Is any color of hydrogen fuel better than current energy sources?December 29, 2021
Is green really the only way to decarbonize in a realistic way, or are there other H2 options?
While hydrogen fuel has had a substantial amount of great press in recent years, particularly following COP26 last month, the debate doesn’t seem to be whether H2 is a good alternative energy source. Instead, it seems to be a matter of which colors are worth the investments of countries and companies.
Not all forms of H2 are created equal in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions in their production.
There is an entire color spectrum, among which green, grey and blue are making many hydrogen news headlines. That said, pink and purple have also been inching into the world’s attention as well. What has yet to be firmly determined is which options are worth investments as alternative sources of clean energy.
Click to learn about the different hydrogen colors.
The whole reason that hydrogen fuel is viewed as a promising alternative to fossil fuels is that it can be used without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the only emission that results from the use of H2 as an energy source is water vapor. That said, this doesn’t automatically mean that the fuel doesn’t produce any carbon emissions at all. That depends on how it was made. The source of energy that powers the H2 production can range from highly polluting coal to nuclear energy or entirely renewable power such as from wind and solar.
The method of production of hydrogen fuel determines how much or how little pollution it causes.
As many countries have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, it’s important to understand the impact of alternative energy sources before large and widespread investments are made into their production, distribution and use. Therefore, as beneficial as the use of zero-emission H2 may seem, the debates are over the production forms being chosen and whether they offer any improvement over the fossil fuels they are meant to replace.
The most common for of hydrogen fuel production right now is grey hydrogen, which is made using natural gas, which produces quite a lot of carbon emissions.
Many countries are seeking to use and upgrade existing resources by converting that to blue hydrogen, which uses the same natural gas, but that uses carbon capture and storage strategies to stop the majority – though not all – of the greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere.
Here’s an explanation of Grey vs Blue vs Green from the Electric Power Research Institute
As dirty as that still may be, many are arguing that the resources to dive straight into green H2 simply aren’t yet in place, and by starting with blue H2, there is a meaningful and far more feasible path to decarbonizing until the necessary resources for green H2 are in place and the cost of that renewable hydrogen can be brought down to affordability. It is certain that the new year will define a great deal regarding the movements that will be taken H2 and what role the colors will play.
Interested in alternative energy and how hydrogen fuel works?
This article is focused on reviewing hydrogen energy, how it can lower carbon emissions and ways to implement different forms of H2 – Learn more about the largest green hydrogen projects – The U.S. green hydrogen projects are among the biggest! Australia green hydrogen projects along – BP hydrogen projects are all well established green hydrogen developers – Read more about – Who is the largest producer of green hydrogen? Also, make sure to visit our H2 Learning Center.
It is clear that a significant proportion of the world’s primary energy will be delivered as hydrogen by 2050. Here in the UK the Government hydrogen strategy expects it to be 35% by that date. As the development of the use of hydrogen is likely to be much faster than its production, the use of grey and blue hydrogen from fossil sources must be ramped up to keep pace with the growth of demand and phased out as renewable (green) hydrogen production increases.
You have not mentioned the “Waste to Energy” alternative of Renewable Natural Gas. RNG is a “carbon negative” fuel because of the capture of biogas from organic waste sites that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere. The “waste” remaining after the capture of biogas can be used to produce high grade organic fertilizer. RNG has identical properties as fossil natural gas and can be used to produce hydrogen. Called “Cyan Hydrogen,” it is comparable to Green Hydrogen produced from Renewable Electricity but it is much more economical to produce. Adding carbon capture when producing Cyan Hydrogen significantly decreases the effect on the environment. RNG is the ultimate “Renewable Hydrocarbon” in that it can do anything that fossil natural gas can do without the use of drilling, fracking, or loss of natural gas at the well site. “Waste to Energy” needs to be developed to its full potential.
Please never refer to hydrogen as an energy “source”, unless in the rare case when it may be extracted from a mixture of gases from geology formations. Please call hydrogen a carbon-free energy carrier, storage medium, and / or fuel. Let’s not repeat the early-2000’s confusion about “running our cars on water”, “clean, abundant energy source”. Thank you.
Good video. There are indeed many colours used to define how hydrogen is produced. While many may view Blue hydrogen as simply fossil fuels in disguise, it is important to remember that construction of large wind turbines consume enormous volumes of fossil fuels, primarily coal and natural gas, and these should also be considered when comparing Green Hydrogen to Blue Hydrogen.