The hydrogen balloon, pros and cons

UPDATE. Interesting reference to hydrogen at the scene of the power station explosion in Qld.  Very brief, more research required.

A statement from plant owner CS Energy said the incident was being investigated.

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokesman said a scientific team confirmed the presence of hydrogen, with supply of the gas at the site cut off and all power to the site isolated.

The outage impacted more than 93,000 properties in the Brisbane area, 41,400 on the Gold Coast, 31,100 in Logan, 39,000 in Moreton Bay, 3900 in Ipswich, 8500 at Redlands, 1000 in the ­Scenic Rim and 1100 in the Somerset region.

Lights out for half a million after power station explosion

Hydrogen is all the rage at present and the resident RE booster at The Australian is leading the PR charge.

Perry 26 May Aust to lead world in hydrogen CSIRO

The Hydrogen Industry Mission, to be launched on Wednesday, aims to cut the cost of hydrogen production to under $2 per kilogram, from up to $9 per kilogram currently, and position Australia to replicate its success with iron ore and LNG through a new clean fuel export business.

Up to 8000 jobs and $11bn a year in GDP could be fed back into the economy if the right settings and cost structures are put in place, according to the CSIRO.

“Australia can become a renewable energy leader through the production, use and export of hydrogen, but it will only become a reality if we breakthrough the $2 a kilogram barrier,” CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said.

“That needs Australia’s world class science working with CSIRO’s commercialisation expertise turning breakthrough science into real-world solutions.”

The CSIRO will work on more than 100 projects with partners including Fortescue, Toyota and Hyundai through development of a knowledge centre, feasibility and strategy studies, demonstration projects and the development and commercialisation of new hydrogen technologies.

On the other hand, hot off the press. Our briefing note 21.9 on hydrogen.

Final email and note sent to the list

The federal government has allocated some $300 million for green hydrogen research and development projects.

Commercial production depends on vast quantities of very cheap electricity and other developments to drastically reduce the cost. Positive prospects for green hydrogen are based on the hope that there will be significant technology breakthroughs that could take many years.

Another factor that is particularly significant for Australia is the need for large quantities of very clean water for the electrolytic process. This may not be an issue for the small pilot projects that will be funded by government grants but it will probably preclude large-scale commercial production.

Recommendation. Grants for developing green hydrogen should be subjected to cost-benefit analysis over short to medium terms in the light of experience around the world.


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40 Responses to The hydrogen balloon, pros and cons

  1. Professor Fred Lenin says:

    I can see the headlines in 50 years time,
    WorldsGreatestCrisis , the diminishing amount of Hydrogen i the atmosphere could see the End of the World in 3 years. A suggesed alterative source of energy is burning coal which the World has an abundance .

  2. david bidstrup says:

    The return on the energy used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis is one fifth of that needed for the electrolysis process. It is a dumb idea. If we did not have everyone hyperventilating about “emissions” no one would bother.

  3. Mak Siccar says:

    Dead right David. Not only is the energy equation all wrong, hydrogen is difficult and dangerous to store. Only the rent seekers and grifters will profit.

  4. Mark M says:

    Hydrogen was the rage in the 80s … just don’t sniff it …

    FLASHBACK: Queensland’s hydrogen powered car | 7NEWS

  5. PeterW says:

    Production cost is one thing.

    Then add in transport cost.
    Storage cost.
    Reduced range due to low fuel density and heavy tanks.

  6. Aethelred says:

    The return on the energy used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis is one fifth of that needed for the electrolysis process. It is a dumb idea. If we did not have everyone hyperventilating about “emissions” no one would bother.

    do you have source for thos numbers?

  7. Nob says:

    Yet another vacant (for a good reason) “World Leader in …” throne that narcissistic politicians and bureaucrats wish to claim.

  8. duncanm says:

    hang on – what do they use Hydrogen for at this power station, the news talks of a “Hydrogen filled generator” and “turning off the gas”

    I’m confused.

  9. duncanm says:

    oh,… a bit of googling tells me maybe the generators are H2 cooled.

  10. Craig Mc says:

    The energy equation definitely doesn’t add up, but then again it depends where and when the energy happens.

    The idea of generating fuel on-site in remote locations with sunlight and water does have its appeal. The SPV would be off-grid which would keep the power distributors happy, and peak solar times would be more useful generating H2 than pushing unwanted voltage into the grid anyway.

    Whether the numbers stack up is another matter, particularly starting such a fuel network from scratch with few initial customers.

