Yves here. There are so many “too good to be true” sounding climate change amelioration and green energy schemes that it’s hard to keep up. But even at a remove, blue hydrogen sounded even more than usually suspect. Although I have to say I’m not convinced about green hydrogen either. Radical conservation need to be the first line of action, and green energy hopium is a great way to prevent that.
By Justin Mikulka, a research fellow at New Consensus. Prior to joining New Consensus in October 2021, Justin reported for DeSmog, where he began in 2014. Originally published at DeSmogBlog
The push to sell “blue hydrogen” as a clean energy fuel — which experts have called a misleading rebrand of fossil fuels — hit another setback this month.
Climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 are bringing new economic headwinds to the gas-derived hydrogen fuel’s prospects. However, many companies invested in the continued existence of the natural gas industry are not giving up on the effort, presumably because blue hydrogen promises to extend the life of natural gas producers.
DeSmog has mapped for the first time the major U.S. players in the blue hydrogen sphere — and natural gas is a common denominator.
Blue hydrogen is the industry name for hydrogen, an energy carrier, that is created from natural gas but would theoretically employ carbon capture technology to prevent the resulting carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere. However, as DeSmog has previously reported, carbon capture has failed to work in blue hydrogen production facilities at rates that would qualify the hydrogen as “clean.”
We’re already planning to build a #hydrogen facility in Texas and are conducting a study in the U.K. to assess the feasibility of producing blue hydrogen at scale. Yvonne Dacey, the project manager heading a hydrogen production in the U.K., explains: pic.twitter.com/kEJZVXxBRY
— ExxonMobil (@exxonmobil) August 3, 2022
Blue hydrogen’s supporters have argued that the world needs the gas-dependent fuel until it could scale up affordable clean hydrogen (known as “green hydrogen,” which uses renewable energy and does not produce any carbon dioxide or methane emissions).
It was a compelling financial argument, and in January 2021, when DeSmog first reported on efforts to establish a hydrogen economy in the United States, energy analysts were estimating that green hydrogen might take until 2040 to become economically competitive with gas-derived hydrogen.
That same month, Shell wrote on its website: “Whilst green hydrogen is the ideal aspiration for a low-carbon energy future, that technology has a number of years to go before it is of a competitive price range.”
Since then, those expectations have been completely upended by a combination of factors, including the rapidly falling cost of renewable electricity — which makes green hydrogen cheaper — and the sizable increase in the price of natural gas — which makes blue hydrogen costlier.
When the push for blue hydrogen began in 2020, the price of natural gas in the United States averaged $2.05 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). Now, it’s more than $9/MMBtu — a quadrupling in price. It’s clear now that not only is blue hydrogen not truly clean, but the economics don’t work. Even Shell has changed its tune: Earlier this month, the renewable energy publication Recharge reported that the oil company’s CEO said soaring gas prices mean blue hydrogen will not be able to compete economically with green hydrogen “for some while.”
What’s more, the high price of natural gas isn’t likely to change anytime soon, according to Clark Williams-Derry, a financial analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “[There is] reason to believe that there will be sustained high prices for the next three to four years, that we’re going to be in a much higher price regime,” Williams-Derry told DeSmog.
That was all before the sudden emergence of the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a game-changing setback for the blue hydrogen industry. The Biden administration’s signature climate and tax law includes production tax credits that will likely make the green hydrogen produced in the United States the cheapest form of hydrogen in the world. As Recharge notes, for methane-derived hydrogen to be cost competitive now, the methane would have to cost nothing, even before adding in the additional cost of carbon capture. But the bill, which was overseen by the fossil fuel-friendly Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), also includes support for methane-based hydrogen, offering production tax credits for any producers of low-emission hydrogen. Initial industry reaction, however, suggests the bill favors green hydrogen production.
BNEF thinks $3/kg subsidy for green H2 projects is worth ~$1.91/kg dollars on a levelized basis. Can bring down avg. US cost of green hydrogen down to $2/kg by 2023. By 2030, they think levelized value of PTC would actually be > their base view for unsubsidized green H2 costs. pic.twitter.com/e4RPxbM3Y9
— Shanu Mathew 🌎🌳⚡️ (@ShanuMathew93) August 16, 2022
The Bigger Goal: Preserving Natural Gas Infrastructure
This development is a major blow to the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to build out blue hydrogen as it undermines the main argument — that blue hydrogen is cheaper. However, the climate bill does not derail the industry’s larger goal of mixing hydrogen of any kind into the existing natural gas pipeline system, which would help both to keep burning gas and to lock in pipeline infrastructure investments.
From plans for hydrogen homes by SoCalGas to tests to blend 5 percent of hydrogen into existing natural gas power plants like Long Ridge Energy in Ohio, proponents of blue hydrogen say the fuel should be used everywhere natural gas is currently used, including home heating and combustion in power plants to produce electricity, and that existing natural gas pipelines should distribute it. This strategy makes a lot of sense for companies already invested in the global natural gas industry; it keeps the world hooked on natural gas.
But the world could stay hooked on natural gas if the industry convinces investors and policy makers that blending green hydrogen into the existing natural gas system is a good idea (it isn’t). That’s because using hydrogen in existing natural gas pipelines increases leak and explosion risks, hydrogen for home heating is inefficient and expensive, and using renewable electricity to make green hydrogen to then burn it to make electricity is highly inefficient.
