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Abstract

While most hydrogen research focuses on the technical and cost hurdles to a full-scale hydrogen economy, little consideration has been given to the geopolitical drivers and consequences of hydrogen developments. The technologies and infrastructures underpinning a hydrogen economy can take markedly different forms, and the choice over which pathway to take is the object of competition between different stakeholders and countries. Over time, cross-border maritime trade in hydrogen has the potential to fundamentally redraw the geography of global energy trade, create a new class of energy exporters, and reshape geopolitical relations and alliances between countries. International governance and investments to scale up hydrogen value chains could reduce the risk of market fragmentation, carbon lock-in, and intensified geo-economic rivalry.
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Energy Research & Social Science
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/erss
The new oil? The geopolitics and international governance of hydrogen
Thijs Van de Graaf
a,
, Indra Overland
b
, Daniel Scholten
c
, Kirsten Westphal
d
a
Ghent University, Belgium
b
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), Norway
c
Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), Netherlands
d
German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Germany
ARTICLE INFO
Keywords:
Hydrogen
Global market
Geopolitics
Energy trade
International governance
ABSTRACT
While most hydrogen research focuses on the technical and cost hurdles to a full-scale hydrogen economy, little
consideration has been given to the geopolitical drivers and consequences of hydrogen developments. The
technologies and infrastructures underpinning a hydrogen economy can take markedly different forms, and the
choice over which pathway to take is the object of competition between different stakeholders and countries.
Over time, cross-border maritime trade in hydrogen has the potential to fundamentally redraw the geography of
global energy trade, create a new class of energy exporters, and reshape geopolitical relations and alliances
between countries. International governance and investments to scale up hydrogen value chains could reduce
the risk of market fragmentation, carbon lock-in, and intensified geo-economic rivalry.
1. Introduction
The idea of hydrogen as a clean energy solution has had several false
starts, but this time may be different. Major declines in the cost of re-
newable electricity, coupled with expected cost reductions for electro-
lysers, have strengthened the business case for green hydrogen. As a
CO
2
-free energy carrier, hydrogen could help decarbonize hard-to-abate
sectors in addition to offering storage and long-distance transportation
options for renewable power.
These drivers have given hydrogen new political and business mo-
mentum. Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Norway have
recently issued national hydrogen strategies. Hydrogen is being dis-
cussed at the G20, the IEA, IRENA, and other forums. Japan received a
first cargo of liquid hydrogen from Brunei in early 2020 and another
shipping route from Australia is set to open within a few months. It is
increasingly plausible that hydrogen will become an internationally
traded commodity. The arrival of the first cargo of hydrogen to Japan
could potentially come to be seen as significant a moment as the first
delivery of LNG by the Methane Pioneer from the US to the UK in the
late 1950s [1]. At the same time, the slow and incomplete globalization
of natural gas markets offers important lessons for those betting on a
fast expansion of hydrogen trade.
For a global clean hydrogen market to develop, several obstacles
need to be overcome. Costs have to come further down, infrastructure
must be expanded, and hydrogen needs to be produced from cleaner
sources—either renewable electricity or fossil fuels equipped with
carbon capture, utilization or storage technologies (CCUS). At present,
more than 99% of all hydrogen is still made from (unabated) fossil
fuels, leaving a substantial CO
2
footprint [2].
The road towards a global hydrogen market is not just a function of
technical and economic factors, however. The possible emergence of a
hydrogen economy will also be shaped by, and in turn give shape to,
geopolitical dynamics that have hitherto been overlooked. Hydrogen is
a blind spot in the emerging literature on the geopolitics of the energy
transformation, which has focused mostly on the implications of elec-
trification of end-use sectors through increased deployment of solar and
wind power [3,4]. The geopolitical angle is just one of a broader set of
social science research questions that the hydrogen transition is
opening up [5].
The technologies and infrastructures underpinning a hydrogen
economy can take markedly different forms, depending on hydrogen’s
source, handling, shipping, and end-uses. In political economy terms,
each alternative value chain creates its own set of winners and losers
[6]. The choice of particular paths to scale up the production will
therefore not just be a function of costs and technical efficiency.
Struggles and conflicts between different stakeholders in the value
chain will shape the creation of a global hydrogen market and affect the
pace of the energy transition.
