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Desperate Policymakers Rushing Into Inefficient Hydrogen

June 19, 2020
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By Paul Homewood

 

By pure coincidence, John Constable has just published his verdict on the push for hydrogen:

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London, 19 June: Desperate policy makers trying to reach Net Zero targets that are unaffordable and infeasible are rushing into the premature adoption of hydrogen as a last ditch attempt to save the current agenda.
Faced with the task of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions while sustaining economic growth, the UK government, like others around the world, is promoting hydrogen as an energy carrier for sectors of the economy such as heavy transport and peak winter heating that are extremely difficult to decarbonize.
The wisdom of this policy, with a special focus on the United Kingdom, is addressed in a new historical and technical study published today by the GWPF.
The study concludes that current enthusiasm is a desperate measure that will jeopardise the long-term promise of hydrogen for the sake of short-term political optics.
Because of the accelerated timetable required by arbitrary targets, it is necessary to manufacture hydrogen via two expensive and energetically inefficient commodity production processes, the electrolysis of water, and the reforming of natural gas.
Electrolysis is extremely expensive, and the reforming of methane emits carbon dioxide and so requires Carbon Capture and Sequestration, which is not only costly but unproven at the required scale. Both these commodity processes imply high levels of fresh water consumption.
The prudent approach, obvious since the 1970s and still the official long-range policy of the government of Japan, is to aim for hydrogen production by the thermal decomposition of sea water employing advanced nuclear reactors, which alone might conceivably make hydrogen cheap. This is, however, very difficult chemical and nuclear engineering, and its realisation lies well into the future.
The paper also notes that hasty introduction will not give enough time for safe societal adjustment to the inherent dangers of a fugitive and readily ignited gas that has a strong tendency to technical detonation (combustion with a supersonic combustion frontier). The learning experience could be needlessly painful and deadly.
Dr John Constable, author of the study, said: 
“Hydrogen has genuine long term potential as a universal energy carrier to supplement electricity, but current methods of production are hugely expensive and will stress fresh water supplies. Target-driven haste is already resulting in accidents. Counterproductive and naive policies are compromising the hydrogen future."

 

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Hydrogen: The Once And Future Fuel (pdf)

 

 John’s work confirms a lot of what I was saying yesterday about the gross inefficiencies in the production of hydrogen, not to mention the crippling costs. Usefully, he also covers safety and water consumption issues.

In particular he highlights the economic realities of electrolysis, pointing out that we would need 60 TWh of electricity to produce 44 TWh of hydrogen (energy equivalent). If all of the 270 TWh worth of hydrogen needed was to be sourced via electrolysis, we would need 368 TWh of electricity, which is more than our total generation now.

As it would need to all be renewable, we would be looking at about 100GW of offshore wind capacity, (currently standing at 10GW). The capital cost of the electrolysers, according to John’s numbers, would be up to £74bn, to which would be added the cost of all the wind turbines.

Plainly this sort of output could not be sourced by simply relying on excess wind power, which is why the Committee on Climate Change commented in their Net Zero report:

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https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2019/06/07/decarbonising-heating-will-cost-us-28bn-a-year/

29 Comments
  1. tim leeney permalink
    June 19, 2020 7:02 pm

    The best way of using hydrogen is to tack it onto a carbon chain, and burn the resulting hydrocarbon in an engine. The carbon dioxide nonsense has to be addressed, and this GWPF paper seems to me to be ducking that question completely.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      June 20, 2020 1:25 pm

      Exactly, if the issue is to find an “energy carrier” then a “synthetic” hydrocarbon is the only practical option. There is actually more hydrogen in a litre of methanol as a liquid in a jerry can at standard temperature and pressure than in a litre of liquid hydrogen in a cryogenic container at -253 °C.

  2. Philip Mulholland permalink
    June 19, 2020 7:34 pm

    Let me see if I understand the problem. If we burn carbon we produce a terrifyingly dangerous greenhouse gas that will so unbalance the climate that life on earth will be jepardised to the point of total destruction. If on the other hand we burn hydrogen we produce a totally benign greenhouse gas that is far more powerful in its magic power to block heat rays, but strangely has no impact on the climate. /sarc.

    • saparonia permalink
      June 19, 2020 11:17 pm

      Also carbon dioxide tends to put fires out and hydrogen tends to be volatile.

