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The Green Hydrogen Swindle

April 16, 2022
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By Paul Homewood

h/t Philip Bratby

From the Telegraph:

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Engineers will rarely tell you something is impossible, even when your proposal is a very bad idea. Computer scientists at Stanford and MIT in the 1970s came up with a wonderful expression for this, an assignment that was technically feasible, but highly undesirable. They called it “kicking a dead whale down a beach”. The folklore compendium The Hacker’s Dictionary defines this as a “slow, difficult, and disgusting process”. Yes, you can do it like that. But you really don’t want to.

In its efforts to show the world how keenly it is embracing CO2 emission targets, our Government has left a lot of dead whales on the beach for us, and as consumers, we’ll be the ones doing the kicking.

For example, it’s not impossible to heat a home with a heat pump, but it is a very noisy, ineffective and expensive way of doing it. An electric car might be fun to drive, but it is also expensive, and because of the inferior energy density of batteries, a petrol equivalent will always be lighter and go further. Nor at the end of the day will an EV be able to boast any CO2 emissions savings, we now know, thanks to Volvo. But perhaps the greatest whale to land on our beach is hydrogen.

Every day, manufacturers announce that they’re working on some kind of hydrogen initiative.

These include our best and brightest companies, such as Rolls-Royce and JCB. The Government has a Hydrogen Strategy. The Climate Change Committee thinks hydrogen is wonderful. You may think these are all signs that it’s a good idea. But things are not what they seem.

 


To replace gas boilers with hydrogen boilers requires thousands of miles of new, much thicker, high-pressure pipes. Last year, Lord Martin Callanan, the energy minister, candidly described the plans to replace our gas boilers with hydrogen boilers “as pretty much impossible”. 


 

Hydrogen has two big problems which turn any project into a dead whale exercise.

The first is that pure hydrogen doesn’t exist – it’s both everywhere and nowhere. We must generate all the hydrogen we can then use, and this requires a lot of energy. This is fine when the output of the process is something very valuable to us, such as fertiliser. But less so when the output of the process must compete with much cheaper commodities, as it must in an energy market.

Secondly, hydrogen’s intrinsic physical properties create a whole range of unique problems. It’s a tiny atom that easily escapes confinement. Keeping it captive for storage is expensive, and moving it around safely even more so, because in liquid form it must be very cold.

Hydrogen advocates tend to shrug off these issues – solving them will be someone else’s problem, they reckon. Individually, none of these factors make hydrogen as an energy carrier or storer impossible, but the whale-like properties are becoming harder to ignore.

To replace gas boilers with hydrogen boilers requires thousands of miles of new, much thicker, high-pressure pipes. Last year, Lord Martin Callanan, the energy minister, candidly described the plans to replace our gas boilers with hydrogen boilers “as pretty much impossible”.

Wrong, m’Lud. It’s not impossible – it’s just a supremely bad idea. And when hydrogen explodes, it is quite spectacular. Right on cue, Australia’s first hydrogen carrying ship set sail for Japan this year, and burst into flames on its maiden voyage.

Again, hydrogen powered transport is not impossible, it’s just hampered by reality. Liquified hydrogen may be as light as petrol or kerosene, but keeping it at -257C requires much heavier apparatus. Converting a two engine turboprop from kerosene to hydrogen, I noted here recently, increases the weight of the engine from two tonnes to 13 tonnes.

As for storage, the story is little better. Wind often generates electricity when it is not needed (and doesn’t generate it when it is needed). So when the wind is blowing, the hydrogen lobby argues, we can create “green hydrogen” using electrolysis. These electrolysers are expensive, and sensitive, and switching them on intermittently to produce the mythical green hydrogen isn’t economic.

So green hydrogen is really not one, but two dead whales, engaged in a gruesome act of congress.

In his devastating assessment of the Government’s energy paper, Prof Dieter Helm calls it a “lobbyist’s utopia”. Prof Helm, an energy expert, describes how rent-seekers “[react] to each problem… by inventing another intervention. Each has unintended consequences, and these unintended consequences need more ‘fixes’”. That’s green hydrogen in a nutshell.

