Futurism: The Hydrogen Economy

Guest future-izing by David Middleton

The concept of hydrogen fuel cells (FC) has been very promising for many decades. From an infrastructure standpoint, transitioning from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to FC seems far more rational than transitioning to battery/plug-in electric vehicles (EV). There’s just one minor problem…

Hydrogen has the distinction of competing with nuclear fusion as the energy technology that is “always in the future.” Consider the following:

– In 1960, a reputable engineering magazine predicted widespread military use of hydrogen fuel cells (FCs) in about 3 years and industrial use in 5 years [1].

– In the mid-1970s, the US Energy Research and Development Administration published reports predicting the imminent arrival of the hydrogen economy [2].

– In 1998, Iceland, in cooperation with German and Canadian firms, announced a 10-year plan to create a hydrogen economy and convert all transportation vehicles, including Iceland’s fishing fleet, to FC power [3].

– A decade ago, the world was “on the cusp of a fuel-cell revolution”: Hydrogen FC-powered vehicles were poised to dominate the market and cheap, clean hydrogen power would be available for numerous other applications [4].

Of course, none of this happened. Why not? What are the current prospects for the hydrogen economy? What are the viable hydrogen technologies?

While the hydrogen economy has not arrived, hydrogen is nevertheless a big business and is growing rapidly.


Bezdek, 2019

In 1960, the arrival of the hydrogen economy was just 3-5 years away. In the mid-1970’s, the hydrogen economy was just as imminent as the next ice age. In 1998, the hydrogen economy was just a decade away. A decade later, it was once again imminent… Yet, it’s still not here.

While many hydrogen FC fans might think the Evil Fossil Fuel Industries are blocking the roll out of the hydrogen economy, we actually have a fairly strong interest in a hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen is currently required in the refining industry as a petrochemical for hydrocracking and desulfurization. During petroleum refining, hydrogen is used for desulfurization, and thus the requirement for hydrogen in refineries depends on the sulfur level present in petroleum products. Governments are regulating sulfur content in final petroleum products, and the demand for hydrogen in refineries is increasing rapidly.

Hydrogen is used in large quantities for chemical product synthesis, especially to form ammonia and methanol, and is used as an agricultural fertilizer…

Bezdek, 2019

Methanol is also used to inhibit hydrate formation in natural gas pipelines… And natural gas is the primary source for hydrogen.

At present, nearly all industrial hydrogen is produced or “reformed” from methane in fossil energy, primarily from natural gas, although oil and coal are also used. The relatively low price and increasing availability of natural gas imply that it will be increasingly used to meet the growing world demand for hydrogen. It thus appears that hydrogen production will be an increasingly important driver of natural gas demand.

Bezdek, 2019

Could it be the fact that hydrogen production is about 95% dependent on fossil fuel production is the reason that FC vehicles aren’t widely available?

However, there is an additional overriding problem with hydrogen production. As noted, much of the future increase in demand for hydrogen is based on the growing demand for clean transportation fuels, strict government regulations, and the focus on reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. It is true that at point of use, hydrogen is a clean burning fuel whose only by-product is water. But since more than 95% of hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, hydrogen is not really “clean and green,” and electrolysis – the major hydrogen source other than reformation – is exceedingly inefficient, expensive, and energy-intensive. Experimental methods involving wind, solar, biomass, etc. are still far from being economic or commercially cost-competitive.

For example, California – the world’s sixth largest economy – has implemented increasingly stringent CO2 reduction goals and renewable energy mandates, and these include rapidly increasing requirements for zero emissions hydrogen vehicles. However, hydrogen produced from fossil fuels – specifically natural gas – does not count toward achieving these goals, and is not eligible for California’s lucrative low carbon fuel credits [8].

This is the 800 lb gorilla in the room that hydrogen advocates and hydrogen industry promoters conveniently ignore: The hydrogen economy is hitting a brick wall that will severely limit its growth potential.

Bezdek, 2019

It’s a good thing that the climate crisis is fake, because the people whining about it the most are also the ones standing in the way of the only solutions that would actually work.

Figure 1. Wind breaks even while natural gas kicks @$$. (Real Clear Energy)

The 5% of hydrogen not produced from fossil fuels, comes from the electrolysis of water. Converting food and water to motor fuels just doesn’t sound brilliant to me. Dr. Bezdek notes that scrap aluminum can be used to generate hydrogen. This aluminum-based process could actually enable aircraft to generate their own fuel while in flight. The US Army inadvertently discovered an aluminum alloy that generates hydrogen when mixed with water. Of course, this would require a lot of water.

Dr. Bezdek finally hit upon the real reason that political hacks will eventually jump on the hydrogen bandwagon: Green Jobs.

– Salaries differ substantially, from $20,000–$25,000 for various technicians to nearly $140,000 for a director of hydrogen development.

– Educational requirements cover the range from apprenticeship/trade school and HSD/GED/OJT to advanced university degrees.

– Nevertheless, there are numerous jobs and education and training requirements, and many of the jobs do not require university degrees.

– Similar jobs in different parts of the industries have diverse earnings and education/training requirements. For example, a hydrogen lab technician requires an Associate Degree and earns a salary of nearly $41,000, whereas a junior hydrogen energy technician may require only a HSD/GED and earn a salary of less than $25,000.

– Similarly, a hydrogen plant operations manager with a Bachelor’s Degree may earn more than $95,000, whereas a senior automotive FC power electronics engineer with a Bachelor’s Degree may earn less than $70,000.

– There exist numerous career paths that allow employees with apprenticeship/TS and HSD/GED to earn relatively high salaries, such as hydrogen vehicle technician, FC power systems operator and instructor, FC backup power system technician, and hydrogen energy system operations engineer.


– Here we identified 42 emerging occupations. This list must be expanded and updated as the H2 and FC industries mature.

– Training for new skills will be needed across a wide spectrum of industries. Some changes in skills are relatively well defined, but many likely changes remain difficult to forecast since many of the technologies are still evolving. Many job tasks currently remain unknown, and thus identification of training needs requires interactive research combined with job definition.

– Science and engineering education needs to change to prepare students for hydrogen and FC careers, and university and vocational programs need to be assessed to understand where opportunities lie and what additional curricula may be needed.

– Community colleges, technical schools, colleges, and universities need to be evaluated to determine how well they are preparing the workforce for the emerging hydrogen/FC economy and labor market.

Bezdek, 2019

This pretty well guarantees that government will force the H2 and FC industries to mature in the least efficient and most expensive manner possible, for the sake of creating 42 emerging green occupations… Was 42 a coincidence?

How could I possibly end a post about hydrogen without this:

And of course, Les Nessman’s version…


Roger H. Bezdek, “The hydrogen economy and jobs of the future”, Renew. Energy Environ. Sustain. 4, 1 (2019)

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September 21, 2019 2:29 am

David writes. “It’s a good thing that the climate crisis is fake, because the people whining about it the most are also the ones standing in the way of the only solutions that would actually work.”

Well put.


John McClure
Reply to  Bob Tisdale
September 21, 2019 9:50 am

I so enjoy reading your insights, yet in this case, I disagree.

It’s not well put.

The “Crisis” is human and far from fake.

Is Hydrogen the obvious solution to solve energy needs? It is, yet needs time to mature.

