Twenty-eight companies — including oil giants BP, Shell, Equinor and TotalEnergies — have launched a new global initiative at COP26 to accelerate the replacement of highly polluting grey hydrogen with lower-carbon hydrogen.

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About 70 million tonnes of grey hydrogen produced from unabated natural gas or coal is used every year, mainly for ammonia fertiliser and chemicals production and oil refining, resulting in about 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide — the equivalent to all the greenhouse gas emissions released by the UK and Indonesia put together.

Pledges made under the H2Zero initiative — which is spearheaded by non-profit organisations the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) — will increase demand for “lower-carbon intensity hydrogen” by 1.6 million tonnes per annum, and its supply by more than 18 million tpa.

Lower-carbon hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced from renewable energy (green), fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (blue), nuclear energy (pink) and “other less common technologies” such as hydrogen from waste.

The WBCSD refers to low-carbon hydrogen which emits less than three kilogrammes of CO2 for every kilogramme of hydrogen across a project’s lifecycle, and “ultra-low carbon hydrogen” that emits under one kilogramme of CO2 per kilogramme of hydrogen.

Grey hydrogen from fossil gas emits between nine and 12 kilogrammes of CO2 per kilogramme of hydrogen.

“The uncertainty over supply and the lack of commitment for demand are two challenges associated with the development of hydrogen as part of the global energy system,” said Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden, who is also the chair of SMI’s Hydrogen Taskforce.

“We brought companies together to tackle this status quo and send a strong signal to markets and governments for hydrogen to reach its full potential.”

The initiative also aims to replace some of the diesel fuel used in heavy industries such as mining with green or blue hydrogen.

It does not, however, specify a date by which these pledges will be achieved, nor does it say if any of them are new.

Only Portuguese utility EDP announced a new pledge as part of the initiative’s launch — to boost its green hydrogen output to 1.5 gigawatts by 2030.

As part of its aim to abandon coal by 2025 and become zero-carbon by 2030, EDP will convert its old coal-fired power plants to “hydrogen centres”, the company said.

Claire O’Neill, senior advisor at WBCSD and former COP26 president-designate said: “Our hope is that these combined pledges spark investments in supply and inspire other users to transition to hydrogen.

“To further accelerate the development of the hydrogen market, we are encouraging more companies to join this effort and make pledges.”

The pledges

Of the 28 companies to sign up to the H2Zero initiative, 21 pledged to accelerate the demand and/or supply of low-carbon hydrogen, while seven made “support pledges”.

The pledges contained in the initiative are as follows, per member company:

Acciona Energia: The Spanish company is targeting a 20% renewable hydrogen market share in Spain and Portugal by 2030, through “an initially planned investment” of more than €2 billion ($2.3 billion).

Anglo American: The London-listed miner — and the world’s largest producer of platinum (an important ingredient in PEM electrolysers and fuel cells) — aims to produce and consume 100,000 tpa of green hydrogen by 2030, while converting all its diesel-powered “ultra-class mine haul trucks to green hydrogen.

BP: The UK supermajor aims to produce at least 500,000 tonnes per annum of “low and ultra-low carbon hydrogen”, with up to 50% of the “ultra-low” hydrogen from renewables — some of which will be used to replace grey hydrogen at oil refineries, with more used at hydrogen refuelling stations, mainly in Germany.

CLP: The Hong Kong-based power giant wants to replace the fossil gas used at its power plants with around 550,000 tpa of “low-carbon hydrogen” by 2050.

Cummins: The US corporation plans to scale up its electrolyser manufacturing capacity to 2 GW by 2030, while also ramping up production of fuel cells.

EDF: The French utility says it “will announce a hydrogen pledge in the near future”.

EDP: The Portuguese utility aims to to boost its green hydrogen output to 1.5 GW by 2030. It aims to abandon coal by 2025 and become zero-carbon by 2030, converting its old coal-fired power plants to “hydrogen centres”.

8 Rivers: The US-based sustainable energy technology company and investor is commercialising a novel “ultra-low-carbon” hydrogen process called 8RH2, which uses natural gas combined with “cryogenic CO2 capture” that it says can capture 100% of carbon emissions.

Enel: The Italian utility pledges to produce 2 GW of green hydrogen by 2030.

Engie: The French utility is targeting the production of 4 GW of renewable hydrogen by 2030.

Equinor: The Norwegian oil giant plans to supply 10% of the European clean hydrogen market by 2035 through green and blue hydrogen.

ERM: The London-headquartered multinational sustainability consultancy intends to produce 45,000 tpa of green hydrogen by 2030 and 360,000 tpa by 2035.

Fortescue Future Industries: The Australian newcomer owned by iron-ore billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest aims to produce 15 million tpa of green hydrogen by 2030.

GenComm: The multinational partnership of universities and private companies from across Northwest Europe aims to supply 365,000 tpa of green hydrogen by 2030.

Iberdrola: The Bilbao-headquartered energy company aims to produce 3 GW of green hydrogen by 2030.

ITM Power: The UK-based manufacturer aims to increase its annual electrolyser capacity to 5 GW by the end of 2024, helping to drive down the full system price of electrolysis by 50% by 2030.

Riversimple: The Welsh hydrogen vehicle start-up aims to provide its fuel-cell cars and vans on an all-in subscription basis, which includes the fuel, so the company will purchase hydrogen itself. It aims to be running a fleet of 250,000 vehicles in the UK by 2040, with a green hydrogen demand of 27,000 pa. The company is yet to enter serial manufacturing.

Shell: The Anglo-Dutch supermajor pledges to produce 75,000 tpa of green hydrogen by 2030 and 100,000 tpa of “reduced carbon hydrogen” by 2030. The latter is a reference to a term used by the WBCSD, which relates to hydrogen that emits less than six kilogrammes of CO2 per kilogramme of hydrogen. The company also says it will need about 300,000 tpa of “reduced carbon or better” hydrogen by 2030.

TotalEnergies: The French supermajor aims to replace all the grey hydrogen used at its refineries with blue or green hydrogen by 2030.

Yara: The world’s leading ammonia fertiliser company, based in Norway, pledges to source and/or produce a minimum of 3 million tonnes of reduced carbon ammonia (equivalent to 530,000 tonnes of reduced-carbon hydrogen) by 2030, of which at least half will be low or ultra-low carbon.

Yosemite Clean Energy: The California technology and project developer is planning to produce 11,000 tpa of carbon-negative hydrogen from waste biomass in its home state by 2025.

The seven companies pledging “support” — through technology, expertise or finance — are Bank of America, Siemens Energy, gases company Linde, Italian gas distributor Snam, technology provider Johnson Matthey, Japanese industrial automation company Yokogawa, and Brussels-based hydrogen certification developer and consultancy Hinicio.

(This article first appeared in Upstream's renewable energy sister publication Recharge on 9 November, 2021.)