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Op-ed: Doubtful Mountaineer NGL will store ‘green’ hydrogen

Once again, oil and gas companies are trying to use some well-crafted PR messaging to greenwash their industry. There was a recent press release titled “Mountaineer NGL Storage, LLC Exploring Green Hydrogen Storage” in which the company said it is launching “a non-binding open season to gauge interest in bulk storage of carbon-free hydrogen” for the proposed storage hub in Monroe County, Ohio. All hydrogen is carbon-free, but the reality is only 0.1 percent of hydrogen produced today is actually green hydrogen. The facility will most likely be storing grey hydrogen or hydrogen derived from fossil fuel sources.

Grey hydrogen accounts for the majority of hydrogen produced today. In a process known as “steam reforming,” water is used to strip hydrogen atoms from natural gas (CH4). Carbon dioxide is also a by-product of this process, and this greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere at a rate of about 10 pounds of carbon dioxide per one pound of hydrogen produced.

Green hydrogen is produced via a complicated and expensive hydrolysis process that uses energy generated from solar, hydroelectric, and wind to split water. Green hydrogen is four times more expensive to produce than “grey hydrogen.” In order to call hydrogen green and carbon neutral, renewable energy must be used to separate water into oxygen gas and hydrogen gas.

A 2017 report titled “Hydrogen Production Team Technical Report” showed that the Ohio Valley region currently has no potential for producing green hydrogen. This is mainly due to the lack of any large-scale renewable energy development. The same report also shows that all of the hydrogen production in our area is from coal or methane sources; these are not green hydrogen.

Recently, media sites across the globe and especially in the European Union countries have seen a surge of articles praising the use of hydrogen as a solution to the climate crisis. On close examination, it appears a major fossil fuel PR company, FTI Consulting, is behind this media blitz. Additionally, a hydrogen lobby, made up primarily of fossil fuel companies and related interests, spent over $72 million trying to influence Brussels’ policy making to favor hydrogen projects.

Industry officials are not being truthful or transparent about issues surrounding the use of hydrogen as a fuel source. They are selling EU leaders on “green hydrogen” when in fact what is currently being produced is anything but green.

Clean Energy Group, a non-profit advocacy group, raised concerns in December that “burning hydrogen for power production has never been done before in the USA and is untested with potentially problematic environmental issues.” The claim that this will be a “silver bullet” for climate change is based on the premise that the technology will advance to a point where power plants can use 100 percent hydrogen as their fuel sources. So far, the highest amount of hydrogen in the blended fuels is 30 percent hydrogen.

A 5 percent hydrogen with 95 percent methane blend is being proposed to power plants in New York, southern California, Florida, and even Ohio. According to a recent article in “Power Engineering” The Long Ridge Energy Terminal in Hannibal, Ohio, will be burning up to 20 percent hydrogen in its power plant. However, its source of hydrogen will be accessed from “nearby industrial by-products” not green hydrogen.

While it is true that burning hydrogen does not create carbon dioxide, it does however create another dangerous gas: nitrogen oxide. Even Mitsubishi has said that the (30 hydrogen/70 methane) blended plants “will produce NOX and carbon emissions equivalent to those from modern natural gas plants.”

Studies show that hydrogen gas causes steel pipelines to become brittle and hydrogen is a much smaller molecule than methane, making pipeline leaks inevitable.

An article in Nation of Change states the obvious. The main reason green hydrogen isn’t a good choice to decarbonize the economy is that the production of green hydrogen takes enormous amounts of renewable electricity. It would be much more efficient to use this electricity to directly subsidize the grid or to charge battery storage systems.

Bloomberg NEF estimated that in order to generate enough green hydrogen to meet one-fourth of our energy needs, it would take an investment of $11 trillion in production, storage, and transportation. Hydrogen may play a vital role in our future energy needs, but today 99 percent of hydrogen is still made using fossil fuels. No doubt the hydrogen that might be stored at the Mountaineer NGL Storage and the hydrogen blended fuel for new gas power plants in the region will be dirty fossil fuel derived hydrogen, not green hydrogen.

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Randi Pokladnik, Ph.D., of Uhrichsville, is a retired research chemist who volunteers with Mid Ohio Valley Climate Action. She has a doctorate degree in Environmental Studies and is certified in Hazardous Materials Regulations.

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