Hasten slowly with Hydrogen!

A must-read for hydrogen junkies. A position paper from the Global Warming Policy Forum.

Hydrogen-Fuel

Current enthusiasm for hydrogen is a desperate measure that will jeopardise the long-term promise of hydrogen for the sake of short-term political optics.

Because of the accelerated timetable required by arbitrary targets, it is necessary to manufacture hydrogen via two expensive and energetically inefficient commodity production processes, the electrolysis of water, and the reforming of natural gas.
 
Electrolysis is extremely expensive, and the reforming of methane emits carbon dioxide and so requires Carbon Capture and Sequestration, which is not only costly but unproven at the required scale. Both these commodity processes imply high levels of fresh water consumption.

The prudent approach, obvious since the 1970s and still the official long-range policy of the government of Japan, is to aim for hydrogen production by the thermal decomposition of sea water employing advanced nuclear reactors, which alone might conceivably make hydrogen cheap. This is, however, very difficult chemical and nuclear engineering, and its realisation lies well into the future.

The paper also notes that hasty introduction will not give enough time for safe societal adjustment to the inherent dangers of a fugitive and readily ignited gas that has a strong tendency to technical detonation (combustion with a supersonic combustion frontier). The learning experience could be needlessly painful and deadly.

BONUS. Fascinating items on The Browser.  Among other items Iris Murdock reviews a book on the feats of assorted swimmers. Did you know that the world high-dive record is still held by Alick Wickham, a Solomon Islander, who in 1918 dived 205 feet 9 inches from a platform on a cliff above the Yarra River? He was offered a hundred pounds for the feat, so it was a professional affair; and he was not so much bothered by the height or water depth as by the chances of hitting the opposite bank. He was successful, however, although the many bathing costumes he wore for protection were ripped off by the impact, and he lay in a coma for a week.

 

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13 Responses to Hasten slowly with Hydrogen!

  1. Herodotus

    Just give it up and stick with coal.

  2. TOM BIEGLER

    Hasten even more slowly is my advice. In fact don’t hasten at all. Simply wait until someone suggests something tangible and meaningful about what they propose to do with the hydrogen. Then you can go ahead and say something sensible. Unless their proposal involves a “roadmap”, in which case it is advisable to remain silent.

  3. Bruce

    The main trick with Hydrogen is containment. The molecule is so small it leaks through pretty much any material like rubber or flexible synthetics. It also leaks through metal joins that will block a larger molecule

    We are talking about the smallest known molecule here.

    How it can be stored for days or weeks at a time in a vehicle parked in the sunlight is another “challenge”.

    Never mind the “energy equations” involved in “extracting”, storing and transporting it and and then combusting it.

    Yes, it goes “BANG” when ignited in a correct fuel / air mix, but with how much energy compared to 95 Octane fuel.

    NASA and such bodies are familiar with ROCKET engines running liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, but you don’t really want to fire up one of those in the underground car-park.

    In the inevitable event of a bingle, if the fuel tank is ruptured in the presence of any vaguely serious heat or spark, things could get very lively, briefly.

    I understand the whole “clean, green, blah, blah” thing but hydrogen-fueled cars are, indeed, a “bridge too far”. Unless you have a DeLorean with a fusion reactor…..

    Folks need to go back to the famous Hindenburg footage with fresh eyes. The Zeppelin was “leaking” hydrogen even as it was being filled. The gas was “contained” at relatively low pressure in rubberized silk bags attached to the aluminium frame. NOTE: There were vents at the top of the shin to release “stray hydrogen that had leaked from the bags. The engineers KNEW there would be some leakage and had accommodated it.

    The kicker was the outer skin. It HAD to be “shiny” to reflect sunlight to minimize heating of the gas bags. Hence the coating of “silver” paint made from pure aluminium powder in a waterproof, hydrocarbon- based “vehicle”.

    It gets worse: The UNDERCOAT” was essentially red iron oxide in a similar vehicle.