The stakes in this geopolitical game are high. By 2050, hydrogen
could meet up to 24% of the world's energy needs, and annual sales of
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101667
Received 22 April 2020; Received in revised form 15 June 2020; Accepted 17 June 2020
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: thijs.vandegraaf@ugent.be (T. Van de Graaf).
Energy Research & Social Science 70 (2020) 101667
2214-6296/ © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
T
hydrogen could be worth USD 700 billion, with billions more spent on
end use equipment [7]. Left to its own devices, however, the build-up of
a hydrogen economy may result in market fragmentation, carbon lock-
in, and intense geo-economic rivalry.
Enhanced international collaboration could help avert these risks
and create a liquid and well-functioning global market in hydrogen.
International frameworks to harmonize certification and regulations,
de-risk investments, support R&D, and provide a roadmap for the 2030
and 2050 roles of hydrogen in the energy transition would all be ben-
eficial and give hydrogen a flying start compared to natural gas/LNG.
2. Hydrogen and the energy transition: State of play
2.1. Technical opportunities and challenges
Hydrogen has long been touted as an important piece of the clean
energy puzzle. It is the lightest and most abundant element in the
universe, but hydrogen on Earth only rarely exists in its pure form. It is
almost always chemically combined with other elements, most notably
as water molecules (H2O). Once you free the element from its com-
pound, hydrogen can be converted into electricity through fuel cells, it
can be combusted to produce heat or power, or it can be used as a
feedstock. When burned in an engine or when combined with oxygen in
a fuel cell, hydrogen produces heat or electricity with only water vapor
as a by-product, and no other pollutants or emissions.
Hydrogen can be employed across a wide range of applications,
across virtually all sectors, from transport to industry to buildings. The
IEA sees significant opportunity for hydrogen-based fuels in high-tem-
perature heat production and industries, space heating, powering high-
mileage vehicles as well as planes and ships, and seasonal storage for
the grid [2].
It is important to note that hydrogen is not an energy source but an
energy carrier. Just like electricity, it needs to be produced using other
sources of energy. Today, hydrogen is mainly produced from natural
gas (“grey” hydrogen) and coal (“black” hydrogen). Only a negligible
part of current production is from fossil fuels equipped with carbon
capture technologies (“blue” hydrogen) or from electrolysis powered by
renewables (“green” hydrogen).
1
Converting renewable electricity via
hydrogen into other energy carriers – gases, liquids, and heat – and
chemical feedstocks is a process known as “Power-to-X” (PtX or P2X).
Each of the “downstream derivates” of hydrogen (e.g., synthetic me-
thane, synthetic diesel, methanol, ammonia) comes with its own value-
chains. By enabling these conversions, hydrogen has the potential to
connect different parts of the energy system, also known as “sector
coupling”.
Several technical and economic limitations have held back hy-
drogen, including its explosiveness, low energy density per volume,
ability to cause embrittlement in metals and, accordingly, costly in-
frastructure for production, storage, and distribution. As a consequence,
past waves of enthusiasm have not translated into sustained invest-
ments or policy support. Between 2008 and 2018, worldwide govern-
ment spending on hydrogen declined by about 35% [2].
Without some form of “climate neutral molecules” (biogas, hy-
drogen, synthetic fuels, etc.), however, it will be very hard to achieve
deep decarbonization [8]. For sectors such as long-haul transport,
chemicals, and metallurgy, it is difficult to curb emissions through
electrification alone [9,10]. Efficiency, new materials, the circular
economy, and behavioural changes could help to lower overall energy
demand in those hard-to-abate sectors. For instance, substituting short-
distance air travel with high-speed rail could dent overall demand for
jet fuel. Yet, modelling shows the need for some form of green gases or
fuels to successfully transition to a zero-carbon energy system [11,12].
Hydrogen and derived fuels such as methanol, ethanol, and ammonia
may thus be the “missing link” in the energy transition [13]. Moreover,
the rapid expansion of cheap renewable power can simultaneously
bring down hydrogen’s cost and carbon emissions.
2.2. Dilemmas and trade-offs in scaling up hydrogen value chains
Creating a global clean hydrogen market will require the creation of
entire new value chains (see Table 1). The choice over which pathway
to take is the object of fierce struggles and conflicts between different
stakeholders, including governments that import and export energy,
renewable electricity suppliers, industrial gas producers, electric uti-
lities, automakers, oil and gas companies, shipping companies, and ci-
ties with major ports.
