With the impacts of climate change becoming more and more apparent, policymakers worldwide are betting on clean hydrogen to break away from fossil fuels. Climate change and net-zero commitments are pushing the race to adopt hydrogen technologies with some countries positioning to become tomorrow’s hydrogen superpowers.
According to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), hydrogen could account for up to 12% of global energy use by 2050, leading to the rise of new energy superpowers. Who are the frontrunners?
China is leading the way, consuming and producing more hydrogen than any other country, with a current annual usage of more than 24 million tonnes. Beijing is mostly producing “grey” hydrogen, meaning that it is generated from fossil fuels like coal. However, since 2019, more than 30 projects are working with “green” hydrogen, which is created from using emissions-free renewable energy.
The country’s first hydrogen roadmap was launched in 2016, which led to the development of the world’s third-largest fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) fleet and to China becoming a pioneer in the development of fuel cell trucks and buses. China’s five-year economic plan recognizes hydrogen as one of the six industries of the future. And while it currently has no national strategy in place, hydrogen features in 16 provincial and city energy strategies.
2. The EU
The European Union launched its hydrogen strategy in 2020 as part of the Union’s flagship — the European Green Deal. The bloc’s strategy is heavily focused on emissions-free green hydrogen, with a target to install 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzer capacity by 2030. However, challenges remain with Europe’s green hydrogen capacity set to reach just 2.7 gigawatts by 2025.
Launched to support investment and large-scale deployment of clean hydrogen projects, the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance was launched with the aim of placing the EU as an industrial leader in clean hydrogen. Within the bloc, different member states look set to become large-scale hydrogen importers, exporters or transit hubs.
In India, policymakers are considering legislation requiring oil refineries and fertilizer plants to use a minimum quota of green hydrogen in their industrial processes. According to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “green” hydrogen could help India make a “quantum leap” to energy independence by 2047.
In 2017, Japan became the first country to formulate a national hydrogen strategy as part of its ambition to become the world’s first “hydrogen society” by adopting the fuel across all sectors. Because the country lacks the natural resources needed to deploy sufficient levels of wind or solar to generate clean hydrogen at scale, it is developing long-term supply agreements to import hydrogen from overseas.
Alongside government investment in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies – totalling $670 million in 2020 – policymakers have set mobility targets of 800,000 FCEVs and 900 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2030. The East Japan Railway Company started testing Japan’s first hydrogen-fuelled train in March 2022, in a step towards the country’s goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
Tokyo is also building a hydrogen-powered city that will serve as a prototype for sustainable cities in the future. The project was developed to enable residents and researchers to test, in a small controlled environment, how the combination of the environment and technology related to autonomy, artificial intelligence and robotics would work.
5. South Korea
South Korea’s 2019 hydrogen roadmap hailed clean hydrogen as a key driver of economic growth and job creation. Seoul wants to become a global leader in producing and deploying FCEVs and large-scale stationary fuel cells for hydrogen power generation.
Its Green New Deal contains an ambitious target of deploying 200,000 FCEVs by 2025 – about 20 times more than in 2020. Last year, South Korea passed the world’s first law aimed at promoting hydrogen vehicles, charging stations and fuel cells — the Economic Promotion and Safety Control of Hydrogen Act.
The US is the world’s second-biggest producer and consumer of hydrogen after China, accounting for 13% of global demand. States such as California supported the country’s FCEV market growth for more than a decade with initiatives like the Clean Vehicle Rebate Programme. The US led the world in this field until 2020. When the government passed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, it contained a $9.5 billion budget to boost clean hydrogen development.
7. Other countries
Net energy importers like Chile, in South America, and African countries such as Morocco and Namibia are emerging as exporters of emissions-free green hydrogen. Meanwhile, fossil fuel exporters like Australia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are looking to clean hydrogen to help diversify their economies.