Hydrogen energy

About 45 years ago, my grandfather wrote me a letter describing his idea for using hydrogen as a source of clean energy. I tried to explain the Second Law of Thermodynamics – creating the hydrogen by hydrolysis would cost more energy that he would get from burning it. Hydrogen fuel is only commercially viable if the source of energy is free (or at least very cheap).

Hydrogen is one of the cleanest, least problematic sources of energy. No emissions except water. No pesky radioactive waste.
2 H2 + O2 → 2 H2O (plus energy)

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/18/opinion/environment/europ…

**Why It’s Time to Start Caring Much More About Clean Hydrogen**
**By Philip Verleger and David G. Victor, The New York Times, April 18, 2022**

**...**
**Hydrogen is a leading idea for cutting dependence on conventional fossil gas. Modern energy systems depend heavily on natural gas, in part because it is easy to store and use when needed. Greater use of gas has already helped cut emissions because it has displaced coal. Shifting to clean hydrogen could cut those emissions essentially to zero, and would also make it possible to reuse some of today’s extremely valuable gas infrastructure.**

**One way to make clean hydrogen is with electrolyzers that split hydrogen from water. Right now that’s expensive, but with a spurt of new investment, electrolyzer costs will likely tumble.** Ooh, there’s that pesky problem again! – W **Other methods will compete as well...**

**Privately backed projects are exploring how to link hydrogen production to renewable electric power generators — a key innovation because hydrogen is easier to store than electricity and could help make electric grids reliable even when they depend on large amounts of intermittent wind and solar...** [end quote]

The consulting firm McKinsey estimates that the value of investment in clean hydrogen projects by 2030 will exceed half a trillion dollars, based on the announcements made — with Europe in the lead. That’s a really substantial amount.

https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-fuel-basics
https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/hydrogen_basics.html
https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/hydrogen/use-of-hydrogen…
https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

Hydrogen is almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels by reacting methane with steam. 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal go to hydrogen production.

As a consequence, production of hydrogen is responsible for CO2 emissions of around 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the CO2 emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

Hydrogen can’t be considered a “clean” fuel unless it is generated by renewable energy (e.g. solar) rather than methane.

Most hydrogen is currently used in industrial production. With better available technology, hydrogen could replace natgas for power generation. It’s not practical for most automotive use because of the lack of widespread fueling stations.

Wendy

7 Likes

Hydrogen is almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels by reacting methane with steam. 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal go to hydrogen production.

=========================================================================

You are describing Grey hydrogen. Engineers, scientists and environmentalists want Green hydrogen for climate crisis mitigation.

Green hydrogen can be produced from water through electrolysis. This is more energy intensive but can be done using renewable energy, such as wind or solar, and avoiding the harmful emissions associated with other kinds of energy production. Green hydrogen is where all the money will go for a Green Hydrogen economy.

Green to brown, not all hydrogen is created equal

Before you get excited at the prospect of filling your Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle with hydrogen that matches your car’s paintwork, the hydrogen produced by the different production methods is not actually coloured. The colours correspond to the GHG emission profile of the energy source or process used to extract hydrogen. The brighter colours (e.g. green, blue, even turquoise and pink!) have lower emissions, while the gloomier colours (grey, brown and black) have higher emissions and a gloomier outlook for global warming.

Green hydrogen
Green hydrogen is extracted using a method that does not produce GHG emissions. As the name suggests, its production is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Green hydrogen is most commonly produced using a device called an electrolyser. Electrolysers use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The key to this method of producing green hydrogen is that the electricity that powers the electrolyser comes from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, which have no associated GHG emissions. There are also pathways to produce green hydrogen from waste biomass.

Blue hydrogen
Blue hydrogen is produced using a process called ‘steam reforming’, which uses steam to separate hydrogen from natural gas. This process does produce GHGs, but carbon capture and storage technologies capture and store those emissions.

Grey hydrogen
Grey hydrogen is also extracted from natural gas using steam reforming but in this case, relevant technologies don’t capture resulting emissions. Instead, they are released into the atmosphere.

Brown and black hydrogen
Brown hydrogen (made from brown coal) and black hydrogen (made from black coal) are produced via gasification. It’s an established process used in many industries that converts carbon-rich materials into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. As a result, gasification releases those by-products into the atmosphere.

