Hydrogen as an Energy Carrier

For which applications, and under what circumstances, can hydrogen emerge as a major energy carrier?

Research Review 2018

The energy transition and associated decarbonization targets are stimulating the industry to consider novel ways of delivering energy to consumers, and introduce new energy value chains that have yet to reach scale. We need to understand how these value chains will evolve and impact our customers.

Hans Kristian Danielsen

Marketing and Sales Director

The energy input to hydrogen production today represents about 3% of global energy demand. Nearly all of this hydrogen is used as a feedstock for production of ammonia, methanol and other chemical products, as well as in petroleum refining. The use of hydrogen as an energy carrier refers to applications where hydrogen is used because of its energy content, i.e., as a fuel. Such use is virtually non-existent today, with only some 1000 tonnes used as fuel for vehicles. This position paper examines and compares emerging energy value chains where hydrogen is used as a fuel. The main question addressed is: For which applications, and under what circumstances, can hydrogen emerge as a major energy carrier?

The main driver for using hydrogen as a fuel is decarbonization. This puts clear restrictions on how hydrogen is produced. Hydrogen can be produced with a low carbon footprint from fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), from water and low carbon electricity, or from biomass.

The main applications considered are:

  • Hydrogen as fuel for mobility
  • Hydrogen for heating in buildings
  • Hydrogen for industrial processes
  • Hydrogen for valorization of excess electricity from variable renewable power
The scale of uptake of hydrogen for these applications will depend on several enabling and limiting factors. This includes learning rates for technology, particularly electrolyzers and fuel-cells, existing regional natural gas consumption, and development of hydrogen distribution infrastructure (e.g., hydrogen pipelines and hydrogen fuelling stations) that can provide users adequate access and supply flexibility.

This new tool will help […] demonstrate and quantify at concept level the benefits and disadvantages of different value chain configurations.

Hans Kristian Danielsen

Marketing and Sales Director

DNV GL has reached the following conclusions:

  • Rapid decline in the cost of green hydrogen and continued development of a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure will trigger broader uptake of fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV), particularly in the heavier vehicle segments. More than 80% of hydrogen for FCEV in 2050 will be for heavy vehicles.
  • Only a handful of countries will see the use of hydrogen for heating in buildings as an attractive decarbonization option, with the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Korea and the Netherlands being the countries that are most likely to adopt this option at a significant scale.
  • Hydrogen will not be deployed at a substantial scale for industry heating in 2030 since other decarbonization alternatives are more mature and often less complex. But use of hydrogen as a fuel may be part of a portfolio of decarbonization measures in some industries in 2050. 

A web-application for assessment of energy value chains has also been developed. This web-application, called ExplEnergy, allows users to configure various energy value chains and estimate the associated cost and greenhouse gas emissions.