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Hydrogen 11 times worse than CO2 for climate, says new report

April 14, 2022

By Paul Homewood

So much for “clean energy” then!!

From New Atlas:


Screenshot 2022-04-14 180300

Hydrogen will be one of humanity’s key weapons in the war against carbon dioxide emissions, but it must be treated with care. New reports show how fugitive hydrogen emissions can indirectly produce warming effects 11 times worse than those of CO2.

Hydrogen can be used as a clean energy carrier, and running it through a fuel cell to produce electricity produces nothing but water as a by-product. It carries far more energy for a given weight than lithium batteries, and it’s faster to refill a tank than to charge a battery, so hydrogen is viewed as a very promising green option in several hard-to-decarbonize applications where batteries won’t cut the mustard – for example, aviation, shipping and long-haul trucking.

But when it’s released directly into the atmosphere, hydrogen itself can interact with other gases and vapors in the air to produce powerful warming effects. Indeed, a new UK Government study has put these interactions under the microscope and determined that hydrogen’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) is about twice as bad as previously understood; over a 100-year time period, a tonne of hydrogen in the atmosphere will warm the Earth some 11 times more than a tonne of CO2, with an uncertainty of ± 5.

How does hydrogen act like a greenhouse gas?

One way is by extending the lifetime of atmospheric methane. Hydrogen reacts with the same tropospheric oxidants that "clean up" methane emissions. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, causing some 80 times more warming than an equivalent weight of CO2 over the first 20 years. But hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere clean it up relatively quickly, while CO2 remains in the air for thousands of years, so CO2 is worse in the long run.

When hydrogen is present, however, those hydroxyl radicals react with the hydrogen instead. There are fewer cleanup agents to go around, so there’s a direct rise in methane concentrations, and the methane stays in the atmosphere longer.

What’s more, the presence of hydrogen increases the concentration of both tropospheric ozone and stratospheric water vapor, boosting a "radiative forcing" effect that also pushes temperatures higher.

How does hydrogen escape into the atmosphere?

A lot of it is leakage, according to a second report from Frazer-Nash Consultancy. Store hydrogen in a compressed gas cylinder, and you can assume you’ll lose between 0.12 percent and 0.24 percent of it every day. It’ll leak out of pipes and valves if you distribute it that way, losing some 20 percent more volume than the methane gas that’s now running through municipal pipelines – although since hydrogen is so much lighter than methane, this larger volume equates to just 15 percent of the weight.

Where hydrogen is transported as a cryogenic liquid, boil-off is unavoidable, and you can expect to lose an average of about 1 percent of it per day. Currently, this is vented to the atmosphere.

Indeed, venting and purging operations are currently common across the hydrogen life cycle. They occur during electrolysis, during compression, during refueling, and during the process of conversion back into electricity through a fuel cell.

Where there is venting or purging, the percentages tend to dwarf what’s lost through simple leakage – for example, current electrolysis procedures using venting and purging are assumed to lose between 3.3-9.2 percent of all hydrogen produced, depending largely on how often the process starts up and shuts down – this is a bit of a worry in situations where hydrogen production is seen as a way to store excess renewable energy that’s not being snapped up by immediate demand.

Purging and venting emissions can be cleaned up significantly by adding systems to recombine the vented or purged hydrogen back into water and feed it back into the process – but it’ll be a while before these kinds of operations are economically viable.

In all, the Frazer-Nash report expects that between 1-1.5 percent of all hydrogen in its central modeling scenario will be emitted into the atmosphere, with transport emissions responsible for around half of that, and emissions at the production and consumption ends taking up roughly a quarter each.

Meanwhile, operating under different assumptions, the first report linked expects somewhere between 1 percent and 10 percent of all hydrogen in its global scenario will be emitted into the atmosphere,

Does this mean "green hydrogen" should be avoided in the race to zero emissions?

No. The UK Government report explains that "the increase in equivalent CO2 emissions based on 1 percent and 10 percent H2 leakage rate offsets approximately 0.4 and 4 percent of the total equivalent CO2 emission reductions, respectively," so even assuming the worst leakage scenario, it’s still an enormous improvement.

