Most EU Hydrogen Projects Risk Prolonging Use of Fossil Fuels

Yves here. There’s far too much of this sort of thing, of various initiatives that present themselves as green energy or low-carbon or carbon neutral are actually Trojan horses for continued dependence on fossil fuels.

By Phoebe Cooke, Senior Reporter at DeSmog, who has previously written for The Independent, The Evening Standard, The Sun Online, Deutsche Welle, The Local and Prospect Magazine. Originally published at DeSmogBlog

The European Commission is facing calls to assess the climate impact of scores of proposed hydrogen projects after data revealed that 90 percent of them could be used to prolong the use of planet-warming natural gas.

Companies operating Europe’s existing natural gas infrastructure are seeking to preserve the value of their assets by converting them to carry clean-burning hydrogen to power homes and industry in line with legally-binding climate targets.

But the data compiled by Brussels-based research and advocacy group Food & Water Action Europe, and shared with DeSmog, shows that 57 percent of 147 hydrogen projects under consideration by the European Commission are designed to also carry natural gas, or “blue” hydrogen made from the fossil fuel. A further 33 percent of projects have failed to rule out carrying fossil-based hydrogen, or have no credible plans to source climate-friendly “green” hydrogen.

Only 10 percent of the projects explicitly commit to using green hydrogen – which is produced from water using a process powered by wind or solar energy, and does not produce the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with other forms of the energy carrier.

Many of the hydrogen schemes also fail to adequately consider how they would align with climate targets; the risk of hydrogen leaks; whether there will be sufficient hydrogen demand; where hydrogen will be sourced, or the economics of hydrogen infrastructure, campaigners say.

In response to the findings, Marie Toussaint, a French Green Party politician, urged policymakers to assess whether each project aligned with a European Union target to slash emissions by more than half by the end of this decade, compared to 1990 levels.

“We call on the Commission to stand firm and prevent European public money from financing the ‘hydrogen hype’ via disproportionate climate-killing projects pushed by certain member states and lobbies,” Toussaint, who is a member of the European Parliament, told DeSmog.

Climate change is accelerating and droughts and floods are hitting our continent,” she said. “The roadmap is clear, and repeated many times by scientists: We must no longer, the European Union must no longer, invest the slightest euro in fossil fuels.”

The European Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

The data was derived from a review of hydrogen projects applying for classification as European Commission “Projects of Common or Mutual Interest” (PCIs or PMIs) — key projects to increase energy infrastructure connectivity, while meeting climate targets, that may be eligible for public funds. Successful projects are to be announced in November.

Hydrogen was included in the PCI/PMI category for the first time this year – a sign of the increasingly strong legislative and policy support hydrogen projects enjoy within Europe.

European gas companies proposed more than 90 percent of the hydrogen projects, ranging from pipeline networks and energy ‘corridors’, to salt caverns capable of storing liquefied hydrogen.

The proposals included a storage facility in Slovakia that would store 95 percent natural gas and five percent hydrogen, and H2 Med, a pipeline project connecting Spain, Portugal, France and Germany that has not ruled out transporting hydrogen made using natural gas.

Green Hydrogen

The EU has set ambitious goals to develop green hydrogen which is seen as a possible solution for decarbonising so called hard-to-abate industries, such as steel. However, the data showed that many of the proposals contained no mention of green hydrogen at all.

Most of the proposed hydrogen projects would either allow for continued use of natural gas within pipelines; carry a blend of natural gas and hydrogen, or rely heavily on blue hydrogen, made from natural gas.

The fossil fuel industry says blue hydrogen can be a climate solution since the CO2 generated during the production process is sequestered underground using a process known as carbon capture and storage. Critics dismiss that claim, arguing that the process prolongs demand for fossil gas; is inefficient; and leaks large amounts of CO2.

More than a hundred of the project submissions were made by members of the Brussels-based European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas, a trade association representing gas networks across Europe. “ENTSOG sees green hydrogen to be the dominant source of hydrogen for the future European energy infrastructure,” a spokesperson told DeSmog.

