Why pink hydrogen produced utilizing nuclear might have an enormous position to play


Both pink and blue have been used to distinguish between completely different strategies of hydrogen manufacturing.

Eve Livesey | Time | Getty Images

desde Tesla’s Elon Musk to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the previous few years have seen many high-profile names speak concerning the position hydrogen might — or might not — play within the planet’s shift to a extra sustainable future.

Musk has expressed skepticism about hydrogen’s usefulness, however many suppose it might assist to slash emissions in plenty of sectors, together with transportation and heavy trade.

While there is a main buzz about hydrogen and its significance as a device in securing a low-carbon future — a subject that is generated quite a lot of debate in latest months — the overwhelming majority of its manufacturing remains to be primarily based on fossil fuels.

Indeed, based on a Sept. 2022 monitoring report from the International Energy Agency, low-emission hydrogen manufacturing in 2021 accounted for lower than 1% of world hydrogen manufacturing.

If it is to have any position within the deliberate vitality transition, then hydrogen era wants to vary in a fairly large manner.

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«The very first thing to say is that hydrogen would not actually exist naturally, so it needs to be produced,» stated Rachael Rothman, co-director of the Grantham Center for Sustainable Futures on the University of Sheffield.

«It has quite a lot of potential to assist us decarbonize going forwards, however we have to discover low-carbon methods of manufacturing it within the first place,» she stated, including that completely different strategies of manufacturing had been «denoted completely different colours.»

«About 95% of our hydrogen at this time comes from steam methane reforming and has a big related carbon footprint, and that is what’s referred to as ‘gray’ hydrogen,» Rothman instructed CNBC.

Gray hydrogen is, based on vitality agency National Grid, «created from pure fuel, or methane.» It says that the greenhouse gases related to the method usually are not captured, therefore the carbon footprint that Rothman refers to.

The dominance of such a way is clearly at odds with net-zero objectives. As a outcome, an array of sources, methods and colours of hydrogen at the moment are being put ahead as options.

These embody inexperienced hydrogen, which refers to hydrogen produced utilizing renewables and electrolysis, with an electrical present splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen.

Blue hydrogen, however, signifies the usage of pure fuel — a fossil gas — and carbon seize utilization and storage. There has been a charged debate across the position blue hydrogen might play within the decarbonization of society.

pink potential

Alongside blue and inexperienced, one other colour attracting consideration is pink. Like inexperienced hydrogen, its course of incorporates electrolysis, however there is a key distinction: pink makes use of nuclear.

«If you cut up … water, you get hydrogen and oxygen,» Rothman stated. «But splitting water takes vitality, so what pink hydrogen is about is splitting water utilizing vitality that has come from nuclear.»

This implies that «the entire system is low carbon, as a result of … there is not any carbon in water … but in addition the vitality supply can also be very low carbon as a result of it is nuclear.»

Alongside electrolysis, Rothman famous that nuclear may be used with one thing referred to as a thermochemical cycle.

This, she defined, harnessed very excessive temperatures to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen.

Pink hydrogen already has some doubtlessly vital backers. These embody EDF Energy, which has floated the thought of ​​producing hydrogen at Sizewell C, a 3.2-gigawatt nuclear energy station deliberate for the UK

«At Sizewell C, we’re exploring how we are able to produce and use hydrogen in a number of methods,» the agency’s web site says. «Firstly, it might assist decrease emissions throughout development of the facility station.»

«Secondly, as soon as Sizewell C is operational, we hope to make use of among the warmth it generates (alongside electrical energy) to make hydrogen extra effectively,» it provides.

EDF Energy, which is a part of the multinational EDF Groupstated in an announcement despatched to CNBC: «Hydrogen produced from nuclear energy can play a considerable position within the vitality transition.»

The firm additionally acknowledged there have been challenges going through the sector and its improvement.

«Hydrogen is at the moment a comparatively costly gas and so the important thing problem for low carbon electrolytic hydrogen, whether or not produced from renewable or nuclear vitality, is to convey down the prices of manufacturing,» it stated.

This wanted «supportive insurance policies which encourage funding in early hydrogen manufacturing tasks and encourage customers to modify from fossil fuels to low carbon hydrogen.»

«Growing the marketplace for low carbon hydrogen will ship the economies of scale and «studying by doing» which can assist to scale back the prices of manufacturing.»

While there may be pleasure concerning the position nuclear might play in hydrogen manufacturing and the broader vitality transition — the IEA, for instance, says nuclear energy has «vital potential to contribute to energy sector decarbonisation» — it goes with out saying that it is not favored by all .

Critics embody Greenpeace. «Nuclear energy is touted as an answer to our vitality issues, however in actuality it is advanced and massively costly to construct,» the environmental group says. «It additionally creates big quantities of hazardous waste.»

A multi-colored future?

During her interview with CNBC, the University of Sheffield’s Rothman spoke concerning the larger image and the position various kinds of hydrogen would possibly play. Could we ever see a time when the extent of blue and grey hydrogen drops to zero?

«It is determined by how lengthy a timeframe you are taking a look at,» she stated, including that «in a really perfect world, they’ll finally drop very low.»

«Ultimately, we ideally eliminate all of our grey hydrogen, as a result of grey hydrogen has a big carbon footprint and we have to eliminate it,» Rothman stated.

«As we enhance carbon seize and storage, there could also be an area for blue hydrogen and that is but to be evaluated, relying on the … developments there.»

«The pink and inexperienced we all know there needs to be an area for as a result of that is the place you actually get the low carbon [hydrogen]and we all know it needs to be, it is attainable to get there.»

Fiona Rayment, chief scientist on the UK National Nuclear Laboratory — which, like EDF Energy, is a member of commerce affiliation Hydrogen UK — pressed house the significance of getting a variety of choices accessible within the years forward.

«The problem of internet zero can’t be underestimated; we might want to embrace all sources of low carbon hydrogen era to interchange our reliance on fossil fuels,» she instructed CNBC.

CEO on what's needed for the emerging green hydrogen sector

While there was quite a lot of discuss utilizing colours to distinguish the varied strategies of hydrogen manufacturing, there may be additionally a vigorous dialogue about whether or not such a classification system ought to even exist in any respect.

«What we would like is low carbon hydrogen,» Rothman stated. «And I do know there may be quite a lot of confusion concerning the varied colours, and I’ve heard some individuals say … ‘why can we even have the colours, why can we not simply have hydrogen and low carbon hydrogen?'»

«And finally, it is the low carbon bit that is necessary, and each pink and inexperienced would do this.»

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