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

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

Eve Livesey | Second | Getty Photos

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

Musk has expressed skepticism about hydrogen’s usefulness, however many suppose it might assist to slash emissions in plenty of sectors, together with transportation and heavy trade.   

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

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

If it is to have any position within the deliberate power transition, then hydrogen technology wants to vary in a reasonably large means.   

Learn extra about power from CNBC Professional

“The very first thing to say is that hydrogen does 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 quite a lot 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 completely different strategies of manufacturing had been “denoted completely different colours.”

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

Gray hydrogen is, in line with power agency Nationwide Grid, “created from pure gasoline, or methane.” It says that the greenhouse gases related to the method aren’t captured, therefore the carbon footprint that Rothman refers to.

The dominance of such a way is clearly at odds with net-zero objectives. In consequence, an array of sources, techniques and colours of hydrogen at the moment are 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, then again, signifies the usage of pure gasoline — a fossil gasoline — and carbon seize utilization and storage. There was a charged debate across the position 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.

“In the event you cut up … water, you get hydrogen and oxygen,” Rothman mentioned. “However splitting water takes power, so what pink hydrogen is about is splitting water utilizing power that has come from nuclear.”

Which means “the entire system is low carbon, as a result of … there isn’t any carbon in water … but in addition the power supply can be very low carbon as a result of it is nuclear.”

Alongside electrolysis, Rothman famous that nuclear may be 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 thought of manufacturing hydrogen at Sizewell C, a 3.2-gigawatt nuclear energy station deliberate for the U.Ok.

“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 building of the ability station.”

“Secondly, as soon as Sizewell C is operational, we hope to make use of among 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 position within the power transition.”

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

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

This wanted “supportive insurance policies which encourage funding in early hydrogen manufacturing initiatives 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 is able to assist to cut back the prices of manufacturing.”

Whereas there’s pleasure in regards to the position nuclear might play in hydrogen manufacturing and the broader power 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 power issues, however in actuality it is complicated and massively costly to construct,” the environmental group says. “It additionally creates enormous quantities of hazardous waste.”

A multi-colored future?

Throughout her interview with CNBC, the College of Sheffield’s Rothman spoke in regards to the larger image and the position several types of hydrogen may play. May 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 an excellent world, they may ultimately 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 doable 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 residence the significance of getting a spread of choices accessible within the years forward.

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

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

Whereas there was quite a lot of discuss utilizing colours to distinguish the assorted 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 quite a lot of confusion in regards to the varied colours, and I’ve heard some folks say … ‘why will we even have the colours, why will we not simply have hydrogen and low carbon hydrogen?'”

“And in the end, it is the low carbon bit that is vital, and each pink and inexperienced would do this.”

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