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Fears raised over impact of blue hydrogen

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-08-13 09:18
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Fuel source 'may be more damaging than natural gas', claim researchers

A study by two major universities in the United States has claimed that the alternative fuel source that is widely expected to form a central part of the British government's new hydrogen strategy, coming out later this year, is in fact more damaging to the environment than burning natural gas.

Blue hydrogen is extracted from natural gas, and captures CO2 emissions for placement underground. However, scientists at Cornell and Stanford Universities have highlighted that it requires a huge amount of natural gas to produce it, and what they called a "significant amount "of the CO2 and methane emissions will evade capture.

"There really is no role for blue hydrogen in a carbon-free future," the report concluded. "We suggest that blue hydrogen is best viewed as a distraction, something that may delay needed action to truly decarbonize the global energy economy."

Hydrogen can be used to fuel heating systems, industry and transport, but does not exist in nature as a fuel, and needs to be manufactured.

Although it is a clean source in that it produces no carbon when it is burnt, its true carbon footprint is decided by the manufacturing process, and the report suggests it is significant.

The Times reports that the gas industry backs blue hydrogen as being low carbon because any emissions produced will be disposed of under the North and Irish Seas.

Fossil fuel companies including Shell and BP hope that an increased focus on the production of blue hydrogen will enable them to continue using their existing gas reserves, while also reducing their emissions.

It is expected that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's new hydrogen strategy, the latest step in the road toward net zero carbon emissions, is likely to show more investment in blue hydrogen than in green, which is made by wind and solar power, but David Cebon, a professor at the University of Cambridge, said the findings of the research project were damning and hard to dispute.

"The calculation method is rigorous, the assumptions are all solid and the results are stark," he told Sky News.

"Blue hydrogen cannot be considered 'low-carbon' or a 'clean' solution. In fact, this paper shows that producing blue hydrogen is significantly worse than burning fossil fuels for heat, such as gas or coal, in the first place."

His opinion was backed up by one of the report's authors.

"This is a warning signal to governments that the only 'clean' hydrogen they should invest public funds in is truly net zero, green hydrogen made from wind and solar energy," said Robert Howarth, who added that there should be a greater focus on green hydrogen, which uses renewable electricity to extract hydrogen from water, leaving oxygen as a by-product, rather than the CO2 and methane of the blue hydrogen process.

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