Hydrogen has an efficiency problem. You need to convert other forms of energy to hydrogen at a loss. Then you need to store it and transport it, which is costly and may impose quite some energy cost for cooling or compression. Then you need to convert it back to electricity, also at a loss. If you start at electricity, the electrical grid and batteries would be much more efficient. If you start at oil or gas, you could use convention ICEs and get comparable overall efficiencies. For them transport and delivery is a solved problem.
Hydrogen fuel cells are clean where you use them. But so are batteries. Inner cities could be kept cleaner using either. Inner city traffic is mostly short range, so batteries are at an advantage.
Batteries have a rare earth problem. But so do Hydrogen fuel cells. There is work to reduce it for both technologies.
Hydrogen fuel cells have a problem with varying loads. You would use additional batteries in cars to supply peak demand when accelerating or store braking energy. For comparable weight, range, and price you could replace all hydrogen technology with more batteries. Those bigger batteries would also wear out slower because the power demand per cell is lower.
So, when would hydrogen make sense? I think only if you don't care for efficiency. When you have so much electrical power that it costs you nothing and is available at least a few hours every night. Hydrogen would do well in a combination with large scale nuclear fission/fusion. It could take decades until we get there if we ever go that route.
I see that, as batteries become less and less expensive, the niche where Hydrogen could have good advantage is getting smaller and smaller. However you twist and turn it, either oil&gas or batteries have the advantage.
In other words, if a refueling station can do solar or wind capture and electrolysis on-site, the economics are better.
This would be unlikely for stations in urban or high-density
areas, but for rural and suburban locations it might be a win.
Say a fueling station needs to serve (only) 100 cars per day, providing 50kWh per car. That's 200kW average generation power needed. Ballpark, a 1 m2 solar panel can generate 200kWh/year, or 23W average. (quora answer, 2018). You need .. really? 9100 m2 of area, which is .91 hectare or 2.25 US acres.
A 200kW per day (73000kWh/year) wind turbine might stand 25m tall. (uk wind energy report, 2014) Will these function in suburban to urban settings? Would they be accepted by the public? In the US, siting rules are a mess, but one example I found called for 2500 feet (760+m) distance to property line and 1.5 times turbine height to overhead utility lines. (NCSL, 2016)
Given these fairly large size requirements, unless I slipped some decimal points, it doesn't seem likely to work out.
This is the point (one of the points) that Vaclav Smil makes about renewables: abysmal energy density of production (in Watts/square meter: more like 'intensity' than 'density' to me).
The only thing that beats oil is nuclear fission. With everything else, production takes up land that could be used for something else, or isn't being used for something else because it has problems such as distance or inhospitable climate or unfriendly (steep or unstable) terrain. All of which drive up maintenance costs or make the land also unusable for energy production.
There are no good solutions apart from the one that coal companies astroturfed us into nearly banning in the 1960s.
What you're calling "energy intensity of production" doesn't look like a very important parameter. There's plenty of unused land that could host solar or wind installations and transporting electricity really is a solved problem.
I understand the impulse to defend nuclear power against seemingly irrational criticism, but that shouldn't distract you from the incredible advances that other technologies have been making. Nuclear has had its time, and today it's just not a competitive way of making electricity anymore.
Beside, you're never going to convince people that nuclear is perfectly safe - it just isn't. Even if you can completely rule out catastrophic failure, you still have a bunch of people who need to go to work every day and work with radioactive materials. Yes, it can be done safely, but personally I'm happy I don't have to (and I do work with other toxic crap in the lab on a regular basis ;)).
So, at the end of the day, you're going to need to make an argument that goes like "... but nuclear power is worth it because we have no better alternatives" at some point. But look at this report on levelized cost of energy (LCOE) . Wind and solar are absurdly cheap! We need to focus on solving the intermittent supply issue now, and that looks to be totally doable, if expensive, with current technology. But it's only getting cheaper (see literature I've cited in a different post in this thread).
Of course, calculations might change if there's some sort of technology breakthrough in nuclear technology - as in any technology.
> Even if you can completely rule out catastrophic failure, you still have a bunch of people who need to go to work every day and work with radioactive materials.
This is argument from extremes.
Coal plants kill a lot more people simply by operating: they release radioactivity (and toxic heavy metals, and PM2.5 particulate).
Gas extraction, processing, and transport also kill people (often the people who were occupying the land that the gas drillers want.) Ditto for oil. Wind turbine construction and maintenance also kills people. Solar panel construction involves working with toxic chemicals in far greater quantities than nuclear fission.
You expose fewer people to smaller risks with nuclear than with its alternatives.
Also, wind and solar are dependent on either storage, for which we have no good grid-scale, months-long options yet, or globe-spanning petawatt transmission networks, if you're not going to accelerate climate change.
Don't get me wrong. I love solar PV - the only energy production method that relies on modern physics. I love wind, too, because it doesn't involve boiling water to make steam to drive turbines, which seems hopelessly steampunk to me these days. I'd also love to see a worldwide transmission network - that level of international co-operation would be awesome.
. Gawd, I sound like a shill for nuclear. 2002 me would be horrified. But learning about climate change (and wanting industrial civilization to continue) forced me to confront my priors.
> Nuclear has had its time, and today it's just not a competitive way of making electricity anymore
I just don't agree with this. The tech has not been there, and even as that has slowly changed, the regulatory environment has lagged and obstructed horribly. These are problems, but they can change over time.
I believe it is in fact possible, given enough resources and effort, to truly perfect nuclear power - that being, after all, the real source of all these "renewable energy" options. And when we do, we should embrace it, not dismiss it out of hand based on some outdated superstition.
I don't have anything at all against wind and solar, but it's not a 1000-year strategy. Yes, we need to take urgent action to address climate change, and these may well be - ok, fuck it, are - our best short term options. But going forward, when we then need to look at how we'll increase society's power budget by 10, 1,000, 1,000,000 - nuclear is the only way, and we should start working on that, and sweeping away these old stereotypes, today.
 also open to space-based energy harnassing techniques, but i am trying to limit my thinking to known-viable ideas
> if a refueling station can do solar or wind capture and electrolysis on-site, the economics are better.
Are the economics better than just placing that solar or wind plant on the grid and using electricity for battery-powered cars? You still have big losses in electrolysis, compression and then power generation in a fuel cell.
I would like to have seen more elaboration on transmission losses in the power grid. For example, if we imagine solar cells in Sahara generating energy for Europe, is power grid transmission feasible or does hydrogen look better in comparison?
I linked a paper talking about that. Losses are likely on the order of 5% per 1000km. I would think long distance transmission lines could transmit power both east and west which solves some of the time shifting issues. And south to north which solves some of the issue with low irradiance during the winter at high latitudes.
AKA Germany would probably be better off investing solar farms in southern Spain and connecting via long distance transmission lines. Only 1600km or so. Also consider sunset is an hour later in south west Spain.
The problem with generating power in the Sahara for use in Europe has little to do with transmission losses and much more to do with the capital cost of building high capacity power lines over thousands of kilometers. There's also the cost of protecting those lines, since they would have to pass through several different countries that are not always politically stable.
Many of the things you're saying aren't correct, see my other comment (sibling to yours) for references.
Nuclear is not cheap compared to photovoltaics, wind and hydro. Since the former two are bursty, overcapacity in them leads to cheap excess energy at times, which needs to be stored.
Which storage method is the best depends on multiple factors, particularly on the duration of storage, capacity required and frequency of charging/discharging.
Batteries are great for relatively short term storage, but for long term, seasonal storage, hydrogen and pumped hydro are the options we have. Pumped hydro capacity is limited, and the cost of hydrogen production and storage is coming down. So that's where hydrogen makes sense: Long term, high capacity storage.
Not necessarily, at least not always. It needs to be used and this can be made possible by expanding the high voltage networks.
This would be especially effective in the east-west direction because then areas with sun could supply areas where it is dark. This reduces the need for storage while also making the system more robust.
