back to article Green hydrogen 'transitioning from a shed-based industry' says researcher as the UK hedges its H2 strategy

The UK government has released its delayed hydrogen strategy which – in a strange move for a colourless gas – hedges its bets between green and blue. The government claimed the UK-wide hydrogen economy could be worth £900m by 2030, potentially £13bn by 2050. In the next 10 years the universe's most abundant element could …

  1. Elledan

    Might be worse than burning coal

    After the recent study by Howarth et al. [1] on the carbon cost of 'blue' hydrogen, many questions are being raised about how much sense it even makes, and whether burning the natural gas directly doesn't make more sense. Taking leakage into account, as well as the inefficiencies of carbon capture, blue hydrogen might very well be worse than burning coal in terms of its effects on the climate. Less polluting probably, though.

    There's also the thing that CCS has never been applied on this scale, and we still have to sort out small details like where we would be storing all of this captured CO2 and prevent it from simply leaking into the atmosphere during a careless moment or leak in whatever reservoir is picked.

    As for green hydrogen, at this point there is only one realistic source of it, and that is from nuclear power. At least if we want to have significant amounts of it. That's why e.g. in Poland companies are looking at having SMRs installed to produce both electricity and hydrogen for industrial processes.

    Industrial processes is highly likely where hydrogen will remain for the foreseeable future considering how much hydrogen is used by these processes, and how long it'll take for production to ramp up.

    [1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ese3.956

    1. Josco

      Re: Might be worse than burning coal

      Absolutely agree, nuclear is the only valid solution to our energy needs, SMRs more so. This is proven technology as used in submarines and you don't see many submariners with two heads or other radiation issues.

      Then we can talk about nuclear fission...

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Might be worse than burning coal

        Blue Hydrogen is greenwashing on a massive. country-wide scale, and pretty much what I'd expect from the Tories.

        I can't wait to see what sort of subsidy we'll be paying oil companies to extract exactly the same natural gas they're already extracting, for the privilege of losing 20% of the energy in the process. It's the perfect Conservative party exchange: lots of PR, massive payments to large industry, semblance of giving a fuck and the pieces rearranged without anything being achieved. This one really does my head in.

      2. BloggsyMaloan

        Re: Might be worse than burning coal

        >you don't see many submariners with two heads or other radiation issues

        PR containment fully operational, sir!

        >Then we can talk about nuclear fission...

        Haven't people been doing that for decades? Isn't talking the easy part?

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: Might be worse than burning coal

          Nah Nuclear fusion is easy so long as you stage it right... Doing something useful with it like running an electric oven (instead of say turning it to a shadow of meal) that's the hard part.

          Nuclear icon because boom.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Might be worse than burning coal

          A close relative was in the Navy, and for much of his service was an engineer on Renown. He died of a type of brain tumour that less than a handful of people a year get. The Navy denied that there was any relationship between him lying underneath the reactor with a spanner in his hand and his death, but his widow was able to claim on a life insurance policy.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Might be worse than burning coal

            I'm the AC who posted this. AC, because it is still deeply personal; and posting under my ID is not appropriate. Why the downvote for a true account of a family tragedy?

            1. genghis_uk

              Re: Might be worse than burning coal

              I was not the down voter but correlation /= causation.

              A friend of mine was also an engineer on the Resolution class subs - he is fighting fit and in his 80's. He is a keen sailor and does voluntary work with sea rescue... People's mileage vary massively.

      3. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: Might be worse than burning coal

        "Absolutely agree, nuclear is the only valid solution to our energy needs,"

        I think you are likely correct. But if you think that the politicians have promised "zero-emissions by 20xx" without the slightest idea about how to achieve that or even whether it can be achieved are ready to build thousands of nuclear power plants, you are surely mistaken. They will very likely only embrace nuclear power after every other "solution" has failed. I'd not be surprised if it turns out that the construction of thousands of hastily planned and built nuclear plants is in humanity's future. I think the prospect of thousands of hastily planned and built nuclear plants should make all of us a bit nervous.

        On top of which while it is unlikely that climate change is an existential threat to mankind, nuclear proliferation could be exactly that. The answer to that probably is adoption sort of fission plant that uses technologies that don't use and can't easily breed weapons grade U235 or Pu239. (U233 -- "Thorium" technologies -- is also fissionable, but it makes a rather mediocre bomb). The problem is that we don't really have an easily replicable off-the-shelf design for such power plants.

        1. Major N

          Re: Might be worse than burning coal

          20xx? Isnt that the year we all get turned into Mega Man and have to fight Dr Wily's robot hordes? sounds about right...

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Paul Mitchell

        Re: Might be worse than burning coal

        "Absolutely agree, nuclear is the only valid solution to our energy needs"

        Not necessarily true.

        If we get green hydrogen (other energy storage systems are available) sorted out, there's no reason to think that we can't have a load of wind farms driving the process when it's windy/solar farms when it's sunny; and then hydrogen powerstations for when it's not.

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          Re: Might be worse than burning coal

          "there's no reason to think that we can't have a load of wind farms driving the process"

          Sadly, there is reason to believe pretty much exactly that. To paraphrase a famous quote from John Maynard Keynes “The stock market can remain irrational longer than you and I can remain solvent.” == "Output from intermittent energy sources can remain inadequate longer than any reasonably sized storage can continue to deliver backup power."

