Predicting the sustainability of the future hydrogen economy.

Newswise – Washington, DC – As renewable energy sources such as wind and solar panels, they can be used for sustainable production of hydrogen fuel. But large-scale implementation of such a strategy requires dedicated land and water.

Recent research Communications of nature Led by Carnegie's Lorenzo Rosa and Visiting Scientist Davide Tonelli from ULB and UCLouvain, it analyzes the challenges of sustainably meeting different hydrogen demand scenarios by country.

Electrolysis is a method of hydrogen production that involves splitting water into oxygen gas and hydrogen gas, which can be stored and used as fuel or feedstock to produce useful chemicals. This process can be powered by fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, or by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar – both of which require space to deploy.

“Today, hydrogen is mainly used in refineries and in the production of chemicals,” Rosa explained. “But in the future, the demand for hydrogen may increase by more than five times, due to the transportation of hydrogen or hydrogen products, industrial heating methods and the use of steel production techniques. There is an opportunity to meet this increased demand with sustainably produced hydrogen.”

He and Tonelli—working with Carnegie Visiting Scholar Paolo Gabrieli (ETH Zurich), Carnegie's Ken Calderia, Alessandro Parente of ULB, and Francesco Contino of UCLouvain – found that due to land or water scarcity, less than half of the estimated 2050 demand for hydrogen fuel could be produced and used locally using wind or solar power.

“If you look at how much water will be needed globally to produce enough hydrogen to meet humanity's needs in 2050, that's only 0.6 percent of the world's water,” Tonell said. “But when you look at local production for local use, the picture can be different.”

It turns out that in a net-zero world with no carbon emissions, some nations would have to rely on importing hydrogen, in pure form or in the form of hydrogen-derived products, from other countries that have more land and are more favorable. Solar and wind resources that can be used for sustainable production in mass quantities.

Rosa and Tonell found that South Africa, Central and Eastern Africa, West Africa, South America, Canada and Australia have land and water that make them potential leaders in hydrogen exports. Conversely, Western Europe, Trinidad and Tobago, South Korea and Japan will likely need to either import hydrogen fuel or reduce existing industrial production.

The researchers emphasize the importance of a national assessment of the resources that countries are willing to spend on hydrogen production.

“Our work points to countries that have the resources to scale up sustainable hydrogen production for export,” Tonell said. “But of course, social, political and economic factors will determine the scale of renewable technology deployment and hydrogen production from each nation, which may differ from what would be possible on paper.”

This research is part of ROSA's overall program to explore the opportunities and challenges at the intersection of energy, water and food production as they impact climate change and population growth.

“As we strive to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and prepare for the ways in which climate change will affect the way we live, the way we build and sustain communities, and the way we eat, it is important that we robustly examine different climate solutions to understand the possibilities.” what they represent, as well as any unintended consequences,” Rosa concluded.