With hydrogen you have to think of it in a completely new way. Thinking of it in the old plod plod plod this is the way we do things, plod plod plod, this is the way we do things, doesn’t work. It’s a whole new ballgame and needs a new mindset. If in the past people had thought, what’s the point in producing more oil, as you only need a certain amount for of oil lamps, so it’s pointless, then we wouldn’t be here today. It’s planting the acorn of hydrogen culture that encourages the overall usage and strategies for it.
First think of something like diesel and petrol. It’s 1000 watts worth of oil in the ground. You lose 50 watts getting it out, 50 watts for sending it to a refinery, 400 watts refining it, 50 watts for distributing it, then 60% turning it into electricity. If you produce that power in Aberdeen you then lose 50% sending it to London, so you end up with about 90 watts worth. If you use it for heating you get about 50 efficiency, so you end up with about 45 watts warmth. Because so much of it is produced, what went into making it is totally forgotten in this fuel is more efficient thermodynamically than this one. A few points, or even 20% is pretty irrelevant if you’re looking at 95% losses in all the other stages, even forgetting the mass of pollution at each stage and its final consumption. Looking at diesel against petrol both in the terms of a gallon of finished product, running on a perfectly running and maintained finished product in perfect environmental conditions, is a pretty useless venture.
The UK national grid is a wonderful system that’s probably one of the best in the world, but it has inherent flaws. Because we have a lot of localised production, you don’t see the losses involved. For example, Somerset never sees power produced in Scotland. If we are short we get power from Devon, Gloucestershire, or Wiltshire, and they get power from the county next to them, like a sort of complicated Newtons Cradle, each borrowing from the next until Northumberland get it from the Scottish Borders. If the system was DC rather than AC we would be more aware of the limitations, but because everything goes into the system we do not.
Our power generation in the UK is heavily distributed for a reason. To move electricity around the country is very wasteful. That is why they are dotted around, hopefully in areas people don’t want to normally go or use. It mainly provides power to local homes and industry, but unlike gas doesn’t travel well.
You could just have power stations in Scotland in the more hilly and inaccessible areas, but by the time it got to Dover, you would need to double up in Scotland just to get it there. The best way at the moment is using natural gas. You could generate 2000 watts of electricity using 5000 watts of natural gas in Aberdeen to give 1000 watts of electricity in London, or you could pipe the gas to near London to give 1800 watts from a local power station. Our national grid with its borrowing system, area to area, means that you get about 1500 watts for a transfer of that distance.
With all the interlinking and interconnected systems I would probably expect an over 50% loss overall from production to distribution in the National Grid. Some in other countries are probably as low as 90% loss, but we’re small and organised.
Now we come to a hydrogen economy. You make hydrogen from electrolysis. Water to Hydrogen and Oxygen, trying to make it quite localised for supplies. But this is not vital, as large scale plants can be situated anywhere. It is then piped where it is needed. Burning it produces water, and although it may deplete oxygen levels in an enclosed space, it isn’t poisonous and doesn’t produce poisonous fumes. You could even use it to power a sauna.
So hydrogen produced in Aberdeen could be piped to London for minimal loss, then turned into heating and electricity locally. You could have hydrogen stations instead of petrol stations that have pipelines to them, not needing deliveries as it’s a non corrosive gas.
Producing electricity in Aberdeen for London would be very inefficient. Pipe it there first, then produce it.
Local storage would be using the old style floating gasometer type, as it’s very efficient, using weight for local pressure maintenance. There have been cases in the past of explosions using coal gas and natural gas, but those have been quite rare because of large sealed steel containers floating on water, most dried gasses being pretty inert, and the oxygen content not being available, even from leaks, being always at positive pressures. Most instances of hydrogen explosions have been ones of pure carelessness and static discharges, but being grounded this is highly unlikely.