A further 37 projects were submitted by other fossil fuel companies, including Germany utility Uniper, Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor, and oil majors Shell and BP.

More than a hundred of the projects would repurpose existing fossil fuel infrastructure.

Frida Kieninger of Food & Water Action Europe, who led the analysis, said the fossil fuel industry enjoyed a priority seat at the table in deciding on key infrastructure.

“Unsurprisingly, they have little to no concern about these giant infrastructure projects transporting hydrogen made from dirty fossil fuels,” Kieninger told DeSmog.

“It’s not hard to imagine what this risks leading to: billions spent on hydrogen pipes despite high uncertainties around future demand and supply – and a damaging impact on the climate.”

Touissant, of the Green Party, says the criteria for approving the projects should exclude hydrogen produced from natural gas and require projects to run on green hydrogen by 2029.

“If a project does not respect the imposed conditions…the project leaders must be sanctioned and ordered to reimburse the public funds received,” she said.

“Greenwashing must be fought, especially when it comes to using public money.”

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  1. Ignacio

    Unsurprising. “the fossil fuel industry enjoyed a priority seat in the table”. Lot’s of consultants in Brussels will happily sign contracts with these and help them whitewashing/greenwashing whatever they propose. Fossil fuel industries are the ones with more money for that.

  2. tevhatch
    The link is to the problems with using Hydrogen in ICE engines. Even burning it in existing turbines causes a significant derating of power output. If they are going to use the blue Hydrogen to make liquid fuels that are more compatible with existing infrastructure, then they just went through all of that carbon generation and energy loss for squat. The carbon tail for up grading all the infrastructure only makes sense if the hydrogen is generated without carbon. Also, Hydrogen is a green house agent itself, so leakage has to be off set against potential carbon savings.

  3. vao

    H2 Med, a pipeline project connecting Spain, Portugal, France and Germany that has not ruled out transporting hydrogen made using natural gas.

    The H2Med pipeline is the successor of a gas pipeline project called MidCat to send regasified LNG from the Barcelona terminal to France via the Pyrenees. It was left incomplete because of Spanish political shenanigans and some reluctance by French locals, and has now been modified into a much more expensive undersea pipeline from Barcelona to Marseille.

    Although touted as green hydrogen project, its implicit, unexpressed objective is still to transport regasified gas from Spain to France. This is because:
    1) Its departure point is the Barcelona terminal, which has large facilities for handling LNG and none for liquid hydrogen.
    2) If green hydrogen is to be produced in Spain, resp. Portugal, then this requires the generation of dedicated renewable energy in those countries to hydrolyse water into H2. Neither Spain nor Portugal is producing the excess electricity out of hydropower, photovoltaic, wind, or geothermal sources necessary for H2Med to be viable as a green energy project.
    3) There are currently no facilities in France to use the hydrogen delivered by the pipeline at scale.

    The only reason why it is advertised as a conduit for hydrogen is because the EU will otherwise not participate in the financing of infrastructure for fossil fuels. Labelled “green hydrogen”, up to 50% of the costs may be taken over by the EU budget — but in the end gas will flow through the pipeline. In any case, the project has been decried as a white elephant, as it is way more expensive than the land pipeline through the Pyrenees, and LNG tankers can dock in Marseille anyway.

    Often, the argument is made that gas pipelines can be repurposed for carrying hydrogen. This is extremely doubtful, since hydrogen requires much tighter impermeability than for gas, and more resistent pipelines, since hydrogen makes metal brittle. Similarly, the argument that LNG terminals can be repurposed to handle liquid (supposedly green) hydrogen brought in by tankers is questionable, as gas becomes liquid at -163C, while hydrogen must be cooled to -253C — the infrastructure must be adequately built for that.

    All in all, most hydrogen projects seem to be swindles.

  4. Synoia

    Large scale hydrogen production appears to be unfeasible because electrolysis of sea water produces brine, which is a containment, and poisonous.

    All that does is relocate the pollution as opposed to having a clean fuel.

