Was The UK Hydrogen Strategy Obsolete Before It Was Even Published?


Newer blue hydrogen potentially more damaging for climate change than simply sticking with existing fossil fuel based alternative.

The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution from November 2020 announced a target of achieving 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production over the following decade, with the aim of saving ~41Mt of CO2. This is clearly a laudable ambition, but the plan is skewed towards the use of ‘blue’ hydrogen (generated from fossil fuels with associated carbon capture and storage) with a lower reliance on the carbon free ‘green’ hydrogen alternative generated via renewables. The blue focus is largely due to the lower investment required to ramp-up the carbon capture element the current carbon-intensive process rather than creating industrial scale green projects where the industry in still very immature. To underline this direction the government has just approved two multi-billion pound fast track carbon storage projects in the last few days. 

Blue hydrogen certainly sounds better than grey and has a proven lower carbon emission profile (assuming the carbon stored underground stays where it’s put). But according to a recent report from Cornell University and the Park Foundation, it may have a more harmful GHG profile than simply avoiding the carbon capture element all together.  

Fugutive Methane

The reason for the concern is the release of ‘fugitive’ methane emissions as part of the carbon capture process. Methane is recognised to be ~80x more damaging than CO2 (over its 20 year existence in the atmosphere) and so a small amount does a lot of damage. While this issue appears to have gained little recognition outside the green hydrogen industry it has made significant waves within it. Indeed, the chairman of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association resigned his position over the issue.
Obviously, science improves and governments trying to plan for the long term cannot constantly change direction. To achieve real change we need a stable funding and regulatory environment, which is challenging with so many competing interests as well as the evident time pressure. However, it must be incumbent on the UK government to at least provide clear direction towards a truly green future with the ‘transition period’ of blue hydrogen being as short as possible.The role of the investment community to partner with industry to foster and accelerate innovation also cannot be overstated. At Torvius we aim to play our small part in this process.