Reaching net zero by 2050 requires finding innovative ways to reduce emissions and decarbonize some of the most polluting sectors and industries.
Clean hydrogen can be crucial in minimizing climate change impacts, helping decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors that rely on fossil fuels—such as heavy industry, shipping, and air transport—while contributing to food security, economic growth, and job creation.
Hydrogen is expected to grow sevenfold to support the global energy transition, eventually accounting for 10 percent of total energy by 2050. A scale-up of this magnitude will affect demand for critical materials, including minerals and metals, needed for hydrogen technologies— electrolyzers for renewable hydrogen, carbon storage for low-carbon hydrogen, or fuel cells using hydrogen to power transport.
A new report: Sufficiency, Sustainability, and Circularity of Critical Materials for Clean Hydrogen
A joint report from the World Bank and the Hydrogen Council uses new data to estimate the amount and overall footprint of critical minerals needed to scale up clean hydrogen.
First, it identifies the quantities of critical materials needed to scale up different hydrogen technologies.
Second, it assesses whether the materials needed for hydrogen may compete with large-scale demand from other fast-growing sectors of the low-carbon transition, such as wind, solar, and battery technologies.
The report also looks at the broader environmental impacts — greenhouse gas emissions or water demand—that may arise from mining and processing the materials, and discusses mitigation solutions, from improvements to design to enhanced recycling.
The report estimates that the overall material footprint of the hydrogen sector is unlikely to cause significant stress to most materials markets. In some instances, such as platinum, demand for hydrogen may actually relieve pressure from declining demand from current uses, helping support the platinum industry and related jobs, especially in Southern Africa.
While producing hydrogen has a relatively limited impact on the overall demand for minerals, it takes place in the broader material-intensive energy transition context. With large quantities of cobalt, copper, and nickel needed for wind, solar, and battery technologies, the supply of materials crucial for the hydrogen sector may come under strain. At the same time, reducing the material stress from clean hydrogen will benefit the technology’s deployment and overall energy transition.
The report also looks at the environmental impacts–GHG emissions and water footprint–from sourcing the materials needed for clean hydrogen production and consumption. It shows that the GHG emissions of the materials required for renewable hydrogen are likely to be higher than for low-carbon hydrogen. This is primarily due to the mineral intensity of the renewable technologies used to power the electrolyzers.
It also concludes that at a global level, the overall water footprint of the clean hydrogen sector is likely to be small compared to other energy sectors. However, at the regional and local levels, water quality challenges require a careful assessment of the water impact of projects, and choice of water sourcing, including the use of desalination.
For clean hydrogen to play its full role in tackling climate change, these impacts must be minimized by adopting sustainable practices and policies such as those detailed in the Climate-Smart Mining (CSM) Framework, including increasing the use of recycled materials, enhancing water efficiency, and promoting innovations in design to reduce material intensities.
The original source: The World Bank