John McClure
Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 10:48 am

– the crisis is human
– the climate isn’t the issue
– the fix is easy
– a basis for agreement is the issue

Footnote: the scientific community’s are the problem

Farmer Ch E retired
Reply to  John McClure
September 21, 2019 4:52 pm

Footnote clarification: The biases and self-interests of funding sources to the scientific community are the problem

John K. Sutherland
Reply to  John McClure
September 21, 2019 11:24 am

JM, there are no hydrogen mines. Hydrogen needs to be produced and the energy input is always more than the energy output; i.e. it is a losing proposition.

William Astley
Reply to  John K. Sutherland
September 21, 2019 1:24 pm


Wines might improve with age. The facts concerning hydrogen’s limitations do not change.

… hydrogen is dangerous to transport long distance via pipelines and is dangerous and difficult to store.

…. and there is no free energy source to produce hydrogen and there is an additional lose of energy of roughly 20% to 30% for the electrolysis process not include the loss in efficiency to produce the electricity.

John McClure
Reply to  John K. Sutherland
September 21, 2019 4:49 pm

HI John,
Given 70% H20 on our big blue planet and existing desalination plants, is it difficult to cost justify cracking water for energy?

Reply to  John McClure
September 21, 2019 6:45 pm

John writes

is it difficult to cost justify cracking water for energy?

You mean generating energy by some other means and using it to transform H2O into Hydrogen relatively inefficiently?

With Plants to do it, transportation and storage of the Hydrogen which is difficult to do in itself. Then distribution points like our current fuel stations and the need for a critical mass of those before its viable at all. And the cells themselves in the cars?

vs..The need for batteries (non trivial, I agree), a beefed up grid (over time) and a plug. And a more rigorous way of thinking which includes planning ahead and charging when you can.

IMO, the costs for transforming to a Hydrogen economy are great and the benefit is relatively small compared to simply using batteries.

YMMV. No doubt David Middleton will think otherwise.

Loren Wilson
Reply to  John McClure
September 22, 2019 6:40 am

The two routes to make hydrogen are converting methane into CO2 and H2, and converting H2O back into H2 and O2. In the first method, known as steam reforming, there is some energy available to help the reaction proceed in the methane molecule. This energy came from sunshine a long time ago, making hydrocarbons, which eventually turned into natural gas. In the second method, electrolysis, there is none. Therefore, all the energy you get out of using hydrogen in a fuel cell has to be put in as you break the bonds between the hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atoms. Hydrogen just moves the energy from the point of production to the point of use, just like a battery or a power line. There is no magic way of cracking the water back into hydrogen that requires less energy than you get from the reaction of hydrogen. The universe does not operate like that. After a few hundred years of observing that you can’t get more energy out than was put in, we formulated the first law of thermodynamics to describe this behavior.

John K. Sutherland.
Reply to  John McClure
September 22, 2019 7:22 am

JM, The answer is ‘yes’. It is very difficult to cost justify ‘cracking’ of water. It always boils down to energy ‘out’, versus energy ‘in’. Coal justifies its continued use. Oil does too, so does gas, hydro, nuclear, but NOT hydrogen, or other greeny follies.

Reply to  John McClure
September 21, 2019 9:03 pm

Take another puff on that “Hydrogen Pipe”, John. The Hydrogen-Economy has always been, and will forever be just another pipe dream.

Hydrogen is simply a niche fuel that is ideally suited for a small set of uses. Really cheap electricity with an efficient and reliable distribution system is what will win in the end.

John McClure
Reply to  Bob Tisdale
September 21, 2019 9:58 am

10 years ago with a grant from the DOE — https://youtu.be/KTtmU2lD97o


John McClure
Reply to  John McClure
September 21, 2019 11:12 am

Dr. Bob,
Is it a good thing or a great thing?

Pop Piasa
Reply to  John McClure
September 21, 2019 12:54 pm

FYI John, put the link on its own line and it will display

John McClure
Reply to  Pop Piasa
September 21, 2019 4:42 pm

Thanks Pop

James Beaver
Reply to  Bob Tisdale
September 22, 2019 12:16 pm

Do we really want people who watch “The Kardashians” refueling a hydrogen powered vehicle?

September 21, 2019 2:37 am

The widespread use of hydrogen in anything including fuel cell systems is hampered by the safety concerns stemming from its ease of leaking, its low-energy ignition, its large flammability range, its high buoyancy and its diffusion rate in air. Hydrogen leaks are impossible to detect by sniffing since hydrogen is colourless, odourless, and tasteless. If hydrogen accumulates in a confined space, it becomes an asphyxiant just as any other gas does, except oxygen. When a technology has not reached widespread use in 60 years, there is usually some basic problem still unsolved or as yet too expensive to solve.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
September 21, 2019 3:40 am

Fukushima cooling towers are testimony to that.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 5:00 am

And much of the media at the time suggested they were nuclear explosions. Yes, really! Nuclear explosions!!! Like a bomb! Like Chernobyl. Chernobyl was not a nuclear explosion either. It was a steam explosion of the “containment” vessel which really wasn’t apart from the thick concrete “lid”.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 7:09 am

I’ve heard they don’t know for sure. The dominant view is that the explosions at Chernobyl were steam only but at least some believe they had a nuclear component too.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 7:56 am

No they were not steam, they were hydrogen with no nuclear component.

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 9:23 am

I thought it was super-heated steam that started to dissassociate into Oxygen & Hydrogen, resulting in the ingnition of the Hydrogen in the presence of Oxygen? Any chemists out there? Thanks.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 10:10 am

If there had been a nuclear explosion in Chernobyl it would have been glaringly obvious within a few days from the fission products. The mix of fission products is very different from an explosion than from a reactor.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 10:25 am

The density of the uranium in the fuel is too low to sustain a nuclear explosion.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 1:22 pm

I’m with Leo. When they hit the melting core with seawater, copious haydrogen was produced and instantly heated to its ignition temperature with the help of the pressure increase of water flashing to superheated steam in a very confined vessel. At those pressures, ignition temperatures were well below the 536C required at 1 atmosphere.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 2:22 pm

Right, in the doc I saw it was steam that disassociated into hydrogen and oxygen, forgot the turned into hydrogen and then really exploded part.

Jon Jewett
Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 9:04 pm

At the Chernobyl accident. The first was a steam explosion. Then, due to high temperatures in the core, the steam reacted with the hot zirconium of the fuel cladding to release hydrogen. (The zirconium takes the oxygen from the water molecule, leaving elemental hydrogen.)

Yes, there was a “nuclear component”, but…. The normal nuclear fission process spiked uncontrollably, but then power dropped off just as fast. The spike was enough to cause the damage. Yes, some 30 people died in the accident, but so far there has been no mass health issues from it. Three Mile Island accident had zero health issues. Many differences in the design both core design and a heavy-duty containment.

(In the parlance, due to a faulty design and operating outside of design parameters, there was a large positivity reactivity addition which caused the nuclear reaction to go “prompt critical”. The power increased exponentially until the core melted. Once the geometry etc. changed after a few milliseconds, the nuclear reaction was ended although the physical damage had been done. There was no nuclear explosion as in a bomb like Democrat President Truman dropped on Hiroshima.)

