Is hydrogen really the key to avoid exceeding 2°C global warming?

The European Green Deal is the European Union’s strategy to become carbon neutral by 2050 while maintaining economic growth.

One of the pillars of that strategy is hydrogen. It isn’t energy in itself, it’s a vector of energy. Let’s suppose that renewable energy is extracted and converted into electricity. You can use the latter to hydrolyze water (separate hydrogen from oxygen). Thus, you can obtain water and electricity by reuniting the two molecules. It’s a way to use energy cleanly and to choose when to use it. However, even though many actors invest in electrolysis solutions, 95% of hydrogen is produced by steam-methane reforming. This method is extremely carbon-intensive and emits about 800-million-ton co2 each year. This is why “blue hydrogen”, decarbonized, is distinguished from “green hydrogen”.

According to Frans Zimmerman, during Change Now Summit 2021, hydrogen is a win-win solution. Every industry can benefit from that technology, here is the promise of green growth.

While many investors and innovators are highly optimistic about the applications of that technology, the ADEME (the French Organization for national sustainability) doubts it. Hydrogen is very suitable for heavy transports for instance, according to Christelle Rouillé, CEO of Hynamics, implementing electrolysis in Europe. Nonetheless, the ADEME warns us about the uncertainty of battery performance evolution and thus the application field of hydrogen solutions. There are also technical issues, reducing the probability of being able to transport hydrogen. For the direct injection of hydrogen in the natural gas network, it’s necessary to check if each pipe or compressor can bear hydrogen mix without leaking. All in all, hydrogen has a limited potential: 20% blending is the maximum and that makes up 7% of our energy use. Consequently, the cost-benefit ratio appears negative.

Finally, hydrogen raises the everlasting environmentalist issue: should we promote green growth or sobriety? During Change Now Summit, Frans Zimmerman said: “For carbon neutrality, we absolutely need hydrogen if we are to produce the amount of energy that our society will need”. 

But don’t our society need to reduce its energy consumption instead of seeking ways to keep our hectic consumption and production rhythm?

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