A review of dozens of scholarly articles on hydrogen as an alternative energy source finds it is not suitable as an option for heating. Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE
Sept. 27 (UPI) -- With the British economy struggling under the strains of high energy bills, a review of the scientific press found that hydrogen, a potent energy carrier and a darling of those supporting the transition away from fossil fuels, is not suitable as an alternate source of heating.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has added a war premium to the price of major commodities such as wheat, crude oil and natural gas. That is a particular problem for the economies of Europe, which rely heavily on Russian natural resources.
In part due to the increase in the price of commodities, the British economy may already be in recession. The Guardian newspaper noted Tuesday that hydrogen advocates have been busy pressuring the ruling Labor party to do more to support the nascent technology in an effort to lower overall emissions and promote affordability.
But a review of 32 independent studies on the use of hydrogen, published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Joule, found hydrogen is not suitable for heating.
"Instead, existing independent research so far suggests that, compared to other alternatives such as heat pumps, solar thermal, and district heating, hydrogen use for domestic heating is less economic, less efficient, more resource intensive, and associated with larger environmental impacts," Jan Rosenow, the lead author of the review, wrote.
Hydrogen production processes are characterized according to a color spectrum. Most hydrogen today is known as "grey" hydrogen, which draws on methane, a compound that contains four hydrogen atoms. That, however, emits greenhouse gases.
"Blue" hydrogen still uses natural gas, but includes ways to capture the emissions. "Green" hydrogen, meanwhile, uses renewable energy to power what's known as an electrolyzer to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, but critics say that energy would be used more efficiently in other applications.
"So-called blue hydrogen can never be zero carbon," Rosenow added.
Rosenow, who is the European director of the Regulatory Assistance Project, told The Guardian that hydrogen at first glance seems like an attractive alternative given that it's the most abundant element in the universe.
"The reality is that significant technical alterations are needed, including the pipework in homes, and that it will cost people a lot of money to keep warm," he told the newspaper.
But hydrogen technology is gaining traction in sectors such as aviation and the maritime shipping industry, which is obligated to cut back on its emissions under a U.N.-backed protocol.
James Earl, the director of gas at Britain's Energy Networks Association, took a measured approach. He told The Guardian that no alternative is perfect and no single technology can decarbonize the economy.
"We need to look at hydrogen, electrification and other technologies all as part of the mix," he said.