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Switch Hydrogen Production Pathways

Of the 70 million metric tons (Mt) of hydrogen produced each year worldwide today, 76% comes from reforming natural gas, 22% from coal gasification, and only 2% is made via electrolysis – that is, using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Since producing hydrogen gas from fossil fuels produces CO2 emissions, hydrogen production emits 830 Mt of CO2 per year, equivalent to the annual emissions from the energy used by 100 million U.S. homes.

Electrolysis (and certain other, emerging production pathways, such as thermochemical water splitting) produce hydrogen without direct CO2 emissions. Shifting more production to these pathways will be critical if hydrogen is to be a significant contributor to overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions abatement.

These hydrogen production technologies remain at an early stage, so the main mechanism by which government can encourage this shift is to support research and development (R&D) efforts into clean hydrogen technologies. Monetary incentives such as tax credits or Carbon pricing can also help improve the economics of electrolysis relative to GHG-producing hydrogen pathways.