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25th Jun 2022

German ministers condemn 'unrealistic' EU hydrogen rules

  • German climate minister Robert Habeck (pictured) and the country's environment minister Steffi Lemke asked the commission to remove the intermediate targets for hydrogen in the EU rules (Photo: EPA)
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Germany's climate minister and environment minister have joined force to criticise the new EU investment criteria for hydrogen and natural gas.

In a joint statement on Friday (21 January), climate minister Robert Habeck and environment minister Steffi Lemke asked the commission to remove the intermediate targets for hydrogen in the EU rules for sustainable investment, arguing that these benchmarks are "not realistically achievable."

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In its draft proposal, controversially only published on New Year's Eve, the European Commission has included gas and nuclear energy as potential green investments in its so-called taxonomy (rules) for sustainable investments.

To qualify for green funds, the EU has proposed at least 30 percent of gas supply needs to be hydrogen or low-carbon gas from 2026 and at least 55 percent from 2030.

As EUobserver reported last week, this would represent a dramatic escalation of the use of hydrogen in Europe.

Currently, hydrogen is used almost exclusively as a chemical reagent in critical, but relatively limited, industrial processes like the manufacturing of ammonia or steel and the desulphurisation of fossil fuels.

It is not used as fuel or as a source of energy for heating homes like natural gas is.

New EU investment plans aim to boost the uptake of hydrogen as a way to decarbonise the gas market over the next 15 years.

But according to Habeck and Lemke, hydrogen should only be used to decarbonise the production processes of heavy industry.

Earlier last week, the German industry association BDI also criticised the EU plans, saying that hydrogen should not be "wasted" as a general energy source for heating homes.

Currently, 96 percent of all hydrogen produced is made with natural gas. If burned, it emits as much carbon dioxide as gasoline and is more polluting than natural gas.

'Green' hydrogen is made with energy derived from the sun or the wind. It can decarbonise heavy industry, but the technology is nascent and only made in tiny quantities.

The International Energy Agency estimates only around 0.03 percent of all hydrogen produced globally currently uses renewables.

Germany has earmarked €8bn - a fifth of its climate-related pandemic stimulus money - for 62 large-scale hydrogen projects.

Most of the projects aim to decarbonise steel and chemical industries, while 12 projects develop fuel-cell systems for cars and vehicles and refuelling infrastructure.

Pro-gas

The European Commission has also proposed that gas-fired plants can qualify for a green label if they replace a more polluting older model and can achieve a 55 percent emissions reduction.

Germany has now asked the commission to relax this requirement to a more "realistic value."

Instead of blending hydrogen and low-carbon gases in the natural gas mix, the taxonomy should allow for more "ultra-modern and efficient" natural gas plants to replace older dirtier coal-fired plants to "allow for a rapid phase-out."

Analysis

Hydrogen - the 'no-lose bet' for fossil-fuel industry?

The EU plans to label natural gas as 'green' in sustainable investment rules. From 2026 it will have to be blended with low-carbon gases like green hydrogen - but many scientists warn this is inefficient, costly and damaging to health.

Lobbyists push to greenwash EU rules for renewable hydrogen

A new report from NGO Global Witness reveals how the Hydrogen Europe industry association is lobbying top EU officials to weaken a key climate-focused law known as the Renewable Energy Directive - currently under revision.

Greenpeace demands EU end 'ghost flights'

Pressure is mounting for the European Commission to revise rules requiring airlines to run at least 80% of booked flights to secure their airport slots, leading some to fly so-called 'ghost flights'.

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