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Research casts doubt on the environmental friendliness of hydrogen

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According to a new research published in the journal Applied Energy, creating hydrogen from fossil fuels emits “significant” amounts of greenhouse gases. Emissions are greater than projected even with carbon capture equipment, which traps carbon dioxide before releasing it into the atmosphere and injecting it underground.

Almost 90% of the hydrogen generated today is referred to as “grey” hydrogen. The production is carried out by the methane reforming team (SMR). High-pressure steam (H2O) combines with natural gas (CH4) to produce hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2).

When the CO2 emitted during the gray hydrogen production process is mainly (80 to 90 percent) absorbed and stored, hydrogen is referred to as “blue” (or low carbon hydrogen). However, the technique proves to be less useful than anticipated:

“When natural gas is burnt directly, it produces more fugitive emissions – methane that seeps into the environment during the extraction and processing of natural gas,” said Fiona Beck of the Australian National University. She contributed to the peer-reviewed work as a co-author. “Adding carbon capture and storage to the process actually raises fugitive emissions even more since more natural gas is required to power the operation.”

At a UN climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland this month, more than 100 nations, including the United States, signed a worldwide methane promise to reduce emissions of methane – a particularly strong greenhouse gas — by 30 percent by 2030.

Many countries rely on hydrogen to help them achieve their lofty carbon-free goals. Some countries have made “green hydrogen” a priority. It splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable energy, such as that provided by wind turbines or solar panels.

Other nations, such as the US, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Norway, and Australia, have campaigned for a “technology-neutral” strategy. This might pave the door for “blue” hydrogen, which is created from fossil fuels like natural gas, to play a larger role.

Scientists have lately began looking into some of the hydrogen industry’s claims. According to a study released in August by Cornell and Stanford University researchers, the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% higher than that of burning natural gas or coal for heat.

The Australian National University researchers examined the environmental and economical implications of manufacturing hydrogen using fossil fuels against renewable energy. In recent research comparing various methods, substantial carbon capture rates have been expected. The impact of fugitive emissions and reduced capture rates on overall emissions and costs, however, was not looked at, according to the researchers.

There isn’t currently enough renewable energy in many regions to make substantial volumes of green hydrogen, and the process is still costly. According to the experts, this might alter in the future. Green hydrogen, for example, may already be cheaper than blue hydrogen in Australia, according to a recent research. In recent years, the abundance of sunshine, large geographical area, and strong winds have spurred the expansion of renewables in Australia — and cut their prices.

“Our research demonstrates that substantial investments in fossil-fuel-based hydrogen might be dangerous.” “Because they promote a new fossil fuel sector with huge emissions, an industry that is likely to be outcompeted in the future by renewable technology,” Beck added.

Arnes Biogradlija
Creative Content Director at EnergyNews.Biz

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