Hydrogen is expected to play a big role in a decarbonized energy system, but the only way to make it without greenhouse gas emissions is through electrolysis. I talk to the CEO of a company that is trying to radically drive down the costs of green, renewable hydrogen by perfecting electrolyzers.
This just came up this week:
Green hydrogen produced efficiently using seawater
Ike Gittlin, a labor unionist and substacker writes on hydrogen hubs today:
The environmental community is not of one mind on this approach. Using natural gas means heavy reliance on fracking, to produce hydrogen volumes that will be required. Fracking is opposed by many environmentalists based on the belief that it creates its own environmental problems. There is “blue hydrogen” and “green hydrogen”. The “blue” variety is produced from natural gas. The “green” hydrogen comes from renewables like wind, solar and water. Some environmentalists fear that mitigating carbon emissions with CSS may encourage manufacturing and industry to hold on to its current production processes. They would prefer that we move directly to “green” hydrogen and invest in that. Many in this camp would shut down existing facilities, believing that equally good jobs will allow workers to transition smoothly. A belief that is not shared by those actually relying on industrial/manufacturing jobs. If by shutting down U.S. capacity, it is moved offshore, the net advantage to the planet is negated. Being lost in the carbon reduction race is the acknowledgement that much of our industrial/manufacturing production is critical to “going green”. This raises the ironic fact that we will have to continue to engage in carbon-producing production, to lower our carbon footprint for the long term.
The good news is that the nation is trying to do tangible things to get to sustainability. In a democratic nation, the debate on how to get there is both necessary and important. The hydrogen hub approach is incremental and uses technology that currently exists. There are technologies in our labs and in pilot projects that promise some “green hydrogen” solutions. But they are years off and at this point, extremely expensive. Additionally, wind, solar and water each have their own technology and deployment problems. The question comes down to do we move forward with what we have now or wait for a more optimal solution?
The debate over the hydrogen hubs is just one of many we have to resolve in our efforts to get to sustainability within the time frames that scientists tell us we must meet. Credit is due to the environmental movement. If it weren’t for their pressure, the global corporations now vested in fossil fuels, would do nothing. However, in the efforts to move forward, the environmental community needs to be willing to deal with the practical pace of change, consider the impact of drastic measures and accept that self-interest is inherent in any change proposal. The hydrogen hub is what we can do now. It’s not the end game. Technology promises greater progress yet to come. And there are at least 66% of non-industrial/manufacturing emissions that also have to be part of any sustainability plan.
'...“Saddle up! Because we’re gonna have another round of hydrogen this session.”
With those words, Lundstrom, who was still in her leadership role, kicked off a last-minute LFC meeting on Jan. 11 titled “Hydrogen Hub Update.” The state has joined with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to form the Western Inter-States Hydrogen Hub (WISHH), an effort kicked into gear by Lujan Grisham to grab some of the $8 billion dangled by the federal government to create approximately eight such hubs across the nation....' https://sourcenm.com/2023/01/24/new-mexicos-legislative-session-funded-by-oil-and-gas-promises-fireworks/
Really enjoyed learning about this technology (new to volts...lots to learn.) googled a bit and discovered SG H2 Energy. Of course i have no way to assess hype,/truth ratio but it certainly sounds impressive: convert biomass to H2, $2-3/Kg, "greener than green" (hype/truth bump?) Is this for real? Worthwhile future episode?
It seems to me that there is an opportunity here for some relatively underdeveloped country with
lots of sunlight (e.g. in North Africa or the Middle East) to work out a deal where their solar energy potential and electrolyzers are used to make green hydrogen for export. A location near the sea with desalinization would provide the water as needed.
In a related matter I recently read an article in the NYT in which a company that exports iron ore from Australia is planning to use solar energy to refine the ore on site and export a refined product. There was no mention of electroyzers as I recall, but how else could this be done?
Michael Liebreich has argued persuasively that exuberance about hydrogen, with the exception of a few industrial use cases, is largely overblown due to inefficiencies in production, storage, transport and utilization. The first podcast below dives deep into the weeds, very informative. The second starts as a conversation and devolves into a very entertaining food fight of an argument between European energy wonks. He might be a terrific guest for Volts.
I believe that in the past DOE has funded some trials for producing ammonia fertilizer with surplus wind energy in the corn-belt states. And BigOil obviously already has a lot of existing ammonia pipeline, storage & distribution infrastructure in place, especially in the Midwest, TX & LA. I expect that hydrogen production for ammonia fertilizer & maritime transport fuel will become a really big deal on the west coast as the new offshore wind farms are developed. This does seem inevitable, unless we just continue to ignore reality. China’s not.
This concentrated solar hydrolysis process is intriguing:
I'm unclear why they chose to use a lens for it, though. A curved mirror with some sun-tracking logic seems like it would almost certainly be cheaper in the long run, that's why you always see those in solar-thermal turbine plants. Possibly at small scale a stationary lens works out as cheaper, and mirrors only make sense once you scale up?
So the Navy has been using electrolyzers to make O2 on submarines for decades. They vent the H2 overboard as an undesired waste product. They are really finicky machines, and the crew responsible for them tend to give them nicknames like "The Bomb" and "Christine" (a la Steven King). They are a really top-tier technology in terms of needing really superior machining and controls to do safely, and you cannot skimp on maintenance. I'm having a hard time thinking about how they would scale. Ultimately, so much Greentech is predicated on the idea that we can afford all these complicated swaps for existing ways to do things that will allow us to just keep on trucking (and flying) while hitting our emissions goals. Color me very skeptical at this point. Technologies that work in "cost is no object" settings don't scale.