    Better to place solar panels in the desert, and around the equator.

    However, One suspects that Solar panel manufacture at large scale would have also have pollution issues.

    1. tevhatch

      electrolysis of sea water produces brine which is a contaminant(?)

      Brine is a commercial term used to denote water saltier than normal seawater, and it’s ecological impact depends on the concentration and where it is being diluted (back into seawater, pumped underground). Brine is pumped out of ground or concentrated from seawater in salt pans for salt production, which is used to create many important industrial and agricultural chemicals. I guess it’s all dependent on how it’s handled, but based on the pack of lies used to sell this program, you have reason to suspect them.

      1. Synoia

        Thanks. I believe we are on the same page, even if we approached the issue form different corners.

        My personal belief is solar panels in possibly with large arrays in deserts. The lack of 24 x 7 power provides breaks for employees.

        Unless solar arrays take more electricity and material produces a negative yield. My experience with roof solar panels in Southern California is that I received a significant saving on electricity costs with the panels.

        Putting panels on roofs appears to mitigates possible damage to plants in a desert.

  5. Cine Tee

    Hydrogen is only as “green” as the electricity it’s made from, and it’s not that green when it’s made from natural gas.

    It will always consume more electricity to make Hydrogen from water than the energy you can get back, so Hydrogen is only a distribution method, not an energy source. But why convert electricity into hydrogen when we already have distribution methods for electricity.

    In effect, a hydrogen tank in a car is an alternative to lithium batteries. Quicker to fill up than to charge current lithium batteries, and you can drive farther per tank. That’s mostly convenience, not saving the planet, except we could avoid digging up the planet for Lithium.

    Also, current hydrogen tanks are very sturdy, but someone will eventually have the bright idea to make lightweight tanks out of composites to hold the 10,000psi of liquid hydrogen, with the drawback that, on the rare occasions when the self-driving car screws up on the highway, some accidents could be explosive.

    1. Piotr Berman

      The chief conceptual problem of solar and wind power is variability of supply that does not match variability of demand. If this is just a daily cycle then relatively small number of hydro-power installations could do it, and perhaps battery based solutions too, but the cost would be comparable, I guess, with the cost of generating. Wind is more variable of the two, I think 2022 had much lower wind for European generators, leading to huge increase for thermal power. There are windy seasons during the year and not windy, etc.

      If hydrogen can be stored like natural gas, like in salt domes or in former gas fields, this would provide good storage medium, and existing gas fired turbines could perhaps work with hydrogen. (But would turbine parts become brittle?).

      My take is that for at least a decade, reducing the use of thermal power and using thermal power intermittently, to make up for shortages of solar/wind/hydro, is most cost effective, while the issues of storing energy between surplus seasons/years and deficit periods should be under development and assessment, no trillion dollar scale investments yet. Plus, nuclear energy may reduce storage requirements by its almost constant production rate that can be adapted to a daily cycle with new solutions.

  6. PolarFleeced

    Hydrogen is not a viable transportation fuel. The efficiency losses in generation (electrolysis is 30% energy efficient) and compression (H2 needs to be at 10,000psi to be transported in tanks, using up huge energy to compress) make it impractical.

    These projects are silly eco-modernist pipe dreams.

    Build solar wind and water electrical generation.

    Electrify the railways. Put containers on trains, not diesel trucks.

  7. Outcome Focus

    Is the purpose of the European Commission to be counter-productive at scale? They are like a King Midas Mutant turning eveything they touch to toxic excrements useless for any purpose.
    Gold can be used by others to sell and but stuff you need but, e.g., banning yourself buying the gas necessary for your society is toxic excrement.

  8. MFB

    But, but, but . . . the EU has promised South Africa a billion dollars for green hydrogen projects! Note the word green there! And the EU is the greenest organisation in the world and also the most peace-loving as their green project to deindustrialize Ukraine shows!

    How can you possibly spread this misinformation about the green warriors of the world! I shall complain to Mr Musk about you! And possibly Mr Ramaphosa, if he ever answers his emails!

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