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Harrabin’s Hydrogen Fantasy

July 1, 2020

By Paul Homewood



Harrabin never gives up!



In his speech on the planned economic recovery, the prime minister said hydrogen technology is an area where the UK leads the world. He hopes it’ll create clean jobs in the future. But is the hydrogen revolution hope or hype?

The digger with the long-toothed bucket bites into a pile of stones, tilts up and flexes its sturdy mechanical arm.

It swivels, extends the arm and dumps its load on the harsh ground of a Staffordshire quarry.

It’s a beast of a machine and from the front it looks like a normal excavator.

But from the back you can see its tank full of dirty diesel has been replaced with a hydrogen fuel cell.

The excavator is the latest in a generation of vehicles powered by the lightest element on Earth.

The compendium of vehicles powered by hydrogen now stretches from diggers to micro-taxis, trucks, boats, vans, single-deck and now double-decker buses – and even small planes.

It works by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity. The only direct emission is water.


He goes onto to plug trials of hydrogen buses and trains, but for once gives the other side of the story:

“So it looks as though hydrogen has finally made it. But not so fast… because it’s by no means trouble-free.

Currently almost all the hydrogen sold in the UK is produced by splitting it from natural gas. But that’s costly and emits lots of planet-heating carbon dioxide.

The problem can be tackled by capturing the CO2 at a hydrogen production hub, then burying it with carbon capture and storage. But that will drive the cost up further.

The alternative is inherently clean – but very expensive. It entails using surplus renewable electricity, like when the wind blows at night, to split hydrogen from water using a fuel cell.

The process is wasteful because it involves turning electricity into a gas, then back into electricity – a two-step shuffle dismissed by Tesla car chief Elon Musk as “staggeringly dumb”. “Fool cells”, he calls them.

But hydrogen-lovers believe the future electricity grid will produce so much cheap off-peak power that we’ll need to find other uses for it. And they hope to see the cost of fuel cells plummet following the example of offshore wind.


And, of course, that is the very real problem. Nobody has ever doubted that you can burn hydrogen, or use it in fuel cells. It is the hugely inefficient and costly production methods, along with the problem of distribution and storage, which explains why it has never taken off.

Harrabin hopes that we can take advantage of cheap off-peak power. But this shows up his lack of economic knowledge. He is plainly talking about wind and solar power here, as the electricity obviously needs to be zero carbon. But if power is given away at low prices when demand is slack or output high, it simply makes the unit cost higher the rest of the time.

The economics of wind and solar power depend on all of the output being sold. Giving large amounts of it away would alter the business case, and electricity users would end up paying the bill. This would put paid to claims, propagated by Harrabin, that renewable power is now cheaper than conventional.

And the economic downside does not end there. The unpredictable intermittency of wind and solar power would necessitate a huge overcapacity of electrolyser units, able to take all of the surplus power available at any particular time. These electrolysers would then not only run at well below capacity, but would also have to ramp their outputs up and down on an hour by hour and day by day basis.

I know of no production processes that can work efficiently on that basis.

On top of that would be the seasonal surpluses. Logically, most of the surplus power would arise in summer, but most of the demand for hydrogen would be in winter (if it was used for heating). Whilst there is talk of using salt caverns for storage, even the Committee on Climate Change realises that there is no practical solution at the moment, which is why they are still recommending steam reforming as the main solution.

  1. Phillip Bratby permalink
    July 1, 2020 1:52 pm

    Harrabin never gives up because he is a fanatic. The fact that he is habitually wrong does not occur to him because he is totally ignorant of technology. As an English graduate and an environment correspondent, his ignorance of technology allows him to produce vast quantities of nonsense on subjects of which he knows very little – but he does get paid by the BBC, so he fits in very well.