Green hydrogen may be generated reliably and cheaply using high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors (HTGRs), a technology the Japanese have been refining for two decades. Japan’s first HTGR opened in 1997, but incredibly, was out of commission for a decade.

The history of nuclear energy is full of such stories, of untapped potential, and of avenues not explored. Our own Government tepidly hopes for a “HTGR demonstration by the early 2030s at the latest.” But even with a fleet of HTGRs generating hydrogen, the nasty stuff still needs to be stored and moved, and those costs haven’t gone away. Using hydrogen remains the worst way of doing almost anything.

Special interest groups however have discovered that the magic words “net zero” have the same incantatory power as “Open Sesame!”. In Arabian Nights, the phrase opened up a cave full of treasure. Here, they open up an unlimited trove of research grants and subsidies, and tap into abundant buckets of ill-directed “green” capital. The dead whale is never removed from the beach – and perhaps that’s the point.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2022/04/16/great-hydrogen-swindle-green-gas-not-seems/

51 Comments
  1. Chaswarnertoo permalink
    April 16, 2022 6:06 pm

    Kicking a dead whale down a beach. 🤣 Nicked.

    • April 17, 2022 7:51 pm

      Aka flogging a dead horse.

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        April 18, 2022 9:12 am

        Not the same thing. Flogging a dead horse won’t result in anything other than your exhaustion. You can however kick a dead whale down yhe beach but it’s an absurdly wasteful and expensive way of achieving it.

    • Matt Dalby permalink
      April 18, 2022 10:57 pm

      Nailing a blancmange to a barn door could also sum up the hydrogen economy.
      Very hard to achieve, and what’s the point?

  2. Gamecock permalink
    April 16, 2022 6:26 pm

    On November 12, 1970, the Oregon Department of Transportation blew up a dead whale that had washed up on a Florence beach. In what was called a “controlled explosion,” they used a half-ton of dynamite. It didn’t go well. Chunks of dead whale blubber ended up all over both bystanders and the beach, flying out as far as a nearby parking lot where the flying flesh severely damaged at least one car. The decision to publicly dynamite an enormous mammal has become one of Oregon’s all-time most bizarre moments.

    https://www.wweek.com/culture/2016/09/06/there-is-now-better-footage-of-that-time-oregon-blew-up-a-whale-with-dynamite/#:~:text=On%20November%2012%2C%201970%2C%20the%20Oregon%20Department%20of,%22controlled%20explosion%2C%22%20they%20used%20a%20half-ton%20of%20dynamite.

    • Martin Brumby permalink
      April 16, 2022 8:59 pm

      Fabulous!

    • John Hultquist permalink
      April 16, 2022 9:56 pm

      Whenever one is about to do something, the question asked should be “What could go wrong?” Did your mother tell you – Don’t run with scissors in your hand?
      The dead whale could have been covered with a metal net such as is used by the highway departments of OR, WA, ID and others to stop rocks from falling on highways.
      Oregon State already has enough rockfall fencing to cover a dozen whales.

      RE: making, moving, and using H2 – – – what could go wrong?
      Give Andrew Orlowski a gold star shoutout!

  3. Gamecock permalink
    April 16, 2022 6:31 pm

    I complement Orlowski on his writing. Well done.

  4. April 16, 2022 6:51 pm

    There are plenty of rent-seekers out there ready to take taxpayers’ money given out by the idiots in government who have no STEM background and always take advice from green nutters (such as Lord Deben)

  5. Harry Passfield permalink
    April 16, 2022 7:16 pm

    As I said on a previous thread, my take-away quote from the piece was: ‘So green hydrogen is really not one, but two dead whales, engaged in a gruesome act of congress.’
    Brilliant!!

  6. John Smith permalink
    April 16, 2022 7:40 pm

    The pipes, valves and fixtures will have to all welded, because of the small molecular size of hydrogen. It will leak (and ignite) out of most jointed domestic and distribution systems .
    There is a whole section on Hydrogen safety on the HSE website. Look at the stuff from the past before they tried to cover it up.