In July, DeSmog published a map of the lobbying actors trying to create a hydrogen economy in Canada, highlighting the entities behind a big push for blue hydrogen projects, including Shell. Last year, DeSmog mapped the EU hydrogen lobby as well. Below is a new map from DeSmog showing the players behind the same efforts in the United States.
Credit: Gaia Lamperti
The majority of the companies on this map — like ExxonMobil, Air Liquide, and Sempra Energy (parent company of SoCalGas) — profit from the existing natural gas industry, whether producing natural gas, distributing it in pipelines, or burning it in power plants.
“When it comes to the fight against global warming, all options must be considered,” Air Liquide told DeSmog. “In line with its Sustainable Development objectives, Air Liquide is committed to supporting the development of both renewable and low-carbon hydrogen at competitive costs.”
The Financial Times recently highlighted Shell, BP, and Chevron’s U.S. lobbying efforts on behalf of all types of hydrogen from their position as members of the Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition, whose website touts blue hydrogen as “clean.” FTI Consulting, which has run numerous influence campaigns for the oil and gas industry, and the Hydrogen Council, a trade group whose founding members include Europe’s top fossil fuel producers, are both instrumental in the global and U.S. hydrogen lobbies. The seeds were sown in the EU, and it is roughly the same cast at the ground level in the United States.
The map also includes companies, like Mitsubishi, that at first glance, seem unlikely candidates to support the blue hydrogen economy. Yet, as early as January 2019, Seiji Izumisawa, President & CEO of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, stated in an interview published on the Hydrogen Council website that hydrogen “helps decarbonize traditional power plants.” Mixing green hydrogen into the fuel supply of gas power plants does reduce carbon emissions, but those reductions are small; using blue hydrogen instead would likely result in 20 percent higher methane emissions than just burning gas directly for heat, according to a 2021 study.
This has not derailed plans for large blue hydrogen projects in the United States. Air Liquide has plans to build a $4.5 billion blue hydrogen facility in Louisiana. Mitsubishi has signed an agreement with Bakken Energy, LLC for a blue hydrogen project in North Dakota (and with Shell for a blue hydrogen facility in Canada).
Earlier this month, Bill Newsom, the CEO of Mitsubishi Power Americas, promoted hydrogen for “power generation” at a Reuters event.
It’s easy to understand why. Mitsubishi also sells turbines that are used in traditional natural gas power plants. If the world stops using natural gas to produce power, Mitsubishi no longer has a gas turbine business. If the world switches to using hydrogen in all of those power plants (which require new hydrogen-ready turbines made by Mitsubishi), the turbine business has a bright future.
Mitsubishi did not respond to questions from DeSmog.
At the Reuters event, Newsom repeatedly stressed the desire to reuse natural gas infrastructure for hydrogen. “What we want to do is look at how can we inject hydrogen into these existing pipelines,” he said, adding that blue hydrogen “has a very viable path.”
Newsom went on to suggest that the world needs blue hydrogen until green hydrogen is available, despite the fact that Mitsubishi is a partner in one of the largest green hydrogen projects in the United States, which just received a $504 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. This project is touted as a clean hydrogen project, but the green hydrogen it produces will be blended with methane until at least 2045.
Such a move offers much lower emissions savings than just using renewables or straight green hydrogen. It makes little sense — unless you are in the turbine business.
Creating green hydrogen requires lots of electricity derived from wind, solar, and other renewables. Using this renewable energy to create green hydrogen that is then burned to create electricity is incredibly inefficient. For the same reasons, using any kind of hydrogen to heat buildings makes no economic sense.
Another reason plans to burn any kind of hydrogen for power are suspect is that Newsom admitted that burning 100 percent hydrogen in power plants currently isn’t possible; methane is still required.
In the majority of cases, the most economical and climate-friendly approach is to directly power electric cars and heat buildings with renewable electricity, rather than using it to create green hydrogen.
The world already uses a lot of hydrogen, mostly to refine oil and produce fertilizer for agriculture. The majority of that hydrogen is made from natural gas and that process is responsible for 2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
The world still needs green hydrogen to replace the current fossil fuel-derived supply of hydrogen, even if all other areas of the global economy could be decarbonized with renewable-powered electricity. It also is likely the best option for decarbonizing the steel industry, and is showing promise for aviation and shipping applications.
The recent developments making green hydrogen a source of affordable clean energy are welcome, but in no way do they support the argument that burning green hydrogen for power or heat is a realistic path to reducing emissions.
Blue Hydrogen Makes the Methane Emergency Worse
The natural gas industry has already tried to convince the world that natural gas is a clean form of energy — but those past public relations efforts were not accurate. Yes, burning natural gas for power creates fewer carbon dioxide emissions than burning coal, but that is only part of the story. Producing natural gas also releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has contributed approximately 40 percent of total climate warming to date. When methane emissions are included in the calculations, natural gas becomes as dirty as coal.
US & EU agree 30% methane cuts in a sign the world is waking up to the methane emergency. However @IPCC_CH scenarios modelled in AR6 suggest we need cuts of around 75% to plateau at 1.5C.