Some of the paths in Table 1 involve a choice between different
technologies when it comes to hydrogen production, handling and its
applications. These technological choices may pit several industrial
players against one another, for instance electric car makers versus fuel
cell manufacturers. Other paths involve primarily a choice between
different locations of production and consumption. Since these geo-
graphical dimensions come with a geopolitical twist, we explore them
in the next section. Here, we discuss the dilemmas with regard to the
three major technological choices to be made in scaling up a hydrogen
market: production, handling, and applications.
First, in terms of production, today’s hydrogen value chains are
dominated by fossil fuels. In a decarbonizing world, the key contenders
for future hydrogen production are blue and green hydrogen. While
each pathway produces the exact same chemical product (H2), they
come with a very different constellation in terms of energy infra-
structure and industry. Blue hydrogen supports natural gas extraction,
transport, and processing and the CCUS industry. Green hydrogen re-
quires cheap electrolysers and could facilitate new investments in re-
newables by cutting curtailment, addressing negative pricing, and re-
ducing the need to build costly new power transmission capacity
(particularly for offshore wind).
The choice of which path to take is fraught with dilemmas.
Developing a full-fledged clean hydrogen infrastructure is unlikely to
happen without blue hydrogen, given the current scale and cost ad-
vantage of hydrogen production from fossil fuels. In many countries,
using grid electricity to produce hydrogen would result in more emis-
sions than hydrogen produced from steam methane reformation of
natural gas without CCUS (i.e. “gray” hydrogen) [13]. Yet, production
of blue hydrogen is not carbon–neutral (since it is impossible to capture
all of the CO2 emissions when producing blue hydrogen or eliminate all
risks of upstream methane leakages) and can lock in carbon-intensive
trajectories and infrastructure (since it requires continued extraction of
natural gas). Moreover, blue hydrogen relies on carbon capture tech-
nologies which are currently being deployed only at a snail’s pace, and
often combined with enhanced oil recovery, a process that eventually
creates more CO2 emissions.
Second, in terms of handling, hydrogen can be handled in pure form
(H2) or it can be converted into other molecules such as synthetic
methane, methanol, Fischer-Tropsch (FT) liquid hydrocarbons (e.g.,
diesel, gasoline, kerosene and lubricants), or ammonia. Each option
Table 1
Alternative hydrogen value chain pathways.
Key pathways
What to produce it from? Blue or green hydrogen?
Where to produce it? Home-grown or imported?
How to handle it? Pure hydrogen or derivates?
What to use it for? Selected applications or hydrogen society?
Where to consume it? Exports or industrialization?
1
There are other methods to produce hydrogen, which come with their own
economic and geopolitical challenges, including pyrolysis to produce “turquoise
hydrogen” and nuclear hydrogen production (“purple hydrogen”).
T. Van de Graaf, et al. Energy Research & Social Science 70 (2020) 101667
2
comes with particular advantages and downsides. Pure hydrogen can
only be mixed to a certain extent in the existing gas distribution grid
and requires retrofitting of boilers, ovens, furnaces and meters at the
consumer’s end. These retrofits are not required for synthetic methane,
which can be directly injected in the grid. Synthetic diesel can be
shipped in product tankers and unloaded at ordinary ports. Methanol
and ammonia can be transported by liquid bulk chemical tankers.
Synthetic methane, methanol and FT products require a CO2 source.
Ammonia, on the other hand, is a carbon-free compound (NH3) but its
storage and transportation may pose safety problems as it is highly
toxic.
Third, in terms of applications, until now, hydrogen has primarily
been used in industry as a chemical feedstock, notably for oil refining
and ammonia production.
3
In the future, hydrogen could potentially
also function as a versatile energy carrier that could be fed into the gas
network, used in fuel cell vehicles, converted to other synthetic fuels, or
converted into electricity for the grid. Japan aspires to become the
world’s first “hydrogen-based society,” and envisages a broad range of
applications for hydrogen. For instance, battery electric vehicles (BEVs)
have an overall well-to-wheel efficiency of ~70-90%, while hydrogen
cars only reach ~25-35%. The conversion efficiency of battery electric
vehicles (BEVs), compared to only 25–40% for internal combustion
engines [14]. There is a risk that hydrogen value chains will be sup-
ported at the expense of alternative value chains that are more efficient.
