Climate Action & Environment · · 6 min read

What is Green Hydrogen?

Green hydrogen is hydrogen gas that is produced through a process called electrolysis. This process uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

What is Green Hydrogen?

Green hydrogen is hydrogen gas that is produced through a process called electrolysis. This process uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

When the electricity used in this process comes from renewable sources like wind, solar, or hydro, the resultant hydrogen is termed "green" because its production does not emit carbon dioxide.

Types of Hydrogen

  • Gray Hydrogen: Derived from natural gas or methane through steam methane reforming, producing significant carbon emissions.
  • Blue Hydrogen: Similar to gray hydrogen but incorporates carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to reduce emissions.
  • Green Hydrogen: Produced through electrolysis powered by renewable energy, emitting no greenhouse gases.

Production Process


Electrolysis is the primary method of producing green hydrogen.

There are two common types of electrolyzers:

  1. Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Electrolyzers:
    • High efficiency and rapid response to renewable energy fluctuations.
    • Operate under high pressure, suitable for varying loads.
  2. Alkaline Electrolyzers:
    • Mature technology with lower capital costs.
    • Suitable for continuous hydrogen production.

Power Source

The key factor distinguishing green hydrogen is the use of renewable energy sources like:

  • Wind Energy: Offshore and onshore wind farms can power electrolyzers.
  • Solar Energy: Photovoltaic systems convert sunlight into electricity for hydrogen production.
  • Hydropower: Harnessing the power of rivers and waterfalls for electrolysis.

The Electrolysis Reaction

The basic chemical reaction involved in electrolysis is:

  • Anode Reaction: Water is oxidized, releasing oxygen gas and protons.
  • Cathode Reaction: Protons are reduced to form hydrogen gas.

Applications of Green Hydrogen

Decarbonizing Industry

Industries like steel, chemicals, and cement are major carbon emitters.

Green hydrogen can replace fossil fuels as a clean feedstock or energy source.

Steel Industry

The steel industry is one of the largest contributors to CO2 emissions globally due to its reliance on coal for high-temperature processes like steelmaking. Green hydrogen offers a sustainable alternative.

In the traditional method, coal is used in blast furnaces to remove oxygen from iron ore, which releases a significant amount of CO2. By substituting hydrogen for coal, the main byproduct becomes water vapor instead of carbon dioxide.

This switch can drastically reduce the carbon footprint of steel production.

Several pilot projects in Europe and Asia are already demonstrating the feasibility of hydrogen-based steel production, aiming to scale up these technologies to achieve larger reductions in emissions.

Chemical Industry

In the chemical industry, green hydrogen has the potential to transform the production of ammonia and methanol, which are foundational to manufacturing fertilizers and various chemicals.

Currently, these processes rely heavily on natural gas, emitting large quantities of CO2. By replacing natural gas with green hydrogen, the chemical industry can significantly lower its carbon emissions.

Ammonia production, for example, involves the Haber-Bosch process, which could use hydrogen derived from water electrolysis, thus making the process cleaner.

Similarly, methanol, typically produced using fossil fuels, can be synthesized using green hydrogen and captured carbon dioxide, resulting in a much cleaner product.

Cement Industry

Cement manufacturing is another intensive emitter of CO2, primarily during the calcination process where limestone (calcium carbonate) is heated to produce lime (calcium oxide), releasing CO2 in the process.

Green hydrogen can play a role in providing the high temperatures needed for this process via combustion, thereby reducing reliance on conventional fossil fuels.

More innovatively, hydrogen can be used in newer "low-carbon cement" formulas that require less overall energy or integrate carbon capture technologies more effectively.

Aviation Industry

The aviation industry is actively exploring sustainable alternatives to reduce its substantial carbon footprint, and green hydrogen has emerged as a promising candidate.

Hydrogen can be used directly as a fuel in specially designed engines or turbines, offering a zero-emission flight option by only emitting water vapor during combustion.

Additionally, green hydrogen serves as a crucial component in the production of synthetic fuels—also known as e-fuels—which are compatible with existing aircraft technologies.

These e-fuels are produced by combining green hydrogen with captured carbon dioxide, providing a sustainable fuel alternative that can leverage existing refueling infrastructure.

Maritime Sector

The maritime industry, which contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, is also looking toward green hydrogen to enable cleaner shipping operations.

Green hydrogen can be used directly in fuel cells to power electric motors or in internal combustion engines modified to burn hydrogen.

Beyond its use as a direct fuel, green hydrogen contributes to the creation of ammonia and other hydrogen-derived fuels that are gaining traction as practical options for long-distance and high-energy maritime applications.