          But wait ... it gets worse. We can't currently even begin to guess the probability distribution function(s) (PDFs) that we would need to size the wind/solar generation or the storage facilities for zero emissions without nuclear power. (We do know that hydro, tidal and grid scale geothermal look to be inadequate although they can certainly help). We don't even know if it is actually possible to formulate those PDFs. For that matter, we don't know for sure that there are enough suitable sites and raw materials for wind to generate the average 40 to 80 Tw of electricity that would probably be required to support the 7 or 8 or 9 billion humans on the planet at a decent standard of living even most of the time.

          Numerate people have actually looked at this and their analyses are not encouraging. Recommended reading -- https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/post-index/ Tom Murphy is a physicist from the University of California at San Diego. He's written a great many articles on various aspects of energy and sustainability. Moreover the guy actually runs his house (mostly) on solar power, drives a (mostly) electric car. While I don't agree with him on everything, all of what he has to say seems VERY well thought out. And the math looks to be entirely correct -- a welcome change from the wishful thinking that drives way too much thinking on energy

    2. bigtreeman

      Re: Might be worse than burning coal

      CCS is a joke and has, in Australia been a conduit for reckless government funding to fossil fuel companies. For all the $millions wasted there is little solid technology come out. Could have just ploughed all that money directly into planting trees, natures proven CCS and already had decades old forests doing their stuff.

  2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Greenhouse gas

    Hydrogen when burned produces the greenhouse vapour H2O. However, most of that greenhouse vapour in the world is produced by the sun shining on the oceans.

    1KW per square metre will produce roughly a third of a gram per square metre per second. 8 hours effective sun per day over 30,000 by 4,000 kms means 40 million tons per day of H2O vapour.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Greenhouse gas

      >produces the greenhouse vapour H2O

      Yes, I think because the public emphasis has been on CO2 etc. it will probably have passed many people by that the main greenhouse 'gas' today is H2O. The continued rise of CO2 levels is worrying for other reasons; it has been a few years since we passed the point at which oceans switched from released CO2 for cooling to releasing H2O.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Greenhouse gas

        The continued rise of CO2 levels is worrying for other reasons; it has been a few years since we passed the point at which oceans switched from released CO2 for cooling to releasing H2O.

        Err.. what? Unless that was sarcasm.. But pre-Greenwash, sun & wind cause evaporation, causing ocean cooling. A process that continues and has virtually nothing to do with CO2.

        Other than of course CO2 being the gas that keeps on giving, and has launched a thousand subsiidies. Everything from extreme CCS, like Econtricity turning CO2 into diamonds to ideas like Green vs Blue hydrogen.

        But the good thing about that scam is it can be a displacement activity. 'Renewable' power is already too cheap to meter, so windmill operators can use idle time, like during winter blocking highs. They tend to bring prolonged periods of low temperatures, so producing H2 for heat will give wind farmers something else to sell. So UK energy will be even cheaper!

        I'm sure the government will eventually work this out. The free market and all that.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Greenhouse gas

        Whoever taught you physics should be fired.

    2. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Greenhouse gas

      My understanding is that water vapour in the atmosphere goes up with temperature, ie producing water vapour is unlikely to raise temperatures much on its own but it works as a positive feedback when the temperature goes up for other reasons.

      This is where the modelling gets complicated, as it is necessary to know if you get more or less clouds and where.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Greenhouse gas

        This is where the modelling gets complicated, as it is necessary to know if you get more or less clouds and where.

        It's more that the modelling gets speculative. Or in layman's terms, wrong. See also-

        https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/07/un-climate-panel-confronts-implausibly-hot-forecasts-future-warming

        But as climate scientists face this alarming reality, the climate models that help them project the future have grown a little too alarmist. Many of the world’s leading models are now projecting warming rates that most scientists, including the modelmakers themselves, believe are implausibly fast.

        But such is science. Took long enough for the sim-scientists to realise that if there's a difference between reality, and simulation, then it's probably the simulation that's wrong. Politics of course works differently, and lags the science. Plus thousands of lobbyists are due to descend on Glasgow in pursuit of hot subsidies.

        (Ok, to be fair, climate models are also incredibly crude compared to reality. So when programmed with faulty assumptions, produce faulty results. Good'ol GIGO. The 'experts' had some opportuntities to do some sanity checking though before assuming all cloud feedbacks are positive. I mean which is warmer, a cloudy summer's day, or a clear summer's day?)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Boffin

          Re: Greenhouse gas

          Disclaimer: am not a climate scientist, do share cafeteria with some.

          Is important to understand four things about this problem that models are running too hot.

          (1) It is quite new. Older, simpler models did not exhibit this warm bias. Not even sure all new ones do: some certainly do however.

          (2) Climate scientists did not take a long time to realise that there was a problem because they are not stupid people, and they test their models for data in the past ('hindcasts', is lovely term) for which they know the actual real data, and thus discover the problem rather quickly. If your model runs hot then you know that it does as soon as you have run it from 1850 or whenever you choose to start. Is not the case that climate person would ever say that. well, if model predicts oceans boiled in 1970 they must have boiled in 1970 and we are all now living in matrix or anything less silly than that.

          So why did these models not get fixed before CMIP6? Well, last two things are about this.