In addition, the risk of lock-in is also present here. Hydrogen blending
mandates for natural gas pipelines, for instance, could help to lower
emissions of gas-based heating and cooking in buildings, but do not lead
to zero emissions in and of themselves. They could also slow down the
penetration of electric furnaces and heat pumps or conversion into
hydrogen dedicated pipelines.
3. Geopolitical aspects of hydrogen trade
The expansion of hydrogen value chains creates difficult trade-offs
and dilemmas. Investment in hydrogen infrastructure is needed to bring
down overall costs, but it is also risky in the absence of assured supply
and demand. Those countries, companies and cities that have betted on
the “wrong” pathway, may incur significant losses. Conversely, those
actors that are able to gain technological leadership stand to gain sig-
nificantly. Companies and countries also need to confront another set of
choices, related not so much to technology but rather to the geography
of hydrogen production and use: industrialized countries need to weigh
the option of large-scale imports against the costs and benefits of do-
mestically-produced hydrogen, whereas countries with abundant re-
sources to produce cheap hydrogen can either export hydrogen in large
quantities or use it to attract “downstream” industries like iron and
steel.
Overall, this leads us to consider three geopolitical implications of
hydrogen: the creation of new dependencies between states if the path
of large-scale imports is chosen; a change in the interest and actor
constellations of the energy transition if hydrogen throws a lifeline to
fossil fuel producers and incumbents; and a possible intensification of
technological and geo-economic rivalry between countries.
3.1. New dependencies between states
Today, hydrogen is still a very localized industry. Some 85% of
hydrogen is produced and consumed on-site, mostly at refineries.
3
To
scale up production, industrialized countries may set up hydrogen
plants at home or import hydrogen from states rich in renewable (or
fossil) energy resources. For major economies like the EU or Japan,
importing green hydrogen from regions with comparatively cheap,
abundant renewables may help to reduce the cost of the energy tran-
sition as well as pressures on domestic resources (space on sea and land)
linked to large-scale deployment of renewables. However, such cross-
border maritime trade in hydrogen could produce new dependencies
between states and give rise to new maritime shipping risks.
Hydrogen thus has the potential to reshape the global map of energy
trade and create a new class of exporters (see Fig. 1). Countries such as
Japan and South Korea are anticipating large-scale imports of hy-
drogen. By contrast, the hydrogen strategies of countries like Australia,
Chile, and New Zealand focus on the potential for exports. New trade
links may thus emerge and, to the extent that hydrogen displaces fossil
fuels, it could potentially reduce the pressure on key maritime choke-
points for oil (e.g., Strait of Hormuz) or pivotal transit countries for
natural gas (e.g., Ukraine until recently). At the same time, new ship-
ping lanes may gain importance on the map of global energy trade.
For countries with close geographic proximity, hydrogen may be
shipped through pipelines. In Northwestern Europe, for instance, a
900 km hydrogen-pipeline network connects Rotterdam (the
Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium), and Dunkirk (France). Worldwide,
there exist already more than 4,500 km of hydrogen pipelines [15].
German gas pipeline operators have recently unveiled plans to build a
hydrogen grid of around 5,900 km, which would be by far the world’s
Fig. 1. Costs of different hydrogen types by location, USD per kg of hydrogen [2].
T. Van de Graaf, et al. Energy Research & Social Science 70 (2020) 101667
3
largest. While these regional and local networks could be combined into
transregional networks, there is as of yet no experience with long-dis-
tance hydrogen pipeline transportation.
Several countries are already engaging in what could be called
“hydrogen diplomacy.” The Dutch government has even appointed a
special “hydrogen envoy.” Japan’s diplomats and industrial stake-
holders are engaging Australia, Brunei, Norway, and Saudi Arabia on
hydrogen fuel procurement [16]. Germany has signed a cooperation
agreement with Morocco on methanol production from hydrogen,
South Korea has its eyes on Norway, the Netherlands is targeting Por-
tugal as a potential supplier of hydrogen, and industrial players in
Belgium are looking towards Oman and Chile for large-scale hydrogen
imports.
