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The Crippling Cost of Hydrogen

February 1, 2021

By Paul Homewood


 Timera uncover the dirty secret behind the propose hydrogen roll out – its cost.






As I have repeatedly pointed out,the production of hydrogen is intrinsically a costly and wasteful process, which involves taking energy and processing it to produce less energy than you started with.

We can see that so-called grey hydrogen costs about double the cost of natural gas. Grey hydrogen, of course, is produced by steam reforming natural gas, an expensive process which wastes a lot of the gas input. Crucially, however, it also produces masses of CO2.

Hence the need for blue hydrogen, which adds carbon capture and storage (CCS) to the steam reforming process. This will increase costs further, even supposing the process can be made to work. In any event, CCS does not remove all of the CO2, and the upstream emissions from the natural gas production and shipping also need to be counted.

Because of this, green hydrogen, using electrolysis, is seen as the nirvana But as Timera accept, green hydrogen, which must use wind or solar power, is simply not scaleable in the foreseeable future. Nor can the seasonal demand for natural gas be provided for.

But above all, green hydrogen is hopelessly expensive, about four to five times the cost of gas.

The UK currently consumes 2789 billion mmbtu a year. An increase in cost from about £7 to £32 per mmbtu, as Timera estimate, would imply the annual cost would rise from £19bn to £89nn.

Naturally proponents claim that costs of electrolysis will miraculously drop to competitive levels by 2050. There again, pigs might fly!

  1. Broadlands permalink
    February 1, 2021 3:00 pm

    ” In any event, CCS does not remove all of the CO2, and the upstream emissions from the natural gas production and shipping also need to be counted.”

    CCS technology, operating at maximum efficiency, cannot remove and store even one part-per-million of CO2. Total waste of time and money.

  2. tom0mason permalink
    February 1, 2021 4:23 pm

    “We focus on green & blue hydrogen in this article given these are the technologies likely to dominate the scaling of hydrogen over the next 10-15 years. Turquoise hydrogen (via pyrolysis) could play an important role in the longer term …”

    Green ideas are truly a rainbow of costly colors but all of them eventuate to excessive bills (maybe some RED bills) for all consumers.

  3. Joe Public permalink
    February 1, 2021 4:44 pm

    Timera’s chart details only Hydrogen’s per kg *production* cost.

    To transform it into a form measurable in kgs, it needs compressing.

    If compressed to say 700 bar (10,000 psi) for transportation use, that requires an extra ~3kWh/kg of compressor-energy i.e. an extra 10% of 1 kg hydrogen’ energy content 33.33kWh/kg. Wasted.

  4. DaveH permalink
    February 1, 2021 4:44 pm

    Paul, your second paragraph refers to grey hydrogen instead of green hydrogen.

  5. Vrager 1 permalink
    February 1, 2021 4:51 pm

    Anyone with even a fragment of knowledge of physics will know that to produce hydrogen requires either electrolysis (using electricity to separate water into H2 and O2 plus electricity to compress the gas produced so that it can be transported or mixed with expensive metals as hydrides) or by removing the carbon from methane (CH4) which uses gas as a heat source and produces CO2… and again requires compression or attachment as a hydride which uses energy to make hydrogen in usable form.

    The hydrogen energy is therefore the product of a great deal of energy input before it cam be used as an energy output in transport for example. The greenwash clean energy for electric or hydrogen powered vehicles applies only to the vehicle tailpipe. The energy to make replacement vehicles is never mentioned, nor where the energy comes from… and if it’s China it will be from fossil fuels to smelt the metals and process the rarer elements as well as the plastics which are all part and parcel of new vehicles. The same applies to replacing gas boilers with hydrogen boilers for home heating… the clean energy is less efficient and more expensive. The more expensive bit is so often overlooked and while the West goes along this route, it will hypocritically keep on buying stuff from China and Asia where fossil fuels are used to make the things we need.

  6. February 1, 2021 4:52 pm

    They are just jumping from one hopeless technology to another. We have had wind, solar tidal, CCS and now Hydrogen, all heavily subsidised of course. I wonder what will be next?

    • Curious George permalink
      February 1, 2021 5:45 pm

      Bureaucrats are valued according to the number of proposals they submit. Who cares if a proposal makes any sense? That would need a new office specifically mandated for that purpose. That’s how bureaucracy feeds bureaucracy. Meanwhile, food and housing are basic human rights ..