  2. Ken Pollock permalink
    July 1, 2020 2:21 pm

    I wish I could disagree with Paul and Philip, but I can’t. Please note, Mercedes gave up on fuel cells for EVs after 30 years of work, as they were too inefficient – and Mercedes know a thing or two about engineering. See my old colleague, Jon Bentley’s book Autopia, on page 69 he demonstrates an overall efficiency of 23% for fuel cells, while for batteries it is 69%.
    Harrabin showed H2 buses. Jo Bamford said the only reason for them was that the range on batteries was too low for buses. Sounds familiar?
    Overall, though, if we are short of energy in general, efficiency is the over-riding consideration, but that is not a word that Roger understands. As Philip points out, a first degree in Eng Lit is not a good training for it… But then, why would the BBC care about such things?

    • Gerry, England permalink
      July 1, 2020 3:42 pm

      I recall reading that the hybrid buses spent most their time running on diesel as the batteries were not up to it. If the batteries are not used why lug the weight of them around?

      • Ken Pollock permalink
        July 1, 2020 3:58 pm

        Gerry, spot on! The reason (only reason?) for hybrids is that you can run on batteries in air quality management zones, or anywhere where you are worried about air pollution. That was why the original ban on petrol and diesel carts prefaced the phrase with the word “conventional”. That meant you could use your “ice” up the motorway and switch to the battery in town. Good compromise, but not pure enough for the latest zealots in Grant Shapps department, so now they bring the ban forward to 2035, and drop the “conventional”, meaning hybrids are banned as well.
        And this is a Conservative government…

  3. jack broughton permalink
    July 1, 2020 2:32 pm

    The Engineer web site has been running pieces pushing the wonders of Hydrogen for a few days now. Interesting that a few people seem to have picked up that it will cost 2 – 3 times the cost of the gas that is used to make it. I’ve pointed out that this stupid investment would be more effectively spent on stopping imports of goods made in high-carbon economies; even if there was a real case for throwing more money at a non-problem.

  4. Ken Pollock permalink
    July 1, 2020 2:38 pm

    In a similar vein, note Friends of the Earth don’t want us to help Mozambique get gas out of the ground – as it is “damaging”. So we say no, they go to China, and the next time they want some help, they bypass us and go elsewhere. The planet is no better off, but we are impoverished – but feel good about ourselves…The Times did not publish my rebuttal to their letter…

    • Gerry, England permalink
      July 1, 2020 3:44 pm

      The GWPF have started an Energy for Africa campaign to highlight the effects of not having a reliable power supply have in Africa.

      • Gamecock permalink
        July 1, 2020 4:08 pm

        Sounds like colonialism.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        July 1, 2020 5:18 pm

        Yes, Gamecock, the Chinese are making great inroads in their colonisation of the continent.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      July 1, 2020 5:55 pm

      Mozambique has some interesting energy history. The big project there was the Cahora Bassa dam on the Zambesi, actually completed in the 1970s when it was still a Portuguese colony. After the Communist takeover, things got into something of a mess. When the new Mozal aluminium smelter was built it was powered by imported coal fired electricity from South Africa, as the power lines from Cahora Bassa had fallen into disrepair, and in any case fed South Africa, not Maputo. There has long been stranded gas potential offshore. The most recent pitch to make more of Cahora Bassa comes in this proposal:

      But that still ignores the offshore gas, which I’m sure China will happily convert to LNG and import to China.

  5. Graeme No.3 permalink
    July 1, 2020 2:38 pm

    The intermittent electrolysis process he advocates has an efficiency of 35% or less. It would need very very cheap electricity to make it worth pursuing.

  6. cajwbroomhill permalink
    July 1, 2020 2:39 pm

    How close to fraud are Harrabin’s suggestions and Sir David King’ s confident assertions, or are they just a mixture of snake oil selling, mendacity and wishful thinking permeated with corruption?

  7. Harry Passfield permalink
    July 1, 2020 2:39 pm

    At PMQs today, Ian Paisley asked the PM if he plans a bright future for hydrogen in his New Deal plans and, if so, he should look to NI for support for such a venture.
    Why did the letters, RHI flash through my mind when Boris said how enthusiastic he was for it?

  8. Bertie permalink
    July 1, 2020 2:48 pm

    . “The only direct emission is water”.
    My pathetically unscientific brain thought that water vapour was already the greatest contributor to so-called greenhouse gases – the supposed cause of global warming.
    How can the addition of some more be an improvement?

