According to a new report by the Pembina Institute, the climate benefits of blue hydrogen vary considerably when the entire life cycle of production is factored in.
Blue hydrogen is made from natural gas using carbon capture and storage in its production process. Accurately measuring greenhouse gas emissions must take into account upstream carbon emissions from the extraction and transportation of natural gas, and the production and transportation of the hydrogen, as well as the level of carbon captured.
A full life cycle assessment of GHG emissions in blue hydrogen includes emissions generated in construction of natural gas facilities, extraction and transportation of natural gas, production of hydrogen, and the process of carbon capture and storage. Carbon capture rates could vary from 48 per cent captured by facilities operating today, to projected 95 per cent in proposed projects.
“Major policy and investment decisions that could shape the future of hydrogen in Canada must be based on accurate data,” said Karen Tam Wu, BC Regional Director, the Pembina Institute. “This research shows that the climate benefits of blue hydrogen vary depending on the technology used to create it.”
A new technical paper, The carbon intensity of blue hydrogen production, examines relative emissions levels for different production methods, as well as the feasibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with carbon capture and storage.
The study compares the relative life cycle emissions for production of blue hydrogen using various current technologies. As Canada’s federal and provincial governments move forward with strategies for hydrogen as a key element in achieving net-zero by 2050, Canadian consumers, producers and investors must look at the complete picture.
In its report, Pembina says carbon intensity could vary from 67kg CO2e/GJ for blue hydrogen currently produced today to ~15.6 kg CO2e if using clean electricity (e.g. hydro) and reducing methane emissions by 40 per cent. It is technically feasible for a new hydrogen production plant to eliminate 90 per cent of plant emissions, if electricity to run production comes from non-emitting sources.
Production of hydrogen purely as an energy carrier is still a nascent industry. Globally there are four facilities that produce blue hydrogen for use in oil extraction for fertilizer production in operation. Hydrogen’s utility will mainly be in sectors that are hard to decarbonize, and in end uses such as long-haul heavy-duty freight and high-heat industrial processes.
Around the world, there are currently 26 carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants. Three of them are associated with hydrogen production