There are many ways to help curb global warming and one of the most popular is the use of non-polluting alternative energies, or at least to a lesser extent than conventional ones (fossil fuels and nuclear energy). Among these new options for producing energy, we find the much-hyped hydrogen. But is hydrogen truly the solution?
From hydrogen, the first element in the periodic table, energies such as electrical, mechanical, or thermal can be obtained. It is presented as an excellent alternative to reduce the environmental impact; however, the classification made by the International Energy Agency specifically shows the impact of each process to obtain it.
Currently there are six different types of hydrogen as a fuel based on how it is produced and are the following:
1. Black Hydrogen
This kind of hydrogen is produced from hydrocarbons, without capturing emissions and without using energy from renewable sources. Its production makes it the least sustainable type.
2. Gray and Brown Hydrogen
The gray type is known for being obtained from natural gas, being reformed by steam, but it does not use renewable energy, so it is a major pollutant.
On the other hand, brown hydrogen is generated from the gasification of coal and was, along with gray, one of the most widely used in industry.
Since emissions are not captured, or renewable energies are used, these two are considered the most polluting of all types in this list.
3. Blue Hydrogen
This has become the most popular and it’s becoming more accessible pricewise every day. This category of hydrogen is obtained from hydrocarbons and is the most viable way to obtain low-emission hydrogen.
4. Turquoise Hydrogen
This new type is seen as an attractive option since it is produced from hydrocarbons but using another technique. The technique is called “pyrolysis” and it obtains the coal in a solid state, which avoids polluting emissions.
5. Green Hydrogen
Green hydrogen is produced through water electrolysis (“process whereby water is split into hydrogen and oxygen through the application of electrical energy”) and has no polluting emissions at any stage of its production. Since it has no environmental impact, the industry is constantly looking for ways to produce it more easily and at a lower cost.
For its expansion it is also helpful the fact that it can be produced through different energy sources and processes, each region or country can produce it locally with the available resources.
The advocates of the so-called green hydrogen believe it might help break humans’ dependence on fossil fuels and aid move toward a net-zero world by remodeling heavy-polluting industries such as steel and cement, and introducing hydrogen in our daily lives, for instance in the form of hydrogen fuel cell trucks and cars.
But there are not only a few enthusiasts of hydrogen. The demand of this element reached approximated 87 million metric tons (MT) in 2020 and is expected to reach 500–680 million MT by 2050. And with this increased demand, supply experiences a great growth as well. Some examples are the construction of the largest green hydrogen plant in Europe by Shell, one of the biggest multinational oil and gas Company, which is expected to be operational in 2025, and the UN project “Green Hydrogen Catapult” that joins different big companies related to the energy market such as Iberdrola, Envision or ACWA Power, with the goal of reducing the production cost of green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen production technologies are seeing a renewed wave of interest. This is because the feasible uses for hydrogen are expanding across numerous sectors including heavy transport like shipping, power generation and manufacturing processes in industries such as cement production and steelmaking, cleaning products, and refrigeration, among others.
The need of reducing global warming becomes more vivid every year. Reducing the environmental impact and emissions generated by industries continues to be a priority, and with green hydrogen this is a possibility. Governments and international organizations should keep pushing companies and industries into the utilisation of this element, and in the end making it more accessible to the population. And to make this possible, prices should considerably decrease.
Hydrogen has been hyped as the fuel of the future before, but it really might be true this time.
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