SOUTH KOREA, SEOUL, July 10 – European Union on Wednesday, July, 8th unveiled a plan to develop clean hydrogen trains with the aim of decarbonizing 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,” said European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans at a press conference.
The Commission believes that “clean” hydrogen should 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 sea 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.
The energy sector is currently responsible for 75% of EU greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon Neutral Aircraft
The current production and consumption of hydrogen in the European Union amounts to 9.8 million tonnes, largely from fossil fuels. Or a tiny part of European energy consumption, but which the Commission sees rising to 14% in 2050 in its “clean” form.
Produced by electrolysis of water with electricity from renewable sources.
Initially, the Commission wishes to support the installation of SIX Gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers, and 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”, warned Frans Timmermans.
Within the European Union, Germany announced at the beginning of June a massive investment of 9 billion euros, with the ambition of becoming the “number one supplier and producer” 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 Clement Le Roy, an Energy analyst at Wavestone.
Clean hydrogen must participate in the establishment of a better-integrated energy system in Europe, an objective which was also the subject of a new “strategy” published on Wednesday.
The Commission wants to develop a more “circular system”, 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 European Federation for Transport and Environment (NGO), “the European Union 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 believes that in the first years, a “transition period” will be necessary to ensure stable production and competitive prices. During this period, other hydrogen production processes, which emit carbon, will be maintained but mitigated by carbon capture techniques.
“The Commission has fallen into the trap of the fossil fuel industry. It offers a new lifeline to this bankrupt industry,” deplored Tara Connolly of Friends of the Earth.
At the end of June, a large coalition of industrialists – ExxonMobil, GE, ENI, Equinor or Erdgas – advocated for the production of hydrogen using natural gas, accompanied by carbon capture technologies, “necessary to make the uses of hydrogen cost-competitive”.
“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 are going to need much more renewable energy than what we currently produce”, she believes.