    • C.R.Dickson permalink
      April 18, 2022 3:16 pm

      George Libowitz, one of the world’s experts on hydrogen storage, told me while at Allied Chemical in the mid 1970’s that hydrogen can be safely stored at room temperatures by adsorption onto transition metal alloys with densities greater than liquid hydrogen. The hydrogen can be recycled easily and safely with only gaseous hydrogen in the fuel lines ( not in the storage tank). He also told me they (his research group) had automobiles running on gaseous hydrogen (no fuel cells) in the 1950’s.
      When I was at the RCA David Sarnoff Labs in Princeton, NJ, house hydrogen was available from lines running throughout the building. I know of no incident involving hydrogen over many decades of use throughout the buildings. Here are some of George’s books. https://www.gettextbooks.com/author/George_G_Libowitz
      And here is a typical patent for transition metal storage
      https://patents.justia.com/patent/4440736

      I have also seen some hydrogen research (for fuel cells) at the Univ. of Delaware that stores hydrogen on carbonized chicken feathers.
      I placed this earlier downstream…

  7. April 16, 2022 7:46 pm

    The ‘greenies’ always harp on about ‘energy efficiency’, and how we must ‘save energy’, then prattle on about hydrogen, where the energy RoI is ~30%, i.e. they would willingly WASTE ~70% of input energy. They are quite simply, bonkers.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      April 16, 2022 11:09 pm

      The interesting paradox is that it’s actually cheaper to waste 100% of energy input from surplus wind generation if you intend to use hydrogen to store it..

  8. Joe Public permalink
    April 16, 2022 8:39 pm

    Andrew O’s piece is spoiled somewhat by his incomplete reporting.

    “Australia’s first hydrogen carrying ship set sail for Japan this year, and burst into flames on its maiden voyage.” is economical with the truth. Despite that sentence being in the same paragraph as the reference to explosions, there was no explosion aboard Suiso Frontier. In addition, there were no injuries, damage, or pollution.

    “The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ABTS) is investigating a fire incident onboard the world’s first LH2 carrier Suiso Frontier that took place on 25 January in Hastings.

    The ATSB revealed it is investigating a gas pressure control equipment malfunction onboard Suiso Frontier. The incident occurred after the ship had loaded liquefied hydrogen at Western Port, Hastings, back in January.

    According to its safety report, on 25 January 2022, there was a flame coming from the gas combustion unit’s exhaust on deck. The unit was immediately shut down and isolated, after which the crew implemented the fire prevention response plan.

    “No further abnormalities were reported and there were no injuries, damage, or pollution. As part of the investigation, the ATSB will interview relevant persons and obtain other evidence, including recorded data,” the report says.

    The ATSB will publish a final report at the conclusion of the investigation.

    Nevertheless, on 25 February 2022, the Suiso Frontier returned to Kobe in Japan from Hastings, Australia. Thus, it delivered the world’s first cargo of liquefied hydrogen to the country.

    My bold.

    https://www.offshore-energy.biz/worlds-1st-lh2-carrier-suiso-frontier-in-a-fire-incident/

    • Martin Brumby permalink
      April 16, 2022 9:03 pm

      Wow.
      So H2 is actually a very sensible idea?

      Who knew??

    • Mack permalink
      April 16, 2022 11:58 pm

      Joe, from memory wasn’t this trip just a PR exercise, albeit one that fared rather badly? The ship’s tanks were holding less than 5% of their rated hydrogen capacity and still had safety issues. Hardly bodes well for widespread mercantile fleet hydrogen deliveries don’t you think?

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      April 17, 2022 12:02 am

      They seem to be very coy about the size of the cargo. The ship itself is only 8,000 tonnes. I eventually discovered the tank is 1,250m^3. Liquid hydrogen has an energy density of 2MWh/m^3 (around a third of that for LNG) and a physical density of 70kg/m^3, so the vessel is transporting just 2.5GWh and 87.5 tonnes of hydrogen. For comparison a Q-max LNG carrier holds about 1.5TWh. At say 6 tonnes of diesel per day a 20 day round trip would use almost 1.5GWh of fuel for the Suiso. Not very energy efficient.