          (3) These are simulations of physics system. There is no knob in them which says 'adjust climate sensitivity' because there is no knob in the physics system they simulate to do that. So if they run hot (or cold, or wrong) you have to find out which bit of the physics you are getting wrong. And perhaps you go to the people who write the cloud part of the model – as article you cite says, clouds are far too small to model directly so they are 'parametrised' in jargon (is terrible jargon) – and you say 'your model is wrong, you must fix it'. But cloud people say, 'OK, where is it wrong? We could adjust this value, but this is a value we have gone out and actually measured in the world, and it's right, we think: if you say it is wrong then we need someone to go out and measure it again and get a different value and then explain what was wrong with the old value and we will need to probably justify this publically especially to the people who measured the old value'. And so with all the other changes you could make: must understand what is actually wrong either with the measured physics values or with the program that models the physics (yes, yes, chemistry etc: I am a mathematician it is all the same to me). You can not just adjust the model.

          And finally (4): this process takes a very long time to do. Big model perhaps runs at two or three years a day on big HPC system. You might need 50 year run to see how it is doing. So turnaround for a reasonable test of any change is perhaps a month. And perhaps you can explore several changes at once (you do of course) but soon you run out of HPC resource: you can only run so many. Pretty soon you run out of time: if you want to contribute data to CMIP6 then your big runs need to start perhaps in 2017 because they might take a year and then you need more runs starting from their output (takes thousands of model-years to spin up the ocean) and you are soon out of time. And once you have started one of these big runs that's it: you can't just change the model even if you discover in 2019 what the problem is because you obviously must submit all your runs from the same model and not cheat.

          So you are stuck now: might say 'let's just put back CMIP6 deadline' but turns out that humans have not much time left to deal with problem and putting back deadline will perhaps be a problem therefore. So you start the runs and submit the data, with caveats on it saying that is clear the model runs hot (or cold, or gets winds on southern oceans wrong, or something). And because of course you also (must! you can not submit to CMIP6 unless you submit these) submit the hindcasts, it is possible to get a good idea of how hot the model is, because for hindcasts you have the real data too. And that lets you correct in part for the warm bias for runs going into the future.

          And perhaps by the time the IPCC publishes their report you have already understood what is wrong with the cloud / chemistry / ocean bit of the model and have now new runs which are better, but it is now too late until the next time.

          And while doing all this you are completely open about it and any interested party can get hold of the code and configuration of your model and check it. But still people either uninformed or malignant say 'oh those silly climate scientists they are making things up'. Of course they do.

          Well, my largest problem is trisectors and I need no HPC, just ink, paper coffee & LaTeX: glad I am not climate scientist.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Greenhouse gas

            (1) It is quite new. Older, simpler models did not exhibit this warm bias. Not even sure all new ones do: some certainly do however.

            Yes, they did. Everything from Hansen's infamous testimonial model onwards. His, and now Schmidt's GISS models have been notoriously hot.

            If your model runs hot then you know that it does as soon as you have run it from 1850 or whenever you choose to start. Is not the case that climate person would ever say that. well, if model predicts oceans boiled in 1970 they must have boiled in 1970 and we are all now living in matrix or anything less silly than that.

            You would hope so, but that's not what has been happening. Climate models are notoriously crude, but that's just the nature of the beast. Break an entire planetary ecosystem into a small number of cells, add 4-5 parameters per cell, run the model. Claim anything from 2-11C, claim funding, call anyone who disagrees with simulated reality a denier. Both Hansen and Schmidt have been doing this for decades.

            But such is politics. Reanalysis isn't new, and CMIP6 is just the latest comparison to go along with the latest IPCC report. Which often gets called 'science', even though it's a highly politicised literature review. Especially when vested interests focus on the SPM, which is an entirely political document.

            The other challenge is of course the reality you choose, and the bits of reality you choose to ignore. So for example in claiming July's been the hottest in human history, and therefore build windmills-

            https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-content/sotc/global/map-land-sfc-mntp/map-land-sfc-mntp-202107.png

            Which shows a couple of interesting data points. Like all the ones in grey where there's no data. But in sim-science, absence of data isn't a problem as it can simply be invented. Again GISS is notorious for kridging and assuming constant temperatures over thousands of square kilometers covering varying geography. But for July's doom mongering, NOAA also seems not to have noticed record cold temperatures affecting crops across Brazil.

            But see also-

            https://www.icelandreview.com/news/3000-year-old-trees-excavated-under-glacier/

            Ancient tree stumps found under Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in Southeast Iceland are confirmed to be roughly 3,000 years old. RÚV reports.

            A specialist believes the remarkably well-preserved stumps were part of a massive forest that disappeared after a long period of a warm climate.

            And inconvenient finds like this aren't unique to Iceland. But get denied by sim-scientists because the 21st Century is the hottest ever because CO2. Trees and other vegetation uncovered by glacial retreat were obviously growing in microclimates under the ice..

            (3) These are simulations of physics system. There is no knob in them which says 'adjust climate sensitivity' because there is no knob in the physics system they simulate to do that

            Yes there are. The Science article basically says that, ie the way the clouds have been simulated. If you looked into how climate models work, you'll find all have degrees of parameterisation and assumptions about how ocean or atmosphere is meant to work in that model. How the assumptions are programmed produces confirmation biases, or just the parameterisations produce wildly diverging results from reality.

            In theory, this should be a good thing. So if simulation is very different to reality, reality is probably right, and something is wrong with the model. Or just call anyone who points that out a denier, and demand even more money to produce wrong results faster.

            And once you have started one of these big runs that's it: you can't just change the model even if you discover in 2019 what the problem is because you obviously must submit all your runs from the same model and not cheat.

