Renewable hydrogen: what are the benefits for the EU?

Find out what the benefits of hydrogen energy are and how the EU wants to make the most of this alternative fuel to support the green transition.

The European Parliament has passed new rules to make it easier to top up green vehicles.

Clean energy: essential for a climate-neutral Europe

On the road to a climate-neutral Europe and a cleaner planet, it is essential to revamp the overall energy supply and create a fully integrated energy system under the European Green Deal, The EU economy’s green transition should be combined with access to clean, affordable and secure energy for businesses and consumers.

The EU faces a challenge as its energy production and consumption are still responsible for a large share of the greenhouse gases emitted by the bloc and the EU remains dependent on energy imports , mainly oil and gas.

In July 2020, the European Commission proposed a hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe, aiming to accelerate the development of clean hydrogen and ensuring the EU's role as the cornerstone for a climate-neutral energy system by 2050.

In reports adopted in May 2021, MEPs said that only green hydrogen produced from renewable sources can sustainably contribute to achieving climate neutrality in the long term.

Read more about EU measures to push renewable energy

Is hydrogen a renewable energy?

There are various types of hydrogen, categorised by production process and the resulting GHG emissions. Clean hydrogen ("renewable hydrogen" or "green hydrogen") is produced by the electrolysis of water using electricity from renewable sources and emits no greenhouse gases during its production.

MEPs insisted on the importance of a classification of the different types of hydrogen and want a uniform EU-wide terminology to make a clear distinction between renewable and low-carbon hydrogen. They also wanted the Commission and EU countries to stimulate the production and use of the fuel from renewable sources.

Currently, hydrogen plays only a minor role in the overall energy supply. There are challenges in terms of cost-competitiveness, scale of production, infrastructure needs and perceived safety. However, hydrogen is expected to enable emission-free transport, heating and industrial processes as well as inter-seasonal energy storage in the future.

What are the benefits of hydrogen?

Hydrogen represents about 2% of the EU's energy mix. Nearly all hydrogen - 95% -  is produced by fossil fuels, which release 70-100 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

According to research, renewable energies could supply a substantial part of the European energy mix in 2050, of which hydrogen could account for up to 20%,   notably 20-50% of energy demand in transport and 5-20% in industry.

A renewable hydrogen economy could significantly reduce the impact of global warming compared to a fossil fuel economy.

It is mostly used as feedstock in industrial processes, but also as a fuel for space rockets.

Given its properties, hydrogen can be a good fuel because:

  • Its use for energy purposes does not cause greenhouse gas emissions (water is the only by-product of the process)
  • It can be used to produce other gases, as well as liquid fuels
  • Existing infrastructure (gas transport and gas storage) can be repurposed for hydrogen
  • It has a higher energy density than batteries so can be used for long-distance and heavy-goods transport

What does Parliament want?

  • Incentives to encourage demand and to create a European hydrogen market and fast deployment of hydrogen infrastructure
  • The phasing out of  fossil-based hydrogen as soon as possible
  • Certification of all hydrogen imports in the same way as EU-produced hydrogen, including production and transportation to avoid carbon leakage
  • Assessing the possibility of repurposing existing gas pipelines for the transport and underground storage of hydrogen

Hydrogen in the future gas market

To help curb greenhouse gas emissions in the EU in line with plans for climate and the internal energy market, the EU is working on a hydrogen and decarbonised gas markets package. In February 2023, Parliament's energy committee backed Commision proposals to facilitate the uptake of renewable and low-carbon gases, including hydrogen and biomethane, into the EU gas market.

The legislation would also create a certification system for low-carbon gases and ensure that consumers can switch suppliers more easily to choose renewable and low-carbon gases over fossil fuels.

MEPs wanted to ensure that enough cross-border capacity is available to establish an integrated European hydrogen market and enable hydrogen to move freely across borders.

Parliament and EU countries are negotiating the final form of the rules.

A man fills up his car with hydrogen in Saint-Lo, France

Hydrogen as one of the EU’s alternative fuels 

As the EU is shifting away from dependence on Russian fossil fuels and working towards meeting its commitment to be climate neutral by 2050, the Commission presented in 2022 the Repower EU strategy for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy. Under the plan, the EU should ramp up renewable hydrogen production by 2030, raising the amount of hydrogen to 20 megatonnes/year from the 10 megatonnes/year proposed in the 2020 Hydrogen Strategy.

As part of legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - known as Fit for 55 - in October 2022, MEPs adopted their position on draft EU rules to stimulate the deployment of recharging and alternative refuelling stations, notably for electricity and hydrogen. In 2021, the EU had 136 hydrogen refuelling points.

In March 2023, Parliament and Council agreed on mandatory national targets for deploying the infrastructure. The new rules foresee setting up hydrogen refuelling stations at least every 200 km on the main EU roads by 2031.

Parliament adopted the rules in July 2023. They will come into force once endorsed by the Council.

the EU’s strategy to increase the use of alternative fuels for cars