Article List > Article details
Will the global hydrogen market reshape the new energy landscape?
LIYING 2022/01/28

Hydrogen plays an indispensable role in reducing carbon emissions. Hydrogen energy development is one of the six major carbon reduction methods identified by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the fastest growing potential carbon reduction path. From 2021-2050, strong hydrogen fuel development can effectively reduce a cumulative of 60 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions [1], avoid 6% of global carbon emissions, and also account for 10% of energy use in 2050. Under the global 2050 carbon neutrality pathway, the development of electrification and new energy sources will be the most effective approach to reduce emissions. Especially, the usage of hydrogen technology as a secondary energy source is crucial in many industries and fields, of which heavy industry (steel and cement industry) and transportation industry have the greatest demand for green hydrogen energy [2]. In IRENA's latest report, "Geopolitics of the Energy Transition: The Hydrogen Factor", hydrogen energy is an important missing link in the development of new energy, and it will directly affect the pattern of global economic and clean energy development in the rapidly growing trend towards diversification and regionalization [3]. It will give countries with weak traditional energy production abilities a strong development opportunity to balance global energy competition in hydrogen advancement and trade.


Figure 1: IRENA's global value of energy commodities



Hydrogen energy as a key actor in emissions reduction in the aviation industry

In Sweden and Spain, there have been successful pilots of heavy industry hydrogen projects in the manufacture of zero-emission steel and ammonia production. But compared to its use in heavy industry, hydrogen is best known for its role in reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector. Hydrogen-fueled electric vehicles, trains, vans and airplanes are among the fastest growing industries. Electrification in the transportation industry has developed rapidly in recent years, but the battery life and weight are still its biggest obstacles. The United States, South Korea and Japan are all countries that are actively developing hydrogen energy, and in the four years from 2017 to mid-2020 alone, the number of hydrogen electric vehicles on the global road has increased sixfold, from 7,000 to 43,000. Among them, one-fifth of hydrogen electric vehicles are buses and trucks, which means that hydrogen technology has been accepted and effectively used in long-distance large-scale transportation.


The aviation industry accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions and is also the focus of carbon reduction in transportation. In the context of the gradual recovery of the aviation industry in the post-epidemic era, The International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued a notice in October 2021 on its goal for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 [4]. The industry has reduced carbon emissions by a total of 21.2 billion tonnes from 2021 to 2025, in line with the Paris Agreement targets and ensuring 10 billion flights by 2050. Driven by the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), the global aviation industry has seen positive developments over the past year. Setting an example, in September 2021, Airbus Group [5] launched a visual concept of three commercial hydrogen energy aircraft, hoping these aircraft will be launched and operational in 2035. At COP26, Airbus also said that its future path to carbon neutrality will be dominated by the development of hydrogen energy. In December of the same year, Airbus announced that it would cooperate with Spain to build its "Zero Emission Development Centre" for the development of hydrogen aircraft in Spain. At the same time, Airbus also listed four of the biggest challenges in building hydrogen aircraft, which also apply to the use of hydrogen in other industries:


1. Technological development: In the context of the rapid development of hydrogen electrification technology, the technology of the automotive industry cannot be copied to the aviation industry for use. To ensure the safety and viability of passenger aircraft, hydrogen technology needs to reduce weight and cost.


2. The cost of hydrogen: The existing cost of hydrogen energy is much higher than that of aircraft fuel. But over the next 10 years, with the development of new energy technologies and the increase of green hydrogen, the cost of hydrogen energy is expected to be reduced at least to the standard of existing aircraft fuel.


3. Supporting facilities: Existing airport facilities cannot support the use of large-scale hydrogen aircraft, including the lack of hydrogen fuel storage and transportation. Another possibility is to create green hydrogen fuel through the use of renewable energy in airports, and solve the problem of environmentally friendly energy at the airport itself while giving the aircraft a sustainable hydrogen fuel battery life.


4. Safety: The public's perception of hydrogen energy still lingers in the flammability of hydrogen, and the safety of hydrogen energy and hydrogen fuel cells remains skeptical and even fearful. But in fact, the safety of hydrogen fuel cells is comparable to the lithium batteries used by other electric vehicles, and hydrogen energy is safer than the fuel of traditional aircraft and cars under normal transportation circumstances.


Figure 2: Airbus's three hydrogen aircraft designs



Hydrogen development in the UK facilitates the implementation of carbon reduction targets

As early as 2019, hydrogen energy only appeared in the carbon reduction plans of Japan, South Korea and France. By 2021, more than 20 countries have publicly released hydrogen energy development strategies, including the United Kingdom, Germany and China, which are at the forefront of energy conservation and emission reduction. As the host country of COP26 and the leader in energy conservation and emission reduction, the UK released its first National Hydrogen Energy Strategy in August 2021 [6], which clarified the government support to be given to the development of low-carbon hydrogen energy capacity to promote its goal of reaching 5GW of green hydrogen production capacity by 2030, equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 41 million tons.


Hydrogen energy development in the UK is particularly prominent in the transport sector, where there are currently 300 hydrogen cars and buses on the UK road, under the ZEBRA (Zero Emission Bus Rapid-development Accelerator) project, the UK government allocated 270 million pounds to support 4,000 new zero-emission buses including electric and hydrogen vehicles and related infrastructure, in 2022 alone to support the electrolytic hydrogen project will reach 100 million pounds. The report expects the transport sector to be the UK's largest hydrogen energy development sector, reaching demand of 140 trillion watt-hours by 2050. The UK's first 'hydrogen transport hub' in the Tees Valley will bring together hydrogen-related government, industry and academic experts to focus on future hydrogen research and development, real-world testing and demonstration work.


