Beyond the hype. A reality check on hydrogen.

Source Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBLv)

Hydrogen economy is old wine in new bottles

It is the dream of a seemingly inexhaustible and cheap source of energy that will make our lives comfortable and our economy competitive. Just like coal, and then oil, gas and nuclear. But every energy source has come at a price: pollution, waste and a disrupted climate. Renewable energy requires a painful transition from fuels to electricity, so hydrogen was a godsend. Hydrogen burns without emitting CO2 and seems to make the impossible possible: an energy transition without major adjustments. With hydrogen, everything stays the same: instead of natural gas we will heat with hydrogen, instead of petrol or diesel we will fill up with hydrogen, and soon even industry and gas power stations will run on hydrogen. This will not only make our energy cleaner, it will also give the current energy infrastructure a second life.

The dream sounds too good to be true

It takes a lot of energy to produce hydrogen. The cheapest way is via a chemical process from fossil fuels, but this still leads to methane and CO2 emissions. Splitting water with (a lot of) renewable electricity is also possible. But that electricity is needed elsewhere, and we do not currently have many wind or solar power plants.

This is where the shoe pinches. In many applications, hydrogen is just inefficient electricity.

But this has not stopped industry and politics. A great deal of hype has been generated around the ‘hydrogen economy’. Meanwhile, there is also a lot of well-founded criticism; the end of the hype is in sight. Renewable hydrogen is an important factor in the transition of some sectors, but warnings about exaggerated expectations are proving to be justified: growth rates for renewable hydrogen production are falling far short of targets, and one non-essential application for hydrogen after another is being exposed.

The environmental movement therefore believes that the time is right for a thorough reality check of the current Belgian and European hydrogen strategies.

Recommendations for a Belgian hydrogen policy

This publication summarises our findings on the production, import and use of hydrogen and concludes with our recommendations for a Belgian hydrogen policy that does not lose sight of the goal: an energy supply for Belgium that meets the short- and long-term needs of our daily lives and keeps our economy competitive without overshooting planetary boundaries.

This article Dossier: Voorbij de hype. Een reality check rond waterstof | Bond Beter Leefmilieu (in Dutch) first appeared on BBLv News on December 4, 2023.

Image: BBLv

English summary of the report ‘Beyond the hype. A reality check on hydrogen’

The promise of replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen-based fuels is not credible. The physical characteristics of hydrogen simply do not allow it. A hydrogen vision in 2023 which is based on producing, transporting and consuming as much hydrogen as possible, would increase greenhouse gas emissions, raise the cost of the energy system, and increase geopolitical risks.

The environmental movement therefore calls for the Belgian Hydrogen Vision to be revised in order to take the limits of hydrogen into account.



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