What role does hydrogen play as an energy source in the global energy system?

20-Sep-2022 - Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

Future climate policy assigns hydrogen and H2 synthesis products great importance. But how could the demand for hydrogen develop globally? A new meta-study coordinated by Fraunhofer ISI addresses this question and re-evaluates more than 40 energy system and hydrogen scenarios within the HyPat research project. The study provides statements on the range of possible future developments of hydrogen demand, globally, in the EU, and China until 2050, and differentiates between various demand sectors. The focus is on scenarios with ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Hydrogen and its synthesis products are globally regarded as important future energy sources that could be used in many different sectors. For example, there is an ongoing controversial debate about the role hydrogen will play in transport in the future, and specifically its use for passenger cars and trucks. There are also potential applications with demand for hydrogen in other sectors, such as industry and buildings.

However, so far, there has been a high degree of uncertainty concerning the future global role of hydrogen, as different studies have arrived at very different results. Therefore, together with a consortium consisting of Fraunhofer IEG and ISE, the Ruhr University Bochum, Energy Systems Analysis Associates - ESA² GmbH, the German Institute of Development and Sustainability IDOS, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) Potsdam, GIZ Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and dena the German Energy Agency, Fraunhofer ISI has conducted a new meta-analysis to address how the global demand for hydrogen could develop in future. More than 40 current energy system and hydrogen scenarios were re-evaluated, with a particular focus on scenarios featuring ambitious emission reduction targets for greenhouse gases.

The majority of studies forecast a significant increase in the global demand for hydrogen, which is particularly marked in the calculations if regions or countries have ambitious goals for greenhouse gas reductions. Global hydrogen demand therefore also depends strongly on the respective regional climate policy and its level of ambition. The total hydrogen demand worldwide in 2050 ranges between 4 and 11% of global final energy demand. However, there are strong regional differences: For the EU, this share could be as high as 14%, whereas most studies indicate a maximum hydrogen share of 4% of final energy for China. In some cases, the projections of hydrogen demand in the analyzed studies vary considerably, which is why there are significant differences when classifying the role of hydrogen in future energy systems.

As far as specific applications are concerned, the biggest demand for hydrogen is expected in the transport sector, according to the study, in both absolute terms and relative to total energy demand. The meta-study calculates an average hydrogen share of 28% for the EU’s transport sector in 2050 – based on the total energy demand of the sector – compared to 14% for China and 16% worldwide. However, transport is also the sector with the widest range and therefore the highest degree of uncertainty concerning future hydrogen use. H2 synthesis products will be used in areas such as international shipping and aviation, but the possible future use of hydrogen is less clear in other large fields of application such as passenger cars and trucks.

In other sectors, such as industry, it is likely that the quantities of hydrogen demanded will be smaller than in the transport sector, and demand forecasts are lower here. However, hydrogen is considered a no-regret option in the industrial sector, as there are no decarbonization alternatives for numerous industrial applications, for instance, in iron and steel or basic chemicals. On the other hand, hydrogen use is considered very uncertain in the field of industrial heat generation and for low-temperature heat as well, because of potential alternatives. The meta-study indicates larger regional differences here as well: While the hydrogen share in industry in relation to the total global energy demand ranges between 2 and 9% in 2050, the majority of the analyzed studies forecast between 3 and 16% for Europe, with a maximum share of up to 38%. For China, the projected hydrogen share is 1-4%, with a maximum value of 7%.

Compared to all other sectors, hydrogen plays the smallest role in buildings in all the regions considered. The median share here in most studies is estimated to be less than 2% of building energy in 2050 – with very small bandwidths, which suggests the results regarding the low future relevance of hydrogen in this sector are relatively robust. In absolute terms as well, demand in buildings in all regions lags well behind demand in the other sectors.

Prof. Martin Wietschel, who coordinates the research work of the HyPat consortium, estimates the future global significance of hydrogen as follows: “Our evaluations underscore that hydrogen will play an important role in future global climate policy – but will not be the dominant final energy carrier of the future. In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, measures to save energy and direct electrification based on renewable power, for example, in heat pumps, electric vehicles or heating networks, are seen as the most important levers. On the other hand, hydrogen does play a relevant role in specific applications where other technologies are either technically or economically not feasible.”

I personally believe that Hydrogen may be more important than is shown above. Direct solar and wind energy are too dependent on the weather, to wit the Texas debacle of 2021 when many wind generators were destroyed by ice, bringing many down. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is the major component in water with the Earth as a blue water planet. Hydrogen (H2) could replace certain fossil fuels, in particular natural gas, in some combustion devices as fuel for gas turbines and industrial processes. Some hydrogen combustion methods produce 90% less pollution in the form of nitrous oxides (NOx). Hydrogen combustion yields only heat and water.
Hydrogen has one of the highest energy density values per mass. Its energy density is between 120 and 142 MJ/kg. This means that for every 1 kg of mass of hydrogen, it has an energy value of 120-142 MJ. It is highly flammable, needing only a small amount of energy to ignite and burn. Hydrogen burns cleanly. When it is burned with oxygen, the only by products are heat and water.
Today, hydrogen is mainly used as a feedstock, intermediate chemical, or specialty chemical. The US hydrogen industry produces nine million tons of hydrogen per year for use in chemical production, petroleum refining and electrical applications.
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Dec 21, 2022
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Edwardslop, here is a bit more information on Hydrogen as a fuel. Currently, the drawback, the below statistics are from 2018, is the rapidly increasing cost of electricity.

Hydrogen and energy have a long shared history – powering the first internal combustion engines over 200 years ago to becoming an integral part of the modern refining industry. It is light, storable, energy-dense, and produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. For hydrogen to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it needs to be adopted in sectors where it is almost completely absent, such as transport, buildings and power generation.