Anyway, more detail: The interaction of very hot fuel with the cooling water led to fuel fragmentation along with rapid steam production and an increase in pressure. The design characteristics of the reactor were such that substantial damage to even three or four fuel assemblies would – and did – result in the destruction of the reactor. The overpressure caused the 1000 t cover plate of the reactor to become partially detached, rupturing the fuel channels and jamming all the control rods, which by that time were only halfway down. Intense steam generation then spread throughout the whole core (fed by water dumped into the core due to the rupture of the emergency cooling circuit) causing a steam explosion and releasing fission products to the atmosphere. About two to three seconds later, a second explosion threw out fragments from the fuel channels and hot graphite. There is some dispute among experts about the character of this second explosion, but it is likely to have been caused by the production of hydrogen from zirconium-steam reactions.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Jon Jewett
September 21, 2019 11:59 pm

Yes however, people believe what they hear and read in the media. Explosion at a nuclear power plant equates to, in their minds, a nuclear detonation. Most people don’t understand the difference.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  David Middleton
September 22, 2019 2:27 pm

“I believe most of the damage to the containment domes was from hydrogen explosions.”

Yes, that’s correct. It would not have happened had the backup diesel generators not been submerged by the tsunami. Reactor containment buildings in most of the world have electric ignition sparkers, mounted near the building ceiling. They’re there to ignite any hydrogen that might be vented into the containment during an emergency blowdown. In fact, I believe they’re supposed to run all the time.

During the Three Mile Island reactor misfortune, pressure gauges in the containment registered a few pressure spikes, indicating that hydrogen was being vented into the containment, then burned off. The reactor operators then realized that the core was partially uncovered, a fact they had not deduced from all of the other plant instrumentation. It allowed them to get the situation under better control. But it was seized upon by ignorant anti-nuke types who pointed to the alarming explosions in the containment!

John McClure
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
September 21, 2019 10:25 am

You, like must, shoot down an idea without due diligence in relation to the “only ifs”.

I freely agree, this small gas can be a problem.

We are already seeing numerous products, both industrial and consumer, in the United States.

Care to comment?

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
September 21, 2019 1:01 pm

Then there’s the problem of storing it, especially in a vehicle. I personally don’t want to be in the same car as a cryogenic tank of LH2, nor a pressurized tank with enough H2 in it to run the car for any significant distance (SCUBA tanks are scary enough)! Hydrogen also has a nasty tendency to leak and embrittlement metals.

Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
September 21, 2019 1:44 pm

Hydrogen is not a good idea as a transport fuel, quite apart from any safety concerns. And probably not a good idea geneerally. Liquid Hydrogen (LH) has energy content ~120 MJ/kg – that’s way above LNG (~54 MJ/kg), petrol or diesel (~46 MJ/kg), or coal (~~25 MJ/kg). So what’s not to like? Well, volume is a much better guide than weight to costs of transport and storage, and restating the numbers by volume instead of weight gives a totally different picture. LH has a specific gravity (sg) of only 0.07. LNG has a sg of nearly 0.5. So LNG is 3x as effective by volume as LH. The result for other fuels is similar – petrol or diesel about 4x, coal about 9x.

That’s why we use petrol or diesel in our vehicles, and coal in power stations (a liquid fuel is much more manageable in vehicles).

Could the cost of producing a litre of LH ever be as little as 1/3 of the cost of producing a litre of LNG, 1/4 of petrol or diesel, or 1/9 of coal? I sincerely doubt it.

Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
September 21, 2019 4:21 pm

“it becomes an asphyxiant just as any other gas does, except oxygen”

Which is instead poisonous in high concentrations.

Loren Wilson
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
September 22, 2019 6:42 am

Methane is also colorless, odorless, and tasteless. We added ethyl mercaptan to it to help signal a leak. This could be done with hydrogen as well.

Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
September 23, 2019 10:29 am

Don’t forget the high pressures needed to store the gas in a vehicle. A friend of mine had a compressed natural gas powered car. I looked at the engine and saw a small gauge reading 4,000 psi! I told here that is she ever suspected a leak to walk (run!) away. Even a non-flammable gas would cut you like a knife at that pressure.

david fitzgerald
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
October 2, 2019 8:35 pm

NT: good post on h2 safety issues . A great primer on hydrogen safety issues is published by NASA, see NASA NSS 1740.16. Some other points discovered after 60 yrs of using hydrogen for rockets: The flame is invisible, and rocket scientists used to resort to throwing handfuls of sawdust in the air to find the flame, or waving a straw broom in front of them to locate the flame. Some metals suffer crystal destruction from hydrogen exposure. Underground hydrogen pipes are verboten due to the tendency of a leak to find its way to unpressurized sewer pipes and related damages.ALL H2 leaks result in a fire, due to the very low energy needed to initiate the combustion.

September 21, 2019 3:06 am

You do know it was the thermite (aluminum powder and iron oxide powder) paint coating on the exterior that was responsible for the Hindenburg fire (with a little starter help from some lightning), don’t you? The dirigible’s design would have prevented the disaster were it not for that special paint.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  AndyH-ce
September 21, 2019 3:38 am

An airship full of leaking hydrogen struck by lightening, and it was the dope coated skin that caused the explosion? Note it started at the tail end of the balloon.

Reply to  AndyH-ce
September 21, 2019 5:47 am

The dirigible’s design would have prevented the disaster were it not for that special paint.

OK, this is a common assertion, often raised in defense of hydrogen in general and airships in particular. Can we take a few minutes to run this assertion and it’s consequences through our Logic Filter and see what comes out?
To restate, the design was so good that a hit by a lightning bolt was not a problem for the hydrogen gas bag system. Now let us be clear what we are talking about. A lightning bolt is an incredibly powerful event. A single bolt discharges millions of Joules of energy in a very short time. Bolts have been known to explode trees, due to resistive heating. Any material which is partially conductive will also be susceptible to such heating. Bolts have also been known to burn and melt their way through metals. This is a lot of heat and a lot of energy.
Now for the Hindenburg. We are expected to understand that the Hindenberg was so well designed and built that none of this was a problem for them. The Germans were indeed the world leaders in chemistry and were right at the top of the pile in physics, as well. So they understood the problem and had the solution. Lightning was not an issue for the hydrogen and the hydrogen handling system. To achieve this outcome was a master stroke of both science and engineering.
So what happened?
In a bit of a fit of severe Mental Retardation, the designers gave the Hindenburg a skin of Thermite.
Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Now, nobody up and down the line had a problem with it. Nobody raised the alarm. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Perfectly understandable, could happen to anybody.

{At this point I will sit back and wait for someone to make the claim that the Germans, the best chemists in the world, simply did not know the risks of the coatings they were using.}

Reply to  TonyL
September 21, 2019 6:53 am

The following discusses this: https://www.airships.net/hindenburg-paint/

Hydrogen is in an energetic state and has properties that make it difficult to handle, particularly in an oxygen containing atmosphere where lightening is a common occurrence.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Scissor
September 21, 2019 7:43 am

“lightening is a common occurrence.”

Especially when the sun comes up.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
September 21, 2019 8:47 am

Yes, -n-, let’s just say electrical discharges.