If we add more north-south interconnects we can use some of the Scandinavian hydro plants as batteries (I agree that pumped storage can never be as extensive as one would like and is not as easily achieved as some people think) and North Africa for solar power.
What is most lacking is not new technology but political will to interconnect the electrical supply network so that energy can flow more easily from where it is produced to where it is needed.
It's almost always cheaper to overbuild renewables than to use seasonal storage. Seasonal storage is used once a year, so if you can store a Kwh of energy for $1 it still increases the cost of the stored electricity by 4-5 cents per Kwh. Let's look at a 1 Kw average output. Assume that you have 6 Kw of solar, along with 18 Kwh of batteries. This will work fine 7-8 months out of the year, but will not be sufficient for winter, so you will need seasonal storage. About 2000 Kwh should be sufficient to make up for the deficit. Alternatively, how much solar would you need to avoid seasonal storage? About 10-12 Kw would probably work. That would mean an additional $3,200 to $4,800 in capital costs, assuming 80 cents per watt of solar. In order for seasonal storage to compete it would need to cost less than about $2 per KWh. For hydrogen this would equate to about $40 per kg. That's on the low end of estimates I've seen for underground hydrogen storage, and doesn't even take into account the cost of generating the hydrogen. It also doesn't take into account revenue generated from selling excess electricity in summer. Even if you sold excess electricity for only 1 cent per Kwh you could still offset about half the cost of the extra solar capacity.
I think many people see excess capacity as a form of waste to be reduced, but it's like thinking that gigabit fiber is a waste because it's not used to it's full capacity. The value of oversupply is that it's always available when you need it. The fact that new industries can spawn from the super cheap rates for excess electricity or data is just a bonus.
You can. It's cheaper to also have some hydrogen. Not just for seasonal storage, but to act as a backup for rare long lulls during winter. Without this insurance policy, the renewables have to be sized for extreme worst cases.
Generally, the best solutions involve some overbuilding, some storage, and some combination of solar and wind. For sunny places, solar + batteries (+ a little hydrogen); for windy places, wind + hydrogen (+ a little solar and batteries).
Seasonal fluctuations in energy production are more extreme in far northern and southern latitudes. Which just so happens to be where the majority of energy consumption is located.
The amount of energy storage required even to just handle the daily duck curve is staggering. To put this in perspective, the US consumed 11.5TWh of electricity daily. Global lithium ion battery production is 300GWh per year.
Until some truly groundbreaking storage mechanism gets developed, renewables have difficulty providing more than 40-50% of energy demand.
I recall a 60 Minutes episode where someone was making batteries using dirt and seawater. The batteries were big and heavy, entirely unsuitable for a car. But for grid storage, big and heavy means nothing.
I think you missed the point: even for diurnal storage the scale required amounts to a decade's worth of global battery production just to create capacity equal to 1/4th of just the US's daily electricity usage.
This is a very lame argument. Manufacturing capacity isn't some fixed constant of nature, it's whatever makes sense given the market for the product. So if there's a large market, a large manufacturing capacity will be created.
Even if we assume that the production capacity will continuously increases at the predicted rate, think you missed the part where that was just the US's storage requirements. Global electricity consumption annually was 22.3 PWh in 2017, yielding 61TWh per day. And while battery production increases, so too does electricity demand. Even if we assume that battery production increases to 1TWh-2TWh per year by 2030 as per your link we're still taking about decades to achieve even 1/4th of the current (not 2030) daily electricity consumption even if 100% of battery production was dedicated to grid storage. And that's not possible because grid storage is going to be competing with electric vehicles and electronics. And again, by 2030 were going to be using more electricity than we are currently. The necessary capacity is increasing exponentially. Pointing out that battery production is predicted to increase doesn't alter the fact that the scale required is massive.
And this all this is ignoring the fact that batteries lose half their capacity after 300-500 cycles. Even if we're generous and say 1000 cycles that's still just 3 years for diurnal use (daily charge and discharge cycles).
This thread is being rate limited, reply in edit:
> I didn't miss that. Why do you think global manufacturing capacity will stop when it reaches what the US needs, and not expand to satisfy the global market? You think the manufactures are going to leave sales and profits on the table for no good reason
I can ask you the same thing: why do you think that global battery manufacturing capacity is unlimited? What makes you think that we'll have an unlimited supply of raw materials? The prevalence of metal deposits does not respond to the market. Increasing prices of lithium will make more people search for lithium deposits, but there's a finite number of said deposits.
And again, the projected increases in in battery production due to increased demand bring down the time to create enough capacity from a matter of centuries to a matter of decades. For batteries that last a few years if cycled daily.
> It also seems reasonable to expect at least one significant breakthrough in battery technology over the next 10-30 years, given how important a problem it is, and how many promising approaches there are already.
So our approach is to keep our fingers crossed and hope for a technological breakthrough. If that's the case we might as well just hope for fusion to work.
But most of us would prefer a solution that we know works rather than bet on the possibility of breakthrough. And right now the only two known means of generating most of a country's power from a carbon free energy source is through hydroelectricity and nuclear power.
I didn't miss that. Why do you think global manufacturing capacity will stop when it reaches what the US needs, and not expand to satisfy the global market? You think the manufactures are going to leave sales and profits on the table for no good reason?
The growth in production is being controlled by the growth in the market. New factories can be added at very high rate if needed. You are treating the manufacturing capacity as some exogenous constraint rather than something that can be changed along with everything else.
To respond to your response: a universal aspect of mineral depletion arguments is that estimates are too low. Demand create supply as people are encouraged to go look for more, and to develop new ways to extract materials.
Consider that natural gas used to be though of as rare and limited, so much so that its use for power production was outlawed in the US!
> Consider that natural gas used to be though of as rare and limited, so much so that its use for power production was outlawed in the US!
Where are you getting this information? Natural gas has been widely extracted for much of the last century , and made up substantial portion of electricity generation as early as the 1960s and 1970s . Where did you read that its use for power production was banned?
It became preferable in late 20th and early 21st century for power generation because of stricter emissions standards. Burning methane is cleaner than burning coal, and technology developed to the point that building gas infrastructure was not cost prohibitive.
Natural gas is not an example of a previously rare natural resource suddenly becoming common. And even if it were, there's no guarantee that lithium is going to follow the same fate. Simply assuming that there are always more mineral reserves than is estimated is an easy way to end up with a shortage.
> The prevalence of metal deposits does not respond to the market. Increasing prices of lithium will make more people search for lithium deposits, but there's a finite number of said deposits.
There are battery technologies based off of metals other than lithium. For example, the key downside of sodium batteries seems to be weight/volume, which is less of an issue for grid storage. And there's a lot of easily accessible sodium.
It also seems reasonable to expect at least one significant breakthrough in battery technology over the next 10-30 years, given how important a problem it is, and how many promising approaches there are already.
Finally, there is a lot we can do to reduce storage requirements by strategically spreading load. If we get enough generation capacity and are storage constrained, then electricity could become significantly during generation hours, which would cause people to do things like run their washing machines during the day.
> And while battery production increases, so too does electricity demand.
This is probably true on a worldwide basis. But here in the UK, electrical demand has actually been falling due to more efficient appliances.
Then what's the alternative? Kinetic storage is geographically limited. Th Sabatier process has end to end efficiency of ~30% not to mention it needs an external source of carbon dioxide. The remaining proposals are at the experimental stage (thermal storage, hydrogen storage).
Cool, I was looking for the efficiency of the Sabatier process. If people are prepared to use electrolosis with a end to end efficiency of ~ 40%. Using the Sabatier process to produce methane begins to look good to me. Just as green as the methane is produced from carbon dioxide and water. And it is much cheaper to produce pipes and tanks for methane and it should be able to be used in all the current natural gas infrastructure (compared to only 20% of the gas in these lines being able to be replaced with hydrogen). It seems to me anywhere where the gas has to be stored or moved the Sabatier process would win economically.
