It seems that 95% of headlines and stories about hydrogen focus on green hydrogen, yet green hydrogen is barely present here on planet Earth. So, how much of a disservice is being done to society by all of these headlines and articles implying that hydrogen is clean?
When Mike Barnard interviewed Paul Martin for CleanTech Talk a few months ago, one stat caught my attention above all else — that 0.1% of global hydrogen production came from “green hydrogen” (hydrogen produced by splitting water using electricity produced by clean, renewable power). The focus of their discussion was the “Hydrogen Ladder.” (Read about part one and part two for more commentary, or listen to the podcasts — embedded below.)
While I knew that “green hydrogen” was mostly hype, small science projects, and a dream for the future, I didn’t realize it was just 0.1% of global hydrogen production. That stunningly low figure makes the hydrogen hype all the more irritating. You can listen to the full, super informative interview here:
Looking around the internet (thanks, Google), I couldn’t find much reference to this figure of 0.1% (or actually less than 0.1%) of global hydrogen production being “green” production (ugh, Google). I did find a CNBC article from a year ago citing an International Energy Agency (IEA) report and saying, “less than 0.1% of hydrogen today is produced through water electrolysis.” That led me to this report from June 2019. It stated, “While less than 0.1% of global dedicated hydrogen production today comes from water electrolysis, with declining costs for renewable electricity, in particular from solar PV and wind, there is growing interest in electrolytic hydrogen.” Ah, yes, interest.
Luckily, Google did swiftly show me that there’s an updated report published in October 2021 and revised in November 2021, Global Hydrogen Review 2021. So, with all of this interest in green hydrogen in the past few years, where are we at?
The new report indicates that “water electrolysis made up ~0.03%” of global hydrogen production last year. That’s right — not even 0.3%, but a lowly 0.03%! It doesn’t show up on a pie chart of hydrogen sources, of course. (See image at top.) Nonetheless, headline after headline is about “green hydrogen.” Is the hype around green H doing more damage than good, or is it spurring on a yet-to-sprout green industry?
If you want to count carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), it provided another 0.7% of global hydrogen supply in 2020. However, that’s from 16 fossil fuel plants, and the CCUS components of the plants are surely heavily subsidized and are quite expensive methods of getting hydrogen. Many experts argue this can never be cost-competitive.
At the end of the day, the following chart shows three things: “green hydrogen” expectations from projects under construction or planned, the amount of it that is in country pledges by 2030, and the amount needed for an IEA net zero emissions scenario.
As it stands, despite all of the hype, the green hydrogen market is looking a bit anemic, and the 2030 projections based on plans or even pledges are not where the world needs it to be. Hydrogen proponents will say that means that more money needs to be tossed at green hydrogen. Critics will say that we are throwing our money away on many of these green hydrogen projects and programs, money that could be used to fund more capital-efficient decarbonization tech.
The two bottom lines of this matter, in my opinion, are: 1) any funding for hydrogen needs to be focused on solutions that have a serious chance at becoming cost competitive and thus truly useful in the effort to decarbonize, and 2) any coverage of green hydrogen needs to put this industry in context, should explain where 99.97% of hydrogen comes from, and should at least bring to mind why it is that fossil fuel companies are so keen on hyping the hydrogen dream.