Relying on hydrogen gas created from fossil fuels could produce up to 8 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year by 2050, campaigners warn as they urge the government not to use this shortcut away from natural gas.
Hydrogen gas has been mooted as an alternative to natural gas for the UK’s boilers and cookers, as well as for heavy industries like steel production. But controversy remains about which method the UK should use to produce the vast quantities of hydrogen gas that would be required.
Some energy companies, including BP and the Norwegian state oil giant Equinor, have advocated the use of blue hydrogen, created from fossil fuel gas. The emissions released as a byproduct from the production could theoretically be captured and stored underground.
However, campaigners warn that carbon capture technology still fails to capture between 5% and 15% of the CO2 released when blue hydrogen is produced. Carbon emissions are also released when fossil fuel gas is extracted from oil and gas fields.
Using blue hydrogen exclusively as a replacement for natural gas would yield between 6 and 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year from the late 2020s, according to an analysis of government data conducted by Friends of the Earth Scotland for the Guardian. That’s the equivalent of running 1.5 million more fossil-fuel cars each year.
Environmental groups have urged the government to use green hydrogen, produced from the electrolysis of water. When electrolysis is powered by renewable electricity, such as from wind and solar farms, green hydrogen can be zero-carbon.
The government’s hydrogen strategy, published earlier this month, is agnostic about blue and green hydrogen, advocating a “twin track” approach.
But even if the government uses zero-carbon green hydrogen to meet a third of the UK’s projected hydrogen demand, blue hydrogen would still produce the same emissions as around 1 million petrol cars on the UK’s road, analysis found.
Furthermore, relying on blue hydrogen could allow fossil fuel companies like BP and Equinor to “prolong fossil-fuel production indefinitely,” Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said investing in both blue and green hydrogen will allow the UK to “kickstart an entire industry from scratch that creates tens of thousands of jobs and unlocks billions of pounds worth of private investment.”
“Achieving the scale we need would be more challenging if we just used green hydrogen,” the spokesperson added.
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