Twenty-eight companies — including oil giants BP, Shell, Equinor and TotalEnergies, utilities EDF, EDP, Enel, Engie and Iberdrola and leading electrolyser manufacturers ITM Power and Cummins — today launched a new global initiative at COP26 to accelerate the replacement of highly polluting grey hydrogen with lower-carbon H2.

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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 CO2 — 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-profits 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 a year, and its supply by more than 18 million tonnes annually by 2030.

This lower-carbon hydrogen refers to H2 produced from renewable energy (green), fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (blue), nuclear energy (pink) and “other less common technologies” such as H2 from waste — terms not used by the WBCSD. Instead it talks about “low-carbon hydrogen”, which emits less than 3kg of CO2 for every kg of H2 across a project’s lifecycle, and “ultra-low carbon hydrogen” that emits under 1kg CO2/kg H2. Grey hydrogen from fossil gas emits 9-12kg CO2/kg H2.

“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.

WBCSD tells Recharge that eight of the pledges are new, with EDP announcing plans to boost its green hydrogen output to 1.5GW by 2030 at the initiative's launch at COP26.

As part of the Portuguese utility's aim to abandon coal by 2025 and become zero-carbon by 2030, it will convert its old coal-fired power plants to “hydrogen centres”, the company said in a statement.

“Our hope is that these combined pledges spark investments in supply and inspire other users to transition to hydrogen,” said Claire O’Neill, senior advisor at WBCSD and former COP26 President-Designate. “To further accelerate the development of the hydrogen market, we are encouraging more companies to join this effort and make pledges.”

When asked why blue hydrogen, a carbon-emitting technology, was included in a net-zero programme, a spokesperson for WBCSD replied: “The pledges are designed to bring focus to the carbon intensity of hydrogen and how that helps decarbonization today and reaching net-zero in 2050. They have been created to encourage companies to truly understand the carbon intensity of their hydrogen projects.

“This sends a clear market signal that companies are serious about accelerating decarbonized hydrogen. We will only achieve net zero if we fully understand the lifecycle carbon intensity of every product and service we use — including hydrogen.”

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 H2 market share in Spain and Portugal by 2030, through “an initially planned investment” of more than €2bn.

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

BP: The British oil giant aims to produce at least 500,000 of “low and ultra-low carbon hydrogen”, with up to 50% of the “ultra-low” H2 from renewables — some of which will be used to replace grey H2 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 tonnes of “low-carbon hydrogen” annually by 2050.

Cummins: The US corporation plans to scale up its electrolyser manufacturing capacity to 2GW 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: See above.

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 2GW of green hydrogen by 2030.

Engie: The French utility is targeting the production of 4GW of renewable H2 by 2030.

Equinor: The Norwegian oil giant plans to supply 10% of the European clean hydrogen market by 2035 through green and blue H2.

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

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

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

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

ITM Power: The UK-based manufacturer aims to increase its annual electrolyser capacity to 5GW 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 H2 itself. It aims to be running a fleet of 250,000 vehicles in the UK by 2040, with an annual green hydrogen demand of 27,000 tonnes. The company is yet to enter serial manufacturing.

Shell: The British-Dutch oil giant pledges to produce 75,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually by 2030 and 100,000 tonnes of “reduced carbon hydrogen” by 2030. The latter is a reference to a term used by the WBCSD, which relates to H2 that emits less than 6kg CO2/kg H2. The company also says it will need about 300,000 tonnes of “reduced carbon or better” H2 by 2030.

TotalEnergies: The freshly renamed 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 three 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 tonnes 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 was updated on 10 November to add quotes from the WBCSD spokesperson and on 11 November to add that the pledges have a 2030 time horizon.