Drilling For Hydrogen

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

As a result of my post on energy storage entitled Getting Energy From The Energy Store, a few people brought up the idea of using hydrogen as an energy source. You see this on the web, that we could power our civilization on hydrogen, convert all the trucks and buses to run on hydrogen, they call it shifting to a “hydrogen economy”… and why not? You can burn hydrogen just like natural gas, you can run an internal combustion engine on hydrogen, what’s not to like? Here’s a typical intro to an analysis:

A Comparison of Hydrogen and Propane Fuels.

Hydrogen and propane have long histories of being used as fuel. Both fuels can be used safely if their physical, chemical, and thermal properties are understood and if appropriate codes, standards, and guidelines are followed. Although the properties of hydrogen have been compared to those of propane and methane, these comparisons were made to facilitate appreciation of the physical and chemical differences and similarities among these fuels. It is not possible to rank these fuels according to safety because plausible accident scenarios can be formulated in which any one of the fuels can be considered the safest or the most hazardous.

So what’s wrong with this comparison, between hydrogen and other competitive fuel sources like propane and methane?

What’s wrong is that people misunderstand hydrogen. Hydrogen is not an energy source. There are no hydrogen mines. You can’t go out and drill somewhere into a deposit of hydrogen and bring it back home to burn.

And why can’t we mine hydrogen and bring it home and burn it to power our cars?

The reason we can’t mine and burn hydrogen is simple … it’s all been burnt already. The nerve of nature! I mean, people are always warning that we’ll burn up all the fossil fuels, and now we find out that nature has already gone rogue on us and burned up all the hydrogen …

water moleculeFigure 1. Burnt hydrogen, showing the hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Most of the burnt hydrogen we call “the ocean”. Another bunch of it is in the form of hydrocarbons such as propane and natural gas. But there’s none of it that is available for drilling or mining, it’s all bound up in other compounds. And as a result, hydrogen is not a source of energy, it is merely a way to transport energy from Point A to Point B.

And this in turn means that the main competition to hydrogen, what we should be comparing it to, is not natural gas, nor propane as the quote above says, nor any other gas.

Instead, the main competition to hydrogen, the true comparison, is to electricity, which is our current means of transporting energy. Saying that we could “power our civilization on hydrogen” is as meaningless as saying we could “power our civilization on electricity” … neither one is a source of power, they’re just different ways to transport energy around the planet.

This is not to say that hydrogen is not useful, merely to clarify what it is useful for—transporting energy from one place to another. It is not a source of energy, it is a way to move energy. This distinction is very important, because it lets us make the proper comparison, which is not comparing hydrogen to propane as they did above, but comparing hydrogen to its real competition—electricity.

Now, compared to electricity as a means of transporting energy, hydrogen suffers from a number of disadvantages.

The first disadvantage results from what I modestly call “Willis’s Rule Of Small Stuff”, which states:

It is far easier to move electrons than to move molecules.

This rule has ramifications in many fields, including the transportation of energy. For example, consider the difference between moving a large amount of energy over say a hundred miles (160 km) by the two competing transportation methods, electricity and hydrogen.

For electricity, you just have to move electrons. So you string a pair of copper wires up on poles from Point A to Point B, and … well … that’s about it. You hook one end to a generator of electricity, and a charge appears at the other end of the wires. There’s not much leakage, not much problems of any kind. The system is robust and relatively safe, and able to withstand storms and temperature extremes.

Now, consider moving the same amount of energy as hydrogen. For that, you have to move molecules. First off, you need a pipeline. Now, we’re all familiar with pipelines for moving energy, the trans-Alaska pipeline is a fine example. Pump oil in at one end, add some pumping stations along the route to keep it moving, and oil pours out the other end.

Hydrogen, though, is a very difficult beast to pump through a pipeline. To start with, hydrogen has very, very low energy density. So you have to pump a huge amount of it, about 4,000 times the volume of gasoline or oil for the same energy.

Next, hydrogen is incredibly sneaky. You know how a rubber balloon filled with helium loses its helium over time? The helium is small enough to go through holes in the rubber balloon, tiny holes that are too small for air to pass through. Well, hydrogen is even worse. It can escape right around a piston in a pump, and run happily out through the pipe threads in any pipeline connectors. It also requires special gas-tight connections from end to end of the delivery chain, you can’t just stick the hydrogen pump nozzle into your gas tank like you can with gasoline or diesel. So moving the molecules of hydrogen (H2) turns out to be a much, much harder problem than moving the electrons with electricity.

The second disadvantage of hydrogen as a means of transporting energy is the low energy density mentioned above. The energy content of fuels varies with their density. So for example, diesel has more energy per litre than gasoline, which is lighter. And alcohol is even less dense, so it contains less energy per litre than either gas or diesel. Now, consider hydrogen gas. Figure 2 shows a chart comparing various materials regarding energy density in two different measures—megajoules per litre (MJ/L), and megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg).

energy densitiesFigure 2. Energy density of selected materials. Vertical scale is in megajoules per litre, and the horizontal scale is in megajoules per kilogram. Hydrogen is at the lower right. Click to embiggen. SOURCE

This leads to an oddity. Hydrogen gas has a huge amount of energy per kilogram … but almost no energy per litre. Gasoline holds about 35 megajoules per litre (MJ/L). But even compressed at 700 bar (about 10,000 psi) hydrogen has only about 5 megajoules per litre. That means that you have to move a lot of hydrogen, or pack a lot of it into a car or truck fuel tank, to have enough energy for practical purposes.

Now folks are always claiming that this problem will be solved by adsorbing the hydrogen onto an as-yet-unknown substance from which it can be recovered as hydrogen gas by heating the substrate. But that can’t possibly be as energy dense as liquid hydrogen, and liquid hydrogen has only a measly ten megajoules per litre. So adsorbing it will not solve the problem.

Nor will liquefying it, seeing as how you have to keep liquid hydrogen at about 240 degrees C below zero (-405°F) … not practical.

And that means that if someone want to store much energy, say at a hydrogen fueling station, well, they’ll need a whole lot of high-pressure tanks with special fittings, and they’ll need to be about six times as large as the corresponding gasoline tanks to contain the same amount of energy. Or if they are storing the hydrogen adsorbed onto the surface of some as-yet-undiscovered material, they won’t need to be high pressure, but they’ll need to be even bigger.

The third disadvantage of hydrogen as a transportation medium is safety. Yes, electricity is dangerous, of course. But electricity isn’t flammable, and hydrogen is extremely flammable. Hydrogen has an unusual quality. Most fuels only burn when there is a certain ratio of fuel to oxygen. But hydrogen will burn whether it’s a little hydrogen mixed with a lot of air, or a lot of hydrogen mixed with a little air. Not only that, but the hydrogen flame is colorless and invisible in sunlight … not a good combination.

The final disadvantage of hydrogen as a transportation medium is that after using hydrogen to transport energy from A to B, it is hard to convert hydrogen back into other useful forms of energy. For example, electricity can be used to drive a millshaft, to heat a cup of tea, to shoot a railgun projectile at supersonic speeds, to energize a magnet, to wash my clothes, to power a laser, to propel a train via linear induction, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, or to drive a chemical reaction against an energy gradient.

Out of all of those uses, hydrogen can drive a millshaft and heat a cup of tea …

All of this taken together, of course, is the reason that our civilization did not adopt the use of hydrogen as an energy transportation medium, and we settled on electricity instead … because, well, it’s kind of a no-brainer. For just about any purpose you can name, including (in my opinion) transporting energy around for powering cars and trucks, hydrogen is well down on my list of good candidates.

Now, if I can just find out who burnt up all the hydrogen and didn’t save it for the grandkids like Death Train Jim Hansen advised us to do …

w.

 

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197 thoughts on “Drilling For Hydrogen

  1. Cheap, specious shot, Mr. Watt. I’m sure you know quite well that the “Hydrogen Economy” as described does not rely on “Pumping it out of the ground” as you so glibly put it, nor is it intended to rely on coal or other fossil fuel-based power plants. Perhaps a reminder is in order:

    http://harvardmagazine.com/2004/01/the-hydrogen-powered-fut.html

    REPLY: perhaps you should look at who the author is, Willis Eschenbach, and also learn to spell my name correctly before you call “cheap shots” – Anthony

    REPLY: I’ve replied to Mr. Allen below … -w.

  2. jdallen says:
    July 1, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Maybe you should check who the author of this blog article is?

  3. jdallen on July 1, 2013 at 1:35

    “Hydrogen Economy” as described does not rely on “Pumping it out of the ground” …
    ———————-

    Upon what does the hydrogen economy rely, since there isn’t any hydrogen lying around,

  4. @ jdallen

    Your link has a rather large amount of “could” “possible” and “proposed” scattered through it.
    I’m not sure I’d want to be driving a light weight vehicle with a 10,000 psi pressurised tank in it anywhere. More so if it contained liquid hydrogen.

    Sorry, I’ll stay with the facts and figures Willis (Not Mr. Watt as you assumed) has shown. At least I can check and verify what Willis has written, your article is heavy on conjecture, light on verifiable facts.

    But, thanks for posting, there are some good pieces of alternative life style adaptions to pick out, but hydrogen fuel isn’t one of them

  5. Willis: Another disadvantage of using H2, is destruction of stratopheric ozone, and subsequent global COOLING. And of course, ozone holes at both poles. Warwick (2004) disputes this.

    Tromp (et al 2003) assumed 10% leakage. Warwick assumed 1%. Both estimates I find low. In distilling and transporting liquid N2, the loss rates are near to 10% PER DAY. In warm environments, its 25% per day. As you say, H2 is another beast again.

    All below are behind pay walls, I am afraid. Google “Tromp et al. (2003) ozone”

    Scholarly articles for Trompe et al. (2003) ozone
    Potential environmental impact of a hydrogen economy … – ‎Tromp – Cited by 222
    Sensitivity of Arctic ozone loss to stratospheric H2O – ‎Feck – Cited by 22
    Impact of a hydrogen economy on the stratosphere and … – ‎Warwick – Cited by 73

  6. jdallen

    Cheap, specious shot, Mr. Watt….

    The big idea in jdallen’s article is to use a combination of wind power and unobtainium to produce the trickle of energy required to heat the über expensively insulated homes of millionaires in their secret mountain lairs, while they stroke white haired cats and ponder the miserable fate of the shivering cold poor people stuck outside their fortified compound.

    I tell you what – I’ll give the hydrogen a go, if someone pays for my super insulated tropical vivarium where I can grow bananas in Colorado.

  7. Great read, thanks Willis! I agree with Warren in New Zealand, I would not relish the prospect of having a tank (Albeit they are very safe these days, but still.) with highly compressed, liquefied, hydrogen in the back of my car or in any other vehicle for that matter. There is a reason why tanks, gas bottles, boilers and the like are pressure tested with water and not air (Or any other gas).

  8. The idea of a “hydrogen economy” seems to be founded on a complete denial of the laws of thermodynamics. You use electricity to electrolyse water and throw away the oxygen then all you can do is to burn the hydrogen to generate electricity. Hmmm. .. If you believe that then here in this suitcase i have a small perpetual motion machine i will see you for several millions!

  9. A few weeks ago, a truck loaded with compressed hydrogen had an heavy accident here where several of the “cigar”-formed tanks did start to burn. The fire brigade continuously cooled the truck and tanks from a distance and evacuated the neighbourhood for some 500 meters, blocking the highway for the same distance. It did take several days before the tanks were burned out and the truck and tanks could be removed.
    I know of cars using LPG, where the tanks have internal stop valves in case of a car accident, but it seems not that easy to perform for hydrogen, which is a quite problematic gas creeping through almost all materials (including steel at high temperature!).
    Not the best energy bearer for transport, even not into the far future…

    In my former work (chlorine factory), hydrogen was a byproduct of the salt electrolyses. That was sold via a hydrogen network to nearby works where it was used to hydrogenate vegetable oils (for margarine/fats) and desulphurising diesel/heating oil. Nowadays they are working on fuel cells, so that they can use the hydrogen directly back for the electrolyses. Seems the best ways to use hydrogen: as fast as possible after generation, without storage or much transport.

  10. Hydrogen economy… The captain of the Hindenburg is calling and he’s on fire over this…

  11. Jdallen, Whoever wrote that article is NOT an engineer. I am an engineer and Willis has written an excellent explanation on energy transport for laymen. What part of it did you not understand?

  12. I learned about hydrogen while working for Air Liquide. I wish it was the perfect energy source.

  13. jdallen on July 1, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Cheap, specious shot, Mr. Watt. I’m sure you know quite well that the “Hydrogen Economy” as described does not rely on “Pumping it out of the ground” as you so glibly put it, nor is it intended to rely on coal or other fossil fuel-based power plants. Perhaps a reminder is in order:http://harvardmagazine.com/2004/01/the-hydrogen-powered-fut.html

    Cute, innit? This should be a lightbulb moment for folk like Jd, the facts are so clearly explained by Willis, but, instead we get the above…..

  14. jdallen, that house sounds great. But how much does it cost? Right now “greening up” a house like that is something only millionaires can afford. Plus, how would that work in an entire city the size of, let’s take a small one, Vienna? The fuel cell cars? Nice idea. It’s now almost 10 years after this article. Where are they? Nowhere. I’ve never seen even one of them. I’d think that, after almost a decade, there would be more of those.

  15. Robert Westfall says:
    July 1, 2013 at 2:26 am
    Jdallen, Whoever wrote that article is NOT an engineer. I am an engineer and Willis has written an excellent explanation on energy transport for laymen. What part of it did you not understand?
    …………………….
    I think the problem was with the parts he didn’t WANT to understand.

  16. Willis dangles the hook into the water… almost immediately, a fish bites.

    jdallen, I’m not sure what’s wrong with your ability to read, but clearly something is. The whole point of the exercise is that there is no natural source of pure hydrogen that we can easily use.

    There are 3 major problems with using hydrogen:
    1. The amount of energy required to liberate hydrogen from water or whatever other source we need is extremely large.
    2. Storage and transportation is a bigger problem than proponents seem to realize.
    3. There isn’t enough energy in the stored or transported hydrogen to provide a return on the effort.

    However, there is a plus side to this. Hydrogen arranges itself as molecules of H2 – two atoms bonded together. By simply adding a single carbon atom to 4 hydrogen atoms we get a far more stable gas, CH4, with a larger molecular size that greatly reduces the storage and transportation problems. It has a narrower range of air/fuel ratios that it can burn at. The only byproducts of burning this fuel would be harmless CO2 and H2O.

    The absolute BEST part of all of this is that we can, in fact, pump this stabilized version of hydrogen out of the ground, with massive known deposits and the potential for there to be several TIMES more in recoverable form.

    Attentive readers will recognize that I am talking about Natural Gas.

  17. Given that you have surplus energy that you cannot store or use immediately – think wind power when the wind is blowing and demand is down, or sunlight during midday when demand is lowest – then using the surplus electricity to do something that can store energy is reasonable. Pumped storage for hydroelectric plants has been a favourite in the past. However, using it in electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen is reasonable. You can store the hydrogen, and then use it later as a fuel to provide electricity when demand is high.

    As Mr Eschenbach demonstrates, hydrogen is inconvenient, to say the least, to transport, either as a high pressure gas or as a cold liquid, in bulk or in car sized quantities. So transport is out. But remember the massive gas holders at the power stations that turned coal into coke and coal gas? What we in the UK called gasometers? At low pressure storage, losses would be minimal. As the volume contained in the holder increases by the cube of a linear dimension, the surface area through which leaks would occur only increases by the square. Pressure would only be sufficient to hold up the roof and walls – remember the US pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka held up by a slight increase in the internal air pressure (rather more for an aluminium structure than canvas, but not much surely?).

    The big problem with wind and sunlight as “renewable energy” power sources has always been that the energy is not always available when you want it, or that there is more than you need. Electrolysis plus on site storage of the hydrogen and use of it as fuel when demand is high is, at least, plausible, and could, again perhaps, greatly improve the efficiency of the “renewable energy” source..

    Like others, I find the Harvard Magazine article too replete with ‘could’ and ‘would’ – rather reminiscent of Mr Daniken’s use of ‘could’ and ‘would’ to prove that aliens did something or other in the past. And is Nuclear Power really so expensive compared with other energy sources? Twice, perhaps, but 31 times??? Why then are new nuclear power stations on the draawing boards and being built?

  18. Hydrogen fuel cells have been developed at Argonne for many years; it just occurred to me now that being a DOE lab, their vision of the future included fast breeder reactors in every small town or a city block, and they had to find a way to utilise all that hydrogen that the existing reactors simply vent into the atmosphere.

  19. A better comparison that could hit three birds with one stone is to use carbon dioxide as fuel. You could get methanol from the reaction of carbon dioxide and hydrogen or formaldehyde with the proper catalyst. Although your energy balance would show very high energy inputs than the energy in the output– AGW policy makers dont care. The very high energy inputs could be supplied by renewables such as solar, wind, etc. It is a winning proposition all around. The renewable energy sector makes money, you get credit for reduction of carbon dioxide, and you get a good liquid fuel. You have three beneficiary sectors of the economy not to mention the deeper ties that will result with China as more rare earths metals are needed for the renewable energy source. Yes it is a wastes of money, but you need some money wasting initiatives to prevent an economic recession.

  20. @jdallen – “Cheap, specious shot!” this is more easilly applied to your comment than the interesting and considered article you want to attack.

    Willis uses very basic science (that even I could understand) to explain why hydrogen is not an available energy source that can be mined and why it is difficult to use for moving large amounts of energy from place A to place B. It might be useful as an temporary onsite energy storage system in places where there is lots of space, such as close to a windfarm.

  21. Favourite hydrogen fact.
    If you release 1 gram of hydrogen at any point on the earth…it will be equally distributed through the entire earth’s atmosphere within 24 hours.
    This is due to the it’s immense kinetic energy and small size of its atoms.

  22. Dudley Horscroft

    Given that you have surplus energy that you cannot store or use immediately – think wind power when the wind is blowing and demand is down, or sunlight during midday when demand is lowest – then using the surplus electricity to do something that can store energy is reasonable. Pumped storage for hydroelectric plants has been a favourite in the past. However, using it in electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen is reasonable. You can store the hydrogen, and then use it later as a fuel to provide electricity when demand is high.

    Sadly this is not a viable proposition. The reason is renewables are already hideously expensive – so adding inefficient electrolysis, lossy hydrogen storage, and inefficient conversion back into electricity makes the entire business ludicrously unaffordable.

    Like Willis said in another article http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/06/29/getting-energy-from-the-energy-store/ , energy storage is a wicked problem – in a hundred years, there have been no major breakthroughs or advances.

  23. Just a crazy idea. Let’s bind that hydrogen to carbon atoms. We’ll call it err… hydro-carbon.

  24. To: jdallen,
    Perhaps some day you will gain the consciousness to realize that you are the one who has taken the cheap, specious shot…

  25. As I read Willis’ article I thought; given the guaranteed inefficiency of a hydrogen based economy it would undoubtedly attract environmentalists. Sure enough one turned up at the first comment.

  26. Mr. Eschenbach conveniently forgets to mention Hydrogen can be easily and safely stored in (and extracted from) the lattice of suited materials and with and energy density in MJ/l comparable to gasoline (assuming 100% efficiency in the fuel cell and electrical motor). The coal and oil mafia don’t want you to know but just 50l of Palladium can give a Prius sized car the range of gasoline with zero CO2 emissions!

  27. The article also mentioned getting hydrogen from natural gas along with sequestration of the resultant CO2. So, the solutions to all our problems is they hydrogen economy which is fueled by a much higher cost fuel, requires a complete infrastructure fix and has a few more safety concerns. And we all need to live in superinsulated homes that only a few can afford to build. And, for those who are in to saving the earth, just how much environmental damage would be done by creating superinsulated housing for a few billion folks?
    Well, off to the hydrogen store for my energy recharge.

