When hydrogen will assist local weather change—and when it gained’t. 

Have you ever ever heard of the hydrogen rainbow?

Whereas hydrogen fuel is colorless, the trade generally makes use of colours as shorthand to explain which of the various potential processes was used to make a specific batch. There’s grey, inexperienced, and blue hydrogen, together with extra vibrant tones like pink—an entire rainbow (form of).

Hydrogen is usually heralded as a local weather hero as a result of when it’s used as a gas in issues like buses or metal manufacturing, there are not any direct carbon emissions (or associated warming) to fret about. Because the world tries to chop down on our use of fossil fuels, there might be loads of new demand for this carbon-free power supply.

However how hydrogen is made may decide simply how useful it’s for the local weather. That’s the place the rainbow is available in. (I’ve added an at-a-glance desk beneath so you’ll be able to untangle all these colours.) 

Final week, the European Fee launched guidelines that outline what “renewable” hydrogen is: in different phrases, what it means for hydrogen to be inexperienced. There was additionally an interesting story in Science final week about naturally occurring, or gold, hydrogen. 

So let’s dive into the hydrogen rainbow and discover the place this gas of the long run would possibly come from. 

What do we want hydrogen for?

We already use numerous hydrogen as we speak: world demand was 94 million metric tons (Mt) in 2021. Most of that was used for oil refining, in addition to manufacturing of ammonia (for fertilizer) and methanol (for chemical manufacturing). 

That’s prone to change sooner or later, as a result of it’s additionally alternative for fossil fuels in transportation, heavy trade, and different sectors. If nations maintain their local weather pledges, hydrogen demand may attain 130 Mt by 2030, and a couple of quarter of that might be for brand spanking new makes use of. 

The issue is, making hydrogen as we speak overwhelmingly requires fossil fuels, normally pure fuel. In so-called “grey” hydrogen manufacturing, pure fuel reacts with water, producing hydrogen fuel and giving off carbon emissions. 

It doesn’t must be that approach, although. For one factor, we may attempt to seize the carbon emissions from fossil-powered hydrogen manufacturing (this technique yields so-called blue hydrogen). It is a fairly controversial method, as a result of carbon seize is dear and doesn’t all the time work effectively. 

Alternatively, we may rethink the method altogether and begin utilizing electrical energy to make hydrogen as an alternative. This course of makes use of an electrolyzer: water and electrical energy go in; hydrogen and oxygen come out. If the electrical energy powering that response comes from renewable sources, hydrogen formally earns the excellence of being “inexperienced.” 

What does it imply to be inexperienced? 

That’s the query the European Fee is making an attempt to reply with its new guidelines launched final week. The purpose is to put out which hydrogen initiatives will depend for local weather targets and be eligible for particular funding. (That funding is vital as a result of inexperienced hydrogen is considerably costlier than fossil-derived grey hydrogen as we speak.) 

There are two huge items to those new guidelines. First, inexperienced hydrogen will have to be produced utilizing renewable electrical energy. Producers should both hook up on to photo voltaic and wind farms or get electrical energy from the grid and signal contracts with renewable electrical energy mills. 

There’s numerous renewable electrical energy in play right here. As a part of its plan to chop emissions and dependence on Russian fossil fuels, the EU is making an attempt to achieve 10 million metric tons of home hydrogen manufacturing yearly by 2030, together with 10 million extra in imports. 

Reaching that home manufacturing purpose would require 500 TWh of renewable electrical energy. That’s practically 15% of complete EU electrical energy consumption. 

As a result of there’s a lot electrical energy wanted to fulfill hydrogen demand, regulators are attempting to keep away from a situation the place hydrogen manufacturing simply sucks up all the prevailing renewable capability. 

To fight this, the fee would require hydrogen producers to stick to a precept referred to as additionality. Principally, hydrogen producers ought to be including new renewables to the grid, not hogging previous ones. So new necessities say that hydrogen producers should use renewable power initiatives constructed just lately (inside the final three years).

