Hydrogen is being pushed hard by fossil fuel companies including the fracking lobby. They propose to produce hydrogen from natural gas, pumping the resulting CO2 emissions underground. They call this ‘blue’ hydrogen as distinct from clean ‘green’ hydrogen made by electrolysis from water.
But blue hydrogen is very expensive, causes unhealthy air pollution, relies on carbon capture unproven at scale, and carries the risk of explosion. A new study even concludes that it isn’t greener than natural gas at all, and is actually worse than burning diesel oil. What’s more, the head of the hydrogen industry association has resigned, warning he would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on the problems with blue hydrogen.
Independent studies show that it is absolutely not the solution for home heating and mass transport.
- Too expensive: blue hydrogen is produced in a high energy process from natural gas. It will be significantly more expensive than natural gas. No-one wants home heating bills to skyrocket. An independent study concludes that air-source heat pumps would be cheaper to run than a hydrogen boiler.
- Carbon Capture unproven at scale: The blue hydrogen production process releases CO2. Those advocating hydrogen say they will capture that CO2 and lock it away underground. But this process has not been proven at scale anywhere in the world. And what's more, there are no guarantees that the CO2 will remain safely underground. It would take decades to develop and then properly test this process. And then, how would governments ever check that private companies are properly capturing the invisible CO2?
- Causes unhealthy air pollution: The New Scientist explains how burning hydrogen in air causes significant amounts of dangerously unhealthy NOx air pollution.
- Risk of explosion: Due its very small molecule size compared to natural gas, hydrogen can escape through pipework, and since it is odourless, this does present the risk of explosion.
- Encourages fracking: The lobbyists aim to secure permission to frack for natural gas to produce hydrogen. Fracking involves unavoidable leaks of potent greenhouse gas methane (‘natural gas’) into the atmosphere - BBC May 2021
- Public subsidies: Incredibly, fossil fuel companies are beginning to ask for public money to pay for the infrastructure to capture carbon.
- A new study concludes that the carbon footprint of blue hydrogen is actually even higher than that of natural gas, in part due to fugitive methane emissions (gases that escape during extraction).
It is likely that hydrogen will have a role to play for tough-to-fix challenges like aviation and steel manufacture, but that needs to be ‘green’ hydrogen produced using renewable power.
There is no role for blue hydrogen. Fossil fuel companies have had decades to diversify away from fossil fuels into renewables, but they have failed to act. They cannot now expect the public to subsidise an expensive and wholly inappropriate 'solution'.
Existing clean solutions already exist for home heating and transport: heat pumps for homes combined with significant improvements in insulation, and for transport, electric buses and trains, cycle and walking ways, and EVs. We just need our government to create the right policy environment to accelerate the transition to these solutions, and to be wary of corporate lobbying.
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