Underground hydrogen storage is a demonstrated technology, not experimental. All that's required is scaling it up, and there's plenty of room to do that. The only real missing piece was sufficiently cheap electrolysers for use with intermittently available power, but that's coming along very fast now too, with rumors of costs as low as $200/kW in China (and a recent contract win of $350/kW from a European maker of alkaline electrolysis systems). This is more than adequate for hydrogen storage.
Underground hydrogen storage had the same issue as kinetic storage: it's geographically limited. It's not just a matter of scaling it up, it's also matter to implementing it in places without empty salt mines handy.
And as you point out, generating this hydrogen is nowhere near cost efficient. To put this in perspective, energy costs in the US average about $.10-$.20 per KWh . You're literally talking about a 1,000x increase in the cost of electricity for hydrogen storage even if the rumors of "cheap" $200/KWh hydrogen production turn out to be true.
> You are pointing to RETAIL electricity costs. Rookie error, man.
Elaborate on what you mean by emphasizing retail energy costs. That is the cost that customers pay for the electricity that is delivered to them. Some of this is subsidized, but this subsidy is not large. The US provides $3-5 subsidy per MWh of electricity.  Half a cent per KWh.
Even if we ignore subsidies, hundreds of dollars per kilowatt hour of hydrogen storage is still a factor of a thousand more expensive.
> Elaborate on what you mean by emphasizing retail energy costs. That is the cost that customers pay for the electricity that is delivered to them.
It's what a residential customer would pay. It's not what an industrial customer would pay, and it's certainly not the internal cost the utility to pay for their own production of hydrogen. In particular, it includes the cost of supporting the distribution network. None of the power being sent to the electrolysers will be sent over the thousands of miles of residential distribution lines.
It also doesn't take into account that the wholesale price of electricity in power markets varies with time. The residential fixed price is derived from some average of that (plus charges for all the overhead), but the electrolysers could be operated when the wholesale price is low.
> hundreds of dollars per kilowatt hour of hydrogen storage is still a factor of a thousand more expensive.
The capital cost of storing hydrogen in underground cavities is estimated to be $1 per kWh of capacity, and perhaps much less.
You seem to be under the impression that the cost of hydrogen storage comes almost exclusively from the cost of electricity used for electrolysis of water. This is not the case. Even if we assume zero electricity costs, th cost of storing hydrogen amounts to over a thousand dollars per KWh.
Current estimates place this at $1,400 per KWh per year for the average case assuming that the electricity provided is free . That works out to $3.80 per day per kilowatt hour of storage. Even for the optimistic estimated provided by this study, it's still $800/KWh/year - still over $2.00 per day. And again, this is assuming that free excess wind generation is used to get generate hydrogen.
Us retail energy costs are about $.13/KWh. Industrial costs are $.07/KWh. For diurnal storage, hydrogen energy storage represents a 20x cost increase even in the best case estimates for the storage cost and assuming that excess wind generation will pick up th slack.
And for non-diurnal storage the costs are even higher per KWh because a smaller amount of delivered electricity needs to pay off the same amount of capacity cost.
Also, before you point at figure 16, know that this graph includes "capacity credits" - it's not the actual cost.
> You seem to be under the impression that the cost of hydrogen storage comes almost exclusively from the cost of electricity used for electrolysis of water.
Nowhere did I say or imply that. My argument is actually the complete opposite.
What hydrogen does is get a much lower cost per unit of energy storage capacity, at the cost of lower efficiency . The cost per energy capacity of batteries is two orders of magnitude higher than for hydrogen storage. So, hydrogen exploits that for long term storage, it's ok to waste more input energy, if you can get the capital cost down.
> Us retail energy costs are about $.13/KWh. Industrial costs are $.07/KWh.
The correct figure to look at is wholesale price, which is often below $.03/kWh in US power markets, and lower at off peak times when one would make hydrogen.
I explicitly wasn't talking about diurnal storage. That's not the use case for hydrogen. The use case is long term storage.
> And for non-diurnal storage the costs are even higher per KWh because a smaller amount of delivered electricity needs to pay off the same amount of capacity cost.
Hydrogen has a huge advantage in long term storage, because the per-energy capacity cost is so damned low, compared to batteries. Yes, the cost per kWh stored in long term storage is higher than the cost per kWh in short term storage. But they are different use cases and one cannot be substituted for the other.
If you optimize the problem of providing a steady output from renewables over the days and years, you will find in most places that a mix of short term and long term storage is optimal. Neither substitutes for the other.
> The correct figure to look at is wholesale price, which is often below $.03/kWh in US power markets, and lower at off peak times when one would make hydrogen.
Again, the estimates shared in the study are made with the assumption that electricity used for hydrogen production is free. This is why I am left with the impression that you think the energy used for electrolysis amounts to a large portion of the cost of hydrogen storage. Because you seem to be fixated on the cost of electricity, even though hydrogen storage is still incredibly expensive even if electricity is 100% free.
No, hydrogen does not have low cost of energy storage. Average estimates place the cost at $1,400 per KWh per year for average estimates and $800 per KWh per year for optimistic estimates. And for the third time, just to make sure that this fact gets across, these estimates are made with the assumption that the electricity supplied to generate hydrogen is at zero cost from surplus renewable generation.
This cost needs to be recovered from people drawing the stored energy. If all this energy is being drawn in one day of the year, it's going to cost $1,400 or $800 per kilowatt hour depending of whether you use the average or optimistic estimates. If you draw the energy on 10 days out of the year then it's going to cost $140 or $80 per KWh. How does this make it more suitable for long term storage? It doesn't. Even if the cost were spread out over the entirety of the year it would cost anywhere from 60 to 120 times as much as the wholesale price of $0.03 per KWh. If this energy is only going to be draw on for part of the year this cost increase is going to be even larger because the same cost of storage needs to be recuperated from a shorter period of sales.
It's the most suitable solution for long term storage by virtue of the fact that it's one of the only mechanisms we have for long term storage with our current technology. It's nowhere near cost effective. The costs are the total opposite of "so damn low".
Yes, the cost to store hydrogen for LONG TERM STORAGE is higher than the cost to store electricity in batteries for SHORT TERM STORAGE. But the cost to store hydrogen for long term storage is LOWER than the cost to store electricity in batteries for the long term.
If you are comparing batteries short term with hydrogen long term, you are comparing apples and oranges.
Your study does NOT say batteries are cheaper than hydrogen for long term storage. They could not possibly be cheaper for that, since there are too few charge/discharge cycles to amortize the batteries' very high cost per kWh of capacity.
You seem to be saying "just use short term storage!". But that's not a legitimate approach, since there are long term variations in supply and demand. Short term storage only applies to short term variations.
My reply was refuting your claim that hydrogen storage was cheap. Now you're going off on a tangent about short term vs. long term storage and ignoring the central point of my previous comment: the cost estimates for hydrogen storage are nowhere near cheap.
> Yes, the cost to store hydrogen for LONG TERM STORAGE is higher than the cost to store electricity in batteries for SHORT TERM STORAGE. But the cost to store hydrogen for long term storage is LOWER than the cost to store electricity in batteries for the long term.
> If you are comparing batteries short term with hydrogen long term, you are comparing apples and oranges.
I'm not comparing anything. I'm providing a source on the cost of hydrogen storage, to refute your unsubstantiated claim that hydrogen storage is cheap.
And as it turns out this cost is extremely expensive, regardless of whether it's used for short term or long term storage.
> Your study does NOT say batteries are cheaper than hydrogen for long term storage. They could not possibly be cheaper for that, since there are too few charge/discharge cycles to amortize the batteries' very high cost per kWh of capacity.
Correct, this study is about the cost of hydrogen not a comparison versus batteries. And for the second time, nowhere did I compare hydrogen against batteries. My reply doesn't even mention batteries once.
All I used this study for was tho find an estimate for the cost of hydrogen storage. And that cost is $1,400 per kilowatt hour per year for normal estimates and $800 per kilowatt hour per year for optimistic estimates. This is incredibly expensive, contrary to your claim that the cost of hydrogen storage is "so damn low".