However, if technology ends up storing those emissions, that hydrogen can sometimes be called blue.

https://blog.csiro.au/green-blue-brown-hydrogen-explained/#:….

Jaak

3 Likes

Most hydrogen is currently used in industrial production. With better available technology, hydrogen could replace natgas for power generation. It’s not practical for most automotive use because of the lack of widespread fueling stations.

=============================================================================

Besides power generation, Green hydrogen can be used for heating (industrial, commercial and residential), energy storage, transportation and steel making without coal. Germany is investing heavily in Green hydrogen economy.

Jaak

Shipping Liquid Hydrogen Would Be At Least 5 Times As Expensive As LNG Per Unit Of Energy
https://cleantechnica.com/2021/12/20/shipping-liquid-hydroge…
Liquid natural gas (LNG) is the best comparison, as it requires liquification, which consumes about 10% of the amount of energy embodied in the LNG and oceanic shipping…The first thing to know is that while hydrogen is energy-dense by mass, it isn’t energy-dense by volume. Assuming the same-sized ship, the delivered BTUs of energy would be about 27% of the LNG…

The second problem is that hydrogen by itself is expensive…A cubic meter of liquified hydrogen masses 71 kg. That means that just the cost of the liquified hydrogen, excluding the energy costs of liquification or getting it into the ship, would be 1.9 times as high as the delivered price of LNG…

DB2

5 Likes

Shipping Liquid Hydrogen Would Be At Least 5 Times As Expensive As LNG Per Unit Of Energy

===================================================================

Why would anyone want to ship liquid hydrogen?

Jaak

My daughter lives in Hefei, China, which appears to be center for hydrogen run cars (for China). She says all the Didis (their Uber) are hydrogen cars. Anhui is the province; Hefei is the capitol.

https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/chinas-capital-envis…
China’s capital envisages 10,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2025

[https://news.metal.com/newscontent/101322774/[1120Lithium-Ex...](https://news.metal.com/newscontent/101322774/[1120Lithium-Express]-Hefei-speeds-up-the-development-of-new-energy-vehicle-industry-GAC-GROUP-plans-that-new-energy-vehicles-account-for-more-than-20-of-vehicle-production-and-sales/)
Hefei speeds up the development of new energy vehicle industry * GAC GROUP plans that new energy vehicles account for more than 20% of vehicle production and sales. Nov 19, 2020

https://pvp.secure-platform.com/a/solicitations/141/sessiong…
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
61230 - Thermodynamic Characteristics of Gas Cylinder During the Process of Hydrogen Filling and Discharging of High Pressure Cycle
Authors: Xiaolu Guo, Zhichao Fan, Xiaoliang Liu, Shuangqing Xu–Hefei General Machinery Research Institute Co., Ltd

Anhui Province is also where electric vehicles are being built
https://www.electrive.com/2021/04/29/nio-is-building-an-indu…
Apr 29, 2021
Electric vehicle industrial facility ‘Neo Park’ under construction in Anhui
Nio had initially planned to build its own factory in Shanghai or Beijing. But these plans were later put on hold, supposedly for financial reasons. Until now, Nio’s vehicles have been built in a JAC factory in Hefei, which is also how the contact to Anhui came about. JAC is also a joint venture partner of Volkswagen. Since the German company took over the majority in the joint venture, JAC-Volkswagen has been operating under the new name Volkswagen Anhui. Only this week it was announced that VW started construction of its own MEB plant in Anhui.

1 Like

It’s not practical for most automotive use because of the lack of widespread fueling stations.

That is a problem that could be overcome.
The main problem with hydrogen is that, even the grey variety (made from methane) is much more expensive than just charging an EV battery. 2x - 4x more…like $10-$15/gal gas.
Second, if you use green hydrogen (eg. electrolysis using solar) it is far more expensive than just charging an EV. The electrolysis equipment is also far more expensive than EV chargers and you can’t reasonably have one in your garage, which is where most EV charging will happen…so you are giving up ICE cars and gas stations for hydrogen cars with hydrogen stations that are more expensive.

