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Types of Hydrogen Production

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Author: Emily Jiang

Editors: Aanya Ram and Rishika Tellamsetty

Artist: Kyra Wang

In the modern day, we always use energy in every part of our everyday lives. This could be from heating and cooling our homes, manufacturing products, and driving our cars. One of the many energy sources is called hydrogen production. This is used for industrial processes such as refining petroleum and making fertilizer, and we can even use hydrogen for rocket fuel! Currently, much of our energy comes from fossil fuels. In the US, fossil fuels comprise the largest energy production and consumption. Fossil fuels can cause land degradation and water pollution and emit great amounts of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat, causing climate change. Hydrogen is renewable and could be a great alternative if manufactured correctly. Hydrogen is categorized by colors, such as blue, gray, green, and gold.

The most common form of hydrogen today is named gray hydrogen. This is a process where carbon dioxide is created from fossil fuels. This is called steam-methane reforming; here, methane reacts with steam under high pressure. The amount of carbon dioxide this process emits is estimated to be around 900 million tons annually. Unfortunately, this is not a climate-friendly option for the future. Blue hydrogen has the same process as gray hydrogen, but instead, the carbon is captured and put away. This is called carbon capture and storage (CCS). This process can capture around 90% of its carbon production. To do this, the carbon is stored underground. Unfortunately, the cost of using this process is continuously increasing. The addition of research released by academics at Cornell and Stanford universities warned that the blue hydrogen process could “generate 20 percent more emissions over its life cycle than burning natural gas” (Meacock). Both gray and blue hydrogen may not prove to be alternatives for fossil fuels, but blue hydrogen would be a better alternative for the environment than gray hydrogen.

Green hydrogen uses electricity generated by renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power, it is then utilized for a process called electrolysis. Electrolysis is when an electric current inside an electrolyzer breaks down water molecules to remove H2. This eventually separates the water into hydrogen and oxygen without emitting any carbon dioxide. With green hydrogen, a net-zero emissions future is all the more hopeful. (Net-Zero: greenhouse gas emissions being as close to zero as possible.). There are some challenges to utilizing green hydrogen fully. For example, for green hydrogen to be commercially viable, transportation and storage would need to be entirely usable, and the cost would need to be able to compete with other energy sources. Still, many of these problems can eventually resolve with time and improvement.

Along with green hydrogen, another carbon-free, renewable, and clean form of hydrogen is gold hydrogen. Gold hydrogen is natural hydrogen found buried underground. Gold hydrogen is produced when water reacts to iron at high pressure and temperature. Eventually, wells are drilled to tap into these reserves. Like green hydrogen, gold hydrogen has obstacles such as storage, lack of pipelines, distribution systems, and costs.

Overall, the world requires more ways to combat climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is a large part of greenhouse gas emissions. We need different energy sources to create a world that humans can properly inhabit for as long as possible. Hydrogen is a great alternative as long as the process to produce it is emission-free, which green hydrogen and gold hydrogen can prove to do so.

 

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