Taking Stock of Clean Hydrogen Demand-side Policies

Argus’ John Scott talks to hydrogen experts Stefan Krümpelmann, editor of the Argus Hydrogen and Future Fuels service, and Michał Żuk, hydrogen analyst at LSEG's Data and Analytics Supply Chain and Commodities Research Team, about:

  • Promising EU-wide demand-side policies for hydrogen
  • Individual member state policies
  • Whether current measures are enough to help production projects secure offtake agreements
  • Non-monetary support
  • CBAM and importing hydrogen
  • Demand-side initiatives outside of the EU


For more information about the Argus Hydrogen and Future Fuels service or to request a free trial, please visit view.argusmedia.com/ahff.

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John: Welcome to this Argus Hydrogen podcast. My name is John Scott, and I'm joined by Argus' Stefan Krümpelmann, editor of the Argus Hydrogen and Future Fuels service, and Michał Żuk, hydrogen analyst at LSEG's Data and Analytics Supply Chain and Commodities Research Team. Today, we'll be discussing clean hydrogen demand-side policies with a particular focus on the EU. 

Let's start with you Stefan. Where are we at with EU-wide demand-side initiatives for hydrogen? Which policies are promising to be the most effective?

Stefan: I think overall policy support globally has been somewhat lopsided towards the production side, the U.S. production tax credits, the European Hydrogen Bank, the India site support scheme, or Australia's tax credits that were announced just last week. And also, Australia's hydrogen headstart program that's been running for a bit longer. What we've seen globally is industry participants calling increasingly for more focus on the demand side. And we heard that, for instance, last week at the World Hydrogen Summit in Rotterdam there was a recurrent theme. Now, in the EU specifically, we have certainly seen quite a lot of policies aimed at stimulating demand. I would say they are primarily leaning more towards sticks than carrots, more towards mandates, obligations, rather than incentives or financial support, although that's certainly there, and I'll come to that in a moment.

But one of the key policies, the revised renewable energy directive RED III, has targets for 42% of hydrogen use in industry to be renewable by 2030 across the EU on a country level. But the thing with this is it still needs to be transposed into member states' national laws, so there's still a lot of uncertainty. So, there's a policy there, there's a target there, but it's still quite unclear how we'll actually get there and how countries will make sure that they will get there. And what we could see eventually is a patchwork of different policies to get to the targets. But what are actually going to be the policies that will get us there or that will at least aim to get us there? 

And I think we've got other areas where we've got more certain policies, clearer policies, and that certainly helps. And one example there I would say is ESAF, so sustainable aviation fuels made from renewable hydrogen. And we're hearing quite often that this is now one of the hottest topics in the hydrogen space at the moment because for that we have very clear mandates. EU-wide mandates I think they start with 1.2% ESAF use in overall jet fuel use in 2030, and that would rise to 35% in 2050. And it's very clear who the obligated parties are, i.e. the aircraft operators will have to make sure that they've got this fuel supply. And it's also very clear what the penalties for non-compliance are. So there's no element of having to transpose this into international law, it's just there and it's very clear what the rules are. And so, that promises to be quite effective and we're seeing certainly a lot more interest in these kind of projects and products since that's been out. And similarly, I think on the maritime side, there's more clarity now through the FuelEU Maritime legislation that similarly set specific targets around the use of alternative fuels and may also make it very clear who the obligated parties are. So, we see a bit of a difference there, and I think the targets and the policies we have on the industry side are really lagging a bit here.

Michał, have you got anything specific to add to this one?

Michał: I would like to stick with the transportation theme. Apart from those specialised applications, the EU is also working on bringing hydrogen to the wider demographic. And recently, it's awarded funding for development of a hydrogen refueling network. And that combined with the 2030 targets of having those stations in all urban centers in Europe and as well as at every 200 kilometers along the trans-European transport network, it could promote wider adoption of hydrogen as a fuel that is in general use, and that is used by you and me in our personal cars. And also, it aims to combat the main obstacle against the intake of this technology, which is basically the non-existent infrastructure that currently pushes people away from purchasing those kind of vehicles.

John: So, there's quite a lot happening on an EU level. Is there anything that individual member states are doing above and beyond that?