Reply to  Scissor
September 21, 2019 10:03 am

The aluminum is added to dope to protect from sunlight etc. which is explained in the link provided by Scissor.
An old FAA handbook available on line describes how to add aluminum powder to dope or you can buy it already mixed.
“A thin film of aluminum is formed over the fabric and the undercoats of clear dope. This aluminum film insulates the fabric from the sun’s heat and reflects the heat and ultraviolet rays away from the fabric surfaces of the aircraft. The aluminum for mixing into the clear dope may be obtained in either the powdered form or the paste form. In the powdered form it is nothing more than finely ground {pulverized) aluminum metal. In the paste form the powdered aluminum metal has been mixed with an adhesive agent to form a putty-like paste. ”
Go to link and go to page 120:

Rod Evans
Reply to  TonyL
September 21, 2019 10:29 am

Tony, I have no need or desire to advance hydrogen so am ambivalent about its role in the Hindenburg disaster.
I would say using logic is no guarantee of rational outcome. In more recent times the Fukushima event is a sobering example. The risks of tsunamis was real yet a nuclear plant was built with its emergency cooling pumps on the ground floor. The Japanese are renowned for their pre-planning of manufacturing facilities yet they made that crazy mistake??

Reply to  Rod Evans
September 21, 2019 11:31 am

Everybody goes on endlessly about the flooded generators.
After the flood, they shut everything down.
Let me say that again.
After the flood, they shut everything down.
After the flood, they shut *everything* down.
They shut down the Emergency Passive Cooling System.
The Emergency Passive Cooling System runs without power, that is the passive part. It was deliberately and specifically designed to keep the core under control for 72 hours. A permanent solution? No. But long enough so that the military could helicopter in replacement generators. That was the All Fail emergency backup plan.
And they shut it down.
The plan manager said shut it down, shut it all down, shut everything down. So the operators did.
After it came to light what really transpired, wow, did they ever bury that story quick and fast. Now you can search all day long and hardly come up with a trace of the actual events.

Even still, it would be like playing with a welding torch on the Hindenburg, and claiming that the resulting BOOM was unforeseeable and unavoidable.

The designers of the Hindenburg knew that the hydrogen was the problem.
They knew if the hydrogen ignited, a little bit of flammable dope on the skin was going to be the least of the problems.

Reply to  TonyL
September 27, 2019 8:34 am

Just curious, but where were the military going to set the emergency generators they flew in on a flooded site? Does the plan specify that or are we to assume the flood waters receded after 72 hours?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  TonyL
September 21, 2019 10:55 am

Another thought experiment: a) the atmosphere isnt coated with thermite and it doesn’t “interrupt” the lightning. b) If we are into weak explanations, one could say that the thermite coating should have made a perfect Faraday cage around the hydrogen to prevent ignition. c) what about the probability of a lightning strike randomly choosing that particular path?

NO. The elephant in the room is the very large bag of hydrogen surrounded by an oxygen rich atmosphere hooked to the ground in a lightning storm! Ionization of hydrogen , of course, requires a lot of energy. The energy in a lightning bolt is a lot of energy.

For a scientist to push the elephant out of the way to seek arcane causes for such an explosion sounds like the world’s finest chemists covering their a55es.

Michael Ozanne
Reply to  Gary Pearse
September 23, 2019 6:12 am
Reply to  TonyL
September 22, 2019 12:52 am

Does this chain of logic include consideration of the findings of the NASA hydrogen fuel engineer who questioned the hydrogen fire belief, since it did not appear to be anything like those he had worked with for years? He then spent a couple or so years working on he problem which included experiments and detailed models (physical objects) until he could reproduce the Hindenburg results in miniature, then visited the company museum in Germany and found their internal report where they came to the same conclusions, in a few months, as he did after working the problem for years without their initial engineering and proprietary information. His work has been falsified by other actual scientific and engineering investigations?

The conclusion was not that the airship would have been ok after being zapped by lightning, although I seem to recall some significant provisions to ameliorate lightning strikes (don’t recall about how it might have been grounded out vis a vis a lightning rod analogy). The conclusion was that the provisions to vent the hydrogen upward would have prevented major damage to the passenger section.

Reply to  AndyH-ce
September 21, 2019 8:55 am

I’ll vote for static discharge to the mooring tower – a wonderfully grounded/earthed structure. Buildup of that charge on the skin due to friction with already significantly charged air thanks to substantial thunderstorm activity in the area — as well as propeller-created static — was no doubt excessive.

If the skin charge had been dissipated via proper earthing through the mooring line (containing a conductor) connected to an earthing/grounding device at ground level AWAY from the airship and its inherent H2 leaks, a static discharge AT the “intersection” of the airship and the mooring tower would not have occurred. No spark (or air gap discharge)….no bang! And no famous “Oh the humanity!” cry by the on scene reporter .

Given the huge surface area of the ship’s conductive skin passing through highly charged air, and hours (millions?) of propeller revolutions slicing through that same air, a truly massive potential must have been present….just waiting for a suitable discharge path to earth.

The giant mooring tower fit that bill perfectly.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  TomBR
September 21, 2019 9:43 pm

I will go with static too. In ships of that size surrounded by charged air builds up huge charges on the surface. I understand that day was fairly windy and the pilot was struggling to control the ship (Ya think?!). The tail section was under huge stress trying to control direction to tower and one theory is tie wires in the tail section snapped and ruptured several H2 bladders (They were made from cow intestines/stomachs many many cows went in to making that ship) which bled out hence the tail section was much lower. The pilot tried to drop ballast from the front but then the ship burst in to flames.

Gunga Din
Reply to  AndyH-ce
September 21, 2019 9:11 am

Mr. Layman here.
The thermite coating may have spread the fire more quickly but what was the ignition source?
Lightening has been mentioned but, is that a theory or is there evidence of it?
Cameras were rolling when it came in. Did any of them record a lightening strike?
(I’m just asking a question, not making any assertions.)
I’ve heard theories from sabotage to static electricity during the landing but I’ve never heard of evidence to support them.

Reply to  AndyH-ce
September 21, 2019 9:12 am

The aluminum-iron oxide pigment might have had contribution to the fire, but it was the highly flammable nitrocellulose base of that paint that was the major source. I question whether the burning nitrocellulose actually achieved a high enough temperature to set off the “thermite” reaction. Thermite is somewhat difficult to ignite, and when intentionally employed (for example certain commercial welding operations, or in military use), a high temperature ignition source is used. You don’t just touch a match to the stuff.

September 21, 2019 3:21 am

Excellent article. Did not appreciate the many and important other uses of Hydrogen.

Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 3:35 am

Douglas Adams was a computer geek. Ascii 42 is *, means anything!

Patrick MJD
Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 4:36 am

He was. I have learned so much from your posts over the years it’s only right to give something back, albeit trivia.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  David Middleton
September 27, 2019 6:31 am

Pretty sure he was a CC alarmist.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 8:26 am

41 thoughts on “Futurism: The Hydrogen Economy”</blockquote

Which makes mine comment 42.

Yes! ^¿^

September 21, 2019 3:48 am

People continue to work on ammonia as a carrier for hydrogen. link

Patrick MJD
Reply to  commieBob
September 21, 2019 4:23 am

And it still consumes more energy than is produced. You may was well burn the energy to create electricity in the first place.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 5:39 am

You could say that about any kind of electricity storage.

The one kind of storage that has been used economically, even with its unavoidable inefficiencies, for more than a hundred years is pumped hydro. Folks who care deeply about the bottom line keep building such facilities in places where the geography is viable.

Electricity storage can make sense. I have no idea if that will ultimately be the case for ammonia. It does have the advantage that it is way easier to store than hydrogen. It is sufficiently attractive that people continue to work on the technology.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  commieBob
September 21, 2019 7:45 am

Is pumped hydro “storing” electricity? Or is it storing water which is later used to generate electricity?

