Critics warn that Biden’s hydrogen initiative could become next green energy boondoggle

Billions of federal tax dollars are being poured into a fledgling hydrogen industry, and critics say the plan lacks as much forethought as the rest of Biden's green initiatives.

Published: November 5, 2023 6:32am

Updated: November 5, 2023 6:32am

Another spoke in President Joe Biden’s climate policy wheel is the production of hydrogen, which was referred to as a “key pillar of Bidenomics” in an announcement $7 billion in funding for hydrogen hubs across the country.

Other troubled green initiatives Biden has been rolling out include the development of offshore wind energy and the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. This past month both the offshore wind and the electric vehicle industries have seen significant losses as a result of problems that experts, such as energy writer Robert Bryce and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Mark Mills, have long been warning about.

Some experts are warning that the plan to replace fossil fuels with hydrogen is just as lacking in forethought and economic sensibility as EV mandates and offshore wind development. “We’re going to completely buy a hydrogen economy with your federal tax dollars. It’s just loony,” Steve Goreham, an energy researcher and author of “Green Breakdown,” told Just The News.

Hydrogen produces no carbon dioxide when burned. This makes it a candidate for use in heavy industry, which produces 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Replacing fossil fuel use in heavy industry is a particularly difficult challenge, but the hope is that hydrogen can satisfy that sector’s energy needs. Hydrogen can also be used for electricity generation, building heating and transportation.

Hydrogen can be created in different ways, and the methods are designated with colors. The various hydrogen hubs receiving the $7 billion are pursuing some of these methods.

With green hydrogen, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrolysis process, which means high voltage power is run through it. That process is powered with wind and solar energy.

To make blue hydrogen, natural gas is split into hydrogen and carbon dioxide with a steam reforming process. In order to be truly “blue,” the carbon dioxide has to be captured and stored. If not, it’s considered gray hydrogen.

Hydrogen can also be produced with coal, which is known as black or brown hydrogen. Nuclear energy can be used in the electrolysis process, which makes pink hydrogen.

Hydrogen, however, is not itself an energy source: It’s an energy carrier. In all the various ways to make it, converting energy into hydrogen and back to energy results in an energy loss between 18% to 46%.

Frank Lasee, a former Wisconsin state senator and president of Truth In Energy And Climate, a publication on energy and the environment, told Just The News that it makes little sense to generate electricity just to create hydrogen, which you then burn to create heat. “Why would you create electricity and then spend 35% of it to make something that you now have no infrastructure for?” Lasee said.

Lasee added that because the hydrogen atom is so small, it leaks out of containers easily. It’s difficult to transport in pipelines or tanks due to hydrogen embrittlement, which is where hydrogen degrades metals. It’s also highly explosive, as the 1937 Hindenburg Disaster illustrated.

Using wind and solar energy, Lassee said, would mean ramping up and down hydrogen production according to when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, and unreliable industrial processes are as problematic as unreliable electricity grids.

Some of the hydrogen hubs that have been awarded funding, such as the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub, plan to use hydroelectric power, which could provide reliable electricity. But even where there is a constant source of power like hydroelectric, hydrogen made through the electrolysis process requires a huge amount of water.

Lasee said that the hydrogen initiative doesn’t have any real plan for where it’s going to get the water it needs, especially out in the arid West where water from rivers is governed by strict allocation of water rights.

Many of the hydrogen hubs would produce blue hydrogen with natural gas, which has drawn criticism from environmentalists who see it as just another use of fossil fuels. Writing in Master Resource, a free market energy blog, author Goreham explained citing data from the International Energy Agency, that hydrogen produced from natural gas costs between $1 and $1.40 per kilogram to produce. When it’s produced from water with the electrolysis process, it costs around $5 per kilogram.

The Inflation Reduction Act provides a subsidy of $3 per kilogram of green hydrogen, which is three times what it costs to produce it from natural gas. “Who would ever think of something that goofy? But that's what the inflation Reduction Act is doing,” Goreham said in an interview.

Lasee said that he believes part of the impetus for the production of hydrogen is the realization that the electricity grid can’t handle the electricity demand required to power the number of electric cars green mandates are encouraging.

Hydrogen will offer another carbon-free transportation fuel, but Lasee said, just as the quality and scarcity of charging stations is a problem for EVs, hydrogen infrastructure will need funding to build out.

The New York Times reports that the Energy Department will release some of the $7 billion in funding in initial grants for the awardees to develop more detailed proposals. The department will review those proposals for feasibility and determine if more funding for the project is warranted.

The Block Island Wind Farm, which began construction in 2015, was the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S., and the financial and environmental problems with offshore wind have only begun to really show themselves in the past year.

There’s a long way to go before any hydrogen hubs are built and brought online. If the critics are right, there could be billions of dollars spent before the hydrogen hubs prove worth the public money.


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