As you may already know, hydrogen is an odourless, colourless gas. However, with a little bit of human intervention, it is now multi-coloured.
These colours are related to how the Hydrogen is generated and hence defines its Eco-friendly credentials. Here are some definitions of the most common (and a few more exotic) colours:
Black or Brown Hydrogen – these are the hydrogens gassified from fossil fuels, specifically coal (either lignite or black coal, being named brown and black hydrogen respectively). The CO2 from this process is released into the atmosphere.
Grey Hydrogen – made from steam reformed natural gas without carbon capture and storage (CCS). As with Black and Brown Hydrogen, CO2 generated through this process is released into the atmosphere.
Blue Hydrogen – made from natural gas through the process of steam methane reforming. Whilst CO2 emissions are generated, these are either managed through offsetting or technical abatement (carbon capture and storage - CCS). Blue hydrogen is effectively Grey Hydrogen, but with the CO2 from the process captured and stored.
Turquoise Hydrogen – produced from natural gas using molten metal pyrolysis technology. The natural gas is passed through molten metal that releases the hydrogen as well as solid carbon. The carbon dioxide from this process is produced in solid form, so little / no atmospheric release, but still presents an issue of with what to do with the solid form.
Green Hydrogen – uses a big electrolyser, copious amounts of water and plentiful supplies of electricity; where the electricity comes from a renewable source (nuclear, solar or hydro).
Some organisations break down green Hydrogen further by its renewable source, so:
Pink Hydrogen refers to hydrogen generated through electrolysis powered by nuclear energy; and
Yellow Hydrogen to hydrogen generated through electrolysis powered by solar energy.
There is one final “colour” of hydrogen; White Hydrogen is that which is naturally occurring geological hydrogen found in underground deposits and created through fracking, although at this time there are no viable exploitation strategies for this.
Earlier this year Shell announced it intends to make a very large investment in hydrogen production in The Netherlands as part of their plans to support the transition to cleaner forms of energy. This will start reasonably modestly and in partnership with Gasunie who would be responsible for product distribution.
Feasibility studies are now underway to confirm the economic viability of this project leading to an eventual upscaling and utilising 3 to 4 GW of offshore renewable wind energy to electolysise water to create commercial quantities of “green” hydrogen.
This ambitious undertaking will eventually supply a significant tonnage of hydrogen to Dutch industrial users as well as further afield in across Europe using existing pipeline grids by 2040.
Since that announcement, the “dash for hydrogen” elsewhere in Europe appears to have become more newsworthy and hardly a day goes by without more information relating to emerging hydrogen technologies and investment in other sustainable production projects.
A previous lack of European and American investment in solar technologies and battery improvement enabled China to develop a global leadership position in such products. Economies of scale in the production of solar panels makes China the undisputed leader presenting barriers to market entry for other solar energy providers.
However, it appears that Europe is determined to position itself as the world’s first hydrogen economy. A significant area of focus in Europe is primarily the use of hydrogen as a fuel for transportation. Whilst the growth in battery powered electric vehicles is now taking off, existing EV technology is very limited for long range vehicles with a useful load carrying capacity, ie. public transport and trucks. Similarly, diesel or petrol driven construction plant and machinery is hard to replace by equivalent battery powered equipment.
Enter the hydrogen fuel cell…
Although these have been available for many years they are now beginning to gain traction. Successful trials have recently been undertaken with mechanical diggers, lorries and trains using fuel cell technology. The challenge now is to scale up the size and power rating, or in the case of the train, reduce the size of the hydrogen storage / fuel cell combination to something which does not encroach too much on passenger capacity.
None of these issues are insurmountable so could we be emerging into another VHS versus Betamax scenario? Which technology will dominate – battery power or fuel cells?
The real answer is that there is room for both technologies. There will be an overlap in some applications where a battery or a fuel cell can fulfil the need but more importantly each technology can effectively service different needs depending upon the utility required.
However, it is interesting to note that Elon Musk has downplayed the viability of fuel cells as an alternative to his battery powered Tesla vehicles. Could it be he sees a significant emergent threat to his business …?
For Europe, the hydrogen economy would kick off with transportation – a market estimated to be worth $115 billion per year by 2040 (cumulatively $840 billion by then) and with other markets growing in parallel for heating, energy storage and industrial feedstock.
2040 would also see 17 million fuel cell powered vehicles on the road - only 1,000 in use today - in addition to “conventional” EV’s. Such growth in the development and use of hydrogen fuel cells will see economies of scale reduce their cost by 82% as uptake increases.
Yes, hydrogen is does not have the same calorific value as hydrocarbon fuels, hence to get the same result you have to burn more of it. It’s expensive to produce, is difficult to transport and store but technologies and production methods improve over time and scale effects assist with the economics and commercial viability.
Naysayers will always have something to point at to say that hydrogen is “not the answer” but when produced from renewable sources and with no environmental impact associated with using it as a fuel, then it may not be a panacea, but it goes a long way towards a greener future and hence has a place in the current energy transition and the mix of green alternatives as part of a more sustainable future.
