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World Hydrogen Leader Charley Rattan Associates

UK based offshore wind & hydrogen corporate advisor and trainer; Faculty member World Hydrogen Leaders. Delivering global hydrogen and offshore wind corporate investment advice, business...

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  • Jul 3, 2020
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Platts, Astute New Energy, Bllomberg and now The Economist

Conventional wisdom holds that battery-powered cars are the future of motoring. But Hyundai, a big South Korean vehicle-maker, is not so sure. Over the past few months it has been running a worldwide public-relations campaign extolling the virtues of an alternative source of electrical power—fuel cells. Instead of storing and then releasing electricity gathered from the mains in the way that a battery does, a fuel cell generates current from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen comes from the air. The hydrogen, suitably compressed, is stored in a tank on board the vehicle, and is replenished at a filling station, like petrol. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell does create exhaust. But that exhaust is simply the reaction product of hydrogen and oxygen, namely water.

 

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Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jul 5, 2020

The Economist article that Charley references is definitely worth a read. It's well balanced, and correctly (IMO) lays out both the pluses and minuses of hydrogen vs. direct electrification.  (I.e., for transport applications, fuel cells vs. batteries.)

Three key points not mentioned in the article's discussion of "blue" vs. "green" hydrogen:

  • Optimistic projections for low cost green (electrolytic) hydrogen by 2050 depend not just on large and still speculative cost reductions in electrolysis equipment, but also on acheivement of a near zero-carbon power sector. If power generation is only 70% zero-carbon sources and 30% natural gas, then electrolytic hydrogen will actually consume more natural gas than blue hydrogen. It will, in fact, have a larger carbon footprint even than "grey" hydrogen.
  • Higher projections for the cost of blue hydrogen ignore both the likelyhood of cost reductions and efficiency gains in processes for reforming natural gas, and the value of CO2 sold for enhanced oil recovery. 
  • In a world in which total world oil consumption will be demand-limited, use of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery from old wells will not lead to higher net oil consumption. It will more likely reduce it. By enabling old wells to satisfy more of the demand that remains, it will lead to curtailnent of oil exploration and development, and free up investment money to pursue clean energy alternatives.

Regarding that last point, it's well to recall Sheik Yamani's famous quip: "The stone age did not end for lack of stones, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil." If oil producers themselves did not believe that, we would not be seeing oil price wars. Producers are competing to sell their reserves while there's still a market.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 10, 2020

"By enabling old wells to satisfy more of the demand that remains, it will lead to curtailnent of oil exploration and development, and free up investment money to pursue clean energy alternatives."

Assuming, of course, clean energy alternatives are one day more profitable  than fossil fuel extraction.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 6, 2020

The skepticism is understandable and somewhat deserved after those false starts, it's on the hydrogen industry to prove them wrong at this point

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