Stefan: Yeah absolutely. I think one of the leaders in that area in the EU is Germany, which has launched plans to stimulate demand. And one of the key examples here is the carbon contracts for different schemes through which Germany will subsidize large industrial consumers of fossil fuels to switch to either renewable electricity or renewable or low-carbon hydrogen. And they launched a first round for that with a €4 billion budget not so long ago, and there's going to be another round launched later this year with an even larger budget.

There's also Germany's power plant strategy where they will be tendering for new power plants to be built, gas-fired power plants that would have to be hydrogen-ready. So, again trying to stimulate hydrogen consumption in the power sector.

Other countries, for instance, Belgium, France, and Spain have given massive subsidies to the steel sector that's mostly been capital cost support primarily for building directly these iron plants that would in future use renewable or low-carbon hydrogen. Big sums. I think Thyssenkrupp got over €2 billion, for instance, and quite a few other companies as well. Now, it still needs to be seen how soon these plants will then run on hydrogen in a way that’s longer term because for direct use iron plants, they will probably use natural gas as an intermediate step and will they ever actually really transition to hydrogen? And if so, when will it happen?

And there are other capex subsidies that are provided as part of the Important Projects of Common European Interest program to smaller demand areas. These are state funds that have been green-lighted by the European commission. I would say it's still lopsided towards production, more probably needs to be done to get off the ground. But member states are doing a fair bit. 

Michał, maybe you have some points to add on this?

Michał: Like you said, Germany is definitely leading all the efforts here and it's at the forefront of its hydrogen uptake. Germany is also working hard to procure some of the hydrogen it will need in coming years from abroad. The main mechanism, the main platform that allows them to do this is the H2Global Foundation that was started several years ago by the government. And it's a platform that is devoted to the purchase of hydrogen and its derivatives from outside of the EU. For those unfamiliar with this entity, it's purchasing renewable hydrogen and its derivatives at market prices from abroad and selling them to German end-users at prices competitive with hydrogen produced from natural gas without the use of carbon capture. And the price gap is bridged by funding from the government. It's currently finalizing its first ammonia tender, and it's gained quite a good reputation and recognition in the European Union as it's been tightening its cooperation with the European Hydrogen Bank.

And recently, it was chosen to coordinate the purchase of Canadian hydrogen and its derivatives that were discussed in the Germany-Canada Hydrogen Alliance. So, the foundation will oversee the purchase of Canadian green ammonia mainly and to secure those volumes and make sure they arrive in Germany from next year. It will be one of the first cases of renewable ammonia coming to Europe from outside of its borders. And in February to signify its commitment to this platform, German government pledged another €3.5 billion for further purchases of hydrogen using this platform. And also through the integration of the European Hydrogen Bank, I mentioned earlier it opened up to other member states as well. And currently, the Netherlands and Germany are discussing another joint purchase of green ammonia for future use in their economies.

John: And are these measures enough to help production projects secure offtake agreements?

Stefan: I would say it depends. I think, overall, it's very clear that offtake agreements still remain few and far between, and that has contributed to very few projects actually reaching final investment decisions. That's not just the case in the EU, that's the case globally really. And part of the reason is in the EU, of course, as I mentioned, the RED III targets, for instance, they are very important incentives or could lead to very important mandates that actually trigger a lot more movement in the sector, but they still need to be transposed into national law. And so, at this stage, there's just very little certainty how individual member states will actually tackle this, and what that will mean for individual companies. So far it's not moved the needle very much, and the long process is certainly not helping there.

I mentioned the steel sector, and there are now quite a few tenders actually ongoing to secure supply of renewable or low-carbon hydrogen. In Germany, for instance, ThyssenKrupp, and SHS in Southwestern Germany, have launched tenders to buy supply. These companies have been helped by massive state subsidies, and them buying supply could certainly drive more production projects to realization because it's very obvious you need the offtake if you want to get to a Final Investment Decision (FID).

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (eSAF) is a hot topic. What we're hearing is that project developers are seeing a lot of traction in the space and a lot of potential for signing offtake agreements as aircraft operators are very keen to secure supply because they have to comply with the mandates that I mentioned. But it's not that we've seen a flurry of FIDs for these projects either. So, there is a lot of talk around these potential offtake agreements, but it's also not that it's pushed a lot of projects over the line, although it might very well be going forward.

