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Hydrogen – Calling an Ace an ace and a Spade a spade

image credit: Ace of the pack - Green Hydrogen (image by Author)
Sandeep Chandra's picture
Director Hydrozen2050

Successful Entrepreneur, Owner of Solar company, examining Hydrogen Economy options, Blogger, Highly experienced Program Manager & Project Manager

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  • Jul 26, 2021 10:40 am GMT
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Australia has a GO-lden chance to get its way in the new emerging trillion-dollar Hydrogen economy.

GO - or Guarantee of Origin - is a tracking instrument that certifies whether a given quantity of Hydrogen is generated using renewable means or not. Australia is leading two of the three main pathways (study groups) in the multi-national panel (International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy – IPHE) setup to define standards and terms for issuing GOs. What this means is that protocols drafted in Australia based on Australian trials will most likely be considered for adoption as the international standards for certifying renewable Hydrogen

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It also means that Australia could be amongst the first out of the blocks in establishing a GO scheme based on the new global GO standards as these gain international ratification.

This would give Australian Hydrogen producers a huge leg-up in a market that is hotting up rapidly.

This is a big deal for the large Solar/Hydrogen (green Hydrogen, green Ammonia) projects taking shape in Queensland, NSW and WA and for the multi-billion $ Natural Gas industry which is adding CCUS to current / new SMR (blue Hydrogen) and Coal-gasification (brown Hydrogen) projects

Honestly speaking, once Hydrogen is produced it is impossible to state whether it was produced using renewable means or not. In a world, when global effort is directed towards replacing dirty fossil fuels with zero- or low-carbon fuels, such as Hydrogen, this is simply not good

Hence, a scheme is required whereby it is easy to determine the source and the carbon footprint of Hydrogen produced easily, transparently and confidently. This is the role of the GO Scheme

Features of the GO Scheme

It is a scheme to verify and track emissions associated with hydrogen production to verify whether renewable electricity was consumed

It is patterned on Europe’s CertifHy scheme

Products Scope

Initially Hydrogen will be scoped in the scheme Later Hydrogen derivatives will be included:

  • Hydrogen
  • Ammonia
  • Bio-methane

Pathways Scope

The three main methods of Hydrogen production are all included. For details on colors of Hydrogen, refer The Hydrogen Rainbow

  • Electrolysis – leads to Green Hydrogen
  • SMR with CCS – leads to Blue Hydrogen
  • Coal gasification with CCS -– leads to Brown Hydrogen

Hydrogen Value Chain

Ideally a Guarantee of Origin must apply to the entire value chain of Hydrogen. This way the lifecycle emissions associated with a unit of Hydrogen are captured. This means emissions associated with obtaining of raw material to the endpoint of Hydrogen consumption and even beyond to the point of disposal of remnants or recycling are all aggregated. The stages in the value chain are depicted below:

Source – Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Australian Government

For complete transparency and to account for true cost of Hydrogen, downstream stages of transporting Hydrogen to customer site will need to be included. However, in the initial scope, cradle-to-gate only is considered

For instance, for cradle-to-gate Green Hydrogen, this will include emissions related to electricity generation using Solar or Wind, obtainment and purification of Water and processing via Electrolyzer till Hydrogen production

For cradle-to-gate Blue Hydrogen, this will include emissions related to extraction of natural gas from mines, transportation of it to factory site, processing using SMR to produce Hydrogen. The additional step, which converts this Grey Hydrogen to Blue, ie capture and storage of by-product CO2, would be dealt with as an Offset, so that there will be a gross emission figure and a net emission figure, difference being the quantity of emissions offset by virtue of the CCS

Another important aspect of the GO scheme is the treatment of co-products has been included. By definition Co-Products are products that are created at the same time as Hydrogen is created

Emissions associated with co-products are subtracted from the aggregate emissions calculated over the value chain. For example, in case of Green Hydrogen that results from Electrolysis, oxygen is produced as a co-product. To ascertain emissions associated with production of such oxygen, one would determine emissions associated with same quantity of oxygen that would be replaced by this co-product oxygen (which would normally be produced using cryogenic distillation of air)

