Why the US fossil fuel industry wants to get in on the hydrogen act


In the months earlier than the historic US local weather invoice, Jim Justice, the billionaire coal magnate and West Virginia governor who believes in divine intervention as a local weather change answer, turned a champion of hydrogen.

The unlikely backer of what could possibly be a cleaner type of power was not alone. US oil and gasoline majors joined him in pushing for the divisive fuel supply, collectively spending tens of millions on lobbying campaigns in Washington aimed toward guaranteeing hydrogen tasks would profit from federal {dollars}.

For many years, hydrogen has been touted as a probably revolutionary different to fossil fuels, with the promise to energy soiled heavy industry, change automotive and jet fuel, and act as a retailer of power.

Last 12 months President Joe Biden earmarked $8bn for the creation of regional hydrogen hubs throughout the US as a part of his infrastructure invoice, and already this 12 months the Department of Energy has doled out $1.5bn in low-cost loans to two hydrogen tasks.

Now, Biden’s new flagship tax and local weather package deal identifies hydrogen as amongst the nascent clear power industries eligible for profitable tax credit, value about $5.3bn over 10 years, in a bid to scale up America’s inexperienced sector.

While hydrogen is a clear fuel when burnt and produces solely water, the course of of making it via electrolysis fired by coal or gasoline just isn’t.

“Green” hydrogen makes use of renewable power, similar to wind or photo voltaic, to energy the break up of the water atom into its hydrogen and oxygen parts.

But the manufacturing of “blue” hydrogen, being promoted by oil and gasoline corporations, utilizing fossil fuels, is power intensive and emits comparatively excessive ranges of greenhouse gases.

Scientists and consultants warn that variations in how hydrogen is produced trigger carbon emissions to fluctuate considerably. Some contemplate that hydrogen ought to solely be used the place electrification is unattainable.

Cornell and Stanford University scientists estimate that the carbon footprint of “blue” hydrogen is 20 per cent bigger than burning gasoline instantly for warmth.

“Blue hydrogen is something that was born out of the oil and gas industry,” mentioned Robert Howarth, a professor at Cornell University and considered one of the paper’s authors.

“As an energy source, if you’re making it from natural gas you are losing some of that energy when you convert it, emissions are going to be higher, it’s more expensive than natural gas — it’s just not any better than natural gas,” mentioned Howarth.

But for fossil fuel firm executives, the prospect of the use of oil and gasoline for the manufacturing of hydrogen represents a major alternative.

Shell, BP and Chevron have all backed the Washington push for hydrogen. The three oil majors sit on the board of the Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition, which says it goals to catalyse a clear hydrogen industry in the US. Its web site demonstrates the use of fossil fuels to produce “clean” hydrogen, with carbon seize expertise concerned to lure the polluting emissions.

Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron have additionally individually additionally had discussions about laws affecting hydrogen with lawmakers, in accordance to filings that disclose a mixed $13mn lobbying spend throughout a number of points over the first half of 2022 alone.

Two main trade our bodies representing the US gasoline industry have spent almost $1mn pushing for funding into hydrogen and the inclusion of gasoline in the US’s clear power plans.

BP has beforehand mentioned it’s taking a look at inexperienced hydrogen alongside blue hydrogen. Exxon mentioned that “all types of low-carbon hydrogen will require additional policy support”. The group mentioned it was “important to see the policy discussion is evolving from exclusively focusing on wind, solar and electric vehicles, to carbon capture and storage, biofuels and hydrogen”.

Just as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has pushed the local weather invoice over the line together with his vote, on the grounds of nationwide power safety, his state of West Virginia has put ahead a broad pitch that outlines its historical past as a mining powerhouse and lists the state’s coal affiliation and oil and gasoline affiliation as potential supporters of a brand new hydrogen hub.

West Virginia just isn’t the solely state trying to benefit from the infrastructure invoice funding — New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut have joined forces to suggest a inexperienced hydrogen hub that will use photo voltaic and offshore wind to energy the hydrogen creation. Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma have a pitch that will contain producing hydrogen with gasoline, and utilizing carbon seize to lower emissions.

An electrolyser stack, the key to producing hydrogen. in the analysis and improvement space of the Plug Power facility in Massachusetts © Bloomberg

The Department of Energy defines “clean” hydrogen primarily based on the quantity of carbon dioxide equal produced in making it. The new local weather invoice rewards builders on a scale, with the lowest emissions getting a most credit score that’s 5 instances that for the most polluting course of.

Rachel Fakhry, the hydrogen lead at Natural Resources Defense Council, mentioned there have been similarities between the enterprise fashions of gasoline corporations and a possible hydrogen industry that led the corporations to assist the prospect.

“You’re producing a gas, transporting it, storing it, reusing it,” she mentioned. “There’s interest in the gas industry to use the hydrogen economy to maintain and protect their business model.”

But Fakhry mentioned hydrogen was a a lot much less environment friendly supply of energy than electrification and ought to be used in a focused manner. “We need to think about where hydrogen will play an important role because we don’t have better alternatives, and where it’s being touted as a solution where we already have better, proven solutions — in those cases, hydrogen is being used to derail solutions.”

Cornell’s Howarth highlighted latest scientific papers which have advised hydrogen might work together with greenhouse gases similar to methane to delay their life in the ambiance. The small molecular measurement of hydrogen would imply comparatively excessive ranges of leakage from pipelines, he mentioned.

His paper critiquing the carbon depth of blue hydrogen attracted fierce pushback from the oil and gasoline industry. A rebuttal was revealed in a scientific journal, involving authors who included a member of a BP advisory board and advisers to ExxonMobil and Total Energies, although they said that there was no battle of curiosity.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute, an unbiased, bipartisan non-profit coverage analysis group, mentioned there was poor understanding of the totally different carbon profiles of the strategies of making hydrogen amongst lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “There is a lot of interest in the topic,” mentioned Daniel Bresette, a director at EESI. “But not a lot of understanding of what makes it blue, grey or green.”

But Adria Wilson, coverage and advocacy supervisor at Breakthrough Energy, the Bill Gates-backed clear power funding fund, mentioned it was happy to see the tax credit for hydrogen structured in a manner that favoured decrease carbon manufacturing strategies.

“When we talk about hydrogen we’re not talking about one specific technology but a whole process,” mentioned Wilson. “I think most people see green hydrogen as winning out.”

The colors of the hydrogen rainbow

Green hydrogen Made through the use of clear electrical energy from renewable power applied sciences to electrolyse water (H2O), separating the hydrogen atom inside it from its molecular twin oxygen. Currently costly.

Blue hydrogen Produced utilizing pure gasoline however with carbon emissions being captured and saved, or reused. Negligible quantities in manufacturing due to an absence of carbon seize tasks.

Grey hydrogen This is the most typical type of hydrogen manufacturing. It comes from pure gasoline by way of steam methane reformation however with out emissions seize.

Brown hydrogen The most cost-effective manner to make hydrogen but additionally the most environmentally damaging due to the use of thermal coal in the manufacturing course of.

Pink/purple hydrogen Made utilizing nuclear power to energy the electrolysis.

Turquoise hydrogen Uses a course of referred to as methane pyrolysis to produce hydrogen and stable carbon. Not confirmed at scale. Concerns round methane leakage.

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