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There is a buzz about inexperienced hydrogen. However pink, produced utilizing nuclear, could have an enormous function to play too

Each pink and blue have been used to distinguish between totally different strategies of hydrogen manufacturing.

Eve Livesey | Second | Getty Photographs

From Tesla’s Elon Musk to European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen, the previous few years have seen many high-profile names speak concerning the function hydrogen could — or could not — play within the planet’s shift to a extra sustainable future.

Musk has expressed skepticism about hydrogen’s usefulness, however many assume it might assist to slash emissions in various sectors, together with transportation and heavy business.   

Whereas there is a main buzz about hydrogen and its significance as a device in securing a low-carbon future — a subject that is generated plenty of debate in latest months — the overwhelming majority of its manufacturing remains to be based mostly on fossil fuels.

Certainly, based on a Sept. 2022 monitoring report from the Worldwide Power Company, low-emission hydrogen manufacturing in 2021 accounted for lower than 1% of worldwide hydrogen manufacturing.

If it is to have any function within the deliberate vitality transition, then hydrogen era wants to alter in a reasonably large means.   

Learn extra about vitality from CNBC Professional

“The very first thing to say is that hydrogen would not actually exist naturally, so it must be produced,” mentioned Rachael Rothman, co-director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures on the College of Sheffield.

“It has plenty of potential to assist us decarbonize going forwards, however we have to discover low-carbon methods of manufacturing it within the first place,” she mentioned, including that totally different strategies of manufacturing had been “denoted totally different colours.”

“About 95% of our hydrogen at the moment comes from steam methane reforming and has a big related carbon footprint, and that is what’s referred to as ‘gray’ hydrogen,” Rothman informed CNBC.

Gray hydrogen is, based on vitality agency Nationwide Grid, “created from pure fuel, or methane.” It says that the greenhouse gases related to the method are usually not captured, therefore the carbon footprint that Rothman refers to.

The dominance of such a technique is clearly at odds with net-zero objectives. Because of this, an array of sources, techniques and colours of hydrogen are actually being put ahead as alternate options.

These embody inexperienced hydrogen, which refers to hydrogen produced utilizing renewables and electrolysis, with an electrical present splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen.

Blue hydrogen, however, signifies using pure fuel — a fossil gasoline — and carbon seize utilization and storage. There was a charged debate across the function blue hydrogen might play within the decarbonization of society.

Pink potential

Alongside blue and inexperienced, one other coloration attracting consideration is pink. Like inexperienced hydrogen, its course of incorporates electrolysis, however there is a key distinction: pink makes use of nuclear.

“For those who cut up … water, you get hydrogen and oxygen,” Rothman mentioned. “However splitting water takes vitality, so what pink hydrogen is about is splitting water utilizing vitality that has come from nuclear.”

Because of this “the entire system is low carbon, as a result of … there is not any carbon in water … but additionally the vitality supply can be very low carbon as a result of it is nuclear.”

Alongside electrolysis, Rothman famous that nuclear is also used with one thing referred to as a thermochemical cycle.

This, she defined, harnessed very excessive temperatures to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen. 

Green hydrogen could help us cut our carbon footprint, if it overcomes some big hurdles

Pink hydrogen already has some probably important backers. These embody EDF Power, which has floated the concept of manufacturing hydrogen at Sizewell C, a 3.2-gigawatt nuclear energy station deliberate for the U.Okay.

“At Sizewell C, we’re exploring how we will produce and use hydrogen in a number of methods,” the agency’s web site says. “Firstly, it might assist decrease emissions throughout development of the ability station.”

“Secondly, as soon as Sizewell C is operational, we hope to make use of a few of the warmth it generates (alongside electrical energy) to make hydrogen extra effectively,” it provides.

EDF Power, which is a part of the multinational EDF Group, mentioned in a press release despatched to CNBC: “Hydrogen produced from nuclear energy can play a considerable function within the vitality transition.”

The corporate additionally acknowledged there have been challenges going through the sector and its improvement.

“Hydrogen is presently a comparatively costly gasoline and so the important thing problem for low carbon electrolytic hydrogen, whether or not produced from renewable or nuclear vitality, is to carry down the prices of manufacturing,” it mentioned.

This wanted “supportive insurance policies which encourage funding in early hydrogen manufacturing tasks and encourage customers to modify from fossil fuels to low carbon hydrogen.”

“Rising the marketplace for low carbon hydrogen will ship the economies of scale and “studying by doing” which can assist to cut back the prices of manufacturing.”

Whereas there’s pleasure concerning the function nuclear might play in hydrogen manufacturing and the broader vitality transition — the IEA, for instance, says nuclear energy has “important potential to contribute to energy sector decarbonisation” — it goes with out saying that it is not favored by all.

Critics embody Greenpeace. “Nuclear energy is touted as an answer to our vitality issues, however in actuality it is advanced and massively costly to construct,” the environmental group says. “It additionally creates large quantities of hazardous waste.”

A multi-colored future?

Throughout her interview with CNBC, the College of Sheffield’s Rothman spoke concerning the larger image and the function various kinds of hydrogen may play. Might we ever see a time when the extent of blue and gray hydrogen drops to zero?

“It relies upon how lengthy a timeframe you are ,” she mentioned, including that “in a super world, they are going to finally drop very low.”

“Finally, we ideally eliminate all of our gray hydrogen, as a result of gray hydrogen has a big carbon footprint and we have to eliminate it,” Rothman mentioned.

“As we enhance carbon seize and storage, there could also be an area for blue hydrogen and that is but to be evaluated, relying on the … developments there.”

“The pink and inexperienced we all know there must be an area for as a result of that is the place you actually get the low carbon [hydrogen], and we all know it ought to be, it is attainable to get there.”

Fiona Rayment, chief scientist on the UK Nationwide Nuclear Laboratory — which, like EDF Power, is a member of commerce affiliation Hydrogen UK — pressed dwelling the significance of getting a variety of choices obtainable within the years forward.

“The problem of internet zero can’t be underestimated; we might want to embrace all sources of low carbon hydrogen era to switch our reliance on fossil fuels,” she informed CNBC.

CEO on what's needed for the emerging green hydrogen sector

Whereas there was plenty of discuss utilizing colours to distinguish the varied strategies of hydrogen manufacturing, there’s additionally a full of life dialogue about whether or not such a classification system ought to even exist in any respect.

“What we wish is low carbon hydrogen,” Rothman mentioned. “And I do know there’s plenty of confusion concerning the numerous colours, and I’ve heard some individuals say … ‘why can we even have the colours, why can we not simply have hydrogen and low carbon hydrogen?'”

“And finally, it is the low carbon bit that is necessary, and each pink and inexperienced would do this.”

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