We hear “green hydrogen,” but it’s mostly industry-backed propaganda when 99% of all hydrogen produced in the world comes from fossil fuels.
João Camargo is a climate activist in grassroots movement Climaximo in Portugal and in the Climate Jobs campaign. He’s an environmental engineer and climate change researcher at the University of Lisbon and the author of two books: Climate Change Combat Manual (in Portugal and Spain) and Portugal in Flames – How to rescue the forests.
Cross-posted from Common Dreams
There is a huge propaganda effort to frame “green” hydrogen as an energy technology with a relevant role in decarbonization. The effort does not pass basic tests—emissions, cost, efficiency and origin of the hydrogen. The European green hydrogen strategy (which is nothing more than the German hydrogen strategy), by creating major transport routes, would serve only to consolidate the relations of dependence of the peripheries on Germany, act as another lifeline for the fossil gas industry and hinder decarbonization.
The content produced by the major promoters of hydrogen—oil companies, Eurogas, which brings together European gas companies, and ENTSOG, the European Network of Gas Operating Systems—conceals crucial information and should be seen as what it is, propaganda.
Local production and consumption of green hydrogen could be viable in a process of decarbonizing heavy industry, with solar panels and wind turbines producing green hydrogen that can be consumed on-site. As soon as there is a process for transporting hydrogen, the process becomes an obstacle to decarbonization. Why?
The level of losses in long-distance maritime liquid hydrogen transportation is between 30 and 40%, with a further 5% lost in the regasification process at ports. To put hydrogen into a pipeline and transport it to another location and burn it at the final destination, the level of losses is monumental. Each energy conversion—hydrogen; compression; fuel cells; introduction into the network; and final consumer—leads to more energy losses. The technology for converting energy into hydrogen and back into energy is, at best, 46%, but can be as low as 18%. This means a level of losses of between 54% and 82%. Hydrogen transported in pipelines is an energy technology with 18% to 46% efficiency, a massive waste of produced energy.
Then there’s the harsh reality: we hear “green hydrogen,” but 99% of all hydrogen produced in the world comes from fossil fuels. Last year, global hydrogen production was responsible for more than 900 million tons of CO2 emissions, which is more than the emissions of all global aviation. Hydrogen, whether burned on site, put into a pipeline or put on a boat, is fossil-based, mostly from fossil gas.
The plans to expand “green hydrogen” infrastructure are complete nonsense. To illustrate this, I will talk about the specific case of Portugal, a small country with a high level of renewable energy production, and how the hydrogen fever is serving as a tool to blockade energy transition, consolidate the fossil gas sector and serve German industrial interests.
In Portugal, there is a pipeline project called CelZa (Celorico da Beira—Zamora) by the companies REN and Enagás that is the main spearhead of hydrogen technology in the country. The project’s clearest objectives—to transport natural gas and create hydrogen projects (grey, green or otherwise)—set the country’s decarbonization back decades, intrench fuel dependence on fossil gas and threaten to divert the potential of renewable projects.
CelZa, that was once a simple pipeline for “natural” gas, recently gained star status by being renamed the “Green Energy Corridor” by some communication company working for the government. This project would link two fossil gas pipelines between Portugal and Spain and guarantee the continuity of the flow of gas between the Portuguese port of Sines and Barcelona. The French government vetoed a gas pipeline across the Pyrenees, so a new project was created to take it across the sea to Marseille, where it would connect to the gas pipelines that go to the center of Europe, making up for the lack of Russian gas felt by German industry.
What would the plan for hydrogen be? To start with the Celorico da Beira—Zamora section and move on to transform the entire natural gas pipeline network, which would continue to be able to transport gas, but would also be able to transport hydrogen. The transformation of the following sections of pipeline would cost billions of euros. Only when all the pipelines had been converted into hydrogen pipelines would it be possible to transport 100% hydrogen, the official communication by the government. This would only be possible after years and thousands of kilometers of the Spanish and French pipelines still to go before it reaches the center of Europe.
Until then, the CelZa pipeline would transport natural gas and maybe a small share of hydrogen. The idea that this hydrogen would be 100% green would involve much more than the government’s expansion of plans for 2030 from 2.5 GW to 5.5 GW. The hydrogen would largely be gray hydrogen, produced in gas plants, coinciding with the plans of the government and the gas companies—REN, EDP and Galp—to perpetuate LNG in the Port of Sines, either to transport and use as gas, to make hydrogen, and to import gas or hydrogen from countries in the Global South, namely from the African continent and Brazil.
Expanding green hydrogen from basically zero today to 5.5 GW by 2030 would mean diverting funding and resources away from decarbonization and electrification and into exporting our renewable capacity. With the level of losses we know, it means installing renewables to throw away.
A study by Recommon indicates that to produce 5 GW of green hydrogen—less than the government’s plan—it would be necessary to install solar panels on an area of 43,000 hectares (more than the area of Porto), or wind turbines on an area of 550,000 hectares (more than the combined area of Portugal’s 10 largest cities). This is the way to guarantee permanent monopolies on renewable energy, rejecting small-scale highly efficient models, and the guarantee of massive popular rejection of renewables due to their high impact on the environment when organized this way.
CelZa, like the four other new continental gas pipelines—Baltic, North Sea, North Africa and Eastern Europe—the “Hydrogen Backbone” is a project to send energy from the periphery of Europe and the Global South to German industry, to the serious detriment of all projects in other countries and continents.
Green hydrogen has a tiny if any role to play in decarbonization. The current hydrogen trade and transport plans are a huge obstacle to decarbonization.
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