BP: Clean hydrogen will play a minimal role in the decarbonisation of cars and space heating
However, H2 will be an important fuel for industry, heavy transport, aviation and shipping, oil giant says in update of its Energy Outlook 2023 report
Hydrogen will only play a minimal role in the decarbonisation of light vehicles (cars and vans) and the heating of buildings, but will be an important clean fuel for industry, heavy transport, according to an update of BP’s Energy Outlook 2023.
The oil giant has today added a new chapter, entitled “How energy is used”, to the report, which was first published in January, giving insights into how different sectors can reach net zero emissions by 2050.
In residential and commercial buildings, “the fuel mix in developed regions gradually electrifies, driven largely by the displacement of gas boilers by heat pumps”, the new chapter states, adding: “There is only a limited role for hydrogen.”
It adds that heat pumps are so efficient that total energy demand for heating will fall because one unit of electricity displaces three units of natural gas.
By contrast, replacing fossil gas with blue hydrogen — derived from natural gas with carbon capture and storage — would require roughly three times more methane, and burning green hydrogen in boilers would require two to three times as much electricity than heat pumps to produce the same amount of heat.
In “light vehicles” — namely cars and vans — the share of the market using hydrogen as a fuel is precisely zero in 2035 and 2050 under BP’s net-zero scenario, with more than 70% using electricity directly.
In this scenario, more than 20% of the energy share in 2050 for light vehicles will still be from oil products, with small amounts of biofuel and natural gas also being used.
Medium and heavy vehicles
However, the picture is very different for medium and heavy road vehicles (defined as weighing less than and more than 16 metric tonnes).
In the net-zero scenario, hydrogen and H2-derived fuels such as ammonia will be responsible for about 30% of the energy share for such vehicles, with about 50% provided by direct electric solutions (ie, batteries).
“The main alternatives to diesel [for medium and heavy-duty trucks] are electricity and hydrogen,” the report explains.
“The choice between electricity and hydrogen is finely balanced and depends on use case. The use of electricity requires vehicles with large, expensive batteries and time-consuming high-powered charging to refuel. In contrast, hydrogen trucks offer faster refuelling and greater range flexibility, but also require costly fuel cell stacks and gaseous storage.
“The choice between fuels also depends on the relative delivered prices of electricity and low-carbon hydrogen. In both cases, achieving strong adoption requires material vehicle cost reductions, as well as the development of charging and refuelling networks.”
It adds that across its scenarios, “electricity achieves somewhat stronger take-up across the main trucking categories, although hydrogen also achieves substantial penetration, particularly in long-distance use cases”.
In aviation, BP believes that there will be a “limited role” for planes that use hydrogen directly as a fuel.
“The combination of the slow turnover of the current liquid-fuel based fleet and the range requirements for longer haul flights mean that electric and hydrogen-based solutions play a limited role in the decarbonization of the aviation sector,” the report states.
“Instead, the decarbonization of aviation is driven by increasing role of SAF (sustainable aviation fuel)” — but this will be mainly biofuel, rather than synthetic aviation fuel made from hydrogen and captured CO2.
Nevertheless, it adds: “Hydrogen-derived solutions to create synthetic jet fuel form a growing part of the aviation energy mix over time, especially in [the] Net Zero scenario, as second-generation biojet [fuel] encounters limits in its ability to scale, and improvements in technology and increasing production capacity cause the relative cost of synthetic jet fuel to fall.
In the net-zero scenario, 30% of SAFs will be hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels in 2050.
In the shipping industry, hydrogen will not be used directly as a fuel in any of BP’s scenarios, but hydrogen-derived fuels — ammonia and methanol — will be responsible for 55% of the maritime sector’s energy share in 2050 in the net-zero scenario, with smaller roles for biofuels and natural gas.
“Amongst hydrogen-based fuels, ammonia looks set to be the lowest cost solution at scale, although it presents handling challenges that need to be tested and determined to be safe for widespread use,” the report says.
“In addition, ammonia-based marine engine technology is still in development although likely to come to market in the near future.
“Methanol also has operational challenges, caused by its low flashpoint (although dual-fuel engines that can use it are available today) and its likely higher cost of supply at the scale required.”
In heavy industry, about 17% of the energy demand (not including chemical feedstocks) will be met by hydrogen in 2050 in the net-zero scenario. BP defines “heavy industry” as “iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, non-metallic minerals and chemicals”.
In “other industry”, hydrogen is responsible for about 5% of all energy consumed in 2050, in the net-zero scenario.
“Iron and steel accounts for the largest use of low-carbon hydrogen in industry (not including feedstocks) where it is used both as an energy source and as a reducing agent in the process of reducing iron ore to iron,” the report explains.
“In [the] Accelerated and Net Zero [scenarios], the share is around 40%, with the other 60% used to provide high-temperature heat in other sectors, for example in petrochemicals, glass, ceramics and cement.”
But it adds that there is greater scope for direct electrification in non-heavy industries, “with technologies such as industrial-scale heat pumps capable of producing the lower temperature heat required”.
“In Net Zero, the energy mix for other industry is dominated by electricity (~60% share) by 2050, with bioenergy most of the remainder (~30%).”
In total, hydrogen provides about 10% of final energy consumption in 2050 under the net-zero scenario — about 34EJ, the equivalent to roughly 240 million tonnes of H2 per year.
A further 8EJ worth of clean hydrogen, or 56.5 million tonnes — would be required as non-energy feedstocks, the report adds.
So total global demand for green and blue hydrogen in BP’s 2050 net-zero scenario would be almost 300 million tonnes.