Production of blue hydrogen from natural gas likely has a larger effect on global warming than estimated by U.S. government models and is not a clean form of energy, a new report argues.
Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas using reformation, with the resulting greenhouse gas emissions stored permanently in underground rock formations. The U.S. Department of Energy includes blue hydrogen as a clean technology in its clean hydrogen strategy and roadmap.
The Biden administration is encouraging the rapid development of clean hydrogen as a key option to decarbonize certain sectors of the U.S. economy, including heavy manufacturing such as concrete and steel, and long-distance transportation. When burned, hydrogen emits only water vapor. The Department of Energy recently awarded up to $7 billion to help fund seven clean hydrogen hub projects, including the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2) that spans West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and will use the area’s abundant natural gas coupled with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to produce hydrogen.
However, a recent report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that the government understates the effects of blue hydrogen’s production on global warming in several ways.
“As we demonstrate in this report, the reality is that blue hydrogen is neither clean nor low-carbon. In addition, pursuing it will waste substantial time that is in short supply and money that could be more wisely spent on other, more effective investments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the immediate future,” the report states.
The U.S. National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap includes multiple energy sources for creating hydrogen, including those that have no emissions, such as solar, wind, and nuclear, and low-carbon sources, including fossil fuels (natural gas) with carbon capture and sequestration. It sets an initial clean hydrogen production standard for hydrogen produced with a carbon intensity of no more than 4 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of hydrogen.
The IEEFA report suggests that government models underestimate methane leakage during the production process, and contain overly optimistic assumptions about carbon capture rates. Several other studies have raised similar questions.
However, the production of hydrogen with natural gas is currently the most cost-effective and scalable technology for the near term, if CCS technology can be ramped up. In the future, green hydrogen, which is produced using water and electricity from renewable sources, and other methods of production could become more economical if the technology can be rapidly improved and scaled to meet expected demand.