AliG

Moronic headline in the Daily Mail

Recommended Posts

Yes the headline is moronic.

 

BUT it actually discusses the issue faced with swapping every house from a gas boiler to a heat pump, highlighting that in most cases it is a LOT more than just swap the boiler for a heat pump.

 

Unless we get this discussion and understanding, there are going to be a lot of houses with poor heat pump systems and they really will have houses that cannot get warm enough in very cold weather.

 

Those of us with modern well insulated houses successfully being heated by small ASHP's even in cold climates show it can be done, but the elephant in the room is such a huge amount of the UK housing stock is anything but well insulated and airtight, and that is where the serious money needs to be spent to address that.  But how.  I often feel a 21st century "slum clearance" is needed to flatten and rebuild some of the worst housing, but I can't see it happening.

 

Instead we will bumble along carefully avoiding that elephant and thus not making so much of a difference to energy use and CO2 emissions.

 

And this quote

 



However one of the Government's flagship plans to support homeowners in going green last month fell flat, when ministers scrapped the Green Homes Grant after just six months.

The £1.5bn programme offered households grants of up to £5,000 or £10,000 to put in insulation or low-carbon heating.

While the initial uptake was good, with more than 123,000 applications for the grant by the end of February, only 28,000 vouchers were issued.

And of those, only 5,800 energy efficiency measures had been installed. Red tape was blamed as one of the reasons for the failure of the scheme.

Does not give me ANY confidence that a government run scheme will ever be able to solve the problem.  We (the government) just seem incapable of managing such a thing.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been doing a lot of reading on this for work.

 

The thinking seems to be that heat pumps will be used where they can and if they cannot boilers will be converted to run on hydrogen. The existing gas network could be switched over to hydrogen, although the logistics would be difficult to manage. As an interim step hydrogen can be mixed in with natural gas to lower carbon emissions.

 

Historically I thought hydrogen was a nonsense due to high costs and the inefficiency of adding the extra step to convert watering hydrogen, but the belief is that over time the cost of renewable energy will drop to the point where you can use it to make hydrogen at a reasonable cost.

 

The newest wind and solar plants are coming in at very low costs which continue to fall. What will be interesting to see is if these drops flow through to end users. Forecasts for the falling price of hydrogen are based on wholesale costs of electricity in the £20/MWh range, around half of current prices. Of course investment will be needed in the grid and the actual cost of the electricity is only around half of the end user price of electricity.

 

Of course if electricity prices drop that much you could also just use electric boilers.

 

I also suspect from my reading that a carbon tax may eventually be added to natural gas to make it less cost competitive versus heat pumps as the carbon content in electricity continues to fall.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a proposal near here to build a hydrogen plant powered entirely by wind power from the Moray Firth offshore wind farm.  It seems to be aimed at industrial uses like the nearby distilleries.  I would love to see the costings and CO2 emissions of using wind power to generate hydrogen to be piped to a distillery to be burned, vs just using the very same wind power directly at the distillery with resistance heating.

 

I see hydrogen as a better contender for vehicles where quick refueling time is the USP over pure electric cars.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Either way there would be no carbon emissions using wind power and/or burning hydrogen.

 

The reasons to make hydrogen instead of directly using electricity are mainly -

 

1. Hydrogen can easily and cheaply be piped. Thus if you can make cheap electricity in one place and use the power somewhere else then it may be cheaper to change it into hydrogen for transport purposes. The most extreme example would be to produce solar power in the middle east, use this to make hydrogen and then pipe the hydrogen to Europe.

 

2. Hydrogen is a good way to store renewable energy. Batteries can only provide small amounts of short term storage. Hydrogen would work well for longer term storage.

 

I don't know about how the distilleries work, but it may be that burning hydrogen can save them replacing equipment or for some industrial uses it may be easier to get the high temperatures needed using hydrogen. I doubt this applies in brewing.

Edited by AliG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do like the idea of using a gas network to distribute hydrogen and for it to be used in  vehicles to give quick re fuel if it can be made efficiently. If everything “goes electric” will the National Grid” cope?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, joe90 said:

If everything “goes electric” will the National Grid” cope?