Solar panels to EV battery to wheels is about 80-85% efficient.
Solar to Hydrogen to wheels is about 25-35% efficient (electrolysis, compression, liquefy, transport, fuel cell)

Mike

3 Likes

Shipping Liquid Hydrogen Would Be At Least 5 Times As Expensive As LNG Per Unit Of Energy

Why would anyone want to ship liquid hydrogen?

Good question, but it appears to be a thing.

From January:

World’s first hydrogen tanker to ship test cargo to Japan from Australia
www.reuters.com/business/environment/worlds-first-hydrogen-t…

DB2

Hydrogen can’t be considered a “clean” fuel unless it is generated by renewable energy (e.g. solar) rather than methane.

THAT is a rather silly premise.

H2 represents the opportunity to ‘instantly’ make ALL power generating sources 100% productive. 24/7.

References to needing to be “renewable” sources are specious. Totally irrelevant.

Consider the real world existing case going on right now: Pumped storage (where water at a lower level is pumped back up over night to a reservoir so it can be let down later) are HUGELY ‘inefficient’. And are applicable in very few selective sites. But they do allow usage of power at times of slack demand to ‘store’ energy for use during higher demand. So it works, selectively.

With H2, EVERY single source of available power could be put to 100% output. Everywhere, 24/7.

Tiny little pesky issues: A) Storage; and B) Transportation.

lindytoes,

Thanks for all the links in your post about hydrogen powered vehicles.

While a chemical engineer now past his technical menopause, I found the one about the temperature cycles on filling and discharging the hydrogen of particular interest. The impact of the life of storage tanks is not to be overlooked.

But I appreciate all of them.

It seems clear that China is promoting a competition between EV’s and hydrogen powered vehicles to determine - in the real world - if one is superior to the other. Seems a wise action that the government is willing to fund. Wish we (US) were doing something similar. Are we?

I wish I knew more about how the China R&D on hydrogen was generating its hydrogen. Hydrogen as a fuel is a net consumer of energy unless the original source of the energy is essentially free. Any info on that? And also for electricity and batteries for that matter. Are the two linked - i.e. what does the hydrogen R&D assume as its base source of energy? China controls a lot of the raw materials for batteries. I doubt they’re going to share with the world at the expense of their own needs. And the materials demand for very large scale Wind and Solar seem often to be overlooked or ignored.

This board has seen past articles about the materials demand for enough wind and solar to permit large scale adoption of EV’s. The materials demand for generating very large scale Wind and Solar seem often to be overlooked or ignored. China is also a major source of basic materials.

I continue to suspect that the potential for continued use of fossil fuels with a much greater emphasis on carbon capture isn’t receiving enough attention. It is very hard to reproduce the energy density and ease of transportation of O&G - with the distribution system already in place.

Thanks again for your contribution.

3 Likes

I’ll ask Heather, Tex. She doesn’t speak Chinese and may not have any way of finding out, but she is a science teacher, so she might be curious enough to find a way.

Right now she’s stocking up on whatever won’t spoil in case they have a quarantine. They don’t fool around with the way they shut down. I sent her videos of what was happening in Shanghai because I didn’t think she knew. I was right.

–Linda

It’s not practical for most automotive use because of the lack of widespread fueling stations.

The same could be said about EVs before Tesla built SuperChargers. Probably the same was said about ICE cars before gas stations became widespread.

Sandy Munro did say that hydrogen would be a good choice for heavy trucks but nor for passenger cars.

Then there is ‘Path Dependence’ a.k.a. first mover advantage. Once EVs became popular, replacing them with hydrogen becomes more difficult.

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q…

Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy (Economics, Cognition, And Society) Paperback – Illustrated, October 26, 1994
by W. Brian Arthur (Author)

https://www.amazon.com/Increasing-Returns-Dependence-Economi…

The Captain

1 Like

Creating hydrogen through electrolysis has been explored as a possible way of storing energy produced by renewables for quite a while. It’s certainly a way that you can take excess electricity and store it as potential energy for later use. There’s no theoretical obstacles to doing that. The issue has always been technical - whether the processes for doing that (at scale) are better than the many other ways that you can store power as potential energy (batteries, pump-storage hydro, thermal storage, flywheels, etc.).

