Is hydrogen really the holy grail of green energy?

Driven by severe price shocks in the oil and gas market coupled with the urgent need for low-carbon fuels to stave off the climate crisis, hydrogen is being aggressively promoted as a cure-all for climate and energy security concerns. Producers, investors and policy makers are rallying around the prospect of an environmentally friendly solution that can be made using renewable energy or natural gas. While hydrogen offers an important opportunity, we must be wary about its potential downsides.

Biden’s $8 billion administration plan for up to 10 regional hydrogen centers – “One of the biggest investments in [Department of Energy] Date” – It is just the tip of the iceberg. Germany and other European countries are considering importing huge quantities of hydrogen to replace Russian gas. Finally, hydrogen projects worth at least $600 billion have been announced worldwide.

There is good reason to focus here. Hydrogen offers a unique alternative to sectors where decarbonization is difficult, and there is optimism that this new technology can provide real solutions in our fight against climate change.

At the same time, there are at least three reasons for concern. First, recent science suggests that the degree to which climate benefit—if any—will depend largely on where and how hydrogen is produced and used.

One of the challenges is that Hydrogen has strong heating effects when it escapes into the atmosphere, a fact that even many experts overlook. Because hydrogen is a small molecule, it is particularly difficult to hold in the plumbing needed to transport and store it.

Search This year, scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund published It also concludes elsewhere that hydrogen’s true warming force is two to six times greater than standard estimates. This means that we have systematically underestimated the importance of side effects.

At the very least, we need to invest in technology and practices to find and stop hydrogen leakage from any new infrastructure. And we must be very wary of plans to transport hydrogen through existing natural gas lines, which study after study has proven to be Highly prone to leakage.

Another issue is production. Today’s standard methods of making hydrogen are dirty, energy intensive, and far worse for the climate than fossil fuels. Hydrogen can also be made using renewable energy to strip oxygen molecules from water – leaving only H in H20 – or derived from natural gas where at least 90 percent of the carbon dioxide produced is captured and methane emissions in the supply chain are minimized.

These methods represent all but a small portion of the market today. Analysts at Carbon Tracker report that governments and private investors in 25 countries They announced more than $70 billion in financing for green hydrogen Since the start of the war in Ukraine, which stimulated Great energy uncertainty. An increase in investment is good news. So far, however, most of that exists only on paper; We are still far from mass production.

Finally, the unanswered question seems to be where hydrogen fits into the overall energy strategy. Decoupling our electric grid from fossil fuels, and thus using green electricity to replace fossil fuels to power personal transportation, homes and businesses is at the core of any viable decarbonization plan.

But for aviation, shipping and other heavy transportation, as well as energy-intensive industries such as steel, cement, and petrochemicals, green electricity cannot carry the load on its own.

Both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency identify hydrogen as a fuel for these sectors and a feedstock for the other fuels and chemicals we need to replace fossil fuels. But it doesn’t make sense to pump private capital or public subsidies into hydrogen applications where green electricity can do the job faster, cleaner, and more efficiently.

In the race to achieve energy and climate security, we have neither the money nor the time to waste. For hydrogen to achieve its potential, we need to make it without harmful climate pollution; Ensure that producers and users monitor, measure and eliminate leaks; And we focus our investment in hydrogen on where it’s most needed – not where the obvious alternatives are more economically and environmentally competitive.

Opportunities like this don’t come up every day. To understand this properly.

Mark Brownstein is Senior Vice President of Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, and a member of the EDF Executive Team.

Driven by severe price shocks in the oil and gas market coupled with the urgent need for low-carbon fuels to stave off the climate crisis, hydrogen is being aggressively promoted as a panacea for all climate and energy security concerns. Producers, investors and policy makers are rallying around the prospect of an environmentally friendly solution that can be made using renewable energy or natural gas.

Biden’s $8 billion administration plan for up to 10 regional hydrogen centers – “One of the biggest investments in [Department of Energy] Date” – It is just the tip of the iceberg. Germany and other European countries are considering importing huge quantities of hydrogen to replace Russian gas. Finally, hydrogen projects worth at least $600 billion have been announced worldwide.

But there are at least two reasons for concern. First, recent science suggests that the degree to which climate benefit—if any—will depend largely on where and how hydrogen is produced and used.

One of the challenges is that Hydrogen has strong heating effects when it escapes into the atmosphere, a fact that even many experts overlook. Because hydrogen is a small molecule, it is particularly difficult to hold in the plumbing needed to transport and store it.

Search This year, scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund published It also concludes elsewhere that hydrogen’s true warming force is two to six times greater than standard estimates. This means that we have systematically underestimated the importance of side effects.

At the very least, we need to invest in technology and practices to find and stop hydrogen leakage from any new infrastructure. And we must be very wary of plans to transport hydrogen through existing natural gas lines, which study after study has proven to be Highly prone to leakage.

Another issue is production. Today’s standard methods of making hydrogen are dirty, energy intensive, and far worse for the climate than fossil fuels. Hydrogen can also be made using renewable energy to strip oxygen molecules from water – leaving only H in H20 – or derived from natural gas where at least 90 percent of the carbon dioxide produced is captured and methane emissions in the supply chain are minimized.

These methods represent all but a small portion of the market today. Analysts at Carbon Tracker report that governments and private investors in 25 countries They announced more than $70 billion in financing for green hydrogen Since the start of the war in Ukraine, which stimulated Great energy uncertainty. An increase in investment is good news. So far, however, most of that exists only on paper; We are still far from mass production.

But for aviation, shipping and other heavy transportation, as well as energy-intensive industries such as steel, cement, and petrochemicals, green electricity cannot carry the load on its own.

Both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency identify hydrogen as a fuel for these sectors and a feedstock for the other fuels and chemicals we need to replace fossil fuels. But it doesn’t make sense to pump private capital or public subsidies into hydrogen applications where green electricity can do the job faster, cleaner, and more efficiently.

In the race to achieve energy and climate security, we have neither the money nor the time to waste. For hydrogen to achieve its potential, we need to make it without harmful climate pollution; Ensure that producers and users monitor, measure and eliminate leaks; And we focus our investment in hydrogen on where it’s most needed – not where the obvious alternatives are more economically and environmentally competitive.

Opportunities like this don’t come up every day. To understand this properly.

Mark Brownstein is Senior Vice President of Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, and a member of the EDF Executive Team.

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