New Report Touts Potential of Hydrogen Produced by Organic Waste

January 9, 2023 by Dan McCue
New Report Touts Potential of Hydrogen Produced by Organic Waste
(Photo by Felix Mittermeier via Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — Biohydrogen, also called Bio-H2, produced by agricultural and other organic waste not only could be the cornerstone of a new cyclical energy system, but might also address emissions after all other economically feasible efforts have been made to eliminate them, a new report says.

The study is part of the Carbon Management Initiative at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

It begins with an analysis of the varying definitions and categorization of Bio-H2 in the relevant literature, which may relate to its classification as both a hydrogen and a bioenergy with a diverse selection of sources and manufacturing pathways. 

Next, it assesses the crucial question of Bio-H2’s carbon intensity, which has additional specifications to those of blue hydrogen (defined as hydrogen manufactured from natural gas with carbon capture and storage) and green hydrogen production, including land use, land use change, use of dedicated fuel crops (and associated land use issues), status and footprint of wastes (agricultural, forestry and municipal), and avoided or reduced methane emissions. 


The report shows that if the biomass feedstock is not carefully selected and the energy consumed during its processing is not closely monitored and controlled, Bio-H2’s carbon footprint can potentially exceed that of fossil-based hydrogen today. 

The authors conclude that in order to avoid any potential negative climate impacts from utilizing Bio-H2, the assessment and governance of biomass feedstock for Bio-H2 manufacturing is critical. 


This report also shows that the potential carbon-removing value of Bio-H2, particularly the carbon-negative hydrogen derived from biomass wastes and CCS, far outweighs its energy value and that Bio-H2 can be manufactured using technologies that are relatively mature and near commercial stage.

Nevertheless, the authors write, because the carbon-negative value of Bio-H2 is contingent on the use of biomass wastes, which is a constrained resource, Bio-H2 should only be employed when the capacity of other decarbonization methods is limited. 

Key opportunities for its application present in hard-to-abate sectors with potential for manufacturing zero carbon or even carbon-negative steel or chemicals. In regions where waste biomass is abundant and underutilized — for instance, East or Southeast Asia — Bio-H2 can also enable a circular carbon economy and offer flexible carbon management solutions, they said. 

As an example, they pointed to local food scraps and agricultural waste that can be converted into fertilizers (created from hydrogen-derived ammonia), which can cut carbon emissions from food production. 


Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

 

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