Natural gas the cleanest option to power hydrogen fuel cells
Fuel cells technology would deliver only minor environmental benefits if the wrong fuel is chosen to power them, a report claims.
The report, Climate-Friendly Hydrogen Fuel, says that while the fuel cell itself produces no harmful emissions, generating the hydrogen they use as fuel could cause almost as much damage to the climate as burning petrol in conventional cars.
The report, released by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, says the choice of hydrogen supply systems will make a significant difference to the impact the fuel cell technology has on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Currently, hydrogen is created by passing a heavy electric current through water or by stripping it out of fossil fuels, such as natural gas, methanol or petrol.
According to the report, the cleanest option available today is to strip hydrogen from natural gas, giving carbon dioxide emissions reductions of around 70%.
The study shows that options such as stripping hydrogen from gasoline would lead to CO2 emissions reductions of around 20%.
To be truly pollution-free, the report says, the hydrogen must come from a renewable source, such as solar or wind power. Unfortunately, hydrogen from these sources is not yet available commercially.
The report takes into account greenhouse gas emissions related to extracting raw materials to produce the hydrogen, processing and refining it, transporting and distributing it, as well as operating fuel cell vehicles with it.
“With the production and marketing of fuel-cell vehicles just over the horizon, the decisions we make today are critical. If we power these vehicles with dirty hydrogen, we will entrench the role of vehicles as the biggest and fastest growing contributor to global warming,” says Rob Macintosh of the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development.