11. Hydrogen pilot projects around the world

The present review aims to consolidate and shed light on international practices with respect to hydrogen related projects as well as incidents. It also details the processes through which several mid to large scale hydrogen projects have been rolled out. The extensive review of publicly disclosed projects intends to help identify the operational risks (when disclosed) associated with hydrogen-based technologies. For local authorities, the project in general and this output are expected to help clarify the risks and uncertainties associated with hydrogen-based applications for more efficient licensing and permitting processes and for promoting hydrogen centric initiatives.

The pilot projects selected and reviewed in this output are from 9 countries (China, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States). Globally, these countries are leading the transition to renewable energy. For instance, renewable electricity counts for 20.8% in Russia and 98.4% in Norway.1 Further, out of the 14 governments that have already adopted hydrogen strategies (IEA, 2019[1]) the countries selected in this report were the first countries to operate pilot projects and investigate the associated risks as well as socio-economic benefits and costs. The pilot projects were retrieved from websites, reports and technical papers along with information and guidance from experts from the field and the support of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

For each country, the pilot projects are presented first, followed by a detailed analysis of incidents reported in the country. For each country, reported accidents were highlighted in a separate table with causes and safety concerns analysed in detail. It is, however, worth mentioning that many minor incidents and near-misses go unreported. Underreporting of these types of incidents is a big challenge for safety and reliability in general, and especially for new technologies. Information on the status of the project, being under development or completed, is also provided.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) presents, on the IEA databases, all the projects that they are aware of that are at different stages of development around the world. Currently only for hydrogen production, the agency is preparing other databases that will be released with the next edition of the Global H2 Review.

Among other useful information, the IEA has, in their global hydrogen review, also compiled data that showcase the increasing global stock of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) over the past five years (from 2017 to June 2021). The 2017-2020 data were obtained by the AFC TCP, while 2021 data were obtained by IPHE Country Surveys, the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, and the California Fuel Cell Partnership (Figure 11.1).

Besides information on FCEVs, the IEA have also tracked the global production of hydrogen by electrolysis per region, as calculated through their tracking of hydrogen projects worldwide. Through this review, an increase in the water electrolysis capacity was observed over six consecutive years, from 2015 to 2020 (IEA, 2021[2]).

Despite the fact that China is a relatively late starter, the scale and the effort the Chinese government made to promote environmental innovations in the field of renewable energy make Chinese hydrogen policy an interesting object to study. France has been chosen since it is a major European country committed to investing large amounts of funding to deploy its hydrogen strategy. Germany has initiated several projects in the areas of hydrogen refuelling stations, urban mobility including cars, buses and tube-trailers, pipeline networks and even indoor heating in residential areas. This makes Germany an interesting case study on how hydrogen-related risks have been assessed while selecting projects for commercial and large-scale use of hydrogen.

Japan, for its part, represents a highly advanced country in hydrogen use and at the forefront of research and development in this field. Japan also had the greatest number of hydrogen fuel stations worldwide as of the end of 2020, with 137 operational stations (IEA, 2021[2]). Japan's position as the leading provider of hydrogen automotive fuel is somewhat expected as Japanese automotive industries have been investing in hydrogen commercial cars since 2015. Norway’s energy transition to hydrogen, while relatively slow compared to German or US counterparts, is still relevant: much of Norway’s focus has been on large-scale use of hydrogen, for instance in maritime and industrial use. New research for small and mid-scale safe use of hydrogen is currently underway. Russia aims to seize the opportunity of producing and exporting hydrogen by building up on its own infrastructure, the capabilities of its state Natural Gas companies and the extensive knowledge on hydrogen developed during years of research for military and space use.

South Korea aims to promote a hydrogen-based economy that focuses on the transportation sector, decarbonising industry and buildings, and managing the production and distribution of hydrogen. The United Kingdom is investing significantly in building its hydrogen economy by incentivising several projects that span all the scenarios in analysis. The most innovative project aims at supplying hydrogen for domestic use. For the United States hydrogen is key in the plan to accelerate breakthroughs in clean energy solutions. Large-scale hydrogen projects are currently in the works throughout the country.