    • Teaef permalink
      July 1, 2020 4:13 pm

      Must say I was thinking along the same lines!

    • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
      July 1, 2020 4:51 pm

      So long ago I don’t remember the details:
      About 50 years ago a magazine was promoting the supersonic transport (SST), such as the Concorde. The author(s) claim was that it would be non-polluting because its exhaust would be mostly water vapor.
      I wrote a letter saying that introducing anything to the atmosphere, including water vapor, at 18,000 m., ought to be considered a pollutant.
      The SSTs had many issues.

  9. BLACK PEARL permalink
    July 1, 2020 3:04 pm

    Harribin the Green Parrot, who has fortoo many years now, had a huge state sponsored media org to broadcast his personal beliefs as propaganda.
    Come on Cummings do some multitasking and sort out this grotesque Magisterium at the same time as the Civil Service please

  10. July 1, 2020 4:04 pm

    And as of to-day – 1st July, the net zero target has disappeared from Boris’s plans. For how long ? Has Cummings read Shellenberger ?

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      July 1, 2020 5:45 pm

      Has it? He was talking of Jet Zero only yesterday.

  11. Colin Megson permalink
    July 1, 2020 4:41 pm

    Green hydrogen is now an unstoppable juggernaut. Germany are committing €9 billion to a green hydrogen plan and the EU are committing €30 billion to an EU-wide plan.

    It’s all backed by the intermittents industry and NGOs, with ‘big oil’ putting finance into a multitude of projects. The end game is to solve the INTERMITTENCY PROBLEM, and it really can. But it does need salt cavern storage and a P2G2P infrastructure. However, the P2G2P cycle is only 40% efficient, so more intermittents needed to make up the ‘missing’ 60%.

    There is no other option to hydrogen for replacing natural gas and petroleum for all heating, transport and industrial use. The EU and Germany see it as the only way to meet zero carbon targets; Australia see it as a way to ‘export sunshine’ and along with California and others as the ‘answer’ to solving all of their grid nightmares about to hit the buffers.

    Nuclear power produces 24/7 electricity and doesn’t need anything else to manufacture green hydrogen. Electrolyser plant manufacturers are ‘selling’ the ultra-rapid response of their products to changes in demand, so – use an electrolyser for load following; it will do so brilliantly.

    In combination with green hydrogen production, this allows nuclear plants to operate at 100% availability, with all of the load following of demand, for electricity and hydrogen fuel, done by the much less-expensive electrolyser plant.

    The absolute dream combination for a virtually ‘absolute zero’, carbon-free, energy future.

    • Joe Public permalink
      July 1, 2020 5:30 pm

      ” … it does need salt cavern storage …”

      1. 3x the volume required to store the same amount of energy as natural gas at the same pressure.

      2. It’s potential to leak (upwards) is considerably greater than natural gas

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 2, 2020 12:52 am

        That’s the plan. Lining salt cavers in Cheshire.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      July 1, 2020 5:32 pm

      And the cost is?

      Timera estimate hydrogen by electrolysis at $25-35 per MMBTU currently, perhaps falling to $15 /MMBtu by 2050. That’s $1 per kWh falling to 50¢ per kWh. Gas is currently at just $2/MMBtu. Stuff gas through a generator and you are looking at twice the price for electricity, given the intermittent operation. So $1/kWh for electricity – in 2050, or $2/kWh if the fancy assumptions don’t work out. Plus the cost of all the storage. Assuming it works. Assuming that we don’t care about safety. Who will be able to afford electricity?

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 2, 2020 1:09 am

        Have you any lower cost methods of getting to mandated zero carbon by 2050 (or whenever).

        Getting rid of natural gas and petroleum for all heating, transport and industrial use is going to cost more. But it will get rid of pollution and savings in healthcare costs and lost days of work are not insignificant:

        Search for: premature deaths saved: 46,500 UK citizens

      • bobn permalink
        July 2, 2020 1:36 am

        Colin Megson, I see you got the fantasy 46,500 number from a computer game. Is that the same computer game that said a million brits would now be dead from covid? There are no ‘measured’ premature deaths so nothing to save!

