Hydrogen 11 Times Worse Than CO2 For Climate, Says New Report

 

Over a 100-year time period, a tonne of hydrogen in the atmosphere will warm the Earth some 11 times more than a tonne of CO2, with an uncertainty of ± 5

Hydrogen will be one of humanity’s key weapons in the war against carbon dioxide emissions, but it must be treated with care. New reports show how fugitive hydrogen emissions can indirectly produce warming effects 11 times worse than those of CO2.

Hydrogen can be used as a clean energy carrier, and running it through a fuel cell to produce electricity produces nothing but water as a by-product. It carries far more energy for a given weight than lithium batteries, and it’s faster to refill a tank than to charge a battery, so hydrogen is viewed as a very promising green option in several hard-to-decarbonize applications where batteries won’t cut the mustard – for example, aviation, shipping and long-haul trucking.


But when it’s released directly into the atmosphere, hydrogen itself can interact with other gases and vapors in the air to produce powerful warming effects. Indeed, a new UK Government study has put these interactions under the microscope and determined that hydrogen’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) is about twice as bad as previously understood; over a 100-year time period, a tonne of hydrogen in the atmosphere will warm the Earth some 11 times more than a tonne of CO2, with an uncertainty of ± 5.

How does hydrogen act like a greenhouse gas?

One way is by extending the lifetime of atmospheric methane. Hydrogen reacts with the same tropospheric oxidants that “clean up” methane emissions. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, causing some 80 times more warming than an equivalent weight of CO2 over the first 20 years. But hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere clean it up relatively quickly, while CO2 remains in the air for thousands of years, so CO2 is worse in the long run.

When hydrogen is present, however, those hydroxyl radicals react with the hydrogen instead. There are fewer cleanup agents to go around, so there’s a direct rise in methane concentrations, and the methane stays in the atmosphere longer.

What’s more, the presence of hydrogen increases the concentration of both tropospheric ozone and stratospheric water vapor, boosting a “radiative forcing” effect that also pushes temperatures higher.

How does hydrogen escape into the atmosphere?

A lot of it is leakage, according to a second report from Frazer-Nash Consultancy. Store hydrogen in a compressed gas cylinder, and you can assume you’ll lose between 0.12 percent and 0.24 percent of it every day. It’ll leak out of pipes and valves if you distribute it that way, losing some 20 percent more volume than the methane gas that’s now running through municipal pipelines – although since hydrogen is so much lighter than methane, this larger volume equates to just 15 percent of the weight.

Where hydrogen is transported as a cryogenic liquid, boil-off is unavoidable, and you can expect to lose an average of about 1 percent of it per day. Currently, this is vented to the atmosphere.

Indeed, venting and purging operations are currently common across the hydrogen life cycle. They occur during electrolysis, during compression, during refueling, and during the process of conversion back into electricity through a fuel cell.

Where there is venting or purging, the percentages tend to dwarf what’s lost through simple leakage – for example, current electrolysis procedures using venting and purging are assumed to lose between 3.3-9.2 percent of all hydrogen produced, depending largely on how often the process starts up and shuts down – this is a bit of a worry in situations where hydrogen production is seen as a way to store excess renewable energy that’s not being snapped up by immediate demand.

Purging and venting emissions can be cleaned up significantly by adding systems to recombine the vented or purged hydrogen back into water and feed it back into the process – but it’ll be a while before these kinds of operations are economically viable.

In all, the Frazer-Nash report expects that between 1-1.5 percent of all hydrogen in its central modeling scenario will be emitted into the atmosphere, with transport emissions responsible for around half of that, and emissions at the production and consumption ends taking up roughly a quarter each.

Meanwhile, operating under different assumptions, the first report linked expects somewhere between 1 percent and 10 percent of all hydrogen in its global scenario will be emitted into the atmosphere,

Does this mean “green hydrogen” should be avoided in the race to zero emissions?

No. The UK Government report explains that “the increase in equivalent CO2 emissions based on 1 percent and 10 percent H2 leakage rate offsets approximately 0.4 and 4 percent of the total equivalent CO2 emission reductions, respectively,” so even assuming the worst leakage scenario, it’s still an enormous improvement.

“Whilst the benefits from equivalent CO2 emission reductions significantly outweigh the disbenefits arising from H2 leakage,” it continues, “they clearly demonstrate the importance of controlling H2 leakage within a hydrogen economy.”

