“Low carbon?” Its emissions are more than twice the UK economy’s
All of a sudden, hydrogen is (supposedly) a weapon to fight global warming. Governments are bigging it up in their “net zero” plans; oil companies say they are investing in it; union leaders say it will create jobs.
But no-one talks about the really existing hydrogen industry, that each year produces about 70 million tonnes of pure hydrogen, and another 45 million tonnes of hydrogen in other chemical products … and pours 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Yes, you read that right. 830 million tonnes of CO2 per year. 2% of total global total greenhouse gas emissions. Equal to about four-fifths of the emissions from aviation; more than twice the entire UK economy’s emissions. (See Endnote 1 about the numbers.)
Of that 115 million tonnes of hydrogen output, more than 99% is “grey” hydrogen – which means it is extracted from natural gas, coal or oil, and the carbon dioxide left over ends up in the air.
It’s fashionable to talk about “blue” hydrogen (made from fossil fuels, but with the carbon captured and stored, instead of being emitted) and “green” hydrogen (produced by electrolysis of water, using gigantic quantities of electricity). But these techniques are used only in a tiny handful of businesses. “Grey” hydrogen is completely dominant.
Companies and governments are promising to expand “blue” and “green” hydrogen production. They claim it will replace natural gas to heat people’s homes, and petrol for cars, and that it will cut carbon emissions.
But before expanding hydrogen production, what about decarbonising existing output?
That would be a big cut in the world’s carbon emissions. Nearly as big a cut as if aviation stopped. More than twice as big a cut as if the UK went to zero.
It would also mean a big shake-up of some of the world’s most polluting industries – oil refining and petrochemicals production – where the hydrogen is produced and used.
There is little mention of hydrogen’s gigantic carbon footprint in the glossy reports, press releases and “net zero” policies of the companies that produce it. But a report Read the rest of this entry »