We need a pledge which includes solutions 👉#PlantBasedTreaty
— PlantBasedTreaty (@Plant_Treaty) November 2, 2021
Selling gas-derived hydrogen as “clean” is especially risky because of the methane emissions it would release and the urgent need to curb those emissions to avoid catastrophic warming. Switching the world to blue hydrogen as an energy and heat source would mean continuing to support the oil and gas industry’s plans to increase natural gas production. Evidence continues to mount that the U.S. natural gas industry releases large amounts of methane, and in 2021, global methane emissions increased by a record amount.
The world is facing a methane emergency, and a growing consensus says reducing methane emissions is the most effective way to slow global warming in the near term. Any efforts to produce and use more methane, either by creating blue hydrogen or by mixing green hydrogen with methane, would send the world in the wrong direction.
Green Hydrogen’s Emergence Is Great News
Fortunately for those hoping to maintain a livable climate, green hydrogen is now cost-competitive and could make efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions much more successful. If green hydrogen were used only to replace existing global hydrogen production (2 percent of emissions) and the coal used in the steel industry (8 percent), it could eliminate 10 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Recharge reports that the green hydrogen production tax credit in the Inflation Reduction Act would allow the steel industry to make green steel that is cost competitive with current, very dirty, steel.
However, that good news for the climate is under threat. The network of interests with links to the natural gas industry DeSmog has mapped in the United States seems set on convincing policymakers that blue hydrogen is clean and that power producers should mix green hydrogen with methane. Either outcome would endanger the chances of preserving a livable climate.
“We plan to build a blue hydrogen plant at our integrated refining and petrochemical facility in Baytown, Texas,” a spokesperson for ExxonMobil told DeSmog, calling it “an example of a project that works today, subject to supportive government policy.” That government policy refers to U.S. taxpayer dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act, though hydrogen companies are calling these incentives a “game changer” for green hydrogen investments.
This is the world’s first steel made without burning fossil fuels. Steel is a main emitter so this is hugely important!
We have so many solutions to solve the #climatecrisis. Implement them. #ActOnClimate#ClimateAction #reneables #renewableenergy #GreenNewDeal pic.twitter.com/0C2GO6OO9d
— Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) August 9, 2022
And despite efforts by fossil fuel interests to push blue hydrogen in Canada, Germany just signed a “hydrogen alliance” deal with the Canadian government to import green hydrogen from the North American nation. Germany isn’t saying it won’t use blue hydrogen but has said it won’t put government money into those projects. (The difficulties of shipping hydrogen will limit the success of this alliance, and as DeSmog has reported previously, the Canada-Germany energy partnership seems geared mostly towards enabling LNG exports from Canada to Germany, a priority which German leader Olaf Scholz echoed last week. “As Germany is moving away from Russian energy at warp speed, Canada is our partner of choice. For now, this means increasing our LNG imports. We hope that Canadian LNG will play a major role in this.”)
Time will tell whether recent developments send a signal to other countries to stop investing public money into blue hydrogen. In the meantime, expect to see continued lobbying from fossil fuel interests to keep the blue hydrogen window open for as long as possible.
The complexities of emissions is very difficult for us civilians to understand. I have no understanding of the externalities related to diesel vs unleaded vs hydrogen vs mining for EV battery ingredients. I understand that tailpipe emissions (whether it’s from cargo ships or my 2007 station wagon) have a direct impact on air quality, but I have no understanding of the degree to which that cargo ship is more damaging to air quality than my wagon.
Example: if we converted every cargo ship in the world to hydrogen, how many 2007 station wagons is that equivalent to removing from the road? What externalities change when ships convert from diesel to hydrogen?
I’m into this kinda thing but even my eyes glaze over the deeper down the rabbit hole I go. And do I really trust Exxon or Shell to shoot straight on the answer?
Complexity creates room for fraud. That’s another reason simple reduction in energy use is the only way: there’s way less room for scamming.
Hmm. Is the case for ethanol fuel any better?
Ethanol only exists as subsidy to the big ag. There is no real environmental or economic benefit to it.
It is difficult to make apples to apples comparison H2 vs ethanol because these have different uses. Both have their limited and different applications and limitations so bioethanol is an entirely different matter of discussion.
IMO H2 is interesting in some limited applications. For instance, Green H2, and even Blue H2, can function as energy storage system to avoid wasting an excess of solar/wind (Green) or total energy (Blue, usefulness more doubtful) production compared with actual demand. An alternative to grid-scale batteries. If we compare H2 vs batteries the drawback for hydrogen is its low round-trip efficiency (30%) which means high energy losses in the process (80% for batteries). The advantage of H2 is that it has better return of energy stored over energy invested in the device (52x) compared with batteries (35x) and better scalability. IMO, (meaning this I don’t have real data) is that H2 might or will at some point be more efficient than batteries as storage system at grid and industrial levels.
Many other applications that are being pursued don’t make any sense and a few others (applications in transport?) may make sense in certain conditions. In any case it is not universal solution. Far from it. Like bioethanol that serves mainly as (a very limited) gasoline complement. I am certain that many EU projects with H2 belong to fantasy land.
Hopefully engineers chime in.