"Whilst the benefits from equivalent CO2 emission reductions significantly outweigh the disbenefits arising from H2 leakage," it continues, "they clearly demonstrate the importance of controlling H2 leakage within a hydrogen economy.

We already know that steam reforming natural gas emits plenty of CO2. Even if a CCS is bolted on, this cannot avoid all emissions. Worse still, there are the upstream emissions of CO2 and methane grom producing and transporting natural gas.

Now we learn that hydrogen leakage could be almost as bad as as burning gas. As I noted earlier, we can forget about “green hydrogen” making any significant contribution in any foreseeable future.

  1. Curious George permalink
    April 14, 2022 6:34 pm

    Hydrogen reacts with atmospheric oxygen, warming the atmosphere, and creating a very potent greenhouse gas, H2O 🙂

    • Peter Anderson permalink
      April 14, 2022 8:43 pm

      Wow! Hope someone figures out how to put a stop to that.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      April 15, 2022 9:13 am

      Ban dihydrogen monoxide!

      • catweazle666 permalink
        April 15, 2022 1:40 pm

        And hydroxylic acid!

      • Arnold Krumbeiner permalink
        April 17, 2022 3:39 pm

        Hydrogen hydroxide is the way water is structured.

      • catweazle666 permalink
        April 17, 2022 4:44 pm

        Or oxygen dihydride, depending on how you look at it.
        There is also a school of thought that considers water to be the first of the series of alcohols or ketones.
        Both physically and chemically water is in fact perhaps the most intriguing compound we are aware of.

  2. Harry Passfield permalink
    April 14, 2022 6:40 pm

    Hang on a gol-darn-minute!! everyone knows (KNOWS!) that CO2 – Carbon – is BLACK, but that H2 – lovely Hydrogen – is white or colourless. Get with the program! (Or is that, pogrom?)

    • catweazle666 permalink
      April 15, 2022 1:42 pm

      These days it appears hydrogen is either blue or green!

  3. Tones permalink
    April 14, 2022 7:07 pm

    Doesn’t H2 react with ozone? So won’t we be 1) fried with UV and 2) the water vapour so formed will become ice crystals reflecting the sun and leading to a new Ice Age?

    • Peter Anderson permalink
      April 14, 2022 8:44 pm

      It’s a possibility.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      April 14, 2022 10:48 pm

      Yes it does. Importantly hydrogen rises through the atmosphere so fast it does not laterally disperse very much. As a result any fugitive emissions which would only occur over land will effectively only affect the stratosphere above said land. Because of this measuring the intensity of the effects is almost impossible. Then again concepts such as GWP are fiction anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter!

  4. Mack permalink
    April 14, 2022 7:14 pm

    For God’s sake don’t let the alarmists know how many times more powerful than co2 water vapour is, otherwise the clouds are gonna get it. As for boiling a kettle for a nice cup of tea, forget it, instant apocalypse. I’m so glad our politicians are being well advised by boffins who know a bit about sciencey stuff.

  5. Gareth Roberts permalink
    April 14, 2022 7:14 pm

    So now methane is 80 times more potent than CO2. It used to be just 21 times.

  6. catweazle666 permalink
    April 14, 2022 7:17 pm

    “…while CO2 remains in the air for thousands of years…”

    No it doesn’t!

    • Peter Anderson permalink
      April 14, 2022 8:45 pm

      Average residence time in the atmosphere is 4.1 years. Amazing how much sheer ignorance is passed off as science.

    • bobn permalink
      April 15, 2022 12:18 am

      Yes. I was going to comment on that 1000yrs howler. There are many claims of fact in this article that are dead wrong so I cant take a word of this work of fiction seriously.

      • dave permalink
        April 15, 2022 10:02 am

        The residence time of a particular molecule of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not very relevant.