            Or you do cheat, and adjust historic temperature data. Cool that, and voila, an exagerated warming trend. This sadly happens a lot. See 'disputed' 1920's American temperature results. Plenty of historical documentation around the Dust Bowl, and Great Depression. But if temperatures were higher then than now, that doesn't fit with CO2 dogma. See also continued attempts to erase the MWP, LIA, RWP and various other inconvenient bits of history..

            So you are stuck now: might say 'let's just put back CMIP6 deadline' but turns out that humans have not much time left to deal with problem

            Well, you're right about deadlines. Flights and hotels for 20,000 people heading for Glasgow with the expectation of 'wealthy' nations giving the UN $100bn a year just can't wait. I mean the UN managed the Oil for Food programme so well that a chap by the name of Maurice Strong got given personal cheques for his valuable work! And then went on to trying that scam again with the UN EP. $100bn a year, and the UN's.. lax accounting standards is great business!

            Of course if climate sensitivity is low, and assumptions wrt CO2 are correct, like ECS per doubling CO2.. then we have all the time in the world. There isn't enough carbon to double CO2 levels again, and so at around 1.2C/doubling, it's a non-problem.

            But still people either uninformed or malignant say 'oh those silly climate scientists they are making things up'.

            Indeed. Wheel out a Greta to poute and go "How Dare You!". Greta Mk1 was David Suzuki's daughter, who followed much the same playbook, but didn't have Greta's slick PR team. But you are absolutely correct that a lot of people are woefully uninformed, misinformed, or just malignant. Or dare I say it, reality deniers. But again, $100bn a year at risk, and won't someone think of the grants?

            Oh, you may also find this interesting-

            http://www.raa-journal.org/raa/index.php/raa/article/view/4906

            In order to evaluate how much Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) has influenced Northern Hemisphere surface air temperature trends, it is important to have reliable estimates of both quantities. Sixteen different estimates of the changes in TSI since at least the 19th century were compiled from the literature.

            This stuff usually gets glossed over in WG1, or given about 1 page by 1 author who is heavily invested in maintaining CO2 dogma. Hey Jo, where you going with that hockey stick in your hand?

            Or course to suggest solar variability is heresy, because TSI is constant. Ish. Well, constant enough that it's variability is greater than the 'back radiation' from CO2's 4 absorption/emission points. 3 of which overlap with H2O, which is a more potent 'GHG'

            And given CO2's spectrum has been known for a very long time, that kind of stuff is measureable and quantifiable. And even done by some orbital carbon observatorys that are basically flying spectrometers looking for CO2's emission peaks. And finding them in incovenient places, like over S.America.. And it's also possible to quantify spectral variations in solar output, which have all sorts of interesting effects on CO2, and photochemistry. And could also be rather important during a Grand Solar Minima.

            But no. Anyone who committs heresy by denying official CO2 and TSI dogma must be uninformed and 'malignant'.. Even though scientists are supposed to be ojective and sceptical.

            Oh, and riddle me this. We know the 'problem' is CO2's 'greenhouse' effect caused by 'trapping' heat. And we know the mechanism is based on the fundamental properties of CO2, ie it's absorption/emission spectrum. And this is quantifiable. It's done with instruments like the bandpass filter and spectrometer(s) onboard satellites like OCO-2.

            So given that it's pretty easy to actually directly measure CO2's 'back radiation' via some simple, standard instruments... Where are they? And why do some climate 'scientists' still insist on using thermometers, wooden or otherwise as proxies when the exact quantities are, well, quantifiable?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Boffin

              Re: Greenhouse gas

              Well I do not have time (and also am not climate scientist) to respond to this and also is sadly very clear no response would do any good.

              But simply to pick one thing. You talk about TSI. It has not been possible to measure luminosity of the Sun directly before about 1976 I think because it needs spacecraft. Any reconstruction since 'at least the 19th century' is necessarily based on proxies like observations of sunspots and some complicated model. And we do not trust models, I hear.

              But since 1976 we have better data. Even then it is hard because single instrument has not survived so long, so you need composites. Well, I look at this: https://arxiv.org/abs/0911.4002, and from figures in that looks like variation is between 1368w/m^2 to 1366w/m^2, but inconveniently downward between ~1980 and ~2003. Well, sure you can do black body calculation easily, but in case not I have done for you here: https://ln4.sync.com/dl/ac928c870/xv2u27c9-8qs763qk-zb5rrq8z-ykdgqwiq (this is PDF file on end of it, is not malignant link).

              If assume Solar constant has gone up by 5W/m^2 between 1979 and 2003 (it has not: this is much more than it has and in wrong direction!) then this would account for about 0.26K of warming. That is much less than observed figure (0.63K).

              So, well, obviously you should not trust me: I am illuminoid after all. Now I will go back and do more interesting maths. Will not respond further, sorry: is clear am wasting my time.

              Also '4-5 parameters per cell'? I think you have never ever been near a climate model written in the last 30 years (neither, really, have I, but again, coffee and talking to people.)

          2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

            Re: Greenhouse gas

            No upvotes? I have to presume no one likes seeing the sausages being made, but you can certainly have one from me.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Re: Greenhouse gas

      Water vapour is indeed aggressive greenhouse gas. But there is already essentially infinite source and sink of it: water, mostly in the oceans. Because water vapour can condense (look up! All of the sky I can see is full of a layer of condensed water vapour which is currently lowering surface temperature here) and evaporate freely this means it does not drive climate change: which is driven by gases which do not condense. It does amplify the warming effect very considerably: if we could dry the Earth then CO2-driven warming would be, well, it would be something we would need to keep the temperature high enough, in fact. But drying the Earth would also kill almost everything living on it, and is also a little impractical (more than a billion cubic kilometres of water in the oceans).

