Australia’s carbon and methane emissions could fall under a “risky” plan to develop a fossil fuel hydrogen industry, researchers say.
The federal government is investing heavily in a new hydrogen industry as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce overall emissions by supporting low- and zero-emission energy projects.
The plan includes both blue and green hydrogen, which the government collectively calls “clean” hydrogen. But they are very different.
Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas and relies on carbon capture and storage (CCS) to reduce the emissions it will generate.
Green hydrogen is emission-free because it is made with renewable energy.
A new research paper by experts at the Australian National University has explored some of the pitfalls of pursuing blue hydrogen, including the intention to rely on CCS.
“Carbon capture and storage technologies don’t always capture a lot of CO2. That’s one of the misconceptions,” said Dr Thomas Longden of ANU’s Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions.
“Using the term ‘clean’ hydrogen implies that CCS projects will capture a lot of emissions, but that’s not necessarily true, especially as Australia has not set a threshold for defining low-carbon hydrogen.”
The government’s national hydrogen strategy says that “to produce hydrogen from natural gas or coal with acceptably low CO2 emissions, a capture rate of 90 percent or more will likely be required”.
“These rates are technically feasible,” the strategy says.
But dr. Longden says it’s far from clear that the industry will have to achieve anything close.
And he notes that higher capture rates are more expensive to achieve and that blue hydrogen cannot be competitive in price as a result.
Once green hydrogen is established, Australia could be left with a fleet of redundant blue hydrogen plants, the research paper warns.
dr. Longden also says that CCS will not do anything about methane, which is inevitably released from natural gas extraction. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, with a warming potential 28 to 36 times greater than CO2.
“So going down the natural gas route is quite risky and means we can have a hydrogen industry that increases our emissions,” he says.
dr. Fiona Beck co-authored the research paper, saying “the government is suggesting that we start an entirely new industry based on natural gas, even though we know it will cause more emissions”.
She says Australia’s only experience to date of setting up a CCS plant is emissions from the Gorgon liquefied natural gas project in Western Australia.
“And it took 10 years to get the CCS bit up and running,” she said.
Last week, Chevron Corp and its partners in the Gorgon project said it would have to invest $40 million in low-carbon WA projects after failing to meet a five-year carbon capture and storage target.
dr. Beck also expressed concern that green hydrogen will quickly overshadow blue hydrogen on price.
“The lifespan of a blue hydrogen plant is somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 years, but it is very unlikely that it will be competitive with green hydrogen for that long,” she says.
“We can’t afford to release carbon dioxide or methane for the next 35 years. We shouldn’t invest in technologies that plan to do this for the long term.”
Australian Associated Press