The adoption of hydrogen fuel technologies in shipping not only reduces emissions but also aligns with international regulatory pressures to decrease maritime pollution.

Transportation Sector

Green hydrogen is crucial for decarbonizing heavy transport.

  • Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs): Trucks, buses, and cars can run on hydrogen fuel cells, emitting only water.
  • Shipping and Aviation: Hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels could power ships and aircraft.

Power Generation and Storage

  • Grid Balancing: Hydrogen can store excess renewable energy, which can later be converted back to electricity.
  • Fuel Cells: Stationary fuel cells can generate electricity and heat for buildings.


Green hydrogen can replace natural gas in residential and commercial heating systems, contributing to low-carbon buildings.

Challenges of Green Hydrogen


Green hydrogen production remains more expensive than gray hydrogen due to:

  • High electrolyzer costs.
  • Expensive renewable electricity.

However, declining renewable energy costs and scaling electrolyzer production can help bridge the gap.


  • Transportation and Storage: Hydrogen requires specialized infrastructure due to its low energy density.
  • Distribution Network: Building hydrogen refueling stations and pipelines will require significant investment.

Energy Efficiency

Electrolysis, compression, and transport lead to energy losses, reducing the overall efficiency of green hydrogen production.

Regulatory Framework

Supportive policies and carbon pricing are crucial for promoting green hydrogen adoption over cheaper fossil fuels.

Global Initiatives for Green Hydrogen

Europe’s Green Ambition

Europe is at the forefront of the green hydrogen revolution, driven by comprehensive strategies and policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

In 2022, hydrogen constituted less than 2% of Europe's total energy consumption, with its primary use in the production of chemical products such as plastics and fertilizers.

A significant 96% of this hydrogen was derived from natural gas, leading to substantial CO2 emissions.

The European Union has prioritized the development of renewable hydrogen, setting ambitious targets to produce 10 million tonnes and import an additional 10 million tonnes by the year 2030.

United States: A Strategic Approach

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot initiative as part of its broader energy strategy.

This initiative aims to reduce the cost of green hydrogen to $1 per kilogram within a decade, an 80% decrease from current levels.

Achieving this price point is expected to make green hydrogen a competitive alternative to conventional energy sources, thereby accelerating its adoption across various sectors, including transport and industrial processes.

Asia-Pacific’s Dynamic Markets

Despite its potential, global investment in green hydrogen is relatively modest compared to investments in renewable energy, primarily due to high costs.

However, these costs are expected to decline significantly between 2030 and 2050. Asia and the Pacific are playing crucial roles in transitioning towards a society where hydrogen is integral to daily life and economic activities.

Several countries in the region, including Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore, have already developed national hydrogen strategies, with many others preparing to do the same.

Middle East: Investing in Future Technologies

Saudi Arabia is making significant strides in establishing itself as a leader in green hydrogen production.

The construction of a $8.4 billion green hydrogen plant in NEOM, an ambitious smart city project, illustrates the region's commitment to new and sustainable technologies.

This plant will utilize solar and wind power to produce hydrogen, aiming to become one of the world’s largest green hydrogen producers upon completion.

Future Outlook: Scaling and Innovations

Electrolyzer Scale-Up

Scaling up the production of electrolyzers is essential for reducing the costs associated with green hydrogen production.

Mass production techniques are expected to lower the costs of these critical components, thereby making the economics of green hydrogen more favorable.

Technological Advances

Future technological advancements in electrolyzer efficiency, hydrogen storage, and distribution systems are crucial for the commercial viability of green hydrogen.

Innovations, such as improved electrolyzer designs that increase operational efficiency and new storage solutions that enhance safety and capacity, will drive further adoption of green hydrogen.

Policy Support

For green hydrogen to truly take off, supportive policies and economic incentives are crucial. Implementing carbon pricing and providing subsidies for green hydrogen projects can help level the playing field against more established but less environmentally friendly technologies.

Additionally, governments around the world are creating frameworks that encourage the investment in and development of hydrogen infrastructure.

In Summary

The global shift towards green hydrogen is supported by ambitious targets and strategic investments across various key regions, which highlight the growing recognition of its potential in achieving a sustainable energy transition.

As technologies advance and economies of scale improve, green hydrogen is poised to play a pivotal role in our energy future, offering a cleaner, more sustainable solution to meet global energy demands.

This concerted push across continents and industries underscores the collaborative effort required to harness the benefits of green hydrogen effectively.

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