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Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

EBay at its very core pioneered the circular economy — of finding new homes for treasures that might otherwise have ended up at the dump. “Avoiding items going into a landfill is very important to our customers,” says Steve Priest, CFO of eBay. “Driving the circular economy is part of everything we do.” But finding new shelves for Beanie Babies is just a small component in eBay’s sustainability efforts, which prioritize slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

In eBay’s case, these are mostly tied to electricity used to power vast data centers. Since 2017 eBay has cut its carbon emissions by 29% to 88,000 tons per year. The e-commerce giant became carbon neutral this year, and is aiming to achieve a 100% renewable electricity supply for all its offices and data centers by 2025.

This goal might actually be attainable in the next few years as eBay’s biggest clean energy projects yet come online. The White Mesa Wind Project in Texas (a joint venture with Apple, Sprint and Samsung) began operating this year, producing 75 peak megawatts for the four companies, enough to power 20,000 homes.

Meanwhile the Ventress Solar Project in Louisiana, a virtual purchase power agreement between eBay, McDonalds and BP’s Lightsource division, will generate 345 MW. “We collaborate with our tech peers when some sustainability issues come up, where banding together makes more sense,” says eBay’s chief sustainability officer Renee Morin.

Such efforts have earned eBay the no. 11 spot on our inaugural Forbes Green Growth 50 list. Using emissions data from Sustainalytics and financial data from FactSet Research Systems, we honed in on U.S. companies with market caps greater than $5 billion, that started with more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2017, and have since successfully reduced their emissions while simultaneously growing profitability (as measured by an absolute increase in net income or operating income from 2017-2020).

Going in, we figured these criteria would produce a list of more than 100 companies. But green growth is harder than it looks — both Weyerhaeuser and Edison International, ranking no. 21 and no. 10 on our list, grew earnings less than 2% since 2017.

Is there a connection between cutting carbon emissions and boosting earnings? eBay’s Priest thinks we’ve reached the point where companies that don’t care about green will find it nearly impossible to deliver growth. “Customers want to be associated with corporations that take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. Those that do will continue to drive loyalty from their customer base.”

This is a strategic emphasis echoed by Stephan Tanda, CEO of Aptar, which took the no. 1 spot on the Green Growth 50. Aptar makes myriad drug delivery systems and dispensing products for consumer goods, especially foods and cosmetics. “We look at everything we do through a sustainability lens.” Most of Aptar’s facilities in Europe are already certified landfill free. By the end of the year Aptar is looking to achieve “80% disposal avoidance.”

It’s a business that involves reconciling contradictions — most of their products are plastic, which he says actually has a pretty low carbon footprint relative to alternative containers. A new Aptar product is a “monomaterial” lotion pump with no metal parts, entirely recyclable.

Consumer demand for such new products is arguably more impactful than the kind of government policy circus on display at the recent COP26 meetings in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Governments don’t impact what we do that much. Consumers and patients and customers demand what we do,” says Tanda. They will pay for the carbon transition because it is what they want. Listening to the consumers is how Tanda aims to “future proof our business.”

That approach has worked for electricity giant AES, which landed no. 15 on the Green Growth 50 list after reducing emissions by 22%, replacing coal-fired power plants with wind, solar and batteries — “a winning combination that can decarbonize 90% of the grid,” says Chris Shelton, president of AES Next. Because the costs of renewables kept going down, they were able to shift customers over under a “green, blend and extend” program.

AES also operates a kind of inhouse venture capital operation. Its Fluence utility-scale battery joint venture with Siemens recently went public and now sports a $6 billion market cap — the company behind some of the biggest battery installations in the world. 

There used to be a large group of companies “in denial” about mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. “That group is vanishing fast,” with companies moving over to the “bargaining” group, where they want to know the minimum they have to do to get by and keep activists off their back — that’s the insight of Chris Romer, cofounder of Project Canary, which installs laser-based sensors at industrial sites to monitor methane leakages.

The landmark ESG moment, he says, was last year’s ExxonMobil annual meeting, where shareholders voted in more green-friendly board members.  There’s no going back. Romer says manufacturers can already earn multiples of their monitoring and certification costs by selling “green” products at a premium.

Even on the Green Growth 50, some companies are less enthusiastic than others. Nicotine giant Altria for example, positioned at no. 35 on our list, seems to be doing just enough, having cut emissions by 10% in the studied time period. But according to its most recent sustainability report, Altria’s renewable energy use is just 2.3% of its total, a surprisingly meager ratio.

Altria also demonstrates how hard it can be to stick to a well intentioned program. The company was making great strides toward reducing the amount of waste it was sending to the landfill. In 2018 it nearly hit its 21 million pounds goal. But 2019 wrecked the trend, when Altria delivered 87 million tons to landfill — mostly rubble from a headquarters renovation. Their next challenge: reducing litter from cigarette butts.

