standards to store and transport it. Huge infrastructural development such as industrial retrofits, pipelines, and refuelling stations are crucial for the success of this transition.

Reduced cost of power coupled with increased electrolyser efficiency will do a whole well to support the case of green hydrogen. Renewable power is getting cheaper by the day. Large investments in research and development of an efficient electrolyser are the need of the hour. Scientists have already made some ground-breaking progress in improving the efficiency. A financial and regulatory push is necessary to expedite the commercialisation of such new inventions. Similarly, finding ways to integrate the use of hydrogen in existing infrastructure with minimal retrofits would reduce the cost and increase the pace of hydrogen adoption.

Globally, governments have started to realize the importance of green hydrogen. More than 25 countries have national strategies charted out exclusively for hydrogen (IEA). The European Union (EU) is leading the way by setting ambitious targets to produce 10 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030. EU has the largest planned electrolyser and renewable power capacity in the world with America and Australia behind them. Countries such as China, India and other developing nations have a huge role to play in this revolution as the green hydrogen market is estimated to reach 7.3 billion USD in 2027. Financial incentives such as subsidies, grants and tax credits by the governments would help reduce the cost associated with the green hydrogen value chain. Allocation of funds to R&D focussing on improving efficiency and infrastructure like storage, transportation and refuelling stations would help in reducing the costs in the longer run. Clear targets and mandates for green hydrogen production and utilization would encourage private investments. Governments can lead by example through mandated utilization of green hydrogen in public sector operations. Collaboration between countries, academic institutions and industries would enable knowledge sharing and technology transfer accelerating the transition. Skill development and training about new technologies to existing workers of convention fuel generation facilities would ensure a socially just transition to alternate fuels.

Green hydrogen offers a promising case for industries to reduce their carbon footprint and play its role in climate change mitigation. With reducing RE costs, and increasing government interests, mass scale adoption of green hydrogen is becoming appealing. Addressing the challenges such as efficiency, increasing RE capacity, high technology costs and infrastructure would aid fast uptake among the industries. Strong support in technical, political, and commercial aspects from the governments, industries and research communities play a vital role in shepherding the transition towards a green hydrogen-based clean economy in the future.