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Blue Hydrogen Has Larger GHG Footprint Than Natural Gas

August 26, 2021
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By Paul Homewood

 

AEP is away with the fairies again:

 

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Best is the enemy of good in the ferociously polarised debate over net-zero.

Green purists are waging guerrilla warfare against Britain’s "blue" hydrogen plan, deeming it a sell-out to the fossil industry, a licence to pollute forever, and an unforgivable environmental fraud on the eve of the COP26 summit.

The Government’s strategy to kick start the putative hydrogen economy relies on "twin track" backing for both the blue variant produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS), as well as the more saintly "green" variant produced from wind and solar power through electrolysis.

The movement is in uproar over this perfectly sensible compromise. All we need now is an anathema from Greta.

Right now the cost of producing "blue" is roughly $2.50 a kilo compared to $6 for "green", with great global variation depending on region and countless variables. That is why the International Energy Agency and the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) endorse blue hydrogen as a "bridge fuel" out to the 2030s. 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2021/08/25/boris-right-britain-has-beautiful-competitive-advantage-blue/

 

You can guess the rest of the nonsense he writes, because he writes the same stuff with boring regularity!

 

He seems to think it is a sensible idea to take natural gas and convert it in a highly expensive process, while at the same time wasting a quarter of the energy input. But this process produces massive amounts of carbon dioxide, so you then have to spend more money and waste more natural gas in an attempt to capture some (not all) of those emissions, in a process that does not even exist at a commercially viable scale.

No amount of wishful thinking on AEP’s part can alter this physical reality. In short, hydrogen will always cost much more than natural gas.

He whittles on about the cost of blue hydrogen, $2.50/kg, but forgets to tell his readers that the cost of natural gas is a quarter of that. To be fair though, at least he does point out how ridiculous the green hydrogen option is.

But the ultimate irony is that “blue” hydrogen is not carbon free at all. As a new study inconveniently points out, burning blue hydrogen emits more emissions than natural gas, because of the upstream emissions involved in producing and shipping the extra gas needed, which is wasted in the process:

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https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ese3.956

 

There is naturally some debate about the actual numbers, but what is certain is that any emission savings from blue hydrogen are going to be tiny at best.

34 Comments
  1. Joe Public permalink
    August 26, 2021 10:08 am

    “All we need now is an anathema from Greta.”

    Someone needs to give the Doom Goblin an enema to clear out the crap she continuously spouts.

    • Ian Magness permalink
      August 26, 2021 10:26 am

      LOL!

  2. Simon Browne permalink
    August 26, 2021 10:19 am

    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard always seems to grasp the wrong end of the latest and most leafy green, pseudo scientific, stick…

    • August 26, 2021 10:27 pm

      ‘the more saintly “green” variant produced from wind and solar power through electrolysis’
      — No, the even more ridiculous variant.

      Pay to convert expensive subsidised electricity into even more expensive hydrogen? Then pay yet again to store it safely? Give us a break.

  3. Mad Mike permalink
    August 26, 2021 10:24 am

    And the head of the Hydrogen programme in the UK quit the other day because of the carbon footprint of producing blue hydrogen, which he couldn’t support, and he should know a thing or two.

    • August 27, 2021 3:19 pm

      Protium CEO Chris Jackson, chair of the @UKHFCA, has resigned hours before the unveiling of the government’s “Hydrogen Strategy
      stating: ‘I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on that fact that blue #hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonisation goals.”
      He’d been in office 1 year

      Doh
      “Protium provides services to companies and investors that are operating or seeking to engage with *green hydrogen* solutions”

  4. Dr Ken Pollock permalink
    August 26, 2021 10:25 am

    Paul, the essence of the case for “blue” hydrogen is that it is produced in one place, so the CO2 can be captured easily. I use that term relatively, of course. Distribute the natural gas to homes across the country and the CO2 is produced in every home in a fashion where it cannot possibly be captured.
    So, if you think CO2 is destroying all human civilisation, as Greta does, then it is worth the expense and energy loss to convert CH4 to H2 and CO2, as you can capture the CO2. The H2 can then be distributed and burnt in our homes.
    Except that it will escape from the metal pipes that make up 25% or so of our distribution system, so there’s a bit more expense in replacing all of them with plastic pipes! Hang on! Plastic??? I thought that was anathema to greens…

    • Vernon E permalink
      August 26, 2021 11:22 am

      No, carbon capture from “blue hydrogen” has nothing to do with where its produced. Its feasible only because the CO2 stream is not diluted wih nitrogen as it is from power generation.

      • Dr Ken Pollock permalink
        August 26, 2021 11:36 am

        That is a false comparison. Nitrogen may get in the way in power generation, but you cannot capture CO2 if it is released by burning the CH4 once it is distributed, as with natural gas in our gas network now.
        Hence, convert it in a single location – as Ambrose E-P mentions in steel and chemical making, or in fertiliser production – and you can capture the carbon. Naturally, if you are doing it all in one place, burn the CH4 itself, releasing much more energy, and then capture the CO2.
        So blue hydrogen only makes sense if it is created for energy distribution, but that brings the other problems I mention…

    • August 26, 2021 12:30 pm

      We already have a way of capturing CO2. Trees.

