Making Hydrogen A Primary Source Of Green Energy Is A Misguided Strategy…

Anthony Patt

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:-

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Mi­chael Liebreich, a leading global en­ergy sec­tor and cleantech ana­lyst

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