Demand for Clean Hydrogen in US to Grow to 50 MMT by 2050

Hydrogen use can help cut 40-90% of cradle-to-grave emissions across three major sectors


The demand for clean hydrogen (H2) is set to grow by 10 million metric tons (MMT) annually by the end of the decade in the United States, while it will rise to 20 MMT and 50 MMT by 2040 and 2050, respectively, according to the National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap released recently by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The roadmap prioritizes three focus areas to support the use of clean hydrogen across key sectors of the country— cutting the cost of clean hydrogen, strategizing its use in the highest benefit applications, and creating regional networks for clean H2 production in the country.

The roadmap establishes the potential pathways in using clean hydrogen to decarbonize diverse sectors through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enforced in 2021, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed last August.

Focus on three power-intensive sectors

The targets under the Clean H2 initiative align with the administration’s Justice40 initiative pledging at least 40% of the total benefits from federal investments in clean energy for disadvantaged communities.

The roadmap states that with the planned use of green H2, the U.S. can mitigate approximately 10% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as compared to 2005 levels.

The use of clean H2 in many of the applications within the three most emission-intensive sectors— power generation, industrial, and transport — can help reduce 40-90% of cradle-to-grave emissions by displacing the incumbent fossil fuels.

As of date, the industrial sector of the U.S. produces about 10 MMT of H2 annually in contrast to the global production of 94 MMT.

Most production is for petroleum refining, ammonia, and the chemical industry, for which the administration has around 1,600 miles of dedicated H2 pipeline along with three geological caverns— including the world’s largest cavern that can store 350 GWh of thermal energy, enough to power 1.2 million homes for a week.

Challenges and resolves

Complete implementation of clean H2 technologies across sectors faces roadblocks like scaling up the proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer. The administration has yet to define the steps required to commercialize PEM electrolyzers, crucial to H2 production.

Also, the lack of manufacturing at scale, the fluctuations in cost, durability, reliability, and the H2 distribution infrastructure are key challenges to address in the U.S.

Another significant challenge identified in the roadmap is the levelized cost of H2 which must be reduced. For instance, the cost of clean H2 using PEM membrane electrolysis can be over $5/kg when using renewable electricity.

The cost of electrolysis depends heavily on the cost of electricity used. Hydrogen from low-volume PEM electrolysis requires an 80% reduction in cost to achieve the Hydrogen Shot goals and to be competitive.

The clean H2 strategy further states that displacing H2 used at current petroleum refineries with clean H2 can reduce the life cycle emissions of the refining process by at least 12%, depending on the H2 supply source.

Investments needed by 2050

The Clean H2 strategy realizes the steps taken by the government in this direction and highlights the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot program launched by the DOE in 2021. The program would reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1/ gram in a decade.

With rising distributed end-uses like road transportation, the adoption of clean hydrogen and local hubs and regional networks will be linked into a national network. This would require rapid scale-up of midstream infrastructure, with investments growing from $2 billion to $3 billion annually from 2023 to 2030, increasing to $15 billion to $20 billion annually from 2030 to 2050.

Below is a table describing modeled cost at scale for the U.S. to meet its goals under the Hydrogen Earthshot initiative between 2022-2036:

Green hydrogen US

Apart from the Hydrogen Earthshot, President Biden’s Bipartisan Law announced an investment of $1 billion for a Clean Hydrogen Electrolysis program. The administration aims to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of electrolysis technologies through the program by supporting research and development, to enable $2/kg of clean H2 from electrolysis by 2026.

The DOE also announced a $7 billion funding opportunity to create regional hydrogen hubs across the U.S. to help communities benefit from clean energy investments while creating direct and indirect jobs.

An additional investment of $500 million is directed toward Clean Hydrogen Manufacturing and Recycling research, development, demonstration, and deployment. The program will support clean H2 equipment manufacturing for key components in the U.S. and domestic supply chains.

The roadmap predicts that if all announced projects for H2 production clear the final investment stage, it will create a clean H2 supply of 12 MMT annually, breaching the current goals of DOE.

Based on various studies, the roadmap estimates that about 4-8 MMT of H2 would be needed annually by 2050 to supply energy storage and power generation for a 100% clean grid.