The carbon footprint of creating blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat, according to joint research by Cornell and Stanford universities in the US.
The paper, which was published in Energy Science and Engineering, warned that blue hydrogen may be a distraction or something that may delay needed action to truly decarbonise the global energy economy.
A research team claimed blue hydrogen requires large amounts of natural gas to produce and said that even with the most advanced carbon capture and storage technology, there are a significant amount of CO2 and methane emissions that won’t be caught.
Blue hydrogen sounds good, sounds modern and sounds like a path to our energy future, it is not
Professors from the universities calculated that these fugitive emissions from producing hydrogen could eclipse those associated with extracting and burning gas when multiplied by the amount of gas required to make an equivalent amount of energy from hydrogen.
The paper comes hot on the heels of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report claiming methane has contributed about two-thirds as much to global warming as CO2 and as many governments are looking to invest in hydrogen production.
Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor and co-author of the study, said: “Political forces may not have caught up with the science yet. Even progressive politicians may not understand for what they’re voting. Blue hydrogen sounds good, sounds modern and sounds like a path to our energy future. It is not.”
The UK is high up on the list of countries aiming to put blue hydrogen at the core of its energy transition agenda. UK energy consultancy Xodus recently launched a new report urging a bolder vision to enable the country to become a global leader in the adoption of hydrogen. The researchers, on the other hand, recommended a focus on green hydrogen, which is made using renewable electricity to extract hydrogen from water, leaving only oxygen as a byproduct.
“This best-case scenario for producing blue hydrogen, using renewable electricity instead of natural gas to power the processes, suggests to us that there really is no role for blue hydrogen in a carbon-free future. Greenhouse gas emissions remain high, and there would also be a substantial consumption of renewable electricity, which represents an opportunity cost. We believe renewable electricity could be better used by society in other ways, replacing the use of fossil fuels.”