Hydrogen and decarbonisation of gas: false dawn or silver bullet?

This Insight continues the OIES series considering the future of gas. The clear message from previous papers is that on the (increasingly certain) assumption that governments in major European gas markets remain committed to decarbonisation targets, the existing natural gas industry is under threat.   It is therefore important to develop a decarbonisation narrative leading to a low- or zero-carbon gas implementation plan.

Previous papers have considered potential pathways for gas to decarbonise, specifically considering biogas and biomethane , and power-to-gas (electrolysis) . This paper goes on to consider the potential for production, transport and use of hydrogen in the decarbonising energy system. Previous papers predominately focused on Europe, which has been leading the way in decarbonisation. Hydrogen is now being considered more widely in various countries around the world, so this paper reflects that wider geographical coverage.

Since the term ‘hydrogen economy’ was first used in 1970 , there have been a number of ‘false dawns’ with bold claims for the speed of transition to hydrogen.  This Insight argues that this time, for some applications at least, there are grounds for optimism about a future role for decarbonised hydrogen, but the lesson from history is that bold claims need to be examined carefully and treated with some caution. There are no easy or low-cost solutions to decarbonisation of the energy system and this is certainly the case for possible deployment of low-carbon hydrogen. A key challenge is to demonstrate the technical, commercial, economic and social acceptability of various possibilities at scale. Hydrogen will certainly play a role in decarbonisation of the energy system, although the size of the role may be more limited than envisaged in some more optimistic projections.

By: Martin Lambert