Hydrogen Hype Ignores Substantial Risks 

The latest ‘clean’ fuel fad offers danger, no climate benefits

Published Apr 18, 2023


Climate and Energy

The latest ‘clean’ fuel fad offers danger, no climate benefits

The latest ‘clean’ fuel fad offers danger, no climate benefits

Utilities, fossil fuel companies, and political leaders are increasingly touting the benefits of using hydrogen as a clean fuel source that can reduce climate pollution. But a new Food & Water Watch report reveals that much of this is industry hype that masks the substantial dangers of a switch to hydrogen.

The report – “Hydrogen in Our Homes: A Dangerous Pipe Dream” – documents an array of problems with the push to expand hydrogen. Utilities are promoting plans to either mix small amounts of hydrogen into the fossil gas fuel stock, or blend it into gas that is burned at power plants. Neither option would provide much in the way of climate benefits, and present substantial health and safety dangers.

​​Utilities also promote the notion that hydrogen could be used in homes in the same way that gas is currently used. This is a dangerous prescription: Piping in hydrogen would lead to an increase in blowouts or explosions; hydrogen is 14 times as flammable as natural gas, and igniting it requires significantly less energy. And current appliances are not compatible with hydrogen.

A related problem would arise from leaks. Hydrogen is the smallest element, and is thus very likely to leak from existing pipelines. That would increase the risks associated with explosion, and have negative impacts for the climate, since hydrogen is a potent greenhouse gas – approximately 33 times as bad as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The supposed climate benefits of hydrogen are minimal. A five percent blend of hydrogen, for instance, results in much less than a 5 percent reduction in emissions, because hydrogen produces less energy than methane when burned. Even hydrogen blends that far exceed that amount result in small reductions in greenhouse gas pollution. And changes to existing infrastructure – either pipelines that carry gas or the power plant turbines – would be extremely costly. 

“Fossil fuel companies and utilities are pushing hydrogen because it maintains the fossil fuel status quo,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Researcher Oakley Shelton-Thomas. “Hydrogen is expensive, prone to leakage, and provides basically no climate benefits. Clean renewables like solar and wind vastly outperform hydrogen across the board, so there is no reason whatsoever to divert time and resources into the fossil fuel industry’s phony idea of a miracle fuel.”

Despite the substantial risks linked to hydrogen, the federal government is investing billions in expanding hydrogen production. The 2021 infrastructure law aims to spend $8 billion to support several regional “hydrogen hubs.” The Inflation Reduction Act creates financial incentives for each kilogram of hydrogen that is produced.

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Press Contact: Peter Hart [email protected]