5 ways a Hydrogen Society could change the world


Japan is welcoming leaders from around the world this month, as they gather in Osaka for the G20 summit.

Hydrogen – one of the most promising environmentally-friendly fuels – is high up the agenda.

Japan has already adopted a proactive stance towards hydrogen technology, becoming the first country to outline plans for a Hydrogen Society in its pioneering strategy document released in late 2017.

However, these targets need an innovative approach if they are to become a reality, including some fundamental shifts in policy and infrastructure.

Here are five important facts about hydrogen.

1. The technology exists today

Converting to hydrogen is easier than you may think, with technology readily available to create a Hydrogen Society.

For example, much of the existing natural gas supply and power generation infrastructure can be adapted to hydrogen. Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) is developing large-scale turbines capable of burning a natural gas-hydrogen fuel mix. Successful tests of a turbine burning 30% hydrogen fuel mix have laid the foundations for MHPS’ commitment to manufacturing turbines that can burn 100% hydrogen by 2030.

2. Heating homes

In EU households, heat and hot water account for 79% of energy use, predominately fuelled by natural gas. Hydrogen offers an attractive, low-carbon alternative to natural gas and is more efficient than electric heating.

And it can make use of existing infrastructure: some existing gas transmission networks are suitable for supplying homes with hydrogen. In the UK, for example, proposals have already been made to use the country’s gas supply infrastructure for that purpose.

3. Boosting the efficiency of renewables

The development of renewables in regions like Europe is now so extensive that the offshore wind farms and solar parks sometimes produce more electricity than the grid can handle. At these times, offshore wind farms are shutdown. Instead of wasting all that excess electricity, it could be used to power electrolysers that create hydrogen.

The hydrogen created by the excess electricity has a variety of uses across industries. In transport, for example, it can be used as fuel for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, or used to create methanol, a greener alternative to traditional transport fuels.

4. Carbon capture could make current hydrogen production greener

While using renewables to power electrolysers makes hydrogen a truly green fuel, this isn’t how most hydrogen is made today. Instead it is created using the high-emissions method of reforming methane, crude oil or coal. This process is carbon-intensive and releases significant amounts of CO2 as a byproduct.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology allows this traditional form of hydrogen production to become environmentally friendly. It captures the CO2 given off during the hydrocarbon reforming process before it is released into the atmosphere and stores it underground.

5. Decarbonising Industry - Fossil-free steel

An advanced global supply chain for hydrogen would enable the decarbonisation of a number of industrial applications.

For example, steel is one of the world’s highest carbon-emitting industries, accounting for 7% of global CO2 emissions.

Primetals Technologies is piloting a new process that could take steelmaking CO2 emissions to zero. The process swaps carbon from coking coal – which is used to reduce iron ores – for hydrogen. Using hydrogen as a reduction agent instead of carbon can significantly lower steel’s CO2 emissions when the hydrogen is taken from conventional steam reformers, or take it to zero if the hydrogen is produced by renewables-powered electrolysers.

The pilot plant will be set up at voestalpine Stahl Donawitz, Austria and is due to be commissioned in the second quarter of 2020.


Henry Bewicke

Henry Bewicke writes across a wide range of topics, including energy, technology and history.