IRENA and the Rocky Mountain Institute have released a new report that assesses the state of play in hydrogen certification, and proposes a suite of priority actions to unlock a global market for zero- and low-carbon hydrogen.
A patchwork landscape
The report analyses 13 current hydrogen certification schemes, eight voluntary and five mandatory, covering both public and private initiatives. These schemes were assessed against a set of criteria that will be familiar to those following developments in this field. These included chain of custody measures & ESG compliance, amongst others.
With those design criteria in mind – as well as the demands of international trade – the report concludes that the current landscape falls short.
None of the existing hydrogen certification systems are suitable for cross-border trade. In addition, there are gaps in standards and in ecolabelling and certification design, resulting in insufficient information in certificates to allow fair comparison across borders.From Creating a global hydrogen market: Certification to enable trade, IRENA (Jan 2023)
The report highlights several clashes in the schemes that make them “incompatible”. Labelling thresholds for “green” or “low-carbon” hydrogen range from less than 1.0 kgCO2eq/kgH2 (Green Hydrogen Standard) through to 14.5 kgCO2eq/kgH2 (China Hydrogen Alliance).
Meanwhile boundaries vary significantly, with some schemes opting to include upstream methane emissions or post-production transportation. Even the recognised production pathways diverge. There is limited recognition of fossil SMR/ATR with carbon capture as a viable pathway to low carbon hydrogen.
Ultimately, the report warns that “if not filled, [these gaps] will hinder the development of hydrogen trade”.
IRENA calls on all stakeholders to rapidly harmonise hydrogen certification standards. The report argues that if certification continues to develop in a “patchwork” manner, an efficient global market for hydrogen is unachievable: “there may be a formation of markets equal to the number of certification rules in place”.
Avoiding that outcome will require a coordinated effort from policymakers and industry stakeholders alike, the report concludes. Labelling thresholds, accounting methodologies and system boundaries must all converge to maximise interoperability. Aligned standards alone are insufficient, however, they must also be supported by institutional frameworks capable of operating robust verification systems, chain of custody measures, and double counting prevention.
The report also emphasises the importance of developing certification schemes for hydrogen derivatives such as ammonia, and notes that the AEA is seeking to do just that.
Harmonisation of standards and rules can lead to increased visibility over the future of renewable hydrogen. Potential exporters will know the characteristics of hydrogen production to focus on and will have a clear and granular investment signal for the efficient deployment of renewable hydrogen infrastructureFrom Creating a global hydrogen market: Certification to enable trade, IRENA (Jan 2023)
You can find the full report here.