 

The numbers I saw added around 1% a year to the growth in electricity demand. Demand growth has slowed considerably with efficiency efforts, so this kind of increase can be easily accommodated.

 

We are talking about something that will happen over 30 years. In the next 10 years much of the reduction in emissions will come from converting road transport to electricity as well as the continued shift of generation to renewables

 

The use of hydrogen is forecast more to be in the 2030 onwards period, even more in the 2040-50 period. It will be needed for the harder to eliminate emissions.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
15 minutes ago, AliG said:

The use of hydrogen is forecast more to be in the 2030 onwards period, even more in the 2040-50 period. It will be needed for the harder to eliminate emissions.

I remember when wind turbines at sea were first being installed - the cost was insane . But economics of scale and refined technology makes them a good investment. I do wonder when the next leap in PV efficiency will occur ? ( what are we at 20% in real world situation ? ) . Hydrogen might have its day for replacing the gas combi , but infrastructure and production costs prohibit that currently.

Agree with @ProDave most old housing stock is crap . I really struggle to get my rentals to a ‘C’ and that’s after spending considerable sums ( new double glazing , new roof with insulation) but only because the law will / does force me . Private owners in older housing have no real incentive. The cost of work against the saving is negligible. It’s certainly a tricky one !

Edited by pocster

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

OMG - My wife is flicking through the TV channels and Jeremy Vine is talking about this on Channel 5. He says that with heat pumps we will all be cold.

 

Aarrgghh. I could put my fist through the screen there is so much stupidity being spouted by everyone.

 

Jeremy - Won't it be more efficient to run my boiler into the ground. No of course not, do you really think a boiler encompasses as much energy as it uses.

 

Then there is a guy on with the usual, this will hurt poor people argument. Saving energy helps everyone.

 

Moral of the story is don't watch daytime TV or read the Daily Mail. But really it would be nice if the media made an attempt to sensibly explain things. People aren't stupid, but they do need good information to understand things.

Edited by AliG
  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For me there seems to be a bit of a binary hydrogen argument going on at the moment. On the one side you've got the hydrogen is not suitable as a means of heating houses and powering our cars because conversion is too inefficient so we need to convert everything barring heavy industry to electricity. On the other there's the hydrogen is the future brigade together with lots of companies desperate to secure their future revenues, like oil & gas companies, boiler manufacturers etc.

 

I find myself sitting somewhere in between. We're so deeply invested in the gas network for home heating and converting everyone and everything to electricity would be enormously expensive and take a long time to upgrade the grid. Therefore as a stop gap hydrogen, starting with a 20% natural gas mix, could be used as part of a phase change to how we heat our homes. Heatpumps are a very sensible next phase but currently too expensive to realistically provide a viable change-over. In East Asia there have been studies into piping hydrogen to homes fitted with fuel cells to provide micro electricity generation.

 

There definitely needs to be imaginitive solutions, but as you've said, upgrading housing stock and reducing energy consumption has got to be the first step. I read an interesting piece on Passivhaus recently which suggested that embodied carbon was less in retrofit upgrades of houses compared to bulldozing and building new. So perhaps it is indeed greener to upgrade as much existing stock as possible and build new where its just too dire.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To upgrade old housing stock you really have to strip it right back, e.g the vast majority of old houses with timber floors have absolutely no insulation under the floor boards.  Of you strip that back, insulate the floor and put UFH down before putting the floor back you have improved the house a lot and made it "ASHP compliant"

 

But you are not going to do that in an occupied house.

 

When will we see councils leading by example with a process to properly upgrade their old houses?  i see a lot here having EWI applied which can be done with tenants in situ but things like floor insulation and UFH would need tenants out for the duration of the work.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Apart from the headline which appears to be unrelated to the article, it isn't too bad. Lots of nuance missing, but that's hardly surprising.

