Summer controversy illustrates polarisation of hydrogen debate

(EurActiv, 27 Aug 2021) An August research paper by two US scholars, Robert Howarth and Mark Jacobson, cast doubt over the environmental merits of ‘blue’ hydrogen made from fossil gas with carbon capture technology, triggering fierce reactions from commentators and the industry.

In Europe and North America, it is produced mainly from natural gas, which helps the industry maintain established infrastructure and processes in place, says Howarth.

“Blue hydrogen is best viewed as a distraction” in the energy transition, the two scholars argue. 

Howarth, an ecologist at Cornell University, has a background in researching gas emissions and has been introduced to blue hydrogen as part of his advisory work for the state of New York.

Blue hydrogen was first pitched to him by the gas industry, Howarth told EURACTIV. He explained that lobbyists were trying to sell it as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels in uses such as heating, arguing it doesn’t require changes to infrastructure when blended with natural gas in domestic boilers.

But Howarth warns that blending hydrogen with gas to heat homes risk creating a vendor lock-in situation where customers will be stuck with gas boilers that cannot be fully decarbonised as most gas pipelines cannot transport 100% hydrogen. Domestic boilers would also need to be hydrogen-ready, which is not the case at the moment for the vast majority.

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EurActiv, 27 Aug 2021: Summer controversy illustrates polarisation of hydrogen debate