The hydrogen economy - A non-technical review

Jan 2006

There is a growing belief among policy-makers, environmental organisations, energy analysts and industry leaders that hydrogen is the fuel of the future that will revolutionise the way we produce and use energy. In the long term, our reliance on finite fossil energy is clearly unsustainable, both environmentally and economically. Soaring prices of oil in recent years have drawn attention to the energy-security risks of relying on oil and gas, and have led to a growing perception that the world is starting to run out of cheap fuel, hastening the need to move to more secure and cleaner energy technologies. Hydrogen is widely held to be the most promising of a number of such technologies that could be deployed on a large scale in the foreseeable future. Replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen in final energy uses could bring major environmental benefits – as long as technical, environmental and cost challenges in the way hydrogen is produced, transported, stored and used are overcome.
The first part of this report briefly describes how the hydrogen economy would work and what it might mean for the environment. The following section reviews the cost and technical challenges that will need to be overcome for hydrogen to become commercially viable on a large scale. The next section discusses the potential barriers to development of a hydrogen system and the need for government support, and describes long-term projections of hydrogen use. The report then considers the relevance of hydrogen for developing economies and what it could mean for national policy-making, and the role of international and non-governmental organisations. A concluding section summarises the key messages contained in this report.
Annex A describes the activities of key players in hydrogen energy research and development. Annex B provides references to selected publications on hydrogen and the addresses of relevant websites for readers looking to find out more about hydrogen developments and programmes.

By: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

download this document:   361 kb