Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Guardian grudgingly admitting that, unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy cannot be relied upon to produce affordable hydrogen for the foreseeable future. Now if only they would take that thought a little further.
Using hydrogen fuel risks locking in reliance on fossil fuels, researchers warn
Electrification of cars and home boilers best choice to fight the climate crisis, say scientists
Using hydrogen-based fuels for cars and home heating risks locking in a dependency on fossil fuels and failing to tackle the climate crisis, according to a new analysis.
Fuels produced from hydrogen can be used as straight replacements for oil and gas and can be low-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.
Renewable electricity production is increasing rapidly as costs tumble. But it still makes up a small proportion of all energy used, which is mostly provided by 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 create hydrogen from water and then using carbon dioxide to manufacture other fuels can produce “drop-in” replacements for fossil fuels. But the new study concludes this cannot work on a large enough scale to tackle the climate emergency in time.
“Hydrogen-based fuels can be a great clean energy carrier, yet their costs and associated risks are also great,” said Falko Ueckerdt, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, who led the research.
“If we cling to combustion technologies and hope to feed them with hydrogen-based fuels, and these turn out to be too costly and scarce, then we will end up burning further oil and gas,” he said. “We should therefore prioritise those precious hydrogen-based fuels for applications for which they are indispensable: long-distance aviation, feedstocks in chemical production and steel production.”
…Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/06/hydrogen-fuel-risks-reliance-on-fossil-fuels
The abstract of the study;
Potential and risks of hydrogen-based e-fuels in climate change mitigation
E-fuels promise to replace fossil fuels with renewable electricity without the demand-side transformations required for a direct electrification. However, e-fuels’ versatility is counterbalanced by their fragile climate effectiveness, high costs and uncertain availability. E-fuel mitigation costs are €800–1,200 per tCO2. Large-scale deployment could reduce costs to €20–270 per tCO2 until 2050, yet it is unlikely that e-fuels will become cheap and abundant early enough. Neglecting demand-side transformations threatens to lock in a fossil-fuel dependency if e-fuels fall short of expectations. Sensible climate policy supports e-fuel deployment while hedging against the risk of their unavailability at large scale. Policies should be guided by a ‘merit order of end uses’ that prioritizes hydrogen and e-fuels for sectors that are inaccessible to direct electrification.Read more: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01032-7
Using electricity to produce hydrogen is easy – just drop two electrodes running a DC current between them into sea water, and collect the hydrogen bubbles from the negative electrode.
But producing hydrogen this way using renewable electricity is impossibly expensive, compared to the cost of producing hydrogen using fossil fuel.
However renewable energy prices are plummeting, right? So to kick start the hydrogen economy, all we have to do is start the transition by producing hydrogen using fossil fuel or nuclear energy, then wait for the falling cost of renewables to drive a free market switch to producing the hydrogen using renewable energy.
The Potsdam study, and this Guardian article, is a grudging admission that this predicted transition to cheaper hydrogen produced using affordable renewable energy is not going to happen for decades, if ever.