Around 99 percent of the hydrogen produced worldwide is currently obtained from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. This releases greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate climate change. In the future, other options must be used to enable a sustainable hydrogen economy and to achieve the climate protection goals. Above all, the production of “green” hydrogen on an industrial scale will play an important role. “Green” hydrogen is either generated by electrolysis from water and electricity from renewable energies or obtained from biomass by thermochemical or biological conversion processes – and thus CO2-neutral.
In addition, so-called “blue” and “turquoise” hydrogen could play a (temporary) role in the transformation to a decarbonised economy. The source of “blue” hydrogen is fossil fuels. However, no or very little CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere during the production of blue hydrogen. The resulting CO2 is either stored (carbon capture and storage, CCS), reused (carbon capture and utilization, CCU) or not even produced through the use of pyrolysis processes. During pyrolysis, solid carbon is produced, which can be stored or, if necessary, processed further – in this context one also speaks of “turquoise” hydrogen.
The focus of the activities should be on the development and scaling of electrolysis systems as well as the identification of the optimal technologies for different local conditions. Conclusions about the challenge of scaling should be drawn from the demonstration under different framework conditions. Since the expected hydrogen demand in Germany cannot be completely covered by domestic production, the operation of plants from German production abroad must also be sought within the framework of international partnerships – ideally with the aim of importing green hydrogen to Germany as well.
Logistics technologies for hydrogen play a key role, since hydrogen production in preferred regions makes it necessary to transport the hydrogen over long distances to the target regions. In particular, logistics technologies should, where possible, use existing infrastructures such as gas pipelines or existing tank farms, tank vehicles and filling stations in order to keep the costs of the future hydrogen economy as low as possible. Due to its low density under standard conditions, hydrogen must either be compressed, liquefied by cooling or chemically bound for efficient logistics. Although all three processes improve the transport properties of hydrogen, they are also associated with certain efficiency losses. It is important to transport the generated hydrogen with as little loss as possible and cheaply, even over long distances, in order to combine inexpensive, green generation points with high-quality applications. Many partners have to cooperate in all logistics applications: the carriers of technological expertise, plant manufacturers, municipalities and many more. The establishment of standards is crucial for resilient business models for hydrogen users that are based on logistics applications. In particular, international coordination is also necessary at an early stage in order to enable future international trade as cost-effectively as possible.
At the moment, hydrogen is mainly recycled in traditional applications. The main consumer is the chemical industry. In order to achieve the climate protection goals formulated in the Paris Climate Agreement, the global economies must significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen is an indispensable component due to its diverse applicability, because it offers attractive possibilities for use in various sectors: in the mobility, industrial, heating and electricity sectors.
Hydrogen applications in the mobility and industrial sectors are particularly interesting for Germany. Great potential for CO2 savings can be realized here through the use of hydrogen. In these areas, however, there are still challenges to be mastered with regard to the availability of products and systems and, occasionally, also with regard to profitability. In the long term, there is also great potential in the building (heating) and energy sectors (seasonal storage). Providing hydrogen as cheaply as possible is essential for the profitability of business models – as is bringing hydrogen producers and consumers together.
In Germany today there are excellent prerequisites for achieving an internationally leading position in the field of innovative technologies for the hydrogen economy and in the field of hydrogen-based mobility.
The large-scale production of green hydrogen, on the other hand, will most likely not take place in Germany, but in preferential regions where the production costs of hydrogen are cheaper and there is a high potential for renewable energies. Germany will therefore remain an energy importer even in a climate-neutral world. For this purpose, national and international partnerships are to be promoted in the context of an international hydrogen economy of the future. The measures are already laying the foundation for a strong position for the German economy in a climate-neutral industrial society.
The hydrogen strategies at state, federal and EU level are of great importance in order to accompany a comprehensive structural change in various sectors of the German economy. It is important to coordinate efforts in the field of hydrogen at the various levels with other federal states, the federal government and other international partners. With the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy and the development of infrastructure, decisions for certain technologies and standards always go hand in hand. Important decisions have to be made on a national and European level.