      One of mechanisms which allows possible 'snowball Earth' in the distant past is that as things cool, air becomes much drier and thus temperature will further fall. Is helped by albedo of clean ice being very high. The way out of these I think is that as most plant life is now dead nothing scavenges CO2, which then rises slowly until the ice starts melting. May also be that the ice gets dirty (lower albedo) over time I think.

  3. Adair Silver badge

    This newfangled

    ...[enter your nascent technology of choice] may be alright in the lab, but it will never be economical/safe at mass scale. Blah blah blah...

    When said by someone who actually knows what they are talking about the above statement is sometimes true. When it's spoken by an armchair expert like me it's usually ignorant bollocks.

  4. TeeCee Gold badge
    Mushroom

    KABOOM!

    Many of us are old enough to remember the transition from coal gas to natural gas. One of the big issues was that coal gas can be smelled when it leaks, while natural gas is odourless. The solution adopted (and in place to this day) as to add smelly stuff to natural gas. This is what you notice when there's a gas leak and it's smelly enough that you notice it at gas concentrations way below explosive.

    Hydrogen isn't even a molecule, there are no smelly molecules that'll do any more than settle out of it.

    Couple that with the fact that Hydrogen is the very devil to get to stay inside anything (let alone underground pipework - that's just sheer insanity) and the Kaboom is a "when, not if" issue.

    1. BloggsyMaloan

      Re: KABOOM!

      >Hydrogen isn't even a molecule

      Hmmmm....

      Hydrogen atoms are atoms. Hydrogen molecules are molecules, comprising two hydrogen atoms. Or has something changed since O Level Chemistry days?

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: has something changed since O Level Chemistry days?

        Well yeah : there are a lot less people who have their O-level in Chemistry.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: has something changed since O Level Chemistry days?

          GCSE chemistry. Describe how two identical Hydrogen atoms get together into a single Hydrogen molecule and why society doesn't embrace this

          'A' level: Describe how a Helium atoms feels about never hooking up with a partner and why it's life choices is valid.

          1. EBG

            kudos, sir

            right down to the question setter messing up their grammar. It's / Its &' Choices is'

    2. bigtreeman

      Re: KABOOM!

      Hydrogen stored as ammonia creates an excellent method to store and transport renewable energy for end use applications. CSIRO has been developing a membrane based process to convert hydrogen into ammonia.

      No KABOOM!

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: KABOOM!

        “ CSIRO has been developing a membrane based process to convert hydrogen into ammonia.”

        You could just attach a load of hydrogen to a bunch of carbon molecules, the more complex arrangements are even liquid at room temperature, even more complex arrangements are a true pain to ignite requiring lots of pressure and the right amount of O2 for them to finally combust, conditions being so extreme that a bucket of complex saturated hydrogen and carbon could put a fire out with no kaboom.

        The flashpoint of diesel is ~55c so long as it’s colder than that it won’t fume and the fumes therefore won’t ignite. Petrol is ~23c and gas is already a gas!!

      2. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: KABOOM!

        That also solves the problem of it not smelling, either! :-)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: KABOOM!

      Unfortunately you also are so old that you have forgotten that it was mostly producer gas i.e. hydrogen + carbon monoxide +,,. Apparently up to 50% hydrogen.

      So if the Victorians could reticulate hydrogen, we should be able to manage it

      I for one look forward to our hydrogen steampunk future

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: KABOOM!

        >I for one look forward to our hydrogen steampunk future

        Never work, you can't get the urchins anymore

    4. Jan 0

      Re: KABOOM!

      Coal gas is almost odourless after scrubbing. Methyl mercaptan was added to it to stop people inadvertently dying of carbon monoxide poisoning.

      Hydrogen was a substantial constituent of town gas.

  5. Chas E. Erath

    Any second now...

    Folks at Penn State University have (seemingly) been on the verge of a huge, H2 break thru for 15+ years:

    https://news.psu.edu/story/210444/2005/04/22/microbial-fuel-cell-high-yield-hydrogen-source-wastewater-cleaner

    https://news.psu.edu/story/173806/2009/09/29/renewable-hydrogen-production-becomes-reality-winery

    and many more:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=penn+state+university+bacteria+to+produce+hydrogen

    1. Nifty Silver badge

      Re: Any second now...

      It's called the perpetual funding machine.

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Any second now...

      Several teams have developed biological methods of producing fuel as a gas or liquid and they work very nicely in the lab.

      Nobody has yet managed to scale up such a process.

      1. Julz
        Joke

        Re: Any second now...

        My body has a quite effective way of producing flammable gas but what sort of hideous experiment have gone on that causes the poor team members to produce exploding piss!

  6. tip pc Silver badge

    We already burn Hydrogen

    Fossil fuels (are they really) are complex saturated hydrocarbons. Basically the carbon carries along a load of hydrogen that is liberated from the carbon and joins with oxygen from the air releasing a load of heat energy in the process. That energy is then transferred into something useful, heat transferred into movement that drives an engine or heats something like water to heat your home or spin a turbine for generating electricity.

