Clean and GREEN H2 and Carbon Capture |
Hydrogen and the Clean Energy Transition
Hydrogen (H2) created with clean energy is one of the most promising emerging energy technological developments to fill the rising global demand for clean low carbon and emission-free energy sources.
The recent global societal shift towards environmental sustainability, and the global imperative for climate action, have significantly altered energy consumption patterns.
Clean and renewable energy companies are booming. Solar companies have experienced their highest production and distribution rates, and the national use of renewable power, such as solar and wind, is increasing.
In addition to solar and wind, other emerging next-generation clean energy technologies, such as hydrogen and carbon capture, are also having breakthrough years.
Read more below about hydrogen produced by clean energy (either H2 produced with renewable energy or through energy generated from steam methane reforming along with the use of carbon capture).
Domestic Energy Production Challenges and a Solution - Hydrogen
Around 80% of America's energy production and consumption (with the transportation sector included) is derived from non-renewable sources. Finite fossil fuel resources (coal, oil, and gas) create atmospheric pollution during combustion - greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and other pollution. GHGs alter the planet's natural temperature control process, degrading the global ecosystem.
On the other hand, hydrogen represents clean energy; as hydrogen, itself, doesn't release carbon or contribute to atmospheric pollution. With clean hydrogen, there aren't climate-changing emissions in the hydrogen production or combustion process - when the hydrogen is created with clean energy sources.
See below for a comparison of steam methane reforming (hydrogen produced with natural gas) vs. steam methane reforming + carbon capture (low emission solution) vs. hydrogen produced using renewable energy (zero emissions).
Hydrogen produced with clean energy is a zero or low carbon emissions solution for energy storage and transportation.
Right now, hydrogen can be used as a fuel source for cars and buses (see a description of hydrogen fuel cells below) - and in the future, H2 will be fuel for long-haul shipping, heavy-duty trucks, and, hopefully, long-haul aviation.
Hydrogen also represents a potential zero or low carbon emissions fuel source for HVAC in buildings; a zero carbon emissions solution for building heating.
Clean hydrogen potentially performs all of these functions without contributing to global warming, air pollution, or climate change (a zero carbon emissions solution in the case of green hydrogen - whereas blue hydrogen represents a low carbon solution) [- see below for a description of the hydrogen production color spectrum].
The actual combustion of hydrogen, itself, for energy, generates zero pollution and produces no carbon emissions.
What is Carbon Capture and How Can It Be Used With H2?
As the demand for zero and low carbon emissions energy sources rises, environmental engineers and scientists develop new clean production technologies. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) decreases carbon emissions in the process of producing hydrogen in natural gas power plants (as well as in energy generation from other fossil fuels, and other industrial processes).
CCS + H2 production generates reliable low carbon power. After capturing the carbon emissions from methane reforming (in the blue hydrogen production process, described below), partial oxidation restructures the elements as they flow through a catalyst bed, creating clean hydrogen.
Though carbon capture cannot directly generate hydrogen for sustainable energy uses, steam methane reforming in natural gas power plants can.
Steam methane reforming in natural gas power plants combines methane gas and steam with a catalyst (such as nickel). The process produces hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide (smaller than the natural gas energy-generating process).
Carbon capture can be used to capture CO2 from natural gas combustion, as well as the methane reforming cycle - a low carbon process to create clean hydrogen.
Environmental scientists and engineers develop carbon capture technology to reduce atmospheric pollution from manufacturing facilities and power plants. Carbon capture technologies can absorb 90%of carbon emissions, significantly decreasing GHGs.
In pre-combustion carbon capture, fuel sources are gasified and the carbon is captured. CO2 is captured before any combustion. Post-combustion carbon capture separates carbon dioxide from emissions produced by fossil fuel combustion. Post-combustion CCS is primarily used in power plants, and pre-combustion CCS is primarily used in other industrial processes.
The collection of carbon dioxide emissions travels to an alternate processing facility where CO2 can be stored or repurposed, decreasing adverse ecological effects.
Hydrogen Production - 3 H2 Colors
Engineers have developed various methods of hydrogen production and differentiated them on a color spectrum. When companies create H2 from methane reformation without collecting carbon outputs, they generate grey hydrogen. This process releases 9.3 kilograms of GHGs for every kilogram of hydrogen.
In order to create a sustainable, low carbon solution for future hydrogen production, the world must transition away from grey hydrogen to environmentally-friendly hydrogen production methods (grey hydrogen currently represents a vast majority of global hydrogen production).
