Big Oil’s New 'Clean' Fuel Is Dirtier Than They Say


Gizmodo 12 August, 2021 - 01:20pm 54 views

What is blue hydrogen?

Blue hydrogen is derived from natural gas through the process of steam methane reforming (SMR). ... The carbon dioxide emissions produced are then captured and stored underground using Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technology leaving nearly pure hydrogen. atco.comBLUE HYDROGEN

“As far as I can tell, no one was talking about blue hydrogen until just a few years ago,” study author Robert Howarth said in an email. “The Hydrogen Council was established in 2017 by BP, Shell, and Total, and they and other industry-related groups started pushing this blue hydrogen idea hard. They described [blue hydrogen] as low emissions, or sometimes zero emissions. But they never presented real data to back that up.” Until this paper, Howarth said, there hasn’t been any peer-reviewed effort to analyze the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen—just “industry summaries” that he said “do not hold up well to close scrutiny.”

Unfortunately for the oil and gas industry, closely looking at the creation process of blue hydrogen uncovers some uncomfortable truths. Howarth’s study found that blue hydrogen has only a slightly lower carbon footprint than gray hydrogen—and, in terms of methane, the picture is a lot worse.

“It takes a large amount of natural gas to make hydrogen, using the methane in the gas as the feedstock source, but also to burn it to power the steam-reforming process and the CO2 capture process,” Howarth said. “There are emissions of both CO2 and methane associated with this large use of gas.”

Hydrogen maybe has some applicability for trucking or aviation, but only if it is produced via hydrolysis with renewable energy. There is NO commercial plant even currently doing that, so whatever the future holds for hydrogen, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be full-speed ahead with battery vehicles. 

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Blue hydrogen 20% worse for GHG emissions than natural gas in heating: study

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Higher methane emissions from blue H2 production

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Casts doubt on climate viability of blue H2

Burning low-carbon hydrogen for heating is significantly worse for the environment than using natural gas or diesel, a scientific study published Aug. 12 has found.

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Full life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from burning blue hydrogen for heating were more than 20% greater than using conventional natural gas, the report from researchers at Cornell and Stanford Universities said.

Blue hydrogen production, via steam methane reforming of natural gas with carbon capture and storage, also had higher fugitive methane emissions than conventional 'grey' hydrogen from fossil fuels because of increased natural gas use in powering the carbon capture operation, the study published in Energy Science & Engineering found.

Even with CCS, CO2 emissions from gas-based hydrogen are only up to 12% lower than for grey hydrogen, the report said. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning blue hydrogen were 60% higher than burning diesel for heat, it said.

"There really is no role for blue hydrogen in a carbon-free future," the report's 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."

The report -- the first peer-reviewed study of the life cycle emissions of blue hydrogen production -- assumed a CO2 capture rate of 85% for blue hydrogen production and noted that only two blue hydrogen production facilities were in commercial operation in 2021.

Equinor, which is developing one of the world's first large-scale blue hydrogen projects at H2H Saltend in the UK, said on its website its autothermal reforming technology was expected to produce hydrogen at 80% efficiency with a minimum carbon capture efficiency of 95%.

The company declined to comment on the report ahead of its publication. BP, which is also developing a large blue hydrogen project in the UK at Teesside, did not respond to a request for comment.

S&P Global Platts Analytics Long Term Hydrogen Forecast assumes H2 blending in the gas grid will have reached 6.6% by 2050, potentially reducing CO2 emissions for home heat by 21%.

The Cornell and Stanford paper said hydrogen's role in heating could be extremely limited from a climate perspective.

Hydrogen is widely used as an industrial feedstock in chemicals processes and refining. The vast majority of hydrogen produced globally is from fossil fuels, with no CO2 abatement.

The hydrogen industry is seeking to decarbonize its operations, while governments, policy makers and industry leaders see low-carbon and renewable hydrogen -- made from the electrolysis of water -- as key to the energy transition, with applications from transport to heating and power storage.

"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," co-author of the study and Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University Robert Howarth said in a statement.

"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," he said.

Many oil and gas companies are touting blue hydrogen as a transition fuel on the road to net-zero emissions that could be blended in distribution networks with natural gas.

The study assumed a 3.5% methane emission rate from natural gas, with a 20-year global warming potential. Even under a lower methane emission rate of 1.54%, greenhouse gas emissions from blue hydrogen were still higher than from burning natural gas, and 18%-25% less than for grey hydrogen.