The Future of Hydrogen provides an extensive and independent survey of hydrogen that lays out where things stand now; the ways in which hydrogen can help to achieve a clean, secure and affordable energy future; and how we can go about realising its potential.

Supplying hydrogen to industrial users is now a major business around the world. Demand for hydrogen, which has grown more than threefold since 1975, continues to rise – almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels, with 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal going to hydrogen production.

As a consequence, production of hydrogen is responsible for CO2 emissions of around 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the CO2 emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

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The number of countries with polices that directly support investment in hydrogen technologies is increasing, along with the number of sectors they target.

There are around 50 targets, mandates and policy incentives in place today that direct support hydrogen, with the majority focused on transport.

Over the past few years, global spending on hydrogen energy research, development and demonstration by national governments has risen, although it remains lower than the peak in 2008.

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Hydrogen can be extracted from fossil fuels and biomass, from water, or from a mix of both. Natural gas is currently the primary source of hydrogen production, accounting for around three quarters of the annual global dedicated hydrogen production of around 70 million tonnes. This accounts for about 6% of global natural gas use. Gas is followed by coal, due to its dominant role in China, and a small fraction is produced from from the use of oil and electricity.

The production cost of hydrogen from natural gas is influenced by a range of technical and economic factors, with gas prices and capital expenditures being the two most important.

Fuel costs are the largest cost component, accounting for between 45% and 75% of production costs. Low gas prices in the Middle East, Russia and North America give rise to some of the lowest hydrogen production costs. Gas importers like Japan, Korea, China and India have to contend with higher gas import prices, and that makes for higher hydrogen production costs.

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While less than 0.1% of global dedicated hydrogen production today comes from water electrolysis, with declining costs for renewable electricity, in particular from solar PV and wind, there is growing interest in electrolytic hydrogen.

With declining costs for solar PV and wind generation, building electrolysers at locations with excellent renewable resource conditions could become a low-cost supply option for hydrogen, even after taking into account the transmission and distribution costs of transporting hydrogen from (often remote) renewables locations to the end-users.

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Hydrogen is already widely used in some industries, but it has not yet realised its potential to support clean energy transitions. Ambitious, targeted and near-term action is needed to further overcome barriers and reduce costs.

The IEA has identified four value chains that offer springboard opportunities to scale up hydrogen supply and demand, building on existing industries, infrastructure and policies. Governments and other stakeholders will be able to identify which of these offer the most near-term potential in their geographical, industrial and energy system contexts.

Regardless of which of these four key opportunities are pursued – or other value chains not listed here – the full policy package of five action areas listed above will be needed. Furthermore, governments – at regional, national or community levels – will benefit from international cooperation with others who are working to drive forward similar markets for hydrogen.

At the request of the government of Japan under its G20 presidency, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has produced this landmark report to analyse the current state of play for hydrogen and to offer guidance on its future development. The report finds that clean hydrogen is currently enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum, with the number of policies and projects around the world expanding rapidly. It concludes that now is the time to scale up technologies and bring down costs to allow hydrogen to become widely used. The pragmatic and actionable recommendations to governments and industry that are provided will make it possible to take full advantage of this increasing momentum.

Hydrogen offers ways to decarbonise a range of sectors – including long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions. It can also help improve air quality and strengthen energy security. Despite very ambitious international climate goals, global energy-related CO2 emissions reached an all time high in 2018. Outdoor air pollution also remains a pressing problem, with around 3 million people dying prematurely each year.

Hydrogen is versatile. Technologies already available today enable hydrogen to produce, store, move and use energy in different ways. A wide variety of fuels are able to produce hydrogen, including renewables, nuclear, natural gas, coal and oil. It can be transported as a gas by pipelines or in liquid form by ships, much like liquefied natural gas (LNG). It can be transformed into electricity and methane to power homes and feed industry, and into fuels for cars, trucks, ships and planes.

Hydrogen can enable renewables to provide an even greater contribution. It has the potential to help with variable output from renewables, like solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind, whose availability is not always well matched with demand. Hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing energy from renewables and looks promising to be a lowest-cost option for storing electricity over days, weeks or even months. Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels can transport energy from renewables over long distances – from regions with abundant solar and wind resources, such as Australia or Latin America, to energy-hungry cities thousands of kilometres away.

There have been false starts for hydrogen in the past; this time could be different. The recent successes of solar PV, wind, batteries and electric vehicles have shown that policy and technology innovation have the power to build global clean energy industries. With a global energy sector in flux, the versatility of hydrogen is attracting stronger interest from a diverse group of governments and companies. Support is coming from governments that both import and export energy as well as renewable electricity suppliers, industrial gas producers, electricity and gas utilities, automakers, oil and gas companies, major engineering firms, and cities. Investments in hydrogen can help foster new technological and industrial development in economies around the world, creating skilled jobs.

Hydrogen can be used much more widely. Today, hydrogen is used mostly in oil refining and for the production of fertilisers. For it to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it also needs to be adopted in sectors where it is almost completely absent at the moment, such as transport, buildings and power generation.

See: https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

The view of Hydrogen of extremely explosive, vis a vis the explosion of the Hydrogen filled dirigible Hindenburg in Lakehurst, NJ, in 1937, must be overcome and moved beyond if Hydrogen, whose combustion byproducts are just heat and H2) - water.

As of mid-2022, 15,000 or fewer hydrogen-powered vehicles, manufactured by Toyota, Hyundai and Honda, can be found on U.S. roads. All of them are located in California, the sole state with a network of retail hydrogen fueling stations to make the cars usable.

To make a dent in the use of hydrogen for vehicles, a greater public relations program must be created. While Hydrogen can be produced, being a water planet, its source is almost limitless - the oceans across the Earth.