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 2, 2020 3:54 am

        Getting to zero carbon is an unachievable fantasy. Especially given that Germany plans to close its nuclear plants. The costs and self inflicted injury will provoke a revolution against greens eventually. We’re talking about raising the cost of energy by the best part of a factor of 10 through acts of wanton stupidity. That’s simply unsustainable for societal stability.

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 2, 2020 2:48 pm

        bobyn – epidemiology is, of necessity, a computer game. No chance of a double blind study, with 10,000 confounders to consider.

        Surely you’re not trying to say atmospheric pollution (and land and water) from fossil fuel burning, do not cause premature deaths, respiratory illnesses and days off work are you – and that these have significant costs?

        Or are you?

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 2, 2020 4:38 pm

        Studies claiming that low levels of pollution are “responsible” for lots of deaths rely on statistical models with some very wide error margins that are rarely stated. Not the least is the assumption that low doses are pro rata lethal with high ones, which is simply untrue in many cases and not proven (see error margins) in the rest. Here is a well reasoned takedown of claims about deaths due to diesel cars:

        Next time you run across claims of pollution deaths see if you can evaluate them in a similar fashion.

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 3, 2020 12:57 am

        Epidemiological studies generally depend upon statistical analysis and can have wide error margins. I never homed in on diesel cars, just fossil fuel burning.

        Such studies are essential, around which, Government policies can be constructed to safeguard health and safety of citizens,financing of health services and reducing working days lost.

        Most of us would welcome a reduction in health problems and tax contribution to healthcare and an increase in life expectancy, even if it’s at he bottom end of the error margin.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 3, 2020 9:55 am

        Most of us would welcome some common sense in policy making, with attention to value for money, in place of knee-jerk responses to propaganda (which is what much research really amounts to, with much of it commissioned to produce a desired outcome).

        With regard to response to pollution and climate, I am firmly in the Bjorn Lomborg camp. Take a realistic look at the future, and work out what is the best value approach in handling it. Understand that life is full of trade offs. So if you want traffic calming measures in London on pollution grounds, don’t be surprised that the result is more deaths because of delays to ambulances, outweighing the claimed pollution benefit, which in any event turns out to be false because it wrongly assumes that slowing traffic reduces pollution, instead of increasing it through constant stop start and low gear operation.

        Now please think more widely about the propaganda you seem so keen to swallow, before it engulfs you.

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 3, 2020 3:07 pm

        “…in place of knee-jerk responses to propaganda (which is what much research really amounts to, with much of it commissioned to produce a desired outcome)…”

        Interpreting this might imply you’re against scientific research into societal problems, unless we rely on arbiters (maybe yourself) to decide what, and what is not, research propaganda.

        When I’ve watched Select Committees grilling those behind research data under consideration to formulate Government policy, knee-jerk response is not a fitting description – unless we rely on individuals, such as yourself, to arbitrate also on what, and what is not, a knee-jerk response.

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 3, 2020 3:23 pm

        “…So if you want traffic calming measures in London on pollution grounds, don’t be surprised that the result is more deaths because of delays to ambulances, outweighing the claimed pollution benefit, which in any event turns out to be false because it wrongly assumes that slowing traffic reduces pollution, instead of increasing it through constant stop start and low gear operation…”

        I’ve no idea if traffic calming measures were introduced in London on pollution grounds. My feeling would be that traffic calming measures would be introduced to prevent accidents and pedestrian injuries and deaths. But:

        Do you have a link to a scientific study (which is not propaganda giving the result you are positing) that more deaths in ambulance delays outweighs the claimed pollution benefits?

        Do you have a link to a scientific study (which is not propaganda giving the result you are positing) that slowing traffic increases pollution?

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 3, 2020 4:25 pm

        You’ll learn I don’t invent things, unlike many of the sources you seem to have gotten used to relying on.

        You might also try checking out links sometime. You might learn something.

