Hydrogen – What is it Good for and Why Should I Care?

Dust off your lab coat, safety glasses and Bunsen burners – we are talking about hydrogen.

On paper, hydrogen is the simplest of all elements, containing a single proton, so it is listed on the top left corner of the periodic table. It also happens to be the most abundant element in the universe.

Hydrogen only naturally occurs on earth as a part of different compounds – water, natural gas, petroleum biomass, etc. Once hydrogen is separated from other elements, it becomes a very useful energy source. When converted to energy, the only biproduct is water and warm air.

The Rainbow of Hydrogen

While hydrogen is both abundant and available, it takes more energy to separate it from other compounds than it produces. There are alternative ways to obtain hydrogen without the energy means traditionally used.

That has led to the rainbow classification system - Pink, Yellow, Turquoise, Black, Brown, Blue, Grey and Green. The colors represent the energy source used to separate hydrogen from the compound. Below are the flavors of hydrogen:

  • Pink / Purple / Red - these are the colors usually associated with the production of hydrogen through nuclear energy.
  • Yellow – production via solar power
  • Turquoise – produced via the process of methane pyrolysis
  • Black / Brown – created via black or brown coal
  • Blue – steam reforming via natural gas with carbon capture and storage of any gases produced in the process
  • Grey – steam reforming via natural gas without any capture of gases
  • Green – reforming from renewable energy sources like solar or wind power

Why should you care?

It is likely that at some point in the future you will be getting energy for your house, car and office from hydrogen. With all the focus on electric vehicles, the biggest concern is range anxiety – how far can I get on a charge without having to stop to recharge the vehicle and for how long? Hydrogen erases that concern because, once converted into a liquid, it can be treated like traditional gasoline. You run out of fuel, you stop and fill your tank with hydrogen, and you are back on the road.

The fact that hydrogen was included in the recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act indicates that it is here to stay and can be a major player in our energy future.

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