Hydrogen Hub: An Energy Plan That is Bad for NM and the Future

The 2022 Legislative Session convenes on Jan. 18, and we are getting ready. You can bet the Governor will have lined up lots of support for her two signature climate initiatives: the Hydrogen Hub and Net Zero. We need to gear up and achieve a solid understanding of the science, politics, and economics behind her proposals. And so, today we present peer reviewed findings on what blue hydrogen is and why it is not remotely clean. Plus, a heads-up on Wednesday’s Legislative Strategy Huddle.

Over the past two weeks we’ve taken a bit of time off to recharge, hang out with our daughter, and eat way too much good food. But we also conducted dialog with legislators and allies about the looming session. It is time to get to work.

This week we will devote the blog to bills we support and oppose, including:

  • Another update on plans for passing a 36% small loan rate cap. Sunday’s New Mexican had a great piece from Milan Simonich on the barriers to passing this legislation. Click here to check this out.
  • A report on the awesome progress made in building legislative support for public power in NM as an alternative to monopoly Investor-Owned Utilities like PNM and El Paso Electric.
  • Info on efforts to fund state, regional, and local water initiatives and to fully fund managing and planning for the use of our water.
  • Plans for increasing fees and penalties on the gas & oil industry.
  • An update on advocacy for the Green Amendment and a State Public Bank.

Today, we focus on what we know about the Governor’s Hydrogen Hub legislation. But before we present new, peer-reviewed research on the limitations of hydrogen production as proposed by the Governor, a reminder about our Legislative Huddle tomorrow, Weds., Dec. 29.

Readying for 2022 Legislative session

Legislative Huddle Zoom, Weds, December 29, 6-7pm. We’ll discuss the bills we think we will be supporting and those we may oppose. Also find out about how you can plug into the Retake legislative advocacy strategy, including:

  • organizing Constituent-Legislator Conversations in January;
  • submitting letters to the editor in support of legislation;
  • conducting background research on bills we support/oppose;
  • how you can be part of our hearing observation team.

This is a crucial huddle as we prepare for the 2022 Session. Click here to register. You must register to attend.

Hydrogen Hub: A Horrible Hoax We Must Oppose

Over the next two weeks we will present the Hydrogen Hub concept from several perspectives:

  • the pure science behind what hydrogen fuel is or could be;
  • the general political and economic rationales for advancing hydrogen (and Net Zero); and
  • the specifics about what MLG is proposing.

Fortunately, we know a fair amount of what MLG will be proposing, although that could change. From her 27-page bill summary that we are still reviewing, we know that she is not proposing green hydrogen, but blue. And as this post outlines, blue hydrogen is a hoax designed by and for the fossil fuel industry. From the Governor’s draft bill:

Qualifying hydrogen means hydrogen produced with a carbon intensity equal to or less than nine kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of hydrogen produced. As of July 1, 2024, qualifying hydrogen means hydrogen produced with a carbon intensity equal to 27 or less than seven kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of 28 hydrogen produced. As of July 1, 2026, qualifying hydrogen means hydrogen produced with a carbon intensity equal to or less than five kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of hydrogen produced. As of July 1, 2028, qualifying hydrogen means hydrogen produced with a carbon intensity equal to or less than three kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of hydrogen produced. After July 1, 2030, the secretary of the Environment Department may, through administrative rule, lower the carbon intensity of qualifying hydrogen for a period of two years.”

The Governor’s Hydrogen Hub draft bill

The Governor’s draft bill language acknowledges that she has redefined “clean energy” as energy reliant on gas and oil and energy that emits significant levels of green house gases, not our definition of “clean.” Even in 2030, her bill proposed only that the Environment Department “may” lower emissions, but in 2024, the bill allows up to seven kilograms of CO2 emissions per kilogram of hydrogen produced. The bill lowers the amount of allowable emissions every 2 years until 2030. This is not remotely clean energy. Today’s post examines blue hydrogen in detail and concludes as did Western Environmental Law Center:

“Let’s be crystal clear,” says Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, “this bill isn’t a climate or clean energy bill. It’s a fossil fuels bill.”

Capital & Main“New Mexico’s draft plan for hydrogen a nonstarter for environmentalists” by Jerry Redfern

When the Governor announced her Hydrogen Hub proposal, Retake took two deep dives related to hydrogen and Net Zero:

  1. Hydrogen Hub or Hydrogen Hype; You Decide, published on Nov 18, when the Gov. first announced, in very broad strokes, her intent for the Hydrogen Hub to be the centerpiece of her legislative agenda. The post integrated research conducted by the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy and Food & Water Watch, who strongly condemned the concept in a scathing letter to Speaker Pelosi and Sen Schumer.
  2. Earlier in a Retake post, “Solnit Dares to Hope, while NM Guv & Sierra Club Offer a Dangerous Fantasy: The Truth About Net Zero,” we warned of the danger of pursuing faux technological promises rather than doing the hard work of making sacrifices and keeping it in the ground.