  28. Wow have the people that want Hydrogen to replace Fossil Fuels because their use emits Carbon Dioxide greenhouse gases checked what you get which you burn Hydrogen say in your cars engine or use in a Hydrogen Fuel Cell ? H20 vapor an Greenhouse gas that is just only some 50 times more powerful than Carbon Dioxide Gas. Natures super fuel that just happens to make up 45% of the very food we eat and feeds the world. The very same gas they want to reduce or eliminate from our Atmosphere. 50 times stronger ya that should be the very thing we need to save us from all that Carbon emissions from burning all those Fossil fuels. That should save us from all that Globe warming that’s going to be the end of us all. NOT. Do these people actually think before they start to preach their climate change sermons. Lets just change every thing to ran off Hydrogen don’t worry it Carbon Free so it can’t hurt the Climate. Ya just one question for the true believers out there. If you believe that lots of Carbon Dioxide gas been emitted in the Atmosphere can change and harm the Climate. What would the very same amount of a Greenhouse Gas that’s just 50 times stronger than Carbon Dioxide do to the Atmosphere and the Climate Ha? Love to hear Greenpeace answer to that one !

  29. Dudley Horscroft, the only way that wind or solar will EVER be useful in any way is if they can store energy for calm days, cloudy days, or night. We’ve already discussed the issues with industrial sized batteries, during which the already-proposed ideas of giant flywheels and compressed air were discussed. Oddly enough, these technologies still make far more sense than separating H from H2O and trying to store it and recover energy from it.

    Thing is, wind and solar tend to be in more remote locations but we use most energy in cities. Instead of attempting to store this energy at the usage location, it would probably make more sense to store it at the generating location. That way if a flywheel breaks free or a giant compressed air cavern splits open you won’t have nearly the carnage.

    Still, not matter how many times I look at what are euphemistically called “renewables”, I can see no way of making their output into a useful, reliable supply of what we all need to heat our homes and comment on internet blogs. The only really reliable and safe energy is still Nuclear.

    (Interesting factoid: Grand Central Station, with its mostly granite construction, has a higher radioactivity level than is legally allowable in a nuclear power plant)

  30. jdallen – The article you posted contains the following sentence: “Unlike sun, wind, water, petroleum, and coal, hydrogen is not an energy source, but rather an energy carrier.“. It goes on to compare it with electricity – another carrier.

    Precisely one of w’s points.

    Your article goes on to say “Hydrogen is the most concentrated energy carrier in the universe: 2.2 pounds of it can carry the same energy as 6.2 pounds of gasoline. That’s a key reason why liquid hydrogen makes excellent rocket fuel. [...] When it does burn, hydrogen’s clear flame produces only heat and water—no choking smoke or soot, which are carbon products. Another safety advantage is that its clear flame cannot sear skin at a distance.“.

    w also pointed out the high power of H by weight (nowhere near U, BTW). But the reason H is good as rocket fuel but not an everyday fuel is that “liquid” word – as w pointed out, the temperature needed rules it out on economic grounds. The last part of that last quote from your article is pure spin. Modern coal-fired power stations don’t emit choking smoke or soot, and that clear H flame is extremely dangerous when it isn’t at a distance, as w points out.

    The rest of the article, while trying hard to sell H as a fuel, basically showed how complicated and inefficient it is. And as for the example it gave of a fuel cell being used for electricity backup by the police station in Central Park – well, that fuel cell uses natural gas, not H: “ a fuel cell that could use the precinct’s existing natural gas line” (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/FutureTech/Story?id=97554&page=2#.UdFnum26NNs).

    I would be happy to see H become economically and practically competitive with other fuels, but it won’t happen for all the reasons given by w – some of which are basic scientific laws. That wasn’t a cheap shot by w, it was a lucid explanation, based on sound physics, of H’s truly insurmountable problems.

  31. From Wikipedia;

    Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston.
    Over half of the supply of palladium and its congener platinum goes into catalytic converters, which convert up to 90% of harmful gases from auto exhaust (hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide) into less-harmful substances (nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapor).
    Ore deposits of palladium and other PGMs are rare, and the most extensive deposits have been found in the norite belt of the Bushveld Igneous Complex covering the Transvaal Basin in South Africa, the Stillwater Complex in Montana, United States, the Thunder Bay District of Ontario, Canada, and the Norilsk Complex in Russia. Recycling is also a source of palladium, mostly from scrapped catalytic converters. The numerous applications and limited supply sources of palladium result in the metal attracting considerable investment interest.

  32. /Users/imac/Desktop/electricity price comparison.tiff

    Electricity in France is the cheapest in Europe thanks to the fact that 85% of the electricity generation is nuclear.

  33. I tried to add a figure but that doesn’t work.

    [Post it on Photobucket, and then post a link. The link has to have the "html" prefix, if it does then WordPress will convert it to an active link. -w.]

  34. JPS says:
    July 1, 2013 at 4:30 am

    Hydrogen! The fuel of the future!

    And it always will be…
    _____________________
    You are soooo on it.

  35. If the only sensible way to store energy is to pump water up hill, maybe the windmills should be pumping water rather than generating electricity. Skip two inefficiencient energy conversions. We could put them near tarns. Luckily there are no tarns in my back yard.

  36. Hydrogen is explosive, especially when contained in a high pressure (usually) metal container.

    So far, there have not been that many hydrogen explosions, partly because it is so little used and partly because the gas escapes so quickly. But we are talking about the definition of a bomb and shrapnel here.

  37. Sigmundb:
    Yeah, fifty liters of palladium could store a heckuva lot of hydrogen, with a few tiny little problems.

    Palladium is really rare. And expensive. And heavy.

    One car, with a fifty liter storage tank (as you suggest), would need a significant fraction of the world’s palladium production (you could only build 330 such cars with the entire world’s production of palladium in one year) – and the tank alone would cost over $13 million dollars, on top of weighing 600 kilograms.

  38. Willis, you have put it in words for the layperson which includes nearly all politicians particularly whose who are “green” believers. Unfortunately the the latter close their brains and do not want to see.
    Not sure if your calculations are on gross energy. Do not forget in most processes the latent heat of water can not be recovered so the net energy is 15% less than the gross When converting from coal to natural gas in some processes (eg a boiler which has not had extra capital spent on it) the exhaust temperature is higher due to lower flame emissivity giving lower efficiency, and the exhaust volume is higher due to more gas and higher temperature and this results in lower production. Burning hydrogen will be worse than natural gas. Can not think of any industrial process that has used hydrogen as a fuel. (check my calculation of total greenhouse gases including H2O vapor for burning of natural gas and coal)

    • cementafriend says: “Can not think of any industrial process that has used hydrogen as a fuel.”

      Welding.

  39. Sigmundb

    Mr. Eschenbach conveniently forgets to mention Hydrogen can be easily and safely stored in (and extracted from) the lattice of suited materials and with and energy density in MJ/l comparable to gasoline (assuming 100% efficiency in the fuel cell and electrical motor).

    Actually Willis does address this – he posits the theoretical maximum efficiency of Pd lattices as the energy density of liquid hydrogen, which is still 1/5 of the energy density of gasoline.

  40. I may be misquoting someone.
    Energy conversion..
    You can`t win.
    You can`t break even.
    You can`t get out of the game.

  41. Hydrogen would be a viable option as a “non point” energy source i.e. convert excess electrical production from all sources into hydrogen instead of sending the excess into the ground. But that would require a government/industry tuned towards the public good (or long term residual profits) and less so to corporate profits…good luck with THAT.
    The technology developed as a consequence of the American war machine is astounding. Imagine such ventures to develop hydrogen technologies….fuel cells (convert the chemical potential between hydrogen and oxygen into electrical…wow)… hydrogen capture and liquifying technology to go with household/community centres (a UK tinker developed energy capture from evaporating liquid gases)…i could go on, but what’s the point?
    I can just hear the “pitch forks” being sharpened as well as the talking points from the billionaires’ covert “social” clubs….”socialism”, “that’s commie talk”, “Americans f0r Pr0sper1ty” hahaha

    With a political system bought and gift wrapped, the “welfare state” from citizen to corporations, unchecked banksters, unscrupulous foodsters, …

    Watch Brazil closely, my American friends, ’cause you are a finite number of quantum leaps to the bottom from truly understanding…

  42. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    One of my favorite topics. Thanks for the clarity, Willis. Yes, hydrogen may fuel starships some day, but it will never find significant use in our power usage on the planet. The hydrogen economy concept is ridiculous. Hydrogen fuel cells are not even talked about any more. Hydrogen fuel cells will never prove practical compared to alternatives, but methanol fuel cells sure looked promising a few years ago. Anybody know what happened? Why doesn’t my laptop run on 60-gram cartridges?

  43. cirby says:
    July 1, 2013 at 4:59 am

    Yeah, I made it $14,315,786.10 at the current spot price for palladium.

    I imagine there might be a few Tesla owners interested. You’d have to add a hundred thousand dollars to that figure for the rest of the car and 50% on top for profit. $20M ought to do it.

  44. jdallen says:
    July 1, 2013 at 1:35 am
    “Cheap, specious shot…

    _________

    I wonder if you have actually read – or properly understood – your own referenced article there, from which I have taken 6 quotes, numbered below for ease of reference:

    1. “[Hydrogen is] a highly sociable gas, quick to combine with other substances, and hence in nature is never found by itself….”

    I.e. You can’t drill it out of the ground. No disagreement with Eschenbach there, so far as I can see.

    2. “…hydrogen is also the lightest element, making it a fugitive substance that disappears by floating away if not by forming compounds.”

    I.e. It is difficult to transport (so presumably not a great energy carrier). No disagreement there either.

    3. “Unlike sun, wind, water, petroleum, and coal, hydrogen is not an energy source, but rather an energy carrier.”

    I.e. As it says… It is not an energy source, but an energy carrier. No disagreement there either.

    4. “Electricity, which can transmit energy over hundreds of miles, is a pure carrier.”

    No disagreement there.

    5. “Reforming involves mixing natural gas with steam (which produces at least half of the hydrogen in the reaction). The process also releases some carbon dioxide, which Lovins recommends injecting back into the ground where it won’t aggravate the greenhouse effect but can re-pressurize oil or gas wells.”

    I.e. You can reform hydrogen from fossil fuels. But this requires energy to do, and releases CO2 which has to be sequestered. Eschenbach hasn’t directly addressed this point, I’ll admit. But let’s imagine he might have said something like; so why not just burn the fossil fuel and sequester the CO2! Then we can transmit the energy more efficiently as electricity.

    6. “Yet if we create hydrogen only by reforming hydrocarbons, many of the problems of a fossil-fuel economy, such as pollution and scarcity, will persist.”

    I.e. Hydrogen is not a sustainable energy source. I have nothing further to add to this….

    So I agree with the article you linked to, and I agree with the Willis Eschenbach post above, (which you think is cheap and specious), and I have not the slightest symptom of cognitive dissonance as a result.

  45. I once wrote an examination question for a Very Distinguished University that referred to drilling a hydrogen well in the Irish Sea. Later I asked the examiner who marked the answers how many of the students had commented: “none”, said she.

  46. Willis, I must disagree with you on a crucial point. Yes, H2 is extremely difficult to produce and store (it’s just so darn attractive to any oxygen atoms hanging about) but nature long ago came up with a FANTASTIC way to store hydrogen with a very minor modification to the form. Hydrogen needs to be stabilized to be useful, and the best way to do that and still maintain most of the energy potential is to combine 4 hydrogen atoms with 1 carbon, which gives the molecule enough mass to make it containable and usable. This results in the rather miraculous energy storage unit known as CH4, and yes, you really CAN drill for it!

    btw, it’s rather fun to point out to supporters of the “pure” hydrogen economy ideal that the only reliable, energy efficient, and scalable source of H2 is to break it out of CH4. (Oxygen is a jealous mistress, and it takes far too much energy to break the bonds in H2O) But if you’re going to do that, why not just save a step while cutting the complexity of your system way down and produce your energy by combusting CH4 directly? I wonder why no one ever thought of that – oh wait, they have.

  47. Eric writes “Actually Willis does address this – he posits the theoretical maximum efficiency of Pd lattices as the energy density of liquid hydrogen, which is still 1/5 of the energy density of gasoline.”

    However Hydrogen used in fuel cells has about twice the efficiency of gasoline and combustion engines are bigger and heavier than electric motors so the tradeoff isn’t nearly as cut and dry as Willis would have us believe.

    The main problems with Hydrogen are inefficiency in production, difficulty of storage. These are both technical difficulties and in principle can be overcome. But today they haven’t been overcome and in that sense Willis is right that Hydrogen simply isn’t viable yet. But for me that’s not the issue.

    Hydrogen is fundamentally a storage of energy not a medium to transport energy. Its transportability is why we might use it in cars.

    Willis says (in bold no less) “hydrogen is not a source of energy, it is merely a way to transport energy from Point A to Point B.”

    Well that is wrong.

    He says “Hydrogen, though, is a very difficult beast to pump through a pipeline.” and WTF? The only reason we pipe oil is because it comes from one location. The well. Hydrogen doesn’t have that problem and you can in principle create it where ever you like. So if you need it in the city, you produce it in the city…and yes you get the energy there to create it through those wires…

    The Hydrogen is used to store energy to create electricity not replace it. Willis never gives balanced reviews of alternative energies. Its always negative with him. He never even tries to explore any positives and that is telling of his bias.

    He would do far better giving both sides of the argument and then if the technology isn’t viable (as Hydrogen isn’t) then that will come through.

  48. About 10-12 years ago, I talked to a guy from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). At that time, there was a great deal of interest in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, which use hydrogen for fuel. A lot of people were promoting these things as the next great invention for producing electricity for a multitude of applications including transportation. Efforts were focused on converting hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen but the dirty little secret was that in addition to producing CO2, such processes do not provide chemically pure hydrogen. Thus, when the impure hydrogen was “burned” by the fuel cell, the contaminants tended to “poison” (disable) the catalysts so the cell lost efficiency and ultimately failed. EPRI was conducting research (perhaps just a paper study) to see whether it was feasible to run nuke plants at 100% power 24/7 and use the excess power during off-peak hours to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen. Since electrolysis is a process that uses electricity, the grid could be used to power hydrogen production equipment that is distributed to be near the points where needed, thus reducing transportation problems.

  49. @ jdallen

    Your link could hardly be more dated and obsolete. “Wind three times cheaper than nuclear power” obviously depends upon the outrageously nonsensical figure quoted by anti-nuclear nerds
    that a 1000 MW plant would cost over $15 billion. And the claim that “no one is interested in nuclear energy” could hardly be more inaccurate in today’s world, as opposed to the long ago
    world of 2004, when preposterously idiotic claims were being made for solar and wind power by their supporters,accompanied by ridiculous claims about the cost of nuclear, which is almost 4 times the actual cost today, after 10 years of inflation. Wind power is pactically defunct – Britain is building nuclear,not offshore (o onshore) wind anymore, despite the large volume of winds available. Lovin’s claim of 30 to 35 % capacity for wind turbines is way above the average, and nuclear plants average roughly 90% capacity, usually 4 times that of wind. Wind power we now know , based on actual experience costs at least 3 times nuclear Nuclear operating costs became the cheapest form of energy production in 1999. Lovins is, quite frankly, nothing more than hot air. His “solution” to what is now a non-problem (energy) is simply “use less, drive less, or the same old environmentalist crap. Lovins completely missed the fact that we have plenty of energy – just the energy contained in our nuclear wastes (which can be burned by a fast reactor or Thorium reactor) could provide all the electricity this country needs for the next 1000 years.
    And I must point out the enormous land waste of solar – a solar farm large enough to produce the same amount of electricity as a typical modern 1500 MW nuclear reactor would require 80,000
    acres of land.
    I also should point out the often irrelevant issue of energy per pound, volume, etc in comparing energy sources. The electrons stored in an electric car weigh nothing, yet electric cars weigh more that gas powered vehicles. Obviously the reason is because the storage medium (batteries) weigh a lot – the Tesla Model S battery pack weighs nearly 1000 pounds. Comparing energy per pound/volume is also misleading – e…g. the energy in a gallon of gasoline is in large measure “wasted energy” as it is released as heat. Some can be used to heat the car in cold weather, but energy must be expended (running the water pump, fan) to get rid of most of it in the winter and all of it in the summer.

  50. I would like to add, that most rockets that send stuff into space don’t use hydrogen for the first stage. They usually use RP-1 or equivalent, which is a refined kerosene ( a lot not all lol). Second stage usually is hydrogen.

    So even rocket scientists know hydrogen is limited. Hence why I am planning to build my rocket with kero instead of hydrogen.

  51. jdallen says:
    July 1, 2013 at 1:35 am
    “Cheap, specious shot, Mr. Watt.”

    I don’t think the article is a “cheap, specious shot”. I think it is quite sober overview of some of the hydrogen prohibitive disadvantages. I just have one objection – Anthony writes:

    “And that means that if someone want to store much energy, say at a hydrogen fueling station, well, they’ll need a whole lot of high-pressure tanks with special fittings, and they’ll need to be about six times as large as the corresponding gasoline tanks to contain the same amount of energy. Or if they are storing the hydrogen adsorbed onto the surface of some as-yet-undiscovered material, they won’t need to be high pressure, but they’ll need to be even bigger.”

    There actually is the material and it was discovered already in prehistory by nature itself. The material is called carbon. Together with the hydrogen it forms so called hydrocarbons.
    For instance the most simple one is methane CH4, which also happens to to be the most energy dense common hydrocarbon and although having 2.6 times less energy density per kilogram in comparison with liquid hydrogen -it is actually an energy source, chief compound found in natgas (also found in oil and coal), not just energy transport medium -it can be stored compressed at 250 bar without cryogenics, not at 690 -it is liquid at -160 C not -253 C…
    Then we have a little bit complicated ones propane and butane with even little bit less energy density 2.9 times less than liquid hydrogen, and liquids as diesel (mixture of mainly paraffins, napthalenes and alkylbenzenes) with energy density 3 times less than liquid hydrogen -can be stored in unpressurized container as it has low volatility, simmilar density per kilogram but little less per liter has gasoline (mix of various C4-C12 hydrocarbons), as it is more volatile than diesel it should be stored in airtight containers. etc.

    I think Anhony is very right.
    The hydrogen is not much viable.
    It is even dubious if it is a good fuel for the applications where the energy density is absolute priority. Which I think was chiefly the case of fuel for the past generations of the rockets – Even in rocketry the hydrogen was largely abandoned for many disadvantages, which overweighted the only advantage – the energy density of hydrogen if liquid or compressed at very high pressure.

    Why not viable? Besides the technicalities making hydrogen very difficult to handle you need energy to produce it – and if one would have the energy, there are now technologies available able to synthesize almost anything from the hydrocarbon realm including easy to handle liquid fuels as diesel, gasoline and kerosene.

    So why hydrogen? – which is very difficult and costly to handle and potentially very dangerous?

    The question is rather what we do when the reserves of fossil hydrocarbons (the magic stuff carbon which binds the hydrogen) as energy source will be depleted. Where we get the resources of the huge energy which runs our technological civilization?
    It is not much time left…
    Even with the shales the total hydrocarbon reserves are there for way less than century at the curent levels of consumption and my opinion after thorough sonsideration of the subject is that the general hydrocarbon fossil peak will occur before 2050! (my estimation given the current proven and likely reserves, including shales, and and on the other hand trends of consumption is 2045 plusminus 5 years) If the fossil resources will be not fully substituted for until then, the technological civilization as we know it with economy based on growth will cease to exist. A system can’t run without energy and the function of system decay in case the system has less energy readily available than needed to sustain itself is exponential. This is much more actual threat to mankind than a CAGW.

    I’ll add that not even the currently used nuclear technologies, with dubious safety record, based chiefly on fission of the Uranium 235 in light water reactors to produce steam for turbines will save us – there’s not much U-235 left, it is very scarce and the current technologies using it are very inefficient making practically available as electricity only up to 0.2% energy contained if conversion efficiency is taken into account. The remaining reseves of U-235 are barely enough for existing nuclear powerplants until the end of their lifetime. It is true there’s quite alot of Uranium in sea water, but the cost to extract it is 10 fold than from conventional resources.

