Clean hydrogen is a fuel that the Biden administration believes will be part of the toolkit needed to bring the US to zero emissions by 2050, not to mention cutting those emissions by 50% by the end of this decade become. But a peer-reviewed study Thursday argues that the fuel’s references need to be reconsidered.
Some energy and air pollution analysts have voiced their own concerns that the study, published in the journal Energy Science & Engineering by researchers at Cornell and Stanford Universities, have misapplied short-term results to a long-term view, made other flawed assumptions, and risked prematurely sidelining developing technology.
Hydrogen is already used in some applications, but in the past it was too expensive to directly replace fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency in an anti-oil report that surprised many earlier this year, has considered the role of hydrogen in the world of new energies.
Most of the hydrogen used today is obtained from natural gas
in a process that emits carbon dioxide as well as the more volatile but more potent methane. The study mainly focuses on these emissions.
The researchers Robert Howarth, biogeochemist and ecosystem scientist at Cornell, and Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and director of the atmosphere / energy program, examined the greenhouse gas emissions of “blue” hydrogen over the entire life cycle balanced for the emissions of carbon dioxide and unburned, volatile methane (The UN has increased his concerns that methane will be addressed sooner rather than later).
Since the natural gas industry is striving for more hydrogen production, it is pushing the recording of emissions, which then leaves what the industry calls “blue” hydrogen. That is not “green”, it still limits pollution. “Green” hydrogen would ultimately have to be produced from emission-free renewable energies such as wind or sun and by electrolysis of water in order to separate hydrogen atoms from oxygen. Renewable energies are not yet widespread enough – although they are becoming cheaper – to replace natural gas in this process.
The paper argues that throughout the “blue” hydrogen supply chain, the process actually emits more than just burning natural gas for its traditional purposes.
The researchers took into account the carbon dioxide emissions and methane released from the facilities during natural gas production. They believed that 3.5% of the gas drilled from the ground escapes into the atmosphere, and based that percentage on increasing research arguing that natural gas wells are emitting more methane than previously known. And they added the natural gas needed to power the carbon capture technology.
Overall, they found that the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen was more than 20% higher than just burning natural gas or coal to generate heat and 60% more than burning diesel oil to generate heat.
“Our analysis assumes that captured carbon dioxide can be stored indefinitely, an optimistic and unproven assumption,” they said. “Even if it is true, the use of blue hydrogen for climate reasons seems difficult to justify.”
Frank Maisano, executive director of the Washington-based, energy-oriented Policy Resolution Group, an industry lobby, identified a problem with the researchers’ approach.
“Both are known for research on climate-related topics, but it seems that any short-term life cycle assessment is sure to overestimate the long-term effects and underestimate the potential benefits of hydrogen,” said Maisano. “I find it ironic that in previous analyzes they both look at the entire climate scenario and project far into the future, but when you look at hydrogen they seem to be taking short of its long-term potential and real technological advances that are likely.” appear.”
Maisano said the report misleadingly compared hydrogen as a heating source to traditional options.
“Essentially, this means that blue hydrogen is not as environmentally friendly as other fuels when you want to heat water. We don’t use it for its thermal energy, we put it in fuel cells and we use it for its electrochemical properties, ”he said.
The Clean Air Task Force also had preliminary concerns.
“The framework of the paper seems to assume that ‘blue hydrogen’ and ‘green hydrogen’ are competing alternatives. However, it is likely that we could need both to achieve decarbonization by mid-century, ”said Mike Fowler, director, Advanced Energy Technology Research, CATF, which brings together data and policy initiatives on nuclear, bioenergy and other sources of reduction of emissions. .
“Right now, blue sources are cheaper than green and could be a major source of low-carbon hydrogen, while the cost of green is falling,” he said. “Given the urgency of decarbonisation, paper is the wrong choice.”
CATF also claims that the methane loss rates assumed in the paper are high. The best peer-reviewed analysis available now The U.S. leak rate is estimated to be around 2.3%, it said.
“What is important is that this leak rate can and must be made much lower,” said Fowler.
Hydrogen evolution was included in the abridged, bipartisan infrastructure law that Moved out of the Senate this week. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, some climate-related programs have been launched involved in the budget balance of the Democrats.
David Hart, science policy expert at George Mason University, told ScienceInsider magazine that the inclusion of hydrogen in the Senate infrastructure bill is noteworthy and a sign of approval from Washington, including $ 8 billion for regional hydrogen hubs. EV maker Nikola Corp.
said Thursday it had received a grant for research into autonomous hydrogen fueling stations. And Wall Street has already worked its part of the action with at least two hydrogen-related exchange-traded funds, the Global X Hydrogen ETF
and the Direxion Hydrogen ETF
The push for hydrogen in the energy industry and by some environmental groups is having an even bigger impact in Europe and elsewhere, so the study has the potential to impact these more mature markets. Royal Dutch shell
for example has a hydrogen production facility in Wesseling, Germany, where supporting subsidies are more common than in the US
The U.S. natural gas industry has pushed for more pipeline construction, arguing that the system would eventually carry a cleaner mix of natural gas and hydrogen.
The hydrogen council, consisting of BP
Blood pressure, -0.52%,
Shell and other major oil and gas companies released a report produced by McKinsey that estimates the hydrogen economy could have annual sales of $ 140 billion and 700,000 jobs by 2030. It suggested that hydrogen could meet 14% of all American energy needs by 2050.