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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 totally different strategies of hydrogen manufacturing.

Eve Livesey | Second | Getty Pictures

From Tesla’s Elon Musk to European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen, the previous few years have seen many high-profile names speak 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 assume it might assist to slash emissions in various 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 a whole lot of debate in current months — the overwhelming majority of its manufacturing remains 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 worldwide hydrogen manufacturing.

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

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 a whole 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 totally different strategies of manufacturing had been “denoted totally different colours.”

“About 95% of our hydrogen in the present day comes from steam methane reforming and has a big related carbon footprint, and that is what’s known as ‘gray’ hydrogen,” Rothman instructed CNBC.

Gray hydrogen is, in line with 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. Consequently, an array of sources, techniques and colours of hydrogen at the moment are being put ahead as alternate options.

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

Blue hydrogen, alternatively, signifies the usage of pure fuel — a fossil gas — 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 colour attracting consideration is pink. Like inexperienced hydrogen, its course of incorporates electrolysis, however there is a key distinction: pink makes use of nuclear.

“In case you 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.”

Which means that “the entire system is low carbon, as a result of … there is not any carbon in water … but in addition the vitality 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 known 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 doubtlessly important backers. These embrace EDF Power, which has floated the thought 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 are able to 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 facility 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 position within the vitality transition.”

The corporate additionally acknowledged there have been challenges dealing with the sector and its growth.

“Hydrogen is presently a comparatively costly gas and so the important thing problem for low carbon electrolytic hydrogen, whether or not produced from renewable or nuclear vitality, 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 can 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 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 isn’t favored by all.

Critics embrace Greenpeace. “Nuclear energy is touted as an answer to our vitality issues, however in actuality it is complicated and vastly 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. 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 taking a look at,” she mentioned, including that “in a super world, they may ultimately drop very low.”

“In the end, 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 must 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 residence the significance of getting a spread of choices accessible within the years forward.

“The problem of web 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 instructed CNBC.

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

Whereas there was a whole lot of discuss utilizing colours to distinguish the assorted strategies of hydrogen manufacturing, there’s additionally a vigorous 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 a whole lot of confusion in regards to the numerous colours, and I’ve heard some folks say … ‘why can we even have the colours, why can we not simply have hydrogen and low carbon hydrogen?'”

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

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