Hydrogen’s potential to help decarbonise economies could be “significantly undercut” over the next two decades unless efforts to measure and analyse leakage across the supply chain are ramped up, according to non-profit organisation the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

When combined with potential upstream methane leakage, deployment of blue hydrogen could “in some very plausible scenarios actually increase warming over a couple of decades”, EDF chief scientist Steven Hamburg told the World Hydrogen 2024 event in Rotterdam.

“We learned from the natural gas systems that it is a lot harder to go back and fix things than to get them right initially,” he said. “And there are enough issues here that if we don't think about it initially, we have a high probability of under-delivering on the promise of hydrogen.”

He called on all stakeholders in the emerging hydrogen economy—from the scientific community to policymakers and industry—to work together to tackle the issue as quickly as possible. Technology to measure hydrogen leaking from the supply chain is not yet commercially available, Hamburg said. “Remember, we are talking about the smallest molecule. It is very slippery. It is hard to hold on to,” he added.

Hamburg cited the progress made on monitoring methane leakage over the last decade and urged the hydrogen sector to accelerate its efforts. “There are now literally hundreds of scientists making measurements and developing techniques to be able to measure methane more efficiently. But 14 years ago, that was not happening and there was very limited technology available,” he said.

Ruud Kempener, team leader at the European Commission, said the EU’s legislative framework around hydrogen recognises the threat of leakage. “But we are missing some of the data because it is so new,” he said. The EU’s delegated act on low-carbon hydrogen must include upstream methane emissions, he added.

Hamburg told the conference he was optimistic that hydrogen leakage could be tackled.

“Hydrogen is part of the solution to a problem we have created. We have got to get it right. To get it right we all have to lean in.  I am optimistic that the industry and entrepreneurs can do it, but it is not done yet by a long shot.”



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