      (Not even mentioning that with zero carbon dioxide we can’t grow anything at all, including trees that do more for us than look pretty.)

    • dave permalink
      June 20, 2020 9:58 am

      That burning hydrogen might produce more of the “greenhouse gas,” water vapour, is hardly relevant, in view of the fact that it only stays in the atmosphere for about ten days before joining the existing stock of liquid water in the oceans.

      Of course, it is axiomatic that the whole hydrogen nonsense is just another red herring, whose purpose it is to divert attention from the fact that the only path we are on is the path to trouble.

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        June 20, 2020 1:33 pm

        “That burning hydrogen might produce more of the “greenhouse gas,” water vapour, is hardly relevant, in view of the fact that it only stays in the atmosphere for about ten days before joining the existing stock of liquid water in the oceans.”

        Dave are you trying to suggest that because water vapour has a short term atmospheric occupancy that it is therefore not possible to increase the total level of atmospheric water vapour? If so you are completely wrong and simply do not understand the whole theory of AGW. Never heard of the Clausius-Clapeyeron relation?

  3. June 19, 2020 8:04 pm

    The climate contortionists will go to any lengths to try and defeat engineering and physics reality, but failure awaits every time.

  4. Joe Public permalink
    June 19, 2020 8:10 pm

    “As it would need to all be renewable, we would be looking at about 100GW of offshore wind capacity, (currently standing at 10GW).”

    Aw c’mon Paul, that’s such a pessimistic view.

    R Harrabin Esq, the BBC’s world-renowned Energy Expert proclaimed back on 2nd Jan this year that to enable a 20% dilution of natural gas “The hydrogen could be generated pollution-free by using surplus wind power at night to split water molecules using electrolysis.”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-50873047

    So obviously, there’s no need to build quite so many new windmills.

    It’s a pity the world-renowned Energy Expert forgot to mention that if surplus wind power will be used to make H2 there’d be fuck-all left to recharge the batteries of the millions of EVs he’s also predicted will need electricity.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 22, 2020 10:30 pm

      What he really forgot to mention is that you don’t wind up with “free” surplus, because you have to spend vast sums on windfarms to generate it. And then you under-utilise your electrolysers, which can expect no better than 25% utilisation on average – and indeed you may still not find it worthwhile to build enough of them to absorb all the surpluses, as each marginal plant gets fewer occasions when there is sufficient “surplus” to power it, so you end up still curtailing as being cheaper. Then because the electrolysis process is intermittent it is much less efficient – I’ve seen figures of 38-45% quoted. And that’s all before you try to do something with the hydrogen.

      I see that Timera estimate hydrogen by electrolysis costs $25-35/MMBtu – call it $1 per kWh. Even with optimistic assumptions about the future, they only see that halving by 2050 in real terms. Which would give you electricity at $1/kWh during windless periods. Diesel STOR is a LOT cheaper!

      https://timera-energy.com/decarbonising-european-gas-a-framework/

      Odd they don’t mention that…

  5. spetzer86 permalink
    June 19, 2020 8:43 pm

    You should just have “H” declared the new White Power symbol. That way everyone would just turn around and ban it.

    • tom0mason permalink
      June 19, 2020 11:08 pm

      spetzer86
      Or start a movement called “Black Fuels Matter”.
      Emphasize that attempts to remove all black & brown fuels is really a RACIST tactic that will allow the installation of hydrogen (along with wind and solar) technology in a design to super-whiten the energy industries!

      Next “Black Paint Matters” …
      🙂

  6. Broadlands permalink
    June 19, 2020 9:26 pm

    “Faced with the task of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions while sustaining economic growth.”

    The Covid-19 lockdown has shown very clearly that economies have been devastated, never mind growth, by the rapid lowering of carbon dioxide emissions. Continuing that plan after the virus is contained would be even worse. Especially if net-zero and 2050 are the goals. Totally absurd. Policy makers must be blind…maybe not deaf, but certainly dumb.

  7. June 20, 2020 12:15 am

    “Faced with the task of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions”

    Is there something wrong with carbon dioxide emissions?

