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News article18 February 2019

Green hydrogen opportunities in selected industrial processes

Renewable hydrogen: long-distance supply can be competitive.
Renewable hydrogen: long-distance supply can be competitive.
© Malp, Adobe Stock 2019 / Malp, Adobe Stock 2019

The Joint Research Centre (JRC), with the support of the Fuel Cell Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking (FCH 2 JU) organised a one-day workshop on 26th June 2018 at the Centre Albert Borschette in Brussels. The title of the workshop was "Green Hydrogen Opportunities in Selected Industrial Processes".

Industrial Processes and "Green Hydrogen"

Currently, industry is one of the largest consumers of energy, having a share of about 25% of total European energy consumption. This energy use is linked with a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) like carbon dioxide (CO2), and about 8% of the GHG can be linked with selected industrial processes (ammonia, steel, and oil refining industries).

In many industries, the use of fossil fuels is necessary as chemical feedstock for the process itself. Fossil fuel can be used for the production of hydrogen, which is then employed as a reagent in the synthesis of a desired chemical product, e.g.: ammonia. In other cases, fossil fuels are used in a production process for their ability to create specific conditions capable of transforming the raw materials into the final products, e.g.: the transformation of iron into steel.

In both cases the substitution of fossil fuels with hydrogen is often possible. If this hydrogen is produced by using renewable sources, the GHGs from the chemical process are considerably abated. The standard method for doing so is by using renewable electricity in a process called electrolysis. This process has been known for more than a century and splits water in its constituents: oxygen and hydrogen.

The hydrogen produced by using electricity obtained from renewable sources (e.g. wind or solar) is usually labelled as "green hydrogen".

Our workshop brought together experts from industry, associations, academia and governmental organisations, with the aim of collecting knowledge from invited experts, and discuss the feasibility, the challenges, and the potential benefits associated with the use of green hydrogen in the ammonia, steel, and oil refining industries.

Since these three industries contribute to a significant fraction of GHG emissions in the European industrial sector, they will need to be a prominent focus of any decarbonisation effort.

Outcomes of the Workshop

Despite the individual characteristics of the production processes considered in our workshop, it is possible to express some general remarks valid across the ammonia, steel and oil refining industries:

  • Currently green hydrogen is, and will remain for some years, more expensive than hydrogen obtained from fossil fuels.

  • Introduction of flexibility in the industrial production process seems to be the biggest short-term technical hurdle, if green hydrogen is to be employed. Due to the intermittent nature of renewable electricity production, also the production of green hydrogen cannot be continuous. This issue can be mitigated by using hydrogen storage solutions, and by devising process routes fed by varying rations of hydrogen derived from fossil fuels and green hydrogen.

  • The development of processes able to integrate green hydrogen will require significant financial commitments. These seem to be highest for the steel industry. Also, the development of a suitable infrastructure capable of harnessing an adequate amount of renewable energy and distribute green electricity and/or green hydrogen to relevant industrial locations will need large capital investment. It is unlikely that industry will be able to face these challenges alone.

  • For all three industries considered, a process based completely on the use of green hydrogen requires large amounts of renewable electricity production. Natural gas seems to be a preferred bridging choice on the path towards exclusive green hydrogen utilisation.

  • In order to be considered "green", hydrogen has to be produced by renewable electricity which must be additional to what would be consumed anyway; otherwise renewable energy will be diverted from other direct uses, and it will likely be replaced by electricity produced by burning fossil fuels. Cross-border effects should be carefully considered and possibly evaluated across the whole European territory.

  • Legislation should strive to improve opportunities for products with reduced greenhouse gases emissions. Use of green hydrogen should be recognised as a viable means for reducing emissions. Tools such as Guarantees of Origin and effective methodologies for allocating greenhouse gas credits across the current distribution grids (electricity and gas) will have to be developed, before the widespread introduction of innovative process solutions can begin.

  • Suitable system modelling approaches are required to evaluate solutions for hydrogen production, transport, and use on a regional and global scale. Currently available energy scenarios can deviate strongly in their hydrogen-related assumptions, and therefore reach significantly different conclusions.

Related Content

Workshop summary report


Publication date
18 February 2019