Work by (Spada, Burgherr and Boutinard Rouelle, 2018[3]) estimated an overall lower normalised risk for hydrogen as compared to other hydrocarbon fuels based on historical data (Figure 11.2), confirming hydrogen's potential as a fuel to replace oil and natural gas that are widely used today. Normalised risk is defined a measure of risk created by mathematically adjusting a value in order to permit comparisons.

The mapping exercise provides a summary of pilot projects that have taken place, or that are currently underway, in 9 countries (China, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States). that were among the first to investigate the risks associated with hydrogen use, hydrogen safety and potential risks. This information can be used to support the growth of hydrogen activities in the Netherlands.

The main findings of the scoping exercise are summarised below:

  • China listed hydrogen as a form of energy in its energy portfolio in 2020 and more than 30 cities have their hydrogen plans.

  • With 12 renewable hydrogen production sites (IEA, 2021), 99 refuelling stations (H2stations.org) and more than 600 hydrogen buses2 in operation, there are only 4 hydrogen-related accidents reported in the last 5 years in China. Two of the accidents happened at refuelling stations hence within the scope of the current study.

  • Several projects in France aimed at deploying hydrogen ecosystems (dedicated not only to land but also sea mobility) and the country is working on projects to install hydrogen production sites using water electrolysis.

  • France aims to optimise the integration of several solar photovoltaic farms supplying the electrolyser to minimise energy losses, to increase industrial safety thanks to the use of 3D digital models for each component of the installation.

  • The German Federal government is assessing the viability of current gas networks, especially liquid gas networks for transporting hydrogen. It also plans to upgrade the regulatory framework presently applicable for natural gas for making hydrogen transportation safer.

  • Germany also plans to improve its refuelling infrastructure to allow for greater introduction of cars, buses, agricultural vehicles and other heavy vehicles. The plan is to promote greater hydrogen-based mobility while also improving infrastructure simultaneously.

  • Most initiatives in Japan aimed to promote the construction of hydrogen stations with the objective to contribute to their efficient operation and to commercialise scale fuelling ability (also promoting reduction in costs by reviewing regulations and standardising equipment).

  • Norway is investing significantly to improve the regulatory as well as scientific understanding of hydrogen for use in several different areas including maritime, public and private transport, refuelling stations and usage in armed forces installations and equipment such as submarines.

  • Russia aims at maximising the opportunities of its wide transport infrastructure and leading role as energy supplier by boosting the production of hydrogen and exporting it to two key markets Japan and Europe. It is doing so by targeting specific regions(oblast) where pilot projects are being deployed. It is also focusing on the use of hydrogen for transportation and industrial production, while there is no evidence of the use for domestic heating and cooking.

  • South Korea’s hydrogen strategy, in the short term, mainly focuses on the scale-up of hydrogen production from fossil fuel and on the development of the necessary infrastructure for hydrogen delivery. Additionally, a large-scale expansion of the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is currently underway, to accommodate the Korean aim to become a leading producer and deployer of fuel cell electric vehicles.

  • The UK is investing massively in hydrogen projects aimed at building an industrial and business economy around this energy carrier. By using its internal infrastructural networks, mainly in the north eastern side of the country, it aims at being the frontrunner of the domestic use of hydrogen.

  • The United States is investing massively in projects to facilitate hydrogen production through electrolysis as well as hydrogen and natural gas blending into the existing natural gas infrastructure. There is emphasis placed on safety systems for gas and fire detection and comprehensive ventilation regimes.


[2] IEA (2021), Global Hydrogen Review 2021, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/39351842-en.

[1] IEA (2019), The Future of Hydrogen: Seizing today’s opportunities, OECD, Paris Cedex 16, https://doi.org/10.1787/1e0514c4-en.

[3] Spada, M., P. Burgherr and P. Boutinard Rouelle (2018), “Comparative risk assessment with focus on hydrogen and selected fuel cells: Application to Europe”, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Vol. 43/19, pp. 9470-9481, https://doi.org/10.1016/J.IJHYDENE.2018.04.004.


← 1. Enerdata (2020) “Share of renewables in electricity production” https://yearbook.enerdata.net/renewables/renewable-in-electricity-production-share.html (accessed 16 May 2023).

← 2. From different resources, see section 2.1 Scenario 4, selected pilots on hydrogen city bus for detail.

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