Ambitions to make hydrogen (H2) a critical energy carrier for a climate-friendly future are misplaced, according to Anthony Patt, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland (ETH Zurich).
He argued that fossil fuels should be phased out of heating and ground transportation in favor of renewable electricity — and not, as he made very clear, hydrogen power.
H2, like electricity, is a transport of energy, not an energy source. We can manufacture it in three ways:-
- Grey hydrogen, which currently accounts for nearly all H2 consumed, is derived from methane through a process that generates significant CO2 and fugitive methane emissions.
- Blue hydrogen is similar to grey hydrogen, but with the added benefit of carbon capture and storage to help reduce CO2 emissions. Regrettably, fugitive methane emissions and process inefficiencies result in even blue hydrogen emitting more greenhouse gases than the oil or natural gas it may replace.
- Green hydrogen is created from water by electrolyzing it with renewable electricity. It produces no direct emissions and is the only option that is climate friendly. The issue with green hydrogen is that, in most circumstances, direct use of renewable energy is more efficient, less expensive, and requires less natural resources and new infrastructure. These are critical issues from a systems perspective.
Despite these drawbacks, there is widespread political enthusiasm for hydrogen because it is the oil and gas industry’s final best hope for survival, and they are accordingly playing the political game. If they succeed, the environment and society will suffer. And that makes sense, given that the transition to renewable energy threatens to obsolete their whole industry. Prioritizing hydrogen will slow everything down, extending the life of existing assets.
If demand for hydrogen exceeds the supply of renewable energy required to manufacture green hydrogen, we will be forced to continue using grey or blue hydrogen, which are reliant on natural gas.
Patt is not alone in his concern. Michael Liebreich, a leading global energy sector and cleantech analyst, has suggested that the oil sector is lobbying for hydrogen “in order to postpone electrification.” A group of well-known British scientists has written to their government to express their concern about hydrogen development.
Green hydrogen may help us decarbonize in a few limited applications. However, for ground transport and heating, which account for the lion’s share of energy use, hydrogen is an extremely awful concept.
Reference- Forbes, The Guardian, BBC, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Release, Business Insider