If the current trend toward bilateral partnerships continues, the
market could start from a highly fragmented base, mimicking the ex-
perience with the initial phases of the LNG market [17]. The first LNG
projects were subject to inflexible, bilateral, long-term contracts with
oil-indexed prices—and were therefore sometimes referred to as
“floating pipelines.” Japan spearheaded the development of the LNG
market by emerging as the first big buyer. Its commitment to large-scale
hydrogen imports could make it, once again, global gas market pioneer,
this time in hydrogen.
One of the key differences with trade in crude oil or natural gas is
that hydrogen trade will be less asymmetric. It is technically possible to
produce hydrogen almost everywhere in the world. The fact that many
countries could become prosumers (both producers and consumer of
hydrogen) and that hydrogen can be stored makes it almost impossible
for exporters to weaponize hydrogen trade or for importers to be
trapped by a small cartel of suppliers. Yet, hydrogen trade will not be as
reciprocal as cross-border trade in electricity, where electrons actually
travel both ways depending on supply and demand conditions on both
sides of the border. Still, international trade in hydrogen will boost the
energy security of importers as it will provide a back-up to the elec-
tricity system.
3.2. The politics of the energy transition
Instead of focusing narrowly on technologies and costs, govern-
ments have to manage the geo-economics of hydrogen. The potential
for centralized production and distribution of hydrogen offers oppor-
tunities to co-opt segments of the fossil fuel industry into the energy
transition and throw a lifeline to petrostates. This potential could per-
haps be politically leveraged in order to maintain at least the minimum
commitment of oil exporters such as Russia and Saudi-Arabia to the
Paris Agreement.
For the oil and gas exporting countries in the Middle East and North
Africa (MENA) region, hydrogen could be an answer to one of the big
challenges they are facing today: how to diversify their economies away
from reliance on oil and gas export revenues. These countries have
several advantages, including the availability of abundant, low-cost
solar (for producing green hydrogen), underground storage options for
carbon sequestration (in case the blue hydrogen production route is
taken), and a geographic location that is ideal to serve both European
and Asian markets. The non-oil economies in the region, including
Morocco, could also take advantage of their low-cost renewable energy
abundance. Yet, the region’s potential might be undermined by limited
freshwater availability, which would require additional investment in
desalination capacity, which would in turn drive up costs.
Hydrogen could also convert some of the incumbent industries to
the cause of the energy transition and, as such, tip the balance in favor
of a rapid and deep decarbonization trajectory. The oil and gas sectors
have taken a particular interest in hydrogen, which involves the pro-
duction, transport and distribution of (combustible) fuels, an activity
they are most familiar with. Moreover, the existing gas infrastructure
can to some extent be repurposed for hydrogen which is why this fuel is
championed by the incumbent natural gas actors, particularly the
pipeline distribution companies.
3.3. Geo-economic competition
Controlling the value chains of low-carbon energy technologies is
vital for economic competitiveness, national security, and energy in-
dependence. Early movers in the hydrogen industry might be able to
sell their technology to the rest of the world. Technology leadership
might be developed around many aspects of the hydrogen value chain,
including fuel-cell membranes or precision-engineered storage tanks,
pipeline materials or burners. In June 2020, Germany announced that it
would spend 9 billion euros to expand hydrogen capacity as part of its
post-covid-19 recovery plan and in a bid to make the country a key
supplier of the technology worldwide. Concomitantly, German elec-
tricity utility RWE and steelmaker Thyssenkrupp launched a partner-
ship to produce green hydrogen and use it for the production of steel.
The race for technology leadership is clear in many countries and
sectors. Consider automotive: Japanese car makers Honda and Toyota
are betting that fuel cell vehicles will triumph over batteries, especially
in terms of range, while Chinese car makers are making big strides in
electric vehicles, and German car makers have long focused on making
diesel-powered combustion engines more efficient. In many cases,
public money is underpinning efforts to deploy hydrogen value chains,
making this even more the territory of geo-economic competition. That
is why the EU Commission has announced that it will shortly launch an
EU Hydrogen Alliance in a recent document on a “new industrial
strategy for Europe” [18]. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) es-
timated that electrolyzers were already 83% cheaper to produce in
China than in Western countries in 2019 [7], which might stir fears in
Europe and North America about China dominating yet another critical
energy technology (after obtaining leading positions in rare earths,
solar photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturing, EVs, etc.).
