Why is there so much hydrogen craze?



Nespresso now makes deliveries in Switzerland with hydrogen trucks, built by Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility. They are filled with “green” hydrogen produced by Alpiq in Gösgen, Switzerland, using clean hydropower.

Pierre Logez, Nespresso logistics manager, declared in a press release: “Thanks to this revolutionary eco-mobile technology, it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions by transporting our coffees and Nespresso products. The next time you are on the road, be careful because you might spot our beautiful Nespresso green hydrogen truck. ”

It’s remarkable because we’ve long complained that coffee pods are the poster child for unsustainable design, the expensive little pods that are the ultimate triumph of convenience over sensitivity. For years, Nespresso has gone out of its way to green them with recycling programs, turning them into art, and we’ve even once shown that they are turned into batteries.

But nothing could change the fact that it takes a lot of energy and materials to pack a spoonful of coffee. And most of them go to the landfill or the incinerator because the key word here was convenience.

All of Europe puts hydrogen forward

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier announces a hydrogen strategy.

Pool / Getty Images

Now, Nespresso has jumped on the hydrogen train, which seems to be happening all over Europe. The German government has just announced that it is investing $ 9.78 million in 62 hydrogen projects. German Energy Minister Peter Altmaier said in a press release: “We want to become the world’s number 1 in hydrogen technology. Meanwhile, German Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer said: “We are making Germany a hydrogen country. In doing so, we are rethinking mobility – from the energy system and drive technologies to the refueling infrastructure. ”

Minister Scheuer continued:

“Today, more than 95% of traffic is still dependent on the use of fossil fuels. We therefore urgently need mobility based on renewable energies. Green hydrogen and fuel cells are – in all modes of transport – an excellent complement to pure battery vehicles. . The point is: we urgently need and WANT to promote the shift to climate-friendly mobility. In order to cover all areas of mobility with zero emission solutions, we need technological openness. That is why we also support fuel cell technology. as manufacturers of vehicles and components, so as not to miss the boat internationally. Today, we are taking a giant step towards climate-friendly mobility.

In France, the Eiffel Tower was covered with the words “The Paris of hydrogen” with the French Minister of Finance Bruno Le Maire tweeting: “For the first time in history, the Eiffel Tower was lit with hydrogen!”

We have expressed some skepticism about hydrogen on Treehugger, and we are not alone. Energy expert Michael Liebreich, founder of energy research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance, told Yahoo News: “They took electricity and generated hydrogen, with a [energy] loss, then used the hydrogen to generate electricity with an additional 25 percent loss, then illuminated the Eiffel Tower – they literally took electricity to produce hydrogen to generate electricity with a 75 percent loss – just to be able to say that they lit the Eiffel Tower with hydrogen! ”

Adrian Hiel / Michael Liebreich

Liebreich develops the energy ladder created by Adrian Hiel of Energy Cities (seen on Treehugger here), showing that hydrogen makes sense for many things, including making ammonia for fertilizers and replacing coke in steel production. Powering cars and vans is at the bottom of the list, as is home heating. (Treehugger’s car guy Jim Motavilli has a different opinion.)

As Hiel told Treehugger last year:

“Technically, hydrogen can do just about anything, but in reality there is very little it can do better than direct electrification. Anyone who expects hydrogen to become a ubiquitous and inexpensive product will be disappointed. ”

As of this writing, the words “hydrogen” and “hype” appear everywhere. Michael Barnard, chief strategist at TFIE Strategy Inc., recently wrote that the hype and hydrogen starting with the same letters was no coincidence. He notes – as Hiel and Liebreich did – that hydrogen has its uses, but using hydrogen for grid energy storage or home heating makes no sense. And, despite what German ministers say: “Hydrogen for land transport has already lost … Hydrogen cars died on arrival, having been largely overtaken by electric cars. Hydrogen buses have fallen. out of order and battery-powered electric buses are dominant. ”

Hydrogen is not “the sun in a bottle”

This is how Janice Lin, founder of the Green Hydrogen Coalition, described hydrogen at a conference sponsored by Shell. She explained:

“You would still be using renewable electricity if you could use it then because it’s instantaneous, but by converting that renewable electricity through electrolysis into a storable fuel, you are bottling that sun and now you can. send when you need it so that it allows us to take abundant and really inexpensive renewable electricity and extract value from it. ”

But as Barnard notes, “compressing flammable physical substances and putting them on ships has limited track.” It is difficult and inefficient as a storage medium: “Hydrogen generates a lot of losses as a reserve of electricity, and there is no way of closing this circle”.

He has tips for the media which include:

  • Never refer to the “hydrogen economy” without quotes indicating its intentional use in the 2020s as a part of public relations.
  • Never refer to “blue hydrogen” without quotes and a phrase indicating that this is a greenwashing term used by the fossil fuel industry.

Check out our hydrogen color guide here. I would add that if you ever hear the phrase “sun in a bottle” you should flee the room.

So why now?

Observatory for Business Europe

A recent report produced by the Corporate Europe Observatory and other non-profit organizations explains the forces driving hydrogen, including “blue” hydrogen made from natural gas. They found that “the hydrogen lobby, whose main players are the fossil gas companies, has declared a combined annual expenditure of 58.6 million euros in an attempt to influence the shaping of Brussels policies, although let this be suspected of being a blatant understatement. ”

“The EU’s oversized fossil gas grid has been rebranded by industry as Europe’s future ‘hydrogen backbone’, mixing small amounts of hydrogen into existing short-term pipelines and recycling for longer term hydrogen. The European Commission appears to be backing the industry’s plans, which would give the green light to companies that build and operate fossil gas infrastructure to continue as before. ”

This is probably an accumulation of the German announcement, which is very important. As economist Maurits Kuypers notes in Innovation Origins, “It’s a form of industrial policy.” We’ve seen the same kind of industrial policy in Canada recently, with the government’s hydrogen plan, which we called “a political strategy, not an energy strategy”.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Department of Energy

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Department of Energy Sankey diagrams that we recently showed on Treehugger show that oil and natural gas provided 68.8% of the energy consumed in the United States. There is a lot of money behind it. The industry wants people to buy energy from pipes rather than using free products like sun and wind. As we noted earlier, the only people who benefit from the hydrogen economy are the oil and petrochemical companies that make these products.

Shell, Exxon, and Chevron have all been defeated in climate battles recently. Hydrogen is their escape card. We may only be at the start of a much bigger hydrogen hype cycle, with Nespresso in the lead.


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