    The silly buggers painted this enormous thing with THERMITE

    Whatever ignited the “stray” hydrogen inside the outer skin, the first “flash” appeared to be high on the structure. Any hydrogen flame would have easily ignited the THERMITE painted skin. Hydrogen burns with a COLOURLESS flame; another hazard. The bright glow and billowing clods of smoke rapidly expanding down and along the “Hindenburg”, was the Thermite and hydrocarbon-soaked skin burning rapidly and at high temperature.

    Then, there was the added hazard of a substantial quantity od Aviation fuel for the multiple engines that drove the propellers. Anyone who survived the relatively slow crash, would find themselves surrounded by burning liquid fuel.

    Ethanol? Plays hell with even the synthetic components on the fuel system, has a slow flame front, sucks water from the atmosphere and causes nasty reactions with any zinc or aluminium alloy components in the fuel system. There WAS ethanol-added fuel available at the pump in the 1940s and -50s. It disappeared quite quickly with the advent of increasing use of Aluminium based materials and higher compression rations in engines, starting in the mid 1950’s. The effect of alcohol and water in the float-bowl of a carburetor is NOT a good thing.

  4. Nob

    Shell has been planning hydrogen fuel cell business since the 1990s. At least I remember them telling me that back then.
    https://www.shell.com/energy-and-innovation/new-energies/hydrogen.html

    One of the reasons, supposedly, why they sold off so much of their oilfields and got more into gas.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    Hydrogen is stupid as a fuel. Ammonia, which some local proponents are spruiking right now, is even sillier.

    Despite what Bruce says about ethanol, my comment is if these people were serious they would pursue methanol as a practical alternative:

    3H2 + CO2 = CH3OH + H2O

    Centrally produced methanol can be handled in the existing logistical train that now is used for petrol and diesel. Yes it would not be good for existing vehicles, but the modifications aren’t too bad especially in a transition period of years to allow car manufacturers to incorporate the changes.

    And if these people were really really serious they would combine the methanol production with nuclear energy to use both the heat needed for the above step and electricity for the hydrolysis step. The cost for producing methanol this way is even fairly reasonable.

    The energy density of methanol is about half that of petrol, but that is ‘way higher than compressed hydrogen. And the sort of pressures that compressing hydrogen require for a hydrogen fuel tank are so high that the cylinder is a bomb waiting to go off, just from the pressure.

  6. Up The Workers!

    N.A.S.A.’s Goddard Research Centre has quantified the average global temperature rise over the last 140 years from 1880 to 2020, as being all of – wait for it – 0.8 of a single degree Celsius (look it up for yourself on Google).

    This is the sum total of the apocalyptic catastropharianism which hyper-ventilating members of the Brown Movement and their dull-wattage acolytes in the Australian Liars Party tell us is savagely baking, frying, searing, toasting and grilling us all to a horrible death – 0.8 of a single degree Celsius spread over 140 years, or an annual increase in temperature of 0.00571 of a single degree per annum over that period.

    If I was cooking a roast, I’d sure want the oven to be putting out a bit more effort than a mere 0.00571 of a single degree to cook the meat – but then, I’m no Mung-Beaner, so what would I know?

    If it keeps increasing at this horrific rate, the average global temperature could get all of 22 degrees warmer in 4,000 years time

  7. Chris M

    Any material that can and wants to go bang should be kept well away from Greenies.

  8. Accolyte

    Hydrogen, when used industrially, is subject to extraordinary safety measures for good reason. I simply can’t imagine how this will play out when the general public start being supplied with hydrogen powered cars.
    After a lifetime of work in the conventional power industry in several states and in coal, gas and oil fired plants, as well as pumped storage hydro, I have a deep, abiding respect for hydrogen. With the extreme safety precautions used in power industry worldwide, accidents and potentially dangerous incidents occur from time to time.
    I suspect there is push from academia and pro-green politicians with little practical knowledge of this useful but awful gas.