    Most people don’t understand that petrol, diesel & natural gas are really hydrogen carriers that are convenient to use. Our whole way of life is structured around the convenient use of these hydrogen carriers.

    Hydrogen on its own as a gas is a sod to manage and extremely ready to mate with oxygen releasing a load of heat at the same time.

    The sun is effectively a burning ball of hydrogen, so fierce it can convert hydrogen into other relatively more stable elements.

    Reactions generally occur to form more stable outcomes.

    Not sure our domestic gas infrastructure will ever be ready for hydrogen. It’ll need a complete replacement and effing dangerous.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We already burn Hydrogen

      - Hydrocarbons do contain Hydrogen, but the problem is the Carbon (which is also where a lot of the energy is - see the bond energies of CO2 vs H2O).

      - In any case, we don't burn petrol for heat, engines use the fact that CO2 gas has a larger volume than liquid petrol. The expansion of the gas is what drives the engine - the heat is just an annoying side effect. The water vapour doesn't really help the process much.

      - The sun is not burning hydrogen - it is nuclear fusion. There is no oxygen to burn hydrogen in space.

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: We already burn Hydrogen

        er, no. The heat released expands the burnt gases, creating Carnot cycle. The mere phase change is a very small part of combustion.

      2. DJO Silver badge

        Re: We already burn Hydrogen

        The sun is not burning hydrogen - it is nuclear fusion. There is no oxygen to burn hydrogen in space

        Our sun is at the stage in it's life where it's making oxygen so there's plenty of it there, you don't get combustion because it's too damn hot.

        Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe followed by Carbon in 4th.

        H + He + O + C account for 99.96% of all the atoms in the universe so we can disregard everything else as noise.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Boffin

          Re: We already burn Hydrogen

          Yes, in particular Sun is giant ball of ionised gas. Molecules do not happen in almost all of a star (perhaps on the surface of very cool stars, not sure). Water decomposes above about 2300K: surface of Sun is 5600K. No water, no chemicals.

    2. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: We already burn Hydrogen

      I'm not sure why comments such as yours get a bad downvote/upvote ratio. If we figured out how to efficiently make gasoline out of atmospheric carbon and renewable/nuclear power, we could just keep using the current fuel infrastructure, engines and whatnot, and it would all be carbon-neutral or even negative (the stuff is easy to store, unlike hydrogen).

      Granted, it's difficult and maybe too difficult, but it's not something that should be dismissed out of hand just because "hydrocarbons bad". I mean, we gave a serious go at biofuels, and that was patently stupid from the start.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: We already burn Hydrogen

        I mean, we gave a serious go at biofuels, and that was patently stupid from the start.

        That one is still going strong thanks to the agricultural lobby, and the useful Green idiots. It's sustainable!

        Or not. So large chunks of say, US agricultural land dedicated to growing corn, which then gets sent to the many refinerys that convert food into ethanol. Which is less efficient than traditional gas. So you use more ethanol to go a given distance, and still produce CO2. But that's 'good' CO2 cos it came from the corn.

        And funnily enough, a side-effect of the deadly CO2 has been the 'greening of the Earth' because plants grow better when they're not starved of CO2. And depending on plant, may also need less water.

        But the loony Greens haven't quite grasped that growing corn to burn means less agricultural land producing both human and animal feed. But the latter is probably seen as a GoodThing(tm) because everyone should be going vegan!

        Of course that means more land to produce human food, which is a bit of a snag given a lot of arable land isn't the best quality.. But fine for animal feed. And then animal waste can be used to fertilise crops, increasing yields. So burning food leads to price increases, inflation, and food poverty.

        Oh, and of course we must ban fossil fuels. Except of course fossil fuels end up being used to produce a huge array of chemicals and products that we rely on. Like for example say, ammonia. Which is a rather handy fertiliser, or feedstock into all sorts of useful organic chemistry.

        Of course this isn't a problem. Windmills can be used to produce hydrogen, then ammonia. Never mind the cost or inefficiency, think of the subsidies!

        But such is politics. Some day, I live in hope that our politicians will realise that de-carbonising means pretty much de-industrialising, and going back to a pre-Industrial Revolution way of life. Because that was such a great standard of living..

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: We already burn Hydrogen

          Well that was a pretty pointless and uninformed rant.

          Twenty years ago the first phase of biofuels did displace food production which is plainly not a good idea.

          Current biofuels use agricultural waste so there is no displacement of food production. There's even the possibility of scooping up algal blooms to ferment into fuel which could go towards ameliorating some other issues.

          Biofuels have many advantages, the biggest is that they can be distributed using the existing infrastructure but the future does not belong to a single fuel but a mix - applying the best energy source to each circumstance is the only way forward.

          1. Filippo Silver badge

            Re: We already burn Hydrogen

            Fair. I'm against cultivating crops specifically to turn them into biofuels; I think that's nonsense.

            I'm not necessarily against turning agricultural waste into biofuel; I don't know enough about the efficiency of such an approach.

            I'm definitely convinced that betting on any single solution is not going to work. All viable paths must be pursued simultaneously.

          2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: We already burn Hydrogen

            Current biofuels use agricultural waste so there is no displacement of food production. There's even the possibility of scooping up algal blooms to ferment into fuel which could go towards ameliorating some other issues.

