Hydrogen transition is the key to carbon neutrality

Finland is committed to creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly society that is carbon neutral by 2035. This does not happen without challenges, exemplified by the “chicken and egg” problem in the large-scale hydrogen use and production – the so-called hydrogen transition. This challenge highlights the need for innovative solutions and cross-sectoral collaborative efforts. The transition requires a unified approach, multiple solutions and removal of barriers to pave the way for a hydrogen-based future.
Photocatalysis device in the laboratory

The beauty and the beast of this transition lies in its complex solutions. The high intermittency of renewable energy sources, i.e. wind and solar power, is a challenge for consumers. The intermittency is already reflected in highly variable electricity prices, ranging from negative to more than 50c/kWh. Hydrogen and its synthetic derivatives are expected to serve not only as an energy carrier, but also as a means of storing and providing a continuous, sustainable energy supply, even when primary sources of electricity are inactive.

Electrolytic hydrogen production – a primary method considered for clean hydrogen production – is an energy-consuming process, and considering the overall efficiency and economic aspects it is necessary to fully utilize the side streams of the process, which are heat and oxygen. The use of heat energy in district heating networks and recognition and realisation of oxygen as a valuable by-product are necessary for a successful techno-economic value chain building on electrolysis-based hydrogen production.

Facilitating the transition to an emission-free future requires a comprehensive strategy. Besides the intended new hydrogen production, the existing 90Mt/year production relies almost entirely on the CO2-emissive steam reforming method. To change this and ensure a rapid clean transition, all existing technologies should be fully exploited. For example, thermochemical decomposition of natural gas or biogas offers an immediately scalable alternative technology for clean and emission-free hydrogen production.

Advances in photocatalytic methods of hydrogen production, both photoassisted and direct photocatalytic “solar hydrogen” have already been scientifically demonstrated to serve the technologies of the future. The sun is the only external energy source for the globe, and by leaching the sun’s light we can reach the energy and resource efficiency needed for a sustainable world.

In addition to production, the hydrogen economy essentially needs applications that consume clean hydrogen. The transformation of emissive technologies towards hydrogen-based processes requires economic incentives that are created with either political or value-based societal demands. The directions exists in many areas, e.g. steel production, transport, chemical industry, but the final step to transformation and investment decisions are still waiting for the value chain and infrastructure to develop.

Throughout 2023, the Finnish academic community has been at the forefront of this transformative path, thanks to initiatives such as the Hydrogen Research Forum Finland, H2FUTURE – the University of Oulu’s hydrogen profiling and JustH2Transit – a Strategic Research Council funded consortium. The consortium of key industrial actors in the Hydrogen Cluster has been active and has provided views on the possibilities of H2 transition to Finland. The ministries have taken supportive steps, but much remains to be done before Finland achieves the nationally envisioned status of the leading hydrogen country in the EU. Joint cross-sectoral actions, rapid dialogue and cooperation between geographical areas of Finland would be essential. Information sharing across society would increase knowledge of the benefits and opportunities for Finland.

Thus, tasks remain for 2024 for all of the actors. COP28 has taken a historic step by agreeing on the common aim of abandoning fossil fuels. Let us see more common steps towards a clean future in 2024!

Hydrogen value chain demonstrated as a graphic illustration.
Hydrogen value chain example
The hydrogen value chain demonstrated. The green hydrogen pathway requires renewable electricity, transmission grid and electrolysis technology with water supply to production. On the side, the emerging alternative production pathway is direct solar photocatalytic production. As an existing alternative utilizing either fossil natural gas or biogas with thermal catalytic decomposition provides scalable technology. The side streams of production, heat, oxygen and carbon need to be fully utilized for economic efficiency. The hydrogen as is or its synthetic derivates are stored for balanced supply and transported to applications in materials and chemical production and as transportation energy sources. The technological value chain is embedded in societal aspects and values.


Marko Huttula
Professor, Unit Head
Nano and Molecular Systems Research Unit
University of Oulu

Professor Marko Huttula is the leader of the H2FUTURE and JustH2Transit programmes.