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For many, hydrogen is the fuel of the future. New research raises doubts

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According to a new assessment from the’s International Agency for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, hydrogen fuel may be worse for the climate than previously assumed.

Many people believe that hydrogen, the most abundant substance in the universe, will be the clean energy of the future. However, a new peer-reviewed study questions its effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are the primary cause of catastrophic global warming. The most significant stumbling block: The majority of hydrogen used today is derived from natural gas, a process that consumes a lot of energy and produces a lot of CO2.

The natural gas sector has advocated absorbing carbon dioxide in order to make hydrogen that is free of emissions. However, according to a new study, even that fuel releases more pollution along its whole supply chain than simply burning natural gas. “To term it a zero-emissions gasoline is completely incorrect,” says the study’s main scientist. Researchers from Cornell and Stanford Universities collaborated on the article, which was published in the journal Energy Science & Engineering.

The researchers used the estimate that 3.5 percent of the gas extracted from the earth leaks into the atmosphere, based on accumulating evidence that natural gas drilling produces significantly more methane than previously thought. They also factored in the amount of natural gas needed to run the carbon capture equipment. The greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen was more than 20% higher than that of natural gas or coal when used for heating.

According to a new assessment from the Department of Energy, hydrogen is more efficient than natural gas in the long run. Findings like these could change the equation for hydrogen, which is used to power cars, heat houses, and power plants. The natural gas sector has been extensively advertising hydrogen as a reliable, next-generation fuel in recent years.

Hydrogen may one day be used for energy storage or to power certain modes of transportation. However, there is a growing consensus that a larger hydrogen economy based on natural gas could be harmful to the environment. According to Drew Shindell, a professor of earth science at Duke University, the recent study added to the evidence. He was the lead author of a United Nations research released this year that indicated that reducing methane, the major component of natural gas, is significantly more important than previously assumed in combating global warming.

According to a McKinsey & Company estimate, hydrogen energy might produce $140 billion in yearly income by 2030 and sustain 700,000 jobs. By 2050, hydrogen may cover 14% of worldwide energy consumption, according to the study. “The possibility of continuing to use fossil fuels with something extra put on as a potential climate solution is neither properly accounting for emissions nor making realistic assumptions” about future costs, according to the report.

The most recent bipartisan infrastructure bill allocates $8 billion to the development of regional hydrogen hubs. Environmentalists have slammed the funding, calling it a “fossil fuel subsidy.” Some Democrats, such as Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, have criticized the notion, calling it an “empty promise.” A solar-powered hydrogen pilot plant has been proposed by NextEra Energy in Florida.

Green hydrogen, as the industry calls it, would eventually have to be produced using renewable energy. Electrolyzing water to extract hydrogen atoms from oxygen is a time-consuming and energy-intensive process. Because there isn’t enough renewable energy to produce large amounts of hydrogen today, very little of it is green. The National Fuel Cell Research Center’s director, Jack Brouwer, explains, “First we utilize blue, then we make it entirely green.”

The majority of hydrogen fuel will be produced from natural gas using a polluting and energy-intensive steam reforming process. Carbon capture and storage technology, which includes absorbing carbon dioxide before it is discharged into the atmosphere, is used to create blue hydrogen. However, the natural gas used to make hydrogen, power steam reforming, and drive the CO2 collection system is not included. “Those are significant,” says Cornell’s Dr. Howarth.

According to an Entergy spokesman, hydrogen is “part of establishing a long-term carbon-free future.” Hydrogen integration is being researched by National Grid, Stony Brook University, and New York State. According to a methane expert, more scientists are beginning to look into some of the industry’s assertions about hydrogen. According to the Department of Energy, there are no plans to create or use hydrogen in the near future.

According to National Grid, hydrogen will play a significant role in the coming decades, with renewable energy being the cornerstone. According to a representative for New York State, the state was “exploring all technologies,” including hydrogen, to help meet its climate goals. She claims that the state’s researchers will “examine and consider the blue hydrogen paper.”

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