The launch of the EU’s new hydrogen strategy on Wednesday was a historic moment that will leave a legacy for generations to come, hydrogen-industry experts told a Recharge and Upstream digital roundtable on Thursday.

The European Commission announced plans on Wednesday for at least 40GW of renewables-powered electrolysers to be installed by 2030, producing ten million tonnes of green hydrogen annually — with blue hydrogen (derived from natural gas with carbon capture and storage [CCS]) playing a back-up role in the short to medium term.

The EU strategy, and its massive ramp-up of clean-hydrogen production, is the first concerted governmental effort to decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors such as long-distance transport, heating and highly polluting industrial processes — and ultimately remove unabated fossil fuels from the energy system.

“It was an historic day,” Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, secretary-general of trade body Hydrogen Europe, told the online event, entitled Blue vs Green — The Future of the Hydrogen Industry. “This was a day where seven generations [from now] will still understand the historical impact of that date.”

The strategy, he explained, would be the starting point where “we really started to end the fossil era”.

“What we need is climate efficiency, and hydrogen is the missing link that helps different existing infrastructures and new energies like renewables to come together.”

He added: “I'm very happy that there are some figures enshrined in that strategy, which is one million tonnes of renewably produced hydrogen in 2024, ten million tonnes in 2030. That's quite remarkable because this says we need to start immediately. And that that is maybe the best part of it — that it's not postponing decisions, it's asking for immediate action."

James Watson, secretary-general of gas industry association Eurogas, pointed out that while the hydrogen strategy stated that renewable H2 would be the long-term answer, the blue variety was still needed in large quantities.

“The European Commission thinks you can do maybe 50% electrification [of total energy consumption] by 2050. That means... 50% needs to be something else, and that something else — in our world — is molecules, gaseous molecules. And increasingly, it looks like they will be hydrogen,” he said. “At Eurogas we don’t segregate hydrogen as blue versus green. We see them together. It's necessary to have both.”

Watson pointed out that Europe was importing 450 billion cubic metres of natural gas every year. “The fastest way to decarbonise that is to apply CCS and then use it as blue hydrogen.”

Monumental change

Dan Sadler, project manager at Equinor ­­— who was the lead author on the highly influential H21 North of England study into switching an entire region from natural gas to clean hydrogen — told the webinar that Europe is facing “monumental change” in meeting its 2050 decarbonisation targets.

In project-delivery terms, that’s “like a target of rebuilding your house by Saturday”, he said. “We're under pressure to deliver these targets, and you need all the tools in the box.”

Sadler suggested renewable hydrogen would take decades to reach significant scale.

“We recognise this long-term ambition for green [hydrogen], but we have to put into context what long term, short term and medium term means in terms of massive-scale infrastructure projects,” he said. “These are decades, they are not weeks and months.”

What is needed, he said, “ultimately is the right technology at the right scale at the right time”.

Frank Wouters, lead on low-carbon hydrogen at engineer Worley, said that while blue hydrogen is likely to be cheaper than green for much of this decade, “we might see costs [of renewable H2 coming down earlier [than expected]”. This is because those organisations that have made cost predictions, such as the International Renewable Energy Agency, did not expect such a large amount of green hydrogen to be installed — 40GW of electrolysers in Europe and another 40GW supplying the EU from North Africa and Ukraine by 2030 — and therefore did not take into account of the economies of scale that would bring.

‘The only clean hydrogen is renewable’

Pierre Tardieu, chief policy officer at WindEurope, said that the EU’s hydrogen strategy “was a very important milestone because finally it put an end to the discussion of colour-coded hydrogen, so blue versus green.

“It said clean hydrogen is renewable hydrogen. There's no other type of clean hydrogen.”

This viewpoint was backed up by Valentino Rossi, head of regulatory affairs, regulation and antitrust Europe at Italian energy giant Enel, who insisted that blue hydrogen cannot figure in long-term solutions.

“We believe that, in the long term, green hydrogen — meaning hydrogen made with renewables — is the only solution for 2050,” he said.

A full video of the hydrogen digital roundtable — which was moderated by Recharge managing editor Leigh Collins and Upstream editor-in-chief Leia Parker — is available to watch for free here.

The event was sponsored by Equinor, Worley and Eurogas.