The Guardian Finally Wakes Up to the Climate Friendly Hydrogen Economy Joke – Watts Up With That?

The Guardian Finally Wakes Up to the Climate Friendly Hydrogen Economy Joke – Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The Guardian grudgingly admits that unlike fossil fuels, renewable energies cannot produce reliable hydrogen for the foreseeable future. If they could just take that thought a little further.

Researchers warn that using hydrogen fuels carries the risk of relying on fossil fuels

The electrification of cars and domestic boilers is the best choice to fight the climate crisis, say scientists

Damian Carrington
Environment editor
Fri 7 May 2021 01.14 AEST

According to a new analysis, there is a danger that using hydrogen-based fuels for cars and home heating will include dependence on fossil fuels and fail to tackle the climate crisis.

Fuels made from hydrogen can be used as a direct substitute for oil and gas and can be low in carbon if renewable electricity is used to produce these “e-fuels”. However, the research found that using the electricity directly to power cars and warm houses was far more efficient.

The production of renewable electricity is increasing rapidly with falling costs. Still, it still makes up a small fraction of the total energy consumed, which is mainly from coal, oil, and gas. Using the electricity directly is efficient, but requires investment in new types of car and heating systems.

Using the electricity to produce hydrogen from water and then using carbon dioxide to make other fuels can lead to a substitute for fossil fuels. However, the new study concludes that this may not work to a sufficient extent to deal with the climate emergency in a timely manner.

“Hydrogen-based fuels can be a great carrier for clean energy, but their costs and associated risks are also high,” said Falko Ueckerdt from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, who led the research.

“If we stick to combustion technologies and hope to provide them with hydrogen-based fuels, and they turn out to be too costly and scarce, we will end up burning more oil and gas,” he said. “We should therefore prioritize these valuable hydrogen-based fuels for applications for which they are essential: long-haul aviation, raw materials for chemical production and steel production.”

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The abstract of the study;

Potential and risks of hydrogen-based e-fuels in mitigating climate change

Falko Ueckerdt, Christian Bauer, Alois Dirnaichner, Jordan Everall, Romain Sacchi and Gunnar Luderer

E-fuels promise to replace fossil fuels with renewable electricity without the demand-side transformations required for direct electrification. However, the versatility of e-fuels is offset by their fragile climate effectiveness, high costs and uncertain availability. The cost of reducing e-fuel is € 800–1,200 per tCO2. By deploying it on a large scale, costs could be reduced to between EUR 20 and EUR 270 per tCO2 by 2050. However, e-fuels are unlikely to become cheap and plentiful soon enough. The neglect of demand-side transformations threatens to create a dependency on fossil fuels if e-fuels fall short of expectations. A sensible climate policy supports the use of e-fuel and at the same time protects against the risk that these are not available on a large scale. Policy should be guided by an “end-use order” prioritizing hydrogen and electronic fuels for sectors inaccessible to direct electrification.

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Using electricity to make hydrogen is simple – just drop two electrodes with a direct current flowing between them in seawater and collect the hydrogen bubbles from the negative electrode.

However, producing hydrogen in this way using renewable electricity is incredibly expensive compared to the cost of producing hydrogen using fossil fuels.

However, renewable energy prices are falling, aren’t they? To kickstart the hydrogen economy, we just need to start the transition by producing hydrogen with fossil fuels or nuclear power and then wait for the cost of renewables to fall to drive a free market shift to hydrogen production with renewables.

The Potsdam study and this Guardian article are a reluctant admission that this predicted transition to cheaper hydrogen made from affordable renewable energy will not take place for decades, if at all.

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