> You seem to be saying "just use short term storage!". But that's not a legitimate approach, since there are long term variations in supply and demand. Short term storage only applies to short term variations.
The point is that it's extremely expensive, and not a viable solution for any type of storage. Short term or long term. The cost per kilowatt hour of storage is just way too high to be viable. $800 per kilowatt hour per year for the optimistic estimates, and $1,400 for realistic estimates is insanely expensive. And again this is assuming that the electricity provided to convert water to hydrogen is free.
In what world is $800 to $1,400 per kilowatt hour per year, "so damn cheap"? For hydrogen to achieve even just 1 day's worth of energy storage for the USA (11.5 TWh daily usage) at a cost of $800 per kilowatt hour per year would cost $9 trillion dollars per year. And remember, that's the optimistic estimate and assuming that the energy used to produce hydrogen is free.
This isn't about short term vs long term storage. Hydrogen storage is incredibly expensive, it's not "so damn cheap".
You misrepresent what I wrote. I didn't say hydrogen was cheap. I said the PER ENERGY CAPACITY part of hydrogen storage was cheap. And it is! It's like 200x times cheaper than the same aspect of battery storage. So if we get into a situation where the per-energy capacity costs are really import (such as, long term storage), hydrogen beats batteries.
There are, of course, OTHER parts of a hydrogen storage system, whose costs scale with the input and output power, not the stored energy. And these other parts (and the lower efficiency) make hydrogen uncompetitive for diurnal load leveling.
But hydrogen is superior to batteries if the goal is to store the energy for considerably longer periods. It is TOTALLY about short vs. long term.
As for whether hydrogen is "incredibly expensive": for the things it is suitable for, it is cheaper than the alternatives. Try to optimize a CO2-free power system using just wind, solar, and batteries in Europe, vs. one that also includes hydrogen storage. The latter is cheaper! It's also cheaper than a system that includes new nuclear power plants
> In what world is $800 to $1,400 per kilowatt hour per year, "so damn cheap"?
Your units there don't even make sense. BTW, I hope you aren't taking ratio of energy capacity to power-related costs suitable for diurnal storage and applying that to a seasonal storage system. The latter charges up and discharges over months, so the ratio is very different.
> I said the PER ENERGY CAPACITY part of hydrogen storage was cheap. And it is! It's like 200x times cheaper than the same aspect of battery storage. So if we get into a situation where the per-energy capacity costs are really import (such as, long term storage), hydrogen beats batteries.
Right, and this claim is totally false. It's not cheaper than batteries, let alone 200x cheaper.
Where are you getting this figure that hydrogen storage is 200 times cheaper than battery storage?
> But hydrogen is superior to batteries if the goal is to store the energy for considerably longer periods. It is TOTALLY about short vs. long term.
No, it's not. Again, are you just completely ignoring the costs presented in the study?
> As for whether hydrogen is "incredibly expensive": for the things it is suitable for, it is cheaper than the alternatives. Try to optimize a CO2-free power system using just wind, solar, and batteries in Europe, vs. one that also includes hydrogen storage. The latter is cheaper! It's also cheaper than a system that includes new nuclear power plants
No, it's not. Again, even just providing 1 day's worth of nuclear power costs over 9 trillion dollars every year using the optimistic estimates. Using the mid range estimates this figure is $16T per year.
> Your units there don't even make sense.
Cost of storage is measured in both capacity in duration. The unit answers the question, "how much does it cost to provide X amount of storage over Y duration"? Hence, kilowatt hour per year. Or $ KWh/yr as shown in the study. I'm not sure what is hard to understand about cost per kilowatt hour per year. $800 KWh/yr means it costs $800 dollars to provide 1 kilowatt hour of storage capacity for one year.
It should be really clear why these numbers are what they are, if you understand what they mean. The hydrogen energy capital cost is the cost of creating the underground storage cavern where the compressed hydrogen will be stored. It does not include electrolyzers, compressors, turbines, or generators -- those are all POWER related capital costs.
The NREL hydrogen cavern cost numbers are even lower.
What this means is that if you want to expand the energy storage capacity of your storage system, but keep the input/output power the same, hydrogen scales FAR better than batteries do (with the partial exception of flow batteries, but the energy capacity related costs of those will still be higher than that of hydrogen storage, due to the need for tanks and expensive metals like vanadium for the anolyte/catholyte). And THIS is why hydrogen is far superior to batteries for long term storage.
> Battery energy capital cost: 142 Euro/kWh Hydrogen energy capital cost: 0.7 Euro/kWh
> What's the ratio of those? About 200!
You realize that this site is a calculator, right? It's a calculator used to calculate how much energy would cost for the cost values supplied. You can put whatever you want for that field. This site isn't a study. The value for this figure comes from an external pay walled link. And it looks like that link isn't even talking about storing hydrogen, but storing methane produced from hydrogen gas (power to gas). Methane is much easier to store and is more energy dense by unit of volume, as well as makes use of existing natural gas transportation infrastructure. But power to gas needs an external source of carbon dioxide.
And this isn't the actual cost of hydrogen storage, only the capital cost of constructing a storage container. Which is kind of a ridiculous figure to provide for storing gas in a cavern: the storage container is already built for you. But this goes back to the problem of geographic limitation: you can only store hydrogen in a limited set of places. This is like saying we should just power all our energy needs with hydroelectricity and geothermal power.
It's a site that gives references to where it got the data. And it's more than a calculator -- it's an optimizer, that gives the most economical mix of generation and storage to supply a constant power output, using real weather data. Those optimization results show that hydrogen beats batteries for long term storage.
> And this isn't the actual cost of hydrogen storage, only the capital cost of constructing a storage container.
Of course. If you had been reading what I wrote, you would know I know that. The total cost in the model is obtained by adding the energy related cost and the power related cost (as well as the cost of the input energy). And no, the cavern is not already built for you, it's produced by solution mining of an existing salt formation.
Follow the NREL link if you want data that's not behind a paywall. Their numbers are even lower.
But anyway, the basic point I've been making is extremely elementary, and it's remarkable and more than a little appalling that you are unable to understand it. You need to step back and stop embarrassing yourself.
> And no, the cavern is not already built for you, it's produced by solution mining of an existing salt formation.
This plan is to repurpose existing mines. Yes the cavern is already built for you as far as the cost estimates are concerned.
> But anyway, the basic point I've been making is extremely elementary, and it's remarkable and more than a little appalling that you are unable to understand it. You need to step back and stop embarrassing yourself.
And by resorting to insults you've demonstrated that you are not interested in participating in good faith. This is the exact opposite of what you want to do if you want to convince someone that your claims are correct.
I think that you are misreading units somewhere. I don't see anywhere in that report that looks like $1400/kWh for hydrogen systems. Are you referring to Figure 14? The "Spilled Wind - Current Technology" bar there looks like it could be about $1400. But that graph is dollars per kilowatt, not per kilowatt hour. It refers to a system with 6 hours of storage.
You are pointing to RETAIL electricity costs. Rookie error, man. Hydrogen would be produced at wholesale, especially with cut rate power when renewables are overproducing. In some places this number becomes negative.
My understanding is that salt domes previously used for natural gas storage can be retooled to store hydrogen. Those have enormous capacities, months worth. At least in europe and north america they're hardly georaphically limited in the sense that pumped hydro is.
> Many of the things you're saying aren't correct, see my other comment (sibling to yours) for references.
I really wish that I was wrong instead of just semi-accurate and sloppy.
> Nuclear is not cheap compared to photovoltaics, wind and hydro.
The price of nuclear power is dominated by regulation. Running the power plant is quite cheap. The real cost is satisfying regulation and getting rid of the nuclear waste. If you use new reactor designs it promises to be really cheap. But currently regulation cost is so high that it's not happening any time soon. Similarly, nuclear fusion promises a lot. Maybe one day it will deliver.
