From the Editor: A hydrogen dissident [GasTransitions]
Politicians across the world have presented great hydrogen plans. The gas industry hopes hydrogen offers gas and gas infrastructure a second lease on life. Renewable energy and environmental groups believe green hydrogen will make a 100% renewable energy future possible. The IEA endorses it. Shell and Greenpeace love it. Germany and France want it. The US and China are behind it.
With this kind of support, can anyone doubt the hydrogen economy will carry the day? Well, yes, there are some dissidents. Samuel Furfari, a chemical engineer who worked for the European Commission for 36 years in a variety of energy management jobs, and who is also President of the European Society of Engineers and Industrialists and professor in the Geopolitics of Energy at the Free University of Brussels, is one of them. Furfari has recently self-published a fiery tract, “The Hydrogen Illusion”, in which he severely criticizes what he calls the new hydrogen hype.
The fact that so many have placed their hopes in hydrogen does not deter Furfari a bit. He has seen at least two, by some counts three, similar waves of hydrogen crazes wash over the world, as he recounts in his book. Each time hopes were dashed as the engineering and economic realities of hydrogen production became clear. In an in-depth interview with Gas Transitions, he explains why he doesn’t believe that this time will be different.
He makes the case why fuel cells, but also electrolysis itself, are fundamentally uneconomic. He also points out that Europe in any case does not have sufficient renewable energy to create an economy based on green hydrogen. Importing green hydrogen from Africa and elsewhere he regards as a form of unacceptable “eco-colonialism”. He is more positive about the chances of hydrogen made from natural gas in combination with CCS, but only if CO2 prices are high enough. Indeed, he says he has “the clear feeling that behind the hydrogen strategy there is a methane strategy”, i.e. a lobby from natural gas companies.
Furfari feels so strongly about the matter that he even got together a group of 14 former European Commission officials who wrote an appeal to the Commission in December 2020, urging it “to review its Hydrogen Strategy without the influence of lobbies looking for subsidies, recognising that the massive production of hydrogen from intermittent renewable sources is an illusion.” Not everyone will want to hear Furfari’s arguments, but he is a critic to be taken seriously. Don’t miss our interview with him here.
If, as Furfari says, there is a methane strategy behind the hydrogen strategy, then we would also expect to see a strong move by the gas industry towards CCS. Capturing and storing (or re-using) the CO2 emitted in the production of hydrogen will be essential if hydrogen is to become a low-carbon alternative for gas companies. There are in fact signs that the gas industry is (finally) getting ready to get serious about CCS.
One example comes from the UK-based independent oil and gas producer Neptune Energy, which recently announced it will undertake a feasibility study into a major CCS project in the Dutch part of the North Sea. In fact, Neptune, as we discovered in an interview with their Dutch head Lex de Groot and their newly appointed Director New Energies Pierre Girard, sees the energy transition as more of an opportunity than a threat. If you want to read why and how they think their company can profit from climate policies, you can read their interview here.
Another low-carbon alternative that gas producers might pursue is biogas. However, natural gas and biogas – or LNG and bio-LNG – are not as naturally connected as it may seem. They are two very different businesses, explains Jerom van Roosmalen, CEO and founder of Nordsol, a Dutch start-up which is building the first bio-LNG installation in the Netherlands – financed by Shell. In a fascinating and candid interview, Van Roosmalen explains the complicated economics behind bio-LNG and why he believes the bio-LNG market will look very different from the LNG market. It remains to be seen, he notes, whether this will be a natural fit for the likes of Shell.
I hope you will enjoy our interviews and won’t get discouraged by the announcement of the President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) that “gas is over”. As you can read elsewhere in this issue, this is far from the case in China, Africa – and even in the European heartland, Germany.