Hydrogen Life Cycle Analysis
Life cycle analysis is a tool used to assess the environmental impact of a product or process over its entire life, from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal of waste products.
In considering the total impact of blue hydrogen, a complete life cycle analysis would evaluate the environmental impact of extracting natural gas feedstock, transporting materials, steam methane reforming, capturing and storing carbon dioxide, and the end use of the produced hydrogen.
So what is the actual environmental impact of blue hydrogen? Recent analyses suggest blue hydrogen could be worse than simply burning natural gas. According to a peer-reviewed study published in 2021, “the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat and some 60% greater than burning diesel oil for heat.”
Industry has countered concerns about carbon pollution associated with the hydrogen life cycle by touting technology to capture and store carbon dioxide produced as a byproduct of manufacturing hydrogen. However, not only has carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology not been proven at scale, it promotes continued use of carbon-intensive resources and “locks in emissions” by extending the life of industrial processes that should ultimately be decommissioned.
The Hype About Hydrogen
Evidence clearly indicates that the marketing hype surrounding blue hydrogen as a clean energy source is based on false and misleading claims – also known as greenwashing – partially based on unproven assumptions about the long-term viability of carbon capture and storage. More importantly, despite the false pretense that blue hydrogen is carbon-neutral, producing blue hydrogen is actually a carbon-intensive process that perpetuates our reliance on fossil fuels, and therefore provides little or no benefit for transitioning to a carbon-free future.
Transitioning to hydrogen sustainably is predicated by the eventual widespread adoption of “green” hydrogen produced through electrolysis of water using renewable energy sources (see Table 1). Because it does not use fossil fuels as a feedstock, the production of green hydrogen neither produces carbon dioxide emissions nor perpetuates fossil fuel extraction.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
As hydrogen development progresses, there may be other viable alternatives. Hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that converts hydrogen gas into electricity through a chemical reaction, have some distinct advantages over traditional fossil fuel-based power sources. They are highly efficient, produce electricity with little to no emissions, and can be refueled quickly and easily. Fuel cells are already used in a variety of applications, including as a source of power for vehicles, such as cars and buses, as well as for stationary power generation in homes and businesses.
However, there are also limitations to the use of hydrogen fuel cells. One of the main challenges is the infrastructure needed to support their use. In order for fuel cells to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels, a comprehensive network of hydrogen fuel stations and other support infrastructure must be developed. This is an area that is currently being explored and developed, but it is not yet fully established. Additionally, the cost of hydrogen fuel cells and the associated infrastructure can be high, making them less accessible to some individuals and communities