      I am obviously being flippant because the problem with forests is that they finish up at a steady state where as much CO2 is being released as is being fixed, except in tropical forests laying down peat. And of course the scale of photosynthetic capture may not measure up to the task at hand.

      Perhaps we could burn natural gas and, with the savings from not making blue hydrogen, buy up tracts of the Amazon rainforest that are likely to be cut and burnt.

      • Dr Ken Pollock permalink
        August 26, 2021 2:32 pm

        I like the idea of laying down peat. It accumulates at 1mm per year. So one meter of peat takes a millennium to be created = 1,000 years. Not an easy way of sequestrating CO2…

      • August 26, 2021 2:55 pm

        Don’t neglect the CO2 footprint of the armed force needed to protect your tract of Amazon Rain Forest, or anyone else’s forest.
        There is no CO2 free lunch.

  5. August 26, 2021 10:32 am

    Burn the natural gas in an Allam Cycle power station that capture 100% CO2 and is more efficient than a CCGT station with CO2 capture and around 5-7% less efficient if CC is not used with the CCGT. The technology is ready and I believe that they are planning to build one in Teesside.

    https://netpower.com/technology/

    • August 26, 2021 10:47 am

      Interesting. How do they make the pure oxygen?

      • Nick Millward permalink
        August 26, 2021 11:22 am

        Allam Cycle plants include an air separation unit. This takes some energy but the overall efficiency of the process appears to be pretty good. There is already one demonstration plant running in Texas. There appear to be serious plans now to build full-scale plants.

      • MikeHig permalink
        August 26, 2021 11:38 am

        A cryogenic Air Separation Unit (ASU) is an integral part of the plant. It’s the same technology as used all over the world to produce industrial gases.
        Rodney Allam, who developed this new combustion cycle, used to be the chief scientist at Air Products, one of the world’s largest industrial gas companies.

        I would politely suggest that the claims of this paper be taken with a large pinch of salt. Howarth has a track record as an opponent of gas, especially fracking (iirc he was involved in the Gasland movie as an “advisor).
        Jacobsen is the guy who claimed the whole US could be powered by renewables and then sued Prof Ball when he rubbished the claim. Jacobsen lost; Ball was awarded costs.

        Furthermore, as Dr Ken says, the CO2 can be captured. The technology has been up and running for this application for several decades where there is a market for the CO2 such as Enhanced Oil Recovery. That makes the economics work. An example from wiki:
        “During its life, the Weyburn and Midale fields combined are expected to produce at least 220 million additional barrels of incremental oil, through miscible or near-miscible displacement with CO2, from fields that have already produced over 500 million barrels (79,000,000 m3) since discovery in 1954.”
        Those extra barrels are worth about $11 bn at current prices – well worth the effort. The CO2 injection has been running for 20 years, using gas piped over 300 km from a synfuel and fertiliser plant where it is a by-product. That plant uses steam reforming to produce hydrogen for ammonia synthesis and the CO2 is captured – “blue” hydrogen.

        Lastly the paper seems to base much of its argument on methane release. However, as so often, it sidesteps the basic fact that methane’s greenhouse effects are negligible in the real world because its absorption spectra are almost completely swamped by water vapour which is usually present at 10 – 20,000 times the concentration.

  6. August 26, 2021 11:27 am

    So, just as we have good harmless carbon dioxide gas produced by nature and bad dangerous carbon dioxide gas produced by the fossil fuel industry; we now have good harmless hydrogen gas produced by the magic energy industry and bad dangerous hydrogen gas produced by the fossil fuel industry.

    • Ray permalink
      August 26, 2021 7:45 pm

      It is a bit like referring to “carbon” emissions or “low carbon” or “carbon free” when what they actually mean Carbon Dioxide. Ask most people what a diamond is “made” of and they have no idea at all. Of course carbon is “evil” and “black” and “nasty”.

  7. Vernon E permalink
    August 26, 2021 12:02 pm

    Paul: addressing your point, there is no need for “pure oxygen” in any oxy-combustion process, normal tonnage oxygen as used in the steel industry is enough but the same huge but remains. It is fabulously expensive to produce, the energy all going into tthe air compressor (an ASU is just a box that converts electricity into oxygen). If power stations were oxy-combustion based the CO2 could be captured but the cost would be prohibitive.