My point is that IFF you have dirt cheap nuclear energy, it would be quite appealing to convert it to hydrogen (or Methane/Methanol) and to replace natural gas and oil with it. But since that is not happening, renewables will NOT deliver enough energy to replace gas and oil completely any time soon. We have a factor of 10-100 to scale up for that to happen.
> Since the former two are bursty, overcapacity in them leads to cheap excess energy at times, which needs to be stored.
Wind and solar currently rarely have overcapacity because in many nations mandated by regulations the other sources will have to go offline instead. The problem is that if you really manage to build up wind and hydro to satisfy electricity demand on average the Hydrogen generators will only utilize somewhat in the region of 10% of their design capacity in average. They need to be very cheap to run at a profit for that.
Also, if electricity is really cheap, we have a lot of uses for it. For example heating is ideally done using clean electricity. This substitution frees up a lot oil and gas that you can use instead of Hydrogen.
> Which storage method is the best depends on multiple factors, particularly on the duration of storage, capacity required and frequency of charging/discharging.
> Batteries are great for relatively short term storage, but for long term, seasonal storage, hydrogen and pumped hydro are the options we have. Pumped hydro capacity is limited, and the cost of hydrogen production and storage is coming down. So that's where hydrogen makes sense: Long term, high capacity storage.
True. But if you have enough production capacity, you don't really need storage. You only store it if it is cheaper than simply generating more power when you need it. Instead of generating Hydrogen and storing it you could use a natural gas peaker plant. You have natural gas and storage solutions already available and installed. Hydrogen has to be cheaper than natural gas.
You have some nice academic references while I only have anecdata that may be partially outdated by now. In my past experience Hydrogen and fuel cells have failed to deliver time after time, year after year while Lithium batteries have really taken off.
Currently, Hydrogen is off the charts because it is too expensive but it is projected to come down and dominate the upper end in 30 years while Lithium batteries dominate all the rest. Lithium batteries are here today and the focus is on batteries. Natrium and other battery technologies may be ready by then and drop prices a further factor of 10.
I do not deny that some Hydrogen from electricity makes sense. Especially if you need Hydrogen for your chemical processes. Maybe even for storage of excess electricity (or just adding it to the natural gas instead of storing it). But I don't see Hydrogen for small vehicles anytime soon.
The cost of storing waste is miniscule. Because there's so little of it. The entirety of the US's nuclear waste from electricity generation occupies a volume the footprint of a football field and 10 meters high . The government did build a waste storage facility, which was planned to have cost $150 million . Which is tiny compared to the tens of billions that nuclear plants themselves actually cost.
The notion that cost of storing nuclear waste would make nuclear power considerably more expensive is incorrect.
One way of thinking about it is that nuclear power is the only type of power we have at the moment where all of the negative externalities are baked into the process.
I really want renewables to work but so far grid scale batteries just don't exist. The biggest lithium battery isn't even a blip, it's roughly equivalent to what the UK receives through French over production every 6 minutes.
Then how come that not a single country has yet developed a method for storing their nuclear waste safely and permanently?
From your first link:
> The fuel is either enclosed in steel-lined concrete pools of water or in steel and concrete containers, known as dry storage casks.
> For the foreseeable future, the fuel can safely stay at these facilities until a permanent disposal solution is determined by the federal government.
But from Wikipedia's page on dry cask storage, linked from your second link:
> In the 1990s, the NRC had to “take repeated actions to address defective welds on dry casks that led to cracks and quality assurance problems; helium had leaked into some casks, increasing temperatures and causing accelerated fuel corrosion”.
> With the zeroing of the budget for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, more nuclear waste is being loaded into sealed metal casks filled with inert gas. Many of these casks will be stored in coastal or lakeside regions where a salt air environment exists, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is studying how such dry casks perform in salt environments. Some hope that the casks can be used for 100 years, but cracking related to corrosion could occur in 30 years or less.
In other words the "safe" temporary storage is not really safe.
From your second link:
> In September 2007, it was discovered that the Bow Ridge fault line ran underneath the facility, hundreds of feet east of where it was originally thought to be located, beneath a storage pad where spent radioactive fuel canisters would be cooled before being sealed in a maze of tunnels. The discovery required several structures to be moved several hundred feet further to the east, and drew criticism from Robert R. Loux, then head of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, who argues that Yucca administrators should have known about the fault line's location years prior, and called the movement of the structures "just-in-time engineering." In June 2008, a major nuclear equipment supplier, Holtec International, criticized the Department of Energy's safety plan for handling containers of radioactive waste before they are buried at the proposed Yucca Mountain dump. The concern is that, in an earthquake, the unanchored casks of nuclear waste material awaiting burial at Yucca Mountain could be sent into a "chaotic melee of bouncing and rolling juggernauts".
How sure can we be there are no other fault lines waiting to be found? How sure can we be earthquakes won't cause problems in 100 years, or 500 or 5000 years? The Yucca Mountain repository is supposed to last 10000 years. How do we know it will?
Storing nuclear waste is a huge unsolved problem. What's going to happen is that we're going to put it somewhere out of sight and let future generations deal with it. As other posters said: the nuclear industry externalizes all its difficulties to government, society and even future generations.
The US built the Yucca Mountain, but then Congress blocked its usage. This was done due to political posturing not technical concerns. Burying it in an area with no groundwater is a foolproof method of disposal short of hyperbolic scenarios involving societal collapse followed by a future people digging in an area with no resources for an inexplicable reason. Yucca mountain is not in a geologically active area, so the concern about earthquakes is moot.
> How sure can we be there are no other fault lines waiting to be found? How sure can we be earthquakes won't cause problems in 100 years, or 500 or 5000 years? The Yucca Mountain repository is supposed to last 10000 years. How do we know it will?
After 10,000 years the uranium is no more radioactive than it was when it was dug out of the ground. And when Yucca mountain is filled the entrances are blocked by meters of concrete - even if canisters are somehow get compromised the uranium still needs to magically get through several meters of rock and concrete to get out into the environment.
It is a solved problem, but politicians have decided not to use the solution. In the US that is, Europe has it's dig in Finland continuing as planned.
This thread is being rate limited, reply in edit:
Understand the the "controversies" section on Wikipedia includes concerns that are addressed. In fact you even quoted the explanation that tectonic deformation is not a concern.
> In 2012, a research group at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, published research that suggests that the copper capsules of KBS-3 are not as corrosion-proof as SKB and Posiva claim. The research group led by Peter Szakálos estimated that the copper capsules would last only about 1,000 years, instead of the 100,000 years claimed by the companies. According to the research results, corrosion in pure copper advances at about one micrometre a year, whereas KBS-3 depends on a rate of corrosion that is a thousand times slower. Independent research conducted in Finland has supported the results of Szakálos's group.
I said "safely and permantently".
> Yucca mountain is not in a geologically active area
> Nevada ranks fourth in the nation for current seismic activity. Earthquake databases (the Council of the National Seismic System Composite Catalogue and the Southern Great Basin Seismic Network) provide current and historical earthquake information. Analysis of the available data in 1996 indicates that, since 1976, there have been 621 seismic events of magnitude greater than 2.5 within a 50-mile (80 km) radius of Yucca Mountain.
> DOE has stated that seismic and tectonic effects on the natural systems at Yucca Mountain will not significantly affect repository performance. Yucca Mountain lies in a region of ongoing tectonic deformation, but the deformation rates are too slow to significantly affect the mountain during the 10,000-year regulatory compliance period.
So there is tectonic deformation in the area, but everyone who has a stake in the projects believes it won't be a problem. To me that sounds like the believe that the Challenger's O-ring couldn't cause problems.
> After 10,000 years the uranium is no more radioactive than it was when it was dug out of the ground.
Which is why I only mentioned shorter timescales.
> And when Yucca mountain is filled the entrances are blocked by meters of concrete - even if canisters are somehow get compromised the uranium still needs to magically get through several meters of rock and concrete to get out into the environment.