 

I'm pretty sure hydrogen boilers are a giant bait-and-switch scheme - get the government to commit to the mass rollout of them, then "discover" that the costs of green hydrogen are ~3x that of green electricity so force the widespread adoption of blue hydrogen (i.e. made from fossil methane with the CO2 split out at a refinery and stored). Still much more expensive than natural gas, but it means their legacy assets are worth something - certainly much more than the cost of lobbying.

 

At a system level, for domestic heating heat pumps, even with the cost of expensive retrofits (insulation + heat pumps) thrown in, are still vastly cheaper than shifting heating to hydrogen. The boilers are the easy bit and a drop in the bucket of costs - it's the bits like the fact we would have to completely replace the high pressure gas network that are the gotchas, and the sheer amount of power generation needed to use green hydrogen for heating make it a non-starter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, ProDave said:

To upgrade old housing stock you really have to strip it right back, e.g the vast majority of old houses with timber floors have absolutely no insulation under the floor boards.  Of you strip that back, insulate the floor and put UFH down before putting the floor back you have improved the house a lot and made it "ASHP compliant"

 

But you are not going to do that in an occupied house.

 

When will we see councils leading by example with a process to properly upgrade their old houses?  i see a lot here having EWI applied which can be done with tenants in situ but things like floor insulation and UFH would need tenants out for the duration of the work.

 

Yeah, it's a proper dilemma.

 

I wonder whether councils even have the funds, but given how much council housing stock has shifted to private ownership and/or housing associations, I wonder how much funding needs to be passed their way. I sat on a parish council as few years back where there was a housing association that decided to demolish an existing low rise development and build new. Temporarily rehousing residents took years because they didn't have an alternative ready development where they could move them and they also had to build a good number of houses they had to sell at commercial rates to fund the development. Therefore they ended up with less housing space than before. IIRC it took over 10 years from conception to when they actually started demolition.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, pdf27 said:

At a system level, for domestic heating heat pumps, even with the cost of expensive retrofits (insulation + heat pumps) thrown in, are still vastly cheaper than shifting heating to hydrogen. The boilers are the easy bit and a drop in the bucket of costs - it's the bits like the fact we would have to completely replace the high pressure gas network that are the gotchas, and the sheer amount of power generation needed to use green hydrogen for heating make it a non-starter.

 

And to play devil's advocate, how many people are going to want to give up additional space for DHW storage when the heatpump hasn't got the output of their combi-boiler 😈😉

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think these changes will be gradual, fir example in my rural location with no access to mains gas, pre heat pumps I would have to choose direct electricity, bottled gas or oil. The life of a combi is about 10 years (so I have read somewhere) so in 10 years technology and prices will have changed. I don’t like the idea of being reliant on only one fuel/technology I.e. electricity. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, AliG said:

...

Even for the DM this is particularly stupid.

...

 

They know their market. 

Its a very instructive headline. And it has nothing to do with technical issues - nothing at all. Nobody is going to keep their house at 10 degrees (20 -10)

It taps into a really rich seam of denial - climate change rubbish - just throw another log on the fire - I'll be dead before  that  affects us - nanny state - do gooders -   Too cold? Yer need another 20Kw on top of whatcha got mate

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 minutes ago, joe90 said:

I think these changes will be gradual, fir example in my rural location with no access to mains gas, pre heat pumps I would have to choose direct electricity, bottled gas or oil. The life of a combi is about 10 years (so I have read somewhere) so in 10 years technology and prices will have changed. I don’t like the idea of being reliant on only one fuel/technology I.e. electricity. 

What is is that concerns you about dependence on electricity?  I imagine that neither bottled gas nor oil systems would have operated in a power cut either?

 

Does storage ease your concerns?

 

Or was it a cost worry or something else?

 

Rgds

 

Damon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe the report indicates that the climate committee has factored in 50C as the default running temp for heating with an ASHP.  Those with an ASHP know that CoP at that temp is woeful, and would indeed cost householders a lot more in terms of electricity compared to gas price for the same level of kWh of delivered heat.   That's a big ask / sell.

