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Why Hydrogen Is the Hottest Thing in Green Energy

Alstom SA Hydrogen Powered Train Assembly And Operations
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Solar panels and wind turbines can’t clean up everything. Making steel, for instance, calls for higher temperatures than traditional electric furnaces can deliver. That’s why plans for blunting climate change now envision a big role for hydrogen in curbing industrial emissions and for powering cars, trucks and ships. So-called green hydrogen is essentially emissions free. But meeting the ambitious plans being made for it means building a giant industry almost from scratch.

For one thing, it burns — hot and clean. Replacing the fossil fuels now used in furnaces that reach 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,732 degrees Fahrenheit) with hydrogen gas 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 to purify iron ore. The byproduct is water vapor rather than CO2. And while batteries currently dominate the field of electric vehicles, some companies are betting that hydrogen-powered fuel cells will be a better choice than batteries for heavy vehicles, such as trucks, ships and potentially even airplanes.