        If we want to know how long an overall increase in the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (say, by a deliberate injection of one billion tons into the air) would be measurable as some increase above baseline* we first notice that roughly half of it will go into the top layer of the ocean within a year, at which point a dynamic equilibrium will be established, with five hundred million tons excess still in the atmosphere. It will stay at this level until the surface layer of the ocean is replaced by upwelling water with an ancient lower content of carbon dioxide, when the ‘virgin’ water will absorb further carbon dioxide. The process of oceanic overturn takes about a thousand years and so the remaining five hundred million tons in the atmosphere will be sucked into the water on this time scale. So it IS reasonable to say that the whole absorption process takes a thousand years, but with the proviso that the detectable excess is continually declining. A fast absorption followed by a slow absorption of the balance.
        It is indeed completely wrong to say that a carbon dioxide pulse would stay as a whole in the atmosphere for a thousand years.

        BUT, BUT, there is another way in which carbon dioxide concentration in the upper ocean leads to spreading into the deeps, of the original injection of carbon dioxide; and that way is far quicker than the overturning of the ocean. The surface of the ocean is ‘a carbon desert’ for the life living there because the carbon is passed down in various ways by the life itself.**
        Studies of radioactive carbon (from atomic bomb tests) in benthic creatures of the abyssal deeps has shown the astonishing fact that it has got down there in fifty years. So it is likely that – with this conveyor belt to the bottom working – the ‘pulse’ of one billion tons will disappear within fifty years.

        *Only concerning ourselves with the sink of the oceans and not other possible sinks such as trees.

        **One way is that an enormous mass of small predatory fish feed in the surface layer and poop in a lower layer. Another way is that dead plankton sink, carrying their precious carbon with them. Carbon dioxide or other compounds of carbon – it is all one thing in establishing equilibria. It is not called the ‘carbon dioxide cycle’ it is the ‘carbon cycle.’

      • catweazle666 permalink
        April 15, 2022 1:06 pm

        Thank you dave!
        Very informative.

  7. johnbuk permalink
    April 14, 2022 7:19 pm

    Who cares what a ton of hydrogen will do in 100 years – we’re all going to die by next April or similar, aren’t we? Whatever happened to settled science?

  8. David permalink
    April 14, 2022 7:30 pm

    i was always told that hydrogen was absent from the atmosphere because it rose to the top of the atmosphere and then bounced out into space because it was faster then the escape velocity of the earth.

  9. Jordan permalink
    April 14, 2022 7:32 pm

    GWP must be among the most unscientific concepts invented by the human imagination. How do you measure it in the real atmosphere?
    If there is no way to measure it, there is no way to test it. If there is no way to test it, there is no way to confirm or refute it.
    This leaves GWP a concept from models which run on assumptions about how gases interact in the atmosphere. It’s about as scientific as the fairies at the bottom of the garden (who really are there, but they hide whenever you look).
    And that’s before I get onto ECS…..

    • April 14, 2022 7:41 pm

      Such hobgoblins are needed to keep the climate misery message afloat.

  10. Peter Anderson permalink
    April 14, 2022 8:47 pm

    11 times worse than CO2 is the same as utterly harmless. Use the Ideal Gas Law (molar mass version) instead of quack hypotheses to determine its effect on climate. It is -0.02C per doubling of atmospheric concentration.

  11. PaulM permalink
    April 14, 2022 8:51 pm

    I’m confused (nothing new) but I thought CO2 does not cause the planet to warm.
    Any and all advice welcomed…

