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The role of hydrogen in the decarbonisation path

By Francesca Sartor

Feb 10 2022 · 2 min read

Illuminem Voices
Environmental Sustainability · Energy Transition · Hydrogen

Hydrogen (H) is the most abundant element in the sun, in many other stars and in our bodies, it has been studied in the past and is still used for several purposes. [1]

Currently, thanks to its low environmental impact and its abundance on the planet, it comes to the attention of scientists, regulators and industrials in order to implement its potentialities and uses to contribute to the international decarbonisation path.

Indeed, in these terms, it is intended to be a possible transition and revolution, which will enable the alignment with the climate neutrality targets set by the European Union. Hydrogen will therefore have the role of first siding and then eventually replacing the fossil fuels currently available on the market by significantly reducing emissions into the atmosphere. [2]

Possible uses for hydrogen are:

Source: BloombergNEF [3]

Despite its abundance, hydrogen rarely exists on Earth as a gas, thus needing to be separated from other elements in order to be used. The varying production and separation methods available determine the impact caused on the environment and its related name. [4]

Grey hydrogen, currently the most common, is extracted from natural gas, methane or other fossil fuels, generating carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product. In order to be considered as blue hydrogen, and therefore neutral for the environment, the carbon dioxide produced must be "captured" through carbon capture and storage (CCS), a specific technology that removes the CO2 produced from the atmosphere and then deposits it underground, reducing related GHG (Greenhouse Gases) emissions. [5]

Lastly, green hydrogen, which is the hydrogen production with limited environmental impact. It is derived from electrolysis (a process that splits water into two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom) powered by renewable energy sources (e.g. solar or wind), which allow to obtain so-called "clean" hydrogen.

In the perspective of increasing the development of this resource, the role of the public sector will be to define supporting regulations and allocate R&D funds in order to guide its progress. Contextually, it is essential for additional studies and research to integrate the data already available, so that hydrogen, its limits and characteristics could be better understood, allowing its safe exploitation and its full potential use. Downstream is to stimulate the demand for clean hydrogen, support private sector investment in emerging projects with decreasing related risk and implement an equipped supply chain able to support this evolution.

One of the limiting factors that have so far hindered hydrogen deployment has been the high cost of renewable energy, electrolysers and related technologies, only to name a few. Triggering economies of scale will therefore be a key enabler which will allow us to reach the tipping point, in which green hydrogen will become competitive on the market, thus contributing to the 2050 climate neutrality targets set by the European Union. [6]

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.



[2] Marco Alverà, “Rivoluzione Idrogeno, la piccola molecola che può salvare il mondo”, Mondadori, 2020.





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About the author

Francesca Sartor is a Sustainability and Climate Change Senior Consultant at KPMG, where she helps companies measure their carbon footprint and implement decarbonization strategies. She is a member of CSRnatives - the first Italian network of young sustainability professionals.

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