Greenhouse Gases: Make way for green hydrogen


Brendyn Burkitt, Staff Columnist

Our stint on this planet has been brief. In Earth’s 4.5 billion years of life, humanity has taken up about 5 million. To put that in perspective, we have lived on this planet for only 1/900th of its existence. Yet in a short amount of time, we have made our mark: we have taken the rocks, sticks, plants, and simple materials strewn across Earth’s surface and created complex constructions. We have built civilizations and engineered technology that can take us across continents in mere hours.

What has driven these incredible technological strides? Ultimately, there is one clear cause: our insatiable hunger for innovation and our endless pursuit to better our lives. However, that insatiable hunger has made an additional and unintentional impact—that does not fall in line with our triumphs. Climate change is a byproduct of our reckless growth. Specifically, the processes and materials with which we innovate create and exacerbate climate change. These actions produce greenhouse gases that begin to crowd our atmosphere over time.

What is a greenhouse gas? Similar to actual greenhouses, these gases have an innate ability to trap heat. But why do these gases cause an issue? After all, they already exist in our atmosphere and can be created by natural phenomena. Our actions, specifically our typical energy creation methods, result in an unnatural prevalence of these gases, though, which trap more and more heat.

Earth exists in a state of fragile homeostasis (Go, freshman year biology!), and slight fluctuations in the planet’s conditions have large ripples. This idea persists for temperature as well: even a one-degree change in the planet’s climate could eventually result in extinction. If left unchecked, humanity as we know it may cease to exist.

We’ve made some progress in combating climate change, specifically in the field of renewable energy, which produces fewer greenhouse gases. Solar, wind, and other novel energy sources have slowly begun to replace traditional sources of power. Unfortunately, these forms of renewable energy are not a perfect solution.

Large scale/heavy manufacturing, aviation, and naval transport need such a large amount of energy that it is impossible to use a renewable source. The battery needed to store this amount of energy would be so large it could not be placed on a boat or plane. Herein lies the inherent issue with solar, wind, and other types of renewable power: the capacity of energy that can be stored. This non-traversable gap is bridged by green hydrogen.

The process of converting water into hydrogen and then into usable fuel—green hydrogen—is not new. Scientists originally dismissed it as inefficient because the process requires the use of electricity to break apart water molecules, and the electricity used was primarily being created through unsustainable methods. Thus, it wasn’t a great alternative. With the prevalence of solar and wind power to generate electricity, the idea was revitalized. Hydrogen can now provide an alternative fuel source and potentially destroy the monopoly of fossil fuels.

Green hydrogen does have its shortcomings. Its reliance on renewable energy to remain green is an underlying issue. For its use to be adopted universally, we need to scale up renewable energy programs. Moreover, the technology isn’t advanced enough to truly compete with fossil fuels. Its production and storage are somewhat cumbersome, and the technology isn’t where it needs to be. It needs time to mature as an industry.

Regardless of the current downsides, the applications of this technology are tremendous. In my mind, climate change is one of, if not the most, pressing pressing issues facing humanity. It affects every living being on the planet. Fossil fuels and our reliance on them have driven us near our own destruction, and green hydrogen is a opportunity for us to veer away.

Two questions remain: can we give up our dependence on fossil fuels? Can we pull ourselves away from oil and uproot the centuries-old industry? Humanity has often chosen the convenient over the right. In this case, convenience could mean the end of the human race.

Sources: Yale Environment 360, CNN, Forbes