Green hydrogen and sustainable development – A social LCA perspective highlighting social hotspots and geopolitical implications of the future hydrogen economy

Malik Sajawal Akhtar, Hafsa Khan, J. Jay Liu, Jonggeol Na

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

Developing a global hydrogen economy that contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and achieves net-zero carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement requires evaluating and recognizing the economic, social, and political realities of green hydrogen production. This study performs a cradle-to-gate social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) of green hydrogen production via water electrolysis powered by renewable electricity from solar photovoltaic and wind farms in seven countries (the US, Chile, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, and China) to identify the social hotspots in the entire value chain. The results of S-LCA indicate that green hydrogen production in South Africa poses the highest risk to most of the social indicators, especially child labor, fair salary, unemployment, association and bargaining rights, and gender wage gap. However, in the other countries, the risk to most of the social indicators drastically reduces when key equipment is manufactured in the country itself rather than when it is imported from other countries. Due to the increased complexity of the green hydrogen supply chain resulting from components sourced from various parts of the world, the S-LCA results indicate that compared with conventional hydrogen, green hydrogen performed poorly in various social indicators. The S-LCA results revealed that outsourcing key equipment from developing countries with poor working conditions is a major social hotspot in the sustainable development of these countries. In addition, the S-LCA results demonstrate that the hydrogen economy has the potential to be capable of achieving SDGS by developing a domestic green hydrogen supply chain and enhancing working conditions in country-specific sectors. Furthermore, a holistic discussion of socio-geopolitical implications is presented, emphasizing the need to develop standardized international regulations to prevent colonialism in the future hydrogen economy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number136438
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume395
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning ( 2019R1A2C2084709 and 2021R1A4A3025742 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Geopolitical implications
  • Green hydrogen
  • Social hotspots
  • Social life cycle assessment
  • Sustainable development goals
  • Techno-economic analysis

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