There are actually some very interesting initiatives by companies not immediately related to subsidy mechanisms or mandates. For instance, TotalEnergies' tender for 500,000 tons per year of renewable hydrogen that it plans to use in its European refineries. And the company said it's been heavily oversubscribed. So, future producers are trying to find pockets of offtake from these mechanisms, and these initiatives are certainly ones to watch going forward.

John: So, the high cost of developing low- or no-carbon hydrogen remains the main concern from end-users. Are there any other ways besides giving money directly to producers of bridging that cost gap?

Michał: So, there are still first signs of this we saw in April when the EU updated its rule for free allocations under the emission trading scheme. They expanded the free allocations to the renewable hydrogen industry, and it will be eligible for those credits under free allowances from 2025 until 2030. So, producers will be able to claim them and sell them adding a new revenue stream. It could potentially become another source of funds for their projects. And to the best of my knowledge, it's the first time the EU is not giving direct monetary support to either producers or end-users, and we should pay close attention to in the coming years.

John: All the incentives focus on low- or no-carbon hydrogen, and countries can easily guarantee that users relying on domestic sources get hydrogen that meets relevant criteria. But how can they ensure that the hydrogen they import does the same?

Michał: Again, the EU paves the way here. And the main technique of ensuring that the hydrogen we import from abroad or its derivatives or products produced with its use, such as iron and iron steel or fertilizers, is the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). CBAM will require importers of goods from outside of EU to either ensure that they were produced in compliance with the EU's rules for emissions from industry, or cover those emissions by purchase of ETS credits. It puts pressure on foreign producers.

And apart from giving the stick that Stefan mentioned already, there is also a carrot there because to help those producers, the EU recently set up CertifHy, a body that is responsible for assessing hydrogen production projects for compliance with the rules of renewable fuels of non-biological origin that we have here in the EU. It helps developers targeting exports to Europe determine their compliance before starting production. The CertifHy has already pre-certified several projects. The most notable one is EverWind's Point Tupper in Eastern Canada, which is one of the projects that will be crucial for fulfilling the objectives of the Germany-Canadian Hydrogen Alliance at its early stages of the trade.

It’s an interesting move from the EU. And it's also gained some attention from other countries such as Australia, which wants to introduce its own CBAM in the future. Updates on this are expected in the second half of this year. There are rumors about the same thing happening in the USA, but there it may be a bit trickier since this country doesn't have the obligatory carbon market similar to EU ETS there. But as one of the biggest players in the hydrogen industry we should pay close attention to developments there.

John: What's happening on the demand side outside of the EU?

Stefan: Besides Europe the future demand center that everyone's talking about is Northeast Asia, Japan and South Korea. And it's a lot about the power sector, so coal firing, ammonia, and hydrogen with coal and gas respectively in the power plants. Both countries have launched mechanisms to support this. For instance, in South Korea, we now have the clean power generation bidding market, and that's kicking off this year.

In the U.S., we have a mechanism being developed to stimulate demand at the seven selected hydrogen hubs that were  picked at the end of last year. What we're hearing is that this won't be finalized until next year. And I think they set a budget of $1 billion aside for that, a sizeable sum. But it also shows a lopsided focus towards production because it is ultimately a relatively small sum compared with what's been earmarked for the hubs more broadly, which is I think $7 or $8 billion, and also for the production tax credits under inflation reduction, which is going to be a much, much larger sum in general.

There are mechanisms that were under discussion but that have to date not come to fruition. One example would be mandates for renewable hydrogen use in refineries and ammonia production in India. These plans have been under discussion for a long time but have stalled, and that's primarily because of industry opposition. So, companies from the industries really convincing the government not to go ahead. And that brings us back to renewable hydrogen still being too costly, not economical. Industry is not wanting to be forced into  using it because it would just drive up their costs. That cost gap between renewable hydrogen and conventional supply remains too high.

John: Well, that's all we have time for today. Thank you to Stefan and to Michał for your insights and to you for listening. 

For more information about the Argus Hydrogen and Future Fuels service or to request a free trial, please visit view.argusmedia.com/ahff.