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White Paper

Hydrogen—When Free Isn’t Cheap Enough -- Redux

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Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Program Manager CWB Energy Solutions

Mr. Botsford is a professional chemical engineer in the State of California with 30 years’ experience in engineering process design, distributed generation, and environmental management. He has a...

  • Member since 2006
  • 142 items added with 58,497 views
  • May 6, 2021

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Should you believe in hydrogen? Well, yes. It’s number one on the periodic chart. It’s abundant. It powers suns. And without it, we wouldn’t have water.

The real question is: which applications would benefit from the use of hydrogen, and which won’t? In business and technology, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. If the economics, thermodynamics, and safety aspects say green hydrogen is not appropriate for the vast majority of transportation and power generation applications, then this is a special interests distraction the world cannot afford.

No breakthrough in technology will do away with the conversion losses associated with electrolysis, compression, or electrical conversion. These are fundamental physical processes.

For transportation and power generation, even if hydrogen is free, it’s not cheap enough. The linked paper shows why.



Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 7, 2021

For transportation and power generation, even if hydrogen is free, it’s not cheap enough.

So if this is taken at face value, let's say the operator of a large renewable generation farm exists that simply does have overproduction at some point in its cycle, and that's an area where some will cite is the perfect opportunity to create hydrogen when generation is higher than demand. But even if it's 'free' in this instance, you're saying it still doesn't work out-- is there an alternative for what you would suggest should be done at that renewable site? Would it be preferable to find an alternative energy storage mode for that freely available generation-- whether traditional battery, advanced battery, hydropumped, or something else? Do those all win out compared with hydrogen? 

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Charles Botsford, PE on May 7, 2021

Hi Matt,

Excellent question that gets to the heart of the problem. Yes, other alternatives are much better than hydrogen as a storage medium. The primary reason hydrogen is so bad (among many reasons) is the terrible overall roundtrip efficiency. Pumped hydro, compressed air, and lithium batteries all have good roundtrip efficiencies in the context of storage for renewables. My own bias is toward lithium batteries in the form of electric vehicles. The State of California investor-owned utilities (IOUs) will be conducting pilot programs for AC vehicle-to-grid later this year, now that SAE J-3105, IEEE 1547-2018, IEEE 2030.5, and hopefully Rule 21 are all playing nice with each other. With California approaching 1 million EVs in the state, and the rest of the US, twice that, we already have a lot of GWh and GW available for renewable storage. By 2025, 2030, and 2035, we can just use EVs to handle renewable storage and won't need much in the way of big battery farms for overflow. It's truly exciting times for EVs as a grid resource. Maybe I'm biased. I've been at this a long time.

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Charles Botsford, PE on May 10, 2021

Hi Matt,

When I mentioned SAE J-3105, I should have said J-3072, which is the newly published SAE standard (March 2021) for AC V2G. SAE J-3105 is also important, but it's for Multi-Megawatt conductive charging of heavy-duty trucks and buses.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 10, 2021

Thanks for following up and setting the record straight, Charles!

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Thank Charles for the Post!
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