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Clean hydrogen

Renewable hydrogen production, beyond electrolysis

Financing hydrogen projects
Gorka Arzallus

Gorka Arzallus

Consultant and transport and hydrogen expert

In recent years, hydrogen technologies have been a key point of discussion in the European R&D field, with several new concepts and successful production, transport, storage, and utilisation projects. Renewable hydrogen production is one of the European Commission’s priorities in the energy sector, but there is still a long way to go. Only 4% of the hydrogen generated in Europe in 2022 could be considered carbon neutral, as it was generated by electrolysis, fuelled by renewable or nuclear energy sources. The remaining 96% came from a variety of sources, mostly dependent on traditional fossil fuels such as natural gas, according to the European Commission.

To address this issue, Brussels has set up several funding mechanisms for hydrogen-related projects, including the Clean Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (CHJU), also known as the Clean Hydrogen Partnership, that funds R&D&I projects related to clean hydrogen production, transport, storage, mobility and other cross-cutting issues.

Several programmes, such as Horizon Europe and the Innovation Fund, also publicise funding opportunities in this field. The European Commission, through initiatives such as Hydrogen Europe, also shows its commitment to the development of the sector through various events, such as European Hydrogen Week, a week-long conference where the latest technological advances are presented and discussed.

Alternative hydrogen production pathways

The EU market needs a transition to sustainable production pathways. Renewable hydrogen is produced by electrolysis powered by renewable sources (e.g., solar or wind energy production) to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water. In other words, electrical energy is converted into chemical energy, which can be used as a fuel source or, when necessary, reconverted back into electricity.

Other well-known and established low-emission hydrogen production technologies, such as nuclear electrolysis (pink hydrogen) and natural gas reforming, followed by gasification with carbon capture and utilisation (blue hydrogen), despite some drawbacks, are currently the most feasible and funded pathways to support the goal of a carbon neutral sector. In recent years, however, alternative sustainable processes and feedstocks have emerged.

  • Gasification from alternative feedstocks. Although gasification is mostly fueled by brown (lignite) and black coal, new, more sustainable feedstocks are starting to show real potential. In this process, non-recyclable waste (e.g., organic household waste, car tyres, wind turbines, etc.) is exposed to high temperatures without combustion, thus avoiding gas emissions.
  • Pyrolysis. This is the thermochemical decomposition of organic compounds with the exclusion of oxygen (without combustion). This process produces what is known as turquoise hydrogen.
  • Thermolysis. Similar to pyrolysis, thermolysis is a thermochemical process that separates solid biomass from gas without flame generation.

While there is still a great need to further develop and support renewable hydrogen production through electrolysis, these technologies and feedstocks have shown great potential to be sustainable alternatives to traditional fossil fuels and could be key players in the effort to decarbonise the sector.

All these technologies, projects, trends, and possible policy changes were explored and discussed at the last European Hydrogen Week, which Zabala innovation attended. Held in Brussels at the end of November and organised by Hydrogen Europe in collaboration with the European Commission, the event proposed high-level policy conferences, a B2B forum where several sector trends were discussed, and an exhibition for industry leaders, start-ups and EU-funded projects to showcase their latest developments.

Clean Hydrogen Partnership 2024 and other funding opportunities

This will be a year full of opportunities for hydrogen projects, with several funding mechanisms and corresponding work programmes. We highlight three of them.

  • CHJU. Successor to the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking 2 (FCH 2 JU), the main objective of this programme, mentioned before, is to contribute to the EU Green Deal and the Hydrogen Strategy by funding disruptive R&I project ideas in clean production, storage, transport, mobility, end uses and other cross-cutting topics. The 2024 call opened yesterday and the deadline for applications is 17 April. The Clean Hydrogen Partnership will hold an info-day on this call on 26 January.
  • Horizon Europe. Hydrogen-related projects will be funded through the topics of Cluster 4 Digital, Industry and Space and Cluster 5 Climate, Energy and Mobility.
  • Innovation Fund. The programme funds proposals focusing on pioneering technologies within energy-intensive industrial sectors, including projects related to the development of carbon-intensive substitutes, renewable energies, energy storage, carbon capture and storage and carbon capture and utilisation. This fund also supports projects related to the manufacture of electrolysers and the use of hydrogen in various applications, such as mobility.

The European Commission has also launched the European Hydrogen Bank pilot auction, with a total budget of 800 million euros, which will allow renewable hydrogen producers to benefit from premiums for each kilogram of hydrogen produced.

The opportunities for hydrogen producers, researchers and technology integrators will be varied in 2024, but the sector still has a long way to go. Not only in terms of the total budget earmarked for funding, but also in terms of the alternative production technologies supported. The current focus is on electrolysis production, as it should be, but the sector would benefit from a more diverse and better funded portfolio of technologies.

In this context, it is key to find a partner that not only understands the project idea, but also knows how to fit it into the scope of the topic to ensure maximum eligibility and probability of success. Zabala Innovation can play the role of this trusted partner, providing experts in the field and in the European funding landscape.

Expert person

Gorka Arzallus
Gorka Arzallus

Brussels Office

Consultant and transport and hydrogen expert