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Current applications

Current applications of hydrogen
Oil refinery with large american flag on the side of plant
© Getty Images

Hydrogen is important in industry.

In 2021, the global hydrogen demand was nearly 94 million tonnes (Mt), mostly for use in traditional applications in refining and industry sectors1. This figure does not include approximately 30 Mt of hydrogen that is a byproduct created in the residual gas streams of industrial processes and subsequently used to generate heat and electricity.

Hydrogen is used by refineries in the production of gasoline and diesel, to remove impurities, especially sulphur, and to convert heavy crude oil into lighter, more valuable products. In 2021, nearly 43% of the global hydrogen demand (40 Mt H2), was used for this reason with – nearly half of which was for North America and China.

Global hydrogen demand in 2021 graph
Global hydrogen demand in 2021 graph (Image based on IEA (2022), Global Hydrogen Review 2022, IEA, Paris, License: CC BY 4.0).

Main end uses of hydrogen in industry

Over one third (36%) of hydrogen is currently used as a chemical source to produce ammonia, which has several industrial applications, such as producing fertilisers.

Hydrogen is also used to produce methanol, which is vital to produce many other chemicals. Methanol production accounted for around 16% of the global hydrogen demand (15 Mt H2) in 2021.

The other major end use of hydrogen is in the steel industry, where it is used in the direct reduced iron (DRI) process. Hydrogen is required to convert raw iron ore into pure metallic iron. DRI accounted for just over 5% of the global hydrogen demand (5 Mt H2).

Other hydrogen uses

As seen in step 1.6, hydrogen is now being developed to be used for transport, ie Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs), power generation (via fuel cells or by burning it in a turbine), direct heating for buildings and to produce hydrogen-derived fuels.

In 2021, the demand for hydrogen in these applications was still very small, about 0.04% of global hydrogen demand (0.04Mt H2), with the majority used for road transport and driven by the increased use of FCEVs1.

1 Global Hydrogen Review 2022 (IEA)


IEA (2022), Global Hydrogen Review 2022, IEA, Paris, License: CC BY 4.0

© Deakin University
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The Role of Hydrogen in the Clean Energy Transition

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