    • Jordan permalink
      April 14, 2022 11:53 pm

      PaulM. The question might be approached as quantifying Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity.
      The Charney Range (1.5C to 4.5C per doubling of CO2) is all we have had as an estimate of ECS for the last 40 years. Numerous attempts by researchers to quantify ECS do not seem to be doing much to narrow Charney.
      An interesting twist is that the IPCC adds some colour to Charney. In AR5, they describe the Charney Range as “likely”, and when the IPCC says “likely” they mean a 66% likeligood (see link below). If the IPCC is saying 66% likelihood of ECS in the Charney Range, they are also saying a 34% likelihood that ECS lies somewhere outside Charney. And it means the IPCC is accepting that ECS could be zero.
      I find 66% unsatisfactory. If all this climate change stuff really is as serious as some claim, I want to know what the value of ECS is to a much better standard than 66%.
      I’d be looking for some really sound analysis producing a range of ECS to 95% or maybe even 99% likelihood. Not just that, the range would need to be meaningfully narrow at this level of likelihood (a huge range is just a way of saying “we don’t know”).
      But we don’t have the benefit of a narrow range and high likelihood today. It is a significant failure of climatology to have made such a big deal of MMGW, but having failed to pin down ECS.
      So we have the Charney Range (accepting 66% likelihood) but there is a further way to drive the knife into this issue.
      If Charney has a 66% likelihood (defining a confidence interval at 66%), a 95% confidence interval would be wider than Charney (enveloping Charney and spreading out beyond), and a 99% confidence interval would be even wider.
      A key question for statistical testing is whether the confidence interval crosses zero, as this indicates that results are not statistically significant (not statistically discernible from zero). So I would hazard a pretty safe guess that insisting on 95% or 99% confidence in ECS would result in a confidence interval which spans zero. In other words, at the 95% or 99% level, our best estimates of ECS are not statistically discernible from zero.
      That’s how I come to the view that adding CO2 to the atmosphere does not causes an additional warming effect on the planet (to the best of our collective knowledge).

      Click to access wa-decoding-confidence-and-likelihood-ipcc.pdf

      • April 15, 2022 9:03 am

        What evidence is there that ECS is a credible concept at all?

      • Jordan permalink
        April 15, 2022 6:05 pm

        Yes, that’s my view. After 40 years trying to quantify it, ECS is (to say the very least) hovering above history’s trash can of discarded junk science.
        My long comment above is just a way to explain how ECS (if it even exists) is not statistically discernible from zero. So we cannot tell whether or not it exists, and I find this useful position to take in debate.
        I find IPCC AR1 quite useful, as it boldly sets out the theoretical arguments, and the IPCC was giving an army of researchers their “marching orders” to go forth an prove it. (In the event, they didn’t!)
        The IPCC used the term “enhanced GHE”, and ECS quantifies the size of the enhance GHE. ECS is the slope of the GHE. If the GHE is fully saturated, ECS could well be zero.
        Full saturation does not need to be a radiative effect – it could be an effect of other climate feedback processes (“full compensation” to put it in engineering language). Its a highly plausible possibility …. multi-millennial stability of temperature suggest there are compensating processes in play.

      • Jack Broughton permalink
        April 16, 2022 7:53 pm

        The IPCCs “likelihood and confidence” figures are purely based on consensus among consenting adults. The best real estimate of ECS is surely that of David Coe a few weeks back, on this site, which used radiation theory (HITRANS) to actually calculate the sensitivity of the climate to various gases. All the early attempts, such as Charnock’s) were based on empirical, and very dubious, estimation of the emissivity of CO2 in the atmosphere.

        The IPCC chart that “justifies” the ECS and RFF is a good example of consensus science: the error margins applied to dust, volatiles etc are purely the opinions of the editor! This bad science is then fed into the climate models….. pure GIGO.

  12. marlene permalink
    April 14, 2022 10:29 pm

    How many times do we have to learn that “climate change” isn’t about the climate or the environment? It’s about money. Just another cash cow scheme to redistribute our money to them. Even people who know nothing about “climate change” know about the investors. K.I.S.S.

  13. Jackington permalink
    April 14, 2022 10:30 pm

    Full marks to somebody for finding this little nugget.

  14. Dick Goodwin permalink
    April 14, 2022 11:32 pm

    And they killed all the cats and dogs to stop the plague spreading to the people.

  15. Gamecock permalink
    April 14, 2022 11:34 pm

    ‘Hydrogen 11 times worse than CO2 for climate’

    Some body help me with the maths. What’s 11 times zero?