 

Hydorgen is interesting. Commercially, due to the conversion % it has as far as I know never been economically viable, however the advent of excess electricity produced by renewables means that there is a resource that can be used to make it economic to produce, whilst at the same time maintaining current retail electricity prices (as I don't think for a minute that either government or the energy sector has any desire to see electricity prices fall as should happen in a true market when supply exceeds supply).  Test project has been ongoing up here for a while:

 

http://www.emec.org.uk/projects/hydrogen-projects/bighit/

 

Lots of possibilities, although the one question I have is where all the water will come from if we start producing Hydrogen on an industrial scale...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, Stones said:

Lots of possibilities, although the one question I have is where all the water will come from if we start producing Hydrogen on an industrial scale...

 

Oh well, that's simple, they'll just have to build desalination plants powered by..hydrogen. Magic perpetual cycle 😁

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, SimonD said:

 

And to play devil's advocate, how many people are going to want to give up additional space for DHW storage when the heatpump hasn't got the output of their combi-boiler 😈😉

<shrugs> They don't want to give up the space for storage, they don't want to pay ~3x their current gas bill for hydrogen and they don't want climate change. They get to pick any one of those, and storage (small tank with rapid recovery as per Mixergy or phase change per Sunamp) is likely to be the most palatable.

 

2 minutes ago, Stones said:

Hydrogen is interesting. Commercially, due to the conversion % it has as far as I know never been economically viable, however the advent of excess electricity produced by renewables means that there is a resource that can be used to make it economic to produce, whilst at the same time maintaining current retail electricity prices (as I don't think for a minute that either government or the energy sector has any desire to see electricity prices fall as should happen in a true market when supply exceeds supply).

The problem is that the sheer amount of energy needed to convert more than a tiny fraction of the gas supply is immense. In 2019 the UK consumed ~310 TWh of gas - in the same year total UK electricity generation was 325 TWh.

Assuming a round-trip efficiency of 50% for hydrogen and a COP of 3 for heat pumps, that means either ~100 TWh of new generation for the heat pump option, or ~600 TWh for hydrogen. The difference between the two - even before allowing for other hard-to-treat areas like aviation or fertilizer production - is getting on for double the existing UK generation for 2019.

 

Hydrogen can - and IMHO certainly will - be used to sop up excess renewable generation, but given the current price of hydrogen (equivalent to ~$0.05/kWh for hydrogen made by steam-methane reformation) then it'll just go to industrial uses rather than be put into the grid for home heating.

 

2 minutes ago, Stones said:

Lots of possibilities, although the one question I have is where all the water will come from if we start producing Hydrogen on an industrial scale...

I litre of water contains 111g of hydrogen, which is ~4.5 kWh. I'm using 12,000 kWh per year of gas at the moment, that translates to ~3m3 of water - less than a 5% increase in my annual water bill.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
30 minutes ago, DamonHD said:

What is is that concerns you about dependence on electricity? 


not just electricity, any single source of power, it’s called diversity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, joe90 said:


not just electricity, any single source of power, it’s called diversity.

If you break down the SI units that make up energy, you get Kg, m and s.

That's been sorted by BREXIT as we will go back to lb and feet.

And the time element, the s, will go back to 1973. 

So the government has it covered.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, AliG said:

...

Aarrgghh. I could put my fist through the screen there is so much stupidity being spouted by everyone.

...

People aren't stupid, but they do need good information to understand things

....

 

Exactly right @AliG.

Lets just do a little roll call of all those who would lead us who depend on ill - informed followers :

  • Donald Trump
  • Boris ....

sorry Mods didn' mean it, honest 😲

 

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

A hydrogen fuel revolution is coming – here’s why we might not want it

 

6 February 2021

 

New Scientist

 

 

A hydrogen fuel revolution is coming – here’s why we might not want itAdam Vaughan

Hydrogen is widely touted as a green fuel for everything from cars and planes to heating homes. But all too often it has a dirty secret

 

Geoffroy Decrecy

IF HYDROGEN is the future, it has been for quite some time. In his 1875 novel The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne imagined the element replacing coal as a fuel, split out of water to “furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light”. Similar noises were made in the 1970s oil crisis, when hydrogen was touted as an alternative fuel for cars. And then there was US president George W. Bush in 2003, latching on to a new enthusiasm for hydrogen vehicles during the first wave of real concern about climate change. “We can make a fundamental difference for the future of our children,” he said.