As the remainder of this post indicates, hydrogen may become the poster child for fantasy-driven solutions to real-world challenges. Today I rely on the only peer-reviewed research that has been conducted on the benefits and limitations of hydrogen energy production, “How green is blue hydrogen?” by Robert W. Howarth and Mark Z. Jacobson, published in Energy Science and Engineering, Volume9, Issue10, October 2021. I apologize for simply providing the concluding remarks, but this was very deep, detailed scientific research and the tables representing the results from equations like below, were very far beyond my pay grade.


But, I was able to tease out a good deal from Howarth and Jacobson’s conclusions, summarized below, where they comment on each of the current means of producing hydrogen. First, they comment on the production of blue hydrogen using renewable energy sources to power the process..

This best-case scenario for producing blue hydrogen, using renewable electricity instead of natural gas to power the processes, suggests to us that there really is no role for blue hydrogen in a carbon-free future. Greenhouse gas emissions remain high, and there would also be a substantial consumption of renewable electricity, which represents an opportunity cost. We believe the renewable electricity could be better used by society in other ways, replacing the use of fossil fuels.

The process also requires a considerable amount of water, something NM doesn’t have and, to her credit, MLG’s bill prohibits. Next they described production of blue hydrogen using natural gas to power the process.

Similarly, we see no advantage in using blue hydrogen powered by natural gas compared with simply using the natural gas directly for heat. As we have demonstrated, far from being low emissions, blue hydrogen has emissions as large as or larger than those of natural gas used for heat (Figure 1; Table 1; Table 2). The small reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for blue hydrogen compared with natural gas are more than made up for by the larger emissions of fugitive methane. Society needs to move away from all fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and the truly green hydrogen produced by electrolysis driven by renewable electricity can play a role. Blue hydrogen, though, provides no benefit.

(emphasis mine)

Put simply, if you use natural gas to produce hydrogen, you replace a form of energy that emits greenhouse gases with another form of energy that emits more greenhouse gases. But if you want to dive in to Howarth and Jacobson’s formulas and tables, I invite anyone with serious science chops to review the tables referenced above and included midway through the article. But as a word of caution, the tables are based on these two formulae:

To calculate CO2 emissions:


And, to calculate methane emissions:


I’m gonna trust Howarth and Jacobson on this. But, if blue hydrogen has no real benefit, then what is the motivation for going down this path at all?

We suggest that blue hydrogen is best viewed as a distraction, something that may delay needed action to truly decarbonize the global energy economy, in the same way that has been described for shale gas as a bridge fuel and for carbon capture and storage in general.43 We further note that much of the push for using hydrogen for energy since 2017 has come from the Hydrogen Council, a group established by the oil and gas industry specifically to promote hydrogen, with a major emphasis on blue hydrogen.5 From the industry perspective, switching from natural gas to blue hydrogen may be viewed as economically beneficial since even more natural gas is needed to generate the same amount of heat.

(emphasis mine)

I can’t understand the formulas, but can easily understand their conclusion: the hydrogen movement was initiated by the oil and gas industry, and while hydrogen production won’t generate genuine progress toward addressing climate change, it can be reframed as some kind of bridge to the future, creating the impression we are making progress, while the hydrogen effort props up a dying industry for one more profit guzzle. I’m guessing Greta Thunberg’s response to this nonsense would be, at best, “blah, blah, blah.” In NM our response should be the same as our response to the PNM-Avangrid/Iberdola merger: “I’m out.” But Howarth and Jacobson have more to say and it is unequivocal:

We emphasize that our analysis in this paper is a best-case scenario for blue hydrogen. It assumes that the carbon dioxide that is captured can indeed be stored indefinitely for decades and centuries into the future. In fact, there is no experience at commercial scale with storing carbon dioxide from carbon capture, and most carbon dioxide that is currently captured is used for enhanced oil recovery and is released back to the atmosphere.44 Further, our analysis does not consider the energy cost and associated greenhouse gas emissions from transporting and storing the captured carbon dioxide. Even without these considerations, though, blue hydrogen has large climatic consequences. We see no way that blue hydrogen can be considered “green.”

So what Howarth and Jacobson have examined is a “best case” scenario that assumes that effective carbon capture technology will materialize, despite many failed efforts and billions of dollars wasted trying to do so. Carbon capture is likely an even more Quixotic technological fix than hydrogen.

We have now produced three pieces using research to critique the concept of a Hydrogen Hub in NM. But the pressure will be fierce to push this through, as the Gov continues to claim it to be the centerpiece of her 2022 legislative agenda. While the Governor will have her bill to jump into hydrogen hub implementation, I have heard that Senator Liz Stefanics will introduce a hydrogen study process. Frankly, I hope that Sen. Stefanics’ thinking will prevail and the Governor will sign off on the planning bill and call that a win because the environmental community is uniformly in opposition to the Hydrogen Hub bill.

