Adding Color to Colorless Gasses

I remember the stories about children going to withdraw money from their savings account and being surprised that the money they put in was physically not the same as what they withdrew.

I have lectured on the use of solar and other renewables and seen the confusion and dismay of people who bought this energy form but learned what they bought didn’t actually go to their homes.

Given how many people still believe the world is flat, “According to pollster YouGov, 33 percent of millennials don’t believe that the Earth is round,” it would be interesting to see what levels of confusion still exist on where renewable electricity actually flows.  I expect very few understand how this works.

Well then, perhaps we should be concerned that similar levels of confusion and therefore distrust will result from the definitions of renewable natural gas and now especially blue and green hydrogen.  What is worse, most hydrogen production today is called gray since it starts with natural gas.  Let’s just face it, this is not a trivial issue.   We are starting with gases that are colorless and odorless … and please don’t tell me you think natural gas has an odor itself … that odor is added to offer safety assurances because the gas has no odor but is deadly.

No, we have a fundamental challenge with hydrogen because it does not exist as a pure gas in nature.  We have to make it, either with electrical energy from water or by some chemical processes starting with ammonia or natural gas.

This draws immediate criticism from technical people who rightfully want to trace raw materials and process details back to the origins, and who in their right mind would want to start with electricity if the end product consumed by the market is electricity.  That seems awfully silly and wasteful.  And, yes you would be correct if the issues of when it is produced vs. needed and storage are ignored.  We are seeing very real challenges in the electric grid due to solar where periods of low electricity-use coupled with high availability of solar energy are becoming a challenge.  Batteries are the obvious choice where economic, but people are seeking other more sustainable choices for storage over time, and hydrogen has received a lot of attention.

So, we are going through a period I would call a “Truth in Labeling” transition.  Most of us now see a very detailed description of what is in the food we buy.  And, most of us ignore it.  So, the politicians argued the labels should be made bigger.  😊

We have a long way to go here and it will not be easy.  Think about the problems we have now getting Americans to accept the COVID vaccines.  Conspiracy theories abound.

So, perhaps the key question here is whether labeling an otherwise colorless gas with a name that is emblematic with an environmentally appealing color will make the discussion of the costs and benefits easier or more compelling.  One would hope that labels change behavior, or at least make it clear what was in something that might matter to you and affect your decisions.

However, I am concerned that we are trying to “teach pigs to sing” as our recently departed business partner, Dick Niess, would have said:  “They don’t learn, and they resent you’re trying!”  Rest in Peace dear friend.

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