Explainer: the many shades of hydrogen

(Eco Business, 3 Feb 2022) Is it the more colours the merrier, or will there be one too many kinks in the race to slash emissions?

It’s the lightest gas in the world, and it has been bestowed with heavy significance due to climate change.

Hydrogen burns when sparked, making it a promising fuel for power plants. While existing fuels like natural gas produce planet-warming carbon dioxide as a by-product, hydrogen fizzles into harmless steam.

But with an atmospheric abundance some 400,000 times lower than oxygen, hydrogen can’t just be gathered from thin air. Several methods of pulling the gas from other substances have been explored. A spectrum of colours now describes the way the gas is produced – with some seemingly much cleaner than others. The gas itself is colourless.

Herein lies the complexity, and contention, of what’s what, and what’s good. Yellow hydrogen, for example, has varying definitions – it is either linked to solar power specifically, or to a mix of energy sources. Some hydrogen colours, like grey, turquoise and blue, are tied to fossil fuels, creating doubt on their place in a decarbonising world. Pink hydrogen is tied to nuclear power, whose green credentials the world is still bickering over.

Yet others confer additional meaning to the colours. Recently, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said that female employees in the country’s energy sector are “happy” to see plans for pink hydrogen coming along.

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Eco Business, 3 Feb 2022: Explainer: the many shades of hydrogen