During the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting over the 17th – 21st January 2022, the energy minister of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz bin Salman, joked about the progress his country was making towards pink hydrogen generation, stating “We are recruiting, by the way, young Saudi ladies that are happy to see the pink coming along,”. Overlooking the underlying sexist nature of the minister’s comments, alongside the bleak irony that Saudi Arabia sits in 147th place of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender right gap rankings, the same very organisation he was addressing.
The ‘hydrogen colour spectrum’ has been a hot topic in renewable energy circles at present, with green hydrogen, hydrogen produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity, also being of specific developmental focus.
Pink hydrogen is hydrogen generated through again splitting water through electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen, yet this time powered by nuclear energy. It has also been dubbed purple or red hydrogen in the past, yet the term pink hydrogen has become almost commonplace. The proposed concept of renewable energy generation has also seen support from French President Emmanuel Macron, to reach the country’s hydrogen production targets in a carbon-neutral manner. Specifically noting that combing France’s extensive existing nuclear power stations with hydrogen electrolysers could be a “primary asset” for the country.
This presents the first ‘barrier’ to the new ‘wonder-fuel’ of the future, which is nuclear power generally. There has been much anxiety from the global community to fully commit to nuclear power, stemming from the infamous Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, which only added to the power’s rocky history in respect previously to the Chernobyl Accident of 1986. Nuclear power has seen increased uptake in recent years, however, notably with global production recovering back to previous 2010 levels in 2020. Even with growing nuclear power generation trends, the high cost of nuclear power infrastructure means that pink hydrogen is likely to remain a focus of developed countries only until the ~5 billion USD price tag of 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants falls dramatically.
Turning to the expected growth and promise that pink hydrogen holds, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is projecting that, in the U.S. alone, hydrogen demand will increase two to four times by 2050. The International Renewable Energy Agency projects that the global hydrogen trade will overtake that of oil by this time as well. With this considered the heightened interest in hydrogens many ‘colours’ seems natural, yet the concept of pink hydrogen specifically is relatively infantile with the concept being just a couple of years old and notably absent from many wider hydrogen growth models, which typically include green hydrogen for example.
The main driving force for such high interest in the concept stems primarily from calls for global decarbonisation and the increasingly common pledges of both companies and countries alike to become Net-Zero, typically by 2050, while Saudi Arabia has notably pledged for 2060. These pledges, coupled with the well-established history of hydrogen as a fuel source has led to the invention of the carbon-neutral forms of both pink and green hydrogen and the seemingly viral adoption and praise that the concepts have seen in recent months.
Much development remains if pink hydrogen is to become a widely adopted renewable energy, notably at present there is much contention surrounding production prices themselves, which follows costly infrastructure construction, with electrolysis of hydrogen costing around 5-6 USD per kg, compared to the 2.2 USD per kg of traditional grey hydrogen (hydrogen produced from fossil fuels). Work is being undertaken to reduce this cost, notably surrounding improving the efficiency of the electrolysis process and reducing the overall energy intensity of the process as well, yet this seems to be a contention that will be the focus of research for years to come.
Pink hydrogen is a rapidly developing area with carbon-neutral forms of hydrogen being a central focus of the global community as global Net Zero targets are rushed to be achieved by 2050 and more experimental forms of renewable energy are experimented with. That being said, it likely remains a decade or so at minimum before we see pink hydrogen as a more widespread contributor to the global energy mix and many more before it becomes a truly global renewable given its currently prohibitive cost for many developing countries.
Analyst: Matthew Ball
Sector Head: Archit Lal