Gunga Din
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
September 21, 2019 9:29 am

The latter.
Excess electricity is used to pump water to a higher elevation in areas where it can be released to generate electricity during times when nature isn’t supplying the water to recharge the primary lakes. Limited by the geographics of the area.
I suppose excess electricity could be to lift a weight that would then be released and turn a turbine to generate electricity. Maybe useng all those next to worthless windmill towers?
But it makes much more sense just build a coal or natural gas powered plant (Or maybe even a nuclear plant?) for those areas where hydro or wind or solar are too dependent on the seasons or the weather.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
September 21, 2019 3:23 pm

Almost nothing stores electricity per se. Batteries, for instance, use electricity to force a chemical reaction. When the reaction reverses, you get electricity back out.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 9:10 am

Hydrocarbons (e.g. methane, gasoline (octane), and diesel (nonane and higher)) are by far the most efficient (H/vol H/mass J-out/J-in). methods of storing and transporting hydrogen.

Pure hydrogen is a terrible way to transmit its energy. Combining hydrogen with carbon makes it much more tractable and easy to handle.

Hydrogen, even liquid hydrogen, is so light that any given volume of it carries very little energy.

One liter of liquid hydrogen contains 71 grams of hydrogen. By way of comparison, one liter of liquid natural gas (CH4) contains 103 grams of hydrogen and is at a temperature of -162 C which is 90 C warmer than liquid hydrogen (-253 C). At room temperature, one liter of gasoline contains 118 grams of hydrogen, and one liter of diesel, 130 grams.

Of course liquid hydrogen costs lots of energy to make, is difficult to store (it will leak out of any container in a matter of days), and is 423 F below zero, so be careful when handling it.

Compressed hydrogen is less dense than liquid, and kaboom.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 2:52 pm

As noted, what’s need is a way to package energy for transport applications. The energy balance for any conversion to a transport fuel will be negative (e.g crude to diesel) but it is the added value that counts.

Transport fuels need to have a high density and specific energy, and be easily and efficiently converted to motive power (increasingly with low emissions in a mobile environment where clean up is difficult).

Hydrogen from NG or gasification of coal both with CCS/U are options because the emissions can be addressed at scale with zero emissions at the vehicle. Other options are biofuels (where the addition of CCS/U gives negative GHG emissions) or better batteries and charging or hydrogen from electrolysis.

The hydrogen can be converted or produced in the form of other carriers but really those are the limit of your choices if you don’t like GHGs.

Reply to  commieBob
September 21, 2019 5:08 am

Water is an even better and safer carrier for hydrogen.

Reply to  commieBob
September 21, 2019 3:14 pm

Carbon makes a good carrier for hydrogen as well. When attached to 6 carbons, hydrogen is conveniently liquid at atmospheric pressure, allowing economical storage and transportation. Attached to 8 carbons it contains pound for pound, when mixed with air, the same explosive power as dynamite, yet is quite safe to transport by automobile, in the fuel tank. The most convenient and economical way for humans to attach hydrogens to carbon at present is actually solar powered and results in ethanol /wit or maybe /twit

Reply to  DMacKenzie
September 21, 2019 6:42 pm

What we need is a binary fuel cell that can “burn” hydrogen on one side and carbon on the other, so that the fuel will be consumed efficiently.

If you insist on cracking water, you’re going to have to accept nuclear power to supply the energy. Otherwise you’re just shoving the carbon dioxide release “under the rug”.

September 21, 2019 4:04 am

If hydrogen can be produced from methane, surely that answers the problem of unwanted emissions from cattle? And vegetarians.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Susan
September 21, 2019 4:25 am

Nope! The energy consumed using CH4 to make H2, and then storing it (LOL), would be more than the energy released simply by burning CH4.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
September 21, 2019 8:39 am

I had a CNG vehicle, and had read that it took about as much energy to compress the fuel as the energy in it, so you look definitely right Patrick, especially knowing that H2 requires a higher compression (about 700 bars) than CH4 (200bar) to carry about the same amount of energy. Even if you were producing H2 through electrolysis (and I guess not using fossil fuels for the electricty it is produced from, or nuclear) my guess would be that more of the electricity would go into compressing the fuel than actually producing it.

Jeff Id
September 21, 2019 4:07 am

Even better, if we could think of something that Hydrogen would bond to that was naturally occurring that made the hydrogen a lot more stable and when the bond broke it would leave behind something beneficial….hmmm.

Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 6:10 am

No, No, NO!!!!!
Combine two hydrogens with a single oxygen. When you break out the hydrogen, you get oxygen, which all animals need to live. Who ever heard of breathing some carbo-hydrogen compound. Not a good idea.

Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 8:22 am

You do not say so, but your listed product strongly implies that you intend to react your carbo-hydrogen compound with oxygen.
Wrong, Wrong, WRONG!
We need oxygen to breathe. We can not be wasting it on such silly things. What do you think, oxygen comes from trees?
And what for? What you propose is the deliberate manufacture of a compound which can best be described as Carbon Rust!

Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 8:28 am

If there is no carbon present during the reaction, where does the carbon come from to create CO2?
If I combine ONLY H2 and O2, I can only make H2O.

If I combine O2 with CH4 (methane) they I will get H2O, CO2, CO (carbon monoxide), H2 and O2 as outputs.
If we use air instead of pure O2 we will be adding nitrogen and end up with all the other combustion byproducts.

Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 10:09 am

I was doing my best to win an honorary Billy Madison Award.
Unfortunately, David Middleton is not taking the bait.
I really thought that Carbon Rust bit would put me over the top, but as they say, “No Joy in Mudville”.

michael hart
September 21, 2019 4:28 am

I would think the best prospects for hydrogen will ultimately depend on a sufficiently low cost of (nuclear) electricity.

Currently, at times when wind farms are producing excess power that is being dumped at zero or negative costs then it would seem to make sense using it to produce hydrogen instead. Bulk storage at centralized sites on the electricity grid should circumvent many of the safety issues wrt storage and transport. I guess it all depends on just how the economics add up, or not.

Reply to  michael hart
September 21, 2019 5:16 am

Yeah, you could store excess hydrogen in depleted natural gas fields for later use. This would be a natural combination in, for example, the North Sea.

May I interest you in the purchase of my depleted natural gas field?

Dennis G Sandberg
Reply to  michael hart
September 21, 2019 6:58 am

The zero cost for excess wind and solar electricity is the make believe justification for hydrogen or battery storage. The solution isn’t trying to justify wind and solar, but rather not building the worthless junk in the first place. NG now, transitioning via small modular nuclear fission to a full nuclear energy economy in more than 50 but less than 100 years. CO2 in the atmosphere should have doubled in that timeframe and will be a good number for the environment. China and India need to burn a few billion tons of coal to manufacture the energy intensive goods that the West needs but doesn’t want to do because it’s “nasty”. That’s fine, it’s only for a few decades and we need the CO2.

Krishna Gans
September 21, 2019 4:49 am

From the climatic point of view, burning H2 produces a lot of watervapour, a strong greenhiuse gas, more effective than that, we want to replace. 😀

Reply to  Krishna Gans
September 21, 2019 8:00 am

And without the CO2 fertilization benefit too, heh.