  7. Jack Broughton permalink
    February 1, 2021 6:31 pm

    I recently wrote to The Engineer concerning a worry that I have about hydrogen: may not get published as it is anti-PC line. This relates to gas burning and storage facilities all experiencing some leakage. Normally, this leakage is not significant: methane stays in the atmosphere and reacts over a few days oil vapours do not travel far etc. However, hydrogen (being a very low density gas) will rapidly pass through the atmosphere and will love all the ozone in the ozone layer. Once large quantities of hydrogen are produced, a small percentage of leakage could remove the ozone layer.

    The snowflakes will then want hydrogen to be banned……

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      February 1, 2021 8:26 pm

      Ohhh Sh.. – No. I mean, oh Shh. Keep it quiet. I hate to see Greenies in tears. But rather them than me. 🙂

  8. Gary Kerkin permalink
    February 1, 2021 8:36 pm

    And, of course, aluminium could be dissolved in caustic soda to yield hydrogen. Caustic soda is moderately energy intensive and relatively cheap. Aluminium is highly energy intensive and only “cheap” when the market forces it down. Economically as idiotic as any other way of producing hydrogen.

    As well as the problem of very low density referred to by Jack Broughton, hydrogen also has an abnormally low viscosity which ensures the cost of pumping it around, even highly compressed, is at a minimum. It also means it can easily escape through the smallest of holes meaning that the integrity of the containment material has to be extremely high, probably making it prohibitively expensive.

    I once (40-50 years ago) entertained a vision of solar cell farms sited close to artesian water sources in Australia with the objective of generating hydrogen to pipe to towns and cities. That was as far as I took it—“entertained”!

  9. Gray permalink
    February 1, 2021 9:15 pm

    Check out hydrogen embrittlement of metals.

  10. Keith Harrison permalink
    February 1, 2021 9:33 pm

    The author of the article is an energy professional who writes on the Canadian oil and gas business. Her article on hydrogen is a good read for those interested:

  11. It doesn't add up... permalink
    February 1, 2021 11:08 pm

    The current March NBP gas price is 48p/therm, and up to 53p/therm for next winter: summer gas is 41p/therm. Multiply by the exchange rate ($1.36=£1) and divide by 10 to get $/MMBtu: 7.20$/MMbtu for winter, and 5.50$/MMBtu for summer. So the chart is slightly misleading in costing for hydrogen derived from methane. Futures markets are suggesting lower prices out to 2027 (as far forward as they trade).

    Prices have been boosted by the cold Northern hemisphere winter. Then again, so has electricity – another £4,000/MWh trade in the balancing mechanism today. That’s about 1,600$/MMBtu.

    • February 2, 2021 10:09 am

      The complication is that as gas prices fall, so does the cost of steam reforming, and vice versa

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        February 2, 2021 12:38 pm

        The Timera chart refers to current cost for SMR hydrogen, but plots a higher band of price for methane which is its estimate of long run marginal cost. So it gives a favourable impression of the cost ratio.

        I can’t immediately recall where I saw it, but there was a chart showing methane price projections out to 2050 from about 8 different sources. None of them show any alarming upward trend, so methane looks to remain a competitive fuel. Projections for lowered cost for Green hydrogen seem to be based on a lot of Hopium, including assumptions about “free” electricity that will have cost a fortune to produce.

  12. Rowland P permalink
    February 2, 2021 8:46 am

    A man got shipwrecked on an island. He eventually came across a boat; he chopped it up and made into a raft!! (Not mentioning nationality in case of reprisals!)

  13. europeanonion permalink
    February 2, 2021 9:40 am

    This seems to be about the right time to introduce this link

    It was stated in the Times yesterday that white children from poor homes are less likely to go to university than any other demographic.

    The message that only those with a degree have the basic entry level to society has persisted sine Blair: you may have considered that raising the chances of the broader spectrum of society was more important. When one thinks of the uselessness of HS2, a transportation system which Covid has shown to be antediluvian (but has the right climate credentials) we are at liberty to ask, had that money been spent on the equalising of opportunity then we might have a chance of producing people who stand a chance of inventing that which benefits us all, without any environmental impact.

    At the core of the link above, the climate assembly has the appearance of something that the EU may have dreamed up. Profoundly undemocratic and determined to offer only one alternative; its composition is in-line with the activities of the BBC whose presentation of climate change is remorseless, faulted and uninterruptable. A climate assembly of the convinced, the suppression of dissention, the contriving of outcomes, the participation of wealthy private interest, all seem to point to the broader malaise that has currently tripped us up in the Covid debacle.

    The creation of unaccountable QUANGOs is a sure way of promoting tunnel vision. In such a world, the idea of hydrogen power, when all other methods of generation are automatically ignored, seems sound. Not why, but how.

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