    Even if we would find the way how to safely and inexpensibly handle the hydrogen, where’s the energy needed to produce it?

    My opinion is that the energy is in one element, much more abundant than Uranium-235. In the naturally occuring Thorium 232. Currently it is the “waste” from mining rare earths.
    The technology how to use it most efficiently was researched in 1950-60s in USA under the programme MSRE in Oak Ridge National Laboratory and demonstrated viable with research reactor already in 1969. Then abandoned mainly for political reasons. Recently it gains again steam, although still very very modestly.
    According to my inside informations from the researchers the amount of money which would be needed to develop this into fully commercially viable technology is in order of ten billion USD. That divided is less than 1 day living cost per person even for the poorer half of the mankind – to finance it and have it. If we would divide the sum only between the inhabitants of the rich west, it would be then way less than 100$ one should contribute to have energy resource technology cappable to run this civilization for at very least thousands of years given the proven Thorium reserves. Moreover the thechnology would produce “by the way” many other things than electricity – Pu-238 and Sr-90 for longlasting nuclear bateries for space research, rare isotopes as Molybdenum-99 for medical purposes, xenon for lighting, rhodium, ruthenium and palladium for electronics and catalytic converters, neodymium for strong magnets, abundance of desalinated water for agriculture where scarce, energy for hydrocarbon fuel synthesis, energy for fertilizer production, and last but not least the energy for the water electrolysis and thus oxygen and the discussed hydrogen production.

    I know, you ask, why on earth when they waste so much money everywhere all the time for nonsenses, including “carbon pollution” fighting, why we already don’t have it?
    A lack of political will perhaps? Too many greens with confused antinuclear stances there for decades? Frankly, I don’t really know. But rarely I agree with J. Hansen and I think he is right it is a disgrace.

    If I go back to the hydrogen there are other isotopes of it: Deuterium and tritium. Deuterium is found in the nature and is quite very abundant – 0.0312%mass of all hydrogen on our planet is Deuterium. It can be together with the Tritium used in the nuclear fusion reactors and the energy density of their appropriate mix then would be 2.6 million times higher per kilogram than of the liquid hydrogen. Problem is that Tritium is except traces not found in the nature and again must be produced in the nuclear reactors. Also, unlike the MSRE technology, despite huge amounts of money invested in the fusion technology development, sober estimates don’t expect it to be commercially available sooner than in several decades. (Not speaking about Deuterium-Deuterium fusion, which is even much harder to achieve.) That could be for us all too late.

  52. Matt:
    A number of years ago, there was a guy who argued that we should use hydrazine as a primary propellant for orbital rockets (not just for final stages and smaller engines).

    When I pointed out that it was a nasty, horrible substance to work with, and would be nearly impossible to manage in thousand ton lots, he just handwaved the problems, claiming it was all just “engineering issues.” My assumption was that he didn’t care, since he wasn’t going to be the person handling it…

  53. Kajajuk says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:18 am

    Did you read what you said before you posted it?? It makes absolutely no sense!
    And that is the problem w/ watermelons; thinking in silos with no connection between the silos leads to absurd beliefs that have no basis’ in the real world.
    BC

  54. I might also point out how ludicrous burning H2 to produce water and permanently removing oxygen from the biosphere actually is, a problem which can’t be overcome unless the H2 is source from water electrolysis, an incredibly inefficient process.

    ps there is another potentially useful Hydrogen carrier for fuel cells that is ammonium (NH4) in its various forms, for example I’m told kg for kg you can get a bit of energy out of ammonium nitrate.

  55. Willis, Another excellent article that explains the properties and myths of hydrogen that impact it’s usefulness as a clean fuel.
    As one who has designed and worked on numerous H2 plants over a number of years, I can confirm the accuracy of your post on the challenges of handling H2. Most H2 is manufactured in a high temperature reforming process using natural gas as a feedstock. Steam and natural gas are fed into tubes inside a high temperature furnace. CO2 is a large byproduct of manufacturing hydrogen in this process so the myth that burning H2 is clean neglects this fact.

    Virtually every refinery in the world uses hydrogen plants since H2 is used extensively to remove sulfur and upgrade heavy oils at high pressures and temperatures. Massive amounts of H2 are used in this upgrading of crude oils. Also hydrogen is extensively used in Chemical plants in the manufacture of the many plastics and products that we use everyday.

    I remember the foolishness of our MSM and government several years ago touting the clean H2 cars that we would all be driving, knowing full well how we manufacture large quantities of H2 from natural gas.
    Willis is correct, H2 is not an energy source, but it does have important applications in clean fossil fuels and chemical products. By the way the so called bio fuels are also dirty and require extensive clean up using H2. There is lots of sulfur in wood and most of the other cellulosic biofuel feedstocks that needs to be removed.
    When will the MSM do it’s homework and stop misleading us??

  56. cirby:
    I tend to find when the person doesn’t have to handle something they don’t seem to care. Hydrazine is only good anyway for small orbital movements (which I am sure you are aware).

    I do find after starting this rocket project a lot of people seem to have no idea. Keep asking me where I will get Hydrogen from, when you explain its better to use a fossil fuel, aka kero. They tend to go weird. Then crap on about it being dirty and I need to use a ‘clean’ fuel.

  57. Remember when they were touting hydrogen to replace gasoline in cars a few years ago? At the time I wondered where they would get all that hydrogen. That all faded away, as reality caught up with idealism.

  58. @jdallen
    If the author of your Harvard Mag article had ridden his bicycle about a mile down the road he could have talked to some real engineers about the realities of a hydrogen economy before he wrote his article.
    Thanks again Willis!

  59. I once, not too long ago actually, debated with someone who was a carbon dioxide and methane hater, with regards to AGW and climate change, who told me methane had “4 carbons”, I kid you not!

  60. Nice piece Willis.

    You’ve hit the nail squarely on the gad as usual.

    Jdallen, you really don’t know the first thing about it, do you? Mind you, it would seem you omitted to read the article – and if you did, you didn’t remotely begin to understand it.

    Shoo!

  61. There is one way in which hydrogen may become an integral part of energy generation – see

    http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.3913v3

    On page 23 of the report in the above link is the same diagram as in the post by Willis (whose posts I always enjoy reading).

    The scepticism at the time of Fleischmann and Pons announcement of cold fusion in 1989 one can understand. Using the sort of dirty tricks (data manipulation), “consensus” and ad hominem attacks, familiar to readers of this blog, was enough to drive this area of investigation well away from main stream science. However, there are still men with integrity who are prepared to go against the accepted “settled” science and support work on this phenomenon. Brian Josephson (Cambridge) and Rob Duncan (Missouri) – a former sceptic – are examples. There are also business men like Rossi who, admittedly with a dubious past, have recognised an opportunity.

    Perhaps hydrogen and nickel may indeed be a source of future energy, but in a completely different way from the “hydrogen powered future” referred to in the first comment.

  62. @jdallen

    You cited a blog nearly 9 years old. In nearly a decade, nothing has really advanced in the ‘hydrogen economy,’ has it? Otherwise,you would quote something not so out-of-date.

    Where are the hydrogen power stations? Where are the hydrogen-powered cars? Heck, where’s my flying car?

    Seriously, you have to learn to tell the difference between speculative, Utopian fantasy and the real world, Myself, I love watching those Ancient Astronauts ‘documentaries’ on the History Channel, but I know they are just wild-eyed speculation without any basis upon verifiable fact.

  63. I enjoy the immensely convoluted imaginings of the likes of Mr J D “cheap shot” Allen and his greeny chums but I wonder why they continue to speculate about all these pointless sources of energy when we already have abundant cheap energy available. We have nuclear to provide electricity. France does it very well and has done safely and cheaply for 50 years. We are developing new nuclear technology all the time. We can now burn the waste from the old “bomb” plants. We have nuclear powered ships ( Nimitz class) which could provide most of our deep ocean transport if applied to cargo and tankers. We have small modular nuclear power plants such as the Westinghouse AP1000 which can be built in 36 months, (without allowing for bureaucratic shenanigans) and deliver 1GWe close to the demand area. We have enough gas to provide heating, which is probably it’s most efficient use, rather than converting it to electricity, and when it runs out, if ever, we can heat with nuclear electricity. We have enough oil for road, rail and air transport and if it runs out we can manufacture liquid fuel from coal as the Germans did in WW2. A better use of coal if we do not have to waste it on generating electricity.
    I struggle hard to find a problem in any of this relatively simple and already applicable scenario. If I progress this 100 years into the future, assuming that mankind has not been removed by the Yosemite or Canary Island super volcanos or by a huge asteroid strike, then my words will still apply. We will have even more efficient nuclear, possibly liquid thorium, ( fusion will still be twenty years in the future) We will have much better insulation and building practices, taking the pressure off gas consumption and making it more economical to heat and cool with electricity. We will have marginally more efficient internal combustion engines but possibly better use will be made of road trains, rail trains and larger air liners. (A useful battery/electric car will still be twenty years in the future). There will still be massive amounts of coal available for liquid fuels. Go forward another 100 years and it will be much the same. People will still not be wearing lycra jumpsuits in the street and eating soylent green. So, I ask myself, what is the problem? I must be too stupid to see it!

  64. bobl says:
    July 1, 2013 at 6:24 am

    I’m told kg for kg you can get a bit of energy out of ammonium nitrate.

    Yes, especially if that energy is released in a fraction of a second, as happened in a French fertilizer factory a few years ago, killing a lot of people in the factory and far beyond… Also the prefered energy storage of Anders Breivik in Oslo, killing 6 people with a car bomb filled with that material. And of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing killing 168 people…

    On second thought, I would prefer hydrogen, seems somewhat safer to me…

  65. Actually, Patrick, in the industrial gas business it is quite common to do pneumatic pressure testing because we don’t want any residual water in the system. When it’s done, there is a safety blast radius observed.

  66. I have heard (sounds counter intuitive) that Metal hydrides can store more hydrogen per cubic foot than the density of liquid hydrogen. The problem is the “metal” part of metal hydride… its heavy! For stationary sources its OK, weight is not a problem for most stationary sources. You can treat a hydrogen fuel cell with its fuel like a battery (that’s what it really is).

  67. There seems to be alot of expertise in the comments of this blog. I have a question. What about spliting (cracking) ammonia to get hydorgen (NH4).

  68. Thanks Willis, I like the electrons vs. molecules analogy.

    Eric Worrall says: July 1, 2013 at 2:09 am
    [...]
    I tell you what – I’ll give the hydrogen a go, if someone pays for my super insulated tropical vivarium where I can grow bananas in Colorado.

    I know of a greenhouse with a passionfruit tree at 7000+ ft on Basalt Mountain, Basalt CO. No extraneous heating is required, the summer heat is stored in the ground, literally the earth floor. I did a spread sheet for the heat/mass storage contingent on average temperatures, altitude and humidity for this guy. He builds commercial greenhouses that use little to no artificial heating with this method.

  69. “PiperPaul says:

    July 1, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Actually, Patrick, in the industrial gas business it is quite common to do pneumatic pressure testing because we don’t want any residual water in the system. When it’s done, there is a safety blast radius observed.”

    You will find many of the components, especially large capacity tanks, are water pressure tested before installation. It’s the safest test as there is no “blast radius” risk. That’s my point. Post installation is a different ball game!

  70. The problem with metal hydride storage for hydrogen gas is that it takes high temperatures to get the hydrogen out of the hydride lattice after storage – on the order of 300C.

    The weight-to-storage and cost-per-liter issues are pretty much impossible for vehicles, and also daunting for industrial plant uses. When you look up the available ones for lab use, you start seeing 2000:1 ratios for weight/storage…

    One application I found that might work out: forklifts and lift trucks. Due to the need for very heavy vehicles, having a two-ton hydride tank on a 1000-pound-capacity forklift makes a certain amount of sense.

  71. When people talk about a hydrogen economy, all they’re really talking about is hydrogen for transportation and maybe for energy storage to balance out the variability of renewables.

    For both of these functions, methane is infinitely more practical. We can use methane from the ground for now because it is cheap and make our own from CO2 and Water later.

  72. Kajajuk says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:18 am
    “Hydrogen would be a viable option as a “non point” energy source i.e. convert excess electrical production from all sources into hydrogen instead of sending the excess into the ground. But that would require a government/industry tuned towards the public good (or long term residual profits) and less so to corporate profits…good luck with THAT.”

    You mean we could solve all kinds of problems with money losing businesses? Hey, how about you occupy a larger island in the carribean just next to Florida and demonstrate it.

    Wait…

  73. Scott Scarborough says:
    July 1, 2013 at 7:29 am
    There seems to be alot of expertise in the comments of this blog. I have a question. What about spliting (cracking) ammonia to get hydorgen (NH4).

    Since most ammonia is made by the Haber process which involves reacting N2 and H2 and the H2 is produced by steam reforming of hydrocarbons this would be rather pointless.

  74. Dear censor:

    Another datum non gratum for you to hide .

    Willis is doubly wrong in categorizing fossil fuels as containing “burnt hydrogen” —
    “Most of the burnt hydrogen we call “the ocean”. Another bunch of it is in the form of hydrocarbons such as propane and natural gas.

    Because :

    1. Carbon does not burn in hydrogen .

    2. While ‘burning’ by definition liberates heat, the reaction of carbon and hydrogen absorbs it.

  75. To Matt:

    The Ariane 5 uses liquid hydrogen in the first stage. The Chinese
    (it figures, doesn’t it?) use UDMH / N2O4 for the first stage of the Long March 4
    rocket–still in service. However, the Long March 5, which last I looked was still in
    development, is supposed to use kerosene in the first stage.

  76. Chris:
    That is why I said most, not all. Because there is many factors, payload size, rocket shape, design, weight distribution, where the rocket is launched. How high and how fast it needs to go etc.

    In general, RP-1 (and its substitutes) are used because of a high energy content, and lack of special needs. ( Hydrogen needs special tanks, that are insulated and built for extreme pressure which means heavier. Which in a rocket weight means everything ). There are many sources and ways to do it. Solid fuels, mono fuels, hybrid ( different types ie gas, liquid, solid), liquid etc. There is no real gold standard. But most just copy what works.

    That said, I am no NASA scientist, just an amature building a liquid propelled rocket lol

  77. We forgot to mention hydrogen embrittlement as a disadvantage.

    Hydrogen is in the metals column of the periodic table, and like mercury soaking into a penny, hydrogen can soak into the metals transporting it, especially iron or steel. This makes the metal more brittle, hence an accident waiting to happen.

  78. Scott Scarborough says:
    July 1, 2013 at 7:29 am
    “There seems to be alot of expertise in the comments of this blog. I have a question. What about spliting (cracking) ammonia to get hydorgen (NH4).”
    Ammonia is actually NH3, the NH4 is called ammonium. To make hydrogen from NH3 is much less energy costly than making hydrogen from water (standard enthalpy of formation for ammonia gas is -45.9 and -80.8 for aqueous, for liquid water -285.8 kJ/mol), but water is obtained at virtually no cost and can be easily handled, so the cost of the hydrogen production from water using simple electrolysis would be probably much lower in case you have unexpensive energy source for it. Ammonia costs several hundred dollars per ton and needs tens of thousands of cubic feet natgas to produce it – for example: The source for ammonia on the market (which purely theoretically also could be used for hydrogen production) could be for example anhydrous ammonium nitrate fertilizer, but it is about 800$/ton and needs ~33500 cubic ft natgas to produce it in the first place. (33500 cft natgas contains 34521 MJ – which is equivalent to the energy in 7.671 tons of liquid hydrogen…which you never can get from 1 ton of ammonia, because simply it is not there ;)
    Without the unexpensive energy source the hydrogen production for purpose of energy storage anyway makes no sense neither from water nor ammonia.

  79. Just add hydrogen to finely-divided nickel in the presence of a secret catalyst and the proper electrical waveform and voila! Energy Catalyzer-styled cold fusion!

    By turning H2 into He in a crystalline metal lattice, you’ve got one of the most powerful, safest, and least contaminating energy sources known to man.

    That will be your “hydrogen economy”. And you’ll only need grams of the stuff.

  80. Good article overall W. When looking at water, hydrogen is only a means of storing energy (and transporting). Starting with hydrocarbons, one can extract the carbon and be left with a hydrogen energy source. However, the gain in energy per mass tends to be offset in most cases by other problems. Not only is the hydrogen atom tiny so it can leak through just about anything, it is also capable of moving into the container walls and this tends to turn metal walls brittle. Hydrogen can feed fuel cells so stripping down the hydrocarbons into hydrogen atoms for direct conversion to electricity. So far though, I’ve never seen a fuel cell capable of generating anything close to the amount of energy it takes to make one – or put another way – it costs far more to make than the value of the energy is worth except where no other source is available – like manned space missions.

    As for the safety, pressures must be very high, almost anything leaks, concentrations of something like 3% to 97% explode, and a flame from a burning tank may not be visible to the eye. Having pressure tanks or pipelines become brittle and fragile further add to the problem. In other words, if we had a source of hydrogen (and available carbon), we’d probably be better off converting it to methane for transportation. LOL. Since the hydrogen atom is so small and the problems exist due to its size, there is a good possibility that the best solution to hydrogen’s problems is to make it into a larger molecule – like methane.

    Electricity is nice but you cannot store it effectively. It transfers fairly readily over wire but you have to use it when you produce it. Fortunately, it is readily produced by generators running with fuels like natural gas, coal, or diesel and by nuclear power reactors so we are not limited to simply the supply of fossil fuels.

  81. Another advantage of electricity is that it can be used to generate hydrogen and oxygen from water. Then you can reburn the hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. With 100% efficiency you have a perpetual system producing nothing. I think we are much better off using those fuels that nature has stored.

    • The point about those damned windmills is that the pollies insist we have them. Having got them, sometimes they produce power, sometimes they don’t. When they do, sometimes they produce more electricity than we need. This is ‘waste’ energy and since it would otherwise be discarded it comes near-free. Electrolysis of water is from 70 to 77% efficient – losses occur in resistance, and probably some in impedance. So you have a source of hydrogen and oxygen, the latter being discarded unless you can sell it.

      Now, storing hydrogen at high pressure is problematic as you have to expend energy in compressing it, and as people have pointed out it leaks, and makes metals brittle. If you store it at low pressure, just a lb or so above atmospheric, the energy used to compress it that much is small, and at low pressure it will not force into metals so easily, less embrittlement. It is possibly feasible to find surfaces which will not absorb the gas – glass, perhaps, so a structure coated with glass may be not subject to embrittlement. And if you store it with a view to using it within a few hours or so you are not really worried about leaks. If you store the hydrogen when there is surplus electricity, and use it to power a boiler or turbine when electrical demand is high then you are reducing your peak load generation requirement.

      Yes, windmills are inefficient and costly and not viable as compared with coal or uranium fuels. But if you can shift the surplus energy via a hydrogen separation and storage system to a time when it is needed you could well be improving the finances of a wind/coal power system. As someone put it re the storage of “coolth” you are shifting cheap electricity from a time when you cannot otherwise use it to a time when you can sell it at a price which could cover all the costs in so doing and make a profit. Better than pumped storage, you don’t need a nearby mountain.

      And this applies just as much to sunlight, indeed, given that in many inland locations (think Australian inland) you can pretty well guarantee plenty of sunlight, it is plausible that the above process would work even better.

  82. This is a silly post. Start with this: It is far easier to move electrons than to move molecules.

    Lots more energy is moved in the form of molecules than electrons, as in oil tankers (ship, road and rail). oil and gas pipelines, coal barges.

    The rest of your article consists of showing that, if the technical difficulties can be solved cheaply, they haven’t all been solved yet. Or the odious “H2 is not a panacea”.

    Hydrogen is not an energy source? Neither is an automobile battery, which was the stimulus for the last post.