September 21, 2019 4:53 am

Question for someone who knows, as I don’t know the answers.
Hydrogen is burned with air in the proposed new engines.
Air contains nitrogen.
Diesel engines use air, and are slated for producing nitrogen oxides in their exhaust.
Is ammonia also produced when burning hydrogen under the high pressures in a car engine, as a minature Haber-Bosch process?
Has any work been done on the exhaust emissions from hydrogen engines?

Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 7:00 am

how does the fuel cell work?

Also will we be using fuel cells in domestic appliances when we are no longer allowed to use natural gas for heating and cooking?

Reply to  StephenP
September 21, 2019 7:58 am

The fuel cell is an electrochemical system. The reactions are similar to what happens in an everyday household battery. The chemical compounds react in a specific way and with a particular geometry and electricity is produced. In a battery, when the reactant chemical compounds are exhausted, the battery goes dead. In a fuel cell, the reactants are continuously added and the product compound is removed. So it just keeps going.
The Upside:
Fuel cells are just about 100% efficient. (Everybody watch out!) Practically, you lose a bit in electrical resistance, a few quibbles with entropy, and maybe an overpotential due to the Nernst Diffusion layer. All unavoidable if you want to produce any usable amount of power. So all in, call it ~95% for a carefully made good one.
Burning instead:
Calculate the total energy from combustion. Now, you have a strict thermodynamic limit of how much of that total heat energy can be converted to useful mechanical work. Perhaps ~70%, perhaps ~60%, perhaps less. Perhaps a lot less. We are not done yet. Just getting started. Subtract out all the sources of friction and all the other inefficiencies and your engine efficiency plummets even further.
ICE engines: upper 20s – low 30s percentage.
External combustion engines (jet) – somewhat better.
Big stationary power plants that cost a fortune: 40%
Super fancy combined cycle power plants that cost even more: up to 60%
Old fashioned Steam Locomotives: 4% – 7%. It is a wonder they lasted as long as they did.

This is why fuel cells are so attractive. If they can be made to work, they have a huge thermodynamic advantage over other ways of doing things.

Reply to  TonyL
September 21, 2019 8:54 am

Yes, they are a lot like batteries, with similar technical difficulties. There is no question that they can be made to work, it’s a matter of how well and at what cost. One day they might be very efficient, cheap and reliable. Currently, they are not.

Anyone remember about a decade ago there was concern over the air travel restrictions that would be placed on portable fuel cells? The issue still does not need to be addressed because the technology is still so poor.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  TonyL
September 21, 2019 1:11 pm

It’s not a matter of them being “made to work.” We’ve been using fuel cells for power on spacecraft since Apollo, at least. The problem is always how to store the hydrogen for civilian applications when you don’t have a military budget and civilians are to fill the tanks without special training.

Reply to  TonyL
September 21, 2019 4:27 pm

Nope, electrolysis can get to around 80% efficient at scale and FCs in cars perhaps 60%. Add in storage, transportation and other losses and power to wheel is in the low 20%s. Get the hydrogen from NG perhaps gets well to wheel to 30%.

Well to wheel for fossil fuels is around 30%, and power to wheel for batteries/EVs about 60%.

Reply to  TonyL
September 23, 2019 12:31 am

The main advantage appears to be storage/capacity.

Battery solutions will never replace fossil fuels as their capacity will always be hours/days requiring fossil/nuclear backup for solar/wind.

In a hydrogen economy storage/capacity should not be an issue, plus hydrogen may be shipped from desert solar fields to industrialized countries as required.

Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 8:12 am

As far as I know, the only type of engine that has no emissions would be an anti-matter one.

Earl Smith
Reply to  MarkW
September 21, 2019 11:59 am

And that is only for anti matter consisting of only electrons and positrons. If you react a nucleus with its antimatter equivalent you get the whole family of exotic particles that make nuclear physics interesting. So no, there are lots of emissions from matter antimatter combination.
(and when you do the electron positron annihilation you get gamma ray emissions )

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 8:50 am

It is indeed a controlled oxidation of hydrogen, using oxygen from the atmosphere, and producing hydrogen dioxide as a ‘waste’ product. Interestingly, since water vapor is a stronger greenhouse gas then carbon dioxide, unless a special effort is made to condense the water vapor in the vehicle, it could not only contribute to raising the temperatures of cities, but also make the climate more uncomfortable by raising the heat index (unless one lives in a city along the Gulf Coast where the humidity is already saturated.)


Sam Capricci
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
September 21, 2019 10:32 am

Glad someone noted that as that is what I think of every time I read about hydrogen fuel cells.

Reply to  StephenP
September 21, 2019 7:02 am

See David’s answer. But anyway in hydrogen/air flames, a small amount of nitric oxide is formed. Ammonia may be formed as an intermediate at very high H2:air ratios, but it inevitably is reacted away to form mostly nitrogen and water.

September 21, 2019 5:14 am

A hydrogen distribution network does not exist, while electricity available to recharge EV batteries is ubiquitous and batteries have so much improved (some EVs having over 300 miles of driving range) and IONITY CCS chargers can put up to 80% recharge in a matter of les sthan 20 minutes, Hydrogen fuel cells only made sense back when batteries cost 4 times more than they do now.

Kevin A
Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 6:34 am

The liquefaction of hydrogen requires -412 degrees (<21 Kelvin) and 189 PSI of pressure, what is the cost for that process? What does a 'tanker' cost that transports this material and how big of a hole would this make if hit by an RPG?

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
Reply to  Kevin A
September 21, 2019 7:46 am

I don’t know about trucks, but LNG tanker ships use the boil-off NG vapor as fuel instead of diesel (why take up space for storage of two different kinds of fuel?). If there is boil-off in excess of what the engines need, it is re-liquified and put back in the tanks. Wasteful, but less so that just venting it, which is the only other choice.

Jon Jewett
Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
September 21, 2019 9:36 pm

I worked aboard LNG tankers. They did not have the compressor train to re-liquify the cargo boil off. While at sea, the boil-off provided about 50% of the required fuel with the balance made up of fuel oil. It was a steam turbine-powered ship. In port, we had excess boil-off that we burned in the boilers and dumped the excess steam to the condenser.

New ships are going to dual-fuel i.e. natural gas and oil, internal combustion engines. Natural gas has a very high “octane rating” so combustion cannot be initiated by compression as in a diesel engine. Either a spark plug or the injection of a small amount of oil as a pilot flame is required. While the diesel cycle is more fuel-efficient than the otto cycle, the higher temperatures create more NOx. So, the choice is fuel efficiency or lower emissions.

I haven’t seen how the new ships deal with excessive cargo boil off. I am guessing using a small boiler with the steam production going to a condenser.

Russ Wood
Reply to  Kevin A
September 25, 2019 8:24 am

An LNG (road) tanker hit a pole in Wellington, South Africa, and released a cloud of gas. A pickup (called a ‘bakkie’ here) drove past, and somehow ignited the cloud. The resulting explosion destroyed half a street, fortunately at night, and the ‘bakkie’ driver was severely burned. Big enough explosion for you?

Reply to  ColMosby
September 21, 2019 9:16 am

The distribution network certainly exists, for example virtually every home in the UK was supplied with hydrogen gas via a pipeline system until about 1970 when it was replaced by natural gas via the same system.

Shoki Kaneda
Reply to  Phil.
September 21, 2019 10:10 am

That seems dubious. Do you have a citation?