    Also Mak’s point about future fifteen year old badly maintained H2 junkers rolling around like potential Hindenburgs is well taken. There was something about storing H2 in the form of much safer Ammonia, but I can’t remember the details now.

  11. Entropy says:

    Mak Siccar says:
    May 26, 2021 at 4:15 pm
    Dead right David. Not only is the energy equation all wrong, hydrogen is difficult and dangerous to store. Only the rent seekers and grifters will profit

    Seeing as H2 is made from splitting methane, or water, and all its transport and storage problems, would it not make more sense to make it as close as possible to the point of consumption?
    And less than $2/kg, a drop from $10? Oh my aching sides. That isn’t how the world works. I remember being told CSG could be done for $3 /Pj, and that was with just pumping water out of the seam and collecting the gas that percolated.
    Then the NIMBYs, the Greens, other carpet baggers and eager regulators got involved. It is probably closer to $7 or $8 now.

  12. Bruce says:

    Green Hydrogen?

    The stuff is colourless and odourless.

    More dangerously, it burns with s colourless flame.

    It burns extremely rapidly in an oxygen-rich environment.

    The molecule is the smallest naturally occurring one. Thus, it is VERY difficult to contain and transport. Best transported in (super-cold) liquid form.

    Nowhere near as energy-rich per Kg as many common Hydrocarbons.

    Flame front not exactly ideal in infernal combustion engines, on top of its propensity to leak all over the place.

    A political “solution” to a politically-engineered problem, just what we always needed!

    How do the energy equations look?


    There WILL be “spillage” involved.

  13. Primer says:

    The Crony Capitalist Socialist State subsidised genre love it.
    My favourite scam before Hydrogen was Hot Rocks.
    You knew Rocks Inc. was doomed when mammalogist Flannery got allocated an IPO issue. $90 million of taxpayers hard earned trashed.

    But we’re just financial canon fodder for the use of the trendoid elites……

  14. Herodotus says:

    Perry Williams is one of the recurring features of The Australian that made it easy to drop off our subscription list. Not quite as toxic as Cameron Stewart, but close.

  15. Vagabond says:

    Hydrogen has been used as a cooling gas for large alternators for many years. It carries heat away well and reduces windage losses because it’s thinner than air. All large power stations need a supply of the gas for that purpose. It’s not burned as a source of energy.

    That’s entirely different to the hare brained schemes for using it as an energy source. That’s an impractical idea for all sorts of practical engineering, thermodynamic and other reasons. Whenever you hear the words “green hydrogen” you can be sure the person has no idea of what they speak.

  16. Cardimona says:

    Could the CME* have caused a stray current** that ignited the H2 cooling systems***?

    * From the OF…

    V says:
    May 26, 2021 at 7:36 am
    Seems that explosion at Callide Power Station is linked to the CME that hit earth yesterday:

    ** Also from the OF…

    Rockdoctor says:
    May 25, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    This last bit doesn’t make sense as Callide is a coal-fired power station.

    Could be a stray current in areas not wanted…

    Also seemed to remember from somewhere H2 can come out of superheated steam in some circumstances as well. Most my knowledge on this subject is based on pressures and temperatures found from 5km or more under the surface in vicinity of the mantle. Some one with some surface chemistry background could probably shed a better light…

    *** And yes, I’ve been control-f searching keywords in the OF again…

    Eyrie says:
    May 25, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    OK here’s the reasoning for hydrogen in coal fired power stations:

  17. Bozo_66 says:

    Probably used as a coolant on the generator

  18. Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray says:

    Look, the Japs seem to want green hydrogen, and think they can make it work. For them, it might be cheaper than importing oil. If they want to give us money for the stuff, let’s go for it!

  19. RobK says:

    Seems that explosion at Callide Power Station is linked to the CME that hit earth yesterday:
    Id think most likely not. A very severe CME will play havoc with the grid predominantly by generating surges in long conductors (powerlines). These surges will take out transformers and substations if of sufficient strength (very strong, we’re taking Carrington Event scale). The failure of one of a series of machines would lead me to look first for mechanical failure of seals(that exclude air in a pressurised rotor chamber), bearing or something more mundane.
    Not mentioned directly by the ABC is the fact that there is a shortage of spare capacity of heavy duty spinning reserves. Big batteries are quite quick at the uptake but have little depth of energy input relative to an alternative fuel driven prime mover.

  20. RobK says:

    Yes, big generation rotors are H2 cooled.

  21. Lee says:

    That’s entirely different to the hare brained schemes for using it as an energy source. That’s an impractical idea for all sorts of practical engineering, thermodynamic and other reasons.

