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In the hunt for hydrogen, the UK is in danger of remaining addicted to fossil fuels

A coalition of climate groups has warned the UK government that its hydrogen expansion policy risks keeping the UK dependent on fossil fuels.

One pillar of the government’s plan for a greener future is an extension of the UK’s hydrogen policy, aiming to generate 5 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.

Hydrogen is a potentially carbon-free fuel source, producing heat and water only when burned or used in fuel cells, making it an attractive alternative fuel for heating buildings and powering vehicles.

“Green” hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis, while “blue” hydrogen is produced by splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

Although green hydrogen requires a large energy input, blue hydrogen cannot be described as an emission-free fuel source. While it could be called net-zero coupled with efficient carbon capture and storage, serious limitations remain in this technology.

Now, groups like E3G, WWF and Greenpeace have jointly written a letter to company secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to warn that the oil and gas industry is engaged in an effort to hold the UK to fossil-fuel hydrogen.

They urged him to reconsider rolling out hydrogen-ready boilers or blending natural gas with hydrogen into the gas grid as this could allow the UK to stick to fossil fuels, which would be the government’s legally binding commitment to decarbonise undermine.

Home heating must be provided by already available, efficient technology such as heat pumps, the groups said, adding that this is also likely to be cheaper than replacing gas boilers with hydrogen boilers. New gas boiler installations will be phased out over the next ten years.

The Climate Change Committee estimates that 11 percent of homes in the UK – mostly in the North East of England – will eventually run on hydrogen.

They warned that blue hydrogen still causes pollution from methane leaks from gas extraction through fracking and because the carbon capture and storage technology – which has not yet been widely adopted – does not capture 100 percent of CO2 emissions.

They expressed support for green hydrogen, though acknowledging that it will likely remain a premium product for the next decade as the technology matures. Green hydrogen must be pursued in addition to the scaling up of renewable energy sources;decarbonising carbon-intensive industries; improvements in energy efficiency and retraining in green jobs, they said.

“The government’s hydrogen strategy and future government investment should focus on green hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources and avoid the risks associated with blue hydrogen made from fossil fuels,” said Juliet Phillips, senior policy adviser at think tank E3G, who issued a warning report published. against dependence on blue hydrogen.

To move away from carbon-rich infrastructure, the government must oppose this potential ‘Trojan horse’ of the fossil fuel lobby. houses. The government should not block progress in the short term towards cheaper, more effective and readily available solutions of energy efficiency, heat pumps and renewable heat networks. ”

About three-quarters of the £ 171 million allocated to hydrogen projects in the government’s industrial decarbonization strategy will be spent on blue hydrogen projects.

BP recently announced plans to build the UK’s largest hydrogen plant, which will produce blue hydrogen, by 2030. BP helps fund the Hydrogen Taskforce – a coalition of companies with an interest in hydrogen – chaired by a Shell director.

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, noted that it is worrying that the government appears more interested in producing hydrogen from gas (combined with carbon capture and storage technology) than from renewable energy sources.

“Carbon capture is not zero carbon and has systematically failed to scale after decades of trying,” he said. “Any strategy that relies on it risks poor value for money at best and dead in the water at worst.

The potential for renewable energy production in the UK is huge, so instead of wasting tax money on trying to heat up sub-optimal technology, the government should focus on the clean option from the start.

A spokesperson for the business, energy and industrial strategy division said: “Scaling up low-carbon hydrogen production is an important part of our plan to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050.

“ The UK will do this year to publish its first-ever hydrogen strategy and we have already set out our ambition to generate 5GW low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, supporting approximately 8,000 green jobs.

This work will be supported by measures, including the £ 240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, aimed at supporting of hydrogen production. ”A recent E&T study looked into the lobbying efforts of gas companies, for example through the Hydrogen Council.

A researcher from the Corporate Europe Observatory commented, “It’s terrifying how good these [hydrogen] lobbyists are”. According to some people, hydrogen is at risk of becoming an over-hyped buzzword used by government officials as a broad brushstroke to illustrate an eco-friendly energy future in search of net zero, while deftly bypassing the sky-high technical and logistical difficulties surrounding each massive rollout to homes and industries across the country.