From green to pink hydrogen, we reveal the rainbow of hydrogen colours and the different types of technology used to produce each.
Green hydrogen, blue hydrogen, brown hydrogen and even yellow hydrogen, turquoise hydrogen and pink hydrogen. They’re essentially colour codes, or nicknames, used within the energy industry to differentiate between the types of hydrogen.
Depending on the type of production used, different colour names are assigned to the hydrogen. But there is no universal naming convention and these colour definitions may change over time, and even between countries.
Hydrogen is an invisible gas. So, despite their colourful descriptions, there is no visible difference between the different types of hydrogen.
Here’s our guide to unlocking the current hydrogen colour code.
Green hydrogen 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.
Green hydrogen currently makes up a small percentage of the overall hydrogen, because production is expensive. Just as energy from wind power has reduced in price, green hydrogen will come down in price as it becomes more common.
Blue hydrogen is produced mainly from natural gas, using a process called steam reforming, which brings together natural gas and heated water in the form of steam. The output is hydrogen, but carbon dioxide is also produced as a by-product. So, the definition of blue hydrogen includes the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to trap and store this carbon.
Blue hydrogen is sometimes described as ‘low-carbon hydrogen’, as the steam reforming process doesn’t actually avoid the creation of greenhouse gases.
Currently, this is the most common form of hydrogen production. Grey hydrogen 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.
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.
Just to confuse things, any hydrogen made from fossil fuels through the process of ‘gasification’ is sometimes called black or brown hydrogen interchangeably.
Japan and Australia announced a new brown coal-to-hydrogen project recently. This project will use brown coal in Australia to produce liquefied hydrogen, which will then be shipped to Japan for low-emission use.
Pink hydrogen is generated through electrolysis powered by nuclear energy. Nuclear-produced hydrogen can also be referred to as purple hydrogen or red hydrogen.
In addition, the very high temperatures from nuclear reactors could be used in other hydrogen productions by producing steam for more efficient electrolysis or fossil gas-based steam methane reforming.
This is a new entry in the hydrogen colour charts and production has yet to be proven at scale. Turquoise hydrogen is made using a process called methane pyrolysis to produce hydrogen and solid carbon. In the future, turquoise hydrogen may be valued as a low-emission hydrogen, dependent on the thermal process being powered with renewable energy and the carbon being permanently stored or used.
Yellow hydrogen is a relatively new phrase for hydrogen made through electrolysis using solar power.
White hydrogen is a naturally occurring, geological hydrogen found in underground deposits and created through fracking. There are no strategies to exploit this hydrogen at present.
In the future, some hydrogen colours may fade in importance and others burn brighter. What’s certain is that the hydrogen rainbow will play a significant role in reaching net zero, as we reduce our historical reliance on fossil fuels and look to green alternatives to power our homes, businesses and transport.