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 3, 2020 7:09 pm

        Not a good start with your first link – 1400 lives saved, 500 liver lost. Traffic calming measures seem to work. And strangely, how you tied this into premature deaths from pollution is difficult to understand.

        Your second link is opinion on extra deaths caused, with no reference to lives saved – other than a study claiming 85 lives lost for every one saved; suspect to say the least.

        Your 3rd link is scientifically sound, but again no comparison to lives lost because of the extra pollution, compared to lives saved through traffic calming measures.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 3, 2020 10:56 pm

        You have poor reading comprehension and lack research skills.

        TfL’s research has concluded that 1,400 deaths and serious injuries would be prevented

        Total London road deaths are about 130 a year. “Serious injuries” are 25-30 times deaths in London. So 1400/25= 56 deaths saved as a more reasonable estimate. But that is probably an exaggeration. It seems likely that road deaths occur more often in locations where you would not install road humps. So lives lost through ambulance delay are ~10 times as great or more.

      • I don't believe it! permalink
        July 4, 2020 9:57 am

        Colin Megson is simply wrong when he claims that pollution from fossil fuels has a significant health cost. A few years ago it was estimated that on average it reduced life expectancy by less than 3 months. Just a hypothesis, but it might even save money (reduced cost of caring for the elderly).

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 4, 2020 2:15 pm

        If I’m wrong, and pollution from fossil fuels does not have significant health costs, what adjective would you use to describe the health costs? Do you suppose it has no health costs?

        And when I’m about to shuffle off this mortal coil, I imagine I would leap at the chance of another 2.9 months of life. I may be wrong (again), but I think most people would.

        Congratulations on such a forward thinking hypothesis regarding cost savings on reduced cost of caring for the elderly. With a bit of refinement by successive Governments, Soylent Green will be achievable:

        “…Thorn boards a truck transporting bodies from the euthanasia center to a recycling plant, where the secret is revealed – human corpses are being converted into Soylent Green…”

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 4, 2020 1:36 pm

        Guilty as charged, because I’ve lost track of why your trashing of the values of epidemiological studies on deaths, ill health and lost days of work, costing £billions annually, should be conflated with bumps in the road.

        I’ll struggle along with my poor reading comprehension and lack of research skills and leave superior (and very patronising) individuals such as yourself, to explain to lesser mortals the failings of the value of epidemiological studies in Government decision making.

        Although it’s worth repeating:

        “…in place of knee-jerk responses to propaganda (which is what much research really amounts to, with much of it commissioned to produce a desired outcome)…”

        Interpreting this might imply you’re against scientific research into societal problems, unless we rely on arbiters (maybe yourself) to decide what, and what is not, research propaganda.

        When I’ve watched Select Committees grilling those behind research data under consideration to formulate Government policy, knee-jerk response is not a fitting description – unless we rely on individuals, such as yourself, to arbitrate also on what, and what is not, a knee-jerk response.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 4, 2020 4:45 pm

        The benefits of fossil fuel use have far outweighed their costs.

        That we are learning to use them more efficiently is also good news. More bang for the barrel. However, if you wish to go back to the days of life expectancy of less than 30 years, become an XR devotee.

        I should point out that in recent years there have only been 2 MPs with sufficient knowledge to critique government policy on energy select committees. Labour’s Graham Stringer, and Peter (now Lord) Lilley. It is now a precondition of standing for Parliament in any major party that you are clueless on such matters.

      • I don't believe it! permalink
        July 5, 2020 12:43 am

        How about insignificant as the adjective to describe the cost. It’s the underlying health conditions that cause the problem, sound familiar! Don’t think many people will be leaping around 3 months prior to passing away! But if they are they will be benefitting from the 70 odd years of improvement in the air quality!

    • July 1, 2020 7:25 pm

      The absolute dream combination for a virtually ‘absolute zero’, carbon-free, energy future.

      Well, yes – but that’s all it is, a dream for private cars even if its existing industrial role can be expanded in some cases. Production in gas-rivalling quantities can never happen.

    • July 1, 2020 7:33 pm

      Using electrolysers in such a bulk fashion would also need a massive upgrading of the grid, as well as the crippling cost of converting everybody’s boilers, cookers etc. While the cost of nuclear power would make the costs of hydrogen even more than using wind.