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, but breaks down in the atmosphere over time, with a half-life of around 12 years.

The study also assumed the carbon captured would be stored indefinitely, something the report notes is "optimistic and unproven".

The energy required to produce the heat and pressure needed to make hydrogen from methane is significant, and comes almost entirely from natural gas, the paper said. The energy source would presumably be the same for blue hydrogen, it said.

The study noted that emissions from blue hydrogen could be cut by powering the process with renewable electricity. However, the fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas would remain, and are substantial, it added, with total greenhouse gas emissions still almost half of those from burning natural gas.

The report suggested renewable electricity would be better deployed in generating green hydrogen through electrolysis.

In addition, upstream indirect emissions from producing, processing, and transporting the natural gas used to generate hydrogen are around 7.5% of the direct CO2 emissions from natural gas, it said.

Blue hydrogen production is currently much cheaper than electrolysis, but green hydrogen costs are expected to come down rapidly with the rollout of more renewable power generation and cheaper electrolyzers as production scales up.

S&P Global Platts assessed the cost of producing renewable hydrogen via alkaline electrolysis in Europe at Eur6.02/kg ($7.1/kg) on Aug. 10 (Netherlands, including capex). PEM electrolysis production was assessed at Eur7.40/kg.

Blue hydrogen production by steam methane reforming (including carbon, CCS, and capex) was Eur3.28/kg, and hydrogen from unabated fossil fuels was assessed at Eur2.98/kg.

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Touted as clean, ‘blue’ hydrogen may be worse than gas or coal | Cornell Chronicle

Cornell Chronicle 12 August, 2021 - 04:20pm

“Blue” hydrogen – an energy source that involves a process for making hydrogen by using methane in natural gas – is being lauded by many as a clean, green energy to help reduce global warming. But Cornell and Stanford University researchers believe it may harm the climate more than burning fossil fuel.

The carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat, according to new research published Aug. 12 in Energy Science & Engineering.

“Most of the hydrogen in the U.S. and Europe comes from natural gas, using steam and pressure to convert the methane from natural gas into a so-called ‘gray’ hydrogen and carbon dioxide,” said Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Howarth, together with Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering, authored “How Green is Blue Hydrogen?.”

Blue hydrogen starts with converting methane to hydrogen and carbon dioxide by using heat, steam and pressure, or gray hydrogen, but goes further to capture some of the carbon dioxide. Once the byproduct carbon dioxide and the other impurities are sequestered, it becomes blue hydrogen, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The process to make blue hydrogen takes a large amount of energy, according to the researchers, which is generally provided by burning more natural gas.

“In the past, no effort was made to capture the carbon dioxide byproduct of gray hydrogen, and the greenhouse gas emissions have been huge,” Howarth said. “Now the industry promotes blue hydrogen as a solution, an approach that still uses the methane from natural gas, while attempting to capture the byproduct carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, emissions remain very large.”

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, Howarth said. It is more than 100 times stronger as an atmospheric warming agent than carbon dioxide when first emitted. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on August 9 shows that cumulatively to date over the past century, methane has contributed about two-thirds as much to global warming as carbon dioxide has, he said.

Considering both the uncaptured carbon dioxide and the large emissions of unburned, so-called “fugitive” methane emissions inherent in using natural gas, the carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than burning either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat, according to the new paper.

Emissions of blue hydrogen are less than for gray hydrogen, but not greatly so: perhaps surprisingly, only by about 9% to 12%.

“Blue hydrogen is hardly emissions free,” wrote the researchers. “Blue hydrogen as a strategy only works to the extent it is possible to store carbon dioxide long-term indefinitely into the future without leakage back to the atmosphere.”

An ecologically friendly “green” hydrogen does exist, but it remains a small sector and it has not been commercially realized. Green hydrogen is achieved when water goes through electrolysis (with electricity supplied by solar, wind or hydroelectric power) and the water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen.

On Aug. 10, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes several billion dollars to develop, subsidize and strengthen hydrogen technology and its industry.

“Political forces may not have caught up with the science yet,” Howarth said. “Even progressive politicians may not understand for what they’re voting. Blue hydrogen sounds good, sounds modern and sounds like a path to our energy future. It is not.”

Said Howarth: “The best hydrogen, the green hydrogen derived from electrolysis – if used wisely and efficiently – can be that path to a sustainable future. Blue hydrogen is totally different.”

