Many things come in an array of colors: Power Rangers, Skittles, and now, hydrogen.
And like Power Rangers and Skittles, some hydrogen colors are far better than others. (For the record, the best Power Ranger and Skittles color is red.)
I mean, obviously.
However, the color of hydrogen does not actually refer to its physical appearance but rather the method by which the hydrogen was obtained. While hydrogen has been marketed as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, the process for producing it can still be incredibly emissions heavy. To understand the difference, some color-based systems have emerged (although it should be noted there is no well-adopted legal definition to any of the color terms):
With so many colors and methods, you’d think the question of “How should we obtain hydrogen?” might be a complex and nuanced one.
When taken from a perspective of environmental concern, GREEN HYDROGEN is the only type of hydrogen we should be talking about — assuming it is being defined as being produced with truly renewable energy sources. Because how it’s defined can mean the difference between clean energy and fossil fuels!
Truly clean sources of energy includes things like wind, solar, and geothermal energy.
The only hydrogen “color” to know
There is a reason so many fossil fuel companies can’t seem to stop raving about hydrogen. It’s because all non-green methods of hydrogen fuel synthesis utilize energy from fossil gas plants, or even coal. For example, grey hydrogen is formed through fossil-gas-powered steam reformation, and the same is true for turquoise hydrogen which uses fossil gas through a process known as Pyrolysis.
The natural gas lobby tried to be clever by also claiming blue hydrogen. Blue, aside from green, is easily the most environmentally-feeling color. Yet, blue hydrogen does not come close to earning this color. Creating blue hydrogen is the same process as grey hydrogen but with the false “benefit” of Carbon Capture technology, which has been proved many times to be a false climate solution and still relies on fossil fuels. Blue hydrogen is simply a fossil fuel wolf in green clothing.
Because it is produced from truly renewable sources of energy like wind, solar, and geothermal energy, green hydrogen is the only type of hydrogen worth pursuing if our goal is to phase out fossil fuels. Additionally we need to make sure that anything we are calling green hydrogen is made from only renewable means, to avoid any green-washing in this space. In fact, “Green hydrogen” is not strictly defined by law in California, and some polluting industries would like to see green hydrogen include things other than wind, solar, and geothermal.
Who needs all these colors anyways?
Despite all this hydrogen talk, electrification is where we can ultimately bring the biggest environmental benefits, energy savings, and cost savings. Hydrogen itself is a process in which you use energy to make energy, so why not just use the energy in the first place without a middle process? We should be electrifying wherever we can, and for the narrow industrial and long distance trucking needs that can’t yet be electrified, we should be considering alternatives like hydrogen, while ensuring those alternatives do not continue a reliance on fossil fuels.
For this reason, when we look at hydrogen we should ditch the talks of colors and different sources of hydrogen — they only serve to confuse the public and keep the dying fossil fuel industry alive a little longer.
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