Governance and Administration

For best administration, credibility is required. Therefore, the most preferred entity for the purpose of GOs is the Government. In the case of Australia, a suitable candidate is a statutory body called the Clean Energy Regulator, backed by the Federal Government which is well-established since 2012 and enjoys superb credentials for measuring, managing, reducing or offsetting Australia's carbon emissions

Innovation Enters – Blockchain-backed Authentication

A blockchain is defined as a distributed ledger of information, replicated across various nodes on a peer-to-peer network for the purpose of ensuring integrity and verifiability of data stored on the ledger

The idea of a Guarantee of Origin is very similar, that is, to ensure integrity and verifiability of a claim that a unit of Hydrogen is exactly as it is claimed to be

Recently this has been implemented. A new platform, GreenH2chain, launched in Spain in February, 2021 aims to enable customers globally to verify and visualise the entire green hydrogen value chain in real time. It provides data for calculating the carbon dioxide emissions that are avoided with its use. It is a blockchain based solution that allows renewable Hydrogen consumers to quantify, record and monitor the decarbonization process of their units of Hydrogen supply and to verify its transportation and delivery process.

This platform goes beyond cradle-to-gate to include the next step in the Hydrogen value chain – transportation and delivery

Overall, there is a drive towards transparent reporting of carbon emissions in energy supplies and increased demand for trust in reporting. Blockchain based solutions are emerging to address this. KPMG also recently announced a blockchain-based solution that will help organisations more accurately measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions

While Government involvement is extremely important to lend credibility, blockchain based solutions deserve closer examination of how these can support and complement the proposed standards for GO scheme

Conclusion

It is acknowledged that, inadvertently or otherwise, stakeholders may claim a given unit of Hydrogen having the desired renewable credentials when it may not actually be true. A Guarantee of Origin scheme will go a long way in defining and verifying origin to weed out doubts. However, it must also be recognized that this will tempt arbitrageurs to pass off cheaper non-renewable sourced hydrogen as more expensive renewable hydrogen. Or for buyers to claim ESG benefits based on renewable hydrogen when instead non-renewable hydrogen is being consumed. For all such cases and other gray areas it is critical that the GO scheme be accompanied by a stringent regulatory and penalties mechanism

There are amazing successful examples, for example the State of California's LCFS Scheme (Low Carbon Fuel Standard) that has over a 10-year period not reported malpractice. Lessons from such schemes are required to be learnt and applied before the GO scheme is finalized and implemented

References

  1. https://consult.industry.gov.au/climate-change/hydrogen-guarantee-of-origin-scheme-discussion/user_uploads/discussion-paper---a-hydrogen-guarantee-of-origin-scheme-for-australia.pdf 
  2. https://www.certifhy.eu/
  3. http://cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/About/What-we-do
  4. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/in-blockchain-voting-leave-out-the-general-election/article32565188.ece#:~:text=A%20blockchain%20is%20a%20distributed%20ledger%20of%20information,and%20verifiability%20of%20data%20stored%20on%20the%20ledger.
  5. https://www.smart-energy.com/industry-sectors/new-technology/first-blockchain-platform-for-green-hydrogen-tracking-developed/
  6. https://www.smart-energy.com/industry-sectors/new-technology/blockchain-carbon-accounting-infrastructure-launched-by-kpmg/
  7. ghginstitute.org/2020/01/22/the-low-carbon-fuel-standard-has-succeeded-but-how-does-it-work/
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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jul 26, 2021

Sandeep, This is an important step but hydrigen is just an energy carrier not energy itself. It is 8 times less efficient than Solar PV, Wind, Hydro or Geo-Thermal. I say this from the information that Elon Musk writes. Since he is a world leader in Tesla, SpaceX , Boring hyper loop and other super green companies I think he knows his energy. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 26, 2021

Jim, it's a pleasure to agree with you on this topic.

