Hydrogen gas has now entered the conversation around energy in a major way. We are seeing blended hydrogen in particular popping up in spaces being touted as a green, sustainable and safe fuel with a lower carbon footprint by fossil fuel companies. So, is blended hydrogen a good alternative to “natural” gas? How does it compare to electrification?
Let’s start at the beginning: what even is blended hydrogen? Blended hydrogen is a mix of hydrogen and “natural” gas (methane) that can be used to cook with, and heat spaces and water. However, it would require new infrastructure since current pipes and appliances are not built to be safe for hydrogen blends. Fossil fuel companies have championed blended hydrogen as a green alternative with a lower carbon footprint. What they don’t say is that most hydrogen is derived from methane or coal, which are MAJOR sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So, blended hydrogen actually increases the amount of GHG emissions, and it prolongs our dependence on fossil fuels and coal. It makes sense as to why fossil fuel companies like Exxon and Chevron would be so excited about blended hydrogen, it allows them to continue profiting off of fossil fuels while claiming to move towards green alternatives.
Now that we know what blended hydrogen is, how is hydrogen gas created? Most hydrogen on earth is in its chemical compound form such as the H in H2O. To create hydrogen gas energy is used to separate it from these other compounds. 99% of all hydrogen gas in the US is created from methane or coal.
Currently the most common processes to create hydrogen are referred to as gray hydrogen, blue hydrogen, and green hydrogen.
Gray Hydrogen is made from methane using a process known as steam methane reformation (SMR). In SMR, methane reacts with steam under pressure to produce hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. This process requires continued use of methane which has very high global warming potential.
Blue hydrogen is gray hydrogen (or brown hydrogen, if made from coal) coupled with carbon capture and storage. These processes require additional energy, making blue hydrogen even more greenhouse gas-intensive. Some but not all of the carbon dioxide produced from making hydrogen is captured and reused or stored.
Green hydrogen is made using 100 percent renewable electricity to separate out hydrogen from water. Only green hydrogen is a zero-emissions fuel and truly renewable. However, green hydrogen is an inefficient and expensive way to create fuel for our homes and buildings when we can directly power those with electricity. Green hydrogen will be critical for hard-to-electrify industries such as long-haul transport, airplanes, steel manufacturing, and electrical grid power-balancing.
So, when it comes down to it, having hydrogen gas in our homes and buildings is completely unnecessary. It is expensive and inefficient when we can just hook our buildings and homes up to renewable electricity. While green hydrogen has its place in hard-to-electrify industries, blended hydrogen is another ploy by the fossil fuel industry to keep us reliant on fossil fuels and from seriously addressing the climate crisis.
If you want to learn more about hydrogen you can check out our webinar Health Harms of Hydrogen Blending that we hosted in partnership with National PSR.