This report assesses the blue hydrogen production technologies, supply chains, key players, materials, major innovations and projects. It includes a comparison of the 6 main blue hydrogen technologies and 10-year market forecasts for those technologies along with 7 application areas, and 3 regions of adoption. The report also examines applicable carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies and discusses the prospects and challenges of producing blue hydrogen.
Blue hydrogen is going to grow due to global decarbonization efforts in hard-to-abate sectors, such as oil refining and ammonia production. IDTechEx forecasts that the global blue hydrogen market will grow to reach US$34 billion by 2033. There are different routes to producing blue hydrogen, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. This report from IDTechEx assesses these different blue hydrogen processes as well as their associated supply chains, key players, materials, major innovations and projects. It includes a comparison of the 6 main blue hydrogen technologies and 10-year market forecasts for those technologies along with 7 application areas, and 3 regions of adoption. The report also examines applicable carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies and discusses the prospects and challenges of producing blue hydrogen.
What is blue hydrogen?
Blue hydrogen refers to the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels, mostly through natural gas reforming or coal gasification, in which most CO2 emissions are captured and stored or used in products via carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies. CO2 storage is typically accomplished by injecting the gas into geological formations such as saline aquifers or depleted oil fields, whilst utilization methods include uses such as cement manufacture. Carbon capture technologies can be fitted onto existing hydrogen processes in a technique called retrofitting or integrated into new hydrogen plants by-design. A section of the report is dedicated to CCUS specifically and discusses some key technologies that could be applied to blue hydrogen processes.
In contrast, conventional grey and black/brown hydrogen production processes emit the majority of their direct (Scope 1) CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, while green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis of water powered by renewable energy, has zero direct emissions.
A plethora of other hydrogen colors now exist to describe the various sub-routes to hydrogen production. Among them is turquoise hydrogen that is produced via methane pyrolysis, which uses heat generated by electricity to decompose methane molecules into hydrogen and solid carbon. This means that no carbon capture is required, and the solid carbon product can be used in a variety of applications depending on its form. Although not considered strictly blue, IDTechEx covers turquoise hydrogen production in this report as it uses natural gas, hence the hydrogen produced can still be classified as low-carbon hydrogen.
The spectrum of hydrogen colors. Source: IDTechEx
Why produce blue hydrogen?
Blue and green hydrogen production are the two main routes to decarbonizing hydrogen production. This can in turn decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors like oil refining and ammonia/fertilizer production, which are currently the largest applications for hydrogen and are expected to remain so in the medium-term. Hydrogen can also decarbonize other hard-to-abate sectors such as steel and methanol production as well as heavy-duty and long-haul transport. IDTechEx outlines some of these applications in the report and presented some example projects and case studies.
Example of a potential blue hydrogen supply chain. Source: IDTechEx
Having an extensive green hydrogen electrolyzer infrastructure would be ideal for long-term decarbonization in order to completely phase out fossil fuels and prevent further emissions. However, blue hydrogen is seen as the preferred medium-term solution due to challenges with green hydrogen, such as the high cost of electrolyzer technology and the heavy reliance on available renewable power (high percentage of total CAPEX), as well as the availability of natural gas infrastructure and grey hydrogen plants ready to be converted. Nonetheless, blue hydrogen does have many issues, such as the hindered growth due to the availability of CCUS sites being a bottleneck. More discussions on these issues can be found in the report.
Overview of the production methods covered in the report
Steam-methane reforming (SMR) is the most developed and widespread hydrogen production technology (grey hydrogen) used throughout the world. Coal gasification (CG) is another popular technology used to produce hydrogen (black/brown hydrogen), especially in China, which has some of the world’s largest coal reserves. Other conventional hydrogen processes include partial oxidation (POX), which is useful in converting waste oil/refining products to hydrogen, as well as the more recently developed autothermal reforming (ATR) of methane, which is a self-heating steam reforming process that is more cost-effective than SMR for producing blue hydrogen.
This report also provides coverage of methane pyrolysis, which produces hydrogen and solid carbon products, the latter being carbon black in most cases. While conventional processes are dominated by established process and technology developers, such as Air Liquide and Topsoe, the methane pyrolysis field is mostly occupied by start-ups and smaller-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) some of which are quickly commercializing their technologies. IDTechEx compares the different methane pyrolysis technologies and identifies the most developed and promising technology. Other processes identified and appraised by IDTechEx fall under the categories of novel processes (purely thermochemical) and biomass processes (biological, biochemical and thermochemical using biomass feedstocks).
The report analyzes all of these technologies, presenting some key areas of innovation, materials used, players involved in the supply chains and projects/case studies for most. A section of the report is dedicated to comparing the processes against each other using general qualitative discussions and quantitative metrics, such as LCOH. These comparisons were used to drive IDTechEx’s analysis on which technology is going to be the most successful and promising for the blue hydrogen industry.
Technology and market trends in blue hydrogen production
IDTechEx forecasts the global blue hydrogen market to reach US$34 billion by 2033. IDTechEx analysis shows that most of the capacity growth in blue hydrogen will come from Europe, particularly from countries such as the UK that aim to decarbonize their large industrial clusters using blue hydrogen and CCUS. Significant growth will also come from North America and an increase in the pace of development is seen from countries such as Australia. Applications that will dominate the market are refining and ammonia but other applications, such as methanol, will also see significant growth.