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Study Shows Hydrogen Not As Clean As Previously Thought, Don't Despair Just Yet

Hydrogen is seen as the alternative to fossil fuels, especially in transportation. However, a new study shows that the most common process of obtaining hydrogen is not that eco-friendly, and the researchers behind it consider that hydrogen is not a zero-emission fuel, nor even a low-emission fuel.
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The reasoning is that most of the hydrogen used today comes from natural gas, which goes through an extraction process that is both energy-consuming and generates considerable amounts of carbon dioxide. While suppliers have developed other methods of obtaining hydrogen, such as the one that results in what is called "blue hydrogen," which still involves natural gas, there is also "green hydrogen," which means hydrogen obtained from water through electrolysis – but only if the power required for the electrolysis comes from renewable energy sources.

Confused? Let us break it down into atom-sized bites. The New York Times reported on a peer-reviewed study on the climate effects of hydrogen, which focused on its carbon footprint. As in, the emissions of carbon dioxide that are generated from the most popular form of mass production of hydrogen, dubbed steam reforming process, that is currently employed in the world.

The next best thing in hydrogen production, "blue hydrogen," refers to a carbon dioxide storage technology that captures the gas before it reaches the atmosphere and pumps it underground in an attempt to keep it away from the atmosphere. It is extremely costly and complex. Unfortunately, that method still requires natural gas, which is a fossil fuel, still employs the same production method and releases methane, which has been proven to be a greenhouse gas.

Researchers also noted that the process of extracting natural gas also leads to leaks into the atmosphere, and accounted for them as well in their peer-reviewed study. Sadly, they discovered that the footprint of blue hydrogen in greenhouse gas emissions was more than twenty percent greater than the footprint of natural gas or coal burned for heating.

What is the eco-friendly alternative? Scientists refer to it as "green hydrogen," and it is sourced from water through electrolysis, but it comes with a catch. The only way for that method of obtaining hydrogen to be green is if the energy required for electrolysis is obtained from renewable sources. Other scientists have devised different methods.

Unfortunately, the world is far from reaching a sufficient level of renewable energy production to enable large-scale electrolysis for hydrogen production. The good news is that the technology exists, and that hydrogen is seen as the best way to store excess energy from renewable sources. The latter idea is not new either, and several companies in the field presented it years ago.

In other words, hydrogen can be cleaner than any type of fuel used today if it is obtained sustainably from every point of view. Sustainability is a problem that casts a shadow over many areas of day-to-day life, including single-use plastics, crypto mining, reliance on fossil fuels, and the production of goods.

The most frustrating part of the New York Times story is that the technology for producing "green hydrogen" exists, but it consumes too much energy from non-renewable sources to be a valid option for replacing "blue hydrogen," and the other form of fossil-fuel-sourced hydrogen.

Once production of renewable energy is ramped up to a level that will require storing excess energy on a frequent basis, "green hydrogen" will become a reality and eventually replace "blue hydrogen," not to mention the current form of the gas that is proposed as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Editor's note: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles in photo gallery shown for illustration purposes.

 
 
 
 
 

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