Green hydrogen is a promotional product that was never intended to be successful at powering anything. Its purpose, and that of all of the infrastructure being built ostensibly to support it, is to extend reliance on gray hydrogen indefinitely.

Elsewhere on Energy Central's homepage today is a report, "UC San Diego receives $35M in state funding for new hydrogen-hybrid coastal research vessel", describing a boat of dubious premise:

"The design is scaled so the ship will be able to operate 75% of its missions entirely using a non-fossil fuel—hydrogen—with only pure water and electricity as reaction products. For longer missions, extra power will be provided by clean-running modern diesel generators."

As you're probably aware, gray hydrogen is very much a fossil fuel. It's made by using a grossly-inefficient process to strip carbon from natural gas (CH4) at the refinery, where the carbon quickly combines with atmospheric oxygen to form CO2. The market share of gray hydrogen is >99.99%.

Withour more information it's hard to be certain, but the lifecycle carbon footprint of Scripps's expensive boat will likely be worse than one powered by diesel generators alone.

Hydrogen: Just Another Fossil Fuel.

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Jul 27, 2021

Hi Bob, I get your message but like to point out "color" differences. Green Hydrogen is attributed to renewables-driven (Solar/Wind) electrolyzer producing Hydrogen. Gray/Grey Hydrogen is simply sourced via steam-methane-reforming SMR but what you really referring to here is Blue Hydrogen which is Gray + carbon capture (CCUS). You can get more here on H2 Rainbow

Today it will appear that Blue Hydrogen is simply letting the gas guys run a longer innings. Where's the problem with that - as long as the CO2 capture is done perfectly and captured CO2 is sealed off permanently. However, this is not perfected yet, reports of inadequate capture have been reported (no better than 90%) (see same reference above), but it is a step in the right direction

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 27, 2021

"Today it will appear that Blue Hydrogen is simply letting the gas guys run a longer innings. Where's the problem with that - "

The problem with that is gas guys will abuse that rule, and play a game that only ends when every cubic foot of gas is sucked out of the ground and burned. We don't have time to feed their fantasy.

"...as long as the CO2 capture is done perfectly and captured CO2 is sealed off permanently."

Perfectly? Permanently? Sandeep, given the oil industry has failed to comply with any regulation that isn't strictly enforced, the difficulty of proving sequestration of CO2 thousands of feet underground, and the ease of dispersing it into the air without detection, I fail to see evidence "CCS" is anything but a smokescreen for petroleum interests to continue business-as-usual.
In fact, I'm confounded by the idea anyone would consider it anything else.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jul 27, 2021

Steam methane reforming is routinely used in the US for industrial scale hydrogen production because it is the most economic method, at least in US with low-cost natural gas.Asia generally uses coal gasification to obtain industrial scale hydrogen

Hydrogen is required in a large number of chemical production processes.

The Scripps mis-adventure is utterly stupid and a monumentally waste of money. Represents the utter corruption rampant in both government and academia.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Aug 2, 2021

Producing hydrogen from natural gas is significantly less expensive than electrolysis because natural gas is relatively cheap. The hydrogen is extensively used in the chemical industry.

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Jul 27, 2021

Hi Jim, I agree on both counts - but with a comment on both. Yes Hydrogen is an energy carrier and not a fuel itself. It is alternatively also called an energy vector - one that can transfer an amount of energy over a distance and time - exactly like electricity which is also an energy vector. So today we use electricity and fossil-fuels, tomorrow it will be electricity and Hydrogen. Being able to replace fossil-fuel it is passed off as a fuel, though we know it is not

It is true the round-trip loop of creating Hydrogen and then retrieving energy back from it is not efficient. 1 kg H2 requires 45-50 KWH energy to produce and will in turn yield 33 KWH max

If Hydrogen was the utopian energy dream we'd be living it. No we are not. But it will happen. I look at the big picture. What has changed over the years that Hydrogen is hot now. Green Hydrogen, that is. Two things - one, it is the cost of creating it, electricity costs were the biggest culprit in driving an electrolyzer till recently, but now electricity so cheap, strapping an electrolyzer to a big Solar /Wind solves that issue, and second, the availability of a pathway to divert excess renewable (solar/wind) away from causing grid disruption. Both will keep trending as they have been and therefore green Hydrogen will keep coming, loads of it 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 7, 2021

"What has changed over the years that Hydrogen is hot now."

