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Created on 27.04.2022 | Updated on 07.12.2023

Hydrogen: why it’s essential for a green future

The energy transition is inevitable, with Switzerland set to become carbon neutral by 2050. For experts, one thing is clear: hydrogen will play a key role in reaching this target. This is what also makes it an appealing prospect for investors. Christian Bach from EMPA explains the potential behind hydrogen.

Hydrogen as an energy store

The problem at hand: renewable energy resources are not as reliable as fossil fuels. The sun doesn’t shine every day, and the intensity of the wind is not always the same. This is why storage facilities are needed so that the surplus power generated when the conditions are good can be stored and distributed later.

According to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the most viable storage options are batteries and converting the power into hydrogen, which is  easier to store. Unlike batteries, the properties and versatile applications of hydrogen have barely been established. But in our interview, Christian Bach, Automotive Powertrain Technologies expert at EMPA, suggests this technology could make a breakthrough and even go on to play a pivotal role in the energy transition.

We need hydrogen for the energy transition

Where exactly does the potential of hydrogen lie?

Christian Bach: In Switzerland, too much electricity is generated in the summer. As solar technology develops, the surplus is increasing. By converting electricity from renewable energies which is currently not needed in the electricity market into hydrogen, it can replace fossil-based energy elsewhere.

How is hydrogen used?

We could, for instance, use it to power vehicles. But the mobility sector is not the only potential application of hydrogen. We could also use it to generate electricity in the heating market or in industry. As a versatile energy carrier, hydrogen offers great potential for the path towards carbon-neutral energy supply. A net zero CO2 strategy without hydrogen technologies is simply inconceivable to me.

How is hydrogen produced?

Hydrogen only occurs naturally in chemical compounds, for instance in water, biomass or hydrocarbons, and energy has to be expended to extract it from these compounds. As such, hydrogen is only as clean as the energy used for its extraction. If hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, then it is clean and can be designated as green.


Christian Bach

Christian Bach has been a researcher with the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing and Research for 33 years. Since 2001, he has been Head of the Automotive Powertrain Technologies Laboratory in Dübendorf.

A brief guide to the different colours of hydrogen

Hydrogen can be produced in three ways. Each of these has a colour:

  • Grey hydrogen is created using fossil fuels. This results in significant emissions. Almost all the hydrogen used worldwide falls under this category.
  • Blue hydrogen is grey hydrogen, except its emissions are captured and stored.
  • Green hydrogen is produced from water using electrolysis and renewable electricity. This does not result in any direct emissions, making it the only environmentally friendly option.

The versatility of hydrogen

Today, chemical energy resources such as hydrogen are still very rarely used. Experts, however, predict that in future we will see more and more hydrogen systems used in regional buses and haulage vehicles. In fact, there are already 4,000 hydrogen trucks on Swiss roads today. Given that hydrogen is not only suitable as fuel, but also for areas like heating, it offers a lot of green potential.

“Any statements made in this interview should not be interpreted as investment recommendations or any other form of advice, and do not necessarily reflect PostFinance’s view on these matters. The statements made are solely the views of the expert we interviewed on the potential of hydrogen.”

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