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Blue hydrogen stirs debate as chair of UK lobby group resigns over skepticism


Blue hydrogen 'at best expensive distraction'

UK pursuing both green and blue hydrogen plans

UK targeting 5-GW low-carbon hydrogen by 2030

  • Author
  • James Burgess
  • Editor
  • Daniel Lalor
  • Commodity
  • Coal Energy Transition Natural Gas

The chair of the UK's hydrogen industry association has resigned over a "deep personal conviction" that fossil fuel-derived blue hydrogen is one of many "wrong answers" in the quest for decarbonization.

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Chris Jackson, CEO and founder of hydrogen project developer Protium Green Solutions, stepped down from his role at the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association Aug. 16, a day before the UK unveiled its hydrogen strategy that backs both green hydrogen, made with renewable power using electrolysis, and blue hydrogen, produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage.

"In 30 years' time everyone working in the energy sector today will be asked by the generations that follow us, what we did to prevent the coming climate catastrophe," Jackson said in a LinkedIn post announcing his resignation.

"And I believe passionately that I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on [the] fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonization goals."

Jackson's resignation comes amid growing scrutiny of blue hydrogen.

Researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities said in a report published Aug. 12 that burning blue hydrogen for heating produces 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than using conventional natural gas on a life cycle basis.

In Germany, a government advisory council recommended in June that the country avoids blue hydrogen production on the basis it is unsustainable. Germany's national hydrogen strategy focuses strongly on green but also envisages using blue in certain energy-intensive sectors.

However, proponents of blue hydrogen say the fuel will allow for a more seamless transition from conventional gray hydrogen, made with fossil fuels without capturing emissions, to an economy where green hydrogen becomes dominant.

Celia Greaves, CEO of the UK HFCA, welcomed the UK's "twin-track" approach of green and blue, which will help the country "scale up and decarbonize more quickly".

The EU's hydrogen strategy already sees a range of low-carbon hydrogen solutions as being necessary in the medium term to reduce emissions.

"Our expectation is that blue hydrogen is an extremely effective way of decarbonizing the economy," Tony Ballance, chief strategy and regulation officer at UK gas network operator Cadent Gas, said in an Aug. 17 interview with S&P Global Platts. New carbon capture and storage systems will capture around 97% of CO2 emissions, Ballance said.

UK blue focus

Equally, the UK's target to develop 5 GW of low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 might not be achievable without blue hydrogen. S&P Global Platts Analytics said the country's technology-neutral approach recognized the challenge of building the renewables capacity needed for a solely green hydrogen strategy.

Announced UK green hydrogen projects coming online through 2030 amount to just 44,000 mt of annual production capacity compared with 2.26 million mt/year for announced blue hydrogen projects in the country, according to the Platts Analytics Hydrogen Production Asset Database. The UK's 5-GW target equates to 1.31 million mt/year, Platts Analytics said.

Graham Cooley, CEO of ITM Power, which makes electrolyzers for green hydrogen production, welcomed the debate on green versus blue, but noted that the only net-zero pathway is green hydrogen powered by renewables.

Governments must adopt policies so as not to lock in the wrong technologies, Cooley said in an Aug. 17 interview. "We have the technologies to reach net-zero," he said.

Platts assessed the cost of producing hydrogen via alkaline electrolysis in the UK (including capex) at GBP6.18/kg ($8.46/kg) Aug. 18. PEM electrolysis production was assessed at GBP7.52/kg, while blue hydrogen production by autothermal reforming was GBP2.60/kg (including capex, CCS and carbon).

-- Alex Blackburne, an editor with S&P Global Market Intelligence, contributed to this story.