  83. One little problem of hydrogen storage was omitted… that of spontaneous ignition.
    Efficient storage and transport/distribution of hydrogen does indeed require pretty high pressures, and the hydrogen does have a nasty inclination to escape, especially at those high pressures. Hydrogen is fairly unique, in that when released from high pressures it will heat up instead of cool. The effect is significant enough that leaks from high pressure hydrogen systems can ignite with no other source of ignition. And with a flame that is really difficult to see in the best of conditions, you’ve got the potential for some really serious problems.

    The logistics and economics of a “hydrogen economy” are simply mind-bogglingly difficult. Even if you can assume away the worst of the materials-handling issues, hydrogen can only work if the energy needed to produce it is really, really cheap. And at that point an all-electric economy starts looking very attractive, including even those big batteries to run our cars.

  84. Scott Scarborough says:
    July 1, 2013 at 7:29 am
    There seems to be alot of expertise in the comments of this blog. I have a question. What about spliting (cracking) ammonia to get hydorgen (NH4).

    I should have mentioned above that another major use of Hydrogen is to manufacturer fertilizer. Mostly, natural gas is used along with steam to produce Hydrogen in a process that is called steam reforming. Naphtha can also used instead of methane, but I have never see such a plant. That does not mean they do not exist.
    Without methane (natural gas) we would not enjoy the food production that we currently enjoy.
    Of course the downside is that some of that methane is used to make fertilizer that is used in abundance to grow corn, which is used to make ethanol, and all the runoff is making a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s abuse of natural resources.

  85. Matt says:
    July 1, 2013 at 6:29 am
    cirby:
    I tend to find when the person doesn’t have to handle something they don’t seem to care. Hydrazine is only good anyway for small orbital movements (which I am sure you are aware).

    Hydrazine is nasty; but the Titan missile used it in its first stage, and there are several other missiles that do so as well. It’s a heck of a reducer.

  86. DaveK says:
    July 1, 2013 at 9:37 am
    One little problem of hydrogen storage was omitted… that of spontaneous ignition.
    Efficient storage and transport/distribution of hydrogen does indeed require pretty high pressures, and the hydrogen does have a nasty inclination to escape, especially at those high pressures. Hydrogen is fairly unique, in that when released from high pressures it will heat up instead of cool. The effect is significant enough that leaks from high pressure hydrogen systems can ignite with no other source of ignition. And with a flame that is really difficult to see in the best of conditions, you’ve got the potential for some really serious problems.

    It’s interesting that for many years the UK supplied a gas for domestic use which was mostly H2 (~55%) mixed with CO. This was supplied at low pressure and explosions weren’t a hazard, the greatest risk was poisoning by the CO, in fact the gas was a frequent means for suicide. When replaced on a national scale by natural gas explosions became a major factor necessitating a national program to line the old pipes which were the source of leakage. One advantage of hydrogen is that although it has wide explosion limits it diffuses away to a safe composition very rapidly.

  87. In Wyoming we have a substantial number of gas wells that produce H2S. This is separated from the “natural gas ” components, and then typically flared. However, flaring it leads to bad air quality, and there is some idea now of instead reforming it to separate sulfur from hydrogen. This would provide a source of H2, but only a very limited one.

  88. Re: “reducing your peak load generation requirement.” this relates to the fuel you would have to burn to get the power you want, not to the actual boilers and turbo alternators, which would be the same.

  89. It’s always about energy density. That’s why solar and wind power will never, never, never be viable sources of power.

  90. All of this taken together, of course, is the reason that our civilization did not adopt the use of hydrogen as an energy transportation medium, and we settled on electricity instead … because, well, it’s kind of a no-brainer

    Hydrogen in the 1850’s powered all the lights and heat in New York city.

    Using your context electricity itself is an energy storage medium.

  91. When I was very, very young about 5 years ago I brought up hydrogen as a fuel source right here on WUWT. I learned enough in about 30 minutes from comments by engineers , and I am one albeit civil, to realise it was a really bad idea.

    Thanks for the post Willis. People need to be reminded why they shouldn’t bark up this particular tree and spend their thinking more profitably.

  92. As an energy source, hydrogen clearly is impractical with today’s technology. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that sometime in the not terribly distant future it will become feasible, with the development of fusion reactors that can power electrolysis, and with sufficiently portable cryogenics for transporting hydrogen safely as liquid. And given that we have at least 200-300 more years before fossil fuels are depleted, there should be plenty of time for this.

  93. Sigmundb says:
    July 1, 2013 at 4:31 am

    Mr. Eschenbach conveniently forgets to mention Hydrogen can be easily and safely stored in (and extracted from) the lattice of suited materials and with and energy density in MJ/l comparable to gasoline (assuming 100% efficiency in the fuel cell and electrical motor). The coal and oil mafia don’t want you to know but just 50l of Palladium can give a Prius sized car the range of gasoline with zero CO2 emissions!

    Sigmundb, I fear you just skimmed my writing, since you missed where I talked about what you claim I “conveniently forget to mention”. I discussed exactly that, what you call “the lattice of suited materials”, saying:

    Now folks are always claiming that this problem will be solved by adsorbing the hydrogen onto an as-yet-unknown substance from which it can be recovered as hydrogen gas by heating the substrate. But that can’t possibly be as energy dense as liquid hydrogen, and liquid hydrogen has only a measly ten megajoules per litre. So adsorbing it will not solve the problem.

    So no, adsorbing the hydrogen does NOT give it an energy density in MJ/l comparable to gasoline, that’s not correct. That system of adsorbing the hydrogen in a lattice can never give an energy density greater than that of liquid hydrogen … and that is far below the energy density of gasoline.

    And regarding the “oil mafia” and what fifty litres? of palladium might or might not do, you need to turn down the credulity control on your information input, Sigmund … there’s no free lunch when it comes to energy. In any case, the commercial source of hydrogen is natural gas … so the oil companies would like nothing more than for someone to find a way to run the planet on hydrogen plus palladium, they’d still be in the driver’s seat …

    w.

  94. Several commenters have pointed out the ability to store hydrogen at high density by bonding it to some sort of nanodot or nanorod. Carbon nanorods can be fabricated (and sometimes even found to be naturally occurring!) with hydrogen atoms attached in many locations along the rod. One popular configuration uses a nanorod comprised of 8 carbon atoms. Perhaps, one day, the various surface adsorption technologies may approach the storage density of hydrogen-loaded nanoparticles.

    Some years ago I realized that my old Ford Explorer can run on this nanotechnology-based hydrogen fuel. It is liquid over a wide temperature range, can be easily handled by a lay person with no special training or tools, and has virtually no self-discharge rate.

    My bumper sticker says-

    This vehicle powered by hydrogen-loaded carbon nanorods

    :-)

  95. Comparing liquid hydrogen with electricity is completely off. Hydrogen is not a way to transfer enregy, it is a way to store energy for later use. And current electricity storage systems are not that much more efficient than storing hydrogen.

    “It is far easier to move electrons than to move molecules.”

    Problem solved, isn’t it? Just build me an electron tank, attach it to a car and we’re ready to go. Or not.
    And mind you, with AC your electrons are not going anywhere and with DC they’re travelling at speeds of several millimeters per second. Fill a hose with tennis balls, then add one ball at one end. Immediately another ball will fall off the other end. Energy was transferred but balls did not travel very far. It’s the same with electrons.

  96. Catcracking says:
    July 1, 2013 at 9:43 am
    “That’s abuse of natural resources.”

    Well said.
    The typical biofuel nutjob is that first they take huge amounts of natgas to produce fertilizers (typically several tens of thousands cubic feet of natgas per 1 ton of fertilizer), then they rob from the people the tax money – sometimes literarly when we see what the IRS thugs sometimes do – take several tens percent arrable land, plough it and put there the fertilizer using machines taking loads of diesel, plant the biofuel crops, wait half year while the crops utilize typically 0.1-1% of solar input to convert it in usable biomass, then they again take the diesel machines, harvest the crops, use another diesel machines to transport the usable parts in the distilery, then they make the ethanol from it, put it in the gasoline and transport it using another diesel machines to the tankstation only to make the resulting mandated gasohol carry less energy per unit, leave wasteland behind and half mankind starving.

    (And this disastrous crazines is promoted by the same guys who want the “hydrogen economy”, claiming hydrogen has higher energy density – It hasn’t! Even if liquid. Because the liquid hydrogen has density only 71 grams per liter, so you would need four times bigger tank for the liquid hydrogen to contain same amount of energy as with the gasoline, not speaking about all the prohibitive technical difficulties of the liquid hydrogen handling, that the tank definitely wouldn’t be the simple piece of metal plate or plastic produced for couple of $ and that your engine would need to be four times bigger for the same performance than the one using the gasoline…)

    Of course it would be much easier and efficient to use the natgas directly, convert the natgas to LPG or even the gasoline and with all that (un)wasted diesel transport them directly to the tankstation. But explain this to the nuts in the government, manipulated by other nuts who want your money and at the same time themselves and you to believe you’re “working together saving the planet” when giving all the money to them.

  97. jdallen says:
    July 1, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Cheap, specious shot, Mr. Watt. I’m sure you know quite well that the “Hydrogen Economy” as described does not rely on “Pumping it out of the ground” as you so glibly put it, nor is it intended to rely on coal or other fossil fuel-based power plants. Perhaps a reminder is in order:

    http://harvardmagazine.com/2004/01/the-hydrogen-powered-fut.html

    Others have commented on your inability to read and spell, so let me just thank you for posting the Lovins piece. It is a perfect example of the type of hype that I am working to dispel. After reading my article, people can compare the reality to the pipe dreams of Amory Lovins.

    He pays lip service to the fact that hydrogen is not an energy source, just an energy transportation method. But you have to watch the walnut shells very carefully to see which one contains the pea. Here’s his explanation:

    Unlike sun, wind, water, petroleum, and coal, hydrogen is not an energy source, but rather an energy carrier. An energy carrier is a way of transmitting energy, not creating it. While crude oil is an energy source, gasoline is a carrier—it provides portable mobility fuel.

    BZZZT! An energy “source” is some substance, either natural or refined, which contains more energy than we’ve expended to get it. Both crude oil and the results of refining it (gasoline, diesel, etc.) are energy sources because when we burn them, we get more energy out than we put in.

    He continues …

    Electricity, which can transmit energy over hundreds of miles, is a pure carrier. (We cannot yet make use of the static electricity in the air—e.g., lightning bolts. In that form, electricity would become an energy source.)

    BZZZT! Logic fail. If refined crude oil is not an energy source as he falsely claims, then why would “refined lightning” actually be an energy source? You see what I mean about the pea and the shell?

    Hydrogen is the most concentrated energy carrier in the universe: 2.2 pounds of it can carry the same energy as 6.2 pounds of gasoline. That’s a key reason why liquid hydrogen makes excellent rocket fuel.

    Watch the pea again. What he means is “the most concentrated energy carrier by weight in the universe”, which is true but meaningless, because he’s not proposing using liquid hydrogen. He’s proposing an economy run on hydrogen gas, and one liter of gasoline carries the same energy as 4,000 litres of hydrogen gas. In fact, hydrogen gas is arguably the least concentrated energy carrier by volume in the universe, and that’s the problem—it’s tough to move or carry a large enough volume to do much good.

    Unlike electricity, hydrogen is easily stored in large amounts as a gas or a (costlier) supercold liquid.

    Now, that’s just hilarious. Storing it uncompressed? Every gas station in the nation would have to have 4,000 times the storage capacity, just to store the energy they currently keep on hand. But storing hydrogen as a compressed gas immediately costs you 15% of the energy content and a hunk of cash, because you have to store it at 10,000 psi. This requires complex pumps, machinery, and very thick steel tanks … so no, Lovins is just blowing smoke when he says it is “easily stored in large amounts.

    And even compressed to 10,000 psi, it still takes up six times the volume that gasoline requires … where are inner-city gas stations supposed to find space for that? Not to mention the huge cost in pumps and tanks, that’s madness.

    Anyhow, JD, thanks for posting the Lovins article, it illustrates exactly the kind of lunacy that I’m discussing.

    All the best,

    w.

  98. For the most part I agree with Willis. The problems with hydrogen are well described.
    But hydrogen also has some advantages
    1. It is far easier to store hydrogen than electricity
    2. If you need to transport really huge amounts of energy over very long distances it will probably be cheaper to use a hydrogen pipeline than electric power wires.
    This can be useful if we one day in the future choose to cover huge desert areas with solar cells. The surplus energy in daytime can be stored as hydrogen and transported in pipelines to where it is needed.

  99. Willis Eschenbach says:
    July 1, 2013 at 11:02 am
    So no, adsorbing the hydrogen does NOT give it an energy density in MJ/l comparable to gasoline, that’s not correct. That system of adsorbing the hydrogen in a lattice can never give an energy density greater than that of liquid hydrogen … and that is far below the energy density of gasoline.

    My understanding is that the best absorbents being studied today hold about double the H2/L of liquid H2. However, as you point out that is still way below gasoline.

    Storing it uncompressed? Every gas station in the nation would have to have 4,000 times the storage capacity, just to store the energy they currently keep on hand.

    Yes but remember how up to 60 odd years ago H2 was distributed with a low pressure system with 50,000 m^3 gasometers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_holder

  100. TimTheToolMan says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:53 am

    … Willis never gives balanced reviews of alternative energies. Its always negative with him. He never even tries to explore any positives and that is telling of his bias.

    He would do far better giving both sides of the argument and then if the technology isn’t viable (as Hydrogen isn’t) then that will come through.

    Oh, please. I spent a number of years teaching renewable energy technologies for the Peace Corps. I am the author of the US Peace Corps manual on the village level utilization of wind power. I have lived for long periods off the grid, on solar power alone. I was hired by USAID to travel around Africa and write reports on, inter alia, renewable energy projects and how well they were doing. I worked in Fiji doing the same thing, reporting to the government on the success (and mostly failure) of solar energy schemes in outer-island Fijian villages. And as a sailor, I’ve used wind-powered transportation to travel thousands and thousands of miles around the planet. So in fact, I’ve been a very active proponent of renewable energy all my life … where it is appropriate.

    When you do things like that, you learn important lessons that they don’t mention in the books, like the nautical saying, “The wind is free … but everything else costs money”. This is a saying of great relevance to the solar industry, where the cost of the solar cells is only a small part of the whole installation, but when the total installation and transmission cost is included, solar is not competitive at the grid-scale level, despite the fact that the sunshine is free

    So my problem is that I know too damn much about renewables, not too little. I know that they are unbeatable in certain situations. If you want to power a cell tower on top of a mountain, solar is a no-brainer.

    But I also know that if you want to power a city, solar is a disaster … and hydrogen isn’t even a power source.

    You think that you get around this by claiming that

    Hydrogen is fundamentally a storage of energy not a medium to transport energy.

    But as I’ve shown, hydrogen is a fundamentally lousy way to store energy as well as a very poor way to transport it. Even compressed it has very low energy density and requires very high pressure (10,000 psi), so you need huge, heavy expensive steel tanks and complex pumps to store it, and in addition, you lose 15% of the energy in the compression process, plus it is extremely flammable … how on earth is that a good way to store energy?

    So please, give me a bit of credit here. I said above that one of my rules of thumb is that it’s far easier to move electrons than molecules, and I also commented that my rule of thumb has meaning in many fields.

    For example, it’s easy to write about renewable energy—to do that you just need to move the electrons. And I’ve done that, plenty of it.

    But I’ve also moved lots of molecules regarding renewable energy—I’ve designed and built the renewable energy systems, and monitored and maintained and repaired them, and I’ve taught others by example and by actual construction how to build and maintain them, and I’ve lived for years off the renewable energy generated. And that’s the hard part, much harder than moving the electrons.

    So when I talk about the negatives of renewable energy in certain situations, if you go back and look at what I’ve written, you’ll find that what I’m writing about are inappropriate uses for the particular type of renewable energy. And in each case, including this current post, I’ve buttressed my argument with real-world figures and data and examples.

    You, on the other hand, appear to be an expert in moving the electrons, but it’s not clear what lies beyond that …

    w.

  101. Kasuha says:
    July 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

    The electricity actually isn’t the electrons. It is the electromagnetic field moving through conductors which carries the electricity. One of the public secrets of the N. Tesla invention of the Alternating Current is that the electrons actually don’t need to get from the source to the point of consumption to bring there the energy. This is what makes the AC much more suitable to transport the electricity at longer distances than DC – it has much less losses due to the fact, that the electrons must not travel in the conductor long distances, but are just oscilating at short distances of like less than micrometer for 60 Hz AC back and forth. This oscillation actually carries the electric current – in fact it is the free electrons which make the material called conductor, they’re itself carriers of the eletricity, not the electricity itself - and can be converted at the point of consumption to various types of energy using various types of electrical devices. Using just couple of millimeters thick coper wires and suitable AC frequency you can transport to releatively long distances simmilar amounts of energy as in the case of the thick steel shaft transporting by torque to wheels of the car from the combustion engine. That’s what makes the electricity so suitable for energy transportation.

    So for Willis – it is even much easier to move electromagnetic field, which is actually the electricity, than move the electrons “from A to B” :)
    What always remains is the need of the energy source (enthalpy potential) to create the field – same as for separating the hydrogen, presurizing it, liquefying it and keeping it liquid and/or at the same place not to escape and burn and blow up something. The “hydrogen economy” would be maybe viable in space or on the planets where it is least minus 200 C or 600+ bar and no significant amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, not on the Earth. I regret we don’t live in times where we would have enough technology to transport the “hydrogen economy” lovers to such planets where their idea would be viable…

  102. Even any marketing expert could tell you hydrogen isn’t viable; It would be in place by now. If there were a basic problem with H that needed to be handled, it would be done by now.

    Time’s up.

    Were inventors smarter a hundred years ago? The internal combustion engine and the electric motor, both utterly indispensable to this day, their legacy ever increases. Now, the Hydrogen People, they’ve been shooting their mouths off for decades, and what do we got? In fact, how many hundreds, no, thousands of nonsensical projects like this are being funded with my money and borrowed monies? This is insanity.

    In business you have to perform. When you work for government, all you have to do is secure and increase votes. The media is bought on all these topics.

    But, but….it’s the most plentiful element!

  103. PiperPaul says:
    July 1, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Actually, Patrick, in the industrial gas business it is quite common to do pneumatic pressure testing because we don’t want any residual water in the system. When it’s done, there is a safety blast radius observed.

    Thanks, Paul, that’s interesting. I would have thought if they couldn’t use water they’d use alcohol or something that would flash off. Do you happen to know the “safety blast radius” and the test pressure for a big storage tank whose working pressure is 10,000 psi?

    w.

  104. Scott Scarborough says:
    July 1, 2013 at 7:18 am

    I have heard (sounds counter intuitive) that Metal hydrides can store more hydrogen per cubic foot than the density of liquid hydrogen. The problem is the “metal” part of metal hydride… its heavy! For stationary sources its OK, weight is not a problem for most stationary sources. You can treat a hydrogen fuel cell with its fuel like a battery (that’s what it really is).

    Seems doubtful, although I suppose it might be possible. As you say the problem is the metal part. It is heavy, as you point out, but it also takes up a reasonable fraction of the tank volume … and since that is not filled with hydrogen, you’d have to really pack the rest of the space to beat liquid hydrogen.

    So let’s pick some representative numbers. Let’s say we’re adsorbing hydrogen onto palladium. The density of palladium is 12,000 kg per cubic metre. Let’s be optimistic and say that that palladium only takes up only 2% of the tank volume. So in a cubic metre tank, we have 120 kg of palladium.

    Now, liquid hydrogen in the same space would weigh 71 kg. So we’re already screwed when it comes to energy density by weight.

