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Hydrogen is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution, report warns

Hydrogen is no ‘silver bullet’ solution when it comes to the climate crisis, warns Earthjustice in their new report.  

According to the report, the fossil fuel industry is currently America’s largest producer and consumer of hydrogen, with roughly 60% of the United States’ domestic supply deployed in crude oil refining. 

‘Green hydrogen’ can be made by using 100% renewable electricity to split hydrogen from water molecules.

However, at the moment less than 1% of the hydrogen used today is produced using renewable energy. 

This means that hydrogen production is currently responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire country of Germany.

brown electric post under blue sky during daytime

Sasan Saadat, co-author and Earthjustice senior research and policy analyst, said: ‘Hydrogen isn’t the silver bullet it’s marketed to be. Worse, the deluge of hydrogen hype from fossil fuel companies threatens to delay the clean energy transition by siphoning resources away from solutions like electric appliances and vehicles.

‘In the future, green hydrogen may help us carry renewable energy into the toughest corners of the energy system, but it’s no substitute for rapidly electrifying the bulk of our economy today.’

The authors highlight that for hydrogen to have a role in our clean energy future, the first priority should be deploying green hydrogen, helping to displace the millions of metric tonnes of hydrogen that the US already makes from fossil fuels. 

Sara Gersen, co-author and attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign added: ‘Contrary to industry marketing, it makes no sense to burn hydrogen in our homes. The gas distribution system can’t deliver significant volumes of hydrogen to homes and businesses without creating safety hazards in pipelines and household appliances. 

‘The solution for getting off fossil gas in our homes is to go all-electric – that’s the modern upgrade families deserve.’

Photo by Sigmund

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Dennis Heidner
Dennis Heidner
9 days ago

For years, literally years, I had heard the same arguments that are being made now about H2, but instead against solar PV and wind. PV and wind were “pulling” money away from “clean coal”, hydro and nuclear. PV and Wind would destablize the grid… and as proof that PV was a plot by the fossil fuel industry — they used BP’s early involvement with solar panel production. They used the wind turbine blades carbon composites need of petrochemicals to argue again that the fossil fuel industry was behind it.
Currently the largest use of H2 is not for operating vehicles or as fuel for running generators. It’s for ammonia fertilizers, H2 for chemical production — for medicine, for semiconductors (PV), for food, for plastics, for many of the items people take for granted. Currently most of that H2 production as the story mentions is from steam reformed methane gas. Developing a H2 economy using greener resources shifts the current H2 from SMR to renewable resources.
Arguing that it is a ploy only from the fossil fuel industry is much the same tactics that were being used originally to stall PV and Wind. It’s counter productive. It delays shutting down the SMR – the EarthJustice argument is a strange convoluted attack on cleaning up industries — condems the world to more steam methane reforming (SMR).
Instead – EarthJustice should be arguing for carbon tax on all H2 produced. If the H2 uses methane and does not capture and somehow use the carbon – the H2 would have a higher cost. Earthjustice argues that only electrolysis is available for H2 production if it isn’t steam methane reformed. (Captured carbon black has value – it’s used in tires (tyres), paint pigments, wire insulation to protect against UV.)
For that I say read the long term roadmaps that researchers & governments are using around the world to move OFF of SMR… and … for those that argue it’s impossible to crack water into H2 and O with out electrolysis — well it’s time to go out into nature — speak with some treas, ask a tomato or carrot how they split water into H2 and then reuse that H2 with CO2 from the air to build carbon chains that are used by the plants to grow. All from tiny seeds.
As for the fear mongering about burning pure H2 in homes and appliances – plenty of research and successful pilots have succeeded even in Europe of taking carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, combining with H2 split from water to produce methane or longer changes. Those gas pipes to homes could be fed with methane from H2 and CO2 that has been pulled from air, split with renewables to produce the fuel (not coming from the ground) in a much more sustainable circular economy.
The Japanese call this “Mottainai”, – reduce, reuse, recycle and don’t create waste.