The IEA has recently published an important new report on hydrogen and fuel cells.
Hydrogen is an energy carrier that partly offers the advantages of fossil fuels – flexibility and energy density – with potentially a low carbon footprint. As a storehouse of low-carbon energy, it offers a means to integrate high shares of variable renewable electricity into the energy system. But as the IEA Technology Roadmap: Hydrogen and Fuel Cells explains, not only is hydrogen technology’s economic success uncertain, its necessary components are less advanced than those of many other low-carbon technologies.
But Technology Roadmap: Hydrogen and Fuel Cells also makes clear that hydrogen holds promise for some of the key challenges facing emissions reduction in sectors such as transport, industry and buildings, as well as the electricity system. The report details the steps governments, industry and researchers need to take to foster and track deployment of hydrogen technology, if it is to be a significant energy carrier by 2050.
Cross-cutting opportunities offered by hydrogen and fuel cells
- Hydrogen is a flexible energy carrier that can be produced from any regionally prevalent primary energy source. Moreover, it can be effectively transformed into any form of energy for diverse end-use applications. Hydrogen is particularly well suited for use in fuel cells that efficiently use hydrogen to generate electricity.
- Hydrogen with a low-carbon footprint has the potential to facilitate significant reductions in energy-related CO2 emissions and to contribute to limiting global temperature rise to 2°C, as outlined in the high hydrogen variant (2DS high H2) of the IEA Energy Technology Perspectives (ETP) 2°C Scenario (2DS). In addition, hydrogen use can lower local air pollutants and noise emissions compared to direct fossil fuel combustion. By enabling continued use of fossil fuel resources for end-use applications under a 2DS, hydrogen production in combination with CCS can provide energy security benefits and help maintain a diversified fuel mix.
- As an energy carrier, hydrogen can enable new linkages between energy supply and demand, in both a centralized or decentralized manner, potentially enhancing overall energy system flexibility. By connecting different energy transmission and distribution (T&D) networks, sources of low-carbon energy can be connected to end-use applications that are challenging to decarbonise, including transport, industry and buildings. In remote areas with little access to the power grid, these connections can expand off-grid access to energy services while minimising emissions.
Energy storage and utilization in transport, industry and buildings
- Hydrogen is particularly useful as an energy carrier, because it allows low-carbon energy to be stored. Small quantities of hydrogen with a low carbon footprint can be stored under restricted space and weight requirements to enable long-distance, low-carbon driving using fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Large quantities of hydrogen can be stored over long periods of time, facilitating the integration of high shares of variable renewable energy (VRE) into the energy system for power and heat. Hydrogen-based systems such as power-to-fuel, power-to-power or power-to-gas can be employed to make use of VRE that would otherwise be curtailed at times when supply outstrips demand.
- Fuel cell electric vehicles can provide the mobility service of today’s conventional cars at potentially very low carbon emissions. Deploying a 25% share of FCEVs in road transport by 2050 can contribute up to 10% of all cumulative transport-related carbon emission reductions necessary to move from an ETP 6°C Scenario (6DS) to a 2DS, depending on the region. Assuming a fast ramp-up of FCEV sales, a self-sustaining market could be achieved within 15 to 20 years after the introduction of the first 10 000 FCEVs.
- While the potential environmental and energy security benefits of hydrogen and fuel cells in end-use applications are promising, the development of hydrogen generation, T&D and retail infrastructure is challenging. For example, the risks associated with market uptake of FCEVs have been a significant barrier to infrastructure investment. For each of the assumed 150 million FCEVs sold between now and 2050, around USD 900 to USD 1 900 will need to be spent on hydrogen infrastructure development, depending on the region.
The report can be downloaded from the IEA website.