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Hydrogen for Transport—Nonsensical According to Enel CEO, Starace

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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...

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  • Jul 22, 2021 6:53 pm GMT
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Is hydrogen a great idea for transportation and heating applications? No. Not according to a recent Recharge News interview with the CEO of Enel, Francesco Starace [1]. Enel is the largest electricity company in Europe by market cap and other financial metrics. His main interview point was that green hydrogen should be used only for existing applications, which is currently supplied principally by gray hydrogen. He called nonsensical the idea of using green hydrogen for transportation or heating. He gave the example that 50kWh of electricity would enable an EV to travel approximately three times as far as a fuel cell vehicle powered by hydrogen produced by that same 50kWh of electricity. Numerous studies back up Starace’s assertion [2-7].

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In a related Recharge News interview [8], Starace listed a point-by-point rebuttal of fossil fuel industry claims against the viability of an all-electric future powered by renewable energy. His primary point rebutting the intermittency of renewables was the availability of over ten thousand megawatt-hours of energy storage grid resources, in Europe alone, via the batteries of future EVs.

References

1. Collins, Leigh, Using clean hydrogen for domestic heating and transport is ‘nonsensical’, says Enel CEO, https://www.rechargenews.com/energy-transition/using-clean-hydrogen-for-domestic-heating-and-transport-is-nonsensical-says-enel-ceo/2-1-1039690, Recharge News, July 2021.

2. Decock, G., Electrofuels? Yes, We Can…If We’re Efficient, Transport & Environment, https://www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/publications/2020_12_Briefing_feasibility_study_renewables_decarbonisation.pdf, December 2020.

3. Wood Mackenzie, Green Hydrogen Production: Landscape, Projects and Costs, Executive Summary, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, https://www.woodmac.com/reports/energy-markets-executive-summary-green-hydrogen-production-landscape-projects-and-costs-392370, October 2019.

4. Morris, C., Prominent Energy Researcher Believes in Electric Trucks Over Fuel Cells, insideevs.com, https://insideevs.com/features/462434/energy-researchers-electric-trucks-win/, December 2020.

5. Moultak, M., N. Lutsey, and D. Hall, Transitioning to Zero-Emission Heavy-Duty Freight Vehicles, The International Council On Clean Transportation (www.theicct.org), https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Zero-emission-freight-trucks_ICCT-white-paper_26092017_vF.pdf, September 2017.

6. Phadke, A, etal., Why Regional and Long-Haul Trucks Are Primed for Electrification Now, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231. https://eta-publications.lbl.gov/publications/why-regional-and-long-haul-trucks-are. March 2021.

7. Messagie, M., Life Cycle Analysis of the Climate Impact of Electric Vehicles, Transport & Environment, https://www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/publications/TE%20-%20draft%20report%20v04.pdf, draft 2021.

8. Collins, Leigh, Enel CEO: 'Clean electricity will power 99% of Europe’s transport and heating by 2050 — and this is how it will work', https://www.rechargenews.com/energy-transition/enel-ceo-clean-electricity-will-power-99-of-europe-s-transport-and-heating-by-2050-and-this-is-how-it-will-work/2-1-1039642, Recharge News, July 2021.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 22, 2021

Thanks, Charles, for re-iterating was has long been common sense to any chemical engineer or physicist. Your article addresses just one facet of the "clean hydrogen" lie being advanced by natural gas interests.
The plentiful references accompanying your article should serve as an example for many authors here on Energy Central, where claims are abundant but support is scarce.

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Charles Botsford, PE on Jul 22, 2021

Hi Bob, 

Thanks. I try to be meticulous about references, even for short pieces like this one. Big claims require big backup. It was easy to list solid references for the assertions made by Starace of Enel. I also thought Recharge News did a good job with the interview.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 25, 2021

Oh sure Charles, it is very easy to shoot down arguments that our future will be powered by hydrogen to a very large extent.  However, as I read through a couple of the linked sources, I was not very convinced by the alternative visions either (which tended to simply assume that batteries would be cheap and have low environmental impact, that all electricity would come from renewables, with their significant environmental impact, and that consumers would not mind BEV chargers that were weather dependent).  

The whole discussion leaves me with the impression that if we don't broaden the available energy solution set, we'll reach 2050 with a whole lot of business as usual in our energy system.  Of course we must offer consumers and businesses good & affordable BEVs, but we must also offer clean electricity-on-demand and clean fluid fuels; otherwise we'll just keep using unmitigated fossil fuels.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jul 25, 2021

Good points, Nathan. I agree.

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Charles Botsford, PE on Jul 26, 2021

Hi Nathan, I certainly agree with you about focusing on the end goal of not using fossil fuels. I think the interview comments with Starace of Enel show the need to focus on doing this efficiently and to minimize distractions. 

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