    By volume? Well, we have about 2% less volume. But there has to be free space on one side of the hydrogen that is adsorbed on the surface of the palladium, so it can come back out of the matrix. If we assume (again optimistically) that the vacant space is no larger than the space taken up by the adsorbed hydrogen, all we have to do is to assume that on the surface of the palladium the hydrogen is packed twice as tight as it is in liquid hydrogen …

    So like I said … seems very doubtful, although I’ve been surprised before. Does anyone have actual numbers for the energy density by volume of adsorbed hydrogen?

    w.

  105. A question for you eggheads. How viable is having tens of thousands of tanks or pipes with hydrogen in a city? Would hydrogen-rigged cities or large power stations be tempting targets for war/terrorists, bombs and so a health hazard? How much of the reason hydrogen ain’t happening is in that it’s simply too dangerous? What happens when you ‘splode a hydrogen tank…how bad is it? Storing electricity means a loss, but it doesn’t explode.

  106. OK, from here, page 25, energy density of adsorbed hydrogen on the best substrate known (carbon nanotubes) still does not exceed the energy density of liquid hydrogen, either by weight or by volume. And it is still far below the energy density of any of our common fuels.

    w.

  107. Willis, great post. We agree on some energy things, although not on peak fuel production.
    You overlooked another BIG disadvantage of hydrogen, which is net thermal efficiency. Forget hydrogen production, and consider only transport and use.
    I don’t know hydrogen transport costs, since pipelines don’t work and there is no bulk system for comparison. But cryogenic liquid hydrogen would be worse than LNG since much colder. LNG energy cost is about 20%. In w well maintained modern electricity grid, transmission and distribution loses are about 10%. Maybe 15% for a rural system. The heat losses are mostly in the transformers or in resistive connections. Electricity wins.
    Hydrogen can be burned in an ICE. But that is stupid, since efficiency is set by Carnot and thermodynamics, and is at best about 26%. Ah, we will use fuel cells. Well, those are about 65-70% efficient. You see, the water ‘exhaust’ is hot. By comparison, a good electric motor approaches 99% efficient, and a bad one with poor wiring connections is still more than 94% efficient.
    There is no way that hydrogen conserves more energy than electricity. Let alone that no practical bulk transport means is known. Let alone that almost all hydrogen is reformed from natural gas, and it would be more efficient to just burn the natural gas. Or hydrogen could be made by electrolysis using electricity– but is would make more sense to just transport and use the electricity, say in a range extended PHEV like the Volt or PlugIn Prius.
    The only thing hydrogen is good for is future energy grants from the same folks that fund CAGW research. That is, not much.
    Regards

  108. Willis Eschenbach says:
    July 1, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    So like I said … seems very doubtful, although I’ve been surprised before. Does anyone have actual numbers for the energy density by volume of adsorbed hydrogen?

    “It is possible to increase the density of hydrogen beyond what
    can be achieved via compression or liquefaction through
    materials-based hydrogen storage. This is possible because in
    many hydride-type materials, hydrogen is packed with H–H
    distances as small as 2.1 Angstroms,21 resulting in hydrogen
    densities up to 170 g H2/L—a factor of more than 2 greater
    than the density of liquid hydrogen.”

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~djsiege/Energy_Storage_Lab/Publications_files/CSR_H2_storage.pdf

  109. chris y: One popular configuration uses a nanorod comprised of 8 carbon atoms.

    Excellent!

  110. Willis hydrogen in pure form (H2) is just as much an energy source as any conventional hydrocarbon used to power our current IC-engine’s , and production of it f.x. by hydrolysis is in a way more comparable to the process of refining petrol and diesel out of the crude pumped up from the oil wells. And a lot of hydrogen is transported around today in pipelines ( think water distribution/supply ) without problems. Some of the other drawback you point out like the low energy densitity per volume (at STP conditions) and leakage/storage problem seem to have usable enginering solutions for some applications at least , f.x. like in the FCX Clarity test/demo/concept car that Honda has put few examples of on the road. I has a 170 liter fuel tank pressurised at 350 bar with a capacity for 5 kg of hydrogen fuel , that gives it a driving range well over 500 km per/tankfill.
    Now , I am no starry eyed “hydrogen econmy” apostle , I just think that there may be some future possibilites of practical application resulting from fuel-cell technology , but I am also well aware that it is nowhere near the status of becoming economically “sustainable” and therfore not viable as an real alternative to current technology yet.

  111. Russell says:
    July 1, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Dear censor:

    Another datum non gratum for you to hide .

    Dear Russell:

    Unlike the climate alarmist blogs you might frequent, around here we don’t censor or hide opposing opinions. An accusation that we are doing so merely demonstrates two things—that you are not paying attention, and that your intention is to harass rather than to either learn or edify.

    Willis is doubly wrong in categorizing fossil fuels as containing “burnt hydrogen” –

    “Most of the burnt hydrogen we call “the ocean”. Another bunch of it is in the form of hydrocarbons such as propane and natural gas.

    Because :

    1. Carbon does not burn in hydrogen .

    2. While ‘burning’ by definition liberates heat, the reaction of carbon and hydrogen absorbs it.

    Yes, you are quite correct, and I was well aware of that when I wrote it. I thought about calling the stuff not in the ocean “carbonized” rather than oxidized, but after consideration I took a bit of poetic license and just left “burnt” in there. I write for a very mixed audience, from specialists in the subject to literate lay folk with an interest in the subject, and so it is always a question how far I want to stray into the gory details. I write to inform, and paradoxically, providing too much information can get in the way of that process. In this instance, I thought the lack of chemical precision was worth it because it didn’t add to the narrative. But that’s a judgement call, and I could have been wrong.

    My point, however, was not doubly wrong, or wrong at all. My point was that there is are no hydrogen mines out there because all of the hydrogen is locked up in compounds. And your objection, while 100% true, in no way changes that sad fact.

    Thanks for pointing that out, although next time you might strive to be less offensive and accusatory in the pointing … I generally have reasons for the choices I make in my writing, next time you might inquire what they are before breaking out the howitzers.

    w.

  112. Willis, where I worked before retirement, they produced hydrogen as byproduct of salt electrolyses. That was sold to others via pipeline by Air Liquide (not sure, could be another firm). One day they installed a liquid hydrogen tank on site as backup for the (rare) cases that the production went in emergency shutdown, to give them the time to bring one of their own hydrogen production units (from natural gas) online.
    For a test, they filled the bottom of the tank with liquid hydrogen. Fascinating sight that ambient air was condensing on the last drops of hydrogen that were spilled after filling.
    The tank was not equiped with a compression unit, but evaporated hydrogen was pumped into the hydrogen network line.

    What I wonder is how much of the energy contained in the hydrogen was used to liquify the hydrogen. Must be a lot for compression ánd cooling…

  113. Willis, you fail to understand that unicorn farts are pure Hydrogen. That’s what will get the Hydrogen economy running, full scale unicorn farming (and flatulence capture systems). I’m sure that after the first unicorn ranches are proven successful, Hydrogen will take its place on the top of the list of the available and inexpensive fuel sources.
    (do I really need the /sarc?)

  114. I think John Deere made a commercial Diesel Hydrogen hybrid about a decade ago and had it on the market for a while. I cant find it on their current website but I did not look for long. Here is an old link.

    http://www.greencar.com/articles/john-deere-hydrogen-powered-utility-vehicle.php

    New Holland apparently has something like it

    Maybe some other tractor companies? Does anyone know? Makes more sense in a heavy vehicle like a tractor, and the hybrid thing makes some sense too, use the excess electricity from the engine to make H2 (don’t know if that is how they do it).

    Anyone know more about it?

  115. Willis Eschenbach says:
    July 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    ….My point, however, was not doubly wrong, or wrong at all. My point was that there is are no hydrogen mines out there because all of the hydrogen is locked up in compounds. And your objection, while 100% true, in no way changes that sad fact.

    ========================================================================
    A figure of speech, used properly and honestly, can illustrate and/or communicate a point better than the literal facts.

  116. Matthew R Marler says:
    July 1, 2013 at 9:31 am

    This is a silly post. Start with this: It is far easier to move electrons than to move molecules.

    Lots more energy is moved in the form of molecules than electrons, as in oil tankers (ship, road and rail). oil and gas pipelines, coal barges.

    Thanks, Matt, but dang … miss the point much? I didn’t say more energy was moved by electrons than by molecules. I said it was easier to move electrons than molecules.

    For a clear example, think about replacing the electrical grid in New York City with a fleet of thousands of tank trucks delivering the equivalent amount of energy in the form of gasoline, and then getting it up to the 85th floor or wherever the energy is actually needed … which one would cost more on an ongoing basis?

    That’s what I mean when I say it’s far easier to move electrons than molecules. The infrastructure to do it is smaller, cheaper, and more robust; the frictional and other losses are lower; it requires less human intervention and labor; and the logistics are far simpler when you are moving electrons as opposed to molecules.

    Here’s another example. Why do you think email is replacing printed letters with stamps?

    Because it is cheaper and easier to move the electrons that make up an email than to move the molecules that make up a letter, particularly since to move the letter’s molecules you also need to move the molecules that make up the postman and his/her truck … electrons win again.

    w.

  117. I must apologize for my sarcasm, I was trying to be witty but the subject is really no joke.

    If we kan find a safe and efficient way to increase the storage density of Hydrogen to say within the order of magnitude of gasoline when we include the tanks it has the potential to be an excelent energy carrier (easier to store than electrones). It’s a big if and many, esepcially in Europe, has been misled by the appearent introduction of the technology as “hydrogen cars” and “hydrogen buses”. With a lot of media coverage a few of these are presented by the local transit authorities as “test vehicles”, only to have the program closed down in months due to technical problems and cost issues without any media coverage.
    This “tests” are really a marketing drive to sustain the public support for state funding of the very large R&D programs, primarily into storage and fuel cell technology. The risk of not solving the storage problem for the foreseable future is severly undercommunicated to the general Public.
    Just Google “hydrogen bus” and you will see what I mean.
    You will read a lot about how the only exhaust is water vapour and how efficient the hydrogen is converted to mechanical energy, nothing about how the storage in large composite tanks take up valuable interior space, that the range is still impractical short and the formation of hydrogen produced a lot of CO2 (assuming that is a problem).
    I fully agree with Willies points about the dangers and problems with hydrogen as an energy carrier and until the fundamental storage problem is solved (and Palladium is not the solution, even if it was cheap it is to heavy to be practical) it makes little sense to invest much in the comparably trivial engineering issues of infrastructure and generation.

    Until then I agree we should stay with hydrocarbons as energy carrier for all appliactions that rely on onboard fuel. After all, the only application I know of where hydrogen was determined to be the best solution was the Apollo moon rocket electricity generation. But for NASA cost was irrelevant, weight the design criteria and water worth its weight in Palladium.

  118. denniswingo says:
    July 1, 2013 at 10:32 am

    All of this taken together, of course, is the reason that our civilization did not adopt the use of hydrogen as an energy transportation medium, and we settled on electricity instead … because, well, it’s kind of a no-brainer

    Hydrogen in the 1850′s powered all the lights and heat in New York city.

    Right, and I guess that “all the lights and heat” part means in the 1850s there was no coal or wood heat or candles or whale-oil lamps in all of New York City? … Dennis, you’re nothing if not dependable.

    I didn’t say hydrogen was unusable. I said it was unsuitable, and that there were far better solutions … as your point amply proves, since hydrogen doesn’t provide any of New York City’s light or heat now, and hasn’t for a century or so …

    A couple of final points. First, as you point out, gas was used to transport energy for lighting in NYC, but that was before the invention of its main competitor, electricity. Once that came along, distributing energy for lighting quickly shifted to electricity.

    Second, the gas used in the 1850s was “coal gas”, a mixture of methane, hydrogen, and other volatile hydrocarbons. It was not hydrogen, as is obvious by the fact that it burned yellow and was thus good for lighting purposes … while the hydrogen flame is almost invisible and thus useless for lighting. So the hydrogen just happened to be along for the ride, it didn’t even help with the lighting. That was all done by the methane and other hydrocarbons.

    As to whether coal gas was used for heating in NYC, that seems like it would only occur in special circumstances, for the usual reason—cost. Coal gas was manufactured from coal, and only contains part of the energy in coal, so fuel costs for heating with coal would always be cheaper than for heating with coal gas.

    w.

  119. jkanders says:
    July 1, 2013 at 11:46 am
    “If you need to transport really huge amounts of energy over very long distances it will probably be cheaper to use a hydrogen pipeline than electric power wires.”

    No way. The electric wire of a given diameter can transport more energy than a liquid hydrogen pipeline of same diameter.

    For instance: One liter of liquid hydrogen carries 8.4 MJ which is 8.4 MegaWattseconds. A long distance electric line here in Europe operates at 440 000 Volts is three-phase snd so has three 150 mm^2 active cross-section tripple (triangle setup to tackle losses) cables + one 150 mm^2 zero cable, and the allowed continuous power through is 1800 MegaWatt electric power (and withstands peak 3000 MW) which means you would need to get through a comparable diameter pipe of (150*10/3.14)^0.5 = 21.86 milimeter inner diameter the1800/8.4 = 214 liters per second of liquid hydrogen to transport same amount of energy as the high voltage electric powerline.

    I will omit the problems with the pipeline insulation for under 23K temperatures in hot deserts and I’ll give you a high school math question: how fast the liquid hydrogen would need to move through the 21.86 milimeter diameter pipe to bring at its end the same amount of energy (1800 MW) as the high-voltage power line can usually carry?

    For those who are lazy to calculate the liquid hydrogen would need to move through the pipe at the speed of 570 km/h and if it would want to satisfy peak demand simmilarly as the high voltage lines then at around the speed of sound. That are in any case both much higher speeds than at which the light electrons move through the coper conductor when voltage connected, while anyway able to carry relatively huge energy…

  120. Second, the gas used in the 1850s was “coal gas”, a mixture of methane, hydrogen, and other volatile hydrocarbons. It was not hydrogen, as is obvious by the fact that it burned yellow and was thus good for lighting purposes … while the hydrogen flame is almost invisible and thus useless for lighting. So the hydrogen just happened to be along for the ride, it didn’t even help with the lighting. That was all done by the methane and other hydrocarbons.

    Coal gas in the UK contained CO as the 2nd component, don’t know about the US. Your comment about the yellow flame was correct until the 1890s when a practical mantle was invented which greatly increased the luminosity of the lamps.

  121. tumeuestumefaisdubien1 says:
    July 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    jkanders says:
    July 1, 2013 at 11:46 am
    “If you need to transport really huge amounts of energy over very long distances it will probably be cheaper to use a hydrogen pipeline than electric power wires.”

    “No way. The electric wire of a given diameter can transport more energy than a liquid hydrogen pipeline of same diameter.”

    Yes, but the diameter of the wire is the smallest problem.
    What’s more important is that a three phase high voltage line requires a corridor of approximately 100 meter. A pipe with for example two meter diameter for pressurized hydrogen would require far less space and move more energy than an electric line.

  122. “””””…..Edohiguma says:

    July 1, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Hydrogen economy… The captain of the Hindenburg is calling and he’s on fire over this……..”””””

    The captain of the Hindenberg, had another problem; they forgot to tell him they coated the skin with an electrically conductive aluminium, “thermite” look alike explosive material. The electric charge dissipating to ground while landing, ignited the fuze skin, which set the whole thing on fire.

    The hydrogen mostly escaped harmlessly, but ablaze, out of the top into the air. The burning skin, did in the ship and the human losses.

    If they had filled it with helium, it still would have been set ablaze

  123. Just need to clarify your first disadvantage a little bit there Willis.
    True electrons are indeed a little easier to move than hydrogen.
    This is a common misconception about electricity. What actually happens in a conductor is that an electron moves from one atom to the next. All good conductors have electrons in their outer orbits that are easily moved by the presence of a difference in electric potential. Electrons can only move about 10 meters/sec. What happens is the absence of the electron in a given atom is a hole and is a net positive charge. Basically, the appearance of a hole creates a potential difference and it steals an electron from an upstream adjacent atom. This action is almost instantaneous (about 90% the speed of light). Thus the traveling of the potential difference is what we perceive as electric current which is opposite the flow of electrons. Remember that Grace Hopper (bless her heart) had a piece of string that she called a nanosecond which was the distance the electricity would travel in a nanosecond. That being said, another factor is that no matter how you store hydrogen it wants to get out. It is such a small molecule (H2) that it will diffuse through almost any known material. You can confirm this by putting hydrogen in a balloon and come back the next day and almost all the hydrogen will be gone. Need to be careful lest you have a mini Hindenburg on your hands.

  124. “””””…..

    Phil. says:

    July 1, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    July 1, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    So like I said … seems very doubtful, although I’ve been surprised before. Does anyone have actual numbers for the energy density by volume of adsorbed hydrogen?……”””””

    Phil; re the density of Hydrogen; where you say it can be double that of liquid hydrogen (in hydrides), What does that translate to in density; kg/kg (hydrogen/hydride) or kg / m^3 hydrogen / hydride ??

    I’d seen the twice liquid number before, but never recall seeing the “packaging overhead”.

    And what does a particular usable hydride consist of. I’ve never understood just what the heck is the “hydride” in Nickel/metal hydride rechargeable batteries ??

  125. The Solar Hydrogen Stirling Engine deserves at least an honorable mention here-

    However, Hydrogen is merely transporting the energy by exchanging heat, not by combustion.
    Still a novel idea.

  126. If hydrogen is such a rich and simple ‘source’ of energy then why didn’t industrialists adopt this ‘source’ a long time ago? If wind power is so ‘free’ then why does it need special breaks? If solar power is so brilliant then why have so many solar power companies go bankrupt?

  127. Good article, Willis. These hydrogen people just can’t seem to grasp the concept.
    One thing though. I think helium, being a monatomic gas, is leakier than hydrogen which is diatomic and therefore much bigger.

  128. It is not a source of energy, it is a way to move energy. This distinction is very important, because it lets us make the proper comparison, which is not comparing hydrogen to propane as they did above, but comparing hydrogen to its real competition—electricity.

    And this highlights a core problem of society today – the bulk of the people are brain-dead sheeple. If you can pry them away from playing Angry Birds or Cut The Rope long enough to even explain this, their minds will explode once you tell them that Electricity is not an energy “source” at all, but an energy “product” ( and at best a lossy transport mechanism ). The despicable cabal of pseudo-Scientists are capitalizing on this ignorance by feeding them endless propaganda to achieve their goals of a de-industrialized, de-civilized society even though the consequences would be dire for both humans, and the environment itself.

    Maybe someday on some grand scale electricity could be developed into an energy “source”. Perhaps sticking hundreds of miles tall lightning rods into the ground and harnessing lightning from passing clouds to charge city or state sized batteries made of mountains of icky chemicals ( Who knows? I don’t know, no-one knows, but some outside-the-box thinking centuries or millenia from now might know ). In the meantime, all we can do is note all the misinformation about harnessing hydrogen from water and similar money pits and despair over the inevitability of pseudo-Science wasting time exploring every rabbit hole, well, all the politically correct ones.

    And that means that if someone want to store much energy, say at a hydrogen fueling station, well, they’ll need a whole lot of high-pressure tanks with special fittings, and they’ll need to be about six times as large as the corresponding gasoline tanks to contain the same amount of energy. Or if they are storing the hydrogen adsorbed onto the surface of some as-yet-undiscovered material, they won’t need to be high pressure, but they’ll need to be even bigger.

    You would think that this simple comparison would be enough to wake them up, but you would be wrong. Not as long as that city bus keeps driving by with a big sign “powered by hydrogen” plastered on the side. It sows the seeds of ignorance in the sheeple, quite successfully. The old analogy I remember was ‘ if you have a gallon of gasoline and a gallon of hydrogen, which would have the most energy? ‘ Besides the fact that you wouldn’t want and couldn’t have a gallon of hydrogen without extraordinarily expensive preparation and nearly impossible storage concerns, the carbon-rich gasoline outperforms the carbon-free hydrogen and that is simply politically incorrect. This perfectly describes the strategy of the scoundrels that demonize Carbon. AGW and all pseudo-Science is about making efficiency politically-incorrect, and their Neo-Communist de-industrialized pipe-dreams politically correct. In short, *they* are anti-Science, anti-Common-Sense, anti-Logical and indeed anti-Human.