    So much for the “believe the experts” mantra we keep hearing from leftists and certain people here.

  22. RobK says:

    So much for the “believe the experts”
    I see H2 and ammonia storage in the same category as Carbon Capture and Storage .
    None is ready for prime time. The lead time for these possible solutions is longer than the replacement schedule for conventional systems which are being crucified by RE. At a certain point nukes will be the only choice if coal is sufficiently demonised.
    Time is rapidly running out for a stable system.

  23. Jock says:

    Saw this on Zero Hedge. A good summary of the problems with all these new gazillion renewables we need to build to get to net zero.

  24. Tel says:

    Seeing as H2 is made from splitting methane, or water, and all its transport and storage problems, would it not make more sense to make it as close as possible to the point of consumption?

    I’ve been trying this system where I do the conversion at the very last possible moment … right inside the engine itself. The storage system is based on Octane, but as that breaks down it does burn the hydrogen into H2O.

    Admittedly I bought the thing from Toyota … but I added a bunch of fancy words on top. Did I mention Hydrogen? We can has Hydrogen.

  25. Colonel Crispin Berka says:

    All talk of energy efficiency is totally irrelevant to the electrolysis hydrogen business case.
    For comparison look at petrol engines. They’re 40% efficient at the most, and that is under ideal conditions, often they’re more like 25% efficient. Obviously this doesn’t stop us using them.
    There is no point being an energy Nazi. Engineering does what it can, but economics wins in the end. It’s not the energy efficiency which decides, it’s the cost efficiency. As long as the monetary value of the useful work you get out at the end is more than the cost of the fuel you needed, it is a winner. Now what happens when your main input is low cost because it is gathered from solar/wind power? Remember this is not for realtime grid power where renewables suck, it is for physical storage and export to Japan, where there is no giant cable from Australia and no local competition other than by nuclear.
    That does not mean this business case will work, but you cannot object to it on the energy efficiency basis.

    However much your customer wanted, just keep gathering wind/solar (at the cost of only maintenance and depreciation) until you have the required quantity of hydrogen. Ship it. Japan pays. The trick is getting the *cost* of the electrolysis down, the energy efficiency does not need to change.

    The obvious issue here is delivery quantity. Is the customer going to pay for the contracted quantity no matter how long it takes to gather? You would think delivering regular constant supplies would be important, and that’s where the variability of wind becomes another major obstacle. Again, nothing to do with conversion efficiency.

  26. Jock says:

    APA is already testing if its pipelines can take hydrogen. See page 27 of their Investor day blurb. They are testing on the Parmelia pipeline in WA.

  27. Aynsley Kellow says:

    The material requirements for a renewable transition on the scale Biden has in mind are considerable, bordering on impossible.
    Interestingly, many of the current resources are controlled by China.
    If you want to know why BHP and Rio (having sold coal assets) heavied the Minerals Council to tone down its defence of coal, the answer lies in the boom for such minerals especially, of course, copper – not just in generation equipment, but the high amount of extra transmission lines with dispersed, low density generation and something like 30% load factors.
    We are sleep-walking into an impoverished future – unless we wake up to the fact (as Steve Koonin did) that turning down climate forcings in the models by 25-30% to tune them to the past, but then turning them up again for the 2100 projections is a bit dodgy. Add in the use of RCP8.5 (and extreme emissions scenario) as ‘business as usual’ (Hausfather & Peters, (2020) Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading Nature) and the absence of observational evidence to support the assumed positive feedback from rising water vapour (Paltridge et al). When will the policy-makers wake up?

  28. Rafe Champion says:

    We had better send them a briefing note!
    Only joking, we know the pollies green minders will make sure the pollies never see them.
    But we are having fun:)

  29. Nighthawk the Elder says:

    Bruce says:
    May 26, 2021 at 6:08 pm
    Green Hydrogen?
    The stuff is colourless and odourless.

    Why my friend, Hydrogen comes in an array of colours these days. Just about all the colours of the ‘bow in fact.

    There’s blue hydrogen, which is made from splitting natural gas and grey hydrogen to supposedly cover off other fossil fuels. Although I’ve also heard of black hydrogen, made from black coal (evil, evil, evil planet killer) and brown hydrogen from brown coal, but also sometimes attributed to syngas derived from sewerage plants.

    Yellow hydrogen is produced by electrolysis derived from solar power. (Isn’t that also green hydrogen? I’m confused.) Purple hydrogen, sometimes called red or pink hydrogen is derived from nuclear power.