Kurt Granat
Reply to  Shoki Kaneda
September 21, 2019 11:14 am

I believe the old “coal gas” systems did have some hydrogen in the gas provided, along with carbon monoxide and other gases. In Britain (and other locations) these pipelines were converted to natural gas when that fuel became available. The CO with the old fuel is why an unlit stove could result in an accidental death or suicide.

Amos E. Stone
Reply to  Shoki Kaneda
September 21, 2019 12:46 pm

Shoki – it’s sort of true and I’m old enough to remember ‘town’ gas. Long, long ago when the UK had a steel industry, we needed to make coke to support it. This effort produced coal gas which was enhanced with steam reforming to make a gas that was a mixture of half hydrogen, and half methane/carbon monoxide. Poisonous as it was, it was piped into people’s homes for cooking, heating and even lighting.

Natural Gas (methane) is non-poisonous, because it has no CO in it, and has a higher calorific value so is much better. Pure hydrogen would be equally non-poisonous but would have a lower calorific value even than town gas – requiring all the gas burners to be changed out yet again, and the pipes to be bigger!


Personally, I prefer the methane economy. Fracked for now and maybe manufactured out of captured CO2 and water in nukes for the future – and I think the technology is more likely at scale than fuel cells. But who knows?

Shoki Kaneda
Reply to  Amos E. Stone
September 21, 2019 3:22 pm

I know how town gas is made and that up to ~50% can be hydrogen. But that is hardly “virtually every home in the UK was supplied with hydrogen gas”.

Reply to  Amos E. Stone
September 23, 2019 9:02 am

That’s exactly what it means.

J. Graham
September 21, 2019 6:28 am

Consider Robert Zubrin’s chemistry and thermodynamics assessment…….

The Hydrogen Hoax
by Robert Zubrin
The New Atlantis (2007)

“If you are among those willing to sacrifice freedom and economic rationality for the sake of the environment, and therefore prefer hydrogen for its advertised benefit of reduced carbon dioxide emissions, think again. Because hydrogen is actually made by reforming hydrocarbons, its use as fuel would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all. In fact, it would greatly increase them.

To see this, let us consider an example. Let’s say you wanted to produce hydrogen. You choose to do it via steam reformation of natural gas, the most common technique used commercially today. The
reaction is:

CH4 + 2H2O => CO2 + 4H2 ΔH = +59 kcal/mole (1)

As the positive enthalpy change indicates, the reaction is endothermic (that is, heat-absorbing) and will need an outside source of energy to drive it forward. This can be obtained by burning some methane, which releases 205 kcal/mole, via the following reaction:

CH4 + 2O2 => CO2 + 2H2O ΔH = 205 kcal/mole (2)

Assuming an optimistic 72 percent efficiency in using the combustion energy to drive the steam reformation, this would allow us to reform 2.5 moles of methane for every one that we burn (or 5 for every 2). So if we take five units of reaction (1) and add it to two units of reaction (2), the net reaction becomes:

7CH4 + 4O2 + 10H2O => 7CO2 + 4H2O + 20H2 (3)

As far as usable fuel is concerned, what we have managed to do is trade seven moles of methane for twenty moles of hydrogen. Seven moles of carbon dioxide have also been produced, exactly as many as would have been produced had we simply used the methane itself as fuel. The seven moles of methane that we used up, however, would have been worth 1435 kilocalories of energy if used directly, while the twenty moles of hydrogen we have produced in exchange for all our trouble are only worth 1320 kilocalories. So for the same amount of carbon dioxide released, less useful energy has been produced.”

Reply to  J. Graham
September 21, 2019 7:08 am

And that’s the best theoretical case. In actuality, a lot of energy is lost to escaped heat and a significant loss of carbon to soot and I suppose hydrogen to water.

Fred Hubler
Reply to  J. Graham
September 21, 2019 9:41 am

Consider also that water vapor is another greenhouse gas.

Mike MacDonald
September 21, 2019 6:36 am

The good news about fuel cells is that they are coming closer to commercialization /sarc. The bad news is that we have been told this same story ever since the 1960’s. The reliability of the fuel cell stack is probably worse than that of wind turbines. Maintenance issues for all fuel cells are still in the potential nightmare range.

Randle Dewees
September 21, 2019 7:34 am

I saw a Toyota Mirai a few days ago in Orange County Calif. The first sighting for me (among LOTS of Teslas). Seems like a true geek/first adopter option. 4000 pounds and mediocre performance. Anyway, there is some good info on the Toyota site.

Uses two carbon fiber reinforced *high* pressure storage tanks – total volume 185 liters (6 + cubic feet), a large scuba tank is 15 liter internal volume, max pressure 87.5 MPA or 875 Bar or 12700 PSI (!!!!!!!) The output of the FC charges a Ni-MH “run” battery.

Overall seems a bit of a complicated mess to me. I’ve a little experience with high pressure gas, this would give me the willies

Reply to  Randle Dewees
September 21, 2019 9:18 am

The output of the FC charges a Ni-MH “run” battery.

Curious. They do not like to throttle up and down the Fuel Cell. Seems like a prerequisite for a motor vehicle. They would rather take the hit of the expense and complexity of an additional battery system.

Very Interesting.

Reply to  Randle Dewees
September 21, 2019 10:01 am

I’ve a little experience with high pressure gas, this would give me the willies

Me too. What if the vehicle gets run over by a heavy truck? Kaboom?

Reply to  Randle Dewees
September 21, 2019 10:24 am

It will probably decrease hospitalization costs after car accidents. No longer applicable, except possibly to innocent bystanders.

Fred Hubler
September 21, 2019 7:35 am

It was just a few years ago that metal hydrides were all the rage. It was said that 6 hydrogen atoms could attach to an atom of aluminum with very little loss of energy to separate them. I don’t know what happened to that theory, but it seems to have died out.

The bigger problem for hydrogen fuel cells is that the proton exchange membrane is very sensitive to minute amounts of contamination that destroys its efficiency, and if there is a solution to that problem I sure haven’t heard about it.

September 21, 2019 8:50 am

If one is off grid with photovoltaic panels, one can produce H2 with the electricity once the batteries are full, and pump it into an anaerobic digester, where it be reacted with CO2 to form extra methane, which is a fuel much easier to work with. Apparently this also works with syngas from gasifiers, where the CO and H2 are also biologically converted to methane. I guess this transformation could be made chemically has well rather than biologically, but anaerobic digesters are low tech available to “anyone”. It never made sense for me to use H2 as fuel when you can cheaply add 1 mole of carbon for every 2 moles of H2 to burn.

September 21, 2019 9:33 am

I dealt w/hydrogen working in a powerplant (generators at 30 psi H2) and doing so is not for the inexperienced (plant engineers were the only personnel allowed to degas/regas the generators). I rather shiver at the thought of large numbers of average Joes or Janes working causally w/it, especially at high pressures.

Shoki Kaneda
September 21, 2019 9:33 am

Hydrogen fuel cells, which are only ten years away from widespread adoption, will bridge society until fusion energy succeeds it in fifty years. (this statement may be reused every few years, as required)

Bill Murphy
Reply to  David Middleton
September 21, 2019 1:55 pm

The real question is who is going to save the planet from those trying to save the planet? This entire mess is reminiscent of the old physician joke: “The operation was a complete success. But unfortunately the patient died.”