      Absolute dream combination? Sounds like an absolute nightmare to me!

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 2, 2020 1:01 am

        Of course it’s going to cost, but there’s no alternative to getting to mandated zero carbon by 2050 (or whenever). Germany are committing to green hydrogen, as are the EU – it’s unstoppable and the only way the intermittent clowns can get to 24/7/365 generation – that’s the driver!

        You need to study advanced nuclear power plants, such as GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 to see how it could drain investment from intermittents starting as early as 2030.

        There’s a facebook supporters group. New members welcome. Just type BWRX-300 into facebook search.

      • July 2, 2020 10:07 am

        Why do you want to get to Net Zero?

      • bobn permalink
        July 2, 2020 1:41 am

        Colin: ‘ but there’s no alternative to getting to mandated zero carbon by 2050 (or whenever)’ But there is an alternative – drop the stupid, unnecessary political mandate.
        Which is what will eventually happen when they see it is unachievable. Just a matter of how much damage they do before reality sets in. Zero carbon is a suicide policy that will have no impact at all on climate, just on living standards.

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 2, 2020 12:17 pm

        Why do I want to get to net zero? It’s not me; it’s the UK Government. No good pretending we’re not in this reality and hoping that 100s of £billions of taxes will not be used to subsidise the lunacy of getting there with intermittents.

        All of the planning for this is happening right now. My desire is to try to inform politicians that we can get to the same position at 1/5th of the cost (just for the massively uprated electricity generating capacity) using advanced nuclear power plants.

    • cajwbroomhill permalink
      July 1, 2020 7:46 pm

      TNT could yield lots of enrrgy also. Perhaps with just a little CO2, but not enough to hurt!
      Don’t tell thart to the Geenies, as they might get ideas!

  12. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 1, 2020 5:16 pm

    It’s a shame the diagrams from Roger Andrews’ post here are no longer available:


    They show the essence of the problem. There are some interesting comments, ranging from CAT apparently disparaging hydrogen as an alternative to methane as the storage medium, through astronaut Phil Chapman’s discussion of solar arrays in orbit and an exploration of thorium. I’ll see if I can find a way to post some of the similar work I did, but for the UK rather than France. Linked by Hubert Flocard are some detailed criticisms of the ADEME work – but in French.

  13. Joe Public permalink
    July 1, 2020 5:27 pm

    From Harrabin’s piece:

    “The website Euractiv reported that it plans to publish a hydrogen strategy soon. A leaked draft floated the idea of making the Euro the currency for international hydrogen trades, as the US Dollar is for oil.”

    [My bold]

    Hydrogen’s buoy­ancy, diffusivity and small molecular size make it one of the most difficult-to-contain substances on this planet. Its wide explosive limits, and ultra-low ignition energy (to trigger a bang) have potential dangers.

    When it escapes into an environment with an ignition source, this can be a consequence:

  14. Dodgy Geezer permalink
    July 1, 2020 6:09 pm

    Ask Harrabin how long a hydrogen-fuelled machine would run for, compared to a diesel. It has the same problem as electricity – short run times.. .

  15. Ray Sanders permalink
    July 2, 2020 2:28 am

    If you want an energy carrier system then rather than H2 it’s better to go further down the line of full hydrocarbon synthesis. At least then you have a liquid high energy dense fuel that is easy to transport. store and will run through all existing technology. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.
    Direct Air Capture of CO2 may seem highly exotic but its main energy requirement is low grade hear (80 to 100°C) and that can be readily available from enhanced reject heat from a nuclear power plant. And while you are at it by far the best energy source for electrolysis ( or even thermolysis) is also a nuclear plant.

    This option is currently being promoted by Rolls Royce as part of their Small Modular Reactor system. Try putting this option to The Green blob and see their reaction!

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      July 2, 2020 12:28 pm

      Try costing it, or seeing how little output you get per GW of power station.

