Hydrogen and energy transition

23 January 2024

Our world is facing a climate emergency, and environmental commitments are multiplying, with the primary objective of reducing CO2 emissions, going as far as carbon neutrality by the middle of the century in some cases. This is the case of the European Union, which is aiming to make its economy carbon neutral by 2050.

To achieve these objectives, it is essential to initiate an energy transition by speeding up the development of zero-emission alternatives for the needs of economic activity. Promising solutions have been emerging for nearly a decade. However, it is also clear that these solutions are subject to severe constraints, as illustrated by the example of battery-powered electric mobility.

Electric mobility does not seem to be able to meet all mobility needs, leaving a gap in terms of carbon-free solutions. This is where hydrogen has a role to play in the energy transition, complementing other low-carbon solutions. A major advantage of hydrogen is its flexibility of use. Hydrogen is a storage energy that can be produced, stored and subsequently used in a number of ways, whether as a replacement for natural gas, in a fuel cell or as the basis for creating hydrocarbon chains, etc.

This flexibility makes hydrogen useful in many industrial applications, where it can be burned as a substitute for natural gas, notably for heating in the manufacture of steel and other metals. Hydrogen can also be used in chemistry, where it is used to create derivative molecules such as methanol and ammonia, synthetic fuels such as petrol and diesel, fertilisers and so on.

Hydrogen also has applications in stationary energy production, replacing diesel generators and generators. The molecule is also used to compensate for the intermittent nature of renewable energies by converting excess electricity production into hydrogen, which can then be re-transformed and fed back into the grid in the form of electricity when consumption peaks.

Finally, hydrogen plays a key role in the transport sector, in a number of ways. Initially, it is helping to decarbonise air transport through the use of e-kerosene, a hydrogen-based synthetic fuel. In the longer term, we should see the emergence of decarbonised aviation through the use of fuel cells for short- and medium-haul flights, as well as the direct use of hydrogen for long-haul flights.

Hydrogen is also being used in rail transport, particularly on railway lines that have not yet been electrified and that currently run on diesel locomotives.

The use of hydrogen in road mobility is also emerging, as a complement to battery technology, particularly for applications requiring long range, where batteries cannot guarantee continuity of activity, as is the case for heavy construction equipment, trucks and light commercial vehicles, and to a lesser extent, for personal mobility.

In short, hydrogen is capable of replacing fossil fuels in many industrial processes and activities, enabling business continuity while reducing CO2 emissions. However, its environmental usefulness is proven if and only if the origin of the hydrogen is certified and if we can guarantee that the hydrogen used is produced from renewable electricity or natural gas coupled with carbon capture methods”.