Stronger performers included Eli Lilly, which ranked eighth on our list after the pharmaceutical company swapped out old light bulbs for LEDs at three plants, saving 330 mwh per year. And Bristol Myers Squibb, which heats its Munich, Germany office building with 100% geothermal energy, found itself at no. 13. Church & Dwight, parent company of Arm & Hammer, has meanwhile placed third on the list, having achieved its goals of no more PVC in packaging, and offsets carbon emissions by planting millions of trees in the Mississippi River Valley.

I’m an assistant editor based in New York covering money and markets for Forbes. In the past, I covered minority communities for the Boston Business Journal

Christopher Helman

Tracking energy innovators from Houston, Texas. Forbes reporter since 1999.

Source: Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

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Going Branchless: How Banks Can Keep Customers Coming Through The Virtual Doors

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Though you might be familiar with the popular seaside town of Newquay, you may not be familiar with its historic financial district aptly named, Bank Street. Dozens of banks and building societies have dominated this area since the late 1800s. However, the street hit the headlines recently as, 120 years after the first bank opened its doors, the last bank closed them.

This is not new. Bank closures have been part of the news agenda for years, and now, COVID-19 has further accelerated the physical turning into the digital. Across the globe, banks have had to close or limit the operating hours of their in-person locations, forcing banks to digitise at speed. Keeping the pipeline of digital sales flowing for new clients, increasing digital product origination and facilitating those cross-sell journeys to customers is key to survival.

Digital take up

Delivering seamless digital customer journeys was already a fast-growing priority for banking and wealth management organizations pre-pandemic. Research shows that 38% of customers stated UX as the most important factor when choosing a digital bank. In response, banks have been investing in digital technology and collaborating with third-party providers as they strive to offer a superior customer experience and stay competitive. But the global lockdowns – which have restricted people to banking digitally – have turbocharged these trends. Growing demand for digital onboarding, and digitized services to support the ongoing customer journey, must be matched by effective capabilities though.

Plugging the leaks

Conversion leakage is a particular problem during the digital client acquisition process. With branches shuttered during the coronavirus lockdowns, and subsequent openings and customer footfall likely to be severely limited for the foreseeable future, this leakage presents a major, and costly, challenge as institutions seek to convert digital sales and boost their return on investment.

Though you might be familiar with the popular seaside town of Newquay, you may not be familiar with its historic financial district aptly named, Bank Street. Dozens of banks and building societies have dominated this area since the late 1800s. However, the street hit the headlines recently as, 120 years after the first bank opened its doors, the last bank closed them.

This is not new. Bank closures have been part of the news agenda for years, and now, COVID-19 has further accelerated the physical turning into the digital. Across the globe, banks have had to close or limit the operating hours of their in-person locations, forcing banks to digitize at speed. Keeping the pipeline of digital sales flowing for new clients, increasing digital product origination and facilitating those cross-sell journeys to customers is key to survival.

The key is understanding why leakage happens in the first place and time and time again, there are three main trends that cause the most problems:

  1. Switching from a customer’s current provider is too difficult (for example, in transferring bill payments and direct debits).
  2. The digital process is too cumbersome (particularly where existing offline processes are simply put online).
  3. Customers lack human touchpoints and advice when they need it (especially for more complex products).

Combating these levels of leakage requires firms to take an outside-in approach, to see the process from the customer’s perspective. From this viewpoint, they can design a more customer-friendly experience that streamlines the job at hand.

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One way to simplify the acquisition journey is to incorporate human/AI advisor interventions at points of friction, where customers may become stuck. Another is to adopt retargeting strategies that address customers who abandon the application process partway – for example, by storing their details in a CRM system and sending them notifications to complete the application, or referring them to an outbound call centre employee who can pick up the process by phone. Such approaches can boost completion rates by 40%, delivering substantial benefits to the bank.

Stronger digital growth

Banks’ return on tangible equity has plateaued globally at approximately 10.5% over the past decade, and the lower-for-longer interest rate environment will add to the pressure. Addressing cost-income ratios has become a matter of urgency.

Firms now face a strategic inflection point. Continuing with old business-as-usual practices will leave institutions struggling to attract new (especially younger) clients, while grappling with an exodus of existing customers and an overburdened cost base. But by digitizing processes to enhance the client experience, banks and other financial institutions can increase their revenues and reduce costs, and have a loyal customer base who don’t feel the impact of the branchless bank.

 

By Richard Kelsey, Head of Software Sales at Backbase

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