    Put another way, They are plainly willing to suspend all the basic tenets of Science, of Logic, and of Common Sense to achieve their goals. This is bigger than Science though. It permeates everywhere in modern life and politics. It is sometimes coordinated, sometimes haphazard coincidence, but it all leads to the same result – the destruction of modern civilized life. Welcome to the de-Enlightenment. You can draw a pretty straight line through those that decried Gutenberg’s printing press, Luddites that sabotaged machines, and the quacks that want to demonize and regress from using Carbon in almost any form.

    Sorry about the digression. Skimming the comments proves my point as quite a few sheeple who had their bubble burst showed up here to complain about Willis exposing some simple truths of physics on Planet Earth. As I said, political correctness is all about suspending the laws of man and nature to instead achieve some obsessive compulsive goal of a fictitious fantasyland.

  129. There are additional disadvantages of using H2 to power a civilization. One is that H2 is a powerful greenhouse gas and that fact seems to be ignored by the H2 proponents, frequently the same people who care about greenhouse gases. Of course there will be a percentage spilled/leaked, and that goes directly into the atmosphere.

    Another problem with burning H2 is also glossed over. In internal combustion engines (Otto, Diesel) there are 3 basic pollutants generated. Carbon Monoxide (CO), unburned hydrocarbons (HC) and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx). The NOx is generated at the peak combustion temperatures, which is why Diesels produce a bit more. However, burning H2 in an IC engine generates just as much NOx as burning a hydrocarbon fuel at the same compression ratio. So you still need the catalytic converter.

    Slightly OT, but we’ve already had a few hydrazine posters: Hydrazine is acutely toxic, chronically toxic, it can be taken up by absorption through the skin, by inhalation (it has high vapor pressure), and by ingestion (eating or drinking). It is a carcinogen, and a mutagen. The threshold limit value is a tiny 0.1 mg/m3 air, and the LD50 is another tiny 570 ppm for 4 hours. About the only good thing you can say about hydrazine is that it’s not radioactive. :)

  130. jkanders says:
    July 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    pipe with for example two meter diameter for pressurized hydrogen would require far less space and move more energy than an electric line.

    I was actually talking about liquid hydrogen, which has equivalent in 690 bar pressurized hydrogen. No affordable 2 meter diameter pipeline material would withstand 690 bar.

    What pressure you actually mean? For example pressures in gas pipelines are at max 100 bar and usually like 30 bar at which the Hydrogen would have ~20 times less density than the liquid hydrogen and like 0.2 MJ/L, which is way much less than even CNG has. Then I don’t see the point why use hydrogen instead of electricity or suitable hydrocarbons.
    And even if you would have a material for a 690 bar pipeline then you would have surely need of a heavily guarded security zone around the pipeline, I would think much wider than the 100m (because a 690 bar Hydrogen pipeline I think would be a terrorist target of a special atractivity with really spectacular results if blown up) and the land there unlike below power lines would so lie fallow behind double to tripple electric fences.
    Just btw. if you would transport by a conventional 2 meter diameter pipeline the hydrogen at 30 bar at a speed of say 50 meters/second, you anyway would get through just 31 GW. For same task you would need 3phase/3mount 2620 mm^2 cross-section cables (~35mm diameter for idea, although such cables aren’t in use and it would be made rather by several paralel lines using thiner cables) + zero cable at 440 000 kV electric power line. Such a power line would still fit in the 100 meter corridor and will be much more easier and less costly to install than an even conventional gas pipeline which anyway would be a potential target.

  131. I used to work for a specialty compressor company. These were compressors to ahndle large amounts of gas for various purposes. One of the gases we were trying to design for was Hydrogen. Everything Willis said is absolutley true. Even worse is that Hygrogen attach itself to anything that enters into the system witch does wonders for lubrication.. As for trying to build a nonlube machine, well we tried, using the best material options for pisont ring packings and seal and we got a machine life of about 300 hours or so. This for a machine that was supposed to run continuously for a year before teardown. The problem is that Hydrogen is such a small molecule that you can’t use it as a bearing and it will leak right through walls. We never tried to build a 40,000 psi hydrogen machine and I’m not sure that it’s even possible. maybe with some sort of new material that’s slippier than anything we had available in the early nineties. I do know one thing, a compressor running that high is going to be so inefficient athat any attempt to extract energy from the Hydrogen will be a significant loss. The lubricator alone would require a 100 HP motor and I think the frame would require at least a 1000 HP motor just to get the last stage to pump. The valve springs on that last stage would probably have to be hot wound as no machine would could bend them.

  132. “It is far easier to move electrons than to move molecules.”

    That reminded me of this article describing the ongoing replacement of mechanical systems, e.g. your car’s drive shaft, with electrical.

    tumetuestumefaisdubien1’s comment (July 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm) reinforced the point.

    “And as a result, hydrogen is not a source of energy, it is merely a way to transport energy from Point A to Point B.”

    Fossil fuels are not energy sources, they’re just Nature’s way to transport sunlight from the past to the future. :-)

  133. I ran labs for years and we used bottled hydrogen in our Gas Chromatographs. If you want to go stalk raving bonkers try finding and sealing hydrogen gas leaks.

    And then there is the little problem that hydrogen makes metal brittle.

    Hydrogen Causes Metal to Break

    ….for metals like steel, aluminum and magnesium — which are commonly used in automotive and energy technology — hydrogen is not quite ideal. It can make these metals brittle; the ductility of the metal becomes reduced. Its durability deteriorates. This can lead to sudden failure of parts and components. Beside the fuel tank itself, or parts of the fuel cell, but ordinary components like ball bearings could also be affected. These are found not only in the car, but also in almost all industrial machinery.

    This lightest of the chemical elements permeates the raw materials of which the vehicle is made not only when filling the tank, but also through various manufacturing processes. Hydrogen can infiltrate the metal lattice through corrosion, or during chromium-plating of car parts. Infiltration may likewise occur during welding, milling or pressing. The result is always the same: the material may tear or break without warning….

    Oh and for real fun have a tank explode taking out the wall of the concrete blockhouse.

    Sorry, I will stick with diesel.

  134. While I agree with Willis (nice article! Thanks Willis!) about the large scale use of hydrogen, there is one automotive use which should be considered. that of “boosting” more conventional fuels. The addition of roughly 15% H2 gas into the air intake of a conventional gasoline engine (and a slight change in ignition timing) allows the use of fuels that would not normally be usable. Want to burn kerosene in your car? Boost the air intake with hydrogen.

  135. As always Willis begins with an amusing troph about hydrygen: “But there’s none of it that is available for drilling or mining, it’s all bound up in other compounds. ”

    without noting that the same is true of just about everything else, and those minerals, as with hydrogen, often come in oxidized forms. This is one of those things which, while true are designed to push the reader in a direction. Hydrogen generation via low intensity power sources (wind/solar) is not without promise nor problems, but worth thinking about.

  136. Dan in California says:
    July 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm
    “H2 is a powerful greenhouse gas”
    No it isn’t. H2 has no absorption band at mid-IR 288 K spectra. Moreover it has very short life in atmosphere, because it its highly reactive. It can with Oxygen form water, which has an absorption band in the 288K spectra, but this water only adds to natural precipitable water pool which is a powerful negative temperature feedback transporting latent heat from surface up to the atmosphere through convection and has therefore no significant surface warming effect.

  137. Willis

    Compliments from this engineer on lucid accurate explanations for interested laypersons.

    The best use of hydrogen as an “energy carrier” is to “chemically liquify” H2 by reacting it with CO or CO2 to convert it to Methanol (CH3OH). Methanol was selected as the preferred racing fuel starting in 1965 for the USAC Indy car race circuit for its higher efficiency per fuel energy in racing engines and greater safety in crashes.
    For those interested in this pragmatic replacement fuel, see the detailed review:
    David L. Hagen, (1976) Methanol: Its Synthesis, Use as a Fuel, Economics and Hazards. 180 pp, with 608 ref. NTIS# NP-21727.
    Nobel Laureate George Olah pursued this theme in:
    George A. Olah et al. (2009) Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, ISBN: 978-3527324224, 350 pp

    The sustainable “energy source” could be stored solar energy (aka archaic biomass, aka coal), current solar thermal energy, or nuclear energy such as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR).

    Overview of LENT Theory Low Energy Nuclear Transmutations, Yogendra Srivastava at CERN March 22, 2012

    Levi et al. “Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device”

    See LENR-CANR.org;

    Now which will become most cost effective?

  138. Excellent, Willis!

    (I don’t know which I like best–your excellent posts, or your taking apart of your dim-witted detractors.)

  139. The only way hydrogen can be an economical energy medium is to engineer biologic organisms such as bacteria or algae to excrete it as a byproduct of their growth process. One way to work that would be to put the bacteria or algae in with sewage in covered buildings that have transparent roofs so sunlight can shine in. As long as the sun shines and the bacteria or algae don’t die and the food source (sewage) keeps coming – the hydrogen gets split out of the food and excreted – with minimal input from any energy sources other than sunlight and sewage.

    Of course all the problems of storing and transporting the hydrogen remain – but the hydrogen is next thing to free…

    But there’s no reason to go to the effort of genetically modifying tiny plants or critters to cull hydrogen from waste. There’s plenty of natural little guys who already do that, and excrete methane. It’s more efficient at reducing the waste because they remove carbon as well as hydrogen. Genetic fiddling to create hydrogen excreters is attempting to remove the biological function of combining the hydrogen and carbon into CH4.

    Even better is that some of those bacteria are quite happy to poo out methane from higher level critter poo without any outside energy input like sunlight, or even outside oxygen. Lighting them up or giving them a breath of fresh air will kill them.

    Save the anaerobic bacteria! Keep away from sunlight and oxygen! Get them wet and feed them after midnight, before lunch and after supper!

  140. , Eli Rabett says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    As always Willis begins with an amusing troph about hydrygen: “But there’s none of it that is available for drilling or mining, it’s all bound up in other compounds. ”

    without noting that the same is true of just about everything else, and those minerals, as with hydrogen, often come in oxidized forms.

    =======================================================================
    Uhhh …. perhaps I’m missing something but don’t we drill for oil and don’t we drill for natural gas and don’t we mine for coal? To what “everything else” are you referring?

  141. Not sure if this has been mentioned before, if so apologies.

    Hydrogen is produced industrially by the electrolysis of Brine (NaCl). The resultant electrolytes are Sodium Hydroxide, Chlorine and Hydrogen. There are viable markets for all three materials BUT you need a boat load of Electrical power to do it and they come out in the same proportions all the time so you need commercial uses for all three.

    I worked for a company where the Cell Room pulled ~ 40 MW from the grid and it wasn’t a big plant by any means. The cost of the electricity is a huge factor in terms of the economics of plant operation.

  142. Eli Rabett says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm
    As always Willis begins with an amusing troph about hydrygen: “But there’s none of it that is available for drilling or mining, it’s all bound up in other compounds. ”
    without noting that the same is true of just about everything else, and those minerals, as with hydrogen, often come in oxidized forms.

    No, it is not true. The fossil hydrocarbons we mainly use for energy production (and just about everything else) aren’t bound nor oxidized. If they would be, we couldn’t use them to generate energy by burning them.

    Whole this “hydrogen economy” debate reminds me about the “car which runs on water” type of debate, which usually completely ignores basics of thermodynamics.
    Hydrogen as the energy carrier (not resource – there’s almost no free Hydrogen in the nature) maybe can be useful for special purposes, mainly in space where the temperature is low enough and no oxygen around to relatively safely store it. But to base our earthly economy on it? I would think to believe in something like that is a simmilar absurd facts ignoring hype as is the CAGW hype, with the slight difference that while the CAGW hype mainly costs loads of money, the “hydrogen economy” is besides that also cappable to literaly blow things up.
    Remember Challenger? An example what happens when something compromises a hydrogen tank. And that was NASA, the rocket scientists, who usually know what they’re doing and why. Imagine to give something like that to some environmentalist sect rednecks, who believe that to use hydrogen as fuel is just about almost something like to use diesel…

  143. And any uncombined Hydrogen diffused into Space Billions of years ago. Gravity can’t hold it here in its elemental form, it’s too light.

  144. David L. Hagen says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:37 pm
    The best use of hydrogen as an “energy carrier” is to “chemically liquify” H2 by reacting it with CO or CO2 to convert it to Methanol (CH3OH).

    Unfortunately Methanol is very toxic. Here in Europe the EU for example had the idea tha they’ll put it in the windshield cleaners to get rid of the overstock. Then some guys discovered a good bussines to buy bulk the ingredient and put it in the cheap spirits. The result was 39 dead, hundreds of blinds and otherwise impaired, unknown number of minor poisonings and nationwide prohibition until all spirits in the country were either controlled or destroyed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Czech_Republic_methanol_poisonings

  145. I am all for hydrogen powered automobiles and truck but in one location only… Washington DC.
    On second thought you can add NYC, LA and Boston too.

  146. I also like Entropy, everything descends to it’s lowest energy state. I often use it to describe why cars rust.

    A lump of Iron Ore spends billions of years being just that. It is very happy being a lump of iron ore as it is at its lowest energy state, it doesn’t want to do much, just sit there. But no, we know better.

    So we come along and dig it up and then we inject huge amounts of energy into it and turn it into Steel, a material that is at much higher energy level. The Iron in the Steel responds as one might expect by seeking to return to its lowest energy state as quickly as it can. People have made careers out of seeking to slow down the reversion process.

    Entropy tells you that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If that wasn’t true, then in the spirit of this example, why can’t we mine Steel ?

  147. Two more items for consideration:

    1. We don’t have a good cheap reliable hydrogen detector. (There are hydrogen detectors, but they also respond strongly to more common substances, like carbon monoxide. The solution is you have to have detectors for those other substances and subtract their signals to get just the hydrogen level. So there is no way to determine if you have a leak. As noted in the article, you can’t even hunt for leaks with a lit match effectively because you can’t see the flame.

    2. Hydrogen can diffuse rapidly through hot metal, and more slowly through cold metal, causing hydrogen embrittlement. The really bad news is in steel hydrogen also latches onto the carbon atoms in the steel on the way through and converts them to methane so the steel is slowly weakened by decarburization.

    Hydrogen in large quantities is tricky stuff to work with.

  148. Well hydrogen will have its day “in the future”, when human kind gets all the energy we need from the top 1/16th of an inch of San Francisco bay. Well that is if they get to it before that top 1/16th becomes mud, like the lower levels of the Bay are.

    Well if you note, I said “in the future.”.

    I think gravity, is the only long range force that sucks. The other long range force electromagnetism , both sucks and blows all the time, which leads to Earnshaw’s theorem, that there is no position of stable static equilibrium, in an em field. No static configuration of charges is stable.

    So gravity works well to hold fusionable fuels into a dense hot mass for long enough to ignite; it just has to suck in enough fuel to do it. We know it works with gravity, because we have one next door.

  149. Willis Eschenbach says:
    July 1, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Matthew R Marler says:
    July 1, 2013 at 9:31 am

    This is a silly post. Start with this: It is far easier to move electrons than to move molecules.

    Lots more energy is moved in the form of molecules than electrons, as in oil tankers (ship, road and rail). oil and gas pipelines, coal barges.

    Thanks, Matt, but dang … miss the point much? I didn’t say more energy was moved by electrons than by molecules. I said it was easier to move electrons than molecules.

    So why do we bother to move the molecules at all? Burn them at the source and transmit the power over high voltage lines with the ~7% losses on the grid. Of course you know the answer(s) is that electricity is not an energy dense “fuel” due to the poor characteristics of batteries (or any electro-mechanical storage medium) and there are other requirements.

    For a clear example, think about replacing the electrical grid in New York City with a fleet of thousands of tank trucks delivering the equivalent amount of energy in the form of gasoline, and then getting it up to the 85th floor or wherever the energy is actually needed … which one would cost more on an ongoing basis?

    Here’s any even clearer example: home natural gas delivery. We seem to have come up with an infrastructure to handle that just fine. Why don’t all homes have electric heat? It’s easier to move those electrons, isn’t it? In fact I’m in the market for an affordable 5kW SOFC combined power unit for my house but they’re prohibitively expensive right now. My total thermal efficiency would be in excess of 80% with such a system using the little tube of metal that brings me CH4 right to my doorstep (well, south side of the house, actually). That is far in excess of the efficiency I get from a purely electrical system.

    Here’s another example. Why do you think email is replacing printed letters with stamps?

    Because it is cheaper and easier to move the electrons that make up an email than to move the molecules that make up a letter, particularly since to move the letter’s molecules you also need to move the molecules that make up the postman and his/her truck … electrons win again.

    *sigh* Latency, of course. Now you can claim that that is because electrons are easier to move than molecules but you neglect the rest of the infrastructure problem. I can deliver essentially an arbitrarily large amount of data through mail if I want. Santa certainly has no trouble getting massive amounts of data every year in the form of real physical letters. I honestly have no idea how many e-mails, texts, or twits he gets. Up until relatively recently Netflix was sending FAR more data in the form of DVDs through conventional mail than streaming. I couldn’t find a quick link to the recent relative rates in the 2min I tried searching so maybe it’s already crossed over because of the latency thing.

    Here’s a question for you: Since electrons are easy to move and photons are even easier, why don’t we all have gigabit to the home? There’s that pesky infrastructure again. And in many ways data is even easier than simple electrical power to lay (some, not all). But let’s use radio waves instead of conductors. That’s even easier! So why don’t we all have gigabit connections to our cell phones? I can tell you even with all of my 4G LTE bars and letters and cute little wave icons I’m sure as hell not getting even the 300Mbps I’m theoretically entitled to.

    Oh, and electricity does catch fire, or rather it’s storage medium can. (HuffPo, really? Yeesh, I need to take a shower). And don’t forget the recent 787 experiences not to mention the occasional burning pants cell phone or laptop.

    Matt’s right that it’s a silly distraction to dwell on the mass of electrons (or EM waves) vs. atoms. The other criticisms of H2 energy density and storage are legitimate, so why dilute from them with these side points?

  150. There’s no such thing as a happy greenie.

    Imagine their complaints if we sucked up our precious oceans to split H2O. Then they’d complain there’d be too much left over oxygen, causing wildfires.

    I’m surprised they’re not complaining about us burning up oxygen with fossil fuels. Or maybe they’re too dumb to think of that one, much like sequestering CO2 is like suffocating plants that they haven’t thought of either, although they learned about photosynthesis in school. Dumb.

    Best to leave the troglodytes behind while the rest of us get on with exploring the Universe.

  151. Eli Rabett says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    As always Willis begins with an amusing troph about hydrygen:

    “But there’s none of it that is available for drilling or mining, it’s all bound up in other compounds. ”

    without noting that the same is true of just about everything else, and those minerals, as with hydrogen, often come in oxidized forms. This is one of those things which, while true are designed to push the reader in a direction. Hydrogen generation via low intensity power sources (wind/solar) is not without promise nor problems, but worth thinking about.

    Goodness, Josh, miss the point much?

    The point I was making is that because there is no drillable store of free hydrogen, because hydrogen is bound up in compounds by strong bonds, it is NOT an energy source. It takes more energy to break hydrogen free than you get back when you burn it. Not a source of energy in any sense of the word. Not even when you generate it “via low intensity power sources”. It’s just an energy transportation system.

    And no, this is not “true of just about everything else”. It’s not true of any practical energy source. That is the definition of an energy source, that it contains more usable energy than was required to drill or mine it. That’s what the “source” part means.

    And yes, this fact is designed to encourage the reader in a direction, but not in some sneaky way as you imply in your usual snarky manner.

    It is designed to encourage the reader to notice that hydrogen is only a way to transport energy, not a source of energy, and that’s hardly an underhanded trick of any kind … and although I see that in your case I failed spectacularly, most people seemed to get the message without any problem at all.

