Blue Hydrogen: Yuck!
I wish to commend you on the excellent piece by Sean O’Leary on blue hydrogen and the effort to have us all subsidize the building of a hydrogen hub in the Ohio River Valley. I’d like to add a couple of points, mostly from a Zoom I watched yesterday through the VOICES coalition, a presentation by Tom Solomon who heads 350.org in New Mexico.
He said that two recent peer-reviewed studies found that blue hydrogen is 20% worse than just burning natural gas for electricity, in terms of carbon footprint.
I should clarify, as O’Leary’s piece did not, that blue hydrogen is hydrogen generated from fossil fuels (usually methane) but with the CO2 (supposedly) captured and sequestered. Grey hydrogen is derived from fossil fuels without carbon capture, and is 98% of the market today. Then there is green hydrogen, derived from renewable energy—this is less than one percent of hydrogen today, no doubt because it’s much more expensive than grey hydrogen.
For transportation, from extraction to the wheels, renewable energy powering an electric car is 77% efficient. Renewable energy to a fuel cell-powered car is 33%, even without carbon capture. Furthermore, there are currently 55,000 charging stations for electric cars all over the US, and only 55 for fuel cell cars, all of them in California.
It simply makes no sense to use a less efficient, more expensive means to generate fuel or power, and then attempt to capture the carbon at extra cost in money and energy. So why would we do this? Why would we pay much more, either in taxes or power bills, to subsidize a less efficient way to accomplish things? Given that solar and wind are now the cheapest energy sources as well as the least polluting, why aren’t we putting subsidies there instead?
O’Leary’s piece summed it up nicely. This scheme is not an attempt to create energy while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. It’s an attempt to prolong the gas industry in the face of increasing pressure to finally do something about climate change, and in the face of increasing competition from renewable energy. O’Leary points to “campaign donations” (a euphemism for bribes) to politicians from industry.
It’s my opinion that the reason we keep seeing such a train of false solutions to climate change is that decision-makers and researchers have been given a two-part mandate: find a way to reduce emissions, and don’t change anything about power or economic relations. The first is preferable but fakery is acceptable if necessary, as the second is iron-clad; “nothing will fundamentally change” is a mandate. I believe the two are mutually incompatible, and thus we see a string of glittery high-tech magic wands that appear with fanfare, are hyped and given public funds, and then quietly disappear. This is at least the second time hydrogen has appeared in this magic show.
Realistically, if there is to be a solution to climate change and biodiversity loss, it must come from us. Primarily we have the power to stop contributing to all this by withdrawing from the consumption rat race, powering our homes renewably, reducing our traveling and generally stop supporting the large corporations that are running the show and blocking change.
Herbicides OK in a few places
The request to ban the use of agriculture pesticides on all National Wildlife Refuges is good. However very limited very carefully used pesticides are needed to save the native ecosystems from non-native invasive species. The National Wildlife Federation advocates for this. For example cut stumping Japanese Barberry and Oriental bittersweet when the plants are too hard to mechanically remove and thus greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease from deer ticks. Cut stumping the non-native vines that strangle the trees and cause them to fall down such as Oriental bittersweet is also critical. We use a very small amount of 15% glyphosate at the little cup that forms where the plant is cut at ground level.
Marc Imlay PhD
Board member of Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council
Note: This letter is in response to the article Sticking Up for Wildlife that appeared in the July issue.