Is Hydrogen a Renewable Energy?

By Kirsteen Mackay


Exploring the role of hydrogen in the renewable energy sector: understand its sources, sustainability, and where it fits in our pursuit of a cleaner energy future.

Hydrogen as a renewable energy source

Hydrogen is not a renewable energy source. Instead, people use it as an energy carrier. This means you can produce, store, and deliver energy using hydrogen, but you must derive it from another source.

Hydrogen is renewable only if producers use a renewable method to create it. Therefore, hydrogen's "renewability" hinges on its production process:

  • Steam Methane Reforming (SMR): Currently, the most common method of producing hydrogen is from natural gas through a process called steam methane reforming (SMR). This method is not renewable and releases carbon dioxide (CO2) as a byproduct.

  • Electrolysis: Hydrogen production involves using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through a process called electrolysis. If renewable sources like wind or solar generate the electricity, then the resulting hydrogen qualifies as renewable. However, if non-renewable sources provide the electricity, then the hydrogen isn't genuinely renewable.

  • Partial Oxidation (POX): In this method, heavy hydrocarbons, such as oil residues, are broken down by reacting them with a controlled amount of oxygen, producing hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Like SMR, a water-gas shift reaction can convert carbon monoxide and steam into more hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

  • Biomass Gasification: Hydrogen production can come from organic materials or biomass. When heating biomass without air, it decomposes into a mix of hydrogen and other gases. This method is renewable when sourcing the biomass sustainably.

  • Photochemical and Biological Processes: Some experimental methods use sunlight or microorganisms to produce hydrogen from water or organic materials. If these methods become commercially viable, they could produce renewable hydrogen.

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To sum up, hydrogen functions as a means of transporting energy rather than generating it. Its renewability hinges on how it is produced. Its eco-friendliness depends on how it's made. To understand its place in green energy, we need to consider where it comes from and its environmental impact.

While there are various methods available to produce hydrogen, the viability and environmental impact of each depend on the resources and technologies available. The shift towards greener hydrogen production (like electrolysis powered by renewables) is gaining momentum as part of the global push towards a more sustainable energy future.

Hydrogen Colors

The different colors associated with hydrogen production refer to how the hydrogen is produced and the environmental impact of each method:

Grey Hydrogen

  • Source: It's produced primarily through steam methane reforming (SMR) of natural gas.

  • Environmental Impact: This method emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, grey hydrogen is considered the least environmentally friendly hydrogen color.

Blue Hydrogen

  • Source: It's also produced from natural gas through steam methane reforming, just like grey hydrogen.

  • Environmental Impact: What distinguishes blue hydrogen is the addition of carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques. These techniques capture most of the carbon dioxide emissions produced during the SMR process and store them underground or utilize them in other ways. While this method reduces emissions compared to grey hydrogen, it's still not entirely carbon-neutral.

Green Hydrogen:

  • Source: It's produced using electrolysis, where electricity (ideally from renewable sources like wind, solar, or hydro) splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.

  • Environmental Impact: Since the only byproduct of this process is oxygen, and no greenhouse gases are emitted, green hydrogen is considered the most environmentally friendly, especially when the electricity is sourced from renewables.

The push towards green hydrogen is part of a broader effort to achieve more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy solutions.

Less commonly mentioned hydrogen colors include:

Turquoise Hydrogen

  • Source: Produced through pyrolysis, a process that thermally decomposes methane (CH₄) into hydrogen (H₂) and solid carbon (carbon black).

  • Environmental Impact: Since this method doesn't release carbon dioxide (CO₂) directly, it's considered cleaner than grey hydrogen. However, its environmental impact depends on how the resulting solid carbon is handled or utilized.

Pink Hydrogen

  • Source: Produced using electrolysis, similar to green hydrogen, but the electricity comes specifically from nuclear power.

  • Environmental Impact: While the electrolysis process is clean, the environmental impact depends on one's perspective on nuclear energy and its associated risks and waste management challenges.

Yellow Hydrogen

  • Source: Sometimes referred to as hydrogen produced using solar power specifically, distinguishing it from the broader category of green hydrogen which can be derived from any renewable source.

  • Environmental Impact: Like green hydrogen, yellow hydrogen has a minimal environmental impact when the solar infrastructure's lifecycle is taken into account.

Brown Hydrogen

  • Source: Produced from lignite (a form of coal) through a gasification process.

  • Environmental Impact: Brown hydrogen production emits significant amounts of CO₂, making it less environmentally friendly.

These color designations are part of an industry vernacular that helps quickly convey the source and environmental implications of hydrogen production. However, it's worth noting that not every term is universally accepted or used, and new terms might emerge as the industry evolves.

Is Hydrogen the Fuel of the Future?

Now we've answered your question 'Is hydrogen a renewable energy source?' why not dive into the world of hydrogen, hailed as the fuel of the future and the key to a sustainable energy transition. As nations worldwide commit to slashing carbon emissions, hydrogen stands out as a versatile solution, not just for green energy production but also for high-intensity industries and next-gen transport.

Early adopters in the hydrogen sector may well ride a massive wave of growth and benefit from both environmental progress and significant returns.

If you're interested in investing in this exciting sector, read our article 'How to Invest in Hydrogen'. Don't miss your chance to be at the forefront of this transformative movement. Discover the myriad opportunities hydrogen offers and position yourself for a brighter, greener tomorrow!


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Author: Kirsteen Mackay

This article does not provide any financial advice and is not a recommendation to deal in any securities or product. Investments may fall in value and an investor may lose some or all of their investment. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance.

Kirsteen Mackay does not hold any position in the stock(s) and/or financial instrument(s) mentioned in the above article.

Kirsteen Mackay has not been paid to produce this piece by the company or companies mentioned above.

Digitonic Ltd, the owner of, does not hold a position or positions in the stock(s) and/or financial instrument(s) mentioned in the above article.

Digitonic Ltd, the owner of, has not been paid for the production of this piece by the company or companies mentioned above.

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