    Perhaps you might check your glasses, all that carrot-eating doesn’t seem to be helping your reading comprehension …

    w.

  152. Tsk Tsk says:
    July 1, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    July 1, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Matthew R Marler says:
    July 1, 2013 at 9:31 am

    This is a silly post. Start with this: It is far easier to move electrons than to move molecules.

    Lots more energy is moved in the form of molecules than electrons, as in oil tankers (ship, road and rail). oil and gas pipelines, coal barges.
    Thanks, Matt, but dang … miss the point much? I didn’t say more energy was moved by electrons than by molecules. I said it was easier to move electrons than molecules.

    So why do we bother to move the molecules at all? Burn them at the source and transmit the power over high voltage lines with the ~7% losses on the grid.

    Um … er … we do burn them, although often not at the source for various reasons (availability of cooling water, distribution of sources over a large area, transportation, land issues, the issue of power plant siting is complex). However, there are many, many power plants located at or very near the source.

    As to whether it’s easier to move molecules than electrons, how about we test it. You send an express mail expedited delivery letter to say London, I’ll send an email, and we’ll see which one is easier, faster, and cheaper to deliver.

    Why do you think that the telephone and the telegraph were invented? Why did the Pony Express go out of business? Because electrons move faster than molecules.

    I fail to see why this issue seems so contentious. Are you seriously claiming it’s easier to move a letter around the planet than an email? Lets have a different race. I’ll move a kilowatt of energy fifty miles by electricity, and you move the same kilowatt fifty miles in a pipeline. Or a truck. Or a coal barge. Or a tanker.

    Bet I get there first, for a simple reason … it’s far easier to move electrons than molecules.

    w.

    PS—Your screen name is odious. It puts an unpleasant pall over your communications, and true to your screen name, your tone is that you are scolding me for my transgressions. I’d change the name immediately, as well as the tone, but that’s just me …

    [UPDATE] From Google, with the search term “define:”tsk tsk”

    tsk tsk  
    /tisk tisk/
    Exclamation
    Expressing disapproval or annoyance: "you of all people, Goldie—tsk, tsk".

    Is that really the message you want to send, that you are here to disapprove and tell us you are annoyed? Doesn’t exactly invite polite conversation …

  153. I seem to remember from my materials science class the problem of metal fatigue caused by interstitial migration of hydrogen atoms. I think the term was hydrogen cracking or perosity, making it rather unsuitable for engines. Decent for Fuel Cells though as long as its clean.

    I remember when Ford did their test drive across America with the “Think” car nearly 20 years ago. A team of engineers supported by a tanker of hydrogen were used to make the trip. What a colossal waste of time and money. All the policy people turned out in droves to witness their toy holy grail.

    I always figured that if we could get CNG to take off in a meaningful way at 3600 psi with no reforming, the problems would be solved. H2 at 10000 psi with total steam reforming and mechanical cooling for a complete fill could be done but never as cost effectively as CNG.

    Not saying that CNG is a panacea, but just a great deal better than H2 will ever be.

  154. There is an old show called “One Step Beyond” that had an episode entitled “Where Are You?” in which the second half has a man showing up with a tablet that would allow you to use water to operate your vehicles.

    One comment stands out, “Electrolysis is all you need. Water is made of the same stuff as rocket fuel…Hydrogen and Oxygen. Develop a tablet that quickly and efficiently separates those two substances and segregates them internally, then recombines in the engine in proper proportions. Yes, this is possible, folks!” Of course several more indicate a governmental/corporate conspiracy keeps this all under wraps.

  155. Willis, great essay. How do I know this? By how your detractors fumble and stumble and behave like Keystone Kops (happy/sad/ironic metaphorical coincidence there) in their headlong rush to expose their own lack of research on the topic. Like Olaf says above, there is no such thing as a happy greenie…they are too busy being unhappy misanthropes to sit down and REMEDY their own unhappiness….by getting an education.

    Thanks for the entertaining responses.

  156. tumetuestumefaisdubien1 says:
    July 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm
    “Just btw. if you would transport by a conventional 2 meter diameter pipeline the hydrogen at 30 bar at a speed of say 50 meters/second, you anyway would get through just 31 GW. For same task you would need 3phase/3mount 2620 mm^2 cross-section cables (~35mm diameter for idea, although such cables aren’t in use and it would be made rather by several paralel lines using thiner cables) + zero cable at 440 000 kV electric power line. Such a power line would still fit in the 100 meter corridor “

    Thank you for doing the math, but do you really think that it is possible to fit a 31 GW line, which is 50% more than the installation of the world’s largest power plant, three Gorges, into a 100 meter corridor?
    However, what I had in mind was even bigger lines. Imagine that half of Europe’s energy consumption were to be produced from solar cells in Sahara. It’s doable, and it would require a negligible part of the desert. That part could even be a popular place to live if the installations were made in the right way to create shadows and cooler places in the desert.
    The surplus energy produced during daytime has to be stored, and hydrogen may be a good alternative for that. The power lines required would need to have a total capacity in the magnitude of 1 TW, and then hydrogen pipes could be a good alternative.

  157. There is another reason for using water (Liquid) for testing pressure vessels, it preserves the point of failure rather than blasting the vessel and everything around it to bits. The most famous use of such testing, AFAIK, was the BAC Comet in the 1950’s. The plane, except wings and tail, was submerge in a purpose built tank. The interior was filled with water and pressurised to failure point, preserving the damage.

  158. Tangential comment on hydrogen storage density. Yes, although it is counter intuitive, mixing other stuff with Hydrogen lets you cram more hydrogen into the same space than using pure hydrogen. Lots of different reasons and ways to explain, I’ll just hit some.

    In gases, there are the same number of gas molecules in any volume, so one liter of CH4 has as many molecules, and twice as much hydrogen, as a liter of H2. Of course, you have to break the CH bonds to burn the methane, so the energy per H released is a bit less, but you get more H (and you can also burn the C) per liter. True for any pressure until the you get liquid or solid.

    In liquid, the individual molecules are generically attracted to each other so they stick close together instead of bouncing of the walls like a gas. But they are in constant motion, and need “elbow room”. The more attracted they are to each other, the tighter they pack. In solids, the molecules (or individual building units) take up relatively fixed positions in large organized groups.

    Hydrogen as a molecule is small, but it takes far less space as an ion in a grid. (Most of the size of an atom is in its electron orbitals, an H+ ion is just a bare proton, it has no electron cloud at all) So as a hydride, you can get many H+ hanging around a heavy atom with a small tight electron cloud.

    Even more density is obtained in metallic lattices. Solid metals have an extended “sea” of electrons instead of separate outer orbital shells, and then tightly held inner electron shells. Part of the hydrogen containment problem is the H2 can break up, add the electrons to the communal “sea”, and the two protons can pinball through the empty spaces. Eventually, a proton will either wander out (and usually take an electron back) or run into something that will capture it. (hence leaks and hydrogen embrittlement). With just the right spacing, you can dissolve many more atoms of hydrogen as H+ and e- than would fit in the same volume as H2 molecules, despite having to fit all the metal atoms in too. Too bad that the best are platinum group metals so, as observed in prior comments, your “gas tank” weighs half a ton and costs 15 million dollars.

    Pons & Fleischmann of cold fusion infamy were investigating how the forces that permitted the increased density of the protons would affect atomic fusion potentials. After all, since the protons are closer together to start with, it should be easy (or easier anyway) to push them the rest of the way together. So far, we’re still the same 20 years away from fusion we were 20 years ago.

  159. Willis, you missed one important property of hydrogen in addition to all the correct things you mentioned, which limits its use in the often proposed hydrogen economy.

    Pumping anything, gases or liquids, through pipelines requires energy. And for every medium there is a length of the pipeline, where the energy required for transportation is equal to the energy delivered. I don’t have the exact data at hand, but for the transportation of natural gas, which is mostly methane, this lenght is ~1000 miles, while for hydrogen this is closer to only 100miles!

    This is not a problem when the hydrogen is used as a raw material, as in the chemical industry (it only means higher costs), but when ENERGY is the thing to transport, then a pipeline quickly fails.

  160. Willis,
    your assumption that liquid hydrogen is the densest form of hydrogen is not true. There are examples of metal hydrides and chemical hydrides which offer higher hydrogen density, both per volume and per weight. I studied that in detail during my fuel cell activities in industry. Some public data can be found in the DOE program, e.g. this report of storage for fuel cell use in cars (pdf):

    http://www.google.de/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDQQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hydrogen.energy.gov%2Fpdfs%2Fprogress09%2Fiv_0_hydrogen_storage_overview.pdf&ei=-qPSUaTMPMSftAayxoDYCg&usg=AFQjCNEgWGLUXXdy-KfWRttrjRxu68N66Q&bvm=bv.48705608,d.Yms

    Figures 3 and 4 (pages 392/4) tell the story.

    However, fig 4 tells of an additional caveat to consider: not only have to get H into the (metal) matrix, you also have to get it off! And if this requires temperatures higher than available in the automobile, then it is not an option, as it would require to burn H to generate the temperature, which reduces the effective energy storage density.

    But, do you know which easily available 3 compounds exceed hydrogen density of Liquid Hydrogen by a factor of 2 for gavimetric and a factor of 3 by volumetric density, and even the DOE Ultimate target? It is Methanol, Propane and Butane! All three have about 10wt% and 100g/l H. Methanol is liquid at room temperature, and the latter two, known as used e.g. for gas barbecue grills, are liquid at moderate compression (10 – 30 bar).

    Therefore, the best “Hydrogen” car running on a fuel cell, powering an electric motor would be using those hydrocarbons! Of course, now it needs to have a reformer, a system which can extract the H out of the Propane/Butane/Methanol, on board too. Technically not a major hurdle, but currently too expensive.

    Though this seems to be technically AND energetically feasible, I don’t expect it to happen, as the carbon in those 3 liquids will of course be converted to CO2 by the reformer, and we all know that CO2 is a poison/sarc.

  161. What I don’t like is the deliberate lies and deception. Transport for London is STILL putting out the Green propaganda that their hydrogen busses are emissions free.

    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/8444.aspx

    But what they will not tell the public is that their hysdrogen comes from the gas reforming method, and so these busses are actually fossil fuelled. But since the hydrogen cycle is about 30% as efficient as a diesel bus, they put out even more emissions than a standard bus. Worse than that, the hydrogen generator is in East London, and so the emissions (including CO2) is being pumped out in East London.

    So much for these hydrogen busses being clean….

  162. jkanders says:
    July 1, 2013 at 11:54 pm
    “The surplus energy produced during daytime has to be stored, and hydrogen may be a good alternative for that. The power lines required would need to have a total capacity in the magnitude of 1 TW, and then hydrogen pipes could be a good alternative.

    For local energy storage the hydrogen/oxygen electrolytic splitting – likely with high temperature electrolysis, where most of the energy would be provided as solar heat (- best for making high temperatures fully clean: sometimes I travel to Andorra through Pyrenees-Catalanes parc and on the way near Font Romeu there I always pass and admire the two solar furnaces there) not electricity – electrolysis consumes much less energy, when the water is overheated – and then burning again (I don’t think in such case you split by >1TW electricity the water to hydrogen and oxygen by hot electrolysis and then burning it back you would like to burn then the hydrogen with air, creating the variety of toxic pollutants with the atmospheric nitrogen and carbon you would need then get rid of using huge catalytic converters) maybe could be useful if you overcome the obvious problems with the burning hydrogen with oxygen (very high temperature, wide explosive mix ratio range). But I still don’t see a point why to transport all that hydrogen from Sahara to Europe, when for example for the 1TW – you would need at the 440 kVolt/2272 kAmperes band just twelve parallel 3 phasex1vein 150mm cable lines – which although being huge powerlink never built anywhere to my knowledge I still find way more viable than a 1TW-in-pressurized-hydrogen pipeline from Sahara to Europe.
    Even high tension cables you can lay on seabed without much fear, but I doubt you can lay there a high pressure pipelines (-for 1TW you definitely wouldn’t be able to make it through using one) – Mediteranian between Sahara and Europe is active seismic region – there are two pipelines through mediteranian to Sicily, but they’re conventional for oil and gas and even that was quite a technological feat.
    Btw: The energy consumption of EU now is 1900 mio toe from which 79% is covered by fossil fuels, 12% by 2-3 gen. nuclear, rest by renewables, mainly hydro. So gradually you would need >2.5TW in next much less than 100 years to cover the fossil fuels and U-235 depletion -if we assume the consumption wil not rise anymore. That would need ~size of Tunisia solar plant – and esecially if you would want to transport the energy using the hydrogen with losses it brings into the chain.
    My opinion is – and I expressed it here already – that much better than do megalomaniac projects as “Sahara powering Europe by solar” (which I find rather unviable for variety of political, economic and even environmental reasons – how to recycle Tunisia size solar plant when its lifespan is over?!…) that way is more to go off grid for example using local scallable 4th generation Thorium based plants, with several orders of magnitude higher power generation intensity than any contemporary even cutting edge power generating technology can ever achieve. This would largely avoid the extensive fuel transportation and power networks, which besides losses are vulnerable to variety of threats from storms to terrorism.
    Frankly, I don’t believe for a second anybody would be able to fully susbstitute for fast depleting fossil fuels in the given deadline (until ~2050 – optimistic general fossil peak prediction) using anything else than nuclear fission technologies of the 4th generation (even D-T fusion definitely will not be available then). Moreover I think the Sahara would be much better off if reforested (forests destroyed there in ancient times) than planted with statesize solar megaplants to feed Europe with energy, which can be obtained on the spot by much less expensive, less resources demanding and versatile technologies without need of high distance powerlines for anything else than backupbone, nevertheless much more likely giving the needed energy production potential.

  163. tumetuestumefaisdubien1 says:

    July 2, 2013 at 4:36 am
    Many good points there my friend, you may be right concerning power lines, and I may also, future will show. But let me comment on one point:

    “Moreover I think the Sahara would be much better off if reforested (forests destroyed there in ancient times) than planted with statesize solar megaplants to feed Europe with energy, which can be obtained on the spot by much less expensive, less resources demanding and versatile technologies”

    To reforest Sahara would probably need a climate change which brings much more rein to the region, and I don’t think that is within reach of our technology.
    But we can “reforest” a part of Sahara with a type of Solar cell “trees”. This type of constructions does not need to be negative to the local environment in the desert. It can be a highly desirable change. Cool shadows and a surplus of local cheap energy can vitalize the region and an attractive region for living can be created.

  164. @Codetech

    Stanford University has a very wellsupported paper that identifies a baseload capability for interconnected wind farms.

    True, wind is not blowing all the time in any particular place. However, it does blow all the time, somewhere — and that somewhere is more locally consistent than the uninformed may think.

    With almost decade old tech, Stanford identifies a 33% Windfarm Nameplate Capacity as an average baseload capability. e.g. a set of interconnected windfarms with a Nameplate capacity of 3000 MW – provides a dependable baseload capability of 999MW – continuous.

    Enjoy an informative read.
    “It was found that an average of 33% and a maximum
    of 47% of yearly averaged wind power from interconnected farms can be used as reliable, baseload electric
    power.”

    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/winds/aj07_jamc.pdf

  165. Of course that does not change the fact that hydrogen has too many warts to be used as a medium for bulk energy exchange over distance.

  166. PeterF says:
    July 2, 2013 at 3:21 am

    Willis,
    your assumption that liquid hydrogen is the densest form of hydrogen is not true. There are examples of metal hydrides and chemical hydrides which offer higher hydrogen density, both per volume and per weight. I studied that in detail during my fuel cell activities in industry. Some public data can be found in the DOE program, e.g. this report of storage for fuel cell use in cars (pdf):

    Figures 3 and 4 (pages 392/4) tell the story.

    Peter, first, thanks for a very interesting citation. However, I fear you’ll have to be more specific. The key with hydrogen is what they call “volumetric capacity”, the amount of hydrogen in grams per litre. The density of liquid hydrogen is 70 g/l, which is listed as their “Ultimate” target. I didn’t see anything in the citation that showed a greater volumetric capacity than that of liquid hydrogen.

    It appears that their figures are “whole system”. That is to say, for liquid hydrogen they include the volume of the insulated tank. And that is a valid and useful measure, indispensable for real-world applications. That drops the volumetric density of liquid hydrogen down to around 35 g/l.

    We, on the other hand, were discussing the volumetric capacities of the substances themselves (liquid hydrogen versus high-surface-area metal hydrides which adsorb/desorb hydrogen from their surface).

    I was unaware of the research into aluminum hydride (AlH3)n. In solid form, it contains about twice the hydrogen content as liquid hydrogen. (it is 10.1% hydrogen by weight and has a density of 1490 g/L, giving a hydrogen density of 150 g/L. However, I wasn’t talking about solid hydrogen compounds. I was discussing the adsorption and desorption of hydrogen to and from the surface of such a compound. To do that, it can’t be in one solid block. It has to be shot through and through with pores and channels. This is both to give it the greatest possible surface area so that more hydrogen can go into and out of storage, and to provide channels for the hydrogen to pass to and from the surface. And that need for air channels and high surface area is bound to cut down on the volumetric capacity. That’s why I put the density of liquid hydrogen (70g/L) at the very top of the list … as have the people in your citation.

    Regarding aluminum hydride, as a result, it appears that in a useable form, which they report as some kind of experimental “alane slurry”, the hydrogen density drops to about 50g/L, which is well below that of liquid hydrogen (70 g/l) itself. (It is also above the performance of liquid hydrogen if you include the volume of the dewar flask needed to store the liquid, which is not our topic but which is critical in the real world.)

    So I fear my claim still stands, that regarding hydrogen storage for use as energy, liquid hydrogen contains the most hydrogen per litre. Well, except solid hydrogen … plus I learned about alane along the way.

    Finally, all of their figures were lab results, not actual practical systems. Doesn’t make them less interesting or valid, just that they need to get discounted some for the real world.

    Thanks again for a fascinating citation.

    w.

  167. Karl says:
    July 2, 2013 at 8:17 am

    @Codetech

    Stanford University has a very wellsupported paper that identifies a baseload capability for interconnected wind farms.

    True, wind is not blowing all the time in any particular place. However, it does blow all the time, somewhere — and that somewhere is more locally consistent than the uninformed may think.

    With almost decade old tech, Stanford identifies a 33% Windfarm Nameplate Capacity as an average baseload capability. e.g. a set of interconnected windfarms with a Nameplate capacity of 3000 MW – provides a dependable baseload capability of 999MW – continuous.

    Thanks for an interesting study. However, it doesn’t show what you claim. To the contrary, it shows that with the largest interconnected network studied, the continuous baseload was … well … zero. As you’d expect, because while the wind does blow all the time somewhere, sometimes its not blowing on any of your windmills. Same is true for coal plants. Sometimes they break down, nobody guarantees 100% continuous base load.

    Instead, the study presented a curve in Figure 3 showing how much generation you could depend on for how much of the time. Coal plants are down for unscheduled maintenance maybe 5% of the time. If you want to be able to guarantee power 95% of the time, for example, with their selected sites you can only guarantee a measly 10% of nameplate capacity. Or to quote the study:

    Figure 3 shows that, while the guaranteed power generated by a single wind farm for 92% of the hours of the year was 0 kW, the power guaranteed by 7 and 19 interconnected farms was 60 and 171 kW, giving firm capacities of 0.04 and 0.11, respectively.

    OK, by eye from Figure 3 I’d said 10% of nameplate capacity, they say 11%. Not the 33% you claim.

    And even if were 33%, color me unimpressed … you talk blithely, for example, of providing a thousand megawatts of baseload from 3,000 megawatts of wind. A thousand megawatts, that’s a really big coal or hydroelectric plant. Typical large windmills are on the order of 3 MW, so you’d need a thousand of them … can you imagine the logistical nightmare of maintaining and replacing a thousand huge pieces of delicate machinery perched a hundred metres in the air? The Stanford folks totally left out that part …

    To summarize: The study says that if you build a nightmare of 19 windfarms with huge interconnecting transmission lines covering five states, you can guarantee a whopping 11% of nameplate capacity as baseload, if you ignore the maintenance of wind turbines. To replace one 1,000 MW fossil fuel or nuclear plant, you’d need 10,000 MW of nameplate capacity, which is about 3,300 typical large wind turbines.

