The Fourth Industrial Revolution And The ‘Energy Transition’ Hoax: III – Hydrogen Energy

hydrogen energy


The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the current programme of capitalism to restructure production, distribution and consumption in the face of the multiple crises it has been facing since 2008. While all major changes in history have multiple causes, some are more central to it than others; in the case of this restructuring, these central causes are 1) the shrinking of essential resources from over extraction and overconsumption (i.e., the ‘Source problem’), and 2) growing problems caused by hazards, toxicity and pollution resulting from the industrial capitalist mode of production and consumption, including climate change, pesticide contamination, waste crisis and ocean and soil acidification. (i.e., the ‘Sink problem’)

One common and crucially important factor that drives both these problems is energy; specifically, the depletion of conventional energy sources like fossil fuels and phenomena like climate change that result from its use. It has been freely admitted, including by official sources, that the current sources of energy – fossil fuels (coal, petrol and gas) and large dams generating hydroelectricity – will be depleted in the near future, say by 2030. Capitalism’s response to this crunch has been to electrify everything using the so-called alternative sources of energy and top it with Artificial Intelligence. This the process labeled by its advocates as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

When it comes to energy, they have three answers: Solar, Nuclear Energy (Fission and Fusion) and Hydrogen. This, according to its champions in the capitalist world’s elite institutions, will solve the two crucial problems the capitalist world is facing – that is, it will solve the crisis of capitalism itself arising from energy depletion, but also, global warming and climate change.

For them, it’s a relatively simple matter of substituting diminishing conventional energy sources like oil with new ones like solar, which will in turn reduce emissions and increase efficiency. This is the celebrated ‘energy transition’, that has been propagated by some of the capitalist world’s leading mainstream media outlets, think tanks and academic institutions, and uncritically accepted by sections of the public, including many environmentalists. One of the chief outlets for the propaganda surrounding the energy transition is contemporary capitalism’s leading mouthpiece and lobbying agent – the Davos-based ‘World Economic Forum.’ Not coincidentally, this club of the world’s leading plutocrats and corporate executives has also been the most ardent cheerleader and enabler of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In an earlier article, we had exposed the hype around the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Similarly, in this series, we will critically examine the claims about the ‘energy transition’. We will show that, at the heart of the issue are some vital questions its advocates cannot credibly answer: ‘How and where to get the large quantities of energy required to put in place a new energy infrastructure and distribution system in place of the existing one, given that current energy sources are shrinking? And how to account for the massive emissions this will create, which directly contradicts the stated purpose of the energy transition?

Below we will take up each of these alternative sources of energy one by one and show how they cannot produce the kind of energy capitalism claims they will produce. We will avoid technical jargon and keep the technical data to a minimum. All dates/years given are approximate and rounded off. This is not a scientific paper, but a simple essay for beginners and for the education of activists. We will conclude by saying that not only will this project not be realized in the manner its champions claim, but capitalism itself will collapse by 2030 due to a combination of factors viz. – resource crunch, climate change, ecological degradation, and last but not the least, rising global people’s movements.

I have not covered wind or forms of alternative energy other than solar PV, nuclear and hydrogen. The reason is that they don’t have as much hype surrounding them unlike these three, which are touted as never-ending sources of energy. Also, wind, tidal and biomass energy are not significant factors in the Indian situation; for example, we don’t have significant amounts of wind available, tidal is yet to take off, while biomass takesup too much land etc.

Note: Since each part of the series will be published on a separate date, this introduction will be repeated for each of them.


The Hype about Hydrogen

If the slew of recent headlines and announcements are to be believed, an endless supply of green hydrogen will soon be available that will replace the fossil fuels burned in our homes, cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, planes, steel furnaces, concrete factories and more, and will even be used to produce electricity (never mind if its produced using electricity in the first place).

The claim is that gas grids used to heat entire countries in winter will effortlessly switch from fossil gas to green hydrogen, with barely a mention of the logistical nightmare such a shift would involve. Filling stations worldwide are simply supposed to shift from petrol and diesel to compressed hydrogen, enabling fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) to travel long distances while emitting nothing more than dribbles of water.1

Even though Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it is not available in pure form but always found in a compound like water. To produce Hydrogen, one has to spend a lot of energy and often the manufacturing process also produces a lot of Carbon Dioxide! So, essentially the generation of CO2 is shifted to the production of Hydrogen.

Different Kinds of Hydrogen Fuels and their Problems

There are essentially three types of Hydrogen fuels currently being talked about: Grey, Blue and Green. ‘Grey Hydrogen’ is produced through the steam reforming of methane with the release of carbon dioxide as a by-product; ‘Blue Hydrogen’ is produced through a process where CO2 is also produced and then subsequently captured via Carbon Capturer and Storage (CCS); and finally, ‘Green Hydrogen’ is obtained via electrolysis, when electricity from renewable sources is run through water to separate the hydrogen and oxygen without the release of emissions.1

The recent report, Germany’s Great Hydrogen Race, found that “99 percent of hydrogen produced globally today is Grey Hydrogen made from fossil fuels, with annual CO2 emissions exceeding those of the entire country. ”Similarly, “Fossil fuel-based Blue Hydrogen, which is being promoted as a “low-carbon” alternative, has a climate footprint that is nearly as bad when its total emissions are taken into account.” Green Hydrogen, considered “carbon free”, accounted for only 0.04 percent of global hydrogen production in 2021 and comes with serious risks, one of the most important of these being ‘Green grabbing’.

