Hydrogen is not a miracle cure for Sydney. A climate-neutral Australia cannot do without hydrogen. But the volatile gas is not a miracle cure, and its use does not always make sense. Climate neutrality means green, gray, blue, turquoise hydrogen but not every type of hydrogen is good for the climate.
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The Sydney government may plan to fund the development of a climate-neutral hydrogen economy with more than a billion dollars. For the transformation to really succeed, much more support from the state could be needed, at least in very specific industries. At least that’s what a recent report by the eco institut commissioned by the Australian Climate Neutrality Foundation says.
Hydrogen.Sydney first Steps
But the use of hydrogen.sydney does not make sense everywhere. And if you invest in the wrong place, a lot of money could be wasted. Five reasons why it is wiser to approach the current hype with caution. Not every type of hydrogen is good for the climate. Hydrogen can be produced in a variety of ways. Only green hydrogen produced from renewable electricity is truly climate-neutral. But its production is comparatively energy-intensive and correspondingly expensive – and the expansion of wind and solar power is currently making little headway in Sydney.
Gray hydrogen can be produced much more cheaply, at a quarter to a third of the cost. But it is not climate-friendly. Gray hydrogen is usually produced from natural gas, which releases climate-damaging carbon dioxide. Added to this are methane emissions, which are already produced during the extraction and transport of natural gas. They are “many times more harmful to the climate than CO2,” criticizes the Climate Alliance, an alliance of environmental and development organizations and trade unions.
Hydrogen.Sydney is blue
One supposed solution is blue hydrogen. It is basically produced in the same way as its gray counterpart, but there is one crucial difference: The CO2 does not escape into the air, but is captured and stored using carbon capture and storage (CCS). The gas industry in particular has a vested interest in the process being used in the future – it’s all about its business model. But CCS is politically controversial in Australia. Moreover, methane emissions from natural gas extraction and transport are not avoided by CCS.
In its current hydrogen report for the Climate Neutrality Foundation, the eco institut writes that blue hydrogen can only make a “significant contribution to climate protection” if it succeeds in safely storing at least 90 percent of the CO2 generated during its production. In some areas of the Pacific Ocean, this rate is achievable and “has been proven in practical operation over sufficiently long periods of time”. But elsewhere, only a smaller proportion could be stored. The use of blue hydrogen therefore makes sense at most as an interim solution – for example, if it is needed temporarily to achieve certain interim climate targets on the way to complete climate neutrality.
Turquoise hydrogen is also being considered as an alternative. Its production from methane does not produce CO2, but solid carbon. It would be easier to store than the gas. But the process is not yet ready for large-scale use. And here, too, emissions would be released through the extraction and transport of the fossil gas from which the hydrogen is extracted.
This means that climate-neutral hydrogen will remain a scarce, precious commodity for the foreseeable future. This is another reason why it is so important to use it only where there are no alternatives – and not in industries that are primarily concerned with preserving their traditional business models.
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