            That was a pretty pointless and ill-informed comment. Luckily, mine was rather better informed. See for example-

            https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/ethanol_production.html

            Ethanol is a domestically produced alternative fuel most commonly made from corn. It is also made from cellulosic feedstocks, such as crop residues and wood—though this is not as common. U.S. ethanol plants are concentrated in the Midwest because of the proximity to corn production. Plants outside the Midwest typically receive corn by rail or use other feedstocks and are located near large population centers.

            ...Most ethanol in the United States is produced from starch-based crops by dry- or wet-mill processing. Nearly 90% of ethanol plants are dry mills due to lower capital costs. Dry-milling is a process that grinds corn into flour and ferments it into ethanol with co-products of distillers grains and carbon dioxide.

            Production produces CO2, consumption produces CO2, but hey, it's green... right? And if you prefer pictures-

            https://afdc.energy.gov/data/10339

            So about 5bn bushels of food converted into fake fuel. Or as the graphic puts it..

            The amount of corn used for ethanol production increased substantially between 2001 and 2010, as nearly all gasoline was transitioned to 10% ethanol.

            If you're in the business of turning food into fuel, lobbying for that 10% adulteration is great for your business. Less great for fuel efficiency or food poverty, but those are someone else's problems. Also despite being 'fake' fuel, it hasn't gotten any cheaper at US pumps. Can't think why. People will blame 'rising oil & gas prices' though, not the ethanol producers.

            1. DJO Silver badge

              Re: We already burn Hydrogen

              I wouldn't consider what happens in the USA as the gold standard, much the opposite in fact. In countries where climate change is taken seriously food stock is not used for fuel.

              As for CO2, yes it does generate CO2, but that CO2 was removed from the atmosphere in the preceding years so over say a 10 year cycle does not actually increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

              Contrast with fossil fuels where the CO2 was pulled from the atmosphere millions of years ago so burning those DOES cause a nett increase in CO2.

  7. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Why not

    just build wind turbines off shore to create hydrogen from sea water.... than pump the stuff ashore for processing and packing.

    Makes more sense than using windmills for primary power generation while keeping a fossil fueled station in hot standby in case the wind drops out....

    1. Denarius Silver badge

      Re: Why not

      windmills. {S} Offshore yet. Very high maintenance, short life, costly to install. Only upside is fish attractor effects. At least the severe turbulence marine windmills make may not affect land based aviation much. Now do calculations of CO2 released during mining, processing of ores and hydrocarbons (where do you think carbon fibre and fiberglass come from ?) manufacture, transport of of parts, installation, more power cabling installation, more standby backup generators for those blocking highs that cover continents compared to CO2 released from just installing modern gas turbines or advanced coal power stations. And then we get to decommissioning costs and disposal of the blades, and toxic waste from solar cells. Oh, but thats all made in China so its not our fault dosn't cut it if there is really a planet threatening disaster.

      As for blue hydrogen, for once I agree with OMG the sky is burning commentards. As for ammonia, if one has a solution for recycling safely solar cells, and a couple of continents to cover below lattitude 40 degrees then ammonia might supply part of a renewable fuel cycle, especially if a fuel cell of long life, high efficiency, high power and low cost exists. Does it ?

      In short term it may have uses. Fertilisers perhaps, until planetary population begins to plummet, about 2060 on current trends.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Why not

      The main problem with electrolysis is that it is expensive but not far behind this comes transport and storage. This would almost certainly lead to arbitrage and a black market of hydrogen allegedly produced by electrolysis but actually produced from fossil fuels.

      Electrolysis of sea water is even trickier as you need to clean it of other ions.

      So basically we're looking at more massive subsidies because no one is really looking at a market based solution: CO2 + H2O from the atmosphere to via catalytic conversion to hydrocarbons.

    3. adam 40 Silver badge

      Re: Why not

      Yes! And blend the h2 into the natural gas supply. Whose pipes make landfall nearby as well.

      In the old days of coal gas, there was a certain amount of H2 made in the gas works (which could be turned up if you wanted to pump up your barrage baloon).

      What is the maximum acceptable H2/methane blend before we get funny effects?

      1. Jan 0

        Re: Why not

        > there was a certain amount of H2 made in the gas works.

        Up to 50% in "town gas" (coal gas).

        > What is the maximum acceptable H2/methane blend before we get funny effects?

        Read: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319913006800 Conversion of the UK gas system to transport hydrogen

        Authors: Paul E.Dodds & StéphanieDemoullin

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh the Humanity....

    To be fair, battery powered vehicles will be good for consumers, but hydrogen might be more suitable for HGVs/trains/etc.

    In any case, it's pretty clear that the future will be driven by green technology in a couple of decades....

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Oh the Humanity....

      Batteries and hydrogen are not green unless they are charged/produced by a green grid. Having that in 20 years looks uncertain at best, unless the public opinion about nukes changes quickly.

    2. EBG

      No

      the future isn't clear

  9. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Ozone Layer

    We need a better solution than Hydrogen

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    While production and use in certain applications is absolutely fine, am I the only one alarmed by the safety implications of dumping hydrogen into 150yr old networks and domestic pipework?

    Hydrogen will leak through the interstices of sheet steel to say nothing of joints causing fire risks left right and centre.

    If there is any sulphur in the pipe, hydrogen plus sulphur plus water equals corrosive that will destroy equipment. Water and sulphur are found in trace quantities in the whole pipeline network.

    If hydrogen is going being allowed into the distribution networks I will be getting rid of the boiler asap. And preferably moving to a house avoiding any pipe networks entirely.