    But wait, as they say on TV, it gets worse … typical area required for each turbine is about 250 acres per megawatt, so it will be spread out over two and a half million acres (a million hectares) of land, not counting the easements required for the high-voltage interconnection lines … good luck with that one.

    Wind for grid-scale electricity only works in special situations, and even then only when subsidized.

    w.

  168. jkanders says:
    July 2, 2013 at 6:38 am
    To reforest Sahara would probably need a climate change which brings much more rein to the region, and I don’t think that is within reach of our technology.

    I think it is. You just need enough cheap powersource for you to be able desalinate water for it. Then you plant trees which you irigate intensively and in turn they’ll keep the water in the ground. In Tunisia for example they have a tight law how many trees you must plant for you to be allowed plant crops between them. There’s 80 million olive trees and almost same amount of palms there, which are especially good for subdesert, because they have very massive profound roots, keeping the water. If you have water, you can expand this further into the desert and gradually also add other species.
    You need 2.6 MJ to vaporize 1 kg water which had 20C before. I would not say you need the 4th gen. nuclear. For this the wast solar energy there could be used quite effectively and on the spot, you just must bring the sea water. Instead of electricity producing solar cells trees, which are quite costly, ineffective and with very limited life, you would use the simple mirrors an the solar energy for desalinization – you can get close to 100% effectivity, inject the water into the root systems and your benefit will be that you make the land between the trees arable so actually habitable – getting the resources to make your living.
    Something like that actually happened last half of the century at the Djerba, although not using solar energy, where besides couple of villages was just desert. Now half century later the bulk of the isle inland is planted. Just have a look at the google maps. You can see the progress at the satelite photos and It is quite impressive. Also have a look around. If you want to change climate from the desert conditions, your first priority is to retain water in the ground, which is moreover quite sandy so very permeable. Best way how you can do it is to plant suitable trees as the date palms, which will also serve as windbreakers.
    I think that instead of building megalomaniac solar powerplants for feeding Europe it would be better to develop the region for itself to the state before ancient Carthagins destroyed the forests. And the example from Tunisia shows it can be done relatively quickly even without our advanced technologies. Imagine, how fast it could be using it.
    The bonus there is that under the dry Sahara there is the remnant after the forest there – the largest fresh water aquifer in the world. Although the water is definitely not enough to restore the forests, it can help you. Again, you can use solar energy on the spot to pump it out. Again, mirrors and stirling engines can do the job, you don’t need to bring the electricity powerlines, not even there, not speaking about the Europe. -Which anyway would be much better off not seeking the renewables development (which anyway hasn’t the capacity to substitute for the high fossil fuels consumption there, no way, and anyway only significant effect which it has here are the energy prices and declining food selfsustainability stemming from the biofuels mayhem), but the development of the real energy technologies as the 4th generation nuclear. It is about time. The CAGW nonsense should be over now when we look at the temperature record and the solar activity record. So now the Europe and whole the west should concern about the real problems as the fast depleting energy resources and what we do about it. Before is too late. Unsubstituted general fossil peak would almost surely lead to global malthusian catastrophe, most probably as soon as 2050, and the west, due to its high energy consumption would be the one part of the world hit most heavily.

    • tumefaisdubien says:

      > Then you plant trees which you irigate intensively and in turn they’ll keep the water in the ground.

      Oh-oh. Where I live, trees suck so much water from the ground that its loss causes destructive subsidence of the nearby buildings. I kid you not. I learnt that from my landlord, a plant scientist specialising in trees. I am surrounded by the stumps of huge trees that had to be cut to preserve the house.

  169. All good points, Willis, but how about some balance? What about the advantages of H2 over electricity? For instance; You can use solar power to produce both, but only one can be burned in an internal combustion engine.

  170. Barry Cullen says:
    July 1, 2013 at 6:22 am
    ——————————–
    I scanned this thread looking for your contribution and was disappointed to find that you only offer pointless criticism. And that i do not understand.
    I will not clarify my humble (on topic) points since they are contained in the contributing posts in this thread. And i expect it was my politic opinions that confused you; these being off topic will not be clarified.

  171. tumetuestumefaisdubien1 says:
    July 1, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Dan in California says:
    July 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm
    “H2 is a powerful greenhouse gas”
    No it isn’t. H2 has no absorption band at mid-IR 288 K spectra. Moreover it has very short life in atmosphere, because it its highly reactive.
    ——————————————————————————-
    Well, dang. I don’t remember where I got that, but you are right. Of course, the H2O(g) emitted has greater greenhouse properties than CO2, but nobody is stupid enough to try to regulate H2O emissions.

  172. Willis, an excellent rundown on the problems of using hydrogen as a practical fuel. I know you are aware of metal hydrides/unit volume containing more than liquid hydrogen/unit volume. However, no one needs to lecture you on human ingenuity in solving problems (yourself being a rather good example), and some of the ones you have pointed out may not be problems in the future. Recent research with lithium hydrides carried in carbon fullerine structures have reached 6H atoms/atom of Li and apparently they have also considerably resolved the problem of high temp (several hundred C) needed for releasing the hydrogen from conventional metal hydrides. Here is some research going on seeking to solve the problems you raise.

    http://techportal.eere.energy.gov/image.xhtml?id=423&techID=538

    http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2011/03/14/breakthrough-in-hydrogen-storage/

    I’ve been an ultra believer in the effectiveness of R and D for two reasons:

    1) In the summer of 1957, as a logger in Jarvis Inlet in British Columbia (I was earning my tuition into engineering) we were shooting the breeze about the new space program. My fellow workers to a man protested by assertion that there was no question that man would reach the moon and beyond. Naturally wagering started and I recklessly bet $100 each that in 20 years man would accomplish this. When I got back to University that fall, I only had to wait a month before Sputnik 1 shocked (and thrilled depending on where you lived) the world. The belief got a tremendous boost when, without focusing on space (they were focusing on missiles), the US changed course immediately and after one failure in December, 1957 a successful launch into orbit was achieved in January 31st, 1958

    2) I read about 30 years ago or so that IBM had a larger R and D budget than the entire R and D budgets for Canada!! Having a company whose business is making money spending all this money sealed the deal. My belief in the ability to find solutions is of the kind that if we were forced to run cars on ice cream, we would find a way. Oh, and I never collected on my remarkable bet.


  173. Scott Scarborough says:
    July 1, 2013 at 7:29 am
    There seems to be alot of expertise in the comments of this blog. I have a question. What about spliting (cracking) ammonia to get hydorgen (NH4).

    I don’t think there is all that much ammonia around which is naturally occurring compared to methane. Making ammonia to transport hydrogen means transporting a deadly gas that is a serious inhalation danger if it gets out. Methane burns but it’s not deadly when inhaled in moderate concentrations.

  174. @ Willis

    Yes it is yearly averaged, not nameplate capacity. Regardless it falsifies the BS that wind cannot provide baseload power. 11% of nameplate where the average wind speed was 6.9 m/s — becomes (roughly) ~ 33% when the wind speed averages 10 m/s (like offshore) due to the fact that the power incident in wind increases as the cube of wind speed. e.g. 10 m/s wind has 3 times more energy than 6.9 m/s wind.

    Nor does the study incorporate any of the myriad advances in energy storage that can be used for load levelling. But that is a discussion for another time. Lets just say that the adiabatic heat of compression can be very useful if applied correctly. We can also say that efficacious use of solar thermal energy need not be limited to high temperature concentrators.

    After all, V1*P1/T1 = V2*P2/T2. As Messieurs Boyle and Charles were so astute to point out.

  175. Karl says:
    July 3, 2013 at 5:59 am

    @ Willis

    Yes it is yearly averaged, not nameplate capacity. Regardless it falsifies the BS that wind cannot provide baseload power. 11% of nameplate where the average wind speed was 6.9 m/s — becomes (roughly) ~ 33% when the wind speed averages 10 m/s (like offshore) due to the fact that the power incident in wind increases as the cube of wind speed. e.g. 10 m/s wind has 3 times more energy than 6.9 m/s wind.

    First off, you don’t necessarily get more baseload power with increasing windspeed. The amount of baseload is determined by the regularity of the wind, not the strength of the wind.

    Second, when you have to install a hundred megawatts of wind to get 10 MW of baseload power, that means you will have to build another 90 MW of conventional power … run the numbers on that before you declare victory.

    Third, offshore wind is the most expensive power commonly used. The maintenance of wind systems is bad on a good day—instead of maintaining one 300 MW power plant down on the ground where you can get at it in an indoor location, you have to maintain a hundred three megawatt power plants stuck a hundred meters in the air outdoors in the rain.

    Now, under this new blindingly-brilliant plan, you suggest the same thing, except you advise spreading them out over five states to give baseload power … yeah that’ll help.

    But that’s nothing compared to the same system offshore, where you have to take a freakin’ boat out to each of the one hundred power plants, get all your tools and gear off the boat, climb a hundred metres into the air, oil the bearings or whatever, climb back down, load your gear back into the boat, and head for the next one …

    The crazy thing about the Stanford study is that they said “Well, baseload isn’t baseload, because 5% of the time you have unplanned outages, and then there’s scheduled maintenance.” Fair enough.

    Then, when they calculated the windpower side, they assumed that there would be NO unplanned outages and NO scheduled maintenance on the windpower side … gotta love professors.

    And offshore, the maintenance and repair side is an absolute nightmare. Consider that you need a gigantic crane to install or replace a wind turbine generator or turbine blade. Now consider replacing a broken turbine blade offshore … with a fairly constant wind blowing (hey, you picked the windiest spot around).

    Just waiting for a calm day could take weeks …

    Wind power is a pipe dream. Like solar, there is no place that folks are using grid-connected wind power without subsidies, and for a very good reason.

    It’s just about the most expensive power source in the mix.

    SOURCE

    w.

  176. @ Willis

    Firstly, the distribution of wind speed over time closely matches a weibull distribution about the average wind speed, so IN FACT, an increase in average wind speed WILL direclty lead to an increase in baseload power.

    Second, you have to build 1000 MW of wind capacity to meet 100MW baseload, you need build nothing else. Now ask yourself “how much newly contructed nuclear capacity has come online Worldwide in the last 5 years, vs. how much wind capacity?” — the answer is 190,000 MW vs maybe 1 or 2 plants. Even at 11% nameplate, that a 20 fold advantage to nuclear.

    Thirdly, why not utilize un-utilized flooded real estate, instead of co-opting perfectly good non-flooded real estate, more often than not creating a toxic waste dump (coal, gas, nuclear, – pick one it does not matter) — we have had 2 coal fired plant waste holding ponds rupture and spill.

    As to the chart — it proves the point for wind. 10 cents per kilowatt hour — that’s less than the retail cost of electricity in every single US state. I can put a wind turbine up by myself, I can’t do the same with a gas or coal plant.

    Off shore maintenance and repair = jobs.

  177. Karl says:
    July 3, 2013 at 10:31 am

    @ Willis

    Firstly, the distribution of wind speed over time closely matches a weibull distribution about the average wind speed, so IN FACT, an increase in average wind speed WILL direclty lead to an increase in baseload power.

    We’re not talking about the distribution of wind speed over time. We’re discussing how much overlap in wind regimes there is between geographically separated areas, because that’s where you get your baseload.

    In any case, you can’t solve the problem by waving your hand and assuming more wind. The Stanford study was placed where they thought the most wind was, you don’t get to just imagine higher winds to solve your problem.

    Second, you have to build 1000 MW of wind capacity to meet 100MW baseload, you need build nothing else.

    Well, if all you want to supply is 100 MW of base load, that’s true. And in that case … all you need to do is ask why you’re paying for a 1,000 MW of capacity and only getting a tenth of that as base load.

    Now ask yourself “how much newly contructed nuclear capacity has come online Worldwide in the last 5 years, vs. how much wind capacity?” — the answer is 190,000 MW vs maybe 1 or 2 plants. Even at 11% nameplate, that a 20 fold advantage to nuclear.

    I don’t understand this at all. Yes, more wind has come on line than nuclear in the last two decades … what’s your point?

    Thirdly, why not utilize un-utilized flooded real estate, instead of co-opting perfectly good non-flooded real estate, more often than not creating a toxic waste dump (coal, gas, nuclear, – pick one it does not matter) — we have had 2 coal fired plant waste holding ponds rupture and spill.

    Why not use wind on unused real estate? BECAUSE IT COSTS WAY MORE THAN ANY OF THE MANY ALTERNATIVES!

    As to the chart — it proves the point for wind. 10 cents per kilowatt hour — that’s less than the retail cost of electricity in every single US state. I can put a wind turbine up by myself, I can’t do the same with a gas or coal plant.

    What chart are you talking about? My chart? It shows the normalized COST, not the sales price you are blithely comparing it to.

    And yes, the costs are near to that of coal … unless you factor in the reliability, which you have to factor in. When you include that, as you just pointed out, we need to install 1,000MW of nameplate to get the equivalent of 100MW of coal power … which means that our windpower costs are about ten times what the chart says.

    Off shore maintenance and repair = jobs.

    This is not just dumb, it is dumb squared. Read up on the “Broken Window Fallacy“, there’s a good fellow. You’re just exposing your ignorance with claims like that one.

    w.

    PS—I don’t understand the statement that

    I can put a wind turbine up by myself, I can’t do the same with a gas or coal plant.

    Gosh, I feel sorry for your disability, it must be tough to live with. Me, I’m considering putting in a gas power plant at my house for generation when the power fails (which given California’s green lunacy is happening more and more often).

    But you say you can’t put one in by yourself, and you definitely have my condolences if that’s true.

    w.

  178. Willis E. said:
    “the hydrogen flame is colorless and invisible in sunlight …”

    A hydrogen flame is not colorless, but blue. And many blue flames, like those of methanol and carbon monoxide, and like methane flames often are, are invisible in sunlight. Same for flames of natural gas mixed with enough air for them to burn blue. Indy cars were required to use methanol through the 2006 season.
    Since acetylene is more explosive than hydrogen and has a wider flammability range in both directions than hydrogen, I think the hazards of hydrogen are overstated.

    It appears to me that the main debate on hydrogen should be on comparing to batteries for storing energy that gets used in a clean way where it gets used.

  179. Donald L. Klipstein says:
    July 3, 2013 at 7:17 pm (Edit)

    Willis E. said:
    “the hydrogen flame is colorless and invisible in sunlight …”

    A hydrogen flame is not colorless, but blue. And many blue flames, like those of methanol and carbon monoxide, and like methane flames often are, are invisible in sunlight. Same for flames of natural gas mixed with enough air for them to burn blue. Indy cars were required to use methanol through the 2006 season.

    You are right that indoors or in the darkness, hydrogen burns with a faint blue flame. But as I said, in the sunlight, hydrogen flames appear both nearly colorless and almost invisible.

    Since acetylene is more explosive than hydrogen and has a wider flammability range in both directions than hydrogen, I think the hazards of hydrogen are overstated.

    You are free to think so. People who work with hydrogen are not nearly so sanguine … the difference in flammability is trivial (2.5%-82% for acetylene, vs. 5%-75% for hydrogen). But given a choice between the hazards of a 10,000 psi tank filled with hydrogen and a 300 psi tank filled with acetylene, I know which one I’d take.

    One huge problem is that unlike many gases, hydrogen heats up when it escapes from pressure. Most gases cool when they expand, but not hydrogen. It can get hot enough to ignite spontaneously just from leaking … which means that in a 10,000 psi tank, even the smallest leak is a big hazard.

    Is hydrogen less dangerous than acetylene? Depends on what kind of danger, better on some scales, worse on others, so overall I’d say about the same … but even if it were less dangerous, saying that something is “less dangerous than acetylene” isn’t saying much.

    It appears to me that the main debate on hydrogen should be on comparing to batteries for storing energy that gets used in a clean way where it gets used.

    Storage? We’ve already been through this. The only way to store it is compressed, which loses 15% of the energy. It can’t be pumped compressed to the storage pressure, so every time you have to move it, you need to reduce the pressure and then pump it up again at the other end, with the consequent energy losses. It requires heavy expensive tanks. Even compressed it takes up six times the volume that an equivalent amount of gasoline would occupy. It leaks like a bitch through every tiniest hole, heck, the tank specs for hydrogen storage tanks for automobiles specify an acceptable loss of 2% per week. It passes right into (and at times through) metals, and embrittles them in the process. And it’s difficult to turn it into other useful forms of energy (chemical, etc).

    Donald, I have bad news for you. There is no debate on using hydrogen for energy storage. There are very good reasons why nobody anywhere stores energy as hydrogen. We store energy in a wide variety of ways, from springs to batteries to pumped storage to thermal storage in phase changes to heat exchangers to compressed air to hydraulic storage to flywheels … but I’ve never heard of anyone storing energy as hydrogen in the real world.

    Why not? Well, like I said … lots of good reasons, many of which I gave above.

    w.

  180. Robin Hewitt says:

    If the only sensible way to store energy is to pump water up hill, maybe the windmills should be pumping water rather than generating electricity. Skip two inefficiencient energy conversions.
    Electrical generators need to be run at constant speed and in sync with the rest of the power grid. This is in itself a complex engineering problem.
    A wind driven pump can perform useful work over a wide range of wind speeds and does not need to be synchronised with any other pump.
    If this means that a wind driven pump is a less complex machine than a wind driven generator then it should be cheaper to build and maintain.

  181. Mark says:
    July 6, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Robin Hewitt says:

    If the only sensible way to store energy is to pump water up hill, maybe the windmills should be pumping water rather than generating electricity. Skip two inefficiencient energy conversions.

    Electrical generators need to be run at constant speed and in sync with the rest of the power grid. This is in itself a complex engineering problem.
    A wind driven pump can perform useful work over a wide range of wind speeds and does not need to be synchronised with any other pump.
    If this means that a wind driven pump is a less complex machine than a wind driven generator then it should be cheaper to build and maintain.

    Interesting thought, guys, and it would work. There are a couple of problems, however.

    First, as you might imagine, the places with wind resources are of two kinds—flatlands, and mountain passes.

    Flatlands are a non-starter for pumped storage … which just leaves the mountain passes. But if you’re already at the elevation of the mountain pass, the altitudes above you are going to be steep pointy mountaintops … again, very poor turf for pumped storage.

    The problem with pumped storage is friction. Unlike electricity, where you’re just moving electrons, with water (as with hydrogen) you need to move the molecules. And although with hydrogen friction is one of the few problems it doesn’t have, with water friction is a huge issue. This is in part because friction goes up rapidly with pumping speed, and rapidly becomes the limiting factor. And this in turn means your reservoir wants to be right next to your pumping station, whether it’s windmills or not … and this is a very tough requirement, very few sites have that possibility

    So while you are definitely on the right track, cutting out two lossy energy transformations, the logistics are still working against you.

    Thanks for your comments,

    w.

  182. jdallen,

    I think it needs to be said that no one has it out for solar, wind, hybrids or hydrogen. It is just looking at it without subsidies like feed-in tariffs or creative uses of the word externalities, they just don’t pan out. Costs, intermittency, diffuseness and other factors make them impractical at this point for most situations. But if you live in the boondocks, solar panels and propane refer might make sense. If you want to spend $100,000 extra to save a few bucks in heating or lighting with a LEED or passive house that might work for you. I have no problem with a utility having a program to conserve energy to put off the next powerplant a few years, but I do with a government. It boils down to letting the technology stand on its own. If you need an example of my openness to such technologies, I give you my car. I’m tryng to figure out a way ,without using a window mounted unit, to vent the hot air in my car outside with a solar driven fan or at least circulate it enough to make a difference.

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