CVNM Position on Hydrogen Production and Use
The transition to clean, renewable energy will be complex. Some sectors – at least for the moment – are “hard-to-decarbonize.” These include heavy industry like steel and cement, medium- and long-haul aviation, maritime shipping, and long-haul trucking, and as a limited complement to electric battery storage for longer duration energy storage. However, research and development is advancing rapidly with emerging renewable technologies being on track to meet much of this need in the near future.
We do not support development of hydrogen infrastructure for sectors where there are current or near-term cost-effective renewable energy alternatives, including electricity generation, most vehicles, cooking and building heating and cooling. It is more efficient to provide power directly from renewable sources than to use renewable energy to produce hydrogen and then use that as an energy source. This is true across sectors and end uses.
CVNM acknowledges a limited role for hydrolytic hydrogen, commonly called green hydrogen and defined as hydrogen created from water hydrolysis using renewable energy. Green hydrogen could be useful in hard-to-decarbonize sectors. However, it can present problems at various stages of production if it is not made with truly additional renewable energy (that is, not diverting renewable energy that would have been used in other sectors) and burning hydrogen produces NOx (nitrogen oxides); NOx are potent GHGs and a health hazard. There are also concerns about the amount of water required for hydrolytic hydrogen production. Even green hydrogen can feed into uses that are not appropriate such as home heating, blended into gas-powered energy plants, or for fueling stations, and long-haul pipelines are also a concern.
We must stop the build out of all forms of fossil-fuel based hydrogen. These are created with fossil-fuel energy sources using feed stocks that also are fossil-based, such as methane gas and coal. The industry likes to color-code them: gray hydrogen made from methane currently supplies 99% of our annual hydrogen and accounts for 3-4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Black is made from bituminous coal and brown from lignite. This also includes blue hydrogen, defined as hydrogen made from fossil fuels with carbon capture (CC) sequestration or use; it is promoted as “clean” hydrogen.
Blue hydrogen is typically produced using steam methane reforming and is energy intensive to create. It also requires high rates of CC to make it “clean” and no project has come close to meeting its CC goals. Many studies have shown that fossil-fuel hydrogen with CC may increase GHG emissions compared with directly burning methane gas due to the additional steps that provide additional outlets for methane leakage; hydrogen combustion emits its own GHG, which has to be factored into the overall “clean” hydrogen budget. In addition, carbon capture itself is energy intensive, reducing a large part of the net energy production. All this makes blue hydrogen bad for the climate, bad for public health, and financially non-competitive. Resources and time should not be invested in a technology that will not substantially and reliably reduce climate pollution.
Hydrolytic hydrogen – in the limited sectors where such use makes economic and climate sense – should be produced as much as possible in co-location with its end-uses. Pipeline infrastructure is not equipped to transport hydrogen in high quantities. Building out that pipeline infrastructure carries many of the same environmental, environmental justice and health concerns as our existing fossil fuel pipeline infrastructure. Hydrogen may be even more likely to leak and even more volatile and explosive than methane, posing additional risks to workers and community members. Any hydrogen leakage could undermine the benefits of green hydrogen because hydrogen is an indirect greenhouse gas that is at least five times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year timeframe. In addition, new long pipelines will inevitably cross Native lands and otherwise likely impact low-income and communities of color, increasing their energy production and pollution burden.
Regardless of the “color,” hydrogen production cannot be used to justify expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure that will prolong and exacerbate pollution and safety risks in already burdened environmental justice communities. We recognize that this means we are potentially working against the short-term interests of workers and communities in oil and gas basins, many of whom understand that they are living a trade-off between good-paying jobs and their health and that of the planet. That is why we call for a just transition for impacted workers and communities that acknowledges their past contributions; provides good-paying jobs and real community support; and that is centered on informed and effective community engagement in transition discussions and planning.