Wisdom of hydrogen called into question

  • Date: 22/10/20
  • Transport Xtra

The government’s enthusiasm for a hydrogen economy, including for fuelling lorries, buses and trains, will either generate huge quantities of carbon dioxide or come at huge expense, a critic has said. 

Writing in The Spectator, Andrew Montford, deputy director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation think tank, said the attractions of hydrogen were “mostly a case of pulling the wool over the eyes of the unwary”. “Hydrogen is a way of moving energy about, it is not a source of energy itself. In other words, to make the stuff you need a real source of energy, which currently means natural gas.” 

The production of so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen from natural gas uses a process known as steam methane reforming.

“If you are going to burn gas to make hydrogen you are going to get carbon dioxide given off in vast quantities and so you need operational carbon capture equipment,” said Montford.  “Unfortunately, carbon capture and storage has only ever worked for coal-fired power stations and even then it’s commercially unviable. Getting the technology to work on plant-burning natural gas remains a pipe dream.”

So-called ‘green’ hydrogen is produced by electrolysing water using renewable electricity, such as from wind farms.

Montford said producing hydrogen this way was expensive. “Converting electricity to hydrogen and back to electricity is grossly inefficient. Even with rather cheap power input you still will not get cheap electricity out at the end of the process. 

“We know for certain that the UK’s offshore wind fleet is not going to deliver cheap power anytime soon. Two separate reviews of the accounts of the UK offshore wind fleet have shown that costs have been rising for the last ten years. 

“In other words, we are going to take very expensive electricity from offshore windfarms, use it to make hydrogen, which we will burn to make electricity again.”

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