“In Europe, it’s now widely agreed that electrification alone can’t deliver the level of emissions reduction that many countries aspire to,” said IHS Markit’s Catherine Robinson.
The European Union (EU) has put out a very ambitious plan for the roll-out of green hydrogen. It wants hydrogen production decarbonised by 2024 and wants to hit at least 40GW of renewably powered hydrogen production by 2030.
“Analysts estimate clean hydrogen could meet 24% of world energy demand by 2050, with annual sales in the range of €630 billion [£573.8bn],” the EU report says.
It adds: “In regions where renewable electricity is cheap, electrolysers are expected to be able to compete with fossil-based hydrogen in 2030.”
With a typical hydrogen fuel cell vehicle carrying around 5kg of gas, that would suggest a production cost of around €7.50 [£6.83] to fill today’s Toyota Mirai. Even factoring in tax, transportation and producer profits, that makes renewably sourced hydrogen power look cost-competitive during the next decade.
There are a number of other reasons why hydrogen is now receiving massive interest as a zero-carbon fuel.
First, authorities have realised that CO2-free heavy goods transport, including trains and shipping, can’t be achieved with battery-electric technology. Providing a hydrogen refuelling network for commercial vehicles would, of course, enable hydrogen passenger cars to flourish too.
A major sticking point for hydrogen has also been the economies of scale of production, reflected in the high cost of the few hydrogen fuel cell EVs available, such as the Mirai and Hyundai Nexo. Greater commercial vehicle use could help to reduce that cost.
Second, hydrogen could transform the geopolitics of energy. A likely future stand-off between China and the West could potentially cause the supply of batteries and the necessary rare-earth minerals to be restricted, so hydrogen made renewably would provide a significant and stable supply of green energy for Europe.
Crucially, the issue of hydrogen storage in vehicles is also close to being solved. Currently, hydrogen has to be stored expensively at great pressure, and that requires relatively costly filament-wound tanks that are very hard to package inside a car.