The emergence of inter-continental hydrogen value chains will also
intensify industrial competition between countries about the siting of
energy-intensive industries. Countries with a lot of potential to make
hydrogen from indigenous resources (either renewables or fossil fuels)
might opt for expanding their value chains into energy-intensive in-
dustries such as chemicals and steel, instead of simply exporting hy-
drogen to industrialized countries. Hydrogen trade could thus add a
new dimension to geo-economic rivalry among major powers.
Moreover, to the extent that developing countries are seen solely as the
providers of raw materials, the hydrogen revolution carries a risk of
“green colonialism.”
4. Frontrunners and coalitions
The road to an integrated, well-functioning and clean global hy-
drogen market is thus fraught with uncertainty and risks. It could easily
end up like natural gas—largely traded within countries or on fixed,
long-term, bilateral contracts between countries. International govern-
ance could help scale up investments in hydrogen value chains, while
damping market fragmentation, carbon lock-in, and the emergence of
new geopolitical risks.
More than 19 frontrunner countries have recently issued hydrogen
roadmaps and strategies [19]. These national strategies differ markedly
in terms of hydrogen production pathways, applications and geo-
graphy. What is needed now are international rules on standards and
certification that make it possible to identify the carbon content of
hydrogen and derivative fuels. If hydrogen is to become carbon–neutral
or possibly even contribute to negative CO
2
emissions (by producing
hydrogen from biomass and combining it with carbon capture), certi-
fication will be key.
In parallel, a concerted vision is needed of the role for hydrogen in
the global energy system in 2030, 2040, and 2050 in line with the Paris
Agreement. Because of the danger of carbon lock-in and the need to de-
risk investments, frank discussion is needed about a gradual phase out
T. Van de Graaf, et al. Energy Research & Social Science 70 (2020) 101667
4
of gray hydrogen. Ideally, an internationally agreed framework with a
sequential expiration of “color” certificates would pave the way till
2050. To kick-start a hydrogen economy, the “chromatics” may initially
have to be neglected. Paradoxically, blue hydrogen currently has a
lower carbon footprint than electrolytic hydrogen in most re-
gions—because of their current electricity mixes [20].
The economics of green hydrogen are improving. The cost of alka-
line electrolysers already fell 40% from 2015 to 2019 [7]. Electrolysers
have a modularity reminiscent of PV modules and may repeat the
spectacular cost reductions seen in the solar industry. To help make
green hydrogen competitive with natural gas, public support is needed,
ranging from targets to R&D and subsidies. In particular, governments
will have to put a price on carbon [21]. It is important to keep in mind,
however, that even if green hydrogen becomes cheaper than blue hy-
drogen (possibly with the help of a carbon price), it still needs to
compete with petrol, diesel, marine fuel and kerosene for many of its
potential applications, especially in transportation [22].
5. Building a hydrogen economy
Building an international hydrogen economy may be critical for
meeting the Paris climate goals but would benefit from a concerted
effort by multiple actors.
The existing national hydrogen roadmaps offer important stock-
takes by national policymakers, but they would be even more useful if
they were strung together into regional and even global roadmaps.
National energy security and industry interests need to be balanced
against the common interest in mitigating climate change and ensuring
geopolitical stability. National governments are also key to guarantee a
stable and long-term policy framework and a stimulating business cli-
mate. As a consequence of recovery programs in response to the Covid-
19 pandemic, states might become actors in the hydrogen value
themselves.
Pulling the strings together is not a foregone, as a dedicated forum
does not exist. The experience of the natural gas sector indicates that
coordination—not to mention the creation of an international organi-
zation—can be difficult [23]. However, hydrogen has the advantage
over natural gas of a possible link to decarbonization and the force of
the climate agenda. There are several international organizations which
can contribute to discussions on hydrogen pathways and certification.
The International Renewable Energy Agency brings expertise on renew-
ables and green hydrogen, the International Energy Agency has worked
on hydrogen from an energy security point-of-view, while the Interna-
tional Atomic Energy Agency is providing insights into nuclear hydrogen
production. The International Energy Forum provides a platform for
dialogue between energy sellers and buyers and could expand into the
hydrogen sector. Getting these organizations to work together would
require skillful steering and leadership, which could be done by the G7
and G20 as potential governance clubs. There is ample need for both,
consumer–consumer cooperation to create converging regulatory fra-
meworks and certificates. Moreover, a producer–consumer dialogue
can be conducive to define phasing-out fossil-fuels and phasing in hy-
drogen pathways.
