Breaking out of the coloring box for hydrogen: A case for carbon-intensity vs colors


06 March 2022

– Written by Matt Murdock, Raven SR Founder and CEO

Converting organic waste into hydrogen can be used to create cleaner fuels and help lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The buzz about hydrogen, especially renewable hydrogen as a force to combat climate change, is often caught up in evaluating the merits among the “colors” of hydrogen rather than evaluating the carbon intensity of hydrogen production. The real litmus test should be whether a given method of producing hydrogen can itself reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The calculus of measuring overall environmental impact with hydrogen processes is gaining traction as more researchers, companies, environmentalists and elected officials are recognising the need to step back to weigh carbon intensity.

Popular wisdom defines green hydrogen as hydrogen produced by electrolising water with renewable electricity from wind and solar power, but that production method overlooks the diverse and dynamic challenges facing our planet and population. A larger environmental awareness requires that we look at the broader needs within environmental and social boundaries.

Clearly, the various hydrogen production processes have their appropriate place based on a number of factors (e.g. availability of water, sun, waste, electricity, resources, market, etc.). For its part, electrolysis uses a significant amount of clean water and energy, and can only be carbon neutral at best (i.e. CI = 0). Water in many parts of the U.S. and the world is worth more than gold, and using it to create energy is not its highest and best use regardless of cost.

In addition, electrolysis does not reduce current greenhouse gases (GHGs) or short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) that are poisoning our world. As for delivering to market the hydrogen produced with wind and solar power, those resources are typically located at some distance from demand, creating the need for long-distance shipping of hydrogen, which requires more infrastructure and leads to energy loss along the way.

Turning a problem into a solution

We are all painfully aware that we have a plastics problem. Our oceans, landfills and communities are littered with millions of tons of large and micro plastic waste. While passing legislation to tax the plastic industry or encourage new recycling advancements for plastics are well intentioned, we are not addressing how to get rid of the plastic that is already here.

While we understand many environmental advocates don’t want plastics defined as a renewable fuel source so as not to encourage more oil and gas production, we must deal with what is in front of us. If we continue to recycle plastics, we will still have plastic and more waste. By allowing used plastics to be converted to renewable fuels including hydrogen, not only do we eliminate a pollution source, but we also clean up our oceans and communities, while reducing landfills and GHG emissions.

Carbon negative fuel production

Raven SR’s Steam/CO2 Reforming technology can produce hydrogen that is carbon negative based on the feedstocks used to make our hydrogen or Fischer-Tropsch fuels. Raven’s technology is combustion-free: at no point does it add oxygen or air to our system, and as a result does not produce the NOx, SOx, carcinogens, particulate matter, and other pollutants typical in gasification. We use steam and a chemical process to process mixed feedstocks (biogenics, organics, plastics and/or methane) into commercial products in an environmentally friendly, efficient, and profitable way.

In addition, Raven SR:

  • Reduces all types of waste and increases clean fuels closer to the source and market
  • Transforms harmful wastes (medical, unrecyclable plastics, etc.) into clean fuels
  • Does not require fresh water
  • Can use renewable electricity for power, and can run autonomously
  • Reduces air and land pollution

Every year, by converting just five (5) garbage trucks per day of organic waste, Raven SR creates more than 1,600 MT of hydrogen which is enough to travel 93+ million miles in a passenger car or 10+ million miles in a Class 8 truck. This avoids 3,400+ MT of CO2e from the landfill, while diverting 17,000 MT of waste from ever going to the landfill. A single 50 wet-ton per day unit will reduce GHGs by 8,200 tons per year.

As the industry and elected officials move forward in addressing solutions to climate change, the private sector must focus on technologies that are the most effective based on cost per ton of carbon reductions and increase community resilience against climate change impacts.

To make significant impacts on climate change today, the focus must shift to overall negative carbon intensity scores and the reduction of SLCP. Both industry and our elected officials are making great strides in developing technologies and regulations to address climate change, but we should not be short-sighted in recognizing what can be done today, not just 10 years from now. This means legislation and regulations that are technology and colour neutral, with a nod to technologies and processes that can use multiple feedstocks that achieve a negative carbon intensity score.

While policymakers weigh how to shape the future, the private sector is already moving to make lower carbon options available now. This year, Raven SR will be starting production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels using solid waste and methane as feedstocks for customers who want tangible solutions now to reduce GHG emissions across the supply chain and put cleaner fuels on the road.


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