> The volcanic tuff at Yucca Mountain is appreciably fractured and movement of water through an aquifer below the waste repository is primarily through fractures. While the fractures are usually confined to individual layers of tuff, the faults extend from the planned storage area all the way to the water table 600 to 1,500 ft (180 to 460 m) below the surface. Future water transport from the surface to waste containers is likely to be dominated by fractures. There is evidence that surface water has been transported down through the 700 ft (210 m) of overburden to the exploratory tunnel at Yucca Mountain in less than 50 years.
> The aquifer of Yucca Mountain drains to Amargosa Valley, home to over 1400 people and a number of endangered species.
> Some site opponents assert that, after the predicted containment failure of the waste containers, these cracks may provide a route for movement of radioactive waste that dissolves in the water flowing downward from the desert surface. Officials state that the waste containers will be stored in such a way as to minimize or even nearly eliminate this possibility.
We already know the waste containers degrade much faster than originally thought. There is a significant chance of contamination of the groundwater.
> > With the zeroing of the budget for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, more nuclear waste is being loaded into sealed metal casks filled with inert gas. Many of these casks will be stored in coastal or lakeside regions where a salt air environment exists, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is studying how such dry casks perform in salt environments. Some hope that the casks can be used for 100 years, but cracking related to corrosion could occur in 30 years or less.
> In other words the "safe" temporary storage is not really safe.
I think you misunderstood this paragraph. The waste is being stored in these temporary casks because the Yucca Mountain facility's budget was eliminated, and thus temporary storage is the only storage option.
I wasn't very clear. One of the links mentioned that not only Yucca Mountain is a good solution, but also that the temporary storage that's used in the meantime is perfectly safe. That's what I objected to with that quote.
It cost 22% in 1991, which obviously wasn't a good year for Belarusian budget. Despite management so bad that even security services turned against it, by 2002 Belarus spent 6% of its budget on Chernobyl - like Ukraine, majority of it was benefits paid as compensation for around 7 million people.
Yeah hydrogen is pipe dream. Hydrogen enbrittlement destroys it's containers and it leaks out between the atoms. If we could ever make bulk graphene that could contain it but very little progress on that front. As for producing the fuel it cost more energy to produce hydrogen than we get back burning it. Plus it is more explosive and dangerous to handle than current fossil fuels. Pretty much the only thing going for it is that it is clean if you don't ask where the energy to make it came from.
Hydrogen makes sense in industrial applications (steel, chemistry, e.g. ammonia production). Electricity often isn’t even an option there (same with aviation).
I think people tend to be too blinded in their focus on cars here? I don’t think hydrogen cars make much sense. Batteries all the way – but that doesn’t mean that hydrogen is without merit for other applications.
And if you want to replace all greenhouse gases in industrial applications with green hydrogen you still need a shitton of hydrogen (since, yeah, it’s inefficient – but if it’s the most efficient greenhouse-neutral way to get there – what choice is there?), so that’s not something you can just improvise. You need to tackle it head-on.
That’s why I fear people being stubbornly focused on cars. Even if not a single car will ever use hydrogen ever we could still need a lot of green hydrogen for other purposes if we want to be greenhouse-neutra.
And batteries have a scaling problem - hydrogen complements them nicely for long term storage. When energy is free, make hydrogen and store it in a tank (or in a salt cavern, as the article describes).
There are other ways of generating electricity apart from electrolysis. For example, from food waste through yeast and other methods. Yes, there is some energy being used but you are talking about material which would go waste anyway:
First: Energy density
The primary advantage of hydrogen is energy density. Though Li Ion and other technologies have improved considerably, they are no where near the energy density of fossil fuel technologies and therefore vehicles which use these batteries will have to carry huge weight of batteries to get better range. With Hydrogen that is not a problem.
Hydrogen's high density of available energy per unit mass is the key to identifying where it is most potentially useful.
Simply, it is by far the best of all possible aircraft fuels.
Its one major disadvantage for this, as for most uses, is its low mass density: it needs more room than diesel to store enough to be useful. The tanks need to be bigger, and either strong enough to contain high pressure, or well-enough insulated to keep it liquid.
Current aircraft store fuel in wing tanks not roomy enough for hydrogen. The most practical hydrogen-fueled aircraft would probably have a shape more like a lifting body than a submarine with skinny wings sticking out. So for best efficiency, we might need new airframes, but just using hydrogen yields major improvement. To oversimplify, the plane doesn't need to lift so much weight of fuel to cruising altitude, or carry it halfway across the world.
Tankage has improved radically in recent years with the development of aerogels, which make practical carrying liquid hydrogen that need not held be at high pressure, so can be in tanks that conform to an aerodynamically-practical shape. (Other sophisticated storage methods increase weight, so are more practical on the ground.)
Hydrogen is tricky to store for long or in large amounts, so the best way to use it is to produce it on demand where it is needed. A major airport would be a good place to produce it, as it could be piped directly into aircraft and used immediately. All the airport would need is water and power. Power can be collected by wind and solar over a wide area, delivered by transmission lines. The amount of water needed is negligible.
Producing hydrogen would also yield plenty of oxygen, which might just be vented; but by carrying liquid oxygen, aircraft could fly higher, faster, and more efficiently, or at least get to cruising altitude more quickly. As electric power continues to get cheaper, uses for it such as liquifying oxygen along with hydrogen get more attractive.
The first use will be in long-haul craft operating from a few major airports. It is possible that current large aircraft -- 747s, 777s, A380s -- could be converted, by using some of what is now cargo space for tankage, and replacing fuel pipes and pumps and, quite possibly, engines. It would be a big job, made attractive mainly by the extreme cost of qualifying new airframe designs.
The lost cargo space would be made up easily by the much larger weight capacity, as tens of tons less weight of fuel is needed. Cargo aircraft today often fly half-empty so as not to exceed their takeoff weight limit.
Pure oxygen can also be used in the pyrolysis phase of gasification, turning waste organic matter into syngas (Carbon monoxide and Hydrogen gas), as it produces a more pure fuel then using air alone (which is 60% inert nitrogen).
It also depends where the hydrogen comes from. If you produce it from water, your byproducts are oxygen. If you produce it from methane, your byproducts are carbon dioxide. Issue is that water has 2 hydrogens and methane has 4, so typically it is produced by using methane.
Issue is that water has 2 hydrogens and methane has 4, so typically it is produced by using methane.
It’s not really about that, we don’t lack water or methane. The issue is rather about the energy required to produce given amount of hydrogen. Electrolysis requires 2-3 as much energy as steam methane reforming already if you just look at energy of chemical reactions, and moreover, steam reforming requires just heat, while electrolysis requires electricity, which again is more expensive than heat: we produce most of our electricity from heat, and the conversion efficiency from heat to electricity is around 20-30%, so it makes more sense to use all the heat directly instead of going through electricity production stage.
1. Electricity is getting cheaper all the time. The cheapest forms, wind and solar, involve no detour through heat. Anything that uses electricity instead of something that produces CO2 is a big net win.
2. Huge efficiency gains are to be had, in electrolysis, via catalytic action, needing only transition from lab to production funded by sufficient demand for the hydrogen.
3. There has been great success with direct solar -> H2, needing, again, only sufficient demand for the hydrogen produced to be made industrially practical.
Yes, it is conceivable that you could use cheap electricity from renewables, but it would have to be a lot cheaper than electricity from natural gas for it to make economic sense, probably something on the order of 5-6x cheaper. You get a factor of 3x just by using natural gas to heat directly, and then you need to account for bigger capital expenses for building plant and storage, because the cheap renewables are not available round the clock, so your production capacity must be significantly higher to produce more when they are available, to match the same average production of a standard natural gas plant, which can have smaller reactors etc but work around the clock. I think hitting 5-6x cheaper costs on average might be hard.
It is a mystery to me why you keep talking about heat. Heat is the lowest grade of energy, and least useful. Not taking a wasteful detour through heat is the first rule of efficient conversion.
