What is it about?

Hydrogen is becoming increasingly popular in energy transition agendas. Despite the current emphasis on novelty, however, hydrogen is a well established industrial commodity. Currently, almost 100 Mt of hydrogen are produced annually, with nearly all of being derived from fossil fuels. Likewise, the petrochemical industry is also the primary consumer of hydrogen. So, how do hydrogen systems relate to the still prevalent modes of energy production, namely the fossil fuels complex it seeks to replace? What logics and actors are steering the development of a "clean" hydrogen economy? This article reviews the prevalent modes of production, transportation and consumption, as well as major investments, ownership structures, key actors, and patent holders. This analysis reveals that a select few industrial players - chiefly oil and gas companies (followed by mining and automotive) - wield substantial influence in shaping the emerging "clean" hydrogen economy.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

This article offers a timely overview of hydrogen developments and the state of the industry. In addition to providing rich analytical detail, it shows that understanding hydrogen systems requires relating them to other industries (e.g., oil and gas) and recognising the influence of established path-dependent dynamics. Moreover, in alignment with emerging evidence of new forms of (green) extractivism, the findings also problematise the trade-offs inherent in the development of new low-carbon infrastructure within the current growth-centric global market economy. This underscores a crucial reality: despite being touted as a solution, the existing hydrogen economy remains a significant climate change headache.


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the experts who generously shared their insights during the course of this study. Engaging in these discussions not only challenged my initial assumptions and brought to light crucial aspects that were previously overlooked, but it also significantly broadened my understanding of hydrogen systems – a not yet fully comprehended set of ongoing messy processes which requires further scrutiny.

Rubén Vezzoni

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: How “clean” is the hydrogen economy? Tracing the connections between hydrogen and fossil fuels, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, March 2024, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.eist.2024.100817.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page