Hydrogen Europe, one of the most influential hydrogen lobby groups in the EU, has been putting sustained pressure on the European Commission to adopt sustainability standards for renewable hydrogen that risk turning this supposedly green fuel into a polluting one.

Freedom of information files show that the lobby group, whose members include the fossil fuel giants Shell, Total and Equinor, is pushing for loopholes in an EU law that would allow energy companies to use large amounts of fossil electricity to produce hydrogen, and still have it labelled as renewable.

The documents show the group’s efforts included lobbying Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans to weaken the law, known as the Renewable Energy Directive.

This is a cause for deep concern, as hydrogen made from fossil electricity has a huge carbon footprint – up to 130 times bigger than hydrogen made from renewable electricity.

Hydrogen Europe has also called for a the removal of a crucial rule that requires companies to build new renewable energy installations.

This rule, known as ‘additionality’, would ensure that hydrogen companies source renewable electricity from new installations. This prevents them from diverting renewable electricity from existing sources, which is urgently needed to decarbonise the grid and everything it powers.

Another reason that additionality is important is because renewable electricity that gets diverted from existing sources would often be replaced by fossil electricity. In other words, the grid would compensate for the lost renewable electricity by firing up fossil fuel power plants to fill the gap.

This means that without strong rules for additionality, hydrogen production is likely to increase rather than reduce carbon emissions, which would defeat its purpose.

The European Commission is currently finalising its implementing rules for the Renewable Energy Directive, which include requirements for sourcing renewable electricity and building new renewable energy installations for hydrogen production.

Global Witness is calling on the European Commission to adopt rules that ensure renewable hydrogen reduces carbon emissions. These must include strong requirements for additionality that come into effect immediately.