Massive scale-up of hydrogen needed for net-zero goals

Chief Europe Correspondent
DNV • The chart refers to global production of hydrogen and its derivatives, like ammonia and methanol. Dedicated renewable electrolysis refers to hydrogen made from energy generated at a renewable energy plant. Grid-connected electrolysis refers to hydrogen made from grid power, which could include a mix of energy sources. CCS stands for carbon, capture and storage.

The world would need to more than double its forecasted production of hydrogen by 2050 — and make the vast majority of that hydrogen directly from renewable power — if it wants to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century and keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

That’s one of the main takeaways from a report released earlier this month by Oslo-based consulting group DNV. 

The Pathway to Net Zero report outlines how our energy system would have to transform to keep temperature increases within the limit set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  

DNV described the goal as a “possibility” but also “highly improbable.” 

Under the net-zero scenario, total hydrogen production volumes in 2050 would have to reach about 820 million metric tons (Mt) per year. That’s more than twice the forecast from a separate DNV report released earlier this year, outlining probable hydrogen output, which places that number at 350 Mt per year by 2050.  

In the net-zero scenario, dedicated renewable electrolysis, which takes electricity directly from a renewable energy plant and uses it to power a machine called an electrolyzer to generate hydrogen gas, represents 74% of all production. 

Powering hydrogen production with dedicated renewables is considered the lowest carbon way to produce hydrogen because electricity from the grid will inevitably come from a mix of sources, some potentially fossil-powered.  

The share of fossil-based hydrogen (currently how the world gets most of its hydrogen) declines from almost 100% to about 15% by 2050 in the net-zero scenario. Emissions from remaining fossil-based hydrogen production, the report suggests, would be dealt with via carbon capture technology.