Michael Liebreich, who founded BloombergNEF (originally New Energy Finance), is passionate about helping the environment, and thus humans. He recently said that the oil sector is lobbying for inefficient hydrogen cars because it wants to delay electrification. Recharge noted that he’s against using hydrogen in some sectors when in those sectors, there are cheaper and more efficient electric solutions. Two such sectors are cars and domestic heating. Yet the oil and gas industry is spending tens of millions of euros on lobbying for hydrogen. He pointed out that using hydrogen in cars and domestic heating is senseless when there are battery-powered EVs and heat pumps.
Note: Liebreich and CleanTechnica have been saying this for years, and Liebreich previously said it too CleanTechnica in part of a long interview over dinner (in 2015):
But let’s get back to Liebreich’s more recent comments. “If you’re an oil and gas company, in a way, talking about hydrogen is kind of a two-way bet because if it works, then you’re embedded in the hydrogen industry — but if it doesn’t work, you’ve delayed the transition to the thing you don’t make, which is electricity,” he explained to Recharge.
“So why wouldn’t you promote hydrogen for inappropriate use? For the things that are not at the top of the ladder, that are fairly down — so local trains, local buses, cars, delivery vehicles — why not promote it? Because at worst it creates confusion, which is great [for them]. And these companies have an interest in this [electric] stuff not moving too fast, I’m afraid — for all their good words.”
The ladder he was referring to is a chart that he created detailing the ways hydrogen is used. He has two categories in that chart: Unavoidable and Uncompetitive. He pointed out that Shell spent $12 billion on a floating liquefied natural gas platform, the Prelude, but that “they won’t spend $12bn just producing blue, green, pink, or any other sort of clean hydrogen for those [existing] uses where we currently are driving 3–4% of global emissions.”
He also cited this report that found that the hydrogen lobby declared a combined annual expenditure of €58.6 million trying to influence Brussels politicians. And the key players in the hydrogen lobby are fossil fuel companies.
“The gas lobby has massive influence on the EU hydrogen strategy. While the Commission makes it clear that clean hydrogen must come from renewable energies, it still wants to invest in fossil hydrogen.” —Michael Bloss, German Greens MEP, reacting to the EU Hydrogen Strategy.
Liebreich explained that what the fossil fuel industry is doing is funding lobbyists in Brussels for use of hydrogen. Politicians seem to enjoy having photos taken with hydrogen cars and trains, so perhaps they will tolerate the existing use of grey hydrogen.
“I don’t know whether it’s disingenuity or a phony war, but we’re talking at cross purposes if we’re using dirty hydrogen [for existing uses], but we’re talking about clean hydrogen [for cars],” he said.
“If I were a [government] minister, what I would be saying is anytime anybody wants to come through the door and talk about hydrogen … and they want to start making presentations about cars and trucks and trains, I’d be, like, “wait, let me stop you. What’s your plan for fertilizer? What’s your plan in your refinery, you’re taking [unabated] natural gas and you’re using it in fertilizer or in hydrocracking. What’s your plan [to switch to cleaner hydrogen], but also, what do you need?”
Liebreich brought up the argument against hydrogen cars and pointed out that those working in the oil industry know that these cars are not as efficient as battery-electric vehicles. He spoke about how EVs win everything, whether it’s the 0–60 mph acceleration in 4 seconds or less or other innovations such as creating space. For hydrogen cars, you can’t really fold the seats down due to the hydrogen cylinder there. Hydrogen cars are also heavier than EVs. There’s also the lack of refilling stations for these vehicles, and unlike EVs, you can’t fill these at home.
Liebreich explained that the gas distribution companies in the hydrocarbon sector have been lobbying to convert their gas grits to run on H2, and some of the lobbying has been successful. Recharge has reported before that converting gas networks to hydrogen would require that all underground metal gas pipes be replaced by polyethylene ones — even those in your walls and under your floorboards. Each of the gas valves and compressors would also have to be replaced and the energy needed to pump H2 would be much higher than for natural gas. We have also written about that. See: “Is Hydrogen The Best Option To Replace Natural Gas In The Home? Looking At The Numbers.”
He explained why gas distribution companies are lobbying for hydrogen use in domestic heating. It’s not about going green. “They want to get us locked into using their gas pipes for decarbonization because that’s their asset.”
He also explained why blending clean hydrogen into the natural gas grid to reduce carbon emissions is inefficient.
“If you put 20% hydrogen into your gas, 20% of your volume is only 7% by energy. And if it’s green hydrogen, you’ve started with electricity. One unit of that electricity could have produced three units of heat [with a heat pump]. Instead, you’ve put that unit into the gas grid that you’ve turned into hydrogen. So you’ve lost 30% of [the energy]. Then you put it in the gas grid, compressed it, and done all sorts of things to it. And then you put it in your boiler and got 85% efficiency out of it. So from 1kWh of electricity, you’ve got heating worth half a kilowatt-hour.
“If it’s blue hydrogen [derived from natural gas with carbon capture and storage], you’re always going to come back to my previous point, which is, ‘I’m not prepared to have this discussion until you’ve told me how you’re going to decarbonize fertilizer!’”
The Recharge interview was enlightening, but it is also eye-opening to just how low an industry that has no problem with setting the Gulf of Mexico on fire will go. I want to quickly share some key points from that report he cited, The Hydrogen Hype. I’ve come across this report before, and when Twitter user Peter Miller tagged me in a post about how PR firms were greenwashing the climate crisis through disinformation campaigns, that led to my article about it: “Big Oil Is Fueling The Hydrogen Rush.”
In that article, I dove into the key findings of the report. The most notable takeaway is that the hydrogen lobby’s key players are the fossil fuel industry. This report, Liebreich’s interview with Recharge, and my piece on how the PR firms are greenwashing all of this should not be forgotten. Big oil is buying politicians like I buy watermelon in the summer, and right now, they are fueling the push for hydrogen.
Why? Because it will delay the inevitable. The fossil fuel industry doesn’t sell electricity. It sells fossil fuels. If we transition to electric and renewables, that industry will go extinct.