As noted in one of the earlier quotes above, Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) calls the Governor’s Hydrogen Hub bill a “fossil fuels bill.” WELC is not alone in its opposition. They will be joined by stalwart allies like New Energy Economy, Renewable Taos, and Wild Earth Guardians, an alliance that will be boosted with opposition from the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and 350NM. From the website of the Sierra Club:

Fossil-fueled hydrogen projects threaten to take us backward in our race to avoid climate catastrophe. 

Hydrogen production already taking place is responsible for 3-4 percent of the world’s carbon emissions — equivalent to the carbon emissions from the UK and Indonesia combined. Pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into proposed fossil-fueled hydrogen projects would create new reliance on fracked gas that could lock in devastating climate consequences and health damages for frontline communities.

From, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter website. “The Facts about Hydrogen,” (emphasis theirs).

And below from 350NM, an in-depth explication of the myth of blue hydrogen. Thank you, Camilla Feibelman (Sierra Club) and Tom Solomon (350N). We need to stay united to oppose this disingenuous, toxic initiative. Skip through the first 2 minutes of the video below, as the speaker is talking about a conference that has already occurred. Stick with this, as Tom does an outstanding job of laying out the different ways in which hydrogen is produced and why none of them can work in NM. Great work, Tom.

Tom Solomon, 350NM: Blue Hydrogen Briefing

If you know a legislator, please share this post with them, as I am sure they will be getting carefully greenwashed versions from the Governor and her administration. We need to get to our legislators before the Governnor has organized a formidable base of legislative support.

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Climate Justice

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4 replies

  1. Chemistry and thermodynamics, two of the reasons I went into Biology instead 😉 Guess it’s time to dust off my copies of Vaclav Smil’s books on global energetics…

  2. Summary of remarks by physicist Antonio Turiel (from Los Alamos Study Group Bulletin 287).

    After discussing the extreme inefficiencies of “green” hydrogen, which arise from fundamental physical causes not subject to “breakthroughs,” he observed that these inefficiencies would inevitably result in massive social and geographic inequality, were large-scale “green” hydrogen ever implemented. A “hydrogen economy” would translate those inefficiencies into deprivation for those in the producing regions. Only a tiny minority could benefit, if anyone. The rest would live in abject misery.
    “Blue” hydrogen, for its part, is a net energy sink and greenhouse gas source, assuming the carbon capture it requires could be made to work at all.

    Dr. Turiel concludes with remarks on technological fixes that don’t address over-consumption: “Don’t rush into these things. They are fairy tales. I understand that they are appealing but they are not true.”

  3. Having read the paper and reviewed some of the assumptions made in it I’m afraid that its conclusions are not quite as solid as the authors make out. In particular, I’m shocked that the following statement actually got through any sort of rigorous peer review process:

    “We emphasize that our analysis in this paper is a best-case scenario for blue hydrogen.”

    The biggest problem with the paper is their assumption that: “Upstream fugitive emissions of unburned methane are assumed to be 3.5%”. (This is the primary source of the estimated greenhouse gas impact of this technology). Whether this is a realistic estimate of ‘typical’ upstream fugitive emissions in natural gas production, processing and distribution is highly questionable. The exact amount of fugitive emissions of natural gas in the US is actually unknown (see https://www.wri.org/insights/close-look-fugitive-methane-emissions-natural-gas) but in the UK and Norway where emissions monitoring is much better than here, typical estimates are one to two orders of magnitude lower. (See for example: https://www.equinor.com/en/sustainability/our-approach/sustainability-reports.html).

    Further, even if it is that high, the amount of fugitive gas emissions can be monitored and reduced to very low levels through a number of cost effective technologies (https://www.epa.gov/natural-gas-star-program) as is already done in Norway. Therefore, the analysis in the paper is anything but a “best-case scenario”.

    The rather extreme bias in the paper is shown by the claim that: “The small reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for blue hydrogen compared with natural gas are more than made up for by the larger emissions of fugitive methane”. Why this would be the case is completely bizarre, since it assumes that there will be vastly more fugitive methane emissions from a single central facility where the hydrogen will be produced than in a widely distributed, often antiquated and weakly monitored natural gas distribution system used to supply residences and commercial facilities.

    There are certainly plenty of problems with blue hydrogen – the long term effectiveness of CO2 sequestration being a primary concern. (Although the authors’ claim that: “there is no experience at commercial scale with storing carbon dioxide from carbon capture” is simply false – see https://www.powerfactbook.com/, Global Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Projects).

    Given all the problems with the assumptions made in this paper, I wouldn’t take its conclusions as being ‘carved in a stone tablet’ and expect that in the fullness of time, more balanced research will appear in the peer reviewed literature.

  4. William, what paper are you referring to? (First sentence). Thanks. DP

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