Socialist Worker

Hydrogen power is not a green alternative

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2781

Former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe visits the worlds largest hydrogen fuel producing facility, the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field

Former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe visits the world's largest hydrogen fuel producing facility, the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (Pic: 内閣官房内閣広報室/WikiMedia Commons)


The Tories and world ­leaders are pinning their hopes on hydrogen power to reduce carbon emissions and help reach their net-zero promises.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that hydrogen power can “transform the way we power our lives and will be essential to tackling climate change and reaching net zero.

The Labour Party also backs hydrogen and has called it a “potential new frontier” in the fight against climate change.

Government estimates have found that around 20- 35 percent of Britain’s energy could come from hydrogen by 2050.

But hydrogen doesn’t live up to the green promises that politicians make for it.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet, making it an attractive ­alternative to fossil fuels.

Supporters of hydrogen say that it is a non-polluting, green fuel that, only has one byproduct when burned—water.

The extraction of pure hydrogen from other elements poses the biggest challenge in making hydrogen a reliable carbon-neutral energy resource.

Cop26 set to end as failure
Cop26 set to end as failure
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The most common method of producing hydrogen is ­getting a natural gas such as methane to react with steam to extract the element.

Steam must be heated to 700-1,000 degrees in this process. For this fossil fuels, including coal, are burned.

This means the process still produces harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Also the water produced can impact water tables and increase flood damage.

“Grey hydrogen” is already being produced widely, with around 70 million tonnes ­produced every year.

This way of harvesting hydrogen produced more CO2 emissions than Britain and Indonesia combined. The Tories’ favoured way of harvesting the element uses all the same steps as Grey Hydrogen but with technology to capture CO2 emissions.

But rolling “Blue hydrogen” out on a wide scale will only be possible with the development of carbon capture technology.

Carbon capture is an unreliable and expensive process that almost always produces high levels of CO2 emissions.

Last month the chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, Chris Jackson, quit his job after he couldn’t back the body’s support for Blue hydrogen.

He said, “I would be ­betraying future generations by remaining silent on that fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonisation goals.”

Prioritise

The Tories’ new hydrogen strategy promises to pair Blue hydrogen with so-called “Green hydrogen”.

But even Green hydrogen has its drawbacks.

Green hydrogen uses electrolysis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen using power from renewable energy sources.

But for hydrogen power to be genuinely green, energy infrastructure must go through a complete transformation at every level.

The electrolysis process uses lots of energy, which means that renewables must be rolled out on a much larger scale than they currently are.

There are also only a tiny number of electrolysis plants, which are expensive to build and run.

To add to all this, very high temperatures or pressures are needed to transport hydrogen, which requires a lot of power.

A complete change to energy infrastructure is needed to make hydrogen harvesting carbon neutral.

But this is not what the Tories are proposing.

Without drastic change, switching to hydrogen power will be ineffective in significantly reducing carbon emissions and stopping temperatures from rising.

At the Cop26 climate conference, 26 companies signed up to the H2Zero pledge to invest billions into Blue and Green Hydrogen.

But these corporations aren’t motivated by saving the planet.

The bosses’ and the Tories’ obsession with hydrogen is about seeming to present a greener alternative while keeping the fossil fuel industry running.


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