    And if you think I’m joking, prefix each colour before the word hydrogen in a Google search. For goodness sake, I’ve even learnt tonight whilst doing this post, about turquoise hydrogen (molten metal pyrolysis technology where natural gas is passed through a molten metal that releases hydrogen gas as well as solid carbon).

  30. PeterW says:

    Colonel Crispin Berka says:
    May 26, 2021 at 8:14 pm
    All talk of energy efficiency is totally irrelevant to the electrolysis hydrogen business case.

    More wrong that right.
    You are right in that we must consider the cost-efficiency, but wrong because you haven’t factored in the cost of the whole system, and compared it to the amount of work you get out of it.

    In freight terms, you are talking dollars per tonne per km, and that has to include the machinery and support costs, not just the on-road fuel costs.

    One of the big selling points of liquid fuels is that they have a high energy density at STP (standard atmosphere and pressure). In other words, you can put enough on a tractor or semi to run it for 24hrs between refuelling stops. You can’t do that with hydrogen, unless every freight truck becomes something like a B-Double with the first section being all fuel storage.

    Running at STP, you can put petrol or diesel in a thin steel or alloy tank that is cheap to make, lightweight and will last the life of the vehicle. Can’t do that with hydrogen. Hydrogen tanks are more the weight and construction – not to mention the expense – of scuba tanks.

    Storing hydrogen as ammonia or urea isn’t going to work too well, either. It’s a mature technology with known inefficiencies. What is more, roughly 2/3 of the weight that you are transporting is discarded at the far end. Unless you think you have a use for a gas that makes up most of the air we breathe.

    You can store liquid fuel in a steel tank for months and not lose a significant amount. Can’t do that with hydrogen.

    So where is the new and much larger fleet of h2 tankers going to come from? Tankers that are less efficient to operate because they must be massive and heavy to store anywhere near the same energy value of fuel. How much fuel are you going to burn just shuffling that extra steel backwards and forwards across the ocean?

    It is never as simple as you think.

  31. Leo G says:

    I’m not sure I understand the intended purpose of this hydrogen energy concept.
    It it to use “low cost” renewable energy to operate a high temperature elecrolysis process to produce hydrogen, store the hydrogen, then use the hydrogen in a combined cycle gas turbine and generate electrical power into a grid? Analogous to a very inefficient battery?
    Or is it a plan to use subsidised renewable energy to produce hydrogen for an export market.
    Either way, it seems crazy

  32. Jock says:

    Aynsley, I agree. The miners et al are getting on the band wagon as they can see trillions of dollars, not because they agree. Meanwhile the Governments and Green cultists are desperate to go Net Zero, and spend a lot of money. They have to start now to show that whatever we do means something in 20 years. The reality is that nothing in the climate will change, but the bait and switch, is to LIE and say what we did changed the climate……(.and of course turned us all into slaves of the Global collective run by Google under the watchful eye of “Big Person” , the leader of GlobSoc. )

  33. RobK says:

    All talk of energy efficiency is totally irrelevant
    The infrastructure has to be sized to carry sporadic peak loads. It’s a big ask.
    Most industrial processes aim for a steady feed state to maximise quality and quantity of the product for the capital invested. The weather powered electrolysis concept suffers the same fate as coal generation by swinging like a yoyo. It’s a hard call to do it cheaply that way.

  34. RobK says:

    I’ve posted this before. It’s the story of an eighty year old pumped storage system in Germany. It’s become unprofitable because RE is too variable.

    The Storage Conundrum

    The Cossebaude reservoir is Dresden’s largest and most popular open-air pool. On summer days, up to 8,000 sunbathers lounge on its sandy beach or cool off in the 10,000-square-meter (2.5-acre) lake.

    Cossebaude is also part of the enormous Niederwartha pumped storage hydroelectric plant. At night or on weekends, when there is plenty of available power, lake water is pumped electrically through big pipes into a second reservoir 140 meters above the main reservoir. At noon, when electricity is scarce, the water is released from the higher-elevation reservoir, spinning giant turbines as it descends. The system generates electricity when the cost is high and consumes it when the cost is low. Plant operator Vattenfall makes its profit on the difference. When the plant was connected to the grid in November 1929, it was considered the technology of the future.

    Now the power plant, along with the recreational lake attached to it, could soon be gone. The company plans to shut down the energy storage facility within the next two years. This is bad news for Dresden’s swimmers, but it’s especially detrimental to Germany’s energy transition, which depends on backup power plants like the Niederwartha facility.