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        July 2, 2020 5:55 pm

        Well as I did explain the principal energy cost in Direct Air Capture of CO2 is in low grade thermal energy at 80 to 100°C.
        The supply cost of this heat from a nuclear power plant can be very low indeed. As a specific example, the Refuna District Heating System running off the Beznau Nuclear Power Plant in Switzerland.
        This system supplies 18GWh thermal per annum for an induced generation loss of just 2GWh. In reality a more dedicated new unit could be much more efficient and in using the DAC unit as cooling be even cheaper.
        Regarding electrolysis (not Hydrolysis!) the overall electrical energy input can be reduced by replacement with thermal input – this is something that again a nuclear plant can provide very cheaply. Furthermore molten salt nuclear plants of new generation designs can (theoretically at least) supply hydrogen by thermal decomposition (thermolysis) with no electricity input.
        The Fischer-Tropsch process is not exactly a new thing.
        Using a NPP all the above processes can run at maximum operating efficiency continually so scaling does not run into intermittancy problems.

        So in answer to your question I will do some calculations and see what could reasonably be achieved. Give me a while and I will let you know but I am reasonably confident that it will not be as hideously expensive as may be initially believed.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 3, 2020 6:00 pm

        So to do the sums for you. The power station is 2x365MW = 730MW and the heat provided is 142/8.76, or ~16MW, or about 2.2% of the output. Underwhelming.

    • Colin Megson permalink
      July 3, 2020 6:37 pm

      Transporting hydrogen seems to be sorted:

      “…They transport hydrogen, extracted from gas piped directly from liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants, from Brunei in liquefied form at an ambient temperature and pressure. Then, it is dehydrogenated in Japan, extracting hydrogen to be used as fuel at gas power generators…”

      Transporting hydrogen in a liquid form at NTP seems to have the distribution of hydrogen made simple. And the carrier is used and reused in a closed cycle loop:

      • July 3, 2020 7:27 pm

        What method do they use to produce the hydrogen in the first place?

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 3, 2020 7:54 pm

        SMR as in Steam Methane Reforming; but H2 is H2, so it will apply to green hydrogen – the unstoppable juggernaut!

      • July 3, 2020 8:43 pm

        So you spend loads of money converting gas into hydrogen, in the process wasting lots of energy and emitting CO2, then spend more money converting the hydrogen into methylcyclohexane in order to transport it, and even more money converting it back into hydrogen , which you then burn just as you do gas!!

        And you think that is sensible? Sounds more like a Monty Python sketch to me!

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 4, 2020 12:15 am

        That’s the way the mop is flopping in the UK, in Germany and now throughout the EU. Don’t shoot the messenger.

        The green hydrogen juggernaut is unstoppable – just saying!

      • Stuart Brown permalink
        July 3, 2020 9:10 pm

        I don’t get this. Are they saying that the liquid natural gas (LNG) is transported from Brunei to Japan, where they throw away 50% of the energy by just burning the hydrogen? Or are they lying, and saying they can liquefy hydrogen at normal temperatures and pressure, cos that’s impossible. Or are they wasting a shedload of energy transporting something else the hydrogen is attached to – which is inevitably way heavier than the hydrogen – when they could have just shipped the LNG in the first place because the carbon is being thrown into the atmosphere in Brunei anyway?

        I understand where you are coming from, Colin. In this bonkers world of being mandated to get to net zero, hydrogen might work technically, but if you wanted to design a sensible energy transport system you wouldn’t start here…

        Unless Brunei are operating some sort of carbon capture scheme it is just nonsensical to spend energy removing the hydrogen from CH4 to attach it to something else (metal hydride? Ammonia?) then to ship it, when LNG is routinely shipped all over the place. There is more hydrogen in LNG than any alternative molecule by weight, so just do the CCS in Japan if you must!

      • Colin Megson permalink
        July 4, 2020 12:23 am

        Wasting lots and lots of energy is a characteristic of using hydrogen (an energy carrier – a molecular battery) as a ‘fuel’. But it’s the only non-GHG emitting ‘fuel’ that can displace natural gas and petroleum use for all heating and transport.