Not an engineer, but environmental scientist with a hazardous materials specialty. I had a hydrogen tank in the backyard for awhile. Not no more. The problems of containing the smallest molecule in the universe are not simple (see hydrogen embrittlement, for one). Like Bucky Fuller and geodesic domes, a great idea except for the leaks.
‘may make sense in certain conditions’ is the answer. Robots in space, yes; biosphere with atmospheric oxygen, tricksy.
One mistake we continue to make, because doing things big is more profitable for big corporations, is we do things on too big a scale (imo). Big H2 refineries would seem to be efficient at CO2 sequestration because so much of it can be captured in a big operation – but much still escapes. But what sort of CO2 control could we achieve if H2 production were done in local small refineries with limited capacity and close monitoring? Would it be more or less manageable? At the local level there could be a lot of synergy created nearby to use energy more efficiently (think Denmark) and lots of new small industry might be far cleaner than the wasteful monopolistic system we are trying to save.
The problem with climate change is that there are people who view it not as a planetary crisis, but as a disruption from which to profit. There is a lot of money to be for regulators and the usual suspects, designating new technologies and handing out contracts.
The idea that we’re going to deindustrialize the world enough to run on purely green power is a nightmare posing as a fantasy. Batteries are large boxes of rare and semi-rare minerals. The more batteries you build the more rare those minerals become pushing prices up. There is no magic way to make batteries cheap. You can make them more efficient in various ways, but that’s a shallow curve. Without cheap batteries the green power sources (e.g. wind, solar) can’t cover base load because they don’t align with demand. With insufficient energy industrialization ends and with that the billions of people that depend on it are put in dire peril. Everything from modern medicine to food production depends on industrial processes that there are no fully formed green alternatives that can support the world’s population.
So what comes after that? Chaos. Civilization ends with three missed meals.
Here’s what a real sustainability plan looks like:
1) Nuclear energy – yeah, it’s dangerous, but the risk profile is better than that of climate change and modern designs can be made much safer. But it’s the only base load without a substantial carbon impact.
2) Free electricity for EVs as a subsidy. You can do this with your nuclear plants. Stop the government games and coupons, which aren’t good for the long term growth of the EV market.
3) Hydrogen – make hydrogen with the nuclear plants. This is a partial gasoline replacement for vehicle applications where electric is not a suitable choice.
4) Stabilize population of industrialized countries – a citizen of an industrialized nation consumes many multiple more energy than one of developed nations. Padding the population of industrialized states with developing world immigrants is moving the needle in the wrong direction for consumption.
5) Focus on mitigation efforts as well as prevention. If technology can solve the crisis it can solve it in multiple ways. We may not have a choice but to live with climate change, so we may as well look at ways to mitigate its effects.
None of what you write is “sustainable”. Motor vehicles, regardless of energy source, are not sustainable because they require land that is paved over and denuded of all flora and fauna. They also require vast infrastructure – power stations, repair shops, parking lots, showrooms, vast factories to produce them, etc…Nuclear power has a problem with radioactive waste disposal that has not been resolved. Storing it on site for tens of thousands of years is a non-starter. Populations can’t be stabilized in the ways you imagine. Humans are mobile. People can easily move from a poor place to a less poor place and increase their consumption accordingly.
The reality that few wish to accept and then address is the way humans work, play, and live generally must undergo radical change. The use of carbon based fuels permitted lifestyles to develop that are incompatible with a viable planet. The high energy density of carbon based fuels will not and cannot be replaced by solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, or nuclear. The end of the carbon based fuel era will necessitate drastic changes in lifestyles globally. These changes will also require dramatic changes in how we govern ourselves in order to implement the required changes. Failure to do so will lead to societal collapse.
In the middle of his book Storms Of My Grandchildren, NASA atmospheric scientist James Hansen devoted 2 pages to his self-admittedly layman’s level understanding of the history of development of Full Fast Breeder-Consumer Reactors at Argonne National Lab. He claimed that under this design
the nuclear fuel pellets were allowed to keep fissioning-fissionableizing-fissioning all the fissionable and then potentially fissionizable material in the pellets until only three percent of the theoretically possible fissionizable and fissionable material was left, all of it “low level” and containable by vitrification.
He claimed that the issue was muddied by the relevant departments’ pursuit of what they called a “Fast Breeder Reactor” which he described as not being a “Full Fast Breeder Reactor” but only a “Half-Fast Breeder Reactor” whose creation of new fissile material was stopped as soon as weapons relevant amounts of plutonium had been produced, at which point the nuclear fuel was removed from the reactor for “reprocessing” which in fact was a cover for getting plutonium for bombs. The whole “Fast Breeder Reactor” was just a cover for making plutonium for bombs. Meanwhile the Argonne National Lab reactor design work was belligerently stopped and abolished.
Such is his claim in his book Storms Of My Grandchildren.
He would like to see the Full Fast Breeder Reactor concept revived and developed and used for the safest nuclear power we are ever going to get on the theory that mankind ” will have” its electricity and the choice is to either build out and deploy the Full Fast Breeder Reactor so fast that we can delete coal, gas and oil from the electricity production portfolio, or we can burn up the earth to make electricity till we are all too global warming heat-dead to care about electricity anymore.