That’s because the alternative process to electrolysis of producing hydrogen, the steam reforming, uses heat, not electricity. I keep talking about heat, because electricity from solar or wind is competing not with electricity from natural gas, but with heat from natural gas. Given typical conversion efficiency of 20-30%, this means that the heat from natural gas is at the very least 3-5 times cheaper than electricity from natural gas, and in fact it’s even cheaper than that, because you don’t need expensive turbines to generate heat from natural gas, reducing your capital and maintenance costs even more. EIA doesnt expect costs of electricity from solar to go below electricity from natural gas by 2040 at all, much less 6 times.
When we finally get sensible carbon taxation, 6x cheaper than CH4 will be easy to achieve.
Yes, if you put a finger on a scale, you can achieve any result that you want.
I guess you meant to say "finger off the scale", after carbon burners are no longer permitted to externalize environmental damage for free. If it had been collected starting when we knew it would cause catastrophe, and commensurate with the catastrophe, we would be carbon-negative by now. Clawing it back, retroactively, from those enriched by causing the catastrophe would be helpful even now.
All production issues aside, aviation makes sense to me. Planes are only filling at known stops, the weight is superior to our best batteries, and the transition from fossil fuel to hydrogen jets should be easy.
As for as long haul trucks, I can kinda see it, maybe, still a lot of storage, production, efficiency issues. Weight isn’t nearly the same concern as it is for aviation.
>You need to convert other forms of energy to hydrogen at a loss.
When wouldn't it be at a loss? That's just physics. Hydrogen fuel cells aren't a source of energy in and of themselves, they're just a storage medium, like any other battery. And the act of filling them will never by 100% efficient because nothing is, so there will always be loss.
Hydrogen fuel cells don't store the hydrogen. They convert the hydrogen into electricity. The losses come from a: converting electricity to hydrogen by electrolysis and b: converting that hydrogen back to electricity.
The problem you're missing is cost of production: A hydrogen car fundamentally should cost no more than gasoline powered car, and will have a similar range. With batteries, you'll always be limited in range to some extend, and cost reductions have failed to reduce them to anything like a Toyota Corolla type of car.
Batteries don't have a rare earth metal problem, they have a normal metal problem. You need a lot of raw materials to make them, and it's plausible that this will never scale to point where everything can run on batteries.
Electricity has a transmission problem though - there are some parts of the world with lots of clean energy, which we can't fully take advantage of because we can't transport electricity that far. Hydrogen allows us to use that clean energy to power cars in other parts of the world, since you can produce hydrogen in those places and then ship it to places without much clean energy. Also you can presumably stop and start hydrogen production as electricity demand changes (ex. Only produce it on sunny windy days where there is excess electricity) allowing you to shift the demand curve more easily than with electric cars.
HVDC only loses ten percent per 3000 km. That is it loses about ten percent transmitting almost from one end of Europe to the other.
Just connect all the national grids together properly, especially in the east-west direction so that areas with sunlight can supply areas that are dark. Also add north-south interconnects to North Africa so that hot dry areas can supply cold wet ones.
I think they also make sense in cases where battery charge time is prohibitive or where you have a very long and constant load without the option for recharging. City buses, firetrucks, container ships and tankers come to mind. Though hopefully we won't need the latter much longer...
I ran into a fascinating paper published in the 1950's by a Norwegian group who ran a pilot plant to electrowin iron from iron-sulfide waste from a copper mine. They claimed something like 4-5 kwh per kg. Unlike electrowining aluminum it's a room temp aqueous process. My thought is, it's probably economic if you have access to intermittent sources of really cheap electricity.
What type of energy can they develop? Iceland is well known for their geothermal energy I wouldn’t have thought that would have a huge impact on the landscape more than any other low rise industrial buildings.
No, it's not just a matter of technology, or at least not in ways that are readily addressable. Hydrogen molecules are so small that the simply pass through solid matter as if it were loose-weave cloth. Worse, it embrittles most metals.
And the leaked gas, especially if in an enclosed space, is flammable or explosive over a very wide range of concentrations.
Long-term storage, transport, and use, at scale, is hugely problematic.
> And the leaked gas, especially if in an enclosed space, is flammable or explosive over a very wide range of concentrations.
So just have a small fan that constantly flows air around the container to remove all the leaked gas? They do it with heat from the batteries in EVs (which if heat up too much can explode). What is such a big deal?
If you have cheap enough energy that you're making hydrogen, can't you also make hydrocarbons? Granted, at the efficiencies we're talking, their only real use would be air travel (and petrochemicals, I suppose).
Hydrogen has the nasty property of leaking through many materials, including metals. It also needs to be kept extremely cold. Both properties make it much harder to transport and store. It’s not clear that technology must exist that makes transporting and storing hydrogen as safe and economically viable as gasoline.
Helium is inert and not prone to explode when it sees the first spark. Also, as you indicate: storing helium is expensive - it is only economically viable because there is no competing product and hence whatever the price for helium storage is, it will get paid.
I've been diving into this literature a bit recently, and it's been mostly encouraging. Affordable clean energy is realistic.
Clean energy sources are typically the cheapest sources of energy . The intermittent production issue is solvable: At ~150 $/kWh storage, a combination of storage and renewables is the cheapest energy source 95% of the time .
The cost of different energy storage methods is coming down exponentially . A combination of Li-Ion battery (short-term), pumped hydro (medium-term) and hydrogen (long-term, i.e. seasonal) storage is probably how to smooth out the burstiness of renewable energy production eventually .
When green hydrogen infrastructure is commonplace, the hydrogen can also be used to make synthetic jet fuel and feedstocks for the chemical industry.
I've read about a couple of solar projects that projected x/kWh and turned out to be much worse in production.
Pakistan's big deployment is one example, it was planned to be 100MW but only produced 18MW. Mostly because they didn't factor in the dust that would cover the panels, keeping them clean was very expensive (I'm curious how this applies to other proposed desert deployments). Nor factoring in the typical malaise of public projects adding significant delays/costs, which is hardly unique to Pakistan when it comes to major infrastructure in 2020.
Tesla's famous Australian battery factory only has enough to power 30k homes for about 1-2hrs each day. It was on-schedule, which is rare, and also makes money but scaling it up to millions of homes to make a real dent in coal would be much more challenging, especially sourcing enough lithium.
I think it's safe to take any cheery prediction from green projects and add 1.5x time/production costs and/or minus 30% of the expected output.
Note: I'm not trying to rain on the parade, I'm otherwise all for this stuff as long as it's realistic on a large scale.
Tesla’s famous Australian battery farm (not factory) was designed from the start as a frequency maintenance source, not as large-scale storage. It’s designed to be able to source or sink large currents with nearly instantaneous response, which is ideal for responding to sudden rises or falls in production or demand. The farm has been successful in both significantly reducing the spot price for power, but also in making money for the operator. It’s a huge success story.
The caveat being the South Australia has a power grid that is sometimes a contender for the worst managed (and most expensive) electricity grid globally. Or at least highly challenging to get it working smoothly.
So the battery is a huge success story and we'll see more like it - but the conditions where it succeeded are not necessarily where the gird wants to be.
> worst managed (and most expensive) electricity globally
That's a strong claim. Wholesale electricity prices in South Australia are currently around USD$45/MWh.
My understanding is that South Australia has historically always had the highest electricity prices in Australia due to dependence on gas generation within a small market controlled by two players who took advantage of their market power, but that this is starting to reverse now due to the shift to more renewables over the last decade, and South Australia may now be on track to have the cheapest electricity in Australia.
Solyndra's failure had nothing to do with technology at all. They failed because Chinese manufacturers undercut them in price, quite severely. Allegations of dumping (or fraud, on the other side) notwithstanding, what this says is that solar is actually much cheaper and more readily available than Solyndra's investors expected. And that's sort of the opposite of your point, no?
Similarly the Tesla plant is doing exactly what it said it was going to do, when it was supposed to be finished, within the budget it had, and AFAIK is making money. You're asserting that it can't scale because it... worked?!
As far as the Pakistani misdesign, yeah, I'm sure that's going to happen too. Nothing works perfectly.
