Hydrogen is usually touted as a renewable vitality lifeline for hard-to-abate industries corresponding to concrete and metal manufacturing, aviation and delivery. However once I say hydrogen, do you suppose I’m referring to blue or inexperienced hydrogen? Or grey or pink? And which of those shades may be labeled “clear”? Let’s break every thing down.
Grey, blue or inexperienced, and are they clear?
Earlier than diving into the colours, let’s get on the identical web page about two issues: how hydrogen is presently used and what “clear” hydrogen actually means. First, hydrogen is most generally used in petroleum refining and fertilizer manufacturing, with transportation and utilities representing rising markets, a.ok.a, the molecule is propping up fossil fuels.
Second, RMI has the greatest definition of unpolluted hydrogen (in my view): “Hydrogen is ‘clear’ provided that carbon emissions from its manufacturing, storage, distribution and use are low or zero.” As a result of not all hydrogen is created equally.
Probably the most emissions-heavy by-product immediately is grey hydrogen, which is produced utilizing pure gasoline or coal through an energy-intensive course of. Grey hydrogen can also be by far the most typical type of this gas within the U.S., making up 95 p.c of home use. Globally, hydrogen manufacturing contributes round 2 p.c to whole emissions. So, all-in-all, probably not the inexperienced different we’re searching for.
Now, onto the extra aesthetic colours in our rainbow of vitality. Subsequent on the spectrum is blue hydrogen. Blue isn’t all that totally different from grey (womp womp) in that it’s produced utilizing fossil fuels. What units the 2 aside is the seize and storage of all carbon dioxide byproducts through the blue hydrogen manufacturing course of. (Little-known truth: When you say the phrases “blue hydrogen” thrice inside a coal-drawn circle, you’ll summon West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.)
At the moment, blue hydrogen serves as frequent floor for some (positively not all) renewable vitality advocates and fossil gas supporters alike. The worldwide marketplace for blue hydrogen was valued at $18.8 billion in 2022, and is projected to develop within the subsequent eight years. The usage of pure gasoline appeases the likes of ExxonMobile, which plans on utilizing blue hydrogen to assist decarbonize heavy trade. On the similar time, for the reason that CO2 is captured and saved, the emissions related to creating the hydrogen are eradicated — assuming the strategy of carbon seize has a 100% effectiveness price.
With blue hydrogen because the bridge between soiled and clear, let’s discover what lies on the opposite facet: inexperienced hydrogen. Simply the utterance of the phrases “inexperienced hydrogen” ought to set off an imaginary refrain of terra angels in your ears, with visions of Mom Gaia descending from her lush, tree-filled cocoon to bestow mild and peace on this planet. Significantly, although, inexperienced hydrogen is created through electrolysis, or the splitting of water into separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules, and requires an electrolyzer, which makes use of electrical currents to separate the chemical compound.
What elevates inexperienced hydrogen above the blue and grey varieties is using renewable vitality sources to catalyze the electrolysis. As long as the enter is renewably sourced, the manufacturing and subsequent use of inexperienced hydrogen is just about carbon-free. In 2022, inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing grew 44 p.c in comparison with 2021, and is predicted to succeed in a market worth of $60.6 billion by 2030; the transportation sector leads in use, accounting for round 40 p.c of world inexperienced hydrogen gross sales in 2021.
Lastly, let’s think about pink hydrogen, a good less-developed selection, derived when nuclear fission is used to energy electrolysis. Pink hydrogen manufacturing methods are nonetheless discovering their footing, however outstanding Swedish nuclear plant OKG, owned by Uniper and Fortum, did announce its intention a 12 months in the past to promote pink hydrogen to industrial gasoline firm Linde. The plant has truly been producing pink hydrogen for the reason that early Nineties as a type of nuclear reactor coolant. This particular case serves as a blueprint for repurposing infrastructure within the inexperienced transition.
Setting the scene
And it appears to be like just like the European Union is taking that concept and working with it. On Feb. 13, the EU launched a extremely anticipated algorithm defining what renewable hydrogen means for its member states. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the related fallout severely affected the EU’s entry to grease and gasoline, forcing it to fast-track growth of independently produced renewable vitality. Inexperienced hydrogen is one promising resolution to this multi-pronged dilemma. However as a result of inexperienced hydrogen electrolysis is powered by renewable vitality (wind, photo voltaic, hydro) many fear that manufacturing would commandeer the entire clear vitality out there on native grids.
The EU determined to bypass the difficulty by mandating that inexperienced hydrogen can solely come from electrolyzers powered by newly constructed renewable electrical energy era gear situated on-site. So, meaning every inexperienced hydrogen plant would want its personal on-site wind or photo voltaic farm. If, for some motive, the inexperienced hydrogen plant should connect with the grid, it must signal a energy buy settlement supporting the manufacturing of native renewable vitality. These new guidelines are anticipated to spice up using the aforementioned pink hydrogen, thanks partly to the aggressive lobbying of France to incorporate nuclear vegetation as renewable vitality sources.
In the USA, the Inflation Discount Act is predicted to exponentially improve the manufacturing of inexperienced and blue hydrogen. The Worldwide Council on Clear Transportation estimates that the IRA “can cut back the price of inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing by virtually half, falling to almost $3 per [kilogram] hydrogen for a venture beginning in 2023.”
And the market tendencies are indicating this estimation to be correct. Andres Angulo, an vitality analyst at GlobalData, defined, “As of January 2023, 90 p.c of [new construction] hydrogen tasks are inexperienced, reflecting … the variety of EPC [engineering, procurement and construction] contractors collaborating in greater inexperienced tasks.”
We’re formally dwelling in a world the place a significant type of vitality is represented by a spinning rainbow wheel. Control the place the wheel finally stops.