September 21, 2019 9:48 am

Anyone who in the financial markets in the 2000 Bubble would have heard about Ballard Power. Especially if you were in Vancouver.
The stock soared from next-to-nothing to around $180. The whole world was going to the hydrogen economy.
Then, the scheme collapsed back to next-to nothing, and it is now around $7.
And in almost 20 years there are no signs of the hydrogen economy.

September 21, 2019 10:06 am

I’m wondering why no-one, even David himself, has brought up R100 versus R101 on this thread.

Reply to  Neil Lock
September 21, 2019 10:29 am

R100 vs R101 only proves that a well-constructed airship is better than a badly constructed airship, and that anything constructed by bureaucrats is likely to fall into the “badly constructed” category.

Gary Pearse
September 21, 2019 11:11 am

I haven’t read all the posts but surely someone has mentioned the very poor energy density of even liquid hydrogen as a limiting factor. A gallon of gasoline has ~ 15 times as much energy as a fuel as a gallon of L hydrogen. Imagine 15 big gasoline- type trucks to replace one gasoline truck on our highways! Imagine needing a 150 gallon fuel tank to get you from Philadelphia to Boston or having to refuel 15 times.

Mark Broderick
Reply to  Gary Pearse
September 21, 2019 12:49 pm

How much does a gallon of Hydrogen weigh compared to a gallon of gasoline ?

September 21, 2019 12:39 pm

Hydrogen great for drones as it allows longer flight times due to its superior weight to energy ratio over jet fuel.

Reply to  Stevek
September 21, 2019 4:12 pm

however it has a very low energy to volume ratio, which makes for bulky tanks and huge parasitic drag, so it will only work for extremely slow-moving vehicles like e. g. drones.

Rudolf Huber
September 21, 2019 2:19 pm

The hydrogen Fuel Cell is a bit like the fusion reactor. Always decades away. Hydrogen is dangerous. It makes everything it touches brittle, it’s very aggressive and it explodes very easily. I was a fan of the hydrogen idea until I started to learn about it properties. But there is a silver lining. We can transform hydrogen into Methane which is non-agressive and non-explosive and also easy to handle and use that as fuel. This is not a cheap proposition yet but neither is hydrogen so if both cost an arm and a leg, let’s use the stable one.

Reply to  Rudolf Huber
September 21, 2019 4:09 pm

Not everything. Mostly steel.

Evan Englund
September 21, 2019 4:34 pm

“The US Army inadvertently discovered an aluminum alloy that generates hydrogen when mixed with water. Of course, this would require a lot of water.”

This suggests a possible closed-cycle, zero emission system (not counting waste heat & cooling water) combining a thermal generator, fuel cell, and aluminum refinery. If the system is scaled to the long-term average of an intermittent solar plant or wind farm, then stockpiled magic alloy (Al*) would act as a battery to convert intermittent power to dispatchable baseload. Hydrogen would be used as generated with minimal storage. Water from the fuel cells goes back to make more hydrogen.
I don’t know if this could ever be done cheaply and efficiently enough to be practical, but I think it is all doable with current technology.

The system:
1. Al* + water -> Al*oxide +hydrogen + heat
2. heat -> thermal generator -> electricity -> grid
3. hydrogen + oxygen /air-> fuel cell -> electricity + water
3a. electricity -> grid
3b. water -> back to step 1
4. Al*oxide + solar/wind power-> refinery -> Al* + oxygen
4a. (optional) oxygen -> storage -> back to step 3
4b. Al* -> stockpile -> back to step 1

Gary Pearse
September 21, 2019 5:52 pm

Reduction of Al is a big electricity user plus other reagents. Glencore shuttered a plant in Australia because of electricity costs and this eas before cliwns started blowing up coal plants.

Mike Ozanne
September 21, 2019 7:29 pm

Hydrogen fuel cells is never happening because hydrogen fuel cells suck like a turbo-charged bilge pump…


September 22, 2019 9:33 am

Touting hydrogen as a solution to energy shortages and/or pollution is just like touting electricity as a solution to the same problems. This is because hydrogen, like electricity, is not a source of power but a way of transporting power from one place to another after you’ve generated that power by other means.

The case that doing this is worthwhile, environmentally or economically, has yet to be made.

September 22, 2019 9:40 pm

I don’t see much problem in getting the hydrogen. The Sun is largely made of the stuff. Simply extend a pipeline to the Sun and pump it out. It will be a bit hot when it leaves, but if we put cooling fins on the pipe, the heat will dissipate into space. This means the hydrogen in the pipe will contract, and thus draw more hydrogen from the Sun. It might even be sufficient to make pumping unnecessary.

Can I get a grant to study the idea?

September 23, 2019 2:27 pm

The first tHydrogen fuel car I saw in my home town led to a conversation with the owner.

“Hydorgen is much safer than gasoline. It doesn’t explode.”

“What about the Hindenburg?”

“That was the fabric, not the hydrogen.”

“OK…Have you ever seen or heard of a car battery exploding?”


I also told him about high school science class, and how we gathered hydrogen from electrolyzing water, then held a flame to the collected fuel. Bang! Apparently, they don’t do things like that in school any more. I was not aware it is obtained from fossil fuels. That’s pretty funny.

Johann Wundersamer
September 24, 2019 7:19 am

David Middleton, wondered for the “bang effect” – here it comes:

The Hindenburg.

German is environment protection prayers for abundend effective “Climate neutral” fuel was heard:



With plenty of explosion protection along the railroads. Some bunker surcharge will do.

September 26, 2019 6:13 pm

There are a lot of comments here that complicates and/or sidestep the simplest solution. Brown’s Gas has been around since the early 1900s like in my 1943 edition Basic Collage Chemistry text book. I brought this up a few years ago on another WUWT article.

Brown’s Gas (HHO) is simple to generate using pure water that a little electrolyte like Baking Soda is used to make it conductive. With an alternating positive and negative stack of Stainless Steel plates and a 12 volt battery with a 10 amp fuse going through a Square Wave Rectifier HHO is generated.

A device the size of a number 10 can pur into a tank of any size can generate enough HHO to power a V8 engine as “on demand” and no storage of hydrogen is needed. As any excess can be released into the atmosphere that returns to water. The exhaust is just water and doesn’t cause any pollutants.

The problem with these HHO systems is mostly in their design that doesn’t account for having a Square Wave Rectifier and a scrubbing tank for back pressure or pressure release systems. Burning HHO doesn’t generate as much heat like fossil fuels do in internal combustion engines.

The majority of HHO Systems on the market are designed to enhance fossil fuels engine’s by adding it into the intake where it mixes with the air before it mixes with the fuel being added during combustion. Greater MPG and HP is the result. Far greater than the older water injection did. Newer engines with all the electronic monitoring that makes corrections hate these HHO Systems and it throws codes that hinder the effencency of using them. The Oxygen Sensors are the main culprit of this problem.

Two cycle engines run well on HHO alone with the carburetor removed and just having the butterfly value to adjust the amount going into the intake.

The water carried is not explosive and with safety devices that separates the HHO Systems from high pressure, only a small combustion may occur during an accident.

The point being that these are “On Demand” systems without all the BS of storage.

Reply to  JOHN CHISM
September 27, 2019 9:07 am

I am a non-scientist but was willing to research this and the result: http://www.nlcpr.com/Deceptions10.php

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