 

Now hydrogen is back – again. From the US to Australia, and the European Union to China, the past year has seen an almost daily torrent of multibillion-dollar government funding pledges, tests of new technologies from trains and planes to domestic boilers, industry statements and analyses, and championing by leaders such as UK prime minister Boris Johnson. “We’re finding it hard to keep up with,” says Simon Bennett at the International Energy Agency.

 

“The idea of a hydrogen economy is not new,” says Martin Tengler at analysts Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Now we’re in another hype cycle. The question is: is it different, or not?”

 

Tengler is one of many who thinks it is. Meanwhile, another question hangs much heavier than hydrogen in the air: is it really a clean, green fuel to help combat climate change? Or does the significant lobbying of fossil-fuel interests for a hydrogen economy indicate other priorities?

 

Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe and the most abundant. On paper, it has a lot going for it as a fuel. Although it rarely exists on its own on Earth, it can be produced using clean electricity to split essentially inexhaustible water, producing only oxygen as a by-product.

 

Once made, hydrogen acts as a chemical energy carrier, rather like oil or gas, that can be piped or transported to where it is needed. It stores three times as much energy per unit of mass as conventional petrol, and when it “burns” in air – releasing that stored energy – it simply combines with oxygen to produce water again. In that sense, it is the ultimate green fuel.

 

In 2019, a project heated homes in the Netherlands with 100 percent hydrogen for the first timeEnapter

Perhaps the most notorious attempt to use hydrogen to change the world ended with the fiery demise of the German airship Hindenburg in New Jersey in 1937, when the hydrogen gas used to give it buoyancy caught fire. Technology for the safe storage of hydrogen has since come on in leaps and bounds. In recent decades, the idea of creating a “hydrogen economy” has focused on developing liquid hydrogen as an alternative green fuel, mainly for cars.

 

One thing that is different now is how hydrogen is being touted as a way to decarbonise “hard-to-abate” sectors that are difficult to power directly with clean electricity. These range from long-distance road haulage, aviation and shipping to naturally carbon-intensive industrial processes such as steel and petrochemical production (see “Six uses for hydrogen”).

 

Green, grey or blue?

The past two years of climate pledges by businesses and governments, from the UK to China, has made clear that even these industries will have to transform if we are to meet the overarching goal of net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century. And hydrogen figures big in that goal: the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre says that between 10 and 23 per cent of the EU’s final energy consumption could be covered by hydrogen in 2050; the energy company Shell puts the figure at 10 per cent globally by 2100.

 

Meanwhile, the rapidly falling costs of power from wind and solar farms has made the large-scale, clean production of hydrogen using clean electricity plausible. The problem is that the vast bulk of hydrogen isn’t currently made that way.

 

Humanity already produces around 70 million tonnes of hydrogen each year, mainly for use in making ammonia fertiliser and chemicals such as methanol, and to remove impurities during oil refining. Some 96 per cent of this hydrogen is itself made directly from fossil fuels – mostly natural gas, followed by coal and then oil. This overwhelmingly uses a process known as steam reformation that releases carbon dioxide.

 

A hydrogen car refuels at a filling station in GermanyMauritius images GmbH/Alamy

Only 4 per cent of hydrogen is made in the way Jules Verne envisaged, using electrolysis to split it out of water. Much of the electricity to supply even that measly share of the hydrogen market comes not from green sources, but from fossil fuel power plants. Far from being green, the hydrogen produced globally today has a carbon footprint on a par with the UK and Indonesia combined, says Tengler – about 830 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

 

That brings us to the strange point where transparent hydrogen gets colourful, at least linguistically. “Grey” hydrogen is so-called because it is made from fossil fuels using steam reformation. It costs about $1 a kilogram. “Blue” hydrogen typically “buries” the emissions associated with producing it using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology – an approach which exists, albeit only on a pilot scale so far – for about $2 per kilogram at the cheapest. Finally, there is “green” hydrogen, produced by electrolysers running off renewable electricity. For the most part, this costs upwards of $4 a kilogram.

