David Archibald | Sept. 24, 2020
In energy policy, the Australian government is compounding stupidity upon stupidity. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now to be spent on the dead end that is the hydrogen economy. To put that stupidity into context, let’s go back a few years and look at the missed opportunities to put things to right.
After Trump’s election win in 2016, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington was given the job of finding a director for the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead of taking the job himself as he should have done, the job was given to Scott Pruitt who was more interested in decorating his office than reform. Mr Pruitt left the position in 2018. Dr Will Happer came into the administration for a while and was expected to write a paper debunking global warming. This was to be the first government report on the planet to say that global warming is a nonsense. That effort was apparently killed off by Jared Kushner and Dr Happer left. Consequently tens of billions of dollars continue to be wasted fighting the phantom menace of global warming.
In fact the global warming misinformation campaign keeps ratcheting up. In 2017 the globalists of the World Economic Forum, based in Geneva but best known for their annual meeting in Davos, created an offshoot called the Hydrogen Council. This is based in Belgium, which is also the birthplace of Dr Evil. The promoters of hydrogen must know it is a non-starter. Their market research on selling global warming would have told them that they needed a positive story about a future nirvana that would be free of the evil carbon. So they go through the charade of promoting the hydrogen heaven to come.
Why is hydrogen no good? A succinct paper on the whys and wherefores was published by Baldur Eliasson and Ulf Bossel in 2003 – “The Future of the Hydrogen Economy: Bright or Bleak?” From that paper, energy lost in power transmission, operation of oil refineries and transport is usually less than 10% of the energy traded. The losses in hydrogen manufacture and transport are much higher and inherent to this element.
Hydrogen has a heating value of 142 MJ/kg compared to methane at 55 MJ/kg. But in terms of volumetric heating value, hydrogen is less than a third of methane at 11.7 kJ/litre. Methane’s value is 36.5 kJ/kg.
Figure 1: Heating value per litre.
Hydrogen has to compressed or liquefied for storage and transport. As figure 1 shows for an equivalent amount of low pressure storage and transport, facilities for handling hydrogen are three times larger than the same energy content of methane. At 800 bar or in the liquid state hydrogen must be kept in hi-tech pressure tanks or cryogenic vessels whereas liquid hydrocarbon fuels are kept at atmospheric pressure in simple containers.
Hydrogen can be made by electrolysis of water, which is 75% efficient, or by steam reforming of natural gas, 90% efficiency. But as the religious compulsion is “clean hydrogen”, no fossil fuels or nuclear energy is allowed.
Producing 1 kg of hydrogen (which has a specific energy of 143 MJ/kg or about 40 kWh/kg) requires 50–55 kWh of electricity.
Solar panels made in China using power priced at US$0.04/kWh can produce power priced equivalent to power from diesel engines at about US$0.15/kWh under ideal conditions in a desert, for eight hours per day. So at best clean hydrogen could be produced for US$8.00/kg, not including the capital costs of the electrolysis segment.
Ten times as much energy is required to compress hydrogen as the same weight of methane. To compress one tonne per hour of hydrogen to 200 bar (natural gas pipelines operate up to 150 bar) takes 7.2% of its heating value.
Liquefying hydrogen is highly energy intensive. At a plant capacity of 100 kg of liquid hydrogen per hour, about 60 MJ of electrical energy is used per kg of hydrogen. Plant efficiency increases with plant size but with a theoretical minimum of about 40 MJ, equating to 28% of the contained energy of the hydrogen produced. By comparison liquefying methane takes 6% of the contained energy of the methane feedstock.
Storing hydrogen as a metal hydride of alkali metals is comparable to compression in terms of energy consumption. External heat is needed to release hydrogen from the metal hydride storage material. The amount of hydrogen that can be stored per cubic metre of metal hydride is about 60 kg, approaching that of liquid hydrogen of 72 kg per cubic metre. But it is well short of the 100 kg contained in a cubic metre of methanol.
Distribution of hydrogen by pipeline would require a new system. It is well established that existing pipelines cannot be used for hydrogen, because of diffusion losses, brittleness of materials and seals, incompatibility of pump lubrication with hydrogen and other technical issues. That hasn’t stopped Australian gas distributors from spiking their gas supply with 5% hydrogen. No doubt one day they will wake up to find their pipes and valves embrittled and leaking like a sieve.
Because of the low volumetric energy density of hydrogen, the flow velocity must be increased by over three times in a pipeline delivering hydrogen as compared to methane. In a natural gas pipeline 0.3% of the contained energy of the transported gas is used every 150 km to run the compressors. In a hydrogen pipeline this rises to 1.4% every 150 km.
If delivering hydrogen by pipeline is energy-intensive, distributing it by road transport is far more problematic. By Eliasson and Bossel’s figures, a 40 ton truck could deliver 25 tons of gasoline, 3.2 tons of methane but only 320 kg of hydrogen. This is a consequence of the low energy density of hydrogen and the weight of the pressure vessels.
In their parable of the gasoline station, a mid-size filling station on a freeway sells 25 tons of fuel each day. This can be delivered by one 40 ton truck. But it would need 21 hydrogen trucks to deliver the same amount of energy to the station. About one in one hundred trucks on the road are gasoline or diesel tankers. For hydrogen distribution by road that would rise to 120 trucks on the road with 21 of these transporting hydrogen with one out of six truck accidents involving a hydrogen truck.
What if hydrogen was generated at filling stations by electrolysis and then compressed to 200 bars? Eliasson and Bossel calculate that at a station servicing 1,000 vehicles per day the efficiency of conversion of the electric power required would be about 50%, in turn requiring power generation capacity to be tripled.
The problems of hydrogen are innate – its physical properties are incompatible with the requirements of the energy market. As Eliasson and Bossel state, most of hydrogen’s problems cannot be solved by additional research and development. If hydrogen is irredeemable, what would be the ideal energy carrier? It would be a liquid with a boiling point of at least 60°C and a solidification point under 40°C. It would stay liquid under normal weather conditions and at high altitudes. Even if oil had never been discovered, the world would not use synthetic hydrogen but a synthetic hydrocarbon fuel.
All the above is known to the promoters of the glorious hydrogen economy to come. Theirs is a cynical exercise in duping the public in order to advance the globalist agenda. Australia’s politicians are either foot soldiers in that globalist putsch or easily deluded simpletons.
We rational people can dream too. Economic modelling gives President Trump a 90% chance of winning the election a few weeks away. Soon after Dr Happer will be recalled and sign off on the report that drives a stake through the heart of the global warming monster. The globalist rent-seekers will be forced to get real jobs. Scientific truth will be pursued as an end in itself. We can dream.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare