• Oliver, B., Davidson, A., Punia G.K. (2023). Advanced Classification of Hydrogen: Life Cycle Assessment and Beyond. Canadian Standards Association, Toronto, ON.

Executive Summary

Globally, the production and use of hydrogen are increasingly considered as central to the fulfillment of sustainable development goals. Hydrogen has the capacity to meet the demands for heat, power, and transportation, with fewer emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants compared to traditional fossil fuels, and with reduced reliance on non-renewable resources. It can also sustain new economic development and employment opportunities that are consistent with a low-carbon future. However, the extent to which hydrogen contributes to these benefits differs widely depending on how it is produced, distributed, and used. Furthermore, users of hydrogen may value different aspects and impacts of its supply chain according to the sustainable development goals they prioritize (e.g., climate action, human health, or access to decent work), which can vary by community.

Currently, there is no formal system for classifying hydrogen supplies according to the sustainable development attributes of their supply chains. The absence of a common definition to which both suppliers and consumers of hydrogen can refer could result in market confusion, which could in turn inhibit the adoption of hydrogen systems. This could slow the pace of decarbonization that the use of hydrogen may otherwise advance.

Identification schemes that focus on promoting hydrogen supplies that have very low levels of carbon-intensity (CI) over their lifecycles, from production to distribution to point-of-sale, are emerging around the world. However, the requirements of some of these schemes exclude certain supplies of hydrogen based on their source feedstock, which narrows the scope of hydrogen supplies that can be beneficially scrutinized. Informal systems of colour coding hydrogen have emerged in response to the demand for hydrogen identified by a broader set of feedstock options, but the inherent imprecision and random assignment of colours in this approach risks further market confusion.

It is essential to develop a formal system for classifying all types of hydrogen to support commercial growth between suppliers and consumers, both regionally and internationally, and to help achieve sustainable development goals. The tools for conducting a lifecycle assessment (LCA) are well-developed and rely on standard methods and definitions. These standards can support a new classification system. Moreover, the implementation of durable, successful classification systems in other sectors offers guidance on best practices for communicating complex information in simplified formats.

Not only would an internationally accepted hydrogen classification system support market development but it may also complement government policies and regulations. In many national and regional jurisdictions around the world, the promotion of hydrogen is becoming a focus of decarbonization and economic development objectives. However, between these jurisdictions, policy support for hydrogen can be subjected to a variety of definitions and conditions. A common classification system could facilitate compliance and commerce, especially among neighbouring and trading jurisdictions.

The landscape scan conducted for this report included a review of policies impacting the market for hydrogen classification systems by jurisdiction, a review of LCA methods applicable to hydrogen supply chains, and an analysis of selected classification and consumer information systems developed by both industry and government and successfully embraced in other sectors. This report also presents insight gathered from stakeholders and experts through one-on-one interviews. The results of this landscape scan informed the following guidance on designing a hydrogen classification system:

  • A hydrogen classification system’s purpose should be to disclose basic information to hydrogen consumers about the essential sustainable development characteristics of production pathways;
  • Data sources and LCA methodology used under a hydrogen classification system should reference a global standard to generate consistent, comparable CI values;
  • Information communicated under a hydrogen classification system should be presented objectively and backed by transparency about data sources and methods of evaluation; and
  • Top-line communication about a hydrogen classification system should strive for simplicity.