What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but on Earth it’s bound up to form water and other molecules. Hydrogen, when separated from other molecules in a sustainable way, can be an excellent zero carbon resource. It can be stored in large quantities for use when needed, very much as natural gas is today.

Scotland is rethinking the future, shaping a net-zero economy that works for all. With abundant renewable energy resources, Scotland is pioneering low and zero carbon technologies. While we’re already making some headway to decarbonise our power supply, this is only part of the story. Heat, transport, and industry contribute over two thirds of our carbon emissions. Decarbonising these industries cannot succeed through electrical power alone.

Hydrogen as an energy carrier can plug this gap, with its uses in both energy and transport. And we need to act now.

Why is hydrogen important? 

Scotland was the first nation in the UK to publish a policy statement on hydrogen. In its 2020 Hydrogen Policy Statement, the Scottish Government set out its vision for Scotland.

The Scottish Government has committed to achieved net zero by 2045. Net zero refers to the amount of greenhouse gases captured and removed equalling the amount of greenhouse gases produced.

How is hydrogen produced? 

There are several ways to produce hydrogen, the three most common are:

  • Green (renewable) hydrogen: Hydrogen is separated from water using electrolysis. The process is even greener if the electricity used comes from renewable sources.
  • Blue (low carbon) hydrogen: Pressurised natural gas/methane (CH4) heats up, releasing hydrogen. Carbon dioxide is also released in the production of blue hydrogen. The impact of the released CO2 is mitigated using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.
  • Grey (high carbon) hydrogen – The process for extracting hydrogen is the same as blue hydrogen production. However grey carbon doesn’t use any of the carbon capture methods of blue hydrogen. This makes up 90% of the hydrogen in production today.

Hydrogen produced from renewables is the ideal long-term solution for a net zero future. It will take time to scale up production to meet our projected needs from the 2030s onwards. Low carbon hydrogen is a positive short-term solution. Low carbon will lay down some of the infrastructure we need for renewable hydrogen in the future.

It will take several years to develop hydrogen production at a fully commercial scale, but the opportunities that hydrogen bring as a decarbonised industry could be the key to Scotland achieving our net zero goals.

"There are many reasons that Scotland is the right choice for companies looking to develop hydrogen energy solutions. None more so than the fact that we have the raw energy potential, infrastructure and supply chain to support the move towards the production and management of green and blue hydrogen at scale. With large quantities of hydrogen produced, it provides the potential to export the excess hydrogen to other markets." 

- David Holman, Hydrogen and CCUS Specialist, Scottish Enterprise 

How Scotland could be a major player in future hydrogen industry

Could hydrogen be the key to Scotland achieving net zero? Scottish Development International's hydrogen, energy and low carbon specialists share their thoughts.

Learn more at SDI.co.uk

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