UK switch to hydrogen ‘could add same emissions as 1million gasoline cars’ | Hydrogen energy


Switching to hydrogen made from fossil fuels rather than renewable electricity could generate up to 8 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year by 2050, according to an analysis of government data.

Figures show that the use of fossil hydrogen, or “blue hydrogen”, would create the same carbon emissions each year as those produced by more than a million gasoline cars, compared to the use of “hydrogen. green ”to zero carbon.

Ministers plan to use both blue and green hydrogen to replace fossil gas in factories, refineries and heating, but new figures show that too much reliance on blue hydrogen would still lead to the emitting millions of tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere each year.

Blue hydrogen is extracted from fossil gas in a process that requires carbon capture technology to trap emissions – but this method still fails to capture between 5 and 15 percent of CO2. Carbon emissions are also released when fossil gas is extracted from oil and gas fields.

The exclusive use of blue hydrogen to replace fossil gas would lead to between 6 and 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year from the end of the 2020s, which is the equivalent of running on average 1, 5 million more fossil fuel cars on the roads each year by 2050.

Graph showing the difference between gray, blue and green hydrogen.

If the government were to use carbonless green hydrogen to meet one-third of the UK’s expected hydrogen demand, blue hydrogen would create the same emissions as around 1 million cars on UK roads. United every year.

The analysis, undertaken on behalf of the Guardian by Friends of the Earth Scotland, was based on government data released last week in a much-anticipated report on the future of the UK’s hydrogen economy.

The strategy sets out a “two-track” approach to supporting hydrogen production, but it did not suggest a balance between blue and green hydrogen. This has raised concerns among climate groups that an excessive reliance on blue hydrogen could lock the UK into decades of North Sea gas production, fossil fuel imports and millions of tonnes of emissions. of carbon.

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said government support for the big oil companies behind blue hydrogen projects, including BP and Norwegian state oil giant Equinor, would allow them to “extend production of fossil fuels indefinitely ”. .

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who reviewed the analysis, said investing in green and blue hydrogen “would allow us to jumpstart an entire industry from scratch. which creates tens of thousands of jobs and unlocks billions of pounds. private investment ”.

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What are the hydrogen options?


Hydrogen impact

Hydrogen is seen as a crucial tool in the UK government’s plan to reduce the country’s emissions to zero by 2050. Clean-burning gas could be used to replace fossil gas in factories and refineries, or as fuel for heavy transport such as maritime transport. , without emitting greenhouse gases.

Although hydrogen itself is a clean fuel, the process of producing hydrogen can be extremely polluting. Most of the hydrogen in the world is produced from fossil gas and releases millions of tonnes of carbon emissions each year. There are three main types of hydrogen:

Gray hydrogen
About 98% of the hydrogen used today is called “gray hydrogen”. It is extracted from the methane present in fossil gas, using a process known as steam methane reforming, and releases emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming. planet. It is extremely damaging to the environment.

Blue hydrogen
This ‘low carbon’ alternative to gray hydrogen uses carbon capture technology to trap between 85% and 95% of the harmful emissions created by the production of hydrogen, which could then be transported in pipelines to underground storage facilities such as disused underwater gas caverns under the North. Sea. Blue hydrogen is not a net zero fuel as it requires the production of fossil fuels, which causes emissions and releases up to 15% of emissions as gray hydrogen.

Green hydrogen
Green hydrogen is made by splitting water molecules using an electrolyzer powered by renewable electricity. The only by-product is oxygen which can be released safely into the air. Renewable energy developers believe giant offshore wind farms could be used to power green hydrogen production, especially overnight when electricity demand is low.

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“Reaching the scale we need would be more difficult if we only used green hydrogen,” the spokesperson added.

Official government climate advisers to the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have supported the idea of ​​a ‘blue hydrogen bridge’ in the 2030s for sectors of the UK economy that would find it difficult to function in the future. electricity, while the UK uses its renewable electricity to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles and heating.

But David Joffe, head of carbon budgets at the CCC, warned the government must start limiting the proportion of hydrogen produced from fossil fuels in favor of green hydrogen by the end of the 2030s to meet its targets. legally binding climatic conditions.

“Blue hydrogen is not a surprising solution, and we do not accept it wholeheartedly,” he told The Guardian.

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But relying on blue hydrogen in the short term, as the UK ramps up its green hydrogen capabilities, would still play an important role in helping to prevent millions of tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere in the past. during a crucial decade to tackle emissions, he said.

He added that the government’s hydrogen strategy was “less useful than it could have been otherwise” because officials failed to strike a balance between green and blue hydrogen.

“We think it is important that the government provide guidance later this year, certainly on the track record until 2030. This is one of the many shortcomings in the strategy that make judgment difficult,” he said. -he declares.

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