Companies can capture carbon emissions in the methane reformation process, storing them to preserve the atmosphere, and producing blue hydrogen. The CCS process can collect up to 90% of the CO2 emissions and place them underground for climate change prevention. The process is significantly more sustainable than greyhydrogen production.
The zero carbon emissions hydrogen production process uses renewable energy, electrolyzers, and water, generating green hydrogen. Advanced technological devices (electrolyzers) separate hydrogen (H2) from H2O using electrolysis. Solar panels and wind turbines power the systems, creating zero emissions throughout the practice.
Green hydrogen is the most sustainable version of the energy source. Industries can power their production using a 100% clean energy source (green H2), eliminating atmospheric pollution from the process.
The process of producing green H2 is much cleaner than the conventional, ecologically degrading hydrogen development practice of methane reforming. Traditionally, energy professionals generate H2 from fossil fuel sources (grey H2), generating 830 million tons of GHGs annually.
Producing green hydrogen from zero-emission sustainable sources can enhance its efficiency while reducing atmospheric degradation. Producing blue hydrogen still uses methane reforming, but by also using CCS technology, a cleaner method of producing hydrogen is being used.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Energy
The process of producing hydrogen can supply fuel for hydrogen-powered fuel cells, creating an alternate clean energy source for energy storage and transportation. The cells work like batteries, running off of the hydrogen inside of them. They contain one positive and one negative electrode, generating the cathode and anode.
The two electrodes contain an electrolyte. Hydrogen fuels the anode, and air powers the cathode, separating molecules into protons and electrons. The free electrons travel through a designated circuit, creating electricity. Excess protons move to the cathode, combining with oxygen and generating water as the output. Pure water is a sustainable alternative to other GHGs, and water is the only emission in hydrogen power generation.
Hydrogen fuel cells can be used in energy storage, hydrogen buses, other hydrogen vehicles as a clean power source, and in buildings for clean HVAC. Hydrogen buses are still in the demonstration phase of research & development.
Read more about Europe's extensive effort to expand the hydrogen bus presence on the continent here.
In an effort to create exceptional energy-efficient public transit, and superior standards of environmentally clean public transportation systems, Europe has spent the last couple of decades testing fuel cell buses that utilize hydrogen fuel cells in lieu of traditional fossil fuel sources; such as diesel.
The only emissions from hydrogen buses powered by fuel cells are water vapor.
Homeowners and residential building owners can also potentially utilize hydrogen fuel cells in the future, shrinking their carbon footprints. Hopefully, hydrogen will be used in large home appliances in the future, such as electric HVAC units, electric furnaces, electric boilers, and other applications. Adopting electric home appliances can aid the transition away from fossil fuel-derived power sources.
You can compare your carbon footprint and utility savings by first receiving an energy consultation. A professional energy consultant can unveil your property's compatibility with hydrogen fuel cell power sources. They can also recommend energy efficiency practices, reducing your carbon footprint over time.
Benefits of CCS, Electricity, and Hydrogen Fuel Sourcing
President Biden set a national carbon-neutrality goal upon entering office. Meeting the objective requires a restructuring of the energy sector. Both hydrogen and carbon capture represent solutions to accelerate the low-carbon, clean energy transition. Biden plans on developing a carbon-neutral electric grid, sourcing 100% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources.
Although still fairly expensive, clean hydrogen represents a highly efficient low-carbon power alternative. "Hydrogen can be re-electrified in fuel cells with efficiencies up to 50%, or alternatively burned in combined cycle gas power plants (efficiencies as high as 60%)." [Quote from - energystorage.org/technologies/hydrogen-energy-storage]. We can effectively develop a carbon-neutral nation by diversifying our electricity sources.
Green and blue hydrogen development can provide sustainable support for the electric grid, be used in the transportation sector or energy storage (in hydrogen fuel cells), and even as a low carbon solution for HVAC units and other major appliances in buildings.
CCS with hydrogen development (producing blue hydrogen) represents a low carbon source of clean hydrogen, while green hydrogen production represents a zero carbon source.
We can generate clean energy while eliminating further atmospheric degradation when we target significant pollution producers and replace dirty energy with clean energy sources like electricity and hydrogen. Both electric and hydrogen buses represent clean energy solutions.
Utilizing electric vehicles (EVs) increases society's access to emission-less power. A hydrogen fuel cell car also produces zero emissions (although, currently, an EV represents the less expensive zero emissions option). With both electricity and hydrogen, ultimately the process of generating the energy must come from a low carbon or zero-emissions source in order to truly be a clean energy solution.
