China will see multiple hydrogen technologies developing in parallel in the coming years as part of the country’s priorities to meet carbon emission reduction goals, with green hydrogen production increasing as the country rapidly ramps up its renewable energy capacity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

A new IEA report tracking clean energy innovation in China says deployment of technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) will reshape China's future energy mix and allow the country to transition much of its hydrogen production from carbon dioxide-emitting grey to blue and green.

The country's current five-year plan to 2025 will see “large innovation in hydrogen and CCS” in China, said IEA analyst Jean-Baptiste Le Marois said during an online event organized as part of the EU-China Energy Cooperation Platform.

The country produced 33 million tonnes of hydrogen last year, the large majority of which around 90% was grey hydrogen, manufactured from coal or natural gas.

“We’ll see a mixture of types of hydrogen [developing in China] for a number of years,” said Joachim von Scheele, global director of commercialization at multinational chemicals and industrial gas company Linde, during a panel discussion at the event.

“And at same time we’ll see a scaling of electrolysis technology and capacity,” he added.

Liu Yi, deputy dean of the Sichuan Energy Internet Research Institute, Tsinghua University, pointed to a general expansion of the sector as a whole, suggesting that developments in CCS would allow retrofitting existing capacity to turn grey facilities to blue. He added the central government has “clear objectives” for green hydrogen.

Green vs Blue

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas feedstocks, with the carbon dioxide by-product from hydrogen production captured and stored. However, the process is not emissions free.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, creating an emissions-free fuel.

Von Scheele said that the fast-expanding capacity in solar PV and other renewables would make way for green hydrogen to develop at scale, catching up with other hydrogen technologies that are more present in the country.

“Key to green hydrogen is power supply. That has to come in place on a very large scale,” he said.

As part of its five-year renewable energy strategy, the Chinese government set a target for renewable energy sources to cover 20% of the country’s total energy demand by 2025.

Earlier this week, China’s second-largest oil company Sinopec announced plans to expand its hydrogen retailing capacity to 120,000 tonnes per annum by 2025.

“Half of emissions curbing [in the process to net zero] are expected to come from technologies that are in development stage. This is true globally and in China,” said Timur Gul, head of energy technology policy at the IEA. “Without innovation, the move to net zero could be delayed by decades.”