The actual death tally per kilowatt generated with nuclear energy is actually much lower compared to almost any other means of electricity generation, even solar and wind with the rare accidents during the construction and installation of wind turbines or falling off the roofs of buildings with solar panels…and when accidents arising from nuclear power sites do happen, there is a lot of media sensationalism focusing on them. For instance, everybody focused so much on Fukushima, and there were no deaths resulting from the meltdown itself, but nobody talked about the dozens of people killed in the explosion of a natural gas plant at the Cosmo oil refinery caused by the earthquake.
Anyway, the operating temperature of some types of nuclear reactors can indeed by used to produce hydrogen from water by thermochemical splitting. Hypothetically you could use this combined with the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make carbon-neutral Dimethyl ether (DME) a practical liquid fuel alternative to gasoline or diesel. The technology to do so would not really take any great technological leaps from where we are now, other than removing the remaining hurdles standing in the way of the construction of new nuclear facilities, but this is political in nature, not technical.
For those interested, here is an old article describing the process of making DME with nuclear-derived process heat. (I know, I know, it is on Daily Kos, but this is from 2006 before Daily Kos became overrun with PMCs and Clintonites)
There were actually a spike in various cancers in people around Fukushima in the months/years following, some very severe. Radiation spread throughout the Pacific (still is) from the water used to cool the reactors after the blast, poisoning all life and billions of peoples’ food. It’s extremely disingenuous to say Fukushima resulted in no deaths. The gov’t and related utilities/companies just don’t want to count them.
That’s false. See this peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Epidemiology, Trend in Cancer Incidence and Mortality in Fukushima From 2008 Through 2015:
According to this paper, there was an apparent increase due to the introduction of super sensitive screening in Fukushima in 2011, and I infer also a large scale effort to get people tested. Many early cancer-looking growths naturally recede; your body is constantly generating and in a normal person, killing off cancers. The super sensitive screening, compared to any old baseline, would result in an apparent increase. This paper (2021) indicates the 2011 data was not confirmed by subsequent events (increases in cancers).
I’ve similarly had supposed health issues show up on super-sensitive tests that were never confirmed by any other testing method and did not progress.
Please provide links to a study in a medical journal that rebuts this paper. We generally require links and you provided none.
Unmentioned in the article is an elephant-sized problem with hydrogen – it’s thought to be around 200 times more potent a greenhouse gas than methane on a weight for weight basis.
Its potency is ‘indirect’ as it prevents the degradation of methane in the atmosphere so extending the time it contributes to the greenhouse effect.
Back to the drawing board I’m afraid.
Gordon–this is the first time I’ve seen mention of Hydrogen’s greenhouse potential, so I’m intrigued. It does seem to require serious consideration, but I wouldn’t head back to the drawing board just on the basis of that article. “Hydrogen is a potent short-lived indirect greenhouse gas that is 200 times more potent than carbon dioxide at the time it is released, kilogramme for kilogramme”. Those are some big qualifiers that need to be quantified. “Hydrogen reacts to form tropospheric ozone…” Reacts with what, and at what rate? Ozone contains only oxygen atoms. If hydrogen serves as a catalyst in making the ozone, what is the magnitude and duration of its effect? I’m asking rhetorically, of course. I’d like to read more about this.
That article is vague and somewhat confused. ‘Green’ hydrogen is in balance with oxygen and water vapor in the atmosphere so can only contribute to climate change if the hydrogen doesn’t react with oxygen to become plain old water, which should be the case for the vast majority of hydrogen leakages at sea level. ‘Blue’ hydrogen, as its hydrogen comes from a fossil fuel origin, may potentially have an impact as it becomes water vapor, which has some climate impacts.
The potential impact on ozone looks very unlikely to me, I’ve not seen any evidence of this, but of course this is a very new area of research.
No offense but it doesn’t matter what little people like I think about hydrogen because big money is involved. Major point being, yes, you’re right – but – I don’t get a say and I don’t have enough bandwidth to be outraged, or get involved in even thinking about it.
Bottom line? We hire people for this, politicians, BUT we let money into the process and then are outraged the process is corrupt.
‘Might’ be better off if Congress was ‘democratic’ in the sense it was like jury duty AND there was no staff. Bills have to be on one sheet of paper and there’s just the 500 or so folks putting their heads together to do the best they could for the country and not just the best for West Virginia.
Note, I don’t blame Senator Manchin for looking out for his owner’s interests (because that’s who really pays him), but it’s aggravating him and Sinema wield outsized power in their caucus by being Republicans in practice but on Team Blue. Seems wrong. Yet, somehow, while our nation’s political set up has aspects that qualify as seriously f-ed up s-it, we nevertheless muddle through and America is still the place people want to emigrate to. Not so much – in my opinion – a sign of how great we are, as how things are even worse, elsewhere! Sigh.
The main objection to solar and wind power is intermittency. Hydrogen can be used to smooth the peaks and valleys of renewable energy production.
I posit the following to meet U.S. energy needs and environmental protection goals:
Insulate better. 75% of U.S. electricity is used in residential and commercial buildings, and most is used for HVAC. U.S. buildings leak an enormous amount of heat. Insulation is simple, proven, and effective.
