There are few areas in this election campaign that are as unanimous as on green hydrogen. The Union wants to make Germany the “n ° 1 water country”, the SPD the “leading market for hydrogen technologies”. The Greens want to extend their “leadership role” in hydrogen, and the FDP demands “more speed in hydrogen”. It is the material from which the not-so-distant climate neutrality should be made. Only: It does not exist yet, at least not in large quantities. There are no lines and hardly any ports for it, let alone facilities that could use it on a large scale. There is only hope. But it’s huge.
Indeed, green hydrogen could open the door to the post-fossil economy. It can replace coke in the steel industry, kerosene in airplanes, heavy oil in ships, and diesel in trucks. It can free basic chemicals from their climate footprint and help store green energy. And all this just by using electricity from wind or solar farms to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The process is called electrolysis and has been known since the 19th century. How green hydrogen could help the world emerge from the climate crisis in the 21st century is almost too good to be true. And that is why it says: Be careful – as always when a miracle weapon promises the solution of many problems.
It starts with the time horizon and a very old problem: that of the chicken and the egg. There are still just over 24 years left for climate neutrality in Germany. By 2045, all major industrial processes, traffic and buildings will have to do without fossil fuels. This is especially critical when a lot of capital is tied up in investments. Already today, it is unlikely that a new plant that relies on fossil energy will be built. To do this, however, investors must be able to rely on the fact that hydrogen power plants can be operated competitively. And that there is enough at all.
But that requires projects to produce this hydrogen – and for these projects the guarantee that it will also be accepted. Because without demand, there will be hardly any supply, but without supply or demand. Anyone who now sings the praises of hydrogen in their election manifestos will have to create that post-election security, both for global hydrogen production and for those who invest in such factories. There are already good ideas on how the state can contribute to the additional costs of climate protection.
The next question is: what is green hydrogen used for and what not? The desires are great, they range from synthetic fuels, in order to be able to operate combustion engines in a climate neutral manner, to the increasing proportion of hydrogen in the gas network. But in either case, the distant view of hydrogen creates uncertainty for climate-friendly alternatives: the combination of solar power and electric heat pumps, for example, or the electric car. It could even slow down effective climate protection – which is why it needs to be clear: Hydrogen should only be used where there is no alternative. It’s too precious for that.
The question of origin remains. Europe will not be able to produce the immense quantities of green hydrogen on its own. This is why the many international collaborations in which Germans and Europeans are currently engaging are important. However, it may also be a good idea to use “blue” hydrogen at least for the transition. It comes from natural gas, the CO₂ is separated and stored here. While this does not correspond to pure theory, it also offers fossil empires like Russia, Saudi Arabia or Qatar the opportunity to enter the billion dollar market early on. After all, they should do without another billion fossils.
This is all a calculation with many unknowns, and the risk of failure is great. After the elections, hydrogen will also show the seriousness of parties with climate neutrality. If this project fails and the promises remain empty, then climate neutrality will also fail by 2045.