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Blue Hydrogen Worse Than Natural Gas: Study

Blue hydrogen, the kind that involves fossil fuels combined with carbon capture, could be worse for the environment than natural gas or even coal, a new study has suggested.

The study, conducted by researchers from Cornell University and Stanford, also suggested that the carbon footprint of blue hydrogen is as much as 60 percent higher than that of burning diesel for heating, Energy Live News reports.

"Politicians around the world, from the UK and Canada to Australia and Japan, are placing expensive bets on blue hydrogen as a leading solution in the energy transition," one of the authors, ecology and environmental biology professor Robert Howarth from Cornell University, said in a statement.

"Our research is the first in a peer-reviewed journal to lay out the significant lifecycle emissions intensity of blue hydrogen. 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," Howarth also said.

The study's authors have suggested that because of the enormous amounts of natural gas that blue hydrogen requires, its emission footprint is bigger than gray hydrogen, which does not use carbon capture at all. The emission footprint also does not depend on the specific carbon capture and storage technology used.

"There really is no role for blue hydrogen in a carbon-free future," the authors said. "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 is considered to be a big part of the future net-zero energy system. The cleanest kind is green hydrogen, which, rather than produced from renewables, is produced from water, electrolyzed using electricity from wind and solar farms. However, the cleanest hydrogen is also the most expensive, although forecasts see a fast decline in costs.

Currently, gray hydrogen is the most widely produced and the cheapest. It is produced from natural gas through a process called steam methane reformatting, where the methane in the gas is heated with steam—a process that yields hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on August 12 2021 said:
    Alternative energy sources are like fashions. They suddenly become in vogue and shortly after they disappear. Today, hydrogen is in vogue but for how long?

    Producing green hydrogen from water by electrolysis using solar or nuclear energy is extremely expensive, at least twice that of fossil-based hydrogen and the quantity produced is minute. Also producing both blue hydrogen and grey hydrogen from fossil fuels is far more expensive than producing natural gas.

    Whether green, blue or grey, hydrogen is a non-starter. It is more expensive to produce than natural gas. It needs far more energy to produce than it will eventually provide.

    If this is the case, wouldn’t be far more economical to skip the production of hydrogen altogether and use natural gas directly to generate electricity while employing carbon capture technologies to prevent CO2 being released?

    Why not use the solar electricity or nuclear energy used in producing green hydrogen by electrolysis to enhance current electricity generation and make it cheaper to customers rather than using a convoluted process of electrolyzing it and then using it to generate electricity thus adding to customers’ costs.

    Furthermore, the heat generated from high temperatures produced by nuclear reactors could be used to generate more electricity in a combined cycle for use in industrial plants instead of hydrogen.

    The only country in the world where a hydrogen economy could possibly succeed is Iceland. The reason is that it has plentiful geothermal power and water. Geothermal power already generates virtually all Iceland’s electricity.

    Oil and natural gas will remain the fulcrum of the global economy throughout the 21st century and probably far beyond. Neither excessive pressure by environmental activists and divestment campaigners nor media hype and IEA’s la-la-land net-zero roadmap will change this fact.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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