  9. Harry Truman

    Thanks Rafe, for such an educative note. We however, came to know that the this planet of ours did have glaciations and little warming from time to time, and the temperature on average ranged between +/- 2.0 to 3.0 degrees celsius. Now, we also came to know that the crustal deformation of of earths plate made the cosmic dance of earthquakes, glaciations, pole changes, and inviting or repulsing solar particles at increased intensity (Milankovitch Cycles come to mind). Again, we also came to know from our unorthodox European sisters and brothers (read unorthodox scientists), that the changes of eccentricity of orbits from circular to elliptic made causes these crustal deformations, that are a regular feast for our planet earth. As a consequence, the resultant change in the oceanic capacity to absorb the green house gas emission makes life a little bit uneasy for aircondition-conditioned greeny milk babies, but healthier for other living entities. The final point is, live with the cosmic dance, and don’t destroy civilisation with fanciful ideas of idiots. Amen!

  10. Harry Truman

    Thanks Rafe, for such an educative note. We however, came to know that this planet of ours did have glaciations and little warming from time to time, and the temperature on average ranged between +/- 2.0 to 3.0 degrees celsius. Now, we also came to know that the crustal deformation of of earth’s plate made the cosmic dance of earthquakes, glaciations, pole changes, and inviting or repulsing solar particles at increased intensity (Milankovitch Cycles come to mind). Again, we also came to know from our unorthodox European sisters and brothers (read unorthodox scientists), that the changes of eccentricity of orbits from circular to elliptic mode causes these crustal deformations, that are a regular feast for our planet earth. As a consequence, the resultant change in the oceanic capacity to absorb the greenhouse gas emission makes life a little bit uneasy for air-condition-conditioned greeny milk babies, but healthier for other living entities. The final point is, live with the cosmic dance, and don’t destroy civilisation with fanciful ideas of idiots. Amen!

  11. Here is a historical context of the climate movement presented as a continuation or perhaps a resurgence of the anti fossil fuel movement of the hippies back in the 1960s and 1970s (in which I had taken part). It may offer some insight into their language, their methods, and their desperation. It suggests that the climate movement is best understood not as a climate movement but as an anti fossil fuel movement where the role of climate is only to provide the rationale for it.

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/03/23/anti-fossil-fuel-activism-disguised-as-climate-science/

  12. Chad

    “ Anti Fossil Fuel Movement”. .. so you have to ask “why ?”
    Why advocate the use of healthy green trees for fuel rather than a worthless black rock from underground ?
    Why encourage widespread coverage of agricultural land with Solar panels to help power electric vehicles, rather than an otherwise useless black sticky liquid from underground ?
    Why …?
    Why..?

  13. Bruce

    @BoN:

    As a ‘straight’ fuel your basic alcohols are not really flash in a modern engine.

    A lot of the “inspiration” for the caper probably comes from the activities of the Luftwaffe during the last great unpleasantness.

    They used a “water-methanol” injection system for “emergency boost” in some aircraft engines.

    It was effective, partly because the in-line engines were fuel-injected unlike, say, the basic RR Merlin, which used a carburetor system. The beauty of fuel injection coupled with a very nifty handling of oil delivery and retention, meant that aircraft could fly inverted or do outrageous maneuvers without the engine losing power or conking out altogether because the carby worked best in level flight.

    The water-methanol was injected to increase the power-stroke performance. A small amount of water flashing to super-heated steam, as the main fuel-injection ignites under pressure and spark, will do that. Used “over-enthusiastically” could result in bits of engine “escaping” at high speed, requiring the pilot to do likewise. Bear in mind that aircraft engines, particularly in combat aircraft, are subject to a serious inspection and maintenance regime, to ensure they have the same number of take-offs and safe landings. (Combat attrition aside). I would guess that the average punter is not likely to be too keen on doing engine swaps every thousand K.

    Back in the 1980’s, I worked with a bloke who had fitted a water-methanol kit to the 351 V-8 in his F-100. Useful in “short bursts” for added “oomph”, or just trickling along to reduce fuel consumption. He was a stickler for maintenance, so any “issues’, anywhere on the vehicle (which was his livelihood), were dealt with in a timely manner. Other people’s mileage may vary.

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