    When the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, gas-fired power plants and pumped storage stations are supposed to fill the gap. A key formula behind the Energiewende is that the more green energy is produced, the more reserves are needed to avert bottlenecks.

    This is true in theory, but not in practice. On the contrary, an ironic result of the green energy expansion is that many of the reliable pumped storage stations could be forced out of the market. There are roughly 20 of these power plants in Germany, with Vattenfall being the most important operator. The plants were very profitable for utilities for decades, but now the business has become highly unreliable. Dresden is a case in point.

    When it’s sunny and people are most likely to head to the lake, solar power is abundant and electricity prices drop. This means the pumped storage station earns less money, so the power plant is shut off. In 2009, for example, the turbines in Niederwartha were in operation for 2,784 hours. Last year, Vattenfall ran the facility for only 277 hours. “Price peaks that last only a few hours aren’t enough to utilize the plant to full capacity,” says Gunnar Groebler, head of Vattenfall’s German hydro division.

    No Incentives for Storage

    Not surprisingly, the company invests very little in its pumped storage plants today. In Niederwartha, the buildings are filled with the musty smell of earlier floods, the paint is peeling from the walls and the reservoir leaks.

    It would cost Vattenfall €150 million to modernize the plant. But company executives are hesitant, fearing they won’t recoup that money with future profits. Vattenfall has also hit the brakes elsewhere, like in Hamburg suburb of Geesthacht. Plans to increase the capacity of the existing reservoir there have been put on hold. Instead, the plant is used only as a backup.

    Meanwhile, competitors RWE and EnBW have also shelved plans to build a large pumped storage power station in the southern Black Forest. Trianel, an association of about 100 municipal utilities, withdrew from a similar project at Rursee Lake in the western Eifel Mountains in late June.

    All this gives credence to the claim that Germany’s energy reform is its own worst enemy. Despite the erratic expansion of wind and solar projects, the backup power capacity those projects require is lacking. One study found that Germany’s expansion of renewable energy will require additional storage capacity for 20 to 30 billion kilowatt-hours by 2050. So far the storage capacity has grown by little more than 70 million kilowatt-hours. And hardly anyone is interested in maintaining the existing storage facilities.

    At least that isn’t the case in Dresden, where a grassroots movement is working to keep the old pumped storage facility open — partly because of the popular swimming lake.
    The article is ageing but the principle of the unprofitability of RE holds. If an eighty year old pumped hydro scheme can’t cut it, you really need to tread carefully. Put an electrolyser in its place and you have the same deal.

  35. FlyingPigs says:

    Euthanasia is the key use of hydrogen.

  36. PeterW says:

    Leo G says:
    May 26, 2021 at 9:35 pm
    I’m not sure I understand the intended purpose of this hydrogen energy concept.

    It’s claimed to be a replacement for liquid fuels like petrol and diesel.
    Daydreams about Australia becoming a major exporter of solar energy stumble over the inescapable losses involved in transmission by cable.

    Growing realisation that batteries are vastly too expensive and not fit for purpose when it comes to long-haul transport, mining and agriculture is inspiring similar daydreams of replacing diesel with hydrogen.

  37. Bruce says:

    @Peter W:

    But wait! There’s More!

    Hydrogen embrittlement.

    This is where the hydrogen actually enters the molecular structure of metals. First noted, if I remember correctly, in steel that was being “Hard Chromed”. The steel substrate become sensitive to violent shock or vibration and may crack or rupture at an inconvenient time.

    Weird stuff, Hydrogen.

  38. Rob says:

    The “hydrogen energy” concept seems likely to suffer the same demise as the once loudly touted “wave energy”.
    Washed up and on the rocks!

  39. PeterW says:

    Bruce says:
    May 27, 2021 at 8:48 am
    @Peter W:

    But wait! There’s More!

    Hydrogen embrittlement

    Exactly what you want on your freeways …in millions.

    Bigger, heavier, more vulnerable and more fragile tanks full of a substance that really does behave like the mythical exploding petrol so beloved of Hollywood.

  40. Kneel says:

    “…it is VERY difficult to contain and transport.”

    I know! We can use carbon to “hold” it – a single carbon atom can hold 4 hydrogen atoms! And the resultant gas can be liquified and transported easily – in fact, we already use this gas and transport it in bulk, no problem.
    Natural gas.
    Oh wait – we need carbon… ummm… Oh, we have plenty, we just have to dig it up. From a mineral called “coal”.
    Double plus bonus – we don’t need to sell coal, we can turn it into natural gas instead.
    Sorted – phew!

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