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/05/18/12479/

    • June 20, 2020 1:19 am

      A very pertinent question!. If you are not a liar or a believer or worst of all, a numerate scientist who through cowardice or greed sold your soul to the dark side ( the green blob), then the following would be acknowledged by you. “IF” attention is paid to physics and or geological history and also there is recognition of the part played by CO2 in evolutionary biology the answer will be that.1 This CO2 is not actually being created but has been locked up as long as the coal oil or gas has been buried. Fossil fuels are simply fossilized sunlight, energy. When sunlight was combined with CO2 and water, ancient photosynthesis took place and created , energybiomass which was not oxidized as is the norm when it dies. Burning fossil fuels merely reverses the process giving off water and CO2 and of course energy. However, there is a real problem. The Carbon Cycle which can be simplified to be an exchange between three mediums, Rock, Water and Air went completely out of sync around 160 million years ago in the Mid to Late Jurassic when shelly organisms evolved in the sea and proliferated. Previously there was some CO2 locked up in rocks but suddenly the quantity of carbonaceous rocks being produced and thereby locking up CO2 became huge and threw the Carbon Cycle right out of kilter and has continued till this day. . Those marine organisms combined the CO2 with calcium to form another molecule (CaCO3) , organic Calcium Carbonate. Then atmospheric CO2 was at around 2500ppm. You will NEVER hear any mention of CO2 on a geological timescale from the MSN which is critical to understanding. Also you will never hear any mention of CO2 locked up in rocks. As for the nonsense about acidification of the oceans. That chestnut had to come from an Arts graduate and also someone who never paid attention in chemistry lessons because an alkali cannot become acid, it just becomes less alkali. Also a small detail missed or deliberately overlooked by all of the usual suspects….The BBC…the Guardian etc, during geological time, the oceans have NEVER EVER been acidic, not even during the Cambrian when the atmospheric CO2 level was 7000ppm! Promoting that assertion shows just how corrupt the Climate Circus is. Anyway, atmospheric CO2 has been declining to such a point that during the first part of the current IceAge it fell to around 180ppm, 20ppm above the death of plants and therefore all or most of life. There is a 160 million year old declining trend. Maybe like me you will think that is worth paying attention to. The problem geologically is that the atmosphere is in a CO2 crisis even now, not because of too much but because of too little. IWhat the shysters are doing with the CO2 record is a stain on all of science. If any empirical dataset is taken, it is possible by taking a part of the time series and ignoring the rest to tell a “story” which bears no relationship to what is really going on. To do that is called “aliasing” the data and people are doing that daily in return for money.

      • June 20, 2020 1:33 am

        This is a very comprehensive and learned response full of useful information. Thank you.

      • Broadlands permalink
        June 20, 2020 3:04 pm

        The formation of calcium carbonate shells is biogenic. Together with organic carbon (fossil fuel) their geological burial has caused the percentage ratio of oxygen to CO2 to increase to about 525-to-one. This could not have happened until multicellular life evolved about 2 billion years ago. The carbon cycle cannot be far out of sync unless massive amounts of carbon were suddenly buried away from the oxygen that was created. Photosynthesis and Aerobic Respiration are exact opposites. The balance is between the standing crop and the atmosphere.

      • Philip Mulholland permalink
        June 21, 2020 5:28 pm

        “The formation of calcium carbonate shells is biogenic.”
        That statement is of course true, but it is not the full geological story. There is a chemical precipitation process that occurs in the swash zone of tropical beaches which creates oolitic sands. This process occurs often in the geologic record and accounts for the formation of non-biogenic oolitic carbonate limestone formations.

  8. June 20, 2020 12:39 am

    I am truly fascinated by all of this. All of this hysteria and STILL we have no proof of cause , only claimed effects. Will someone please put me out of my misery and show the statistically significant empirical data which supports one of the confusing list of assertions: Assertion 1. Man is responsible for all of the current warming which began 350 years ago. Assertion 2. Man is responsible for the current warming since 1950 (What exactly happened to natural warming which was doing just fine up until then? Did it conveniently stop or did it just politely go away)? Assertion 3 Man is partially responsible for the current warming since 1950 ( but we will not tell you how the percentages have varied since then because we do not know so be polite and do not ask otherwise you will be called a denier). Given that man is currently releasing back into the Carbon Cycle approximates to 3% of the total annual flux, all I can say is that must be a very special 3%.to take over control of what is claimed the other 97% was doing naturally before you bought your SUV!

