The global warming effect of leaked hydrogen is almost twelve times stronger than CO2, according to a new study.

Unlike exhaust from burning coal and gas that contains CO2, burning hydrogen emits only water vapor and oxygen. Rather, it is the leaking of hydrogen from production, transportation and usage that adds to global warming.

Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas, but its chemical reactions in the atmosphere affect greenhouse gases like methane, ozone, and stratospheric water vapor. In this way, emissions of hydrogen can cause global warming, despite its lack of direct radiative properties.

The study was led by Dr. Maria Sand, a senior scientist at CICERO, and her colleagues with collaborators from the U.K., France and the U.S.  It is the most comprehensive assessment of the climate effect of hydrogen to date, thanks to the advanced and novel use of existing climate models.

“We have assessed the uncertainties, and our study forms a robust foundation for political decision-making on hydrogen,” said Sand.

A global warming potential of 11.6 is significant, and our study clearly shows the importance of reducing hydrogen leaks. We lack the technology to monitor and detect hydrogen leaks at the scale needed, but new technology is being developed as the industry adapts,” said Sand.

The potential benefit of switching to a hydrogen economy will depend on the magnitude of hydrogen leakages and to what extent hydrogen replaces fossil fuels.