Hydrogen has emerged as a promising solution to the challenges of decarbonizing some of the most carbon-intensive sectors, such as heavy industry, long-haul transportation, and seasonal energy storage. However, not all hydrogen is created equal, and its sustainability and environmental benefits depend on the method used to produce it.
Hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element in the universe, making up 75% of all matter. However, it does not exist in its pure form in nature, but rather in combination with other elements, such as oxygen to form water or carbon to form organic compounds. Therefore, hydrogen needs to be manufactured from these sources, making it an energy carrier, rather than a primary energy source.
There are several ways to produce hydrogen, including molecular transformation, gasification, and water electrolysis. Molecular transformation is the most widely used technique, and it involves reforming natural gas from oil fields. This method is highly polluting, as it produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. Gasification with water vapor and pure oxygen is performed using coal or biomass, and it is also highly polluting, emitting large amounts of carbon monoxide.
On the other hand, water electrolysis involves breaking down water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen by a direct electrical current that is connected by electrodes to the water. When water electrolysis is performed with renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, it is considered the most sustainable method of hydrogen production. Green hydrogen, which is obtained through water electrolysis powered by renewable energy sources, is considered the most sustainable form of hydrogen and the key to achieving global decarbonization and fulfilling the commitments made for 2050 in the fight against climate change.
The method used to produce hydrogen determines its environmental impact and sustainability. Hydrogen is classified into several types based on its production process and the carbon emissions generated during the process. The most commonly used classification is the color nomenclature, which includes grey, blue, turquoise, and green hydrogen.
Grey hydrogen is produced through the most polluting and carbon-intensive method, namely the reforming of natural gas, which generates large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), almost all of the 70 million tonnes of hydrogen currently consumed worldwide is grey hydrogen, making it a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Blue hydrogen is produced through the same method as grey hydrogen, but with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which captures and stores the carbon dioxide emissions generated during the process. This technology reduces the carbon emissions of hydrogen production, but it is still reliant on fossil fuels, making it less sustainable than green hydrogen.
Turquoise hydrogen is produced through the gasification of methane with CCS technology, which reduces the carbon emissions generated during the process. This method is more sustainable than grey and blue hydrogen, but it is still reliant on fossil fuels and emits carbon emissions.
Green hydrogen is produced through water electrolysis powered by renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power. This method is the most sustainable and environmentally friendly form of hydrogen, as it generates zero carbon emissions during the process. Green hydrogen is considered the key to achieving global decarbonization and fulfilling the commitments made for 2050 in the fight against climate change.
The environmental benefits of green hydrogen are numerous. It is a sustainable and renewable fuel with a zero pollution index that can be used as both an energy vector and a raw material. Its environmental benefits lie in its ability to replace fossil fuels in sectors and applications that are challenging to decarbonize.
However, the viability of hydrogen in wider industrial uses, transportation, buildings, and power generation depends overwhelmingly on its cost competitiveness and green credentials. While hydrogen can be produced in a number of ways, both with fossil fuels and with renewable energy, decarbonized hydrogen is currently