 

When it comes to decarbonisation, “there’s no point in grey hydrogen”, says Rob Gibson at National Grid ESO, which runs the UK’s electricity transmission network. But a move towards large-scale green hydrogen production would be very costly, says Evangelos Gazis at Aurora Energy Research in Oxford, UK. This is where blue hydrogen comes in. “If we want to reach scale, probably [blue] will be inevitable,” says Gazis. Others, such as Ralf Dickel at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, make the case that blue hydrogen is needed in the short term because using renewable electricity to displace coal and gas power plants achieves deeper CO2 curbs than using it to make green hydrogen.

 

Four of the biggest existing blue hydrogen schemes are in North America, and the UK government is funding three trial projects. Some advocates argue that such schemes will be an enabler for green hydrogen, helping to build infrastructure to tackle the fiddly question of getting hydrogen to where it is needed (see “A devil of a detail”). Others see blue hydrogen very differently. Because it still involves extracting gas, oil and coal, Friends of the Earth Europe has branded it “fossil hydrogen”, a lifeline for struggling fossil fuel firms.

 

Airbus aims to get zero-emission hydrogen planes flying by 2035Airbus

Certainly, the sponsors of a group such as the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hydrogen are a who’s who of fossil-fuel interests, including Shell, petroleum refiner Equinor, gas network firm Cadent and gas boiler-maker Baxi. But Tengler doesn’t buy the argument that such support is a cover for business-as-usual. “Just because they are fossil-fuel companies, we shouldn’t exclude them from the future,” he says.

 

There is, however, the undeniable problem that blue hydrogen doesn’t capture all the CO2 released while making the gas. A first CCS stage removes between around 50 and 70 per cent. Adding a second, costly step takes that to 85 to 90 per cent, with some pioneering projects aiming for more. Equinor’s H2H Saltend blue hydrogen scheme near Hull, UK, should capture 95 per cent of CO2 using an alternative to steam reformation known as autothermal reforming.

 

Still, for most blue hydrogen schemes, at least 10 per cent of emissions aren’t captured. Tengler calculates that offsetting such carbon emissions with reforestation would require an area between the size of England and that of Spain, which is about four times as big. The scale of offsetting depends on what fossil fuel the hydrogen is extracted from and how much is being made by 2050.

 

He still thinks it is worth it, on the basis that using blue hydrogen still creates fewer emissions than burning coal, oil or gas. “There is that portion of emissions that just don’t get captured. Does that mean we don’t do it? I would say we still probably should. If there’s the option of blue or nothing, then do blue,” says Tengler.

 

Jan Rosenow at the Regulatory Assistance Project, a non-profit organisation that works to expedite a clean-energy transition, disagrees. He likens blue hydrogen to the coal industry’s attempts 15 years ago to promote “clean coal” plants fitted with CCS. That never happened, because the rapidly falling cost of alternatives including renewables rendered it uneconomical.

 

If not blue hydrogen, then what are the prospects for green hydrogen? The EU, for example, has less than 1 gigawatt of electrolyser capacity now, but in July 2020 it set ambitious targets of 6 GW by 2024 and 40 GW by 2030. Germany is working with Morocco to build a project using solar power.

 

A dizzying cast of big companies have entered or are planning to enter the green hydrogen fray, including oil giants Repsol and Shell and the world’s biggest offshore wind farm builder, Ørsted. Spanish electricity company Iberdrola is building a solar power plant to create green hydrogen in 2021, initially for conventional uses such as making fertiliser. “When we develop enough technology and scale, we can go for other sectors like the hard-to-abate, lorries, probably planes,” says Samuel Perez at Iberdrola. Analyst Rystad Energy, based in Norway, counts 60 GW of green hydrogen projects planned globally – but it expects only half will appear by 2035 due to high costs.

