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Decarbonising the planet is one of the goals that countries around the world have set for 2050. To achieve this, decarbonising the production of an element like hydrogen, giving rise to green hydrogen, is one of the keys as this is currently responsible for more than 2% of total global CO2 emissions. Hydrogen can play a significant role in decarbonizing the world’s energy supply and is receiving increasing focus as the energy transition moves at pace. Hydrogen is the most common element in our universe. Under normal circumstances it is gaseous and we speak of hydrogen gas (H2) and It is used as an input in oil refining, the production of ammonia and methanol and the manufacture of steel. The current global demand for hydrogen is more than 70 million tons per year. Hydrogen is also the lightest gas we know, but under high pressure it does have a high energy density of 120 megajoules (MJ) per kg. That is almost three times as much as natural gas (45 MJ per kg). Pressurising (compressing) hydrogen gas, however, also requires the necessary energy (about 10%).

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2050 targets for net-zero emissions have experienced a meteoric rise as carbon policies move to the top of policy agendas. Stakeholders are now wondering whether these targets can be reached with electrons alone, or if we need molecules too. The renewables transition is making great strides, but the path from 50% decarbonization targets to full decarbonization will require a leap in terms of how we think about delivering energy.

The global energy system has to undergo a profound transformation to achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement. In this context, low-carbon electricity from renewables may become the preferred energy carrier. The share of electricity in all of the energy consumed by end users worldwide would need to increase to 40 % in 2050 (from about half that amount in 2015) to achieve the decarbonised energy world envisaged by the agreement. However, the total decarbonisation of certain sectors, such as transport, industry and uses that require high-grade heat, may be difficult purely by means of electrification. This challenge could be addressed by hydrogen from renewables, which allows large amounts of renewable energy to be channelled from the power sector into the end-use sectors.

Hydrogen could therefore be the missing link in the energy transition: renewable electricity can be used to produce hydrogen, which can in turn provide energy to sectors otherwise difficult to decarbonise through electrification.

Green hydrogen also known as 'renewable hydrogen', is hydrogen that is produced with sustainable energy. The best known is electrolysis, in which water (H2O) is split into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) via green electricity. A large number of parties in the Netherlands are experimenting with these megawatt-scale electrolysers. Hydrogen is also released during high-temperature gasification of biomass. The hydrogen supply to industrial users is now an important business worldwide. The hydrogen demand, which multiplied by more than three since 1975, continues to increase, supplied almost entirely by fossil fuels, with 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal destined for the hydrogen production.

Green hydrogen technology is based on the generation of hydrogen — a universal, light and highly reactive fuel — through a chemical process known as electrolysis. This method uses an electrical current to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen in water. If this electricity is obtained from renewable sources we will, therefore, produce energy without emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

As the IEA points out, this method of obtaining green hydrogen would save the 830 million tonnes of CO2 that are emitted annually when this gas is produced using fossil fuels. However, there are some questions about the viability of green hydrogen because of its high production cost; reasonable doubts that will disappear as the decarbonisation of the earth progresses and, consequently, the generation of renewable energy becomes cheaper.

Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in nature. As noted by the IEA, the global demand for hydrogen for use as a fuel has tripled since 1975 and reached 70 million tonnes a year in 2018. In addition, it is a clean energy source that only emits water vapour and leaves no residue in the air, unlike coal and oil.

Hydrogen has a long-standing relationship with industry. This gas has been used to fuel cars, airships and spaceships since the beginning of the 19th century. The decarbonisation of the world economy, a process that cannot be postponed, will give hydrogen more prominence. In addition, if its production costs fall by 50 % by 2030, as predicted by the World Hydrogen Council, we will undoubtedly be looking at one of the fuels of the future.

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