The many colours of hydrogen

David Bow

SVP Corporate Business Development

Key points

While brown hydrogen is most widely used today, green hydrogen is the ultimate goal

The hydrogen industry is so fast-paced, it should probably be counted in “dog years”

Green hydrogen is not only CO2-free, it’s net-zero on water usage as well

In case the title didn’t already give it away, hydrogen comes in many different colours. Selecting the right one for your application can make a world of difference.To say that all hydrogen is not created equal is an understatement. The types hydrogen produced and used in industry today have varying carbon footprints and impacts on climate change and our environment. Today, there are three main colours of hydrogen: brown, blue, and green.Let’s take a look… 

What colour is your hydrogen?

Brown hydrogen, the most abundant in use today, is created from hydrocarbon-rich feed stock, such as methane gas, coal or other fossil fuels. Put bluntly, production of brown hydrogen is very dirty. For every tonne of brown hydrogen produced, you get – at a minimum – between 10 and 12 tonnes of CO2. That’s not even including the CO2 produced by the energy source driving the process, or the CO2 produced in transporting the hydrogen to the customer. In all, production and transport of brown hydrogen is very bad for the environment.Blue hydrogen is essentially brown hydrogen but where a significant amount of the CO2 has been captured. While blue hydrogen is much cleaner than brown, you still have the added step of capturing and storing the CO2 produced in the hydrogen forming process, as well as the issue of transporting the hydrogen to the customer.Now we get to my favourite colour of hydrogen (beyond purple, of course… have a listen to my podcast to find out what I mean about that!) Green hydrogen refers to hydrogen that is produced using renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through water electrolysis. Often this hydrogen is produced on-site at the hydrogen consumer’s location, eliminating the issue and CO2 footprint of transportation. Green hydrogen is truly carbon-zero with no carbon footprint or impact on climate change or the environment. 

A hydrogen movement on the rise

The hydrogen industry is fast paced. As I like to explain it, you could even say it moves in “dog years”. What I mean by that is that the industry is developing so quickly, if you thought you knew about the hydrogen market six months ago, it’s already a very different situation today. Green hydrogen is at the vanguard of these changes. Concerns over climate change, air pollution and the environment have put pressure on world governments to reduce their carbon footprints and enact programs and legislation to support the Green Hydrogen economy.And here at Nel, we’re excited to be at the forefront of it!