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Uses For Hydrogen Energy

Key Hydrogen Production and Usage Pathways_102023A
[Key Hydrogen Production and Usage Pathways - Royal Society of Chemistry]

- Overview

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. 

But 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. 


- Various Uses For Hydrogen

As energy systems transition from fossil to low-carbon energy sources, they face many challenges, especially in terms of energy security and flexibility. Hydrogen may help overcome these challenges, with potential as a transportation fuel, heating, energy storage, power conversion and industry. Despite these opportunities, hydrogen has historically played a limited role in the influential global energy scenario.

Today, 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.  

  • Hydrogen use today is dominated by industry, namely: oil refining, ammonia production, methanol production and steel production. Virtually all of this hydrogen is supplied using fossil fuels, so there is significant potential for emissions reductions from clean hydrogen.
  • In transport, the competitiveness of hydrogen fuel cell cars depends on fuel cell costs and refuelling stations while for trucks the priority is to reduce the delivered price of hydrogen. Shipping and aviation have limited low-carbon fuel options available and represent an opportunity for hydrogen-based fuels.
  • In buildings, hydrogen could be blended into existing natural gas networks, with the highest potential in multifamily and commercial buildings, particularly in dense cities while longer-term prospects could include the direct use of hydrogen in hydrogen boilers or fuel cells.
  • In power generation, hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing renewable energy, and hydrogen and ammonia can be used in gas turbines to increase power system flexibility. Ammonia could also be used in coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions.

- Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydrogen Energy

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. 

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 time is right to tap into hydrogen’s potential to play a key role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future. 

Hydrogen can help tackle various critical energy challenges. It 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. Outdoor air pollution also remains a pressing problem, with around 3 million people dying prematurely each year.  


  • It’s a Renewable Energy Source and Bountiful in Supply
  • Numerous Sources to Produce Hydrogen Locally
  • It is Practically a Clean Energy Source
  • Hydrogen Energy is Non-toxic
  • The Use of Hydrogen Greatly Reduces Pollution
  • It’s Far More Efficient Than Other Sources of energy
  • Used For Powering Space Ships
  • A Sustainable Production System


  • Hydrogen Energy is Expensive
  • Storage Complications
  • It’s Not the Safest Source of Energy
  • Tricky to Move Around
  • It is Dependent on Fossil fuels
  • Hydrogen Energy Cannot Sustain the Population


Breakfast in Venice_Italy_072721A
[Breakfast in Venice, Italy]

- Challenges for the Future of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is already widely used in some industries, but its potential to support the clean energy transition has yet to be realized. Ambitious, targeted near-term action is needed to further overcome barriers and reduce costs.

Hydrogen can be used in a wider range of applications. Today, hydrogen is mainly used in oil refining and the production of fertilizers. To make a significant contribution to the clean energy transition, it will also need to be adopted in areas where it currently is almost entirely absent, such as transportation, buildings and power generation.

However, clean and widespread use of hydrogen in the global energy transition faces several challenges:

  • Currently, producing hydrogen from low-carbon energy sources is expensive. The IEA analysis found that the cost of producing hydrogen from renewable electricity could fall by 30% by 2030 due to falling renewable energy costs and the expansion of hydrogen production. Fuel cells, refueling equipment and electrolysers (which use electricity and water to produce hydrogen) can all benefit from large-scale manufacturing.
  • Hydrogen infrastructure has been slow to develop, hampering widespread adoption. The price of hydrogen for consumers depends largely on the number of refueling stations, how often they are used and how much hydrogen is delivered each day. Solving this problem may require bringing together national and local governments, industry and investors for planning and coordination.
  • Today, hydrogen is supplied almost entirely by natural gas and coal. Hydrogen is already used on an industrial scale around the world, but its production produces annual CO2 emissions equivalent to the combined emissions of Indonesia and the UK. Leveraging existing scale to move toward a clean energy future requires both capturing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel hydrogen production and providing more hydrogen through clean electricity.
  • Regulations currently limit the development of the clean hydrogen industry. Government and industry must work together to ensure that existing regulations do not create unnecessary barriers to investment. Trade would benefit from common international standards for safely transporting and storing large quantities of hydrogen and tracking the environmental impact of different hydrogen supplies.

- Hydrogen Is the Future – or a Complete Mirage?

Using hydrogen as energy storage is very inefficient. With current technology, electrolysis to produce hydrogen from water consumes far more energy than is stored and ultimately released by burning the hydrogen. Why not use the same electricity to generate heat or drive a motor directly? The required electrolysis equipment is expensive. Although hydrogen burns cleanly, it is inconvenient as a fuel because it is corrosive, has low energy per unit volume, and is prone to explosions. Storing and transporting hydrogen requires huge investments in transportation facilities, pipelines, filling stations or facilities that convert the hydrogen into a more stable form of ammonia. 

Such plans, pushed by hydrogen lobbyists, expect annual hydrogen consumption to rise to more than 600 million tons per year by 2050, up from 100 million tons currently. This will consume a significant portion of green electricity production. Under the Hydrogen Council-backed scenario, 650 gigawatts of the U.S.'s 2,900 gigawatts of renewable energy production would be devoted to hydrogen electrolysis. This is almost three times the total capacity of today’s renewable energy installations. 

The cost will be huge. The cost of building hydrogen energy over the next few decades could reach tens of trillions of dollars. Furthermore, in order to function as a system, investments in hydrogen production, transport and consumption must occur simultaneously. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, although the vision of a “hydrogen economy” as an integrated economic and technological system has existed for half a century, we have very little practical experience with hydrogen fuel. In fact, there's an entire cottage industry of skepticism about hydrogen. The most outspoken among them is Michael Liebreich, whose consultancy popularized the so-called hydrogen ladder in an effort to highlight how unrealistic many of them are. If the Liebreich analysis is followed, the vast majority of proposed uses of hydrogen in transportation and industrial heating are actually impractical because they are extremely inefficient. In each case there is an obvious alternative, most of which involve using electricity directly.


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