Rushed low-carbon hydrogen standards could derail EU climate goals, group warns

The European Commission has been urged to carefully define low-carbon hydrogen standards to prevent rushed decisions from jeopardising climate objectives.

In a letter to the Commission, Renewable Hydrogen Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Transport & Environment, Green Hydrogen Organisation, Bellona, Danish Shipping, Energy Tag, E3G, ecos and Germanwatch, said they were “deeply concerned” by calls to adopt a quick definition of low-carbon (blue) hydrogen.

The Commission is due to adopt a delegated act on article eight of the Hydrogen and Decarbonised Gas Market Directive, agreed by the European Parliament and Council in December (2023), which looks to set to guide rails for low-carbon hydrogen producers.

However, the group of organisations said hasty decisions could mean it would “fall short of being fit for purpose,” warning the directive lists “several complex issues” that will require “novel regulation.”

“Only through a transparent process that puts scientific knowledge at the forefront can we make sure that so-called ‘blue hydrogen’ serves as a meaningful tool for climate action,” they wrote.

A recent study by EDF revealed, “If hydrogen and upstream methane emissions are high, blue hydrogen pathways could increase near-term [global] warming by up to 50% compared to fossil fuels.”

Read more: Current lifecycle assessments ‘mask’ hydrogen’s near-term warming impact

The group called for a full lifecycle climate warming emissions assessment “based on real-world data” to ensure the gas delivers “genuine emissions reduction” of at least 70% compared to grey hydrogen.

It also stressed the need for a minimum carbon capture and storage (CCS) rate based on “actual CO2 captured and sequestrated” to prevent carbon emissions from continuing. Additionally, it said a maximum methane leakage rate should be included in the delegated act.

The letter also noted the need for those parameters to be monitored and verified by an independent third party, saying, “Monitoring hydrogen leakage will also be important to maximise its climate benefits.”

In a set of additional suggested guidelines, the group said low-carbon hydrogen should only be made from existing gas production capacity, and carbon offsetting should be prohibited.

“Low-carbon hydrogen must not deepen Europe’s fossil fuel dependency,” the letter states. “It must align with the phase-down trajectory outlined in the EU’s 2040 climate targets impact assessment.”

It noted offsetting schemes can prove “unreliable,” and it was “essential” to ensure emissions reductions are achieved in the actual production of hydrogen.

Furthermore, the group called for an upcoming delegated act to define “the main” hydrogen production pathways including electrolytic hydrogen made from grid electricity, nuclear power and fossil fuels, as well as renewable electricity-derived hydrogen that is only “partially compliant” with the EU’s criteria for RFNBOs.

It said defining the latter was “crucial” to enable “optimal utilisation” of electrolysers and minimise the production cost of renewable hydrogen.”

Adopted in June 2023, the delegated acts on renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs) mandated renewable hydrogen must be produced from new renewable assets, located in the same region, during the same hours that renewable energy is being generated.

Read more: European Commission formally adopts renewable hydrogen definition legislation

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