I get conflicting messages and feel some underlying tensions are occurring between those fighting to keep grey or brown Hydrogen, blue Hydrogen, and debating when they can go to green Hydrogen. It needs resolving and arguably phasing correctly. This is a “brewing battle” that will not be resolved in the confines of the Hydrogen Council, or, will it as they position themselves as the Hydrogen Ecosystem orchestrator?
Here in this post, I want to ‘walk’ through the shades of Hydrogen and their differences, moving to the solutions being offered to expand our use of hydrogen.
Then I want to offer a second post following, on discussions around Electrolysers and Carbon Capture, and the need to utilize or store as “hot” issues to be resolved. The present decade has been termed “the Hydrogen Decade,” but the road to travel is both bumpy, uncomfortable, and demanding to navigate.
I am Applying my Fitness Landscapes theory to the Energy Transition by taking my “walk” through Hydrogen as my opening exploration to traverse this landscape
Starting here with a simple ‘guide’ to explaining the different shades of Hydrogen.
Grey hydrogen is today’s most dominant method of producing Hydrogen. It uses the steam methane reformation or gasification of coal on the one side, arguing as it’s a hard-to-abate issue and highly mature as a system. It will remain stubbornly difficult to change, and besides the fuel, parts of the production process would have to undergo significant reengineering.
There is a need for a high-heat intensity to be achieved by burning coal or gas, and electricity fails to do this presently, it is the belief that different Hydrogen solutions might, depending on its specific energy delivery. The processes involved in making cement, oil refining, certain chemicals, for iron and steel production, and feedstocks covering ammonia and methanol are mostly based on natural gas as the primary source of today’s hydrogen production.
Blue Hydrogen is a transition solution.
The hydrogen is still produced from fossil fuels but is applying the CCS (carbon capture and storage) solution to capture carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It greatly decarbonizes the present hard-to-abate processes, and this is clearly seen as the natural way to scale the new hydrogen economy for the short-term.
Then you have green hydrogen.
This is hydrogen from the use of water electrolysis that splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen. Water electrolysis offers a high-purity of hydrogen needed by electronics and polysilicon as well as be a solution for many industrial applications. The combination of rapidly declining costs for renewable electricity, alongside the deployment of the Electrolysis, as the most viable green hydrogen technology solution.
The Electrolyzer becomes critical for Green Hydrogen.
The electrolyzer splits water (H2O) into its two parts, oxygen and hydrogen.
Today the pressing need is to build Global electrolyzer capacity by continuing to seek developments in their size, output, capacity, efficiencies and significantly reduce their cost. The present need is to pursue this “learning curve” similar to the one that wind tower development or solar pv went through in technology learning, scale, and cost reductions.
The need is for Electroyzers to scale rapidly, we have a learning pathway, where economies, cost reduction, and scaling are needed over the next decade. Electrolyers should have the same sort of impact on the energy transition as solar and wind did on the previous one.
The stepping stone to green Hydrogen needs this blue transition, or does it?
I would tend to argue against this in five to ten years on present forecasts, green will dominate, but blue solutions will be more readily applied due to the promise of CCUS solutions. As I mention below on struggle on the present CCUS story, it seems half-formed.
We do seem to need a blue solution at present as the green solutions need to become more commercially grounded. The growing worry, the more we invest today in the Blue Hydrogen solution and infrastructure, the more we will delay the real need for our energy transition to make all energy green.
A changing energy world is offering plenty of options.
In any transition, one key is the ability to convert gas turbines to run on clean hydrogen can offer some of our decarbonization needs. To repurpose power generation facilities becomes part of our short to medium-term demand. To repurpose, renew, or build afresh are options. Each choice needs to be as “green” as it can be.
Blue Hydrogen with CCS is still perpetuating both Methane and Carbon Dioxide as it needs pipelines for Hydrogen, methane, and Co2, as it is based on fossil fuels and all, are required to be separated. Blue delivers the “job” on converting Grey, but it still has a lot of the harmful gases as part of its solution. The critical focal point of carbon capture is not so much the storage but the possible utilization, hence why we now have CCUS.
The battle of our sources of energy
Any transition from well-established energy sources such as coal, oil, and gas (we can say the fossil fuel gang) are fighting the new guys on the block (the renewable kids) of wind and solar. Variable energy has a new friend in Hydrogen; it bridges the gap in providing clean green energy to offer a complete energy system based on renewables of wind, sun, and water.
Of course, it does go beyond “head-to-head comparison” it has a real source of abundance, water that can provide energy security, allow for a set of new energy players in energy supply to create new jobs, and different approaches. Hydrogen is an absolute necessity for achieving the energy transition.
Looking beyond today
Today as we struggle to manage the rising environmental impact of global warming, Hydrogen is offering us one viable option to help clean up our world. Hydrogen now needs to become scalable to provide solutions to decarbonize industry.
The more I investigate Hydrogen, the more understanding I want to unlock. We are only at the beginning of the “claimed” Hydrogen decade, but it is sometimes tough to cut through the “hype” and get to the issues to resolve and not get simply caught up in the different tensions between all the “competing forces” jostling in the Hydrogen play, currently being undertaken.
With my next post I want some of the tensions, bottlenecks, and concerns within the Hydrogen Transformation