Hydrogen Safety, Economy and Sustainability in the Balance of Risk and Opportunity in South Korea

We blogged about Korea H2 Economy one year ago and were quite impressed by the Korean strategy and arrived at the conclusion that: ”Korea has the means and the motivation to succeed but they are not without challenges” Today, one year...

We blogged about Korea H2 Economy one year ago and were quite impressed by the Korean strategy and arrived at the conclusion that:

Korea has the means and the motivation to succeed but they are not without challenges

Today, one year later, things have moved forward, but the hydrogen have yet to become green.

The ambitious roadmap for a hydrogen economy from 2019 has been updated as it has become part of the 2020 Presidential Green New Deal.

It is clear to us that the push for a hydrogen economy is motivated both by industrial interests in a potential growth market for fuel cells and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), as well as by a promise for greener energy alternatives. Big promise and big risk go hand in hand in the hydrogen economy.

Taking the risk head on, Korea have declared to:

  • Become market leader for FCEV
  • Become market leader for Fuel cells for power generation
  • Transition from being a consumer of fossil-based hydrogen to become a producer of green hydrogen
  • And to reach these detailed targets:
Produced FCEV18 00081 0006 200 000
FCEV on Korean roads9 00067 0002 900 000
Charging stations14st310 st>1 200 st
Produced power from fuel cells307MW 1.5GW15GW
Fuel cells for power in Korea307MW1GW8GW
Energy in buildings7MW50MW2.1GW
Hydrogen production / Price130 000 ton470 000 ton /6 000KWR/kg5.26 mil. ton /3 000KRW/kg
Republic of Korea objectives for the Hydrogen Economy

The Prime Ministers office is host to the Hydrogen Energy Committee with participation from several ministries (MOTIE, MSIT, MOLIT, ME) where MOLIT is hosting a secretariat.

The government have taken several other initiatives. Notably at the end of 2019 (after our latest blog on hydrogen) more detailed policies were developed on several areas:

  • Standards: A roadmap for economy and standardisation
  • Vehicles: Strategy for development of the future vehicle industry
  • Charging: Plan to establish hydrogen infrastructure and charging
  • R&D: Roadmap for hydrogen technology
  • Infrastructure: Strategy for promoting hydrogen pilot cities
  • Safety: Measures for safe management of hydrogen

These measures include legislation to ensure safety around hydrogen. The development of model cities for hydrogen use (Ulsan, Ansan, Wanju, Jeonju and an additional few from 2025). An office for international trade with hydrogen where 30 companies and organisations participate.

Through the Ministry for Environment, the government is investing 266 million EUR 2020, and another 335 million EUR 2021, to increase the number of FCEV from 10100 to 15000, to 2021, and support the construction of 180 busses and 5 test trucks. These are in addition to increasing charging infrastructure and EV cars from 65000 to 75000, trucks from 13000 to 25000 and busses from 650 to 1000, with 608 and 845 million EUR 2020 and 2021.

For reference, the Korean government subsidise FCEV with 32300 EUR a piece, and EV with 13832 EUR.

There are three issues in the balance of risk and opportunity in the South Korean debate on hydrogen, safety, economy and climate effect.


Safety was acutely highlighted in May 2019 when there was an explosion of a hydrogen tank at an experimental facility in Gangneung. Eight people were there at the time. Two persons died and six were injured from the blast. In addition, there were a fire at a chemical facility in September this year, as hydrogen leaked, and three workers suffered burns. The update of legislation for safe management have come in to play after this accident.

Any energy storage of notable potency—petrol, batteries, nuclear, hydrogen—can be described as a controlled bomb and tragic, horrible accidents can happen. With engineering, standards and protocol, accidents can be avoided, and I don’t see signs of hydrogen being different from other energy carriers in this respect.


A second issue that is concerning the economy on hydrogen is centred on the business proposition for hydrogen charging stations. It is taking longer than anticipated to follow the plan to build these. Among the reasons are concerns for safety among station owners and neighbours petitioning against them, and the perception among station owners that the cost for them even after hefty government subsidies, may not be covered by sales. There are still too few FCEV’s on the roads, and they take so long to fill that they can only service a limited number.


99 percent of all hydrogen in South Korea is a bi product from fossil fuels. Far from all hydrogen that is created in the petrochemical industry in Korea is being used, 36 percent is mentioned, and any increase in this number is welcome. Using more of the dirty hydrogen is better than discarding it and it contributes to promote the build out of infrastructure and sales of vehicles in anticipation for the green hydrogen. The goal is that 70 percent of all hydrogen shall be green by 2040 and the plan is that it will be produced in Korea from electrolysis and gasification of biomass.