When the war is not about hydrogen but about a scientific paper, start worrying for the future..
Shortly after the publication of a scientific paper on the greenhouse gas emissions of different Hydrogen sources, Equinor and the UK Committee on Climate Change declared war on the publication and its authors.
Considering we should all be concerned about Climate Change (having squandered the decades when moderate action was possible), and are now seriously evaluating any relevant paths remaining in the little time left, one might expect new scientific analysis to be welcomed, evaluated, and then incorporated into the thinking.
When the opposite happens, something else is at stake: few things are more critical to humans than their ability to survive, so this is worth a closer look.
Using current data and analysis, the paper concludes that blue hydrogen is likely a greater hazard to the climate than natural gas. Few familiar with the hydrogen trajectory were surprised by the results, perhaps only by the actual number that made the headlines.
Equinor at war with a science publication
Equinor was clearly aware of potential issues a month ago, when VP Henrik Solgaard Andersen suggested that "Upstream emissions risk 'killing the concept of blue hydrogen'"
But now Equinor attacks the paper and its authors, as it "believes" the assumptions used in the study were not correct, and then proceeds to use a single specific conceptual case (cherry picked to the extreme) without data or analysis (which doesn't exist yet), to contradict results based on actuals. That's rhetoric, not science.
The paper doesn't surprise
Having read the paper, it is not just headline numbers which stand out; I was curious about the sensitivity analysis, and even when using yet more conservative boundary conditions than the authors, it still shows blue hydrogen in a much worse light than is suggested by the "CCS+hydrogen" industry and supporting academics, and than assumed by the UK government. The "CCS+Hydrogen" industry is the fossil fuel industry by the way.
Why risk Equinor's green reputation?
Why does Equinor care enough to place its carefully built "decarbonising" image at risk by attacking a clearly decarbonisation-focused study? Let's look at two of the company's general public statements.
Equinor states "to cut emissions, we will need to create a hydrogen economy, and for the hydrogen economy to succeed, CCS is crucial", an opinion not shared by most non-petroleum hydrogen and energy industry, the greater "hard-to-abate" sector, even the IEA.
Equinor also states: "Our ambition is to be the world’s most carbon-efficient oil and gas producer". An interesting ambition, as the world tries to rid itself of fossil fuels.
It appears Equinor is committed to increasing (oil &) gas production through the combination of CCS and dirty hydrogen, and emissions are merely a parameter to be gamed.
And while Equinor and others completely ignore the fact that -even without the methane this study focuses on- blue hydrogen emits way too much CO2 to be a viable choice for net-zero, nobody talks about potential leak rates of the conceptual CO2 store of which there is no relevant experience, or about the critical economical parameter of "opportunity cost" of investment for decarbonising the energy system.
The Cornell/Stanford paper shows that when including methane in the emissions, based on actuals -as scientists must do- blue hydrogen enters the "very damaging" area. Equinor seems focused on talking this back to "merely not viable", hoping the whole thing will then be forgotten and the government continue with its mega-projects for the oil industry.
Committee on Climate Change makes it personal
I thought David Joffe of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was a voice of reason in a crowd of fossil business hawks, but I stand corrected. Joffe attacked the “blue hydrogen paper” in a strange populist way, which I found unusual for the CCC’s mildly sensible perspective -at least compared with the UK Government.
In a series of tweets, he
Led by the Science?
From the excitement, the immediate populist and angry response generated around a fascinating, but rather straightforward, uncomplicated and balanced paper, there seems to be something at play unrelated to science, climate change or truth.
How many people realise that regardless of the “transition” and greening noises of the fossil fuel industry, most remain wholly focussed on increasing fossil fuel production?
With some concern I note that this also endangers CCS, and though it appears to have no business tying its fate to hydrogen, it may yet have an important role to play outside the hydrogen context.
(this article was also published in LinkedIn, here.)
1: Link to the paper in this article: https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/08/touted-clean-blue-hydrogen-may-be-worse-gas-or-coal
2: Upstream Online, quoting Equinor statements and David Joffe tweets: https://www.upstreamonline.com/hydrogen/industry-fires-back-at-landmark-study-claim-that-blue-hydrogen-is-worse-than-natural-gas/2-1-1052743
3: Recharge News, 15/7/2021, on Equinor's earlier suggestion on blue hydrogen emissions https://www.rechargenews.com/energy-transition/upstream-emissions-risk-killing-the-concept-of-blue-hydrogen-says-equinor-vice-president/2-1-1040583
4: Equinor website : https://www.equinor.com/en/what-we-do.html#trading-and-shipping, and https://www.equinor.com/en/magazine/uk-energy.html
5: Timur Gül, head of the IEA energy technology division (2020): “I think hydrogen has its place, has quite an important place…but I think if you’re aiming towards net-zero emissions, you don’t look for building a hydrogen economy, you look for a decarbonised energy sector.”
6: David Joffe's tweets, 13/8/2021: https://twitter.com/david_joffe/status/1426108192891850753?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1426108192891850753%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.upstreamonline.com%2Fhydrogen%2Findustry-fires-back-at-landmark-study-claim-that-blue-hydrogen-is-worse-than-natural-gas%2F2-1-1052743