Half of all the UK’s shipping fuels will be met by hydrogen-derived ammonia and e-fuels such as methanol by 2050 — leaving battery-powered ships with with just 2.5% of the market, according to a new report commissioned by British government-backed battery research group the Faraday Institution (FI) and authored by Norwegian standards house DNV.

Hydrogen: hype, hope and the hard truths around its role in the energy transition
Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world? Subscribe to the weekly Hydrogen Insight newsletter and get the evidence-based market insight you need for this rapidly evolving global market

But pure hydrogen will not play a significant role in the UK market, echoing the conclusions of an earlier DNV analysis on global intercontinental shipping, published last year. Liquid hydrogen costs 15 times more to produce than green ammonia, and has 1.5 to two times less energy density than ammonia and methanol by volume.

In total, the FI-commissioned report found that ammonia would grab a 35% share of marine fuels in 2050, the largest of any type of fuel, while e-fuels would contribute 14%. This 49% share would account for around 28TWh of fuel in total.

By comparison, battery-powered vessels will only take a 2.5% of the market, limited to short distance travel.

But although the analysis expects the adoption of e-methanol to start in 2025 — around the time that Danish shipping giant Maersk expects to begin operating its first methanol-powered vessels — it does not expect ammonia-powered ships to hit the water until 2035, due to the technology development required.

The new report, The Role of Hydrogen and Batteries in Delivering Net Zero in the UK by 2050, sought to emphasise that in many market sectors batteries and H2 are complimentary and not in competition.

This was best illustrated in its analysis on rail decarbonisation, where it pointed out that around 85% of the UK’s non-electrified railways are suitable for direct electrification, leaving around 89% of the total track length directly electrified by 2050.

The remaining 11% share will carry trains powered by both hydrogen fuel cells and batteries — accounting for around the same share in energy demand, dependent on local infrastructure and specific network requirements.

“Batteries and hydrogen have distinct characteristics and should largely be viewed as complementary rather than competing technologies,” said professor Pam Thomas, chief executive of the Faraday Institution. “Both will require significant technological advance and extensive scale up of manufacturing and deployment if the UK is to meet its obligation to reach net zero by 2050. The varying timescales of their rollout leads to considerable uncertainties in predicted market share profiles over time.”

But in aviation, the Faraday/DNV report expects around 30% of UK passenger flights to be met with battery-electric power, accounting for most short-haul flights.

Hydrogen and its derivatives such as synthetic fuels will meet the fuelling needs of medium- and long-distance flights by 2050, accounting for 7% and 19% of total energy demand respectively.

The UK has said it will set a target of 10% sustainable aviation fuels, including e-fuels made with hydrogen, by 2030. This week the EU agreed to set binding sustainable aviation fuel and e-fuel targets for all flights departing the bloc from 2025.

And battery power grabs by far the biggest share of UK grid balancing and passenger vehicle segments, with the former mostly due to a massive uptick in vehicle-to-grid charging and solar-and-battery installations, as well as battery grid-balancing infrastructure.

H2 will be limited to seasonal storage, and only when price arbitrage makes it economically viable.

“Due to the inefficiencies involved in this process, and the competing demands for low carbon hydrogen, a high price differential will be needed between the cost of energy used to create hydrogen, and the price of energy generated by hydrogen, for hydrogen storage to be used in this way,” the report read.

Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) will account for 99% of passenger vehicles in the UK by 2050 and 80% of commercial vehicles, including heavy duty trucking, mostly due to the lower cost of ownership.

However, in heavy duty trucking applications requiring longer range, hydrogen could play a role the report said.