Corporations and investors will take another hard look at the business
case for hydrogen and weigh the risks of yet another false start against
those of missing out on a major opportunity that could finally be
coming to fruition. Yet, the goal of carbon-neutrality by mid-century
has become part of their bylaws in many cases.
Researchers and policymakers need to pay more attention to the
international politics of hydrogen. Cross-border maritime trade in hy-
drogen has the potential to redraw the geography of energy trade,
create a new class of energy exporters, and reshape geopolitical rela-
tions and alliances between countries.
If national authorities, international organizations, researchers, and
companies can pull together along these lines, it may indeed turn out
that the time is ripe for the hydrogen economy—and that its geopoli-
tical consequences can be managed.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest. For full disclosure, all
of the coauthors were involved in the production of the report “A New
World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation,” commissioned by
the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Kirsten Westphal
is a member of the German National Hydrogen Council.
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... Thus, answering this question is imperative for intergenerational sustainable development. If the mitigation potential of the hydrogen economy is misrepresented and/or is implemented for self-serving purposes such as geopolitical advantage [40] or protection of specific sectors, such as oil and gas [41], the colossal financial and infrastructure investments required to implement a global hydrogen economy presents the risk of entering a path dependent lock-in which does not do enough to keep us in a 'safe' operating space. This fear is accompanied by concerns that the hydrogen economy would represent a misallocation of priorities away from energy efficiency and direct electrification with renewables [2]. ...
... Rather, the hydrogen economy should identify the most beneficial use cases of low-carbon hydrogen from environmental, social, and economic perspectives that will allow for a "safe" and "just" development of the hydrogen economy. As stated in Van de Graaf et al.'s [40]'s work, "The technologies and infrastructures underpinning a hydrogen economy can take markedly different forms, and the choice over which pathway to take is the object of competition between different stakeholders and countries." The pathways selected can lock us into certain unsustainable models if they are not carefully monitored and controlled, and thus, we need to choose carefully. ...
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Policymakers and global energy models are increasingly looking towards hydrogen as an enabling energy carrier to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors (projecting growth in hydrogen consumption in the magnitude of hundreds of megatons). Combining scenarios from global energy models and life cycle impacts of different hydrogen production technologies, the results of this work show that the life cycle emissions from proposed configurations of the hydrogen economy would lead to climate overshoot of at least 5.4–8.1x of the defined “safe” space for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the cumulative consumption of 8–12% of the remaining carbon budget. This work suggests a need for a science-based definition of “clean” hydrogen, agnostic of technology and compatible with a “safe” development of the hydrogen economy. Such a definition would deem blue hydrogen environmentally unviable by 2025–2035. The prolific use of green hydrogen is also problematic however, due to the requirement of a significant amount of renewable energy, and the associated embedded energy, land, and material impacts. These results suggest that demand-side solutions should be further considered, as the large-scale transition to hydrogen, which represents a “clean” energy shift, may still not be sufficient to lead humanity into a “safe” space.
... How hydrogen is produced has significant implications regarding its environmental impact as a fuel [26,41e43], yet citizens are reported as having very limited knowledge about the suite of options available [32]. Whilst "green" hydrogen production utilises renewable energy as an input [26,41], "blue" and "grey" hydrogen both rely on fossil-fuels (e.g. Steam Methane Reforming of natural gas) [26,41]. ...
... Whilst "green" hydrogen production utilises renewable energy as an input [26,41], "blue" and "grey" hydrogen both rely on fossil-fuels (e.g. Steam Methane Reforming of natural gas) [26,41]. Unlike grey hydrogen, blue hydrogen production seeks to mitigate associated carbon emissions by combining reforming with carbon, capture and storage (CCS). ...
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This paper is the first to explore public perceptions about a particular market niche for hydrogen; mobile generators. By utilising a combined research approach including in-situ surveys and online focus groups, this paper explores what festival audience members and residents who live near festival sites think about the displacement of incumbent diesel generator technology with hydrogen alternatives. We investigate if hydrogen production methods are important in informing perceptions and subsequent support, including the extent to which participants are influenced by the organisation or entity that produces the fuel and stands to profit from its sale. In addition to a primary focus on hydrogen energy, we reflect upon how sustainability might be better conceptualised in a festival context. Our findings reveal broad support for hydrogen generators, the use of green hydrogen as a fuel to generate electricity and community-led hydrogen production.
