South Korea set out its stall as a world leader in the hydrogen economy – and future massive importer of the fuel – as its government said H2 would oust oil as its largest single energy source by 2050.

In a first comprehensive strategy statement on hydrogen, the Seoul government said by mid-century it will aim to achieve self-sufficiency covering 60% of a 28-million-tonne annual demand by tapping green H2 produced overseas.

With hydrogen set to penetrate every area of its economy including power generation, transport and heavy industry, the government said it would ensure security of the import lines by investing in 40 dedicated foreign hydrogen supply channels, leveraging South Korea’s financial and technical heft.

That could be good news for giant green hydrogen initiatives planned in locations in the Middle East and Australia, which have already identified South Korea and Japan – which have limited space for massive domestic H2 production – as potential customers for their output.

“Hydrogen will become our largest single energy source in 2050, which will account for 33% of the total energy consumption,” said Korea’s energy ministry as it made the fuel a central plank of the nation's 2050 net zero ambitions.

The government will introduce policies to drive up demand, such as encouraging steel and chemical firms to shift to H2-based processes, promoting hydrogen-based transport technologies and encouraging fossil power generators to blend H2 into their fuel mix.

Recharge reported earlier in November how the nation wants to introduce a fuel mix of 30% hydrogen at all its gas-fired power plants by 2035, and 20% ammonia (NH3) at more than half of its coal power stations as early as 2030.

“By building a hydrogen port near power plants and industrial complexes, ships, vehicles, and equipment in the port [will be] converted to hydrogen-based systems . We will build a hydrogen pipeline network centered on major hydrogen production and [import] bases, and review hydrogen incorporation using the existing natural gas network,” said the ministry.

Although the vast bulk of demand by 2050 is projected to be met by green hydrogen, the blue variety from fossil linked to carbon capture will still play a role, accounting for two million tonnes of supplies by then.

South Korea is reportedly aiming to drive down green hydrogen production costs to around $2/kg by 2050.

With limited space on land for large-scale renewable power generation, South Korea – which currently produces just 220,000 tonnes of hydrogen a year, all of it ‘grey from unabated fossil fuels – is already looking at options to link offshore wind generation to green H2 output.