Oil Companies Endanger the Green Hydrogen Path

15 December 2023 - // Opinions
Areti Vlachodimou
Junior Communication Officer at REVOLVE

Navigating the Green Hydrogen Landscape: A Critical Analysis of Current Fossil-Based Production

While hydrogen is widely discussed as a promising alternative fuel, the reality is that global hydrogen production is predominantly fossil-based. Oil and gas companies play a significant role in steering the narrative away from green hydrogen. To truly realize the potential of a sustainable future, it is crucial for electric hydrogen production to flourish and be employed equitably. This shift is essential for greening not only the steel and aviation industries but also the broader economy, providing a meaningful opportunity for sectors traditionally associated with pollution to embrace a more environmentally friendly trajectory. 

European Hydrogen Week 

In November 2023, the European Hydrogen Week took place in Brussels, bringing together different stakeholders who had the opportunity to exchange ideas and search for allies – that could either be on the good or the bad side of hydrogen’s evolution, considering that oil and gas companies are the main advocates of fossil hydrogen.  

The focus on fossil fuel companies for hydrogen production is one of the main pitfalls that should be avoided.

TotalEnergies, one of the main fossil hydrogen lobby companies, demonstrated at the European Hydrogen Week a racing car fueled by electric hydrogen – a tangible example of greenwashing. TotalEnergies plans to increase oil and gas production by 2030, with 80% of its energy mix coming from oil and gas, and less than 3% from hydrogen, which might be either green or fossil-based. 

The company has an affiliation with Hydrogen Europe which organized the event, therefore, how can anyone build trust towards such an energy source, when an oil company is promoted at a European hydrogen meeting? The focus on fossil fuel companies for hydrogen production is one of the main pitfalls that should be avoided

Racing car running on electric hydrogen. Photo: Areti Vlachodimou / REVOLVE 

A second one is how countries are planning to access hydrogen. At the EU level, the exploitation of African resources to green the economy of the block and perpetuation of extractive economic activities should be sidestepped. 

On the first day of the conference, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen mentioned; “We have already signed hydrogen partnerships with countries ranging from Egypt, Kenya, and Namibia to Latin American countries. They have immense potential to produce clean energy, transform it into clean hydrogen, and then ship it to the world.”  

She only referred to clean hydrogen and mentioned a new agreement with President Lula of Brazil, and the plan to implement one of the biggest hydrogen projects in the world, funded by the EU. This plan could be a way forward only if locally produced hydrogen is prioritized, and only in cases it is used for sectors that cannot operate with another renewable energy source. Green hydrogen can decarbonize high-polluting sectors, but it is not the solution for everything. 

One of the challenges of green hydrogen scale-up is the high production cost. During his speech at the European Hydrogen Week, the CEO of H2Fly, Josef Kallo, highlighted the financial investment risk needed to tackle this obstacle. He said, “We have to activate private money with the risk that this transformation in the full energy transformation from fossil fuels – 85% of our usage – to renewable fuels can be done in every nation. […] We have once in a lifetime chance to put this transformation from a social perspective, so everyone, the countries, can participate in the success of this transformation.”  

One of the challenges of green hydrogen scale up is the high production cost.

In 2022, global hydrogen production was 99% derived from fossil fuels, and in the same year, EU member states gave fossil fuel subsidies reaching EUR 123 billion. Therefore, another necessary modification is the shift of support towards renewable energy sources. For instance, instead of allowing untaxed aviation fuels, the EU could enable this financial support to be redirected to subsidize green forms of energy. 

Net zero of the aviation industry 

Hydrogen is discussed a lot in the aviation sector, and there have been initiatives using green hydrogen for aircraft engines. One of them includes the AeroDelft project in which students from the TU Delft University develop aviation engines that run on electric hydrogen. ZeroAvia is also aiming for zero-emission flights with the use of hydrogen-electric engines. According to an analysis of Transport & Environment, e-kerosene produced by green hydrogen and CO2 capture can have near-zero GHG emissions.  

Another sustainable aviation fuel is the advanced biofuels produced by waste such as agricultural residues and forestry waste. Their level of sustainability is still under question, but researchers from European universities in collaboration with research institutions are planning to test how to produce them sustainably.  

These processes will include solar thermal heating, upgrading the biofuels with green hydrogen, and making them more economically viable. This project, of which REVOLVE is a partner, is called Circular Fuels and is funded by the European Commission.  

On a last note, managing the demand for flying should also be considered, and therefore, going into 2024, REVOLVE is updating its travel policy to prioritize rail within continental Europe rather than airplanes.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not (necessarily) reflect REVOLVE's editorial stance.
Areti Vlachodimou
Junior Communication Officer at REVOLVE

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