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Hydrogen Breaks Through as the Hottest Thing in Green Energy

Linde AG Hydrogen Electrolysis Plant Operations as European Utilities Race to Unlock Green Fuel
Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg

Wind and solar power are the main focus in the fight against climate change, but there are sources of greenhouse gases they can’t clean up. Manufacturing steel, cement and chemicals has traditionally required fossil fuels, either to burn to create the extreme temperatures needed, or as raw materials and catalysts for chemical reactions. That’s why hydrogen is becoming the new climate bet. It burns far more cleanly than fossil fuels, can stand in for carbon in some reactions and so-called green hydrogen -- gas produced using electricity from renewable sources -- is essentially emissions free. Hydrogen is also seen as a clean solution for fueling cars, trucks and ships and heating buildings. All that involves vast expense and work of creating a new energy industry almost from scratch, and bringing costs down to competitive levels.

Hydrogen flames hot and clean. Replacing the fossil fuels now used in furnaces that reach 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,700 Fahrenheit) with hydrogen could make a big dent in the 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions that now come from industry. In steelmaking, hydrogen could replace the coal that’s now used not only for heat but as a purifying agent. Hydrogen also removes the oxygen from the iron ore, but the result is water vapor rather than CO2.