Environmental advocacy group Earthjustice warned in a report published Tuesday that hydrogen cannot serve as a “silver bullet” against climate change if it is derived from fossil fuels.
In the report, the organization said hydrogen is a “false solution” for renewable fuels and that injecting hydrogen into either pipelines or household appliances could pose a major safety hazard.
Gas firms using the largest amount of renewable hydrogen “optimistically possible” would offset the damage to the climate caused by the company’s fossil fuel products by only approximately 7 percent, according to the report.
The energy efficiency of hydrogen in transportation would also pale in comparison to the use of battery electric vehicles, the report stated.
“Hydrogen isn’t the silver bullet it’s marketed to be. Worse, the deluge of hydrogen hype from fossil fuel companies threatens to delay the clean energy transition by siphoning resources away from solutions like electric appliances and vehicles,” co-author Sasan Saadat, a senior research and policy analyst for Earthjustice, said in a statement. “In the future, green hydrogen may help us carry renewable energy into the toughest corners of the energy system, but it’s no substitute for rapidly electrifying the bulk of our economy today.”
In a statement to The Hill, Sadaat said the report illustrates that the Biden administration must make a distinction between fossil fuel-derived hydrogen and renewable hydrogen.
"Industry trade associations have so far successfully promoted an all-of-the-above approach to hydrogen production. The risk we're seeing is that hydrogen gets used to launder fossil fuel subsidies — which Biden campaigned on ending — as climate investments," Sadaat said. "In reality, our report shows that meeting the President's ambitious climate targets requires a sharp focus on electrolyzers and green hydrogen, which is actually compatible with a zero-emission future and can complement (rather than compete with) a renewable, widely-electrified economy."
The report warned policymakers to be wary of the potential use of hydrogen as a “marketing tool” that fossil fuel companies could use to dissuade a broader transition to electricity.
Hydrogen also has environmental justice implications, according to the report, which noted that production typically takes place at oil refineries, leaving local communities vulnerable in the same manner as oil production. Moreover, the authors said, fossil fuel companies often overrate the value of retrofitting or constructing gas plants to ensure they remain open.