Renewable hydrogen is anticipated to play a crucial role in mitigating carbon emissions in Europe. Previous research from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) suggests that sourcing hydrogen from regions with cheaper renewable energy may be more cost-effective than local production. However, concerns have emerged regarding the environmental impact of transporting large quantities of hydrogen over long distances.

A recent study conducted by the JRC compared the life cycle environmental impacts of on-site production through steam methane reforming (SMR) or electrolysis with three different delivery methods: compression, liquefaction, and chemical bonding to other molecules. The study also considered transportation by both ship and pipeline, with a distance of 2,500 km chosen for comparison.

Findings and Recommendations

The results of the study indicate that the environmental performance of hydrogen supplied to large industries can vary significantly based on the production technology and delivery pathway. The report offers key recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable hydrogen economy.

The study found that shipping liquid hydrogen and transporting compressed hydrogen through pipelines have the least environmental impact when delivering hydrogen over long distances. Conversely, unpacking and repacking hydrogen into chemical carriers demands larger amounts of energy and resources, making these options less desirable.

The report highlights the importance of renewable energy infrastructure in determining the environmental impact of delivered hydrogen. For solar-generated hydrogen to have an environmental advantage over conventional fossil fuel production, improvements in the efficiency of photovoltaic panels and the utilization of renewable energy sources are crucial.

Water use is another critical factor to consider in hydrogen production. On-site generation in water-rich countries is found to be a more sustainable option in terms of water use compared to importing hydrogen from water-scarce regions. The availability of freshwater directly impacts the environmental impact of hydrogen production.

Hydrogen Losses in the Delivery Chain

Hydrogen losses during the delivery chain can significantly increase the environmental impact. However, delivery methods that are more susceptible to losses, such as liquid and compressed hydrogen, still have lower environmental impacts than using hydrogen carriers. Importing renewable hydrogen from closer regions is deemed a more environmentally sustainable choice when on-site production is not feasible.

The transportation of renewable hydrogen in Europe has significant environmental implications that must be carefully considered. The choice of production technology and delivery method can have a substantial impact on the overall environmental performance of delivered hydrogen. By prioritizing on-site production using efficient renewable sources and selecting environmentally responsible delivery methods, countries and industries can accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable hydrogen economy.


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