EU Parliament backs ‘low-carbon’ hydrogen, despite Green opposition

"This report does not contain a single word I did not want there," said Jens Geier, a German left-wing MEP who is the author of the Parliament's resolution. [© European Union 2021 - Source : EP]

A motion on the EU’s hydrogen strategy won support from the European Parliament on Wednesday (19 May), backing the use of “low-carbon hydrogen” made from fossil gas as a bridge towards 100% renewable production.

The EU’s hydrogen strategy, unveiled in July last year, aims to promote hydrogen based entirely on renewable electricity like wind and solar, but also supports “low-carbon hydrogen” in order to scale up production in the short term.

The Parliament report – a non-binding motion with no legal consequences – acknowledges the need to grow the European market as quickly as possible, saying this will require “low-carbon hydrogen” as a bridge towards 100% renewable production.

The motion was passed by 411 votes in favour, 135 against and 149 abstentions.

In the Parliament’s view, “low-carbon” includes so-called “blue” hydrogen, which is made from fossil gas in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to store the associated CO2 emissions underground.

Although the report makes no explicit mention of nuclear, it is understood that the “low-carbon” definition also encompasses “yellow” hydrogen made from nuclear power.

Amendments to the motion were tabled by the Greens, who oppose blue hydrogen made from fossil gas, but none of those amendments found a majority when they were submitted to a vote on Tuesday (18 May).

Instead, a majority MEPs from the left-wing S&D, the centre-right EPP and centrist Renew Europe political groups joined forces to bring the report over the line.

“The majority of the European Parliament showed support for an innovative European hydrogen market,” said German MEP Jens Geier, who drafted the motion on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

“This report does not contain a single word I did not want there,” Geier told journalists at a press briefing on Monday (17 May). “A hydrogen market is an important step towards European decarbonisation,” he said.

Lawmakers support 'low-carbon' hydrogen, stay mute on nuclear

The European Parliament’s industry and energy committee passed a resolution on Monday (22 March) supporting hydrogen produced from “low-carbon” energy sources, including fossil gas with carbon sequestration. The motion stopped short, however, of mentioning nuclear as a potential energy source.

In opposition were the Greens/EFA, while the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID), and the Left largely abstained.

“The market ramp-up will only succeed if we complement the expansion of renewable hydrogen production with the potential of low-carbon hydrogen,” said Angelika Niebler, a German EPP lawmaker and shadow rapporteur on the report.

Niebler added that she personally opposes the use of nuclear energy in hydrogen production.

Although the report carries no legal implication, it sends an important political signal ahead of an upcoming legislative package of energy and climate laws to be tabled by the European Commission on 14 July.

Hydrogen is seen as a potential silver bullet to decarbonise hard-to-abate industrial sectors like steel and chemicals, which currently rely on fossil fuels and cannot easily switch to electricity. It is also seen as a long-term solution for shipping, aviation and heavy-duty road transport where electrification is not feasible at the moment.

“This is a no regret scenario,” said Bart Groothuis, a Dutch lawmaker for the Renew group. “This house aspires to ensure that hydrogen can be traded in the world market in euros,” he added.

Green lawmakers and environmental activists, on the other hand, were furious.

“As Greens, we cannot support demands for financial and regulatory support for so-called ‘low carbon hydrogen’, claiming it is needed for a transition period,” said Henrike Hahn, a German Greens MEP.

“MEPs got this wrong. So-called ‘low-carbon’ ‘bridging technology’ hydrogen is a high-carbon bridge to nowhere,” said Camille Maury from the WWF.

“Giving a transitional role to low carbon hydrogen, and diverting precious public funds from the no regret solutions, energy savings and renewables, would  jeopardise the achievement of Europe’s climate objectives,” said Esther Bollendorff of Climate Action Network Europe.

“Hydrogen can be an energy of the future on the sole condition that it is produced from 100% renewable energy,” added Damien Carême, a French Green MEP and shadow rapporteur on the report.

“I am outraged that the crazy amounts of money – €58.6 million according to a low estimate by Corporate Europe Observatory – spent by the gas lobby and the 163 meetings it had with 3 European Commissioners, members of their cabinets or the DGs concerned have so much shaped the hydrogen strategy presented by the Commission and endorsed by the European Parliament,” Carême told EURACTIV.

MEPs back natural gas as a 'bridge' to 100% renewable hydrogen

Gas should be used as a bridging solution to produce hydrogen before green varieties made from renewable electricity become commercially available, according to a motion adopted in the European Parliament’s environment committee.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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