This research was supported by a grant from the Park Foundation. Howarth is a fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Blue hydrogen 'worse than gas for the climate': landmark study's damning verdict | Recharge

Recharge 12 August, 2021 - 04:20pm

In the week that the United Nations declared “code red for humanity” over the climate emergency, researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities in the US branded the blue variety of hydrogen beloved of the fossil fuel sector as a “distraction” that could divert focus away from genuinely green technologies.

But the Cornell and Stanford researchers claim a first-of-a-kind peer-reviewed study of blue hydrogen’s lifecycle greenhouse gases footprint debunks any notion that it represents an emissions-free, or even low-emissions option, citing the large amounts of natural gas needed to fuel the process itself and the escape of “fugitive methane”.

And “while carbon dioxide emissions are lower, fugitive methane emissions for blue hydrogen are higher than for grey hydrogen because of an increased use of natural gas to power the carbon capture.

“Perhaps surprisingly, the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat and some 60% greater than burning diesel oil for heat.”

The study’s authors add: “Our analysis assumes that captured carbon dioxide can be stored indefinitely, an optimistic and unproven assumption. Even if true though, the use of blue hydrogen appears difficult to justify on climate grounds.

“There really is no role for blue hydrogen in a carbon-free future. We suggest that blue hydrogen is best viewed as a distraction, something that may delay needed action to truly decarbonise the global energy economy.”

Robert Howarth, co-author of the study and professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, said: "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.

“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."

The UK government is prominent among those aiming to put blue hydrogen – which it often bills as ‘low carbon’ – at the core of its energy transition agenda, with flagship CCS projects planned for northern England with the enthusiastic participation of oil & gas majors such as BP and Shell.

With the British government poised to announce a national hydrogen strategy, David Cebon, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge said: “This landmark paper sheds light on the key unknown in the UK’s hydrogen debate: the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen. The calculation method is rigorous, the assumptions are all solid and the results are stark.

“Blue hydrogen cannot be considered ‘low-carbon’ or a ‘clean’ solution. In fact, this paper shows that producing blue hydrogen is significantly worse than burning fossil fuels for heat, such as gas or coal, in the first place.”

Cebon added: “Politicians must take notice of this important finding before considering investment in blue hydrogen under the premise that it supports our climate goals. The only hydrogen we can consider truly emissions-free, is that made from renewable energy such as green hydrogen.”

The Cornell/Stanford study adds fuel to a debate that has raged for several years in the energy sector over the respective roles of blue and green hydrogen in the energy transition, one extensively charted by Recharge.

While widely seen as a good option in sectors such as chemicals and heavy industries, there is also scepticism over hydrogen’s suitability to decarbonise some parts of the economy at all.

Prominent clean energy analyst and commentator Michael Liebreich recently told Recharge that oil & gas players “have an interest” in talking up hydrogen’s role in areas such as cars and domestic heating, despite more efficient and cheaper electric solutions being available.

Study shows hydrogen made from natural gas dirtier than burning the natural gas directly

Autoblog 12 August, 2021 - 02:36pm

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Hydrogen has been long considered to be an alternative fuel that could help stem emissions from cars, trucks, planes, and other forms of transportation. However, a new study reveals that the ways in which we manufacture hydrogen in the United States may actually be doing more damage to the environment than good.

Before we delve into the study, it's important to know that the The New York Times headline, "For Many, Hydrogen Is the Fuel of the Future. New Research Raises Doubts" can be confusing if you don't read the full article. That's because it's not hydrogen that's the culprit, but natural gas. And unfortunately, natural gas, which is still a fossil fuel, is the primary method of making hydrogen in the United States.

So-called "blue hydrogen" requires the burning of natural gas to split water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules, where it can then be used, for example, in hydrogen fuel cell powertrains.

According to a new study published in the journal Energy Science & Engineering, the mining of natural gas creates significant quantities of carbon dioxide. Not only that, but the study also found that during the natural gas mining process as much as 3.5% of the gas leaks into the atmosphere, a consequential portion of which is methane. Methane can be, by some estimates, 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in regards to the greenhouse effect. Of course, even that number has nuances that depend on time and source.

In fact, the Energy Science & Engineering study shows that as a result of these previously unknown figures, it would be less polluting just to burn the natural gas directly rather than convert it to blue hydrogen.

While many energy companies are promoting hydrogen as an alternative fuel due to investments in natural gas mines, it would be far more friendly to Mother Earth if hydrogen was manufactured using solar or other forms of renewable energy. This type of hydrogen is called green hydrogen.