  9. Harry Davidson permalink
    April 17, 2022 12:48 am

    The quote is due to S.C. Johnson who was primarily responsible for compiler development (C compiler) in early UNIX, he said “Using TSO is like kicking a dead whale along the beach’. TSO was then the CLI bolt-on on top of System/370, the early 70s IBM offering. It was awful, then.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      April 17, 2022 3:28 am

      //SYSIN GARBAGE
      //SYSOUT GARBAGE

    • Gareth Roberts permalink
      April 17, 2022 8:06 am

      Programming in C is akin to kicking a dead whale along…

      • Gamecock permalink
        April 17, 2022 5:36 pm

        I was assigned the job of converting an existing application from r/s1 to C something in the early 90s. Starting to read up on C, I stopped dead when I came to the instruction “allocate.”

        I couldn’t damn believe a so-called advanced programming language would require the programmer to do what the operating system should handle. I got myself off that job right away, and I never looked at C again.

  10. sid permalink
    April 17, 2022 7:06 am

    Has anyone noticed what the new pipes needed for delivering hydrogen are made of?

  11. tomo permalink
    April 17, 2022 8:35 am

    “Green” huh?

    The marketers got in early on the “Colours of Hydrogen” – it’s like the colours of the Tellytubbie characters.

    • tomo permalink
      April 17, 2022 8:38 am

      It’s just begging for a pie chart really?

      The “Green” would be a rather small line?

  12. Chas permalink
    April 17, 2022 8:42 am

    For a hundred years Town Gas (which was about 50% Hydrogen, 35% Methane,10% CO, 5 % Ethylene) was efficiently distributed throughout the country by iron or steel pipes and used at about half the pressure of Natural Gas (100% Methane). It did not not give rise to major problems despite the 50% Hydrogen content.
    When cheap Natural Gas became available from the North Sea in the late 60’s early 70’s there was a nationwide exercise to convert all the existing gas appliances. This usually involved changing the valves and nozzles on the burners to cope with the higher pressure of Natural Gas, rarely did it involve changing the whole appliance.
    I well remember my elderly gas boiler having the burner nozzles replaced at the time. The boiler output remained the same.
    The old steel and iron pipes are being replaced by polyethylene pipework to reduce leakage through corrosion.
    I cannot see why gas mains pipework would need to be replaced if they are again transporting Hydrogen.

    • tomo permalink
      April 17, 2022 9:20 am

      It’s not so much the H₂ itself as the underlying sums – which are plainly suicidal foolishness. Anybody who’s looked at the “produce Green Hydrogen from surplus renewables” arithmetic knows that it’s just bonkers. I recently had a squall of marketing come through which was trying to sell “rain power” – yes, the impact of raindrops was going to boil my kettle…. Green hydrogen is imho more of the same deluded reasoning – if reason can actually be used to describe what they’re up to here….

      Fracking followed by nuclear at least has the benefit of being economically viable …

      “it only produces water”
      “you can drink from the exhaust pipe”

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        April 17, 2022 11:27 am

        I don’t think anyone got too exercised about the effect of fugitive emissions on climate in the days of town gas. Only if there was a gas explosion or suicide by CO poisoning. I’ve not been able to find data on explosion risk.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      April 17, 2022 9:55 am

      There is a difference between pure hydrogen and a gas mixture containing hydrogen. Steam contains hydrogen for example.