        And if you’re a nation committed to zero-carbon by 2050, like Japan, now importing shed-loads of natural gas, it’s got to be hydrogen.

  16. Ray Sanders permalink
    July 2, 2020 2:42 am

    As a secondary issue, why has the energy debate become so “electricitycentric”?
    In high latitudes a major requirement is seasonal heat. Excess summer heat can be stored with a reasonably high energy density by reversible thermochemical transition where A +B leads (reversibly) to C + heat.
    Simple explanation here
    Long term storage without wastage from reusable products with no major conversions required.

  17. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 2, 2020 3:49 am

    I did a rough and ready estimate of hydrolysis potential as follows:

    Using April 2020 half hourly data from BM reports, extract electricity demand in MW. Subtract 6GW as a notional nuclear baseload operation. Extract wind generation data. Subtract wind generation from remaining demand after baseload to determine what has to be supplied by other generators, and whether there are periods of wind surplus. Repeat, multiplying wind generation by 2,3,4,5 and 6 to give sets of surplus and deficit data by half hour. Record summary statistics showing maximum backup generation required for each level of wind generation, and the average required. Likewise record the maximum surplus (if any), which sets the maximum capacity that would get any utilisation at all, and the average surplus. Show the average redeliverable power at various round trip efficiencies: when the redeliverable amount is the same as the average backup generation required, there is a solution with just nuclear and wind and storage. That produces the following table:

    Taking the surpluses for each factor scenario, sort in descending order of magnitude across all half hour periods. The highest surplus can only be used if there is sufficient hydrolysis capacity. Construct a duration curve that shows the marginal utilisation of the Nth MW of hydrolysis capacity in each scenario. Even the first MW of capacity will spend time idle whenever there is insufficient wind to generate a surplus. That produces the following chart:

    It doesn’t look very promising to me. Low and intermittent utilisations will cane the efficiency. Paying out for large multiples of wind capacity in order for “surpluses” to be used extremely inefficiently by low utilisation hydrolysis plants looks very expensive indeed. That’s before you start costing actual storage facilities and round trip losses in using them in pumping and seepage.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      July 2, 2020 5:37 pm

      Be careful with your terminology – “Hydrolysis” is any chemical reaction in which a molecule of water ruptures one or more chemical bonds. The term is used broadly for substitution, elimination, and solvation reactions in which water is the nucleophile
      Electrolysis is a completely different process using electrical energy to break down water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen..

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 2, 2020 7:37 pm

        My apologies for posting so late at night that I confabulated hydrogen production by electrolysis into hydrolysis. You don’t query my figures though. And you provide none of your own on a similar basis for your nuclear idea, nor do you consider that both France and Germany are moving away from nuclear. Austria supposedly won’t touch the stuff – I say supposedly, because in practice Vienna draws most of its power from a Czech nuclear station these days.

  18. Vernon E permalink
    July 2, 2020 11:12 am

    What a lot of huffing and puffing when all we really need is to repeal the Climate Change Act. As Paul so rightly says, why do we want net zero? Its meaningless.

  19. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 2, 2020 1:39 pm

    This site is now being pushed via the ads on my tablet

    A £1.5bn waste of money is being promised, with an announcement within the next 3 weeks. See their dedicated twitter feed. They appear to have fed Harrabin too. There’s an invitation to download a letter to send to your MP. I think I might download it, and consider sending a some what revised version.

  20. Stuart Brown permalink
    July 2, 2020 9:11 pm

    Possibly powered by H2 for relevance. I can’t think of anything useful to say, or suggest any way in which such a thing could be commercially viable, so I’ll let others do that.

  21. cajwbroomhill permalink
    July 4, 2020 7:01 pm

    All those not doubting the folly of decarbonisation should need to recall is that the amount of greenhouses gases from the UK, relative to those from other nations, is negligible.
    Why that is not obvious to our parliamentarians is incomprehensible.

  22. July 6, 2020 10:30 am

    I can confidently predict that plenty of JCB hydrogen diggers will be built, using taxpayer subsidies, since the Bamford family are the biggest donors to the Tory party. That’s how it works.

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