Does hydrogen save the gas heater and the combustion engine?

Does hydrogen save the gas heater and the combustion engine?

EIt’s about the two hottest topics of the energy transition: from 2035, the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines is to be banned in Europe, which has led to weeks of political arguments in Berlin and Brussels. In addition, the Federal Minister of Economics wants Robert Habeck by the Greens to ban the installation of new gas and oil heating systems in Germany from next year.

Marcus Theurer

Editor in the economy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

When it comes to heating, Habeck relies on the electric heat pump, and when it comes to driving, battery-electric drives in particular are said to be the future. Green electricity instead of fossil fuels is Habeck’s motto.

The only problem is that heat pumps are often four times as expensive as gas heaters, and the purchase price for an electric car has so far been significantly higher than for a combustion vehicle. It is feared that many citizens will simply not be able to afford climate protection. In the Berlin traffic light government, the dispute over the ban on heating and burners has led to a tangible coalition crash.

“A technology-open approach” for climate protection

The FDP wants to rely not only on green electricity for driving and heating, but also on hydrogen produced in an environmentally friendly manner. Why not operate gas heaters with hydrogen instead of natural gas in the future instead of replacing them completely with heat pumps? New types of heaters, which can initially continue to be operated with natural gas and later with hydrogen, could be delivered quickly and inexpensively.

And why not trim the internal combustion engine, in which the German car manufacturers are world leaders, to be climate-neutral with the help of eco-hydrogen? It can be processed into climate-friendly synthetic fuels. Instead of petrol or diesel, drivers would simply fill up with so-called e-fuels.

The Liberals have now prevailed with their demands. When it comes to heating, “an approach that is open to technology” is to be pursued, according to the 16-page paper that the traffic light coalition partners agreed on Tuesday after a 30-hour agonizing marathon session. Also gets Minister of Transport Volker Wissing (FDP) the mandate for an “e-fuels strategy”, a roadmap for how the supply of synthetic fuels should be ramped up.

Also for heating with hydrogen the requirements should now be less restrictive. In the previous draft for the building energy law by Habeck and building minister Klara Geywitz (SPD), on the other hand, the requirements for hydrogen heating systems were “prohibited” and complained Eon manager Katherina Reiche, chairwoman of the National Hydrogen Council, which advises the federal government.

So can the hope of hydrogen pacify the feared major social conflict about climate-neutral heating and driving? So far, there is no simple answer to this. Because in addition to the great advantage that hydrogen would enable the continued use of today’s heating and engine technology, it also has a serious disadvantage: so far there is only minimal production capacity worldwide for the new miracle cure energy transition.

This is a real handicap, because the time pressure in the fight against global warming is, as is well known, great. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last week that the critical limit of an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees could be exceeded as early as 2030. So quick solutions are needed. It is questionable whether the development of the hydrogen economy will succeed quickly enough.

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