The process of using electricity and/ or hydrogen in buildings and transportation would also reduce the enhanced greenhouse effect by decreasing atmospheric emissions. When we capture the elements before they reach the environment, we prevent the overproduction and entrapment of heat (as in blue hydrogen). Green hydrogen, or electricity powered by renewables, shrinks the carbon footprint of energy production closer to zero.
Enhancing Urban Sustainability
Many cities have recently increased their sustainability standards, regulating carbon emissions and pollution production processes. They are electrifying transportation, and buildings, requiring cleaner energy (as in renewable portfolio standards and clean energy standards).
CCS used in combination with hydrogen power (blue hydrogen) production can support urban transformations towards clean, low-carbon energy. Green hydrogen power production can support the urban energy transition completely away from fossil fuel reliance towards zero-emission energy.
Clean Energy Transition in the United States
President Biden has influenced sustainable, clean energy sourcing by establishing ambitious sustainability standards in the U.S. - such as net zero by 2050, and a carbon-neutral electricity grid by 2035. The Biden administration also seeks to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 50-52% by 2030 (from 2005 levels).
These initiatives are parts of the Build Back Better (BBB) plan. Parts of the original BBB plan (that have investments in clean energy, hydrogen, and carbon capture) have passed the U.S. Congress in smaller Acts.
The Build Back Better plan (which has been divided into a few different, smaller, Acts in order to pass Congress in smaller sections), invests in American society and the American clean energy sector. Originally, the BBB plan proposed trillions of funding dollars for the United States' infrastructure (as well as other programs that benefit society). The sections of the BBB plan which have passed Congress include funding for the clean energy industry, promoting technological advancements and system alterations.
The Build Back Better plan (the parts that have passed Congress) includes funding for hydrogen and carbon capture technological research, development, and deployment (RD&D), as well as RD&D for a variety of other next-generation clean energy technologies.
Parts of the BBB climate-related plan also include funding for clean energy infrastructure, EV charging infrastructure, modernizing the US electrical grid, and financial incentives such as tax credits for renewable energy (in addition to more clean energy programs). When the US diversifies production and use of clean energy (including clean hydrogen and carbon capture), national greenhouse gas emissions are effectively reduced.
Fortunately, Congress did end up passing parts of the original BBB plan that help invest in clean energy - the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act. The IIJA invests over $65 billion in power infrastructure and clean energy transmission, including key technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen. The IIJA was passed by Congress in November 2021, providing part of the original BBB.
Although at a much lower funding level than the original BBB proposed, the IIJA invests $550 billion in new spending over five years to bolster the nation's infrastructure, public mass transit, broadband, water, energy, environmental concerns, EV charging infrastructure, and electric & low-emission school buses.
In August 2022, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, investing an additional $369 billion in various climate and energy programs, a significant part of the BBB plan.
The IIJA has investments for clean energy technological measures such as electric vehicles (including electric buses), and grid modernization, in its over $1 trillion in infrastructure investments. Hydrogen and carbon capture investments are in the IIJA along with clean energy infrastructure investments.
The Inflation Reduction Act also invests in clean energy technology development and deployment through measures such as tax credits for solar and wind energy, as well as hydrogen and carbon capture.
"[The Inflation Reduction Act has] Tax breaks for electric vehicles. Huge incentives to ramp up carbon-capture facilities, urge green hydrogen production and boost U.S. manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines and next-generation batteries. The landmark Inflation Reduction Act...includes $369 billion in climate- and energy-related funding — much of it aimed at high-tech solutions to help nudge the world’s biggest historical emitter toward a greener future." FROM - washingtonpost.com/climate-solutionnature-climate-solutions-inflation-reduction-act
In August 2022, Congress also passed the CHIPS and Science Act, which "..will boost efforts to manufacture more zero-carbon technology in America, establish a new federal office to organize clean-energy innovation, and direct billions of dollars toward disaster-resilience research." [- quote from theatlantic.com/chips-act-climate-bill].
The CHIPS ACT provides funding for scientific and technological research into clean energy technologies, nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing - all technologies which can benefit climate and energy programs.
Both the development of hydrogen technologies and carbon capture technologies have bipartisan support. The technological developments discussed in this article are set to continue advancing this decade (a bit more slowly than if the full BBB passed).
Between the IIJA and Inflation Reduction Act, as well as the CHIPS Act, a significant amount of investment is being made in climate and energy programs.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of