The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled a plan to develop clean hydrogen in the EU with the aim of decarbonising the most polluting sectors such as the steel and transport industries, in the race towards climate neutrality in 2050.
“This is the key to a strong, competitive and carbon-free European economy“, assured the vice-president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans during a press conference.
For the Commission, hydrogen “clean“must help sectors that are struggling to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
It involves replacing fossil fuels in industry, in particular for the production of steel, using it as fuel for air and maritime transport, heavy goods vehicles, but also for batteries.
It has made it a priority investment for the transition and revival of its economy after the coronavirus crisis.
Currently, the energy sector is responsible for 75% of EU greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon neutral aircraft
Current production and consumption of hydrogen in the EU amounts to 9.8 million tonnes, largely from fossil fuels. Or a tiny fraction of European energy consumption, but which the Commission sees rising to 14% in 2050 in its form “clean“(produced by electrolysis of water with electricity from renewable sources).
Initially, the Commission wishes to support the installation of 6 gigawatts (GW) of renewable hydrogen electrolysers, and a production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen, before a gradual increase for large-scale development scale between 2030 and 2050.
“We are the world leaders in this technology and we want to stay ahead but we have to make an extra effort (…) because the rest of the world is catching up with us quickly“a mass en garde Frans Timmermans.
Within the EU, Germany announced in early June a massive investment of 9 billion euros, with the ambition to become the “supplier and producer number 1“of hydrogen in the world. France will devote 1.5 billion euros over three years to”achieve a carbon neutral aircraft in 2035“.
“Germany has an interest in pushing the dossier because it has potential champions to create a large industrial sector for green hydrogen“, notes Clément Le Roy, Energy analyst at Wavestone.
Clean hydrogen must participate in the establishment of a better integrated energy system in Europe, an objective which has also been the subject of a new “strategy“published Wednesday.
The Commission wants to develop a more “circular“, focused on energy efficiency and electrification. For example by reusing waste heat from industrial sites or data centers, or by accelerating the transition to electric vehicles.
Always the gas
For the NGO Transport & Environment, “the EU is right to give priority to hydrogen in transport where there is no alternative to decarbonize“But like other environmentalists, she is worried about the role of gas.
The European Commission estimates that in the first years, a “transition period“will be necessary to ensure stable production and competitive prices, during which other hydrogen production processes, which emit carbon, will be maintained but mitigated by carbon capture techniques.
“The Commission fell into the panel of the fossil fuel industry. (…) It offers a new lifeline to this bankrupt industry“, a déploré Tara Connolly de Friends of the Earth.
At the end of June, a large coalition of manufacturers – ExxonMobil, GE, ENI, Equinor or Erdgas – advocated the production of hydrogen using natural gas, accompanied by carbon capture technologies, “necessary to make cost-competitive uses of hydrogen“.
“Today, it is 2 to 5 times cheaper than renewable hydrogen and its deployment will help reduce the cost of the latter.“, they argued.
For Lisa Fischer of the E3G think tank, the Commission forgets that “if we want green hydrogen, we’re going to need much more renewable energy than we produce today“, she believes.