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Roger Arnold's picture
Director, Silverthorn Institute

Roger Arnold is a former software engineer and systems architect. He studied physics, math, and chemistry at Michigan State University's Honors College. After graduation, he worked in...

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  • Sep 18, 2021

The article I've linked below is by Michael Barnard, writing for CleanTechnica. I don't always agree with him, but I find him worth listening to. He's well informed and strives to be objective. Amidst all the attention and hype focused on hydrogen, a projection that the market for it will be diminishing, not growing, is radically contrarian. But he gives his reasoning, and I agree with most of it. The demand for hydrogen today is dominated by its use in oil refining and production of ammonia for fertilizer. For different but sound reasons, both of those markets are headed for oblivion. Against that, hydrogen boosters see growing markets for hydrogen in transportation and as a replacement for natural gas in heating. Barnard discounts those applications, and I largely agree with him. So doesn't that imply a diminishing overall market for hydrogen?  

Not necessarily. Barnard, in this article anyway, does not consider stored hydrogen for power generation, or for production of storable synthetic fuels. His article is labeled as "part 1 of 3", so maybe he'll be following up with his reasons for discounting those markets as well. They'll have to be damned good reasons to convince me he's right. As of now, I see those as markets that will be growing enormously.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 19, 2021

Roger, there is no technology to store electrical energy that doesn't result in wasting at least 15% of it. For electric vehicles, the waste is justified - EVs are so efficient, in nearly every case emissions are lower than comparable vehicles with gasoline-powered IC engines.

Storing energy for re-use on the grid is a different story. Though renewables activists imagine grid-scale batteries charged exclusively by solar and wind farms, a battery installation owner would have to be crazy to limit charging times to only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. In practice, they are either charged by a grid mix, or directly from the output of a gas power plant. In the second case, losses increase emissions by 100%, effectively turning the gas plant into a coal plant.

With storage, the justification for attempting to power an electrical grid with solar panels and wind turbines goes from bad to worse.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Sep 20, 2021

I agree with Bob again. Hydrogen 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 21, 2021

Shrinking demand for hydrogen in the fossil fuel refining and ammonia markets is a bad sign; those are basically the only markets in which hydrogen is worth more than fossil fuel (otherwise it wouldn't make sense to use fossil fuel to make the hydrogen).  For other markets such as heating and electric power generation, hydrogen is worth the same (per BTU) amount as fossil gas, so green hydrogen will have that much more difficulty competing. 

Of course transportation fuels like gasoline are worth much more than fossil gas, but the cost of storing and transporting hydrogen will act to reduce its competitiveness in that market. As Roger points out, perhaps hydrogen will be used to make storable transportation fuel; ammonia comes to mind as the only one that won't have an equivalent carbon tax (note that carbon taxes are unlikely to substantially exceed the cost of direct capture of CO2 from the air, so that won't avoid the cost penalty for storable hydrocarbon fuel).

As is often noted, the reason it is important that a large market for green hydrogen (or e-fuels) emerges is that the grid will be cleaner if clean energy production is over-built, and dispatchable fuel synthesis is used to balance supply and demand, rather than using under-built clean energy combined with dispatchable fossil fuel fired power plants.  Of course a nuclear-dominated grid needs less over-build compared to a low-capacity factor variable renewable dominated grid to achieve zero fossil fuel, so effectively the nuclear-rich grid is less dependent on finding viable markets for hydrogen and e-fuels.

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Thank Roger for the Post!
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