As the experts and politicians hail hydrogen as the next best thing to solve our energy problems, let’s take a closer look .
Firstly – the making of hydrogen
There are four main sources for the commercial production of hydrogen: natural gas, oil, coal, and electrolysis; which account for 48%, 30%, 18% and 4% of the world’s hydrogen production respectively. Fossil fuels are the dominant source of industrial hydrogen. Carbon dioxide can be separated from natural gas with a 70–85% efficiency for hydrogen production and from other hydrocarbons to varying degrees of efficiency. Specifically, bulk hydrogen is usually produced by the steam reforming of methane or natural gas.Wikipedia
The different processes of making hydrogen has colour codes depending on which process was used to make it:
Green: From renewables through electrolysis of water – so the electricity from a renewable source is used to produce the hydrogen
Turquoise: From natural gas broken down with the help of methane pyrolysis into hydrogen and solid carbon.
Blue: From natural gas which is split into hydrogen and CO2 through steam reduction. Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) technology can be used to store CO2 underground.
Grey: From fossil fuels like natural gas and coal. The steam reforming process releases the CO2 is release directly into the air.
There are more colours but that’s basically it. Governments around the world are interested in developing hydrogen including the UK and Scottish Governments.
The UK Government has described hydrogen as a super fuel:
“the use of hydrogen will be key to the UK’s greener energy future, alongside the government’s work to deploy renewables and nuclear to strengthen the UK’s energy security”.
In 2021 the UK Government committed to:
- funding 9 projects through the £26 million Industrial Hydrogen Accelerator competition
- launching the first Electrolytic Hydrogen Allocation Round, which offers joint support through the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund and Hydrogen Production Business Model
- announcing the shortlisted CCUS-enabled hydrogen projects in the Cluster Sequencing Process
- publishing a consultation on hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure
And announced an investment of £25 million to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen from bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). The UK also has a Hydrogen Champion, Jane Toogood. She said:
“Hydrogen is an essential piece of the puzzle to decarbonise UK industry, support clean growth and improve our long-term energy security. It’s great to see progress being made towards setting up a UK certification scheme – this is key to growing a low carbon hydrogen economy. Over the next 6 months, my priority will be to ensure that industry and government work together to generate investment in the hydrogen economy, kickstart hydrogen production and develop a UK hydrogen supply chain.”
Hydrogen production is part of the ‘Green’ Freeports that the UK and Scottish Governments have set up. The Forth ‘Green’ Freeport includes alternative fuels, carbon capture and storage. The Inverness and Cromarty Firth ‘Green’ Freeport aims to develop green hydrogen.
The Scottish Government is running a consultation on their Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan which closes on 4th April 2023.
Why Hydrogen anyway?
The thirst for hydrogen is as a fuel to power heavy transport, large cargo vessels, rockets, and in industrial processes of manufacture. NASA is the largest user of hydrogen as a fuel.
Of all the processes (colours) listed above, only Green which uses renewable energy is environmentally friendly.
Click on this link for a Factsheet: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HYDROGEN
And just as there are many industrialists and politicians keen on developing hydrogen so there are many questioning the need to develop it at all. Questions such as: shouldn’t we be using less energy ?
– better insulation of our homes/businesses; vastly improved public transport including electric ferries, vehicles and trains; improved methods of storing excess energy produced.
The answers to this enthusiasm for developing hydrogen as the super fuel of the future could lie not with a deep concern for our environment and the impact of climate change but with ‘Follow the money’.