Governments, corporations, industry leaders, environmental groups and an ever-growing list of celebrities have become increasingly keen to promote the green agenda in recent years, and over the past few months we’ve seen many individuals and groups espousing the need to develop hydrogen power. Cars, planes, trucks, ships, trains, homes and factories can all potentially switch to hydrogen, so let’s make the move now, right? Well, yes and no.
Hydrogen is all around us. It’s the most abundant element in the world and in the universe beyond, in fact, but you can’t just snatch it out of the air and bottle it, ready for use in a vehicle’s fuel tank. Before anything else, you need to decide which type of hydrogen you intend to utilise. And just to make matters more complex than you might have imagined, this colourless gas is available in a number of, er, colours.
There’s grey hydrogen, for example, which isn’t grey at all. These colour designations merely indicate the type of hydrogen in question, and they tend to relate to how we obtain the gas in the first place. With grey, it’s created from natural gas via steam methane reformation. It’s the most common type in usage at the moment, but extricating the hydrogen involves more and more utilisation of fossil fuels. Not the ideal option at all.
Blue hydrogen also uses natural gas, but it’s a cleaner version. Black and brown varieties come from using coal and lignite. There are also pink, yellow, white and turquoise to consider. Confused? So are we. For the time being and into the immediate future, however, it’s green hydrogen that appears to be the most important. Renewable electricity sources such as wind and solar can be used to electrolyse water, and the end product is clean, beautiful hydrogen that comes with no harmful greenhouse gas emissions whatsoever.
Money, money, money…NOT funny at all
It’s this green hydrogen that those in power and those in influence want to develop, and it’s easy to see why. The main drawback, however – and it’s a big one – is the cost that’s involved. It’s almost impossible to quantify an accurate monetary price, but estimates tend to feature the words ‘hundreds’ and ‘billions’, so you know it won’t be cheap. If the experts are to be believed, however, the rewards will surely be worth the cost, especially if much of the cash comes from private investors looking to make a sizable profit when we all finally make the switch. With the powerful and influential European Green Hydrogen Acceleration Centre (EGHAC) speculating about the possibility of half a million jobs and an industry worth up to €100bn, the rewards are all too apparent.
In the coming years, however, we’ll become increasingly aware of a number of important obstacles that will need to be addressed and overcome. Chief among them is likely to be the lack of a viable infrastructure, and how to build that infrastructure while we’re also switching to increased utilisation of electric vehicles. EVs are becoming more and more popular on our streets, will industry be able to adapt to not one but two game-changing initiatives at the same time?
For most of us, it’s difficult to imagine filling stations of the future offering petrol and diesel pumps as well as battery charging points, so another few pumps providing hydrogen seems almost inconceivable. We all know someone who’s filled their diesel car with petrol, I assume – hopefully I’m not the only one who’s done it – but I have a feeling we won’t readily admit one day to filling a BMW’s petrol tank with a colourless gas by mistake.
In terms of the steps we take to right the wrongs of the past and make our planet liveable once again, you can’t help feeling that we’re at a bit of a crossroads at the moment. The technology is right in front of us, the investment is in place and the desire of many is to make a real difference. We need to stop and think very carefully about what to do next. Stopping for a moment is crucial; do not pass Go, do not collect £200 and do not wait for a pat on the back from Bono. Let’s hope that, in twenty or thirty years from now, we look back on a job well done as we congratulate ourselves on having made the right decisions at a crucial time.
No pressure, then…