  16. Dodgy Geezer permalink
    April 15, 2022 9:13 am

    What is the point of reporting on this study? We know that decisions on Global Warming are made politically, with no reference to science unless it supports their pre-determined conclusions.

    This paper does not – so it will be ignored. No point advertising it.

  17. europeanonion permalink
    April 15, 2022 9:58 am

    I see the Jamaica effect in UN pronouncements om climate. Two of the main protagonists in the UN seem to have no intention to ingest climate madness and the third has so many people who have no electricity yet that to has to use coal for its immediacy. Then you have the reparation states always out for a buck. Slavery, the mention of it, is a more potent substance than methane or CO2 and, when emitted, it has had socially conscious or over-developed states reaching for their chequebooks to lower the temperature.

    Jamaica proved the toxicity of that debate and has put an end to building rapprochements to ameliorate the condition. The UN is our enemy and shows to what extent good intentions can be turned against you. We should not be enticed into a bidding war with the Chinese in the Third World; when you see the whole Chinese package you must be inclined to believe more hopefully in the devil you know.

    Wind and bluster are not the basis for their happiness. All that emits is an emphasis on their failed leadership, the microscope on their deleteriousness. In the main, they are gifted a state and diverse infrastructure and have opportunities which they must learn to employ. Bleating in the UN only encourages malign influence.

  18. Cosmos Voutsinos P. Eng., M.Eng. permalink
    April 15, 2022 6:53 pm

    Why don’t mix hydrogen with carbon ( derived from CO2 in the atmosphere) to make synthetic hydrocarbons which when they are burned return the carbon back to the atmosphere as CO2. This way we recycle CO2 to and from the atmosphere – instead of adding new CO2 to the atmosphere, The chemical processes are known and we could drive our gas guzzlers without polluting. No problems with hydrogen fuel, no need for electric cars, no pollution.

    • dave permalink
      April 16, 2022 9:21 am

      “…mix hydrogen with carbon derived from CO2 in the atmosphere…”

      How does the old recipe, how to cook a rabbit begin? “First, catch your rabbit…”
      Or rabbits plural in this case.

  19. Jordan permalink
    April 15, 2022 11:16 pm

    An issue with “derived from CO2 in the atmosphere” is that CO2 is such a small fraction of the atmosphere. At 400 ppm, we need to pump at least 2500 tonnes of air to capture 1 tonne of CO2. Practical capture processes are not perfect and some CO2 will slip through, and it will take more than 2500 tonnes of air to get that tonne of CO2. And then there’s the detail of how the CO2 is captured, which will take energy. And then most processes will operate at some pressure, which involves compressing the captured CO2, taking more energy.
    These are the reasons why DAC (direct air capture) is such an expensive way to capture CO2, and isn’t really being considered. The link below estimates the cost of DAC at $250/te to $600/te. Considering the present UK allowance price recently peaked at £80/te (about $100/te), it should give a feel for how painful it would be to implement DAC at any scale.
    An issue with “make synthetic hydrocarbon” is the cost. For each extortionately expensive captured tonne of CO2 (if extracted from air), we need a supply of H2 and O2 to manufacture hydrocarbons. That’s going to be cheap, especially if the processes to supply these feedstocks are valued at the same $250/te to $600/te CO2 (avoid any “free dinners” if that’s the cost we are paying for capturing CO2). This just leaves the task of manufacturing the hydrocarbon from constituent chemical elements, which will be endothermic and imperfect process with its own thermal efficiency …. meaning more energy without those pesky “free dinners”.

    • Cosmos. permalink
      April 16, 2022 6:30 am

      Jordan, your website does not let me answer tou you. Have a good day.

    • April 16, 2022 9:42 am

      Of course one should only be allowed to capture CO2 due to human emissions, not any naturally occurring CO2. So presumably teams of well-paid molecule inspectors will be needed to ensure everything is in order with the extraction processes 🙄

  20. Les Saunders permalink
    April 17, 2022 1:55 pm

    It’s surely worse than that. The water vapour that’s produced when hydrogen burns is a more ‘potent’ GHG than CO2.

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