Climate Justice Taranaki questions the environmental and economic arguments for the Taranaki Hydrogen Roadmap released on Friday.
“The roadmap is full of fanciful ideas and technologies that are unproven and still at the experimental or development stages. They are fine if we have lots of time, but we are in a climate emergency. With just 12 years left to turn things around, we need to act fast by upscaling proven renewable energy technologies, and investing in energy conservation and resilience,” said Catherine Cheung, spokesperson for Climate Justice Taranaki.
“We agree that there may be a niche role for green hydrogen – hydrogen produced by water electrolysis with renewable energy – in fueling long-haul, heavy transport to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from this sector. But the heavy emphasis given to the production of ammonia, urea and methanol, whether using green or blue hydrogen, is a worry,” said Cheung.
Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas and requires carbon capture and storage (CCS). According to the Global CCS Institute, there are only 18 commercially operating CCS facilities in the world. Many of these inject the captured carbon dioxide underground to force out more oil from old oil fields, gaining carbon credit while continuing to mine fossil fuels. Locally in Taranaki, there have been documented problems in deepwell injection operations including well leakage.
“Carbon capture and storage is only meaningful if longterm, secure storage can be guaranteed. But who would monitor and make sure that the gases do stay in the ground? Who would be liable if there is a leakage, posing harm to humans and the environment, after companies have left?” asked Cheung.
In the roadmap, ‘green’ urea and methanol are supposedly green because they do not rely on fossil fuels in their manufacturing. But when urea is spread on land, nitrous oxide is released into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide is 268 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Pouakai NZ, a subsidiary of 8 Rivers, aims to produce 2 million tonnes of urea a year from its proposed gas-fed power plant and hydrogen production facility at Port Taranaki.
“If the 8 Rivers project goes ahead, it would drive further gas exploration and industrial agriculture. The last thing we want is more industrial farming which disrupts our climate and degrades our waterways and soil. There really is no such thing as green urea,” said Cheung.
What about green methanol? The roadmap describes plastics made from methanol to be derived from captured carbon dioxide and renewable hydrogen as ‘carbon negative’.
“But do we want yet more plastics to clog up our oceans and poison our ecosystems?” asked Cheung.
The roadmap also touts the possibility of exporting green hydrogen as a ‘renewable energy to meet global demand’. Wouldn’t that compete with the domestic demand for renewable energy that we need ourselves to transition to zero carbon, and drive electricity price up?
“Why are we investing so much on a roadmap that does little to address our energy security and transport emissions, and potentially increases agricultural emissions? It appears to be more smoke and mirrors trying to keep the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries afloat despite our climate crisis,” concluded Cheung.
Our group cautions the heavy emphasis and investment on hydrogen and the reliance on existing petrochemical infrastructure to produce it. The hydrogen roadmap for Northern Netherlands explains that in order to make hydrogen economical, lots of it must be produced. And the first market for hydrogen must be the chemical industry which uses hydrogen as feedstock, to make things like ammonia and urea. One problem is that it takes lots of renewable energy to make green hydrogen – it takes three times more energy to power a hydrogen car than an electric one. And we haven’t begun to address transport or agricultural emissions which are the two biggest in New Zealand.
There are really more urgent priorities that need to be addressed, like energy and food security for communities. If we put more efforts into developing community-based renewable energy production and distribution networks, we would reduce the overall burden on the central network and build community resilience as climate extremes become more prevalent. We would have more electricity to power our transport fleet, including public transport, trucks, trains and even boats.
If we support and invest in local food production rather than industrial agriculture for export, we would not be so vulnerable to fluctuating commodity and fuel prices. Communities would be better able to feed themselves and ensure well-being.
Cartoon source: James Yang for the New York Times, 2015
H2 roadmap smoke and mirrors in climate emergency (Waatea News, 18/3/2019)
Taranaki Hydrogen Roadmap: Good or Bad News? (95bFM, 18/3/2019)
‘Chicken and egg’ problem for hydrogen refueling hubs (National Business Review, 26/03/2019)