London — Global demand for hydrogen would need to more than double from its existing level of consumption to 212 million mt by 2030 if the world is attain climate-change goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report detailing a roadmap to net-zero carbon emissions.
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Setting out its vision for a net-zero economy, IEA modeling indicated that demand for hydrogen would need to reach 528 million mt globally by the time 2050 arrives. In 2020, global consumption amounted to 87 million mt.
The 2030 forecast is based upon approximately half of the aggregate demand being met using low-carbon hydrogen production, either from electrolysis or fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), with an acknowledgment that this ratio would vary significantly across regions.
The roadmap also makes a provision for blending into natural gas networks, with the average blend in 2030 amounting to 15% by volume, which would reduce emissions from gas consumption by 6%. This provision, however, is no higher than 8% of global 2030 demand.
"The initial focus for hydrogen use in the net-zero economy is the conversion of existing uses of fossil energy to low-carbon hydrogen in ways that do not immediately require new transmission and distribution infrastructure," the roadmap said.
"This includes hydrogen use in industry and in refineries and power plants, and the blending of hydrogen into natural gas for distribution to end users."
These developments would facilitate a "rapid scaling-up" of electrolyzer capacity and parallel hydrogen transport infrastructure, it added, which would in turn lead to reduced costs for these, as well as hydrogen storage in salt caverns.
The IEA also envisaged more than 15 million hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles on the road by 2030, making up 11.7% of global consumption.
By comparison, hydrogen demand for industry and power generation made up 43.8% and 24.5% of the 2030 total, respectively.
At present, hydrogen is nearly exclusively produced for industrial and oil-refining requirements, with the majority produced onsite, and a significant proportion of the remainder met using ammonia imports. Refining application is the only demand source which diminishes on the path to net-zero.
Road to 2050
In all other sectors, the IEA foresees growth up until 2030, and on to 2050.
"In the electricity sector, hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels provide an important, low-carbon source of electricity system flexibility, mainly through retrofitting existing gas-fired capacity to co-fire with hydrogen, together with some retrofitting of coal-fired power plants to co-fire with ammonia," the report said.
"Although these fuels provide only around 2% of overall electricity generation in 2050, this translates into very large volumes of hydrogen and makes the electricity sector an important driver of hydrogen demand."
Hydrogen for transport is overwhelmingly the biggest growth area according to the modeling, with this demand source accounting for 39.2% of aggregate demand in 2050.
"In transport, hydrogen provides around one-third of fuel use in trucks in 2050 in the net-zero economy: this is contingent on policy makers taking decisions that enable the development of the necessary infrastructure by 2030," the roadmap said.
"By 2050, hydrogen-based fuels also provide more than 60% of total fuel consumption in shipping," it added.
To meet this growing demand, the report implies that the majority of increases will be met by merchant production, amounting to 60% and 78% of overall requirements, respectively. The remainder constitutes a steady growth in onsite production.
"Global trade in hydrogen develops over time... with large volumes exported from gas and renewables-rich areas in the Middle East, Central and South America and Australia to demand centers in Asia and Europe," the report said.
"Almost 30% of the low-carbon hydrogen used in 2050 takes the form of hydrogen-based fuels, which include ammonia and synthetic liquids and gases," it added.
On the path to 2050, the IEA refers to rolling-out of electrolyzers as a "key challenge," considering the current lack of manufacturing capacity. They also concede that some volumes produced from these means will require grid offtake.
"Electrolyzers are powered by grid electricity, dedicated renewables in regions with excellent renewable resources and other low-carbon sources, such as nuclear power," the report said.