The UK's national bus strategy will start in 2021/2022 with a £120 million budget to add 4,000 zero-displacement buses. This includes the vehicles needed and the amenities they require. UK-based Wright Bus [7] was the world's first company to manufacture hydrogen-fueled electric double-decker buses. It is committed to the development of zero-emission buses with cleaner battery and longer range, and is also deploying hydrogen energy facilities in the territory through its sister company Ryze Hydrogen [8]. In order to emphasize the development of hydrogen energy in the aviation industry, the UK set up a zero fuel committee in July 2021 to help domestic enterprises and governments cooperate to reduce emissions.

In addition to the mentioned Airbus program, ZeroAvia's project HyFlyer I and II (£15 million investment), a small six-seater flight converted with a hydrogen fuel cell, has completed its first hydrogen-powered flight of a commercial-class aircraft in September 2021, pioneering as the industry leader; FlyZero, a zero-carbon aircraft project developed by the UK aerospace industry (£15 million investment), is expected to be tested in 2030. The ATI-led project will bring together supply chains and universities in the UK to explore design challenges and market opportunities for the concept of a potential zero-carbon aircraft; H2GEAR (£27million invested), led by GKN Aerospace, aims to develop a liquid hydrogen thruster system, focusing on the conversion of liquid hydrogen within fuel cell systems for emission reduction paths for larger aircraft, with the earliest aircraft likely to be available in 2026.


Hydrogen: Another Strategic Opportunity for China's Energy Transition?

Similar to the vigorous growth of hydrogen technology in Europe, China is also paying more attention to the development of hydrogen energy.


2021 is the first year of China's 14th Five-Year Plan and a critical period for promoting the goal of "carbon peaking and carbon neutrality". In the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China and the Outline of Long-term Goals for 2035 [9], hydrogen technology officially appeared for the first time in Chapter 9, Section 2, "Forward-looking Planning for Future Industries", parallel to cutting-edge technologies such as aritificial intelligence, quantum information technology, gene bio-tech, future networks, and deep-sea space development.


Hydrogen will become an important part of China's energy system. By 2050, hydrogen will account for about 10% of China's energy system, and hydrogen demand will be close to 60 million tons. According to the "White Paper on China's Hydrogen Energy and Fuel Cell Industry" [10] released by the China Hydrogen Energy Alliance, where it is expected that 100, 300 and 1500 hydrogen refueling stations will be built in 2020, 2025 and 2030, and the number of hydrogen refueling stations will reach 10,000 by 2050, with the industry output value expected to reach 12 trillion yuan.


In recent years, the development of hydrogen in China has shown a new round of upsurge, and the government has issued policies to guide and encourage the research and development of hydrogen energy and hydrogen fuel cell technology. The "Energy-saving and New Energy Vehicle Technology Roadmap" and the "Blue Book on the Infrastructure Development of China's Hydrogen Energy Industry (2016)" put forward the planning of hydrogen refueling station construction from 2020 to 2030. Major domestic oil and gas companies have also successively laid out hydrogen energy plans, including the whole industrial chain of manufacturing, energy storage and energy consumption. Like many other new energy technology developments, China is already at the forefront of hydrogen production and utilization.



The next decade will be a crucial period for hydrogen energy development, and China will also play an indispensable role in it. The characteristics of the development of China's hydrogen energy industry include: hydrogen production and hydrogen storage material manufacturing and sales volume are the first in the world, but hydrogen energy technology still needs to be developed. The fiscal and tax support policies and technical standards for the development of hydrogen industry need to be further improved [11]. In this case, China's active increase in exchanges and cooperation with the United Kingdom, which is relatively more advanced in hydrogen energy technology, is conducive to the development of both parties and the global hydrogen energy industry [12]. Through this industrial collaboration, the author believes that China is expected to help the global hydrogen energy industry overcome its biggest obstacles and significantly reduce the cost of green hydrogen energy to help the large-scale development of the overall hydrogen energy industry. Similar cases have been seen in the manufacture of solar photovoltaic panels. Back in 2009, solar PV power generation cost $359 per megawatt. With the rapid development of photovoltaics manufacturing in China, in the 10 years from 2009 to 2019, the cost of photovoltaics has dropped by 89%[13], making photovoltaic energy the fastest growing and most widely covered renewable energy source. If the cost of green hydrogen energy can be reduced below the cost of fuel gas, its use in the transportation industry and heavy industry can help China and even the world achieve early decarbonization.




[1]IEA, Oct 2021, Global Hydrogen Review. Link: ,P20

[2]IEA, Oct 2021, Global Hydrogen Review. Link: ,P45

[3]IRENA (2022), Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor,International Renewable Energy Agency Link

[4]IEA, Oct 2021, Global Hydrogen Review. Link: ,P45

[5]AirBus Webpage. Hydrogen: An energy carrier to fuel the climate-neutral aviation of tomorrow. Link:[

6]Aug 2021UK Hydrogen Strategy

[7]Wright Bus webpage Link

[8]Ryze Hydrogen webpage Link




[12]2022121 英国驻华贸易使节吴侨文谈中英氢燃料电池汽车产业发展 Link


AuthorPan Yiren

Translation: Pan Yiren


This article is an original article of the Rock Environment and Energy Institute. Please contact us to obtain the appropriate authorization to reprint. For cooperation and authorization, please send an email to:

* This is the translation of an article in Chinese. Should there be any inconsistency between Chinese and English version, the Chinese version shall prevail.