Do you think the hydrogen car will save the planet? This new study will chill you

A new American study points to the risk of leakage from hydrogen cars. With that consequence a major impact on global warming, which may be worse than that of fossil fuels.

Toyota Mirai

Hydrogen is expected to be the Messiah of many industrial sectors and especially transport. Some believe that the electric car is only a step towards the hydrogen car. However, as we saw in previous news, the hydrogen car is not necessarily a good idea compared to the electric car because of the disadvantages of this technology. A new study drives home the point, investigates the risk of hydrogen leaking into the atmosphere, which could prove fatal for the climate.

Until now, hydrogen was presented as the miracle solution in the fight against global warming on one condition: succeed in producing green hydrogen (from the electrolysis of water) using low-carbon energy such as renewable energy or nuclear power. This is already a challenge, as only 5% of the hydrogen produced in France in 2020 falls into this category. But the new study, carried out by the American NGO EDF (Environmental Defense Fund for Environmental Defense Fund), points to another hydrogen defect.

Hydrogen: more harmful to the planet than CO2?

According to this study is hydrogen leaks during transport, tank filling and use are extremely dangerous for the planet. This risk was already known but largely underestimated, according to the authors of this new analysis. Until now, hydrogen’s global warming potential has actually been calculated over a period of 100 years, just like CO2.

But the problem is that hydrogen has a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than CO2. If we calculate the global warming potential of hydrogen over 20 years, it would have an impact on the climate two to six times greater than CO2.

Green or blue hydrogen?

The authors of the study therefore carried out simulations to find out whether these hydrogen leaks completely remove the interest of this gas in relation to fossil fuels. The researchers took different hypotheses, with green hydrogen on one side and blue hydrogen on the other. The latter is less ecological, since instead of being produced by electrolysis, it is extracted from natural gas with the collection and storage of CO2 at the same time. One of the disadvantages of blue hydrogen is that it emits methaneand during production.

At worst (lots of leaks and blue hydrogen), hydrogen has a higher short-term (10 to 20 year) global warming potential than fossil fuels. Green hydrogen, meanwhile, will always be “cleaner” than fossil fuels in the short, medium and long term. However, the risk of leakage must be considered because of their impact on global warming. Especially since, according to other studies, the development of green hydrogen would require 2 to 14 times more energy than 100% electric alternatives.

The hydrogen car, good or bad idea?

And this is where the question of the hydrogen car arises against the electric car as we know it today. Green hydrogen is very energy-intensive in its production phase, and the risk of leaks is not insignificant for the climate. It is for this reason in particular that the IPCC recommends the use of hydrogen over modes of transport that do not have better choices, such as aviation, trains or ships.

Hyundai N Vision 74
Hydrogen-powered Hyundai N Vision 74 concept

Areas where the risk of collisions is minimal and much lower than that of the car. They are also applications that make it possible to avoid the proliferation of hydrogen filling stations, thus reducing leakages in connection with transport and refilling of tanks.

This new study does not draw a line under hydrogen for the transportation industry. It is possible that hydrogen cars will become a mass reality in the coming decades if all technical limitations are lifted. But there is still a lot of work to be done to be able to produce “clean” hydrogen with low risk to the planet. The electric car and soft mobility thus have a beautiful and long road ahead of them.

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