Environmental organizations across the country and in California are denouncing the Biden administration’s new grant of $7 billion to five “hydrogen hubs,” including one in California. The money, from the Inflation Reduction Act, will fund the creation or expansion of facilities that produce hydrogen, which some see as “green energy” because it can be burned without emitting greenhouse gases.
“Hydrogen production requires massive amounts of water; takes more energy to produce than it generates; is more likely to explode and burns hotter than conventional fossil fuels; and is more corrosive to pipelines – increasing threats in already overburdened communities, and extending our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels,” says a statement from major national organizations including Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch.
Although so-called “green hydrogen” can be produced by electrolysis of water powered by renewable energy, almost all hydrogen currently produced is fueled by burning fossil gas. Some production facilities say they capture the CO2 emitted in this process, calling the product “blue hydrogen,” but a 2021 research paper showed that “using methane gas paired with carbon capture to produce so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen . . . could produce more climate-warming pollution than burning gas, coal or diesel oil,” according to a recent piece in The Guardian.
Even producing “green hydrogen” can cause harm. Producing hydrogen is very water intensive. Researchers say green hydrogen production should be supported only with guard rails to ensure that their energy is produced on site, using additional renewable energy that had not previously been used for something else. No guard rails are required by the federal hydrogen program.
In addition to the harms and risks from producing hydrogen, it’s just not fundamentally a good energy source. The article in The Guardian points out that although “researchers agree that truly clean hydrogen, produced without fossil fuels, can fulfill certain crucial roles in hard-to-decarbonize sectors, including in the production of synthetic fertilizers and steel, studies have found it to be much less efficient for home heating and transportation than technologies such as heat pumps and electric vehicles.”
“’Direct electrification and batteries offer so much more, and much more quickly,’ said Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University.”
The California Hydrogen Hub is called the Alliance for Reliable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES). It’s been under development for a year. In response to President Biden’s announcement of the Hydrogen Hubs grant, the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) and its member organizations submitted a letter to the federal Department of Energy expressing “deep disappointment” with the funding of ARCHES, saying the process of its development has “disregarded environmental justice concerns and the need for inclusive public process.” CEJA asks the DOE to:
* Negotiate with ARCHES to eliminate their NDA (non-disclosure agreement) requirement and allow full, inclusive public process.
* Require ARCHES to Amend Governance Structure to Maximize Opportunities for Impacted Community Representation.
* Enforce Community Engagement Best Practices.