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Hydrogen Needed Now More Than Ever for Fuel Crisis

Hydrogen is a viable alternative to oil, gas and heavy electric battery packs, delivering a lot of power in a small package. But not all hydrogen is green.

Amid skyrocketing global fuel prices due to the war in Ukraine, countries are looking to produce their own energy. Hydrogen is a viable alternative to oil, gas and heavy electric battery packs, delivering a lot of power in a small package. However, all hydrogen is not created equal.

Green, Blue and Gray Hydrogen

Around 95% of globally produced hydrogen is gray, meaning it comes from fossil fuels. It is a substantial source of greenhouse gas pollution. First, drilling for the oil and gas necessary to produce gray hydrogen releases methane into the air. Then, a steam reforming process combines water vapor and methane to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide emissions.

Blue hydrogen production uses the same process, but facilities capture and store some carbon dioxide underground. The rest is emitted into the atmosphere.

Green hydrogen production is the only sustainable way to generate hydrogen fuel. In this process, electrolysis separates the hydrogen and oxygen in water molecules, emitting oxygen and hydrogen. Why does it make up such a tiny fraction of the hydrogen industry?

California is building new green hydrogen electrolyzers to prevent up to 75,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, but the Golden State has always been ahead of the environmental curve. Green hydrogen production largely hasn’t caught on due to how expensive it is to produce.

Electrolysis requires electricity, and many facilities use fossil fuels to generate that power. Because the global price of oil and gas has surged recently, so has the cost of producing hydrogen — whether green, blue or gray. Few hydrogen manufacturers use renewable energy to power their electrolyzers because it’s even more expensive than fossil fuels. Due to the current high cost of electrolysis, green hydrogen is a rarity.

The Benefits of Hydrogen

If manufacturers can develop an efficient, inexpensive way to generate green hydrogen, it will offer major advantages to certain industries.

It’s Lightweight

Electric planes are environmentally appealing, but they haven’t gotten off the ground due to one logistical problem — batteries are heavy.

To make a 4,000-mile flight, a Boeing 747 uses a fuel load weighing around 134,000 pounds, which gets continually lighter as the plane consumes it. To fly the same distance using current battery technology, an electric 747’s batteries would have to weigh 6.7 million pounds and remain the same weight throughout the flight. Hydrogen fuel’s incredible energy density solves the weight problem.

It’s Climate Friendly

The average American’s energy use equates to around 165,000 sticks of dynamite annually, most of which comes from fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. Manufacturers could use 100% renewable energy sources to produce hydrogen. Additionally, hydrogen vehicles only emit water vapor from their fuel cells, starkly contrasting with the carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide internal combustion engines emit.

It Offers Fast Fueling and Increased Range

Recharging an EV can take hours, but hydrogen-powered cars refuel in just minutes. Hydrogen charging stations refill a car’s hydrogen tank in around the same time it would take to pump gas.

Hydrogen vehicles can drive for 300 to 400 miles before the driver has to refuel. This is comparable to the range an internal combustion engine car gets. In contrast, electric passenger cars can travel just over 200 miles before recharging. Hydrogen vehicles could reduce range anxiety without producing emissions.

It Promotes Energy Independence

Not every country has access to extensive oil and gas reserves, but hydrogen is universally available. The only input required for electrolysis is water and electricity. In an era of trade wars, embargoes and dwindling natural resources, nations that produce their own reliable energy will have an economic advantage.

Lighter Than Air

Hydrogen offers a clean, renewable, lightweight energy source that virtually any sector could utilize. Its extreme energy density compared to batteries makes it an attractive target for vehicle manufacturers.

However, current methods for producing hydrogen are largely harmful to the environment and human health. Green hydrogen adopted on a wide scale could truly be the next best thing in energy.

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