The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, (also known as COP 21) was signed by 197 countries and came into force in November 2016. The agreement was limits greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of limiting global temperatures rise to significantly less than 2°C above pre-industrial revolution levels. Subsequent work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2018 identified that:
In 2019 the UK government passed legislation in an amendment to the Climate Change Act, committing the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.
So getting to Net Zero is important, but also the timescale in which we achieve this goal is equally important.
So what does Net Zero mean?
Net zero simply means achieving a balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and those removed from the atmosphere. The UK government defines it as follows:
Net zero means that the UK’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be equal to or less than the emissions the UK removed from the environment.
Compared with the current situation this can be achieved through:
All well and good on a national level, but what does it mean for an individual business? Not many companies are going to instigate their own carbon capture capability and other mechanisms for offsetting your emissions can be hard to fathom. Every day brings a new announcement of a net zero target by a large organisation but there is still no universally agreed definition. That can make it difficult and confusing on where and how to start. A number of organisations such as the Carbon Trust and Science Based Targets are working towards a standard definition but it is still a work in progress. That said, there two common themes applicable to companies of any size:
1. Emissions reduction is better than offsetting
2. Time matters. The sooner you start, the better.
In terms of emissions reductions the first step is to establish a benchmark – what you are doing at the moment. The good news here is that there is a generally agreed framework for emissions categorisation.
In the UK the Streamlined Energy & Carbon Reporting (SECR) regulations introduced in April 2019 require large companies to report on Scope One and Scope Two emissions. For these purposes a “large” company is defined as: meeting two of the following three conditions:
Whilst is easy to get hung up on definitions and getting it right, and tempting to take the view that the legislation doesn’t apply to me, you can be certain of two things:
Net zero definitions might be unclear and the UK legislation might not apply to your business, but it still makes sense to start monitoring your Scope One and Scope Two emissions and to take steps to reduce them.
Is Net Zero enough?
In short, almost certainly not. Achieving net zero by 2050 is a step on the way to zero emissions and carbon negativity. But that is a topic for another day.
The world has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change - but can companies be part of the solution? And, if so, how?
A report published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed to avoid disastrous levels of global warming.
Whilst often seen as culprits, businesses can actually set a positive example.
What is ISO 14001:2015?
ISO 14001 enables companies to put in place an effective environmental management system, and is designed to address the balance between a company’s environmental impacts while maintaining profitability.
Environmental issues are growing in prominence; energy efficiency, environmental compliance, environmental impact, and carbon footprint are widely discussed. In implementing an environmental management system, companies can effectively control these issues, and ensure that they are fully compliant with environmental legislation.
They also join in the fight against climate change. Being ISO 14001 certified proves to stakeholders, customers, suppliers etc. that you are environmentally credible.
So what’s the link between ISO 14001 and climate change?
One of the major challenges that face us all is that of mitigating and adapting to climate change. Internationally, work has progressed from the formation of United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the Paris Agreement which came into force on 4 November 2016.
Under the Paris Agreement countries agree to hold the global temperature increase due to increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to below 2 °C, aiming at 1.5 °C. This commitment is realised through a commitment at national level to reduce national GHG emissions. Additionally, countries agreed to support action to adapt to the consequences of climate change.
For users of ISO 14001 the question is ‘How does ISO 14001 help organisation to mitigate and adapt to climate change? The diagram below shows the link between key clauses in ISO 14001:2015 and climate change mitigation and adaption. It shows that users of ISO 14001 CAN address climate change challenges through their management system:
ISO 14001 deals with the need to adapt to any change in environmental conditions and hence include matters such as the need to adapt to other environmental consequences which are not due to climate change, for example loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity.
Additionally ISO 14007 and ISO 14008 help companies provide a ‘value’ and ‘determine the costs’ for the GHG they emit and to ‘determine the cost benefit’ in their company for any action they take to adapt to climate change.
So UN Sustainable Development Goals - can ISO standards help? Yes!
Eight out 17 UN SDGs directly link to the focus of ISO 14001, such as those related to clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; and life on land.
The UN SDGs cover both mitigation of environmental impacts and adaptation to changes in the environment – both topics are covered by ISO 14001.
Four out of 17 UN SDGs – while relating to human and social issues – are areas where ISO 14001 by, among others, reducing harmful emissions reduces the impact on human health as exemplified by the goal on zero hunger and no poverty.
Which UN SDGs and targets may be considered by a company using ISO 14001 will depend on many and diverse factors such as what the organisation does, its resources and its overall business aims.
How does ISO 14001:2015 support achievement of UN SDGs?
ISO 14001 in relation to environmental matters cover issues such as:
Protecting the environment
commit to proactive initiatives to protect the environment from harm and degradation;
protect the environment can include prevention of pollution, sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation, protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, etc.
continual improvement focus on improving environmental performance
extend its control and influence to the environmental impacts associated with product use and end-of-life treatment or disposal
Strategic Environmental Management
increased focus on environmental management within your company’s strategic planning processes and understanding your context focus:
If you run a business and care about climate change and - more importantly - want to do something about it, then getting and effectively operating ISO 14001 is definitely for you! Just get in touch with us to find out more, either by ringing us on 01923 553007 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org