It doesn’t seem likely, at least in the near term, that hydrogen can be a cost-effective alternative to those other forms of energy storage. In the U.S., reversed hydro at dams dominates all other types of storage, followed by batteries and thermal storage:

https://www.epa.gov/energy/electricity-storage

Hydrogen as an alt-fuel for motor vehicles has also been explored. As recently as a decade ago, several majors were putting big bets on fuel-cell hydrogen powered vehicles as competitors to battery-powered EV’s. This wasn’t even necessarily about green fuels, but as a way of reducing reliance on imported oil and responding to what was (then) considered to be the rising costs/depletion of oil supplies. So there was a strong public policy/national security benefit to stimulating a ‘hydrogen highway’ alternative to ICE’s. Hydrogen at that time had some really large advantages over electricity - quicker fueling and larger range - but lots of disadvantages in terms of refueling infrastructure.

In the intervening decade, I think most of hydrogen’s advantages have been eroded. The national security benefit for having even more displacement of oil has evaporated, as we are now a net exporter of oil. Meanwhile, advancements in batteries have cemented EV’s as a full-range vehicle, and while that battery ‘gas tank’ is perhaps more expensive than the equivalent hydrogen ‘gas tank,’ that gap has been narrowed so much that fuel cells don’t really offer a compelling alternative.

Hydrogen does still have the advantage that fueling can be done very quickly (like gas, it’s pumped, rather than recharging a battery). And I think captainccs is right - for vehicles that need very large batteries, like high-weight long-haul vehicles (where the battery size and refueling time might continue to present some cost obstacles), there might still be an economic case for hydrogen fuel cells in lieu of electricity. But it doesn’t look like hydrogen’s going to be a major player in the energy sector any time soon.

Albaby

2 Likes

With H2, EVERY single source of available power could be put to 100% output. Everywhere, 24/7.

huge pesky issues: A) Storage; and B) Transportation.

Fixed your post replacing ‘tiny little’ with ‘huge’.

You also left out two more huge issues: Cost and Efficiency.

“It’s not practical for most automotive use because of the lack of widespread fueling stations.”

The same could be said about EVs before Tesla built SuperChargers. Probably the same was said about ICE cars before gas stations became widespread.

EVs don’t suffer from the problem nearly so much, since many people have access to recharging capacity at home, on cheap residential electricity, with minimal additional investment. I’ve been doing ~80% of my local driving on electricity in my Volt for years now and all that juice has come from a simple exterior GFC protected outlet on my front porch. Only additional investment was a beefy extension cord.

2 Likes

Hydrogen does still have the advantage that fueling can be done very quickly (like gas, it’s pumped, rather than recharging a battery). And I think captainccs is right - for vehicles that need very large batteries, like high-weight long-haul vehicles (where the battery size and refueling time might continue to present some cost obstacles), there might still be an economic case for hydrogen fuel cells in lieu of electricity. But it doesn’t look like hydrogen’s going to be a major player in the energy sector any time soon.

Great synopsis. The fundamental problem with hydrogen fuel is thermodynamics. It takes energy to make the hydrogen. So does it make sense to use energy to make hydrogen fuel, or just use that energy directly for your application? In some scenarios it might make sense. For example, instead of curtailing renewable energy it could be used to make hydrogen which could then be burned to make electricity at a later time. They are some transportation scenarios that might work too. But it is hard to make a case for widespread adoption. The thermodynamic hurdle is a high one.

Hydrogen as an alt-fuel for motor vehicles has also been explored. As recently as a decade ago, several majors were putting big bets on fuel-cell hydrogen powered vehicles as competitors to battery-powered EV’s.
And I didn’t like the idea then because hydrogen takes so much more energy to produce than gasoline does, is a bitch to store, and has such a low energy density.

Every now and then there’d be some fuss about a fuel cell that “runs on methane”, and if it had ever been true it might have led to an abundance of fuel-cell cars… but it never was. Instead they were producing a package device that used some of the energy from the hydrogen fuel cell to power a “reformatter” that would break methane down producing free hydrogen (for the fuel cell)… and I never found a published explanation of what was happening to the carbon. Helps somewhat on the storage issue… but there’s still the burden of the “reformatter” decreasing energy efficiency to the point that it wasn’t clearly better than just burning the methane in a suitably-modified combustion engine.

1 Like