As the wind and solar power cash cow starts to run dry, rent-seekers are targeting ‘green’ hydrogen as the next pot of taxpayer subsidised gold.
The ‘green’ in the ‘green’ hydrogen myth arises from the notion of using wind and solar to convert their commercially useless, unpredictable and unreliable electricity into something that might be used as and when consumers need it; rather than something that depends on the whims of mother nature.
If producing industrial volumes of hydrogen using electricity passed through water (electrolysis) were even vaguely economic, then the obvious way of doing so would be to use coal-fired power; the cheapest and most reliable power source, of all. Or, if you’re in the camp that considers carbon dioxide gas to be ‘pollution’, using nuclear power. But that wouldn’t sit with the narrative.
The problem for the narrative, apart from economics that will never stack up, is reality; namely the laws of physics, particularly thermodynamics.
The storage and distribution of commercial volumes of hydrogen gas is not without its challenges. Attempting to contain the gas in large volumes comes with the threat of industrial-scale explosions, thanks to its low ignition point and highly combustible nature, and also because it tends to leak easily from tanks. More than a few hydrogen storage facilities and filling stations have exploded – as to which, see above the image from Norway – where one went up with one hell of a bang.
As to the practical difficulties attached to trying to store and transport a particularly volatile and dangerous substance, note the result of a much-heralded liquid hydrogen export venture, when the Suiso Frontier started off with a bang, even before it left port. While the mainstream media had quite a lot to say about the shipment of (purportedly green) hydrogen from Australia to Japan in the lead up to the voyage, there was not much mention of the serious explosion that probably left the crew wondering whether they had signed up to something like the final voyage of the Hindenburg.
The renewable energy cult and its propaganda wing downplayed the explosion as a ‚little teething issue‘. But, an event like that on the very first outing doesn’t augur well.
In the piece below, Andrew Orlowski looks at the prospects of the green hydrogen revolution from the perspective of engineering. Which, given what’s at stake, is probably a very good place to start!
The great hydrogen swindle – ‘green’ gas is not what it seems
16 April 2022
Engineers will rarely tell you something is impossible, even when your proposal is a very bad idea. Computer scientists at Stanford and MIT in the 1970s came up with a wonderful expression for this, an assignment that was technically feasible, but highly undesirable. They called it “kicking a dead whale down a beach”. The folklore compendium The Hacker’s Dictionary defines this as a “slow, difficult, and disgusting process”. Yes, you can do it like that. But you really don’t want to.
In its efforts to show the world how keenly it is embracing CO2 emission targets, our Government has left a lot of dead whales on the beach for us, and as consumers, we’ll be the ones doing the kicking.
For example, it’s not impossible to heat a home with a heat pump, but it is a very noisy, ineffective and expensive way of doing it. An electric car might be fun to drive, but it is also expensive, and because of the inferior energy density of batteries, a petrol equivalent will always be lighter and go further. Nor at the end of the day will an EV be able to boast any CO2 emissions savings, we now know, thanks to Volvo. But perhaps the greatest whale to land on our beach is hydrogen.
Every day, manufacturers announce that they’re working on some kind of hydrogen initiative.
These include our best and brightest companies, such as Rolls-Royce and JCB. The Government has a Hydrogen Strategy. The Climate Change Committee thinks hydrogen is wonderful. You may think these are all signs that it’s a good idea. But things are not what they seem.
Hydrogen has two big problems which turn any project into a dead whale exercise.
The first is that pure hydrogen doesn’t exist – it’s both everywhere and nowhere. We must generate all the hydrogen we can then use, and this requires a lot of energy. This is fine when the output of the process is something very valuable to us, such as fertiliser. But less so when the output of the process must compete with much cheaper commodities, as it must in an energy market.
Secondly, hydrogen’s intrinsic physical properties create a whole range of unique problems. It’s a tiny atom that easily escapes confinement. Keeping it captive for storage is expensive, and moving it around safely even more so, because in liquid form it must be very cold.
Hydrogen advocates tend to shrug off these issues – solving them will be someone else’s problem, they reckon. Individually, none of these factors make hydrogen as an energy carrier or storer impossible, but the whale-like properties are becoming harder to ignore.
To replace gas boilers with hydrogen boilers requires thousands of miles of new, much thicker, high-pressure pipes. Last year, Lord Martin Callanan, the energy minister, candidly described the plans to replace our gas boilers with hydrogen boilers “as pretty much impossible”.
Wrong, m’Lud. It’s not impossible – it’s just a supremely bad idea. And when hydrogen explodes, it is quite spectacular. Right on cue, Australia’s first hydrogen carrying ship set sail for Japan this year, and burst into flames on its maiden voyage.
Again, hydrogen powered transport is not impossible, it’s just hampered by reality. Liquified hydrogen may be as light as petrol or kerosene, but keeping it at -257C requires much heavier apparatus. Converting a two engine turboprop from kerosene to hydrogen, I noted here recently, increases the weight of the engine from two tonnes to 13 tonnes.
As for storage, the story is little better. Wind often generates electricity when it is not needed (and doesn’t generate it when it is needed). So when the wind is blowing, the hydrogen lobby argues, we can create “green hydrogen” using electrolysis. These electrolysers are expensive, and sensitive, and switching them on intermittently to produce the mythical green hydrogen isn’t economic.
So green hydrogen is really not one, but two dead whales, engaged in a gruesome act of congress.
In his devastating assessment of the Government’s energy paper, Prof Dieter Helm calls it a “lobbyist’s utopia”. Prof Helm, an energy expert, describes how rent-seekers “[react] to each problem… by inventing another intervention. Each has unintended consequences, and these unintended consequences need more ‘fixes’”. That’s green hydrogen in a nutshell.
Green hydrogen may be generated reliably and cheaply using high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors (HTGRs), a technology the Japanese have been refining for two decades. Japan’s first HTGR opened in 1997, but incredibly, was out of commission for a decade.
The history of nuclear energy is full of such stories, of untapped potential, and of avenues not explored. Our own Government tepidly hopes for a “HTGR demonstration by the early 2030s at the latest.” But even with a fleet of HTGRs generating hydrogen, the nasty stuff still needs to be stored and moved, and those costs haven’t gone away. Using hydrogen remains the worst way of doing almost anything.
Special interest groups however have discovered that the magic words “net zero” have the same incantatory power as “Open Sesame!”. In Arabian Nights, the phrase opened up a cave full of treasure. Here, they open up an unlimited trove of research grants and subsidies, and tap into abundant buckets of ill-directed “green” capital. The dead whale is never removed from the beach – and perhaps that’s the point.
via STOP THESE THINGS
May 3, 2022, by stopthesethings