    • Dave Andrews permalink
      April 17, 2022 4:20 pm

      According to this source there is growing evidence that a blend of up to 20% hydrogen with 80% natural gas is compatible with existing UK infrastructure. Higher concentrations would require not only significant network and infrastructure upgrades but also hydrogen specific appliances and boilers. Use of the 20/80 blend would only lead to a maximum reduction in emissions from the grid of 7% and is only an interim measure

      https://hydrogen-central.com/hydrogen-heat-homes-uk-wired/

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      April 18, 2022 12:44 pm

      “I cannot see why gas mains pipework would need to be replaced if they are again transporting Hydrogen.” With all due respect, the fact that you cannot “see” something is more indicative of your lack of knowledge than anything else.
      For example was there 7,600km of pipeline running at 94Bar in those days off “Town” gas?
      There are numerous reasons why conversion is exceptionally problematical.
      Here is a detailed report.
      https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257175936_Conversion_of_the_UK_gas_system_to_transport_hydrogen

  13. Lorde Late permalink
    April 17, 2022 9:35 am

    Has anyone in power put forwards that we might all be better off if we all just tried to lead simpler lives rather than consuming more and more energy of whatever source.although I guess that wouldn’t fit with consumerism.
    just a thought.

    • Gamecock permalink
      April 17, 2022 1:59 pm

      Yeah, we tried freedom, but people keep using too much energy.

      They won’t listen to government and use less, so we’ll invent this Climate Change story to get them to accept less.

      You know, less is more.

      • Crowcatcher permalink
        April 18, 2022 6:38 am

        I’m with you there.
        Trouble is nobody seems to understand the concept of the “finite” particularly with regard to our earth’s resources – one day they will be excausted.

      • Vernon E permalink
        April 18, 2022 11:32 am

        Crowcatcher: I’m with you also. We should be considering the prospect of “peak oil” (and gas) followed by diminishing availability. Gas is especially vulnerable. I think of oil and gas reservoirs as filling two ordinary balloons, one with air and the other with water, then letting go. What happens?. As I have posted many times I believe that flexibilty in the current situation will help.Stop using gas to generate electricity in gas turbine power stations and use whatever suitable liqiuid fuel offers best economy, and which can easily be stored in bulk as reserve. I suggested that reduced passenger flying post COVID might make that kerosene, the original fuel for gas turbines (the “gas” in the name refers to what turns the turbine, not what the fuel is) but I have my doubts now. Maybe light naphtha might be the cheapest.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      April 18, 2022 9:17 am

      Why should “we all” do what you think exactly?

      We lead the lives we want. By all means you can lead a “simpler” life but I suspect that means ignoring the vast hidden complexities that keep you alive, safe and wealthy.

  14. Gerry, England permalink
    April 17, 2022 9:58 am

    Was there some virus released in the late 80s, and backed up since by other variants, that rots people’s brains and makes them believe in global warming and the idiotic energy policy to combat it? A poll in the Mail has people thinking climate change is more of a worry than crime – you are far more likely to be robbed, mugged, have your car stolen or get stabbed than suffer a bit of climate change.

    • Phil O'Sophical permalink
      April 17, 2022 3:58 pm

      Would these people polled, worried about climate change, be the same who save up all year to go on holiday in ‘sunnier climes’, where even now people actually mange to live? And how do they manage on days as recently, when the temperature difference from early morning to mid-afternoon is well into double figures; a matter of hours rather than 0.5deg a century?

      • Zee permalink
        April 18, 2022 10:04 am

        That’s why the CC scaremongers use supposed secondary effects like rising sea levels, burning forests, extremes of weather; stuff that actually happens that could be attributed to ‘climate change’ but likely has another, mundane and unrelated, cause.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      April 18, 2022 9:21 am

      What people believe is largely independent of facts. My elder daughter is extremely bright and highly analytical in her work but despite me showing her statistics that demonstrate she is more far more likely to killed as a pedestrian in a road accident than murdered by an unknown man, she worries a great deal about the latter and not at all about the former. I suspect we are much more susceptible to “new” threats than to those we grew up.

  15. It doesn't add up... permalink
    April 17, 2022 1:55 pm

    A look at the economics of shipping hydrogen

    https://energycentral.com/c/pip/shipping-liquid-hydrogen-would-cost-5-7x-lng-costs-unit-energy

    That’s still on the low side.

