Could blue hydrogen have a worse effect on climate change than the likes of natural gas?

Could blue hydrogen have a worse effect on climate change than the likes of natural gas?

There are calls for green hydrogen to be made the focus after a new study by Cornell and Stanford University found that blue hydrogen could be 20% more damaging, and risks delaying the UK’s decarbonisation action.

The research claims that blue hydrogen could potentially be 20% worse for the climate than burning natural gas or coal. The study estimates the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is around 60% larger than burning diesel oil and indicates a potential downside to switching from one fossil fuel to another, no matter how clean it might seem by comparison.

Researchers are warning that blue hydrogen is a far less green alternative, for in order to produce the gas you need huge amounts of natural gas and even with advanced carbon capture technology there will be significant emissions.

The study says the better long-term option is to focus on replacing natural gas with renewable energy, hydropower and nuclear power. Also it argues that there are no significant immediate climate benefits from increased use of hydrogen in transport fuel cells, especially when one considers the large amounts of gas required to produce it.

“Given the political importance of decarbonisation, we think this matters a lot for public policy,” said co-author Professor Michael J. Ford at Stanford University and executive director of its Earth Research Institute. “Use of advanced carbon capture technology can significantly reduce the direct emissions produced by making hydrogen or syngas but such a system would require lots of electricity—which still comes mostly from fossil fuels—and thus release more global warming gases into the atmosphere than making conventional hydrogen or syngas.”

While natural gas creates fewer greenhouse emissions than burning petroleum products like gasoline, it still releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, a much more potent “greenhouse gas” than CO2. In addition to posing long-term risks, these emissions also contribute to smog and respiratory problems.

Before the Prime Minister, Theresa May’s announcement on her new hydrogen strategy, it should be noted that blue hydrogen might just be a distraction from taking action to decarbonize our global energy economy.

This study was the first in a peer-reviewed journal to lay out the significant lifecycle emissions intensity of blue hydrogen. Robert Howarth, Co-Author of the study and Professor at Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University, said: “This is a warning sign to cover nets that only “clean” hydrogen’ they should invest public funds in what is truly net zero, green hydrogen made from solar and wind energy.”