Johnson’s hydrogen plan loses puff, as industry boss quits over blue H2’s ‘expensive distraction’

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The government’s widely criticised plan to switch Britain to low-carbon hydrogen received another blow today, as news broke a leading industry figure has quit the gas’s advocacy body, worried at the prominence Whitehall’s plan continues to give its fossil-dependent variant.

Chris Jackson resigned on Monday from chairing the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, citing what he reportedly called the ‘expensive distraction’ of blue hydrogen.

Jackson leads Protium Green Solutions, a player in the fast-growing sector of ‘green’ hydrogen, where production methods include splitting the gas from water using renewable electricity.  

With carbon-heavy ‘natural’ gas as its feedstock, the competing blue hydrogen is being heavily backed by oil majors such as BP.

They see it as a ‘transitional’ route towards Net Zero, freeing up applications in transport, industrial production and pumped in blends for heating.   Hydrocarbon extractors say up to 95% of carbon can be captured for storage, as the base gas is reformed with steam.

On price, blue hydrogen at present heavily out-competes its green alternative.  Established global infrastructure of oil extractors’ cracker plants, distribution networks and trading relationships sets the carbon-less variety at a disadvantage.

Scientific advisors at the Climate Change Committee had warned ministers the Johnson government’s delayed hydrogen plans must include a detailed, costed timeline of transition from blue to green hydrogen.   No such detail appears in this week’s plan.

Jackson told the specialist website H2-View that as UKHFCA chair, he was duty bound to represent a range of industry interests, including those he disagreed with.   But ‘in good conscience’ he said he could not argue for blue hydrogen as a viable and ‘green’ energy solution.

Jackson declared: “I believe passionately that I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on that fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use,”

“Our industry is at a very important crossroads, one where the decisions we make will have long-lasting effects,” Jackson continued.

“I fully appreciate the energy transition cannot be achieved by one silver bullet, and green hydrogen alone cannot solve all the worlds challenges.

“Equally, I cannot ignore or make arguments for blue hydrogen”, Jackson declared.

Scientists at two US universities agree.  A paper published last week from a team led by Cornell’s Professor Robert Howarth concludes that blue hydrogen’s greenhouse footprint can be as much as 20% more damaging than burning natural gas or coal for heat.

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