    A/C as employed by a company that does gas transmission. (Which doesn't leave a very long list of possible - nor is my view the company line).

  11. Headwesty

    Why is Electrolysis hard to commercialise?

    As a kid I remember sticking two wires from a battery into a cup of water and watching the bubbles. Electrolysis seems to me to be one of the easiest processes on the planet so can someone explain why it's hard to commercialise? (OK you have to compress and capture the hydrogen somehow but you use some more of your wind energy for that).

    1. G R Goslin

      Re: Why is Electrolysis hard to commercialise?

      It's not that easy. For a start, water (pure) is an insulator. Ionic addites have to be added to allow the water to conduct electricity, which brings the risk of other gases being added to the product stream. Too,as with most things, you need a LOT of electicity to produce even a small quantity of hydrogen. Then you have the risk of carrying the other gas (oxygen) into the product stream with explosive properties. The oxygen is a relatively high priced product, but is far more easily produced by liquifaction and distillation, so does little to offset the high price of the produced hydrogen.

  12. Trollslayer
    Flame

    This isn't about saving the planet

    It is so Boris gets lauded for something.

    Anything.

  13. G R Goslin

    A hydrogen economy id old hat

    Britain had a hydogen based gas supply for far longer than it's had one based on 'Natural' gas. The old town gas system, which was replaced by natural gas, because it was cheaper (and safer), was about 50% hydrogen. the proportions made it lighter than air, and, as a child, one of my ambitions was to fill balloons with the stuff. Alas the mains pressures were far too low to allow for this without pumping, and the only source of pressure was the trusty old bicycle tyre pump, Which also alas, did not allow for modifiation to act as a gas pump. At least to an eight year old, on a shilling a week pocket money. I did, eventually attain my goal, but that was by means of caustic soda and alluminium scrap trimmings. Alas, that too, had it's drawbcks, in the destructive power of caustic soda, on cellulose based fabrics, which constituted the majority of clothing.

    Oddly, there did not seem to be the uproar against leakage which pervades the public field today. True, there were occasional spontaneous dismantlings of houses, but then, we still have this with natural gas.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A hydrogen economy id old hat

      Hydrogen was in there, but town gas was a complicated mix of Carbon Monoxide, Methane, Ethylene, heavier hydrocarbons and maybe some nitrogen & CO2.

      Boilers and appliances had to have their burners changed to accept the new natural gas mix, or be replaced entirely.

      The DTI commissioned a study in the early 2000's of what would be involved in converting boilers to match the proposed EASEE gas specification, an attempt to unify European gas standards (of which there are at least 6 major groups at the time).

      This was swiftly ruled out because the cost of changing the appliance base out. Risks to equipment going unchanged; and especially, the lack of enough skilled gas technicians to perform all of the conversions in a short space of time were prohibitive. Training lots of people up for 12 months work and then sacking them off again is not a winner. The EASEE spec leads to more carbon monoxide output; which is bad for various reasons - Germany has significantly more CO poisoning deaths per head than the UK with it's cleaner-burning spec does.

      Burning hydrogen will raise the heat output of your combustion reaction, making it more prone to NOX formation (due to the high temperature). The waste product of hydrogen + oxygen is fine - water - but the high temp applied to other gases in the natural gas mix is bad. NOX is a worse greenhouse gas than CO2 per kg.

      Hydrogen has all of the above problems of changing the gas specifications, plus additional complications. It has the ability to leak through absolutely anything (not just at joints). There are trace quantities of sulphur throughout the network already; as it is a major constituent of Natural Gas. Most industrial sulphur production is a by product of stripping it out of natural gas before letting it into the distribution network. But they never quite remove all of it.

      Hydrogen plus sulphur is a very easy way to put a ruinously corrosive acid inside your pipelines and appliances.

      A/C because, very clearly I have worked in this industry for quite some time, and the list of companies that do gas transmission in the UK is very limited. But I'm just an engineer versus the weight of a marketing agency, so what do I know.

      I don't think it's an accident that the transmission business unit is up for sale, if you want to know what people really think about its future.

      The whole hydrogen-into-distribution networks shebang is a disaster and a half waiting to happen. Hydrogen would be far better served by production at the coast from excess wind output; and decantered for use in applications that require the high density / low mass energy (e.g. aircraft), and can have appropriate safety measures put in place around their use & transport.

  14. Hairy Spod

    Remember where that energy comes from

    Whenever considering hydrogen as a fuel source it is important to always remember that Electric cars are charged at peak times using coal and gas-fired power stations, whereas the electricity needed to crack hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles tends to be spilt from water using surplus green wind and solar energy.

    1. G R Goslin

      Re: Remember where that energy comes from

      Remember too, where that electricity goes to, initially. ALL serious electrical power goes straight to the National Grid. It is simply a flow of electrons, and there is absolutely no way to determine whether it was produced from Fossil fuels, wind turbines, or wishful thinking. People who change their electricity supplier for one guaranteed to source their power from 'green' sources, are an example of this wishful thinking

      Where does this idea of 'cracking' hydrogen come from? Cracking is the process of breaking up complex molecules into smaller parts. Hydrogen consists of the hydrogen molecule, one of the simplest on Earth. Splitting it merely gives you monatomic hydrogen easily the most reactive element anywhere. 'Cracking' heavy oils into smaller, lighter molecules, simply gives you a fuel which commands a higher price, and increased availability.

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