Hydrogen is currently used in large quantities as an industrial gas in the chemical industry, among others, for the production of ammonia and in oil refining. Driven by climate objectives, hydrogen can also play a major and multifaceted role as an energy carrier in the rapidly changing energy system.
Liquid and gaseous energy carriers will remain necessary as fuels for applications where electricity and batteries are likely to be inadequate or insufficient. This includes fuel for aviation and shipping, road traffic with energy-intensive and demanding deployment patterns, and production of high-temperature heat in various industrial processes. Furthermore, in the long term, all chemical products and materials that are currently produced from fossil sources (coal, oil and natural gas) will need to be replaced by sustainable variants. Liquid and gaseous energy carriers are also needed for large-scale storage and transport of energy in order to balance the supply and demand of energy with each other everywhere and at all times.
As an intermediate solution, hydrogen can be produced from natural gas without CO2 emissions, when the CO2 released is captured and stored. This is referred to as blue hydrogen. To not only depend on the scarce source of sustainable biomass, more abundantly available renewable energy sources, namely solar and wind energy, can be used to supply liquid and gaseous energy carriers. This is possible through the production of hydrogen from water via electrolysis using sustainable energy from the sun and wind.
Hydrogen can be used directly as a fuel for the replacement of natural gas (in the production of heat for industry and the built environment, for electricity production in gas-fired power stations or for the production of electricity on board fuel-cell-electric vehicles). There are also indirect uses of hydrogen, such as the use of hydrogen in combination with sustainable forms of carbon for the production of synthetic liquid fuels, and together with carbon and nitrogen. These indirect uses represent a basis for almost all chemical products and materials.
The possibilities that hydrogen offers for large-scale storage of energy can ensure an important degree of decoupling between the demand for energy and the variable supply from solar and wind energy. An additional advantage of hydrogen and energy carriers based on hydrogen over electricity, is that it is relatively easy to transport in large quantities and over large distances via pipelines and tankers. This also makes it possible to import sustainable energy from remote areas with large potentials and more favorable conditions for extracting sustainable energy than, for example, in the Netherlands.
With the options for storage, transportability, interchangeability with electricity, and the wide range of applications, hydrogen is a great source of flexibility for the energy system. The controllability of electrolysers for the production of hydrogen provides an important source of flexibility (controllable capacity for positive and negative demand response to be able to fit the variable supply of solar and wind energy in a controlled manner, and the stability of support the electricity system. All in all, these components offer the prospect of a sustainable energy system that can be largely based on sun, wind and hydropower.