... Not only as an energy carrier, or decarbonized fuel for the mobility and industrial sector, but also as an energy storage media that will provide management capability for most renewable energy sources [3][4][5][6]. Hydrogen has been adopted as a critical issue at international level, bringing hydrogen to the front of the political agenda [7][8][9] and one of the pivotal options for the future energy sector [10,11]. ...
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Humankind has an urgent need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Such a challenge requires deep transformation of the current energy system in our society. Achieving this goal has given an unprecedented role to decarbonized energy vectors. Electricity is the most consolidated of such vectors, and a molecular vector is in the agenda to contribute in the future to those end uses that are difficult to electrify. Additionally, energy storage is a critical issue for both energy vectors. In this communication, discussion on the status, hopes and perspectives of the hydrogen contribution to decarbonization are presented, emphasizing bottlenecks in key aspects, such as education, reskilling and storage capacity, and some concerns about the development of a flexible portfolio of technologies that could affect the contribution and impact of the whole hydrogen value chain in society. This communication would serve to the debate and boost discussion about the topic.
... However, it is clear that countries from the Global North in many cases aim at importing GH2 from the Global South, as the Northern countries lack the capacity in renewable production to fulfil its estimated GH2 demand. Therefore, several scholars argue that legal requirements for international trade need to be put in place (Perlaviciute et al. 2021, Van de Graaf et al., 2020. Additionally, Böll Foundation and Brot für die Welt (2022, p. 14) make a strong point of it that past mistakes of different transitions must be avoided: ...
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This review broadly lays out the field of grey and academic literatures on green hydrogen (GH2) in the Global South. Within the grey literature policy documents were examined prominently; the academic literature review lays a specific focus on social challenges to the implementation of GH2. The aim of the review is to explore the issues raised in (or absent from) existing policy and scholarly sources, in particular with relation to investment and sustainable development. Furthermore, a key focus lies on social issues and challenges of GH2 implementation in the Global South, so as to contribute to critical debates surrounding the just energy transition.
... Scholars have tried to offer multi-permeated and ecumenic definitions of it, encompassing the study of interactions and influence among all the actors involved in a specific energy scenario, together with the multiple variables of the complex energy system, such as technology, geography, production, and trade related to the decision-making process at political, economic, military, and social levels. Some have adopted a regionalized focus (Siddiky, 2021) or engaged with the geopolitics of a specific energy source from a global perspective (Kim, 2020;Van de Graaf et al., 2020). Others mixed the two, binding them to a specific geopolitical context (Barnes & Jaffe, 2006;Bhandari, 2021). ...
Chapter
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... Currently, natural gas and coal are the primary sources of hydrogen supply. Although hydrogen is already industrially used worldwide, producing it results in significant annual carbon dioxide emissions [36,37]. ...
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Energy markets are an important contemporary site of economic globalization. In this article we use a global production network (GPN) approach to examine the evolutionary dynamics of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector and its role in an emerging global market for natural gas. We extend recent work in the relational economic geography literature on the organizational practices by which production networks are assembled and sustained over time and space; and we address a significantly underdeveloped aspect of GPN research by demonstrating the implications of these practices for the territoriality of GPNs. The article introduces LNG as a techno-material reconfiguration of natural gas that enables it to be moved and sold beyond the continental limits of pipelines. We briefly outline the evolving scale and geographic scope of LNG trade, and introduce the network of firms, extraeconomic actors, and intermediaries through which LNG production, distribution, and marketing are coordinated. Our analysis shows how LNG is evolving from a relatively simple floating pipeline model of point-to-point, binational flows orchestrated by producing and consuming companies and governed by long-term contracts, to a more geographic and organizationally complex production network that is constitutive of an emergent global gas market. Empirically the article provides the first systematic analysis within economic geography of the globalization of the LNG sector and its influence on global gas markets, demonstrating the potential of GPN (and related frameworks) to contribute meaningful analysis of the contemporary political economy of energy. Conceptually the article pushes research on GPN to realize more fully its potential as an analysis of network territoriality by examining how the spatial configuration of GPNs emerges from the organizational structures and coordinating strategies of firms, extraeconomic actors and intermediaries; and by recognizing how network territoriality is constitutive of markets rather than merely responsive to them.
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