The fact that hydrogen is "hot" now is only an indicator of easy it is to deceive the public.

"...but now electricity so cheap, strapping an electrolyzer to a big Solar / Wind solves that issue..."

If only it were that easy.

"Both will keep trending as they have been and therefore green Hydrogen will keep coming, loads of it..."

Sandeep, maybe I'm wrong. But for the sake of safety, of not traveling an avenue in earnest when it's quite possibly a diversion from our path to a sustainable future, let's power one community with green hydrogen. Too high a bar? Let's power one home with clean hydrogen.

Until that happens, it's safe to say the $billions being spent on clean hydrogen are only guaranteeing dirty hydrogen an unlimited future, and a limited one for life on our planet.

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Aug 11, 2021

The bar is not high at all. It is the timing. Hydrogen story is just unfolding purposefully now. That is because the key input cost coming down with renewable energy prices crashing. Give it some time ..

Even with recent focus (I mean really last 2-3 years) I can refer you to new commercial products about to hit the market. there is a Home Batteries solution - LAVO - which is a better price-performance than a Tesla - coming out of Australia, eta Jan-22. I am myself working on a Methanol-to-Hydrogen small scale in situ H2 production that can power homes, bowsers at filling stations and some other applications, and this came about really only in last 6 months!

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 11, 2021

"I am myself working on a Methanol-to-Hydrogen small scale in situ H2 production that can power homes..."

Sandeep, methanol-to-hydrogen (CH3OH -> CO2 + 3 H2) is an endogenic reaction - it requires an energy input of 49.2 kJ/mol. From where does this energy come? If it comes from burning methane, it would be far more efficient to burn methane in a natural gas generator to provide whatever electrical power your homes will need.

There is absolutely no thermodynamic reason to go through this extra step. It's inefficient, it's wasteful. Worst of all, it will produce even more carbon emissions than "brown" hydrogen - CH4 + O2 -> CO2 + 2 H2.
With no environmental reasons to make brown hydrogen, much less your black variety, you're going backwards.

"Give it some time .."

With the threat of climate change mounting by the day, the last thing we have to give awful ideas is time.

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Aug 13, 2021

Bob, you are referring to Methanol that is produced using the standard method of burning natural gas. But Methanol can also be produced from renewable sources such as biomass. Refer Methanol from Biomass (nrel.gov)

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 15, 2021

"But Methanol can also be produced from renewable sources such as biomass."

I realize that, Sandeep. Methanol can be made from wood, hence the common term for it in the U.S.: "wood alcohol". The energy inputs/outputs of the chemical reaction are the same. Regardless which feedstock is used, making methanol from elemental carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen requires a minimum energy input of 49.2 kJ/mol - there are no shortcuts.

In the diagram from your source (below) there is a section labeled "gasifier". As NREL explains:

"Methanol can be produced from biomass through a thermochemical process known as gasification. The biomass is subjected to elevated temperatures and pressures (in some processes) to form a synthesis gas (syngas)...The syngas is then reacted over a catalyst at elevated temperatures and pressures to form methanol."

In commercial production of methanol, these elevated temperatures and pressures are created by burning methane (bad). In "renewable" processes, they are created by burning (oxidizing) the feedstock itself (worse):

"A major challenge for waste gasification technologies is to reach an acceptable (positive) gross electric efficiency. The high efficiency of converting syngas to electric power is counteracted by significant power consumption in the waste preprocessing, the consumption of large amounts of pure oxygen (which is often used as gasification agent), and gas cleaning."