You’re talking a higher order of efficiency, not percentages. Cars could be then hybrid motors, that have electric motors powered by battery, fuel cells, hydrogen generators and hydrogen combustion engines in them, each cutting in as an when they are required, negating the advantage differences for each type. Hydrogen combustion for quick bursts, generators for recharging, battery for slow moving and fuel cells for mid range power. It might be that all you need is battery/hydrogen generator to give the extra miles that is wanting in a lot of electrical cars.
A Tesla has something like an 85KWh battery in it. If it’s depleted, it will need about 70KWh of input. If you take half an hour, the charge point has to handle 140KW, not 2 or 3 KW that an electric fire needs, or 6KW that a cooker on full blast needs, but 20 times that for each car that is on charge. In the UK the average requirement is about 1KW at any one time, so one 30 minute charge will require over 100 simultaneous homes worth. Even a minimal supply of hydrogen could charge a cars battery as is moving and take minutes to fill up. A combined plug in / fill up could cover a distance quickly, and reduce overhead.
Production would be increasing wind, solar and possibly nuclear. Don’t produce electricity, produce hydrogen. For nuclear, fission produces heat which is basically leached off using a complicated heat pipe system that generates steam that powers turbines. No Steam turbine is more than 40% efficient. Using a reactor to crack hydrogen removes the heat to motion conversion part, and replaces it with a more liquid state type flow type system. The designs would need to be heavily modified or replaced, as you may be able to streamline the system using hydrogen as a main component. A lot of cross sections and moderators, as hydrogen is normally produced as part of the system and is classed as a nuisance and danger, but what if you wanted to produce it instead of steam? It might be a very efficient production route. A lot less parts to go wrong and wear out. The first two are pretty inefficient long term for power supply being so variable and having no form of storage, but accumulate enough of them, and at a certain point the hydrogen production levels will provide a clean guaranteed storage of that energy, so that the massive surplus could be shipped to other countries. Nuclear needs to be running at full blast all the time to be efficient, so it cannot be slowed down easily. Wind and solar are variable, and at times of peak or excess all the other systems are inefficiently ramped down.
This is a long-term plan, but needs careful planning and implementation. The whole principle of the system is integration. Without complete integration you have high levels of inefficiency. Man went to the moon. Not because of the various invented parts, but because the complete system was integrated. The Russians and Chinese could not have, and still have not had a manned system that could reach the moon.
A hydrogen based economy is the real future but probably won’t happen for a long time. The majority of hydrogen currently produced is using steam cracking of natural gas, so you are using a fossil fuel which has energy built into it, and using energy to turn it into hydrogen, so it’s extremely inefficient. It’s only if you want cheaper hydrogen, not power, as then using fuel cells to turn it into electricity to power a motor adds another conversion loss.
But, if you have a large-scale electrolysis plant which uses off peak and unused power to store it in local tanks, you have non-polluting energy for fuel cells, converted combustion engine and central heating use. The use in converted combustion engines is the one Musk fears the most, as if this happened or was generally adopted the electric car market would die out.
The use of seawater in electrolysis would decrease the need for recoverable ionising salts to allow more efficient production, but has the downside of producing large quantities of other gasses such as chlorine and sulphates to be separated. That said, chlorine is very useful in the chemical industry and disinfectants, so need not just be thought of as a pollutant and nuisance, but as just part of the usable process. Similarly sodium hydroxide and small amounts of magnesium could be recovered from electrowinning regular cathode replacements. Simply disposing of anything is wasteful.
Whether diesel would allow for a conversion is unsure, and may be too costly, but would need to be tested, but without government help such a hydrogen economy would fail completely. I don’t see any visionaries or forward thinking people in the whole of politics or the establishment, so the future of the UK is probably dead in the water, but maybe one of the eastern countries may adopt it as their minds aren’t so fettered.
