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Government Accused of Investing in Hydrogen Infrastructure That ‘Doesn’t Work, Makes no Sense and Isn’t a Green Solution’

The people and companies behind the controversial hydrogen lobby winning tens of millions in funding – including one key player also making huge donations to Conservatives

dh Hydrogen Fuel Station KIRKWALL ORKNEY Refuelling stations using tidal and wave sources renewables power UK. Photo: Doug Houghton Orkney / Alamy
A hydrogen Fuel Station in Kirkwall, Orkney. Photo: Doug Houghton Orkney / Alamy

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A controversial Conservative super donor is one of the main backers of a growing Westminster lobbying effort to get the government to back hydrogen energy as the solution to climate change

The hydrogen lobby has increasingly become one of the major forces in Westminster, with OpenDemocracy last year revealing that the gas industry paid a PR firm £200,000 to set up a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on hydrogen, to lobby the government to back natural gas derived ‘blue hydrogen’ projects. 

A former leading lobbyist for the hydrogen sector claimed in 2021 that the oil and gas industry has made false claims about blue hydrogen to win over politicians and access huge government subsidies. Last month the government allocated more than £2 billion in subsidies for hydrogen projects.

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Lobbyist-funded ‘hydrogen zones’ have become a common feature at party conferences while industry figures push for the technology on panels, and emails from one hydrogen lobbying firm recently revealed that the group is targeting Labour, in expectation of Keir Starmer becoming the next Prime Minister.

The emails were sent by Beyond 2050, one of the main PR firms pushing for hydrogen use in the UK.

Another major player is Atmos, which boasts on its website of its clients and staff meeting Starmer and even the King at recent events. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer behind the wheel of a hydrogen-powered bus during a visit to Tyseley Energy Park, Birmingham in January 2022. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

Byline Times has dug into the background of both firms and found they are totally or partially owned by Valebond Consultants, a company run by Joseph Bamford. 

Mr Bamford is the scion of the billionaire Bamford family, which primarily made its money from manufacturing construction equipment under the JCB brand, but has begun to move into the Hydrogen sector.

Mr Bamford is listed as a director of at least eight different Hydrogen transport, energy or investment companies which have benefitted from tens of millions in government subsidies, grants and funding to scale their Hydrogen technologies. 

The Bamford family has long-standing links to the Conservative Party, largely through Mr Bamford’s father, Anthony, who was appointed a Conservative Lord by David Cameron in 2013, and retired from the House in March.

The family has donated at least £10.4 million directly, or through their company, to the ruling party.

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Earlier this month, The Guardian found evidence that JCB had continued to build and supply equipment for the Russian market long after it claimed it had stopped exports in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

“What we can see is that there’s been a massive push for hydrogen in all kinds of sectors, including ones where it doesn’t really make sense,” says Sarah Biermann Becker, a senior investigator at non-profit Global Witness who has investigated the hydrogen lobby. 

“It went from nobody talking about hydrogen 10 years ago to all kinds of policymakers and politicians suddenly floating hydrogen in all these sectors, where we have alternatives.”

Three types of hydrogen can be used as energy – grey hydrogen, blue Hydrogen and green Hydrogen. 

Grey hydrogen is produced by removing the hydrogen from the methane found in natural gas and releasing the carbon emissions created in the process.   

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Blue hydrogen follows the same route but with the promise from its producers to use as yet unrealised carbon capture technology to ensure no carbon emissions are released from the production.

It’s these two technologies that Becker says are of the most interest to oil and gas companies. “They have very clear interests in hydrogen because they can present it as a green solution, when actually it’s another lifeline to keeping natural gas production going,” she explains.

Green hydrogen’s production is carbon neutral as it relies on electrolysis to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. 

In theory, if the power used for the electrolysis process came solely from renewables the entire production line could be carbon neutral. But it can cost twice, or three times as much, as blue hydrogen and its production is currently inefficient and needs more energy to be put in than the energy value of the hydrogen it creates.

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“For most of the sectors it’s being proposed for, like domestic heating, it makes absolutely no sense, because it doesn’t actually contribute to reducing carbon emissions when used in heating – compared to the alternatives – because of how hydrogen is produced,” says Becker.

“The danger is that the government invests in new infrastructure for a technology that doesn’t work, that not only doesn’t work in terms of reducing emissions, but it’s also more expensive in many ways.”

Atmos and Beyond 2050 did not respond to requests for comment.


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