Hydrogen is not as environmentally friendly as proponents claim

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A hydrogen fuel cell bus / Image via Shutterstock

Recently, VOSD published an article on the local and national will to demand the use of electric power instead of natural gas in order to reduce carbon emissions and save a planet threatened by global warming. One promoted alternative is hydrogen, which proponents argue is a carbon-free fuel that can be blended with natural gas to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions content. But is it really carbon-free?

Note first of all that we have been told for many years that hydrogen is green energy. For example, a recent Union-Tribune article on the North County Transit District said that “fuel cell buses run on oxygen and hydrogen, emitting only water vapor.” There ! Zero emissions. Great. However, much of it turns out to be greenwashing – an effort by companies to convince us that they are environmentally friendly.

How could a fuel that emits only water vapor be an environmental problem? Turns out the answer lies in how hydrogen is produced. The fossil fuel industry has been promoting hydrogen as green, when it is not. Why? Maybe to save their business model.

A recent peer-reviewed study in energy science and engineering titled “How Green Is Hydrogen Blue,” explains why the little man behind the curtain should really grab attention. Blue hydrogen is derived from the methane in natural gas. The study states that “perhaps surprisingly, the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than that of burning natural gas or coal for heating and heating. ‘approximately 60% higher than that of diesel combustion for heating. “

How can that be? Like a New York Times contributor explains it, citing the study, “Most of the hydrogen used today is extracted from natural gas in a process that requires a lot of energy and emits large amounts of carbon dioxide. The production of natural gas also releases methane. , a particularly potent greenhouse gas. And while the natural gas industry has proposed capturing this carbon dioxide – creating what it promotes as “blue” hydrogen without emissions – even this fuel emits even more across its entire supply chain than the simple combustion of natural gas. ”

So the bottom line here is that while the actual tailpipe emissions of this NCTD bus may be water, loads of carbon emissions were required in its manufacture. We have been duped for a simple reason: The fossil fuel industry wants us to believe that an energy source that currently relies primarily on the intensive use of its fossil fuels and involves methane emissions is carbon neutral.

The fossil fuel industry is not likely to go quietly overnight. For those of us who truly care about the planet, it’s important to view our statements with skepticism.


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