Planet Hydrogen at COP26

Planet Hydrogen will be attending the latest Conference of the Parties, COP26 in Glasgow. We present here our exhibit text and the five videos produced specifically for this summit. We hope you will watch and share them. Please follow us on Twitter for updates.

As evidence mounts of the global threat posed by a destabilised climate, the case for hydrogen – the ultimate in clean fuels – has become overwhelmingly convincing. With the increasingly severe impacts of climate change on every aspect of human welfare and on the natural world, the only means at our disposal to mitigate these impacts is to remove every type of fossil fuel from our energy inventory, and to replace them with hydrogen, the only fuel whose combustion does not result in the emission of carbon dioxide. It is true that carbon-dense fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, have, until recently, brought advances of historical importance to human society, but it is now equally true that they are able to endanger as much as empower.

However, human society cannot prosper, or even continue to exist in its present form, without a reliable source of energy, both as a substantial, storable stock, and as an accessible flow to where such energy is needed. These essential services have hitherto been furnished almost uniquely by carbon, in all its multiple guises. Now is the time, at COP26, to recognise that the coming era of hydrogen has a key role, THE key role, in the displacement of fossil fuels, in the development (as in the Sustainable Development Goals) of human potential, and in countering the harms presently afflicting land, ocean, atmosphere and the biosphere itself.

If the primary goals of COP26 are to be met – to limit temperature rise as near as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to establish within the near future a route to a reasonably stable climate system – then the widespread adoption of hydrogen as humanity’s fuel of choice is fundamental to attaining these aims. Its advantages operate in every sphere of concern.

  1. The deepening and harnessing of public engagement is handicapped by the lack of publicly perceived alternatives to fossil fuels. Recent research shows that young people, especially, are prone to depression and fear in the face of apparently unpreventable climate change – they do not yet have a convincingly positive programme to hook onto.

    The measures proposed so far do not, in their eyes, bring an answer to the fundamental challenge: how do we dispense with fossil fuels in their entirety, and yet identify a replacement which could sustain a credible human future? Our belief is that the promise, the feasibility, the very concreteness of hydrogen, could act as a counter to this near-despair. In responding to this widespread fear Planet Hydrogen runs programmes of information and education at local schools and citizen groups in the North West of England, and is now developing its website in order to engage with a wider audience.

  2. We have still not addressed the hundred billion dollar question – the annual sum uniformly accepted by the delegates at COP21 in Paris as a desirable initial transfer of climate adaptation funds from the developed to low income countries. The promise of renewably generated hydrogen being cheaply produced in the sun-rich but income-poor regions of the world may well, at last, act as an inducement to large western companies, including petroleum companies, to invest in this future industry.

    Already such pilot schemes are in the planning stage in Mauritania and Chile. Similar schemes are at an advanced stage in wind-rich regions of the world, whereby electricity generated by wind turbines is to be used to extract hydrogen from water. Although for the Global South these are business propositions rather than outright grants, such initiatives may well pave the way for fruitful application of the $100bn which could yet be finally guaranteed at COP26.

  3. A refashioned energy system, deprived of the “easy availability and easy answers” given until now by coal, oil and natural gas, must certainly be capable of furnishing the same services as before – and without any emissions of carbon dioxide.

    Hydrogen answers all these challenges. It can be stored at any scale, from the very small to the thousands of tonnes. It flows as easily in the same pipelines, of a wide range of diameters and lengths, as the natural gas for which such pipelines have been designed. It can be burned in all the devices which presently burn natural gas and oil – household cookers and heaters, internal combustion engines (including gas turbines), industrial heaters in ceramics, glass, steel-making etc. It is the perfect complement to the electricity produced by wind power and solar installations.

    Where such electricity does not suffice to fully charge the grid, hydrogen already generated by such “green” electricity can be brought into play, via gas turbines and fuel cells, to make up for the shortfall. It can even answer the very strong challenge of fuelling shipping and aviation, where prototype vessels and aircraft are already being developed. In fact, hydrogen is a most capable all-round fuel, with several advantages over oil and gas, but crucially, upon combustion, it emits neither carbon dioxide, nor those particulates which, according to the World Health Organisation, kill several million people each year.

  4. In the midst of our climate-focused anxieties and deliberations it can be easy to lay to one side another environmental concern of primordial importance – the ocean. In the eyes of all the world’s major academies the threats to the ocean posed by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are as serious as those already the subject of negotiations at COP26. These threats, including heating, destratification, acidification, species loss and sea level rise, can only be restrained, and in part averted, by a reduction of the total load of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This implies that not only must all fossil fuel consumption cease, with hydrogen coming into play as our fuel of choice, but that active removal of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere must also be undertaken.

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