    • Duker permalink
      June 20, 2020 3:07 am

      The answer is by looking at economics, which went from analytical methods to understand what had happened in the past to computational models on predicting the future.
      Climate Science went from looking at past changes over 24-30 year periods to predicting the future , bizarrely enough for the same time period. Now they have become self fulfilling prophecies.

  9. June 20, 2020 4:02 am

    Hydrogen is silly. Not only is it very explosive but it’s hard to contain and handle. Liquefying it is not feasible and compressing it requires extremely dangerous pressures – such that a practicable cylinder of compressed hydrogen is a bomb in waiting just due to the pressure it’s under.

    Compare this with methanol. Easy to convert hydrogen to methanol:

    3H2 + CO2 = CH3OH + H2O

    Once you have methanol you have a liquid fuel that needs no compression. It can be used in cars with only small modifications. And it fits perfectly with the logistics now in place for gasoline.

    So as soon as you have centrally synthesised methanol you can convert the entire transport system over to it with nearly no infrastructure cost. Whereas hydrogen is insanely difficult to do for vehicles.

    On top of all of this methanol produced using nuclear energy (as the source of heat for the catalysis step and the electricity for the water hydrolysis) appears pretty reasonable economically.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      June 20, 2020 1:54 pm

      You have got that exactly right. First up, capturing CO2 from the atmosphere is primarily by amine adsorption and the dissociation process is thermally driven by low grade heat @ 100°C. This is temperature is readily available from the enhanced reject heat from any existing PWR – The Beznau NPP is Switzerland has been supplying the Refuna District Heating system in this way for over 40 years with only a small resultant loss in electricity generation.
      A Swiss company “Climeworks” are currently trialling a scale up of this capture system at Rotterdam/Den Haag airport but they are (stupidly) using solar thermal as the energy source.

      High Temperature electrolysis (nothing like as hot as required for Thermolysis from a GenIV/V reactor) is hugely less electricity intensive (a proportion of the energy input again being from surplus reactor heat). This issue of “freshwater” requirement is actually wrong and the existing seawater cooling for NPPs could service the H20 requirement.
      It is technically quite possible already to decarbonise aviation using the same aircraft firing synthetic kerosene and scaled up production off the back of existing nuclear designs is quite economic. The notion of battery aircraft is a sad joke.
      Rolls Royce are including all of this in their current lobbying of the government.

  10. June 20, 2020 8:04 am

    Most so-called greenhouse gas is water vapour – this is well-known. Carbon dioxide is only a small fraction of the total, meaning an increase of it makes little difference to the total amount.

    Even if current climate theories were correct, the CO2 increases we see today would not be worth fussing over.

  11. Mad Mike permalink
    June 20, 2020 10:14 am

    Had to share this one with you

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/06/19/disturbed-sleep-growing-problem-warmth-energy-efficient-new/

    “Sleeping problems are on the rise because energy-efficient homes are too warm at night, a Government study has concluded.

    The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) reported that high temperatures are causing new homes to fail standards designed to tackle sleep deprivation.

    The problem will get worse over the next 30 years as properties designed to be energy-efficient become so hot at night that people will not be able to sleep properly in the warmest months.”

  12. Gamecock permalink
    June 20, 2020 12:25 pm

    Y’all go ahead. We have many nice places for your factories here in South Carolina.

  13. Joe Public permalink
    June 20, 2020 1:37 pm

    The idea is almost a century old:

  14. Ottokring permalink
    June 20, 2020 1:47 pm

    The Germans have hit upon a wheeze, I saw this on TV a few weeks ago. They are going o do all the production in Morocco using solar farms in the desert for the elctrolysis. The govt intends to make Germany the world leader in Hydrogen production.

    They didn’t mention how it was to be transported.

    • jack broughton permalink
      June 20, 2020 9:19 pm

      Maybe a fleet of Zeppelins from Morocco? Low energy transport as well as hydrogen as long as the weather is fine, as it will always be in cloud cuckoo land.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 22, 2020 2:21 am

      Did they bother to check up on it at all? From what I can see, you can expect about 17-18% annual capacity factor in Morocco. Of course, you have to keep your solar panels clean – no letting them get covered in Sahara dust – and you must have water for that and for hydrolysis. Then I read that the efficiency for intermittent hydrolysis is between 38 and 45%. So we are down to ~7% of the solar capacity before we consider transportation or storage under pressure. Then you have to burn it say in a CCGT to make electricity again, halving the return again.

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