31st May 2023


'Clean hydrogen' is the fossil-fuel industry in disguise

  • Hydrogen is not a fuel to create an energy transition — it is intended to bolster the fossil fuel status quo (Photo: Possessed Photography)
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The fossil fuel industry knows that the days of outright denying climate change are over. Polluting companies have since shifted their focus to hyping new technologies that promise to reduce emissions without affecting their business model.

For years, they have focused their attention on so-called 'carbon capture' — which has never truly functioned as advertised. These days, you're likely to hear a lot about hydrogen, what they call a clean fuel that can be integrated into existing gas systems.

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However, a closer look at the actual hydrogen plans and the interests behind it is deeply sobering for all those among us caring about averting climate chaos, and the deepening of an energy and cost of living crisis in Europe.

Dozens of new hydrogen projects are being proposed across the European Union — almost 150 applied to be on the EU's "priority list" to receive priority status and subsidies. But despite its reputation as a clean fuel, the vast majority of these projects are backed by the fossil fuel industry.

That is not surprising; most hydrogen being produced is derived from fossil fuels. A majority of the proposed projects would rely on fossil fuel based hydrogen but it would theoretically be generated using carbon capture technology to reduce emissions.

Industry heavyweights promote that approach when it suits them, but studies show that blue hydrogen would actually create more climate pollution than just burning fossil gas.

Renewable hydrogen that is derived from wind and solar sources represents a tiny fraction of the overall hydrogen picture, but fossil fuel interests find it useful because it boasts the green 'branding' that they would like to apply to dirty hydrogen schemes as well.

For fossil gas companies, the real appeal of hydrogen is that it does not replace their business model. Their plans involve blending hydrogen into fossil gas, and updating existing or planned fossil gas infrastructure to accommodate hydrogen fuels at some point in the future.

A look at the submissions for the Projects of Common Interest (PCI) list reveals that several of these "hydrogen" projects submitted have striking similarities with fossil gas projects that were submitted in earlier years. A dozen others have the same routing as other already planned fossil gas infrastructure. All told, almost 70% of the projects aim at repurposing large-scale pipelines, storage sites and terminals.

Hydrogen is not a fuel to create an energy transition — it is intended to bolster the fossil fuel status quo.

Scrutinising large hydrogen transport projects put forward by promoters across the EU for European Union priority status and access to tax money confirm these plans and shows who is queuing for EU hydrogen support: Big polluters, who enjoy direct access to the EU Commission, and who have used their influence time and time again to weaken climate protection and to stay among those who decision-makers consult when drafting energy and climate laws.

EU decision makers can and must take responsibility. Important decisions around hydrogen and the fossil gas transport industry are pending in the gas market discussion. And fossil hydrogen projects can still be blocked from inclusion on the PCI list by the EU Commission. People and the planet are watching.

Author bio

Frida Kieninger is the director of EU affairs at Food & Water Action Europe.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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