Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 05 March 2024

Green hydrogen at a crossroads

Relevance: GS Paper III

Why in News?

The cost-effectiveness of producing white hydrogen is raising concerns among those who placed early bets on green hydrogen.

Advantages of Hydrogen:

  • It is the most abundant element on earth — unlike many other elements that are available only in limited geographies.
  • Hydrogen, with its high energy density, can work well in any industry that uses natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas, producing pure water when burnt instead of carbon emissions.
  • It can even be used to run cars if the technology and economics of hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen filling stations are right.
  • Green hydrogen is a promising solution for the global journey towards an all-clean energy future.

Hydrogen production methods:

  • Grey hydrogen:
    • Currently, this is the most common form of hydrogen production.
    • It is created from natural gas, or methane, using steam methane reformation but without capturing the greenhouse gases made in the process.
    • Grey hydrogen is essentially the same as blue hydrogen but without the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS).
  • Blue hydrogen:
    • It is produced mainly from natural gas, using a process called steam reforming. The output is hydrogen, but carbon dioxide is also produced as a by-product, which is captured and stored.
    • So, the definition of blue hydrogen includes using carbon capture and storage (CCS) to trap and store this carbon.
  • Black and brown hydrogen:
    • Using black coal or lignite (brown coal) in the hydrogen-making process, these black and brown hydrogen are the absolute opposite of green hydrogen in the hydrogen spectrum and the most environmentally damaging.
  • Green hydrogen:
    • It is made by using clean electricity from surplus renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to electrolyse water.
    • Electrolysers use an electrochemical reaction to split water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen, emitting zero-carbon dioxide in the process.
    • It currently makes up a small percentage of the overall hydrogen because production is expensive.

Significant shift towards Green hydrogen:

  • Billions of dollars are being invested in green hydrogen plants worldwide, and it will be far more significant than electric vehicles or solar energy plants once produced in large quantities and economically.
    • Japan, Europe, and India are betting big on green hydrogen, with plans for green hydrogen production in India.
  • For the country, green hydrogen will be of particular importance — the government expects that it will eventually allow India to become self-sufficient and an exporter of fuel.

Emergence of "White" hydrogen:

  • White hydrogen is naturally occurring geologic hydrogen found in mines; some people label it "gold" hydrogen.
  • So far, white hydrogen reserves have been found in the US, Russia, Mali, France, Australia, and many other places.
    • Recently, huge "white hydrogen discoveries have made waves and could thwart the green hydrogen story.
  • Some estimates put the total availability of white hydrogen on Earth at around 5 trillion tonnes or more, enough to satisfy most fuel needs for decades on end.

Green hydrogen vis-a-vis White hydrogen:

  • Green hydrogen production needs abundant pure water and cheap, renewable energy.
    • While freshwater sources are best, they are also scarce.
      • This has led scientists and businessmen to gravitate to plants along the coast of seas or oceans.
      • Using saline water from oceans adds to the cost of production because desalination is a necessary initial step before electrolysis.
    • Countries, especially low-income countries close to oceans and seas and with much sunlight, are considered ideal for green hydrogen production.
      • It was assumed that having large production bases in these countries could also help their economies.
    • European countries were mostly planning to import green hydrogen for their clean energy journey from North African nations because of the potentially lower production cost there than in EU countries.
  • While white hydrogen extraction is still in its infancy, it costs considerably less than green hydrogen, is less energy-intensive to produce, and requires less water.
    • According to a European study, France’s substantial white hydrogen discovery could mean that extracting the gas from mines would cost one-tenth of the current expense of green hydrogen.
      • For instance, if green hydrogen costs 5 euros per kilo, white hydrogen would cost 0.5 euros per kilo.
    • It wouldn’t be presumptuous to assume that the ratio of white to green hydrogen production in the rest of the world might be similar.
  • The great theoretical advantage of white hydrogen over green hydrogen is its potential to be cheaper and less energy-intensive to extract.
    • These possibilities are raising multiple questions about the economics of green hydrogen projects.


It's uncertain what impact this would have on investments in green hydrogen. The cost of producing green hydrogen largely depends on the rate at which the production costs decline due to technological advancements and other factors. However, even if that happens, white hydrogen production is expected to remain cheaper than green hydrogen production for several decades, especially if deposits are found in easily exploitable areas. This is concerning for early investors in green hydrogen.


Mains PYQ

Q. 'Clean energy is the order of the day.' Describe briefly India's changing policy towards climate change in various international fora in the context of geopolitics. (UPSC 2022)

Q. Write a note on India’s green energy corridor to alleviate the problem of conventional energy. (UPSC 2013)