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What is hydrogen?

The role of hydrogen in the energy transition

Hydrogen is a gas made up of two hydrogen atoms (H2) combined. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of resources, such as natural gas, renewable power like solar and wind, and even nuclear power. The challenge is harnessing hydrogen as a gas on a large scale to fuel our industry, store and transport green electricity, and potentially in the future even heat our homes.

Why is hydrogen important as a future energy source?

For many years, we’ve used natural gas to heat our homes and businesses, and to generate power whenever we needed it. When natural gas is burnt, it provides heat energy. But a waste product alongside water is carbon dioxide (CO2), which when released into the atmosphere contributes to climate change.

Hydrogen can play a key role in the decarbonisation of the global energy system and in realizing global climate targets, as using hydrogen only produces water vapour as waste product. It can be used as green energy carrier and used as feedstock.

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What are grey, blue, and green hydrogen?

Grey hydrogen

Current hydrogen production is almost exclusively grey hydrogen from natural gas. This type of grey hydrogen has high CO2 emissions.

Blue hydrogen

Blue hydrogen has the same production method as grey hydrogen. However, thanks to modern carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, its footprint is relatively small compared to grey hydrogen processes. Through CCS, CO2 generated through steam reforming of natural gas or coal gasification, is captured and stored under the seabed or repurposed in different ways.

Green hydrogen

Green hydrogen is the only 100% renewable hydrogen production methods. It does not rely on natural gas, but instead uses (green) electricity in electrolysis technologies such as mature alkaline or the newly developed PEM technology.

Our hydrogen point of view visualizes the different production methods for grey, blue, and green hydrogen.

Where does hydrogen have its largest potential?

Hydrogen will have the most impact in sectors that are hard to electrify and where the technology and infrastructure constraints can be overcome. In mobility, long-haul trucking will have the most potential because its energy to weight ratio is superior to that of batteries. Synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, produced with hydrogen, will enable the decarbonisation of aviation and marine transport, but only beyond 2040. In the same period, we will also see hydrogen in power generation taking a small role, to enable the further integration of intermittent power generation.

However, the largest volumes and gains for the climate on the short term can be achieved in industry, to decarbonise chemical and high temperature processes such as steel making. Many industrial processes already use hydrogen and application of blue hydrogen, could be an intermediate step to the use of green hydrogen. It is therefore a good idea to connect the industrial clusters in the Netherlands to further stimulate the use of green hydrogen in industry.

Hydrogen and the road to COP26

Hydrogen has the potential to solve some problems being faced in the energy transition. Read more about the different colors, the growing demand, and the hydrogen supply gap in our COP26 blogs.

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