Work from home. Then fewer office buildings aren’t needed, and fuel to commute to work isn’t needed. 30% of miles driven in the U.S. is for commuting. Small vehicles (car, SUV, pickup) account for 40% of all U.S. petroleum consumption.
Buy an electric car. Electric cars are about twice as energy-efficient as internal combustion-powered cars are.
Install More Solar and Wind capacity. It’s safe, it works, it’s the cheapest source of electricity, and it can scale way up.
Build Electricity to Fuel to Electricity (E-F-E) facilities which convert renewable-supplied electricity to a fuel, such as hydrogen, or methane, or ammonia. Convert just enough electricity to fuel so that when the sun doesn’t shine, or the wind doesn’t blow, the deficit can be made up by powering fuel cells with the stored fuel to make electricity.
The big industrial users of electricity and natural gas include smelting (glass, steel, aluminum), cement, steel fabrication (hot rolling, extrusions). Each of these industries uses electricity and nat gas for heat. They take in enormous quantities of raw (cold) materials, and heat them enough to dry, melt or soften them for forming. Then the materials they heated up are allowed to cool off. In many industrial processes, the heat is used once, and then thrown away.
Co-locate E-F-E facilities at heavy industrial usage sites. The E-F-Es generate a lot of heat and industry can use that heat. If multiple heavy-heat-using industries are co-located, the E-F-E heat can be moved between industrial processes. Some industrial processes (fertilizer, for ex) can also use the E-F-E fuel (hydrogen, methane or ammonia) as a feedstock or fuel.
Capture CO2 and convert it to Methane
Industries which produce a lot of CO2 (cement, smelting, for ex) could provide that CO2 as feedstock to a methane E-F-E facility, so it could be synthesized into methane (CO2 + H20 + electricity => CH4 + oxygen + heat). The methane could be used to generate electricity when needed, or be re-used by that same industrial facility for heating the next batch of glass, steel, or cement. That displaces nat gas that would otherwise be extracted from underground.
The foregoing solutions require no new technology to be developed. We’re already doing all of it, and most at industrial-scale.
Here’s a key example: Siemens is ready to mass-produce green hydrogen plants, powered by renewables, right now.
And to Revenant, who replied in an earlier thread to these assertions I made above. Revenant offered these objections:
a. EU doesn’t use nearly so much energy on HVAC.
b. Generating methane from electricity causes two efficiency losses (hydrolysis has heat losses, and fuel-cells generate heat in addition to electricity)
c. Fuel cells aren’t spinning dynamos, and therefore can’t synchronize wave-forms with the grid they’re tying into
d. The heat from fuel cells (which I advocate feeding into co-located industrial processes) is too low temp to be useful to high-temp industrial processes like smelting. You can’t make a cool gas hotter without adding more energy.
a. Indeed EU does use less energy on HVAC than the U.S. I didn’t realize that. I know the EU’s building stock is at least as old as ours is; what I didn’t realize is that people in EU are less likely to use air conditioning (cooling). My recollection of EU buildings is “a lot of stone, and old windows”, but you’re saying it’s better than that these days. Thx for the tip.
b. The efficiency losses of hydrolysis and fuels cells are in the form of heat. If the heat is captured and utilized, then there are no efficiency losses. Input energy = applied output energy.
c. There exists industrial scale circuitry to convert DC output (from fuel cell) to precisely synchronized-with-grid AC power. Wind turbines (rapidly varying speed of rotor) rectify the AC output to DC, then convert the DC via inverter to synchronized AC output. Common practice. Fuel cells would use the same tech.
d. Low-temp heat from E-F-E plant is going to be 200-400 degrees F. The input feedstock to steel, cement, etc. is cold (< 100F max) and it's continuous, and it's huge mass. These plants run 24 x 7 for years at a time. The heat from the E-F-E plant can be used to pre-heat the incoming feedstock, and conventional heaters (electric or nat gas) can boost the feedstock to whatever target temp is required. The E-F-E heat just has to be higher than the feedstock temp in order to be useful.
Revenant, if I didn't transcribe your objections accurately, please weigh in. And thanks again for elevating the discussion with your remarks.
I used to sometimes read a blog called The Ergosphere, by “Engineer Poet”. It was about energy engineering and use and efficiency. Here is the link. https://ergosphere.blogspot.com/
It has a years-long archive of past posts.
I remember reading years ago a post where Engineer Poet wrote that while we can not store very much “electricity”, we can store some things that electricity can be made to do. As an example, he gave the following . . . that in the Netherlands was performed an experiment of connecting wind power to the Netherlands’s system of super-deep-frozen regional meat storage warehouses. When the wind turbines produced more power than the overall grid needed, the power was sent to the meat storage warehouses to cool them many tens of degrees below their normal temperature. When the grid need all the wind power the wind turbines could produce, the meat storage warehouses stopped running their chillers and let their chill-space ( and meat) rise in temperature from tens of degrees colder than needed back up toward the temperature needed. When the turbines were again producing “surplus” current, that current was used to again cool the warehouses to far colder than necessary. So the warehouses were a “chill-thermal” battery.
