Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Hydrogen, despite its severe shortcomings, is a dispatchable form of zero carbon energy, and is therefore a grave threat to useless renewables.
Lawmakers Stifle N.M. Governor’s Clean Hydrogen Economy Plan
State legislators from both sides of the aisle have voted to table the proposed bill that aims to make the state a hub of hydrogen energy. Gov. Lujan Grisham worries that, without the bill, the state may miss its climate goals.
Jan. 28, 2022 • Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican
(TNS) — New Mexico lawmakers from both parties have stymied Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s controversial plan to build what she calls a clean hydrogen economy.
After nearly six hours of debate Thursday, the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 6-4 to table House Bill 4 — aimed to make the state a hub of hydrogen production by offering tax incentives to develop the infrastructure to separate the energy source from natural gas.
The hearing was the bill’s first hurdle during the legislative session. It’s unclear whether it will get a second chance. Legislation that has been tabled in a committee rarely is revived for discussion or another vote.
While the governor’s hydrogen plan has had support from the oil and gas industry, it has met fierce opposition by environmental groups and progressive Democrats who say the use of natural gas would increase fossil fuel production and lead to further emissions of greenhouse gases during a climate crisis.
Tom Solomon, a retired electrical engineer and co-coordinator of 350 New Mexico, a climate advocacy group, said he was pleased the bill was tabled.
“I would rather it had been voted down completely,” he said. “Having it not proceed is the best next thing.”
…Read more: https://www.governing.com/now/lawmakers-stifle-n-m-governors-clean-hydrogen-economy-plan
Hydrogen is commercially produced through steam reforming of fossil fuel, typically either coal or natural gas. Fossil fuel can “burn” water, if you compress and heat it enough – the carbon in the fossil fuel strips the oxygen from the water, leaving carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and a bunch of other byproducts.
Fossil fuel companies love this technology, because the obvious place to “sequester” all that waste CO2 is depleted and otherwise worthless oil and gas mines.
Some green hydrogen proposals have further antagonised greens, by suggesting installing the carbon capture system should be deferred, so the allegedly clean hydrogen plant would vent all the waste CO2 into the atmosphere, just like a regular fossil fuel plant – though I don’t know if this is a feature of the New Mexico proposals.
Greens have also cited a study which suggest methane leaks would more than cancel any savings from sequestering the CO2.
How green is blue hydrogen?
Hydrogen is often viewed as an important energy carrier in a future decarbonized world. Currently, most hydrogen is produced by steam reforming of methane in natural gas (“gray hydrogen”), with high carbon dioxide emissions. Increasingly, many propose using carbon capture and storage to reduce these emissions, producing so-called “blue hydrogen,” frequently promoted as low emissions. We undertake the first effort in a peer-reviewed paper to examine the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of blue hydrogen accounting for emissions of both carbon dioxide and unburned fugitive methane. Far from being low carbon, greenhouse gas emissions from the production of blue hydrogen are quite high, particularly due to the release of fugitive methane. For our default assumptions (3.5% emission rate of methane from natural gas and a 20-year global warming potential), total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for blue hydrogen are only 9%-12% less than for gray hydrogen. While carbon dioxide emissions are lower, fugitive methane emissions for blue hydrogen are higher than for gray hydrogen because of an increased use of natural gas to power the carbon capture. Perhaps surprisingly, the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat and some 60% greater than burning diesel oil for heat, again with our default assumptions. In a sensitivity analysis in which the methane emission rate from natural gas is reduced to a low value of 1.54%, greenhouse gas emissions from blue hydrogen are still greater than from simply burning natural gas, and are only 18%-25% less than for gray hydrogen. Our analysis assumes that captured carbon dioxide can be stored indefinitely, an optimistic and unproven assumption. Even if true though, the use of blue hydrogen appears difficult to justify on climate grounds.Read more: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ese3.956
In my opinion the entire situation is a joke – a battle between proponents of a completely useless form of energy and a likely useless form of energy.
Hydrogen is horribly dangerous compared to fossil fuel, when it leaks it ignites or even detonates over a very wide range of mixtures with air. The flame from leaks burns so hot it is all but invisible, so I expect to see lots of dead people if hydrogen is widely adopted. Compressed hydrogen is not something you would want in quantity near anything you care about.
I have personal experience with hydrogen. As a kid I couldn’t afford Helium, so I used a simple household chemical reaction to generate vast quantities of hydrogen to fill party balloons. The balloons went off with a terrific bang when ignited, or sometimes even if they were just popped. Strictly an outdoor decoration. Some of the balloons detonated while being filled, the slightest spark or leak or friction against the surface of the balloon was enough. Sometimes they detonated for no obvious reason.
But hydrogen has one important advantage over renewables – it is dispatchable.
As awareness grows just how useless intermittent and unreliable renewables are, slightly less useless “green” alternatives like natural gas to hydrogen are attracting attention – and this has renewable energy proponents very worried indeed.
The following is a bunch of university students detonating a large balloon filled with hydrogen. The quantity of hydrogen in the balloon is only a small fraction of the quantity stored in say the gas tank of a hydrogen powered automobile.
Correction (EW): h/t Crispin Pemberton-Pigott, fixed a typo.