Is hydrogen really the answer to climate change?


Hydrogen, the lightest and smallest molecule in the universe, is considered a promising alternative to oil and gas.

Hydrogen is already used as rocket fuel, and it can be produced by separating it from hydrocarbon compounds or water. The fossil fuel industry is pushing hydrogen as a clean and safe alternative, and it has deployed PR and lobbying machines to promote it as a catch-all climate solution. However, research by climate scientists without fossil fuel links debunks industry claims that hydrogen should play a major role in our decarbonised future.

Hydrogen extracted from renewable energy sources could play an important role, though the evidence is not clear. Currently, 96% of the world’s hydrogen comes coal (brown) and gas (grey), with the rest created from nuclear (pink) and renewable sources like hydro, wind and solar. Production of both grey and brown hydrogen release carbon dioxide (CO2) and unburnt fugitive methane into the atmosphere. This super-polluting hydrogen is what’s currently used as the chemical base for synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, plastics and steel among other industries.

Blue hydrogen is the fossil fuel industry’s preferred source, as it comes from gas, but the CO2 would be captured and stored underground.

Green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis using electricity generated from renewable energy sources, is considered clean hydrogen.

“There may be some small role in truly green hydrogen in a decarbonised future, but this is largely a marketing creation by the oil and gas industry that has been hugely overhyped,” said Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, a co-author of the paper on blue hydrogen.

Hydrogen production is energy-intensive, and it will require more energy to produce, store, and transport hydrogen than it provides when converted into useful energy. In a decarbonised future, hydrogen may play a limited role, but it should come from new renewable sources.

While hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas, it is highly flammable and corrosive and may aggravate greenhouse gases.

Billions of climate action dollars are being poured into hydrogen projects, and fossil fuel companies are using hydrogen to justify building more pipelines. However, hydrogen is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it may delay actual zero-emission solutions.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in actual zero-emission solutions, but could be a disaster if the federal government pours scarce resources into infrastructure and technologies that could make the climate crisis worse and cause further public health harms,” said Sara Gersen, clean energy attorney at Earthjustice. “Sowing confusion about hydrogen is a delay tactic, and delay is the new denialism.”

Robert Howarth believes that for most forms of transport (cars, bikes, buses and trains) and heating there are already safer, cleaner and cheaper technologies such as battery-run electric vehicles and heat pumps, so there’s little or no merit in investing time or money with hydrogen. Howarth said: “Renewable electricity is a scarce resource. Direct electrification and batteries offer so much more, and much more quickly. It’s a huge distraction and waste of resources to even be talking about heating homes and passenger vehicles with hydrogen.”



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The declines in our wildlife is shocking and frightening. Without much more support, many of the animals we know and love will continue in their declines towards extinction.

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We are convinced that this is much better for the UK than growing lots of fast-growing coniferous trees, solely to remove carbon, that don’t actually help our animals to thrive.

This is why we stand for restoring nature in the UK through responsible rewilding. For us, it is the right thing to do. Let’s do what’s right for nature!

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