You can make hydrogen by electrolysis but you lose somewhere in the region of 30% of its energy, so wouldn’t be useful during peak times. At night between 12-6am, wind generators are still running but other forms of generation quite often ramp down by the difference. The only problem is in storing the power they produce. If we had a collection of connected hydrogen gas holders around the country you could keep building wind generators and hydrogen cracking plants to many times what is needed, as the UK is quite windy compared to the rest of the world. Solar panels could be diverted to also produce it if there was a surplus above what is needed to power house and industry. Then the UK could sell the surplus on the open market that it doesn’t use in hydrogen combustion/fuel cell hybrid cars. Or maybe put solar wind collection cones at the Lagrange points and ship hydrogen back to earth in tankers or use in commercial spacecraft.
The problem is there is no infrastructure in the UK for hydrogen. Most hydrogen is produced using natural gas which is steam separated into a smaller amount of hydrogen, so it would be much more efficient to just power the car using compressed natural gas. Add on the loss by its use in producing electricity from fuel cells, and you’re using it just to say you’re using it, but the reality is your efficient use of energy hits the floor. The only way you’re going to get hydrogen in a more practical way is electrolysis from unused energy, such as the middle of the night when provision is higher than demand. Solar power isn’t a practical thing at our latitude even with large-scale commercial arrays, as we get a third the practical irradiation per square metre of something like California, the Saharan areas or Australia, but we do suffer from a lot from wind. The only trouble is that wind only provides around 20% of installed capacity and the energy needs to be stored or lost, as sometimes that figure can go lower than 1% of capacity. If you get all your power from wind, expect the occasional loss of all power for a few hours every so often.
Having gas holders filled with hydrogen produced using spare capacity could efficiently power hydrogen turbines or plants for the times when the wind doesn’t blow, and could be a feed into things like the CH2ARGE systems. Nuclear power is very efficient at around 85%, but it powers turbines that work at less than 40%, and needs to be operating at its full practical power to be so. Providing more power than is needed allows for conversion into a more storable and useable form, and hydrogen is good for that purpose. The biggest problem for use in transport is portable storage as even under pressure you don’t get a lot, but a hydrogen combustion for quick acceleration, and a fuel cell and battery powered electric motor for normal running would be the best bet. It would need large-scale government investment to provide the necessary infrastructure, and you could probably modify most cars to run on hydrogen or an LPG/hydrogen or natural gas/hydrogen mix to keep the current vehicles on the road. Mobile hydrogen storage has run into funding roadblocks with the concentration on purely battery powered electric vehicles, but turning the UK into a hydrogen economy could be a way forward. You might even find that we end up power independent with UK produced hydrogen powered cooking and central heating as well as transport. But overall efficiency doesn’t rely just on making one or a few parts extremely efficient, then working on the rest. To be properly efficient the whole process has to have balance, with some parts working at full output and others working at 1/2 or 1/4 output to provide a fit for the next input, not everything running as fast as possible. It might not please the environmentalists or who want recyclable power and they want it now, whatever the cost in finance, society or overall pollution. Or the ‘I demand it, so long as it’s in somebody else’s back yard.’
Hydrogen is quite an efficient fuel, that is why it’s used in the space program simply combined with nitrogen in things like hydrazine. It combines with oxygen to just produce water.
If the UK could produce hydrogen or hydrazine in large quantities using renewable resources, storing it in gas holders, there is no reason why it could not be used for cooking and heating as well as local power conversion for household electrical devices.
The bacteria Methanobacillus omelianskii is capable of taking alcohols and producing hydrogen in a reaction:
CH3CH2OH + 2H2O to 2CH3COO− + 2H+ + 4H2 or
CH3CH2OH + 2H2O to 2CH3COOH + 4H2
Ethanol & Water to Acetic Acid & Hydrogen Genetically unmodified yeasts take sugars and convert them to alcohol that some countries use to vehicles, especially in South America, but is should be possible to use a type of modified yeast to turn sugars into free hydrogen.