The principles nonetheless have to be authorised, which may take a number of months. Within the US, related guidelines concerning tax credit for hydrogen within the Inflation Discount Act are at the moment being developed by the Biden administration, so we must always know extra quickly about what inexperienced means for that market.

What if hydrogen grew on timber?

Okay, not timber precisely, however what about underground? This story, revealed final week in Science, digs into the potential for naturally occurring hydrogen. 

Hydrogen isn’t one thing that’s thought of to be widespread in nature (have a look at all these intense methods we’ve provide you with to make it!). However some researchers are beginning to change their minds about simply how plentiful it is perhaps. 

A number of exploratory wells have turned up fairly clear streams of hydrogen, and now individuals are beginning to seek for reserves throughout Australia, Africa, and Europe. As for why we hadn’t discovered it earlier than, hydrogen wouldn’t happen in the identical locations as oil and fuel, and never many individuals would have gone on the lookout for it up to now. (Pure hydrogen is typically given the colour “gold,” by the way in which.)

The wild factor is, this hydrogen would possibly truly be a renewable useful resource. That’s as a result of reactions that make it could happen naturally underground when water reacts with rocks. It might be fairly cheap to extract, too. There are numerous questions left earlier than we quit our electrolyzers, however it’s actually fascinating to see the hydrogen rainbow add one more colour. 

For those who’ve had bother protecting all these colours straight, you’re not alone. On the finish of the day, an important factor to know isn’t what nickname is assigned to a specific hydrogen supply, however what the ensuing emissions are. However in order for you a rainbow reference, right here’s a chart! 

Observe that this isn’t an entire checklist, and there could also be different definitions for some colours. 

Inexperienced hydrogen was one in all our 10 Breakthrough Applied sciences in 2021—try this function for extra on what’s at stake and what it would take to make it a actuality. 



One other factor

New batteries are coming to the US. Ford introduced final week that it plans to construct a manufacturing facility in Michigan that may produce a sort of lithium-ion battery made principally in China as we speak. These batteries may unlock cheaper, longer-lasting electrical autos in North America. Learn my story for extra on the know-how and what’s subsequent for this manufacturing facility. 

There have been numerous shifting dynamics round this facility, although, and a few remaining uncertainty, as a result of Ford plans to license know-how from Chinese language battery big CATL to construct the batteries. In his publication this week, my colleague Zeyi Yang dove into why batteries have gotten so politicized just lately. 

Zeyi additionally revealed a narrative this week about how China arrange its EV trade for achievement, which I extremely suggest. 

Maintaining with local weather

The warfare in Ukraine started one 12 months in the past this week. Since then, it has reworked Europe’s power panorama, dashing progress in renewables as nations have labored to chop their dependence on Russian fossil fuels. (Bloomberg)

Simply how good is that electrical truck for the planet? Is determined by what you’re evaluating it to. I favored the visualizations on this piece exhibiting the unfold of emissions from totally different automobile fashions. (New York Occasions)

→ Learn final week’s publication for extra on large EVs. (MIT Expertise Evaluation)

The “15-minute metropolis” is an city planning thought centered round dense communities, which may help minimize emissions and make life somewhat bit extra fulfilling (who wouldn’t thoughts a shorter commute?). However the idea has morphed right into a conspiracy principle on-line. (Wired)

Tesla will open up a few of its chargers within the US to all EV drivers. The transfer comes after numerous campaigning from the Biden administration. (Washington Submit)

→ I talked about this and different science information tales on Science Friday final week! Take a look at the section for extra. (Science Friday)

Cryptocurrency miners are attempting to remake their picture to look extra climate-friendly. Environmental teams and researchers are rightly skeptical. (Grist)

United Airways is pouring cash into new fuels, launching a $100 million fund this week to spend money on new and present “sustainable aviation gas” initiatives. (Canary Media)

→ This isn’t the airline’s first rodeo on this area: final 12 months I wrote about one in all its investments, an organization making gas with microbes. (MIT Expertise Evaluation)

Manufacturing of nickel, a steel utilized in EV batteries, doubled between 2020 and 2022 in Indonesia. The town of Labota is paying the value with air pollution and harmful circumstances for employees. (Wired)