In essence, it requires burning a lot of biomass (wood) to make a little methanol:

"Environmental advocates have called gasification 'incineration in disguise' and argue that the technology is still dangerous to air quality and public health."

Your source, from 1995, was created by a fledgling National Renewable Energy Laboratory tasked with finding sources of "renewable" energy. Innocently enough, they thought burning wood might be better for the environment than burning methane - but they were wrong. It's even worse.

Unfortunately, labeling something "renewable" doesn't allow anyone to pull energy out of a hat.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jul 27, 2021

Jim, I think you may mean “cost effective” instead of efficient. Renewable energy is inherently not efficient. Creating hydrogen is energy intensive and that means the cost of the energy used to produce hydrogen is a huge consideration.

Then there are the matters of storing, distributing and  using the hydrogen for something useful. I believe that is where Elon Musk is actually coming from. The economics of hydrogen are dismal. Elon Musk’s battery powered Tesla’s are a much better way to go for transportation.

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Jul 28, 2021

Lithium batteries are a better bet for cars and small trucks because energy requirements of cars and smaller vehicles are small, in terms of KWH. When this requirement starts to increase such as in trucks, trailers, ships, planes, etc where enormous KWHs are required then Fuel Cells are outright winners

The key reason for that is the "KWH per kg"

No matter how efficient the Lithium battery is it will not store any more than about 200 WH per kg. So to power a larger vehicle you are talking kgs upon kgs of weight to supply those KWHs. It gets to a point that the weight of the battery is comparable to the weight of the cargo it needs to carry ! Not a happy situation if you are on owner of a truck or a ship where you earn by kgs of cargo ferried

Fuel Cells on the other hand are NOT CONSTRAINED. 

Why?

Because fuel is NOT INSIDE the fuel cell it is attached separately, like a fuel tank So for a given weight of the cell we can keep feeding it KWHs by having a larger tank. A larger tank is far more desirable than a larger lithium pack given the weight difference of Type 4 carbon fiber hydrogen tanks compared to heavy lithium packs

 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Aug 3, 2021

Yet you quoted = It is true the round-trip loop of creating Hydrogen and then retrieving energy back from it is not efficient. 1 kg H2 requires 45-50 KWH energy to produce and will in turn yield 33 KWH max.

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Aug 4, 2021

Yes that's true, Jim

The point to recognize in the Hydrogen story is that it is a preferred pathway to select when the alternatives are much worse

If excess renewable energy is not diverted into making Hydrogen then the alternative path is to spend zillions in fixing an archaic grid that will not cope with excess power coming in from the edges of the grid because the grid is not designed that way

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 7, 2021

"If excess renewable energy is not diverted into making Hydrogen then the alternative path is to spend zillions in fixing an archaic grid that will not cope with excess power coming in from the edges of the grid because the grid is not designed that way."

Another alternative path would be to cart solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electrolyzers etc. off to a hazardous waste dump and build nuclear plants. Build power sources to match the "archaic" grid, instead of the other way around, and you have a more effficient (and cheaper) way for everyone to enjoy the benefits of clean electricity.

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Aug 11, 2021

Bob,

I know it is a tongue-in-cheek, but hey we missed the bus on that! Chernobyl and Fukushima have doubly ensured it is not going to happen

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 11, 2021

"Chernobyl and Fukushima have doubly ensured it is not going to happen..."

Good point - the Hindenburg, after all, ensured commercial aviation would never happen. If people were meant to fly, we'd have wings!

 

 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Aug 10, 2021

False choice. Deploy balance mixed of energy resources. 

Sandeep Chandra's picture
Sandeep Chandra on Aug 11, 2021

Exactly. That is the intention for bringing Electrolyzers online - to strike a balanced mix of energy resources. Pls refer to my newest article - Hydrogen: Blooming Welcome Component in a Power Grid 

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