  16. It doesn't add up... permalink
    April 17, 2022 4:23 pm

    A look at what has been happening with CFDs.

    They’ve all just had an inflation uprating so those 2012 base prices that Harrabin prefers to quote without explanation are even more out of date. Perhaps the most interesting feature is that since wholesale electricity prices went ballastic last year there have been two wind farm CFDs where they have stated generating: Hornsea 2 (current CFD strike price £73.71/MWh) in December, and the last third of Triton Knoll (current CFD strike price £94.81/MWh) in January. Neither have started their CFDs, which is perhaps not a surprise given that the wholesale market has been offering £200+/MWh on average for wind generation. But it does rather confirm the idea that CFDs are optional, and we are very unlikely to see the benefit of any cheaper bids.

  17. It doesn't add up... permalink
    April 17, 2022 8:03 pm

    A further look at what has been happening with daily CFD payments and system balancing costs

    CFDs only really paid much back to consumers during the price spike in March, but that was offset by high system balancing costs. System balancing costs continue to run rather higher because it is expensive to procure backup power at short notice.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      April 18, 2022 9:25 am

      You can have low balancing costs and high price or high balancing costs and lower but fixed prices, but never both.

      The system is designed for the benefit of the producer, not the consumer, as is always the case with government-designed systems.

    • dave permalink
      April 18, 2022 11:52 am

      Natural gas is methane, with the formula CH4.

      If you (somehow *) split off the hydrogen and use this as a fuel and discard the carbon atom as a fuel – because you do not want to produce carbon dioxide – that is throwing the baby away with the bathwater.

      * It takes an energy input to break the C-H bonds in the first place – 415 kJ/mol-of-bonds.

  18. April 18, 2022 9:22 am

    Electrolysis splits water (H2O) but industry uses methane (CH4) to produce hydrogen.

    Steam methane reforming (SMR), or simply known as steam reforming, is the standard industrial method of producing commercial bulk hydrogen gas.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane#Chemical_feedstock

  19. Phoenix44 permalink
    April 18, 2022 9:30 am

    This hints at the biggest problem with this farrago, that of opportunity costs. We can spend all this money and maybe it will solve some future problem. But is it really the best use of the investment, time and effort? Almost certainly not. We have hospitals that kills hundreds of babies, rising crime, falling and failing education, a significant war, continuing pockets of poverty and deprivation, a serious housing crisis, a looming care crisis. So let’s have hydrogen boilers?

    The costs of Net Zero include the costs of not solving all the other problems we could address.

    • April 18, 2022 12:50 pm

      I refer folk to the parable of the Good Samaritan, who dealt with the person right there in front of him, there and then, and with what he needed.

    • Gamecock permalink
      April 18, 2022 4:27 pm

      That’s right, Phoenix. The best people to deal with the future are the people in the future, the ones who can see directly what problems they have or don’t have. “Sustainability” is a fake problem; it should not be a cause for anything.

      “Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run, we are all dead.”— John Maynard Keynes

  20. C.R. Dickson permalink
    April 18, 2022 3:13 pm

    George Libowitz, one of the world’s experts on hydrogen storage, told me while at Allied Chemical in the mid 1970’s that hydrogen can be safely stored at room temperatures by adsorption onto transition metal alloys with densities greater than liquid hydrogen. The hydrogen can be recycled easily and safely with only gaseous hydrogen in the fuel lines ( not in the storage tank). He also told me they (his research group) had automobiles running on gaseous hydrogen (no fuel cells) in the 1950’s.
    When I was at the RCA David Sarnoff Labs in Princeton, NJ, house hydrogen was available from lines running throughout the building. I know of no incident involving hydrogen over many decades of use throughout the buildings. Here are some of George’s books. https://www.gettextbooks.com/author/George_G_Libowitz
    And here is a typical patent for transition metal storage
    https://patents.justia.com/patent/4440736

    I have also seen some hydrogen research (for fuel cells) at the Univ. of Delaware that stores hydrogen on carbonized chicken feathers.

  21. tomo permalink
    April 19, 2022 2:54 pm

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