I heard a program on BBC a year ago about various experiments in storing surplus solar or wind electric current. One way being studied was using surplus current to heat up very large ventilatable stacks of rock. The program claimed that a big enough structure of rock heated high enough could then be used to boil water into steam to drive turbines till it spent all its stored heat doing that and had to be reheated when the next surplus of solar/wind power came by. The program claimed that a research and business-hopeful group thought they could set up such thermal rockpiles at the sites of decommissioned coal and/or gas power plants and drive the power plant intermittently from the heat stored by surplus renewable electric power heating the rockpile till the rockpile’s stored heat was needed to make steam for the powerplant turbines. And back and forth and back and forth.
I tried finding something about that BBC program on line and couldn’t find anything. This is the closest I could get to a version of that concept.
for the most basic concept.
Here is another. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0741983X86900457
That BBC program was talking about specially designed thermal rockpiles way huger, huge enough to store enough heat to drive the boiler-and-turbine parts of decommisioned coal and/or gas power plants with surplus chargeable-drainable-rechargeable-redrainable-etc. renewable-sourced heat into and out of the rockpile built in place for that purpose.
DW: And don’t forget the most magic of all molecules, Water!
Water’s specific heat capacity is 2400, rock is 1000 (in J/kg°C) (number of energy units injected per kg mass per degree raised in temperature).
Specific heat capacity is a measure of how much heat a substance can absorb before it increases in temperature.
and to your point about cycling heat – keep those ideas coming.
Wasted heat is culprit #1 of our energy problems. Most – yes I said “most” – of the energy we source is wasted to heat. Out into space it goes, used only once, staying just long enough to damage our biosphere.
Here is an idea I heard from someone else, showing what can be done at a small scale. A million such small scale tailor made solutions would add up to . . . “something”.
In 1983 I attended the IFOAM ( International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) annual world conference which was held that year at Michigan State University to coincide with MSU’s own annual Farmers Week-Natural Resource Days event. One of my fellow attendees, whose name I forget, was the County Engineer for Muskegon County, Michigan. He had a smallish herd of dairy cattle also, somewhere between hobby and viable break-even, I think.
And here was his waste heat recapture-reuse idea from his dairy operation. Milk from the cows was put into big Bulk Tanks for periodic pickup by the relevant dairy. When the milk comes out of the cow at the cow’s own body temperature, it has to be chilled down fast to stay fresh till pickup. So what he did with the heat taken out of the milk was to dump that heat into the cows’ drinking water, heating it up to close to cows’ body temperature. By drinking water already warmed up for them by the “waste” heat from their own milk, they did not have to use their own metabolic energy warming up cold drunken water to their body temperature. That meant they didn’t have to eat as much feed to warm up drunken-in water which they no longer had to warm up. So he saved on cattle-feed costs. (And if using water as the heat-sink for heat taken out of the milk to begin with allowed for faster heat-flow into water than into air if he had tried air-cooling his chiller-condensers the normal way, he may well have needed less electricity to perform the same amount of milk-chilling by virtue of dumping the heat into a faster heat-upsucking bunch of water. But that is just speculation on my part.)
How much electricity and cattle-food-energy would be saved if every dairy operation in America did this? I don’t know. But certainly more than just one Muskegon County Engineer’s worth.
DW: My wife went to school at MSU, has family in MI. It’s a cool place, not just for the sake of MSU, but also…the soil’s great, the temps are moderated by Lake Michigan, there’s still a lot of wild life.
Tks for the report on the County Engineer. In fact, that’s the first I ever heard of a “county engineer”. Wonder what would happen if every county had an engineer like that one.
There’s so much stuff can be done.
Did you see Carla’s report on the thread about Wood, and climate-friendly building matl’s?
I have this thing for foam-crete, DW. For my greenhouse, I want to build panels made from foam-crete. It’s mostly soap bubbles, with some portland cement mixed in. It’s cheap, moldable (pours like regular concrete into forms), it’s light, brittle (like the foam insulation it is) and it can be imbued with structural strength via “composite” strategy – embed wire mesh in it, like concrete reinforcing wire.
Way cool stuff, DW. Take a look at it sometime. Check some vids on utube if you haven’t already. That concept should be in your toolbox.
Thanks for all this. My screen face-time is limited to workplace computers while on breaks, or also the public library computers. So I can’t see/hear/learn about everything I would wish . . . until I get my own home computer and etc.
This goes to show one of the things the internet is uniquely valuable for . . . finding and sending around information, even when found in the most obscure places, and dragging it out of obscurity into more general awareness.
People really should soak up as much internet-available information as they can while the internet still exists. My strong intuitive feeling is that the internet, and then digital infrastructure in general, is going to start breaking up and melting away like the ice caps starting a few years from now.
We are living in a digital Dark Age . . . . meaning future generations will have near zero information about us and will receive near-zero of the information we have developed and placed on line. People who want to preserve something should put it on analog media like the Irish Monks did during Europe’s last Dark Age so that something will be saved after the last digit dies in the Great Bonfire of the Chips and Digits.
( Here is an example of something the internet can still let you do. 40 years ago or more I read about the inventor Wally Minto and his “wonder wheel” in Mother Earth News Magazine . . . a solar powered slow moving heat engine. So I typed in the relevant words and then “image” and got a bunch of images. Quite a few of them are relevant to Wally Minto’s “wonder wheel” and have urls for diving.