Green Grabbing

The term “green grabbing” refers to the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends. According to a recent report by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a big chunk of the Green Hydrogen that the EU plans to use will be imported from North Africa and the Middle East. The Brussels-based corporate watchdog found that Green Hydrogen is energy inefficient, behaves as a potent indirect greenhouse gas, and its production on a large scale requires vast amounts of land, water and renewable energy.

“While the EU is in bed with the gas industry and big corporations – who are steering the continent’s response to the energy crisis – it is the ordinary citizens in Europe and North Africa who will bear the brunt of this deeply flawed hydrogen strategy, Belen Balanya, researcher at CEO, recently told Al Jazeera. One example of human rights violations connected with green hydrogen projects was Saudi Arabia’s planned megacity Neom, where German multinational Thyssenkrupp was installing a huge electrolyser to produce hydrogen for export. CEO researchers found that ancient tribes were forcibly evicted from their land to make way for Neom, while several residents who resisted evictions were sentenced to death. Nonetheless, the Germany-Saudi Arabia collaborative venture is going ahead full steam, which, according to the CEO report, “risks the reproduction and legitimisation of authoritarian regimes in the name of sustainability.”

Similarly, land conflicts around Green Hydrogen have already erupted in South Africa, where a planned port and export processing zone for Green Hydrogen in Boegoebaai is being developed on 160,000 hectares (395,370 acres) of expropriated land. Similarly, in Brazil’s Pecém Industrial and Port Complex, a subsidiary of gas multinational Linde is involved in a planned Green Hydrogen export hub, which has led to conflicts with indigenous communities due to land, water and environmental pollution caused by the project for years.

While the EU “developed nice-sounding standards to create acceptance for green hydrogen projects abroad”, these standards apply only to a few select sites.2A mapping of 27 countries – mostly located in Africa – revealed that not a single hydrogen project has been initiated after consulting the local community.

Hydrogen in Transport

The use of hydrogen in transportation is largely an academic exercise because it has practically no future. The idea is to use fuel cells powered by hydrogen to create electricity to run cars as electric cars! Electric vehicle manufacturers have (rightly) argued that if you need electricity to produce the hydrogen and then convert the hydrogen back to electricity through fuel cells, then why not use electricity directly to run the car? The hydrogen lobby’s answer is that it takes hours to charge a conventional EV, whereas hydrogen refills can be done in a short time. In response, the EV lobby points out that hydrogen filling stations are prohibitively expensive, costing up to two million dollars! And so the debate rages on.1

Capitalism and the hype around technology

Here, a word about the deeper logic of capitalism as it relates to technology is necessary. How does capitalism get away with all these half-truths and lies – as we have seen in the case of these hyped up ‘alternative’ energy sources? Well, the first law of capitalism is to make profits or plain money. In these days when capitalism is flailing, it has to employ new methods to keep churning out profits. One of these is to hype recent technology developments as constituting a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ which is projected to bring in continued prosperity while solving all major problems. The most ardent champion of this fantasy is Davos-based World Economic Forum, the elite club of big investors, corporate executives, senior bureaucrats, world leaders and assorted media personalities and celebrities.

There seems to be a method to their madness, which goes something like this. First, they announce major technological discoveries and breakthroughs. These are hyped to the limit by the massive media networks controlled by a small number of major corporations and investors. The big corporations invest in these technologies, while many smaller entrepreneurs are sponsored by big investors.  Using their combined financial might and media power, they then get government licences by paying fees and/or bribes. The next stage is to raise vast amounts of public money for their projects through banks, often using semi-legal or plain illegal methods. This capital is used to set up and expand operations, before going public on the stock market to rake in hundreds of times worth the initial capital they spent on the project. The job is essentially done because the money raised from the stock market is without any liabilities. A few showpiece achievements are highlighted in the media to demonstrate that the new technology is ‘feasible,’ all the while hiding from the public the fact that it is not ‘viable’. Once the public is invested heavily in their ventures, they use the funds to pay themselves heavy salaries and incentives before quietly going bust one fine day! Naturally, the bubble will burst at some point – as it did in 2008 and as it seems to be happening now – but there’s no need for the promoters to worry because they are ‘too big to fail.’ So, in the last minute, the government rushes in to save them, again, by pumping in even larger amounts of public money!

Concluding Remarks

The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution and the ‘Energy Transition,’ championed by global capitalism’s premier mouth piece the World Economic Forum and others, are built on lies and will go on harming and destroying human lives and nature in the short term. Our only hope is that the current collapse of global capitalism continues and real alternatives come into being in its place. There is enough evidence that is has begun to happen all over the world. Tomorrow is ours!


  1. COP 26 | ‘Widespread use of green hydrogen in heating and cars is not only stupid — it’s practically impossible’

  1. Hydrogen fuel

  1. Hydrogen no break from fossil fuels, energy colonialism: Report

About the Author

T Vijayendra (1943 – ) was born in Mysore, grew up in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s.

Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left-wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left-wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last ten years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. In 2017 he spent a year celebrating the Bicentenary of the Bicycle. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving license nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel-based vehicle.

He divides his time between Hyderabad and organic farms at several places in India, watching birds and writing fiction. He has published a book dealing with resource depletion, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella, an autobiography and a children’s science fiction story on the history of the bicycle, apart from booklets on several topics. His booklet, Kabira Khada Bazar Mein: Call for Local Action in the Wake of Global Emergency (2019, has been translated into Kannada, Bengali and Marathi and is the basic text for the emerging Transition Networks in these language regions. His last book ‘Vijutopias’, which has 12 short stories, is an entertaining book full of hope and energy in these dismal times.

Email: [email protected]

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