 

Closing the gap between the price of green and grey hydrogen will take time. Producing one kilogram of hydrogen requires about 50 to 55 kilowatt-hours of electricity (a medium-sized UK home uses about 8 kWh a day on average) and 9 to 10 litres of water. Up to 86 per cent of the costs of green hydrogen are for electricity to power the electrolysers. But wind and solar power costs have dropped rapidly in the past decade, and are expected to fall further.

 

A train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell near Vienna, Austria, in 2020Alstom/Christoph Busse

The electrolysers themselves account for the remaining cost. They are an old technology, but one that its makers claim can be made cheaper. Graham Cooley at UK manufacturer ITM Power says a 10 megawatt electrolyser costs half as much as it did three years ago, and the price will fall further, especially because of developments in China, now a major manufacturer of these devices.

 

Duncan Clark at Ørsted, which is in phase two of its Gigastack project using a wind farm off the Yorkshire coast of the UK to supply green hydrogen to a nearby oil refinery, says the technology is at a “special moment”, akin to where offshore wind power was a decade ago before costs dropped dramatically and installations proliferated. “Only a few things are big and interesting enough to rival offshore wind, and green hydrogen is one of them,” he says.

 

Even so, government interventions are likely to be needed, such as subsidies to make green hydrogen cheaper and carbon taxes to make grey hydrogen more expensive. “The market in the next 10 years is likely to be policy-driven. There will be a strong reliance on public funding for projects,” says Bennett.

 

Carry on regardless?

Hydrogen’s success may in the end be decided by society’s willingness to pay for it. Green hydrogen will need billions, either through taxation or energy bills: Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that it will require $150 billion over the next decade globally to bring the cost down to a competitive level. “Someone has got to pick up the bill,” says Bennett.

 

Nonetheless, Bennett is optimistic that the current round of hype over hydrogen is different. This is partly because of the near-unanimity from different industries on its potential and partly because, for many hard-to-abate sectors, we have few alternatives on the table. “If we don’t have [clean] hydrogen available by 2030 or 2040, we think we’re going to be in a sticky place for some of these sectors,” says Bennett.

 

“There are certainly risks on being overly bullish on the future hydrogen economy,” he says. “But I think it’s a bad time to be an out-and-out sceptic because there’s clearly momentum and funding going into projects in the short term regardless.” The question today no longer seems to be if hydrogen will help us fight climate change, but a matter of whether it ends up as the star turn or just a bit player.

 

 

Six uses for Hydrogen

1 TRAINS, PLANES AND…

 

The glossiest of many new uses touted for hydrogen is in transport. Hydrogen cars have faltered before, as oil prices yo-yoed and battery powered electric cars emerged as a viable technology. But for larger vehicles, the batteries required are big and heavy, possibly creating an opening for hydrogen.

 

Two hydrogen fuel-cell trains built by the firm Alstom were put into commercial service in Germany in 2018, and one in Austria in 2020. The UK has also been trialling this approach on its rail network.

 

Hydrogen’s high energy content in relation to its weight has also caught the eye of plane-makers. In the UK, 2020 saw the flight of a six-seater hydrogen passenger plane, while European aerospace firm Airbus unveiled three concept hydrogen planes.

 

“When we go to larger commercial aircraft-type applications, we see the need for hydrogen, because in very simple terms it has thousands of times more energy per kilogram than even the best batteries today,” says Glenn Llewellyn at Airbus. Julian Renz at green aviation company ZeroAvia, which undertook the six-seater test flight, says he thinks hydrogen-powered planes will be cheaper to maintain than battery ones, because of the limited life cycle of batteries.

 

2 … AUTOMOBILES

 

While most analysts think battery electric vehicles are the future for passenger cars, some car-makers believe that the faster refuelling of hydrogen vehicles will win the day in some places. “I definitely see a market for hydrogen passenger cars,” says Mark Freymüller at Hyundai. Under a European scheme, in which Hyundai is offering cars on a pay-per-use model, the vehicles are fuelled solely with green hydrogen. “It is important to be emission-free,” he says. Hydrogen trucks may also prove more viable than battery electric lorries, because of the size and weight of battery needed to power a lorry.

