New research finds that blue hydrogen, touted by fossil fuel producers as a climate solution, actually has a 20% larger greenhouse gas footprint than just using natural gas. The study, published Thursday in Energy Science & Engineering, gives some important context on a much-hyped new fuel, one that happens to be the “clean energy” apple of the fossil fuel industry’s eye.
Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, has a lot of promise for the energy transition: it can power cars, provide electricity to buildings, and be used to help decarbonize tough industries like manufacturing and construction. The problem with hydrogen is that it needs to be separated from other elements, which in and of itself takes a lot of energy. Hydrogen can be separated from oxygen in water via electrolysis to create what’s known as green hydrogen—an option free from any greenhouse gas emissions, but one that’s pretty expensive. It can also be harvested from fossil fuels like coal and gas, to create what’s known as gray hydrogen. This is a little cheaper than green hydrogen, but emits quite a lot of CO2 during the hydrogen extraction process.
Faced with growing calls to decarbonize—as well as a big supply of natural gas that they needed to find uses for—fossil fuel producers came up with the idea of repackaging the image of gray hydrogen as low-carbon by capturing all the carbon emissions that would come with its creation. A new type of hydrogen was born: blue hydrogen, which is gray hydrogen that uses carbon capture and storage technology to get rid of all those pesky carbon emissions and be, technically, a lower-carbon fuel. Big Oil saw the opportunity to use blue hydrogen as part of their public relations push for a lower-carbon future.
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