The EU’s 2023 Hydrogen Plan
The EU’s 2023 Hydrogen Plan sets out hydrogen’s role in achieving climate-neutrality by 2050.
The EU’s Hydrogen Plan is composed of three distinct phases, lasting until 2024 (phase one), 2025-2030 (phase two), and 2030-2050 (phase three).
By 2024, the strategic objective is to install at least 6 GW of hydrogen electrolysers in the EU, capable of producing up to 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen. In order to facilitate this, the manufacturing of electrolysers needs to be scaled up, and this will include the production of large individual electrolysers of up to 100 MW. Hydrogen refuelling stations will need to be built in order to allow for the uptake of hydrogen by fuel-cell buses and trucks. These large vehicles have their need their own air cooled fuel cell stacks or liquid cooled fuel cell stacks onboard.
The second phase will begin in 2025 lasting five years to 2030. In these five years the EU envisions hydrogen becoming an intrinsic part of Europe’s integrated energy system. The objective is to install at least 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers by 2030 which will be capable of producing up to 10 million tonnes of hydrogen in the EU. Dedicated demand side policies will be needed in order to ensure industry gradually integrates hydrogen in their manufacturing processes and transport applications, which are expected to include steel-making, long-distance trucking, rail travel and even maritime transport. All of these industries will need a variety of fuel cell stacks – capable of producing large amounts of electricity – in order to successfully transition to renewable hydrogen.
Hydrogen will also begin to be used for daily or seasonal energy storage, and there will be an increased need for high-pressure tanks (350–700 bar [5,000–10,000 psi] tank pressure) for gas hydrogen storage and cryogenic tanks for liquid hydrogen storage, which will need to store hydrogen below −252.8°C (the point at which liquid hydrogen boils).
Local hydrogen hubs or clusters will be formed which will constitute so-called ‘regional ecosystems’ in which hydrogen will be transported over short distances in order to fuel a variety of industrial and residential applications, as well as electricity balancing and heat for residential and commercial buildings. The United States government has already announced the creation of six to ten Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs which may serve as a model for Europe for the production, processing, delivery, storage, and end-use of clean hydrogen.
The third phase of the EU Hydrogen Plan will last from 2030 to 2050. During these two decades the EU envisions hydrogen technologies – such as fuel cell stacks and electrolyzers– to reach maturity and be deployed at scale. This will enable all ‘difficult to decarbonize’ sectors of the economy – such as long distance trucking and marine transport – to transition to low carbon alternatives. In this phase of the EU Hydrogen Plan, renewable electricity production will need to increase significantly, as roughly a quarter of renewable electricity is predicted to be used for renewable hydrogen production by 2050. There may – depending on technological developments over the next decade – be a role for hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels to penetrate across a range of sectors of the economy, from air travel and marine transport to difficult-to-decarbonise industrial and commercial applications.
How will this be achieved?
First, hydrogen production will need to be scaled up dramatically. This will mean producing larger, more efficient and more cost-effective electrolysers capable of producing the number of gigawatts needed for mass manufacturing and industrial capabilities. The EU has therefore called for proposals for a 100 MW electrolyser to be launched this year. Liquid cooled fuel cell stacks and air cooled fuel cell stacks will need to become more efficient, and firms such as Horizon will be at the forefront of this innovation.
In addition to this, hydrogen distribution infrastructure will need to be further developed across the EU, beyond regional ‘ecosystems’. This infrastructure will need to be capable of distributing, storing and dispensing hydrogen at large volumes and over long distances. One means of achieving this is to repurpose existing gas infrastructure for transporting hydrogen, and this seems like the most cost-effective way of scaling up hydrogen distribution infrastructure at pace.
Finally, end-use applications need to be further developed. This will mean, for example, industry replacing coal with hydrogen in steel-making, or transport systems replacing diesel-fuelled long distance trucking with hydrogen-fuelled trucks. In order to boost the adoption of hydrogen technologies in end-use applications the EU has proposed a number of initiatives, such as creating a comprehensive terminology and European-wide criteria for the certification of clean hydrogen, a pilot scheme called the ‘Carbon Contracts for Difference program’ which will aim to stabilise the price of hydrogen, and the €1 billion euro EU Clean Hydrogen Partnership which supports research on key components in lowering the cost of the end-use applications.