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How would hydrogen be most effective?

We have used hydrogen in lots of ways since its discovery in the 1700s – to fill blimps and airships, make fertilisers and turn crude oil into petroleum products. However, hydrogen has the potential for much more varied applications, although it is not yet clear which will take precedence. As with any energy source, the usefulness and value of hydrogen will depend on a number of factors which vary with location, sector and end use. How hydrogen continues to impact on our lives will depend on these new applications.

Some of the most important factors which will determine the future role of hydrogen include:


Predicting the future cost of hydrogen is difficult, as it depends on the method of production and the price of the feedstock A raw material needed to fuel a machine or industrial process needed to make it. ‘Green’ hydrogen, which is made using renewable electricity and water, is currently the most expensive. ‘Blue’ hydrogen, made using natural gas, has been touted as a cheaper option that is still low carbon (carbon capture usage and storage The process of trapping carbon dioxide from waste gases or the atmopshere, and then utilising it or storing it safely and permanently (CCUS) technology is used to prevent greenhouse gases being emitted). However, there are still questions over the availability of CCUS, and how it will work at scale.

What is clear is that renewable energy, hydrogen equipment and CCUS are all becoming cheaper. Optimistic predictions expect ‘green’ hydrogen to roughly halve in cost by 2030, which would make using it a lot more attractive as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Climate change and public awareness

Climate change has risen up the agenda due to the impact of extreme weather events, such as wildfires, floods and heatwaves. High-profile climate protests were often in the news in 2019, led by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement. At the same time, governments and businesses are starting to recognise the risks of climate change and the need to end reliance on fossil fuels.

Some countries, such as the UK, France and Norway, have committed to the ambitious target of eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the 21st century. To meet this target, hydrogen has been cited as an essential tool. This is likely to drive demand for hydrogen in advanced economies sooner than it would in developing economies, where access to energy or switching away from coal are a higher priority than decarbonising supplies.

Infrastructure and technology development

Support from both public and private investors can kick-start the process of building hydrogen infrastructure. Alongside governments, support for new hydrogen projects could come from a range of sources, such as gas companies, car manufacturers and engineering firms. For instance, the Hydrogen Council, founded in 2017, is an initiative led by a number of companies working in energy, transport and industry, and works to boost investment in hydrogen and fuel cells. However, private investment is unlikely to occur without some significant public policy or tax interventions.

The state of infrastructure and technology will again vary from place to place; countries like the UK, which have an established gas grid, may be more likely to seek alternative gases such as hydrogen to heat homes. At a more local scale, areas which have heavy industries may be better suited to hydrogen production because of existing infrastructure or the skills of the local workforce. When it comes to personal transport, there is a lot more interest and investment in using batteries for cars rather than fuel cells. However, hydrogen may be more suited for powering buses, forklifts and freight trucks.