Food, Clothing & Shelter are the three physical necessities. However as they are now produced that impacts the food chain, making how we get food from farm to table sustainable is the goal we give to our engineers. When they tell us as we are represented by our governments how to produced food sustainably, it is up to our governments to do as they tell us. It is up to us to put the rules given by engineers before the markets and the food producers. If they require subsidies and or any other government support to conform to the rules and keep the food chain intact, then it must be done as only government that creates currency can do.
It is the same far as clothing and the same far as shelter. We were historically allowed to waste time and be inefficient about how we build shelter. Now it is clear that if we do not build shelter in factories as modules that are stacked together or linked flat we ensure the creation of slums. Population growth out runs housing, shelter availability. Now we know that laws rules and regulations concerning who holds the deeds have to be oriented towards the goal that ensures for all civilized life.
Where our schools are good life is good. Good schools from kindergarten to Community College mean low crime rates.
Assuming a clean source of hydrogen is possible, what will be the environmental effects when millions of tons of water vapor are produced upon combustion?
Assuming that water was electrolyzed (split) using electricity to produce H2 and O, there would be no net effect.
It is being released into the atmosphere as a hot gas, not a liquid. It releases heat as it condenses – basic thermo. Also, ‘blue hydrogen’ is supposed to be produced from natural gas.
cyclist: I see your point re: heating the atmosphere.
Would you expect the heating effect to be any greater than the fossil fuel combustion the hydrogen combustion is displacing? And ICE engines produce mostly N2, water vapor, and CO2.
To your point about blue hydrogen from methane…I have discounted blue hydrogen as a solution, that’s why I identified hydrolysis as the hydrogen source.
I currently see blue hydrogen as a step sideways, not much forward.
Hydrogen is a storage medium. Just like a battery.
The article only talks about burning hydrogen, never about its direct electric usage through fuel cells.
Never mentions it’s vastly superior energy density vs batteries, or batteries extremely high environmental cost vs hydrogen and the list goes on.
The so called environmental movement has been against hydrogen and carbon capture for the same faulty logic. If the oil companies are for it we are against it.
If you remove hydrogen from the playbook of storage then you are left with only lithium batteries, that’s it.
Take a semi truck which needs on the order of 1-2 million watt hrs of storage and then staggeringly huge electric chargers. That’s sustainable?
I don’t like blue hydrogen but I’m enough of a realist to know we have to create the loads and infrastructure for hydrogen. After that we can produce it with any type of non carbon electricity
I know I’m piss… in the wind as to changing anyones mind.
Just my 1c
Keep it going, Solarjay!
I learn a lot from your posts, and I sure do appreciate having practitioners – highly knowledgeable ones such as you – providing input.
This is serious Making Shit Up. There are other battery types, such as carbon ion, lead acid, and nickel metal hydride.
And for industrial grid level storage the Liquid Metal Battery by Donald Sadoway and Ambri will be a game changer.
Also there is a very interesting company out of Calgary that is mining hydrogen from old oil fields. The process happens in the ground so there is supposedly no CO2 released into the atmosphere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_U_ixFO8uw
Yes, I get very frustrated with this type of article as no fuel/storage (or energy saving) technology can be looked at in isolation when assessing global climate impacts. Assessing impacts needs to look at the full fuel mix, including issues like the benefits of using existing infrastructure and allowing transitions to more appropriate technologies. Its very easy to look at any one technology and focus on the hazards and flaws, but no solution (including radical conservation) is without its potential impacts (just visit a mineral wool factory if you think insulating houses is pollution free).
As you say, a key benefit of hydrogen is that fuel cells are very efficient, so even a ‘dirty’ source may have significant short term benefits. The same applies to electric cars – their inherent fuel efficiency provides a ‘win’, even allowing for very dirty power inputs.
As I’ve said btl in previous articles on the topic of blue hydrogen, it is mostly a scam to keep gas infrastructure going, but that does not mean that in certain specific circumstances it is not the least-worst option. The same applies to pretty much all projected technologies. Every one has costs, but most have some benefits. The difficult trick is in ensuring that the right technology is applied at the right scale in the right place, and that ‘transitional’ technologies are exactly that, and don’t lock us into another cycle of inappropriate infrastructure.
From 1881 to 1994 Paris had an air pressure network for power distribution. And some other place (that I can’t remember) had busses running on compressed air in the 60’s, filling the tanks every two stops.
Or how about bringing horses back to the agriculture? They don’t pack the soil and are biodegradable.
There is a lot of “obsolete” tech we could reconsider now that the cheap fuel is becoming a thing of the past.
PlutoniumKun: Please keep hammering on this theme:
We progressives tend to discard partly-viable options at the first minor obstacle, instead of digging a little deeper and solving the obstacle in order to move the agenda ahead.
If we adopt a “we’re going to make this work. Obstacles _will_ be overcome” attitude, progress is going to get made. To me, that’s the “secret sauce” of a great civilization.
Let pick some places to start, and get with the adapting.
Most hydrogen out there doesn’t even have a neutron, unlike every other element that we know of. So if Pluto can’t be a planet then Hydrogen shouldn’t be an element and it should be removed from the periodic table.