The manufacturing methods may explain in part why some carmakers have such divergent views when talking about alternative fuels. Toyota, for example, has been quite stubborn about their hydrogen research, while in the United States, battery-electric vehicles seem on track to replace ICEs.

When Autoblog spoke to Toyota about its recent hydrogen fuel-powered Corolla endurance racer with a slightly modified GR Yaris motor, the engineers told us that in Japan, hydrogen is manufactured using electricity sourced from nuclear plants and fossil fuels, thus making it slightly cleaner than the American natural gas method. Meanwhile, the Corolla race car used green hydrogen produced solely by solar power, so that was definitely cleaner overall than an EV.

Additionally, some types of vehicles are more suited to hydrogen. Hydrogen can be quickly filled, like gasoline, which means that long-haul trucks, for instance, will require less downtime that they would for recharging. Planes, on the other hand, may not be able to support the weight of heavy battery packs and will likely eventually turn to green hydrogen for fuel.

In any case, it's important to underline that hydrogen itself is not the issue. It's the natural gas and the fact that it's the primary method of hydrogen manufacture in the United States.

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Biden-backed ‘blue’ hydrogen may pollute more than coal, study finds

The Guardian 12 August, 2021 - 05:30am

The $1tn infrastructure package, which passed with bipartisan support on Tuesday, includes $8bn to develop “clean hydrogen” via the creation of four new regional hubs. The White House has said the bill advances Biden’s climate agenda and proponents of hydrogen have touted it as a low-emissions alternative to fuel shipping, trucking, aviation and even home heating.

But a new study has found surprisingly large emissions from the production of so-called “blue” hydrogen, a variant being enthusiastically pushed by the fossil fuel industry and probably falling under the definition of clean hydrogen in the Senate bill.

This means that the production of this hydrogen actually creates 20% more greenhouse gases than coal, commonly regarded the most polluting fossil fuel, when being burned for heat, and 60% more than burning diesel, according to the new paper, published in the Energy Science & Engineering journal.

“It’s pretty striking, I was surprised at the results,” said Robert Howarth, a scientist at Cornell University who authored the paper alongside Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University researcher. “Blue hydrogen is a nice marketing term that the oil and gas industry is keen to push but it’s far from carbon free. I don’t think we should be spending our funds this way, on these sort of false solutions.”

The Hydrogen Council, a group that includes the oil companies BP, Total and Shell among its members, has said that hydrogen has a “key role to play in the global energy transition” by replacing more polluting fuels, predicting it will account for 18% of total energy demand by 2050.

Dozens of gas companies in the US have started producing hydrogen or testing its viability in existing gas pipelines, which some climate campaigners have said is a step towards entrenching fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when the world, as outlined by Monday’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, needs to rapidly move to net-zero emissions.

But others are more upbeat about the use of hydrogen to help lower emissions in some stubbornly polluting sectors. “Hydrogen is not a panacea or a silver bullet, but it appears to be critical for decarbonization of ‘hard-to-electrify’ sectors such as long-haul heavy trucking, international marine shipping and some parts of heavy industry,” said Mike Fowler, director of advanced energy technology research at the Clean Air Task Force.

There is a form of “green” hydrogen that involves producing hydrogen from water using only renewable energy, but this option isn’t explicitly chosen for funding by the infrastructure bill, which still needs to pass the Democrat-held House of Representatives.

“We look at that bill and see massive giveaways to fossil fuel infrastructure that is incompatible with serious climate action,” said Carroll Muffett, chief executive of the Center for International Environmental Law. “Congress went out of its way to not specify green hydrogen and so this funding just helps prop up the fossil fuel industry. The potential of these technologies is being routinely overstated even as the impacts are being understated.”

The latest IPCC report, which warned of “irreversible” impacts if emissions aren’t drastically cut, identified methane, produced from oil and gas drilling and animal agriculture, as providing a huge contribution to current global heating. If methane, a short-lived but very powerful greenhouse gas, was cut by around half this decade, it would shave 0.3C off the increase in global temperature by 2040.

Progressive Democrats hope that methane, as well as other greenhouse gases, will be more comprehensively tackled in an upcoming $3.5tn reconciliation bill that will include far stronger climate measures than the infrastructure legislation.

“This budget resolution will be a generational investment in the future of our people and our planet,” said Ed Markey, a Democratic senator who helped craft the Green New Deal alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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