Hydrogen's Potential Role in Future Energy Systems

Research output: NRELPresentation


Hydrogen is developing as a key energy interface that can benefit the electricity grid, provide energy storage, and be used in a number of key applications that have limited alternatives to today's fossil-energy sources. In 2015, the global hydrogen market was 60 MMT/yr (8 EJ/yr). The Hydrogen Council estimated that it could grow ten-fold to 600 MMT/yr (80 EJ/yr) if industrial, transportation, buildings, and electrical applications grow [1]. Hydrogen is used extensively in oil refining for hydrocracking and hydrodesulfurization. It is also the key intermediate while producing ammonia which is used primarily as a fertilizer. Additional industrial market opportunities include steel production where hydrogen could replace metallurgical coal as a reductant (for example, in the direct iron reduction process) and as a feedstock with carbon dioxide to produce methanol, Fischer-Tropsch liquids, and other organic chemicals. In transportation, hydrogen can be used in applications powered by fuel cells. Currently, material handling equipment is the primary market; however, heavy- and medium-duty trucks and light duty vehicles are other direct options. In addition, a hydrogen carrier such as ammonia is a key transportation opportunity. Because it is a non-carbon form of energy storage, hydrogen can play a key role in heating buildings, either directly or through combined heat and power generation, and in providing seasonal storage for the electricity grid. Research and development (R&D) that reduce costs will likely be necessary for hydrogen to economically participate in steelmaking and organic chemical markets. Likewise, lower-cost fuel cells will likely be needed for hydrogen to compete in many transportation, heat, and power markets. Hydrogen is primarily produced from natural gas or other organic feedstocks (e.g., oil refinery byproducts) today. R&D that can reduce the capital cost of both low-temperature and high-temperature electrolysis is possible. If the capital costs for low temperature electrolysis can be reduced while keeping its ability to respond to varying power input, it could be a flexible load on the grid. As such, it could utilize power that would otherwise be curtailed and thus increase the market opportunity for variable renewable generation such as wind and photovoltaic solar [2]. Because it is at an elevated temperature, high temperature electrolysis has a higher efficiency. In many sites where both heat and electricity are available (e.g., nuclear power plants) it can be the most cost effective option for producing hydrogen and supporting energy generation facilities that are challenged when competing to produce electricity alone. [1] The Hydrogen Council. Hydrogen Scaling Up. November 2017. [2] Ruth M., Jadun P., Elgowainy A. H2@Scale Analysis. U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program 2019 Annual Merit Review and Peer Evaluation Meeting. April 30, 2019.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages14
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

NamePresented at the World Hydrogen Technologies Conference, 2-7 June 2019, Tokyo, Japan

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-74268


  • efficiency
  • electrolysis
  • energy
  • gigaton
  • Gigatonne Workshop
  • H2@Scale
  • high temperature
  • hydrogen
  • low temperature
  • market opportunities


Dive into the research topics of 'Hydrogen's Potential Role in Future Energy Systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this