The Top Five Fossil Fuel Industry Myths about Hydrogen

Author: Abbe Ramanan, Clean Energy Group | Project: Hydrogen Information and Public Education

Photo Credit: wedmov/Bigstock.com

Hydrogen continues to receive a lot of attention as a fuel source, particularly with the rollout of new federal incentives supporting cleaner forms of hydrogen production. We at Clean Energy Group have documented the many reasons why the glut of blue and green hydrogen projects being proposed now are concerning, particularly for environmental justice communities.  

In a recent webinar, speakers Sean O’Leary from the Ohio River Valley Institute, Erik Schlenker-Goodrich from the Western Environmental Law Center, and I discussed some of these concerns, including the pervasive greenwashing of hydrogen. The top five fossil fuel industry myths that have been used to greenwash irresponsible hydrogen projects include:  

Myth No. 1 – Hydrogen is emissions free: While hydrogen does not produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted, it does produce high amounts of the air pollutant nitrogen oxide (NOx). In fact, hydrogen produces six times the amount of NOx as natural gas when combusted.  

Myth No. 2 – Green hydrogen can help meet decarbonization goals: Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy to power a process called electrolysis. However, electrolysis is an extremely energy intensive process, and once green hydrogen is made, it must then be re-converted into electricity before it can be used. While there may be very specific uses for green hydrogen in hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation, it is also a huge energy user undercutting renewable energy that could be going directly towards decarbonizing the grid.  

Myth No. 3 – Hydrogen can be safely blended in existing pipelines: Even at very low levels of blending, hydrogen can crack steel pipelines through a process known as embrittlement, leading to explosions and high amounts of leakage.  

Myth No. 4 – Hydrogen will save money: Hydrogen behaves very differently than natural gas. In addition to the pipeline issues mentioned above, most emissions control technologies in natural gas power plants are not equipped to handle large amounts of hydrogen. This means that beyond very low levels of blending, any pre-existing infrastructure will need to be retrofitted to safely use hydrogen, a very expensive endeavor.  

Myth No. 5 – Hydrogen does not contribute to global warming: Hydrogen is an indirect greenhouse gas that extends the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere. Due to its small molecular size, hydrogen is extremely prone to leakage. A recent study found that based on current projections, global hydrogen leakage rates could be up by 6.5 percent by 2050 – producing the warming  equivalent of 100 million to 200 million tons of CO2 in the atmosphere.  

As Erik and Sean discussed on the webinar, these myths are alive and well in the regional hydrogen hub projects being proposed in New Mexico and Pennsylvania, along with many more around the country. Combating hydrogen misinformation is one way to help support the efforts of the many environmental justice advocates pushing back against these irresponsible proposals.