Hydrogen as One of the Solutions for the Decarbonisation of Transport

By Elsi Katainen, MEP (Renew Europe, Finland), Member of the TRAN Committee, European Parliament

Hydrogen is a versatile raw material and a promising solution for our efforts to build a greener and low-carbon economy. With sufficient investments and right policy-making, clean hydrogen can play important part in the future energy system and the fuel mix for transport.

EU’s target of climate neutrality will revolutionize future energy production, industrial processes, housing and transport. This means that the use of electricity will multiply and be based on renewable solutions such as hydrogen produced from solar and wind power.

Our transport sector runs still mainly on fossil fuels. Currently transport accounts for a quarter of EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike energy, manufacturing and agriculture, the transport sector has not managed to reduce its emissions from the 1990 levels. The change is yet to come.

With the new European Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, presented by the European Commission last year, the Union is driving for 90 a percent emissions cut in the sector by 2050.

The goal is extremely ambitious. The Decarbonisation of the transport sector will be challenging with each mode of transport having its own needs and particularities.

For example, electrification shows a promising path to reduce emissions in passenger vehicles and light goods vehicles used for relatively short distances. However, a long recharging time and heavy batteries create challenges for heavier vehicles over longer distances. This is why we need several solutions.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be refuelled quickly without heavy battery packs. It can serve as a practical solution for long-distance transportation on heavy trucks, cargo ships and aeroplanes. At its best, a hydrogen vehicle could store large amounts of hydrogen, refuel fast and emit only water vapour.

However, there are still a number of technical and economic obstacles to the hydrogen economy. Today, hydrogen produced in EU comes mainly from fossil fuels and the volumes are limited. Utilisation of clean hydrogen in the EU calls for massive investments in refueling stations, distribution and production facilities, in which the EU and national recovery programmes should play a key role in line with the Green Deal targets.

The already available hydrogen fuelled vehicles in local transport, such as city buses will be key in extending the application of hydrogen to other modes of transport.

In addition, further investments in research and innovation across the entire hydrogen value chain are needed, with the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme playing a leading role.

The work to put this all into action has already started. In 2020, the European Commission introduced a Hydrogen strategy with the aim to extend the use of hydrogen and to reduce CO2 emissions from hydrogen production with advanced technology and renewable energy.

Member States should show leadership too. My home country of Finland participates among many other EU-countries in the IPCEI (Important Project of Common European Interest) as part of EU´s hydrogen strategy targeting a faster shift into the hydrogen economy. The aim is to accelerate the industry’s transition to the production and use of clean hydrogen and the development of new uses for hydrogen. This will help Finland to achieve its goal of a carbon-neutrality by 2035.

In the transition towards low-carbon transport, it is vital to keep different options on the table. Building EV-charging infrastructure or developing sustainable biofuels do not have to compete with hydrogen, but rather seen as mutually supportive means to achieve the common goal.

Many energy sources and solutions are needed to decarbonise the European transport sector. This means deploying already available sources such as sustainable biofuels and electrification and to support and anticipate future solutions such a hydrogen. EU policies should focus on setting common targets and creating a good and predictable investment environment that rewards industry and actors for reducing emissions.

Hydrogen must be harnessed efficiently and at a competitive price. The transition to competitive hydrogen economy requires political will, financial support and incentivising legislation that supports new technologies and innovations. The global race is ongoing for the best and most commercially viable way to produce sustainable hydrogen. EU should be an enabler and leader in this competition.