EU’s ‘Clean Hydrogen Alliance’ must focus on renewables, greens insist

Europe is already a leader in technologies such as offshore wind and electrolysers which are key components of a clean hydrogen value chain, a coalition of green NGOs and think tanks points out in a letter sent to the European Commission on Friday (15 May). [Vattenfall / Flickr]

The European Commission’s “Clean Hydrogen Alliance,” expected to be launched in the summer, should focus primarily on ensuring that renewables-based hydrogen becomes cheaper than fossil alternatives, campaigners argue.

European industry can lead the way in developing clean hydrogen solutions that will allow deep emission cuts in hard-to-abate sectors of the economy, according to a coalition of eight environmental NGOs and think tanks.

Europe is already a leader in technologies such as offshore wind and electrolysers which are key components of a clean hydrogen value chain, the coalition points out in a letter sent to the European Commission on Friday (15 May), which was shared exclusively with EURACTIV.

“To support European industry to expand its competitive advantage, the Clean Hydrogen Alliance must remain focused on one goal: beating expectations and making renewables-based hydrogen production cheaper than its alternative fossil production methods by 2030,” the coalition wrote in the letter.

“With this in mind, fossil fuel-based hydrogen coupled to carbon capture and storage is a distraction from this important goal and should not receive public support,” the group added.

A widespread buzzword at the beginning of the century, the hydrogen economy could now be about to materialise on the back of technological advances in electrolyser manufacturing.

However, this will only be possible if policies are put in place to help scale up the technology and drive down costs, according to BloombergNEF, a research firm, which published its ‘Hydrogen Economy Outlook’ earlier this year.

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‘Lead markets’ in aviation and shipping

In March, the European Commission announced a “Clean Hydrogen Alliance” for launch around the summer, bringing together companies, governments and research organisations around the development of a hydrogen supply chain in Europe.

Germany and the Netherlands are among the EU countries that have signalled the strongest interest in hydrogen, which is seen as a potential silver bullet to decarbonise heavy industries such as steelmaking, cement and chemicals.

But initially, the volumes of renewable hydrogen will be small and the price high, the coalition of green NGOs pointed out in their letter to the EU executive.

“This is why the Commission and its European Green Deal should identify lead markets for renewable hydrogen” and make sure it is used in sectors such as steelmaking, chemicals and aviation, where the direct use of renewable electricity is not feasible, they argued.

“In the transport sector, shipping and aviation are obvious candidates, given their enormous energy demand and lack of clean fuel alternatives,” the letter said.

The coalition also argued against using hydrogen for heating and private cars, saying these are a “distraction” that will only delay the electrification of transport and buildings.

The Netherlands begged to differ, saying the European Commission should create an EU-wide market for hydrogen “as soon as possible” rather than wait for renewable energy-based varieties to be commercially available.

That means building on existing “grey” hydrogen produced from natural gas steam reforming, which is currently the dominant form of hydrogen used globally, said Noé van Hulst, the Dutch hydrogen envoy.

“Today, 70% of hydrogen production comes from natural gas. If we decarbonise it with CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage], we can create hydrogen value chains and a market that will reduce costs and help integrate hydrogen from renewable electricity,” said François-Régis Mouton, Europe director at the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP).

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