Hydrogen is a simply non-corrosive gas, similar to natural gas, the UK having long pipelines from Norway and Russia, via the continent, but is really just one long pipe with various connectors across some pretty inhospitable environments. Other countries such as Australia, Iceland, Japan, could easily lay safeguarded pipelines across the countries and seas with little energy loss. Transport could be from terminal to terminal, but permanent separate pipeline routes would be preferred method of transport, both internally and from country to country. For areas of real instability, you might even have suspended submerged pipes.
Hydrogen would need a planned change in paradigm for energy, it’s not something that you can just play at to see if it will work, and needs a proper integrated approach, not as where and when. But pipelines and local storage would mean energy to local areas, with failsafe trunking, not always dependent on a main source. It’s much more efficient to provide a hydrogen or gas pipeline permanently to a remote area than it is to send them electricity from the main system. They then use it to run a local hydrogen turbine power station, or in the extreme, hydrogen powered generators, which as a by product also produces water. If the main source failed, the local system would take up the slack, being one of overproduction for export. But the considerations would be less than for say bottled gas or natural gas, the use of it being as simple and regulated using the same technical expertise.
The biggest problem is storage, but should be no worse than a bottled gas or oil tank system. You might even have localised production if some form of safe ‘Mr Hydrogen’ unit could be designed and manufactured for domestic use on an electrolysis principle. In the UK we have Corgi approved contractors for natural gas powered appliances, such as cookers, central heating boilers, which would take little change to bring them all up to speed on hydrogen installation and safety, often using just slightly modified appliances.
Because hydrogen can be a very simple clean efficient non-toxic fuel, burning of which produces just water and no environmental damage, the trick is to produce it using non-damaging and more solid state methods. Over provision and excess generating the initial quantities, but not producing it using the cheapest methods, maximising short-term financial return over a stable and permanent solution for society.
So for the home you have hydrogen heating using a pretty standard boiler to do so. When peak use is needed it’s very likely that a hydrogen car, which is capable of powering the home as well could be part of the integrated system. Fuel cells are still pretty inefficient, but for smaller areas of power, such as lighting and power equipment even small ones are quite capable of powering the house or maybe using small hydrogen generators providing energy in real time for a boost. Because only water is produced, fumes and exhausts would not be such a necessity to take noxious fumes away from the house. Sending up a chimney would not need to be completely airtight and restrictive. With gas powered central heating there is always the risk of suffocation or people becoming overcome by fumes, also there is really no need to boost power up to 240v when most modern systems run at 3-12v.
Japan is already contracting it’s car market and is starting to invest heavily in hydrogen research, not just fuel cells which are pretty inefficient at the moment.
Hydrogen is the commonest element in the universe, the problem being getting at it. Using reflected light in solar crackers, wind and solar power for electrolysis, bio-generation using modified bacteria and yeasts, nuclear systems designed for hydrogen not as a nuisance, producing it on site or piping it to where it’s required, then burning it directly or in turbines, or using fuel cells for energy requirements, you could export the surplus to a ready market for them to do the same. If mobile storage, such as metal hydride foams could store it safely, then transport would not need so much battery storage for plug in cars.
What is really needed is a country with a large clear area which can adopt some of these concepts, in an area which has a reasonable consistent wind uptake and high solar irradiation ideally between 30 ° North and South of the equator. Wind burst speed is not as important as constant wind speeds in constant directions, and high irradiation is not as important as constant low cloud cover. Extremes are nice for generation but bad for control and the extra safeguards and allowances that need to be built into the system.
The country which manages to design and tightly integrate hydrogen production and usage first will probably be the one which will spider web out in connections to industries in other countries and dominate the market for decades and be the ‘go to’ place for technology in the area. All road lead to Rome, or all natural gas leads to Russia at the moment, but the simplicity in concept of hydrogen trumps both these.
Apart from the utilisation of vast empty areas, hydrogen if properly implemented would reduce pollution and environmental damage to a minimum, plus wean our civilization off dependence on fossil fuels.
