What hydrogen leaks mean for the climate

Leaked hydrogen may have more atmospheric warming potential than previously thought. Does that change how we should use hydrogen in the energy transition?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Recent research has raised questions about the global-warming impact of uncombusted hydrogen. When it leaks from storage, pipes and other infrastructure into the atmosphere, new studies suggest, hydrogen absorbs more heat than previously understood. And, perhaps more importantly, it extends the atmospheric life of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Proponents argue that hydrogen is a critical climate solution. Green” hydrogen, for example, is made with zero-carbon electricity, effectively turning resources such as solar and wind energy into a storable fuel that can replace fossil gas. But can hydrogen’s warming impacts outweigh its advantages?

That depends on your assumptions about how and where we use it.

In this episode, Shayle talks to Thomas Koch Blank, senior principal at RMI, where he leads the organization’s Breakthrough Technology Program. Shayle and Thomas examine the new research and discuss topics including: 

  • Where we will use hydrogen and the varying risks of leakage in those applications.

  • Suboptimal applications for hydrogen, such as turning blue” hydrogen derived from steam methane reforming into synfuel.

  • Estimated leakage rates and the incentives for hydrogen producers to build low-leakage systems.

  • Hydrogen’s total warming impact, factoring in how much fossil gas it could replace.

  • How fossil gas and hydrogen compare kilogram for kilogram or megajoule for megajoule.

  • The time horizon we should use to evaluate the global-warming potential of hydrogen.

  • Hydrogen leakage measurement, verification and safety.

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