Roughly 500 million tonnes of “emissions-free” hydrogen will be needed if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a new report by analyst BloombergNEF (BNEF).

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In its new study, New Energy Outlook 2022, the research firm has drawn up what it calls a “credible way” to hit net zero globally — with a temperature rise of 1.7°C above pre-industrial levels — which would require a rapid ramp-up of renewable energy, electrification, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.

But finding enough renewable energy to produce the green hydrogen needed may prove a challenge. Close to 23,000TWh would be needed each year for H2 production alone, assuming that 88% of all hydrogen would be produced from grid-connected electrolysers.

“That makes hydrogen the single biggest source of power demand globally by 2050, equal to total global demand in 2020,” the report says.

In BNEF’s net-zero scenario, hydrogen will play significant roles in the decarbonisation of transport and heavy industry, but a more minor role in buildings (mainly heating).

BNEF says that by mid-century, 23,317 petajoules (PJ) of hydrogen would be used in heavy industry, with a further 12,768PJ for transport and 4,254PJ for buildings. This corresponds to 14%, 19% and 3.8% of each sector’s total energy demand, respectively, and 196.3 million tonnes (Mt), 107.5Mt and 35Mt of H2.

It is not clear how much of the hydrogen would be used to produce ammonia, methanol or other synthetic fuels for the transport sector, which includes shipping and aviation.

The report adds that less than 1% of the world’s electricity would be produced from hydrogen in 2050. H2 would also be needed to produce chemicals such as ammonia fertiliser, with a small amount still being used in oil refining.

The 500Mt figure is slightly higher than the 450Mt projected in the International Energy Agency’s most recent net-zero scenario — which was down from 530Mt a year earlier — but much lower than the net-zero projections by the International Renewable Energy Agency (614Mt) and the Hydrogen Council (660Mt).