 

3 HOME HEATING

 

Many uses for hydrogen are mooted, but some are far from guaranteed to materialise. One is decarbonising home heating, with proponents arguing that countries, including the UK, could repurpose existing gas pipe networks to carry hydrogen and swap natural gas boilers for ones capable of burning hydrogen.

 

Leeds in the UK has been mooted as an early candidate for switching entirely to hydrogen instead of natural gas for heating and cooking, with a 2016 report by the local energy network finding the idea “technically possible and economically viable”. In November, the UK government said it would support a village-scale hydrogen heating trial by 2025.

 

Sceptics say it would be more efficient to use renewable electricity directly with heat pumps to warm homes, rather than losing energy by converting it to hydrogen first. A recent report by Jan Rosenow and a team at the UK Energy Research Centre concluded that there is so much uncertainty about hydrogen’s role in decarbonising heat that other options should be the UK’s priority in the next decade. These include networks that pipe heat to many homes from a large, central source such as an industrial plant, energy efficiency improvements and heat pumps.

 

4 SUPPORTING THE GRID

 

Firms running electricity grids like hydrogen. The National Grid ESO in the UK says it must be deployed if we are to achieve net-zero emissions, and sees hydrogen supplying the flexibility that natural gas does today, by providing electricity when wind and solar output is low, or heating during cold snaps. “It has the potential to provide a lot of flexibility,” says Rob Gibson at National Grid ESO.

 

5 HEAVY INDUSTRY

 

Steel is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, partly due to the coking coal used in the production of the metal from iron ore. In August, operations started at a steel-making plant in Sweden to use hydrogen instead of the coal, which produces water instead of carbon dioxide. The project, called HYBRIT, aims to make fossil-free steel commercially available by 2026. Any scale-up will require green or blue hydrogen (see main article) to make the switch worthwhile.

 

Oil refineries are one of the biggest users of hydrogen today, mainly to lower the sulphur content of diesel fuel. That is partly why projects such as Ørsted’s Gigastack hydrogen production plant in the north-east of England have sited an electrolyser, powered by an offshore wind farm, next to a refinery.

 

6 MAKING GREEN AND BLUE

 

Shell is among the companies exploring whether the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands could host the world’s biggest green hydrogen scheme. Spanish oil firm Repsol is eyeing the possibility of making green hydrogen next to its refineries. Far bigger green hydrogen projects are being floated, such as Australia’s vast “Asian Renewable Energy Hub” to use renewable electricity to produce hydrogen for use domestically and for export to Asia.

 

Blue hydrogen projects, which use natural gas to make hydrogen but capture most of the carbon dioxide that is usually released in the process, include Equinor’s Saltend plant in the UK. The company hopes to make a final investment decision on this in 2023. It has applied for UK government funding. Other blue hydrogen proponents include fossil fuel companies such as Woodside, Australia’s biggest oil and gas producer, and the government of Alberta in Canada, which hopes to use the approach to reduce CO2 emissions in the state, which is better known for its highly polluting tar sands oil fields.

 

 

A DEVIL OF A DETAIL

While hydrogen has many potential advantages as an energy carrier (see main story), it poses some significant problems. While containing a lot of energy per unit mass (high gravimetric energy density), hydrogen takes up a lot of space (low volumetric energy density). What’s more, hydrogen molecules are so small they can leak out of a container.

 

Both factors make storing and moving it problematic. “Hydrogen is a devil of a thing to transport,” says Thomas Baxter at the University of Aberdeen, UK. “That’s why most hydrogen plants are adjacent to the use.”

 

It means visions of countries with big renewable electricity generation resources becoming exporters of “green” hydrogen are just that for now, visions. Such ambitions are a key plank, for example, of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, published in November 2019, but are seen as a long way off, given the volumes required and the extra costs of liquefying hydrogen and shipping it. “For the time being, we would expect local production is where all the projects will be,” says Simon Bennett at the International Energy Agency.

 

To fulfil hydrogen’s potential, more transport capacity will be needed generally, be it by tanker truck, ships or pipes – many of which will need upgrading to carry hydrogen without leaks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now