Towards the Green Energy Transition: Investigating the Potential for EU-China Collaboration in the Hydrogen Sector

In the quest to achieve the EU’s ambitious 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target, renewable hydrogen has emerged as a critical element in the green energy transition. Although hydrogen is promising as a clean-burning fuel and energy carrier, its energy-intensive production and high costs pose a challenge for large-scale implementation. China and the EU are key players in the global hydrogen landscape but still primarily rely on fossil-fuel heavy methods of production. As both have released a number of strategic objectives as part of their respective hydrogen strategies, the renewable hydrogen sector is set to change over the next couple of years. The EU's ambitious targets and China's strategic goals for the renewable hydrogen sector create an opportunity for collaborative efforts. This EIAS policy brief will explore the chances and challenges for EU-China collaboration in the renewable hydrogen sector, emphasising the fields of fuel-cell technology, electrolyser manufacturing, and renewable energy production and trade.

Hydrogen (H2) is both the simplest, and most abundant element in the universe with an atom structure of a single proton (Energy Information Administration [EIA], 2023). Hydrogen occurs on earth in the form of various compounds, such as water (H2O), hydro-carbons (CxHy), or biomass (CxHyOzNa) (Jianjun & Wang, 2022). However, pure hydrogen does not exist naturally in the earth’s crust (EIA, 2023). Thus, it must be produced by separating it from its various compounds (Jianjun & Wang, 2022). However, the production processes of hydrogen all require substantial amounts of energy inputs (Hassan et al., 2023). Once separated from its compounds, hydrogen can act as an energy carrier or clean burning fuel (National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL], n.d.). As an energy carrier, hydrogen transports energy in a usable form from one place to another. Compared to other available carriers, such as gasoline, hydrogen can carry nearly three times more energy due to its high energy density (Hassan et al., 2023). Furthermore, when hydrogen is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, it produces heat and electricity with only water vapour as a by-product (NREL, n.d.). These qualities make hydrogen one of the most promising elements to help achieve the green energy transition. 

Author: Maria Kienzle, EIAS Junior Researcher

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