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Hydrogen’s role in producing lower-carbon materials

Our Chief Scientist, Nigel Steward, on green hydrogen

LAST UPDATED: 9 March 2023


There is a lot of hype about green hydrogen.

It’s certainly one solution that can help decarbonise some hard-to-abate industry sectors.

In our business, we expect to use it as a reductant for zero-carbon steel making and iron and titanium production, and for calcining in our alumina refineries. In all these cases, we’ll use hydrogen’s unique chemical properties for processing minerals and metals, rather than using hydrogen as an energy carrier.

Nigel shares how we plan to use hydrogen in our business to reduce emissions
Nigel Steward, our Chief Scientist, on how we plan to use hydrogen in our business to reduce emissions

There are still some challenges we need to overcome before green hydrogen can play a major role in decarbonising our operations.

Supply chains needed to support hydrogen

Hydrogen is a very energy-intensive material to produce – approximately four times more per tonne than aluminium. It will take some time to establish the electrolyser supply chain that’s needed to deliver green hydrogen at the scale needed for industry. We’re working with government and industry partners to assess hydrogen use in industry and support a coordinated approach to developing a local supply chain.


For hydrogen to be widely adopted, it also needs to be a cost-efficient solution. One of the ways we can make it more affordable for wider industrial use is by developing technologies that can be built into existing infrastructure, avoiding the need to build new equipment or making large-scale (expensive) modifications. Our engineering teams are looking at how we may be able to do that.

We have also invested in Electric Hydrogen, a start-up that has reduced capital intensity by a factor of three relative to competitor options through combining better process design and system engineering with a scientific breakthrough.

Storage and transport

Hydrogen is prone to leakage from storage and transport facilities – an estimated 1% per day can be lost when stored in liquid form. It has a global warming potential of 5–16 times that of carbon dioxide over 100 years, making it potentially more damaging to use than burning natural gas. Given this, we plan to consume hydrogen close to its point of generation to avoid supply chain leakage and energy transformation losses.

Making the most of renewable resources

Where possible we will always seek to electrify our processes as much as we can, for example by using electric boilers to raise steam for mineral refining, rather than using hydrogen as a fuel. That’s because we lose energy each time we transform an energy from one source to another, so using renewable energy to generate green hydrogen is less efficient than using that renewable energy to directly electrify an operation. This is what makes direct electrification so compelling and capital efficient – it’s a far more efficient use of the valuable renewable electricity resource. Instead, we will use hydrogen for its chemical properties where electrification cannot play a role.

Find out more about our decarbonisation activities in our Climate Change Report.

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