    • MikeHig permalink
      August 26, 2021 1:13 pm

      Vernon E,
      I politely suggest that you inform yourself some more before making such pronouncements.
      Tonnage oxygen is not “fabulously expensive” to produce: if it was there would not be hundreds of ASUs all over the world supplying a multitude of industries.
      Using a cryogenic ASU in this way provides other useful products: nitrogen and argon which are valuable in their own right.
      You would do well to read up on the Allam cycle too. Per the poster above, the economics look good and the current movement towards funding for CO2 sequestration (with and without “Use”) will only enhance that. It’s still early days but industry-scale plants are now being built:
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2021/01/08/net-power-ceo-announces-four-new-zero-emission-gas-plants-underway/?sh=968ac43175b3

      • Vernon E permalink
        August 26, 2021 2:53 pm

        MikeHig: I worked for some years for BOC. Oxygen for steel making is small compared with power generation. Have you done the sums? I did and as an alternative to air-combustion for power generation the costs are prohibitive. No, I don’t know the Allam cycle and nothing I can find is informative but I assume that the oxygen and carbon are in normal stoichiometric ratios.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        August 26, 2021 3:19 pm

        The whole cycle including allowance for parasitic loads such as producing the oxygen is around 60% efficient, which is close to the best CCGT plant operating in optimal conditions.

      • MikeHig permalink
        August 29, 2021 9:56 pm

        Vernon E: “Oxygen for steel making is small compared with power generation”.
        What’s your point?
        I was challenging your “fabulously expensive” comment: the relative size of the industries is irrelevant.

        While you are right about the economics of standard oxy-fuel versus air combustion, that’s not the issue. The Allam cycle is a modified CCGT process which uses CO2 as the working fluid.
        I’m surprised you could not find anything informative.
        The link I gave mentions Netpower; their website includes an explanation of the cycle.
        Otherwise a web search for “Allam Cycle” brings up loads of reports, etc, on the process and the plants now being built.

  8. Lorde Late permalink
    August 26, 2021 12:06 pm

    Although Alister Heath in todays DT has nailed it with a great peice on the runout of our current western ‘influence’ in the world, As the great Douglas Murray said recently, “If you think things are bad now try living under the chinese regimes plans for the world”

  9. It doesn't add up... permalink
    August 26, 2021 1:42 pm

    A nearby hospital has been burnishing its green credentials. It has claimed a £4.7m grant to install some ground sourced heat pumps and lag some pipes, said to save £75,000 a year, for an over 60nyear payback. And doubtless, frozen patients on the wards during cold snaps. That will save on healthcare costs, no doubt.

  10. Alan Davidson permalink
    August 26, 2021 1:56 pm

    Water vapour is by far the most prevalent atmospheric GHG responsible for the majority of a GHG effect. And what would be the only by-product of combustion of hydrogen, more atmospheric water vapour! So all of these theories about the benefits of hydrogen as a fuel would result in an increase in GHGs and presumably an increase in warming if GHGs really do cause warming of Earth’s temperature. What a brilliant alternative to the problems of fossil fuels and CO2!

  11. It doesn't add up... permalink
    August 26, 2021 2:59 pm

    Global gas supply is currently very tight. Imagine adding 25% to demand by insisting on blue hydrogen. The economic incentive to burn coal would be enormous.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      August 26, 2021 3:20 pm

      Is it a coincidence that Colombia is also rich in emeralds?

  12. Ray Sanders permalink
    August 26, 2021 7:50 pm

    Grey, blue, green…all adds up to Turquoise if you really want to go overboard.
    https://spectra.mhi.com/achieving-net-zero-what-is-turquoise-hydrogen?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=layer1&utm_content=hydrogen&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIqajZ2qzP8gIVQeztCh3LFg1DEAAYASAAEgJAV_D_BwE
    All a bit of a sad joke.

  13. August 27, 2021 8:50 pm

    Use wind generators on ocean platforms to run hydrogen electrolysis. Capture the hydrogen in pressure vessels that can be picked up at route intervals, release the O2. Run the things full on. No need to “feather” the system under peak demand. Just direct the excess to the hydrogen production.

    Why would this not work?

    • August 28, 2021 9:09 am

      Basic principles of greendreaming
      #1 People come up with an idea, but don’t anticipate any problems
      Reality is more complex
      #2 If something is that easy it would already be being done
      #3 If a process is sustainable it wouldn’t need SUBSIDIES
      Most greendreams are not, so subsidies are demanded.

      Specifically for sea … it’s a special environment
      #1 It tends to smash up equipment
      which is why magic wave machine projects don’t last long
      #2 You have to overcome the *sea salt corrosion problem*

      Now you might do that it the lab, but in the middle of the North Sea is something different
      The general principle is that something works, when it can be shown working *at large scale* in situ,
      not just a small working model in a lab

  14. Steve permalink
    August 28, 2021 9:38 am

    Although the authors may be biased against any ghg emissions, their calculation should be taken very seriously because, as they point out, the Hydrogen Council is the oil and gas industry lobbying for the use and processing of more gas and bunging it into old oil and gas fields, at much greater expense to the consumer. Also they confirm that their study does not include the emissions caused by liquefying CO2 and pumping it undersea in the case of the UK.

    Yet, despite all this, blue hydrogen has been accepted as the main source of energy for industry and now heating by Gummer and his clowns and the government is going ahead with the pointless policy.

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