Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. And it’s useful in applications such as oil refining and fertilizer production. It can even be burned to produce electricity and power vehicles.

On Earth, hydrogen is bound up in molecules such as those found in natural gas, so it must be extracted before it can be used. But producing it from natural gas is an energy-intensive process that emits carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.

Huyen Dinh of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says there’s a cleaner way to create hydrogen gas: using H2O.

“You just start with water,” she says. “You use electricity to split it, and you make hydrogen and oxygen. You don’t have any pollutants of any kind.”

And the electricity can be produced by renewable sources of energy.

Hydrogen produced this way is called ‘green hydrogen.’ It’s still too expensive to compete in the mass market. But the technology is advancing. Dinh leads a consortium of six national labs researching ways to make it.

And market researchers predict that green hydrogen could compete on price with conventionally produced hydrogen within 10 years.

“I’m very, very excited,” Dinh says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...