Is hydrogen worse for the environment than natural gas?

One of the most critical challenges today is the decarbonisation of the global economy. Hydrogen can offer a clean solution to parts of the economy that are difficult to decarbonise or as one of the solutions to our fuel mix dilemma, but is it the most sustainable one?
An ,article published by Sky News warns of the hidden costs of hydrogen. Based on what we know to date, should we or shouldn’t we switch?
To give you an idea of its role in our fuel mix, hydrogen is the common fallback position for all vehicles and heavy industrial machinery that prove difficult to electrify. Hydrogen has distinctive characteristics and is applicable across several sectors, but it is not a homogenous product and there are concerns over its environmental impact.
The immediate challenges hindering the hydrogen sector from scaling are primarily costs and production process. What we intend to focus on today however is whether the change needs to be made in the first place and what the distinction is between what is referred to as “green” vs. “blue” hydrogen.
How can you tell them apart?
The hydrogen spectrum comes down to different sources and production methodologies. The greenhouse gas emissions production rates also vary across the spectrum. The primary hydrogen types are:
Grey Hydrogen – This type is generated from natural gas or methane through a process called steam reforming. Most of today’s hydrogen use is grey.
Blue hydrogen – Heavily reliant on fossil fuels (in the form of natural gas) and it is when natural gas is split into hydrogen and CO2, but the CO2 is captured and stored. The CO2 is captured by Carbon Capture Usage ad storage (CCUS). The capturing of the CO2 mitigates the environmental impact on the planet”
Green Hydrogen – Made with electricity from renewable sources to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
Indications of hydrogen. Source Gasunie
What do we make of this discovery?
Low cLow-carbonarbon hydrogen can play a part in the transition from fossil fuels and support the acceleration towards net zero despite concerns about its environmental impact over its entire life cycle and the energy-intensive process of making it. Highly polluting and damaging emissions are driving climate change to a point of no return, so making the right choices greatly improves our chances of ,keeping climate change below 1.5,keeping climate change below 1.5°,C.
Cars, vans, and even construction tools like crawler cranes all come in electric versions. As battery technology continues to improve, their electric counterparts will only become more and more viable for their respective activities.
In situations where electric solutions are still a long way off, we believe it can be a versatile replacement for high-carbon fuels used today. Choosing the right type of hydrogen and, crucially, only using it where necessary, rather than seeing it as an “easy” fix, is central to its success in approaching sustainability and we think it will play a complementary role alongside clean electricity in decarbonising our energy system.
So what should we do?
Find a real and sustainable alternative, not just an alternative fuel!
We can no longer live in a world where we just swap diesel for electric, and carry on consuming at the rate we do. We now have a responsibility to make better choices and live differently. Sure, we may have our own electric cars, but we also need to consider how often we end up driving it.
  • How often is it truly necessary?
  • Is there an alternative? Could you share a lift, could you use public transport on your shorter journeys?
  • When it comes to the movement of goods, do we still believe that road transport is the long-term vision, or should the improved model rely on electric rail hubs and smaller “milk-round” vehicles. A ,recent Guardian article shows that using smaller electric bike deliveries is 60% faster in a city and cuts emissions by about 90%, when compared to diesel vans performance on the very same trips.
But what about the capacity of renewables?
A common, justified concern is that we won’t have enough energy if we all “go renewable”.
Improved policies, wider climate goals, and increased investment are set to propel the growth of renewables to new heights. The International Energy Agency, IEA has forecasted the growth of renewable energy capacity over the coming years, accounting for an almost 95% increase in global power capacity in 2026: the more people demand it, the more investment materialises. The more local and private generation takes place, the cheaper and more easily accessible that power becomes. We can no longer be a society that acts as an “energy vampire”, taking from the environment without any repercussions, draining the very stability we rely upon from planet Earth. We must balance our demand with our clean, sustainabe supply.
When it comes to funding change, it is worth remindingsustainable ourselves of the stakes at play – including the fact that the next wars will likely be climate-driven. Water scarcity, mass immigration, and food shortages will be huge factors in aggravating conflicts around the world. At the same time, the Committee on Climate Change recommends a 1% GDP spend to be allocated to giving the UK a chance of achieving its Net Zero targets.
Is it all down to the government? Of course not, businesses and individuals should choose wisely without compromising sustainability. Here at Energise, we use a “4Rs” framework which I think could easily work as a foundation for questioning choices:
  1. Review – What are you emitting?
  2. Reduce – How can you reduce it? Consider different business models, reduce waste;
  3. Renew – Accept and adopt new technologies and fuels;
  4. Rebalance – Inset or offset by investing in carbon capture or carbon reduction in other projects.
So, is hydrogen fuel worse than natural gas for the climate? In two out of three scenarios. While some new studies cast doubt on the role of hydrogen in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, what is more, important is our starting point when questioning the transition – how do we reduce our demand in the first place?
Carbon emissions are not just about fuel and electricity; every product or service has a footprint. So live lightly and sustainably – and if you must use hydrogen, make it low-carbon hydrogen.
Written By    Doyin Adeleye

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