The hydrogen market is at the moment just a minor subset of natural gas. The production and piping of a light gas with a lower density would remove a lot of transport and redistribution costs. Electricity needs a grid to operate as this is the only way it can operate efficiently. Hydrogen would need a much less technical and complicated grid. Turning over areas to hydrogen production would mean massive overproduction for the domestic need, allowing for exports to small but technologically advanced areas with little overhead or retransmission complications.
Belief in the system and not considering it using current production and usage.
Thinking of it as a goal not as a useful costly by product.
Being able to adapt technology easier to hydrogen and thinking of hydrogen combustion generators powering communities locally.
Export to smaller countries.
Export to like-minded countries such as Japan.
Clean sources of power and heating for local industry.
Lack of commitment and belief.
Lack of integration.
Thinking of only current usage.
Setting up and integrated community in an area with a dearth of energy resources.
Solar, wind and biological hydrogen generation with hydrogen heated and powered industry and transport. A first totally integrated community in a semi-desert environment using Mars style recycling and power conservation with hydroponic irrigation via the process.
It is a sparsely populated country with large arid areas that have little or no investment. The communities are mainly dependent on outside contributions to survive and are dwindling while the coastal communities are thriving. The vast areas are there to cross and stay away from except for things like mining. All of these areas could be expanded and you would need a thing like a Las Vegas niche to thrive or small pockets on virtual oases.
Large scale electrical and chemical engineering skills. Expertise in the piping and durability of gas pipelines. innovators in energy conserving devices. Skills in growing in semi-artificial environments. Solar and wind turbine engineers.
Portable hydrogen storage for transport probably using metallic hydride sponges.
Adaptation of standard combustion and combustion/electric hybrid vehicles to work with hydrogen.
Production of graphite for the electrodes using household waste? . Virtually any source of carbon can be turned into a form of graphite if it is baked to 3000C. A lot of household waste contains a large amount of carbon, but we will have to see what levels of purity if at all, is needed for suitable electrodes. Plastics normally are seen as insulators, but heat-treating waste in this form may make them conductors and electrolytic decomposition as electrodes may as a by-product give useful minerals. Graphite was used in the past as a natural lubricant. It was later dropped when oil based greases were developed but was never developed in conjunction with natural oils and greases in the same was that oil based ones have. Is there mileage in this with oil disposal and re-graphitisation of used graphite?
There is a problem with aluminium-based products, but graphite coated carbon fibre or Nickel surfaces when they come into contact give a level of superlubricity. How effective is it in things like slow moving bearings such as in something like a bicycle hubs and chains or flexible drive stems? Nickel and graphite coated steel ball bearings? Nickel bearings? Graphite/Nickel electrodes?
Both world Graphite and Nickel production is somewhere around a trillion tonnes a year, mainly from China for Graphite and the Indonesian area for Nickel.
I’ve tried getting people in the UK interested in a move to a hydrogen economy or maybe just a small scale integrated community but nobody seems interested, so I though you might benefit from some of the ideas.
Japan to me looks like it is consolidating and planning to invest heavily in such a move, not committing to purely electric vehicles as the constraints for Lithium demand would suggest that it may become a lot more expensive, as limited supply and demand forces are starting to appear with production increasing by 10% on average while demand is increasing by 30% per year.
That’s of course if you deliberately ignore all the energy required to prospect, get oil out of the ground, ship it, refine it, re-refine it, add various improvement additives, re-transport it. As for an 8th of the power, you can nearly power a standard combustion engine using hydrogen and breath in the exhaust without harm. There are peaks and troughs in electricity production and all electricity has to be used or lost. Hydrogen production would be an ideal storage solution and you could refill in minutes rather than hours as with electric vehicles. There isn’t such thing as low power vehicles unless you want milk float speeds as the physics won’t allow it. Tesla’s are usually between 65-85KW and need all that power. Vehicles of 25KW or below die out in the marketplace quite quickly and even those if you charge in 1 hour use up the same power as 4 modern cookers on full blast in oven and rings to do so.