Nonetheless this seems like a pretty oddly constructed list of reasons why solar is "much worse in production". It seems to my eyes like it's doing much better than expected.
I don't disagree on the point that they were undercut in price. But they were also undercut in price because commodity normal PV panels composed of 156mm polycrystalline or monocrystalline cells (60 or 72 cells) are much cheaper to manufacture than the weird proprietary system they developed. They are also much cheaper to mount on large roofs (home depot/walmart warehouse sized) or on large scale 300kW+ ground arrays.
Ordinary 60 or 72-cell panels are DEAD SIMPLE in their construction. It's a sandwich of a backing material, encapsulation for the cells and soldering, glass in front, with an aluminum frame and a junction box on the rear.
Solyndra "panels" are fragile, hard to transport, hard to mount, everything about them was a pain in the ass.
You can't fund potentially breakthrough innovation and research and only get one tail of the distribution. It's a good thing, not a bad one, the the US government providers funding, and in this case, interest free loans for projects that sometimes fail.
Spain just shuttered half of their coal capacity at the end of June 2020 partially due to this (also because of emissions requirements owners didn’t want to meet), and intend to shutter the rest by 2025 (additional wind power and pumped hydro for storage is coming online in that time).
he is arguing that your brita pitcher working does not mean it's suitable to scale for your city's water purification system. the success of the tesla deployment for its intended purpose hence means zero for large scale systems.
apparently you also think the chinese government using its people's money to sell panels at a loss makes the panel cost less to produce, proving the opposite of his point?
do you actually have a point, beyond 'your point is false because of this fake argument i made up?'
I'm honestly curious what is the big challenge with keeping large arrays of ground mounted panels clean in Pakistan. The prevailing wage for unskilled labor for a 6 day a week, 45-hour work week for one laborer to clean panels is probably about $250-300 a month (USD equivalent, in rupees) in that area. That would be a good wage compared to construction work or farm work in that region.
With some basic equipment like rolling carts with sprayers and squeegees on extension sticks, how many individual 72-cell sized panels (1.99 x 0.99 meter size) can one person clean in one day? Multiply by probably 4 to 6 full time staff positions.
> It required one litre of water to clean, each of 400,000 installed panels. A total 15 days cleaning cycle required, 124 million litres of water enough to sustain 9000 people, while rain in Cholistan desert is rare and far between. Providing such huge amount of water in desert terrain, became a challenging and daunting task for management team. Besides, the manual cleaning methods allowed setting of dust before it was re-cleaned.
This seems kind of like a bullshit excuse where they just didn't really want to fix the issue. There are a number of waterless cleaning systems that have been available for years, for example . Additionally, why the hell would you throw away the water used for cleaning? Filtering the dust particulate out of the water is pretty straightforward (hell, you can go from muddy to fairly clean water with nothing more than a cotton t-shirt), then you reuse it to clean more panels. 1L/panel with even basic reclamation is ridiculous.
I would suggest that blowing off sand with a strong airstream would scratch the solar panels, further reducing their efficiency. Or maybe there's other problems; in any case, I find it somehow ignorant to assume that nobody in the Pakistani government has ever heard of or considered a blower (or a broom).
I assume they have heard of blowers and probably knew sand would be a problem with this install. My take away is that project was a bad faith effort to serve as a strawman against renewables for oil. This is an engineering problem not a technological problem of solar panels. Having skipped over it implies questionable motivations.
Perhaps a step down transformer that directly feeds a dyson blade style blower at one of the edges of each panel. More up front equipment and infrastructure cost but no employee wages. However I'm sure this is full of holes due to cost multiplied by number of solar panels and the number of transformers needed. It is also only able to clean only during the day assuming no battery or pumped hydro storage.
What about a fleet of automated drones/machines which clean the panels by blowing air? I don't know, but it seems like physically scrubbing the panels would take more machinery (heavier), more moving parts (break down more easily), and the scrubs themselves would have to get replaced & careful not to be abrasive (not sure how much the panels "care" about it though). These "dusters" could run off the excess power too. I read somewhere else in this thread that one problem was the solar park would occasionally over-produce - maybe the fleet works whenever there is an overproduction, or after a certain amount of time has passed (we _must_ clean them now and can't wait until the next time of overproduction).
Would the salt be abrasive & damage the panels/coating decreasing efficiency?
I would imagine another challenge is the transporation costs. The nearest fresh water source appears to be Sutlej River ~18 KM straightline. The nearest seawater source appears to be the Arabian Sea, ~800 KM straightline.
The cost to a problem like this would never be labor as that can be trivially automated if it ever gets costly enough. Water is expensive at these scales.
That being said, it's probable that there could be solutions here. Automated scrubber/blower might be able to get most of the efficiency back without the cost (whether integrated into the panel or a robot on a track). Could potentially use any water more judiciously too when needed (moisten a scrub rather than blasting it with water). Don't know enough about the project but I would hope the domain experts responsible for the project would have considered something I only thought about for 30 seconds & there are reasons that they don't do that.
According to the Wikipedia article cited it takes 30 people 10-15 days to clean all 392,158 panels fully. That sounds like $100,000/y in raw wages but it seems to be limited by water supply more than raw labor cost. The dust being cited as 40% of the panel efficiency loss and not always being an issue depending on the season also drives some of that RoI down, looks like a good portion of the loss is due to the heat as well. By far the biggest costs seem to have been with corruption from choice of renewable source to choice of contractor vs operation of the actual installation.
Using the average number from that source you get 356,000 PKR yearly * 30 people = ~$64,000, even using the low end from that site is only a factor of 2 off not 10. The numbers were actually based of the high end from above in the chain "for one laborer to clean panels is probably about $250-300 a month (USD equivalent, in rupees) in that area. That would be a good wage compared to construction work or farm work in that region." which corresponds very well to the high end from your source of 540,000 pkr.
This comes out to ~$97,000 which is how I came up with about $100,000/y.
Just to note this isn't something you do for just one month per year if that's how you came to a factor of ~10.
They are designed to clean water off glass. I've never lived in a dessert area so I may be wrong, but I expect they're not great for cleaning large amounts of dry dust and dirt off at least without using huge amounts of water.
Solyndra didn't lose tax payers money, it was part of a portfolio of companies that made the US government money. It was literally the US government being innovative, effective, and responsible with tax payer money. By singling out Solyndra like that and calling it a waste of tax payer money, you fundamentally make it harder for the government to continue to operate in the manner described. Breakthrough technology does not happen without failure, and focusing on the failures, instead of the successes only serves to limit our future capacity for breakthroughs.
A valid example of what can go wrong when you pick the wrong technology, don't do small scale trials first, and rely on government oversight. (Refer the Background & Operation section of the wikipedia article -- toe-curlingly alarming, yet ultimately unsurprising.)
They almost definitely should have pursued concentrated solar thermal. It partly solves the 'storage problem', provides power well into the evening, doesn't need more water than they have to clean it, and improves magnificently with high temperatures (the wikipedia article cites the problem of regular 45C days, which are above the 25C optimum temperature for PV panels).
Given all this was known and understood before they broke ground, this sounds like a traditional government project problem -- susceptibility to corruption, vanity, hubris etc.
> what can go wrong when you [..] rely on government oversight
> this sounds like a traditional government project problem
I don't know why you're trying to turn this into an "obviously govt can't do anything" point. There are plenty of very well-run governments who would have ably foreseen and solved these problems. And no doubt there's any number of private companies who would have screwed up just as badly.
Trying to tar the entire idea of government with Pakistan's performance is pretty bad faith IMO.
It seems to be in a lull, but the technology is still maturing. I suspect as the generation + storage costs continue to shift, it'll be adopted more eagerly. PVCs cost reduction has been a boon for that industry, but that tech, of course, ignores the storage problem.
Reading about some of the missteps of CSP, much like the above, they seem to be share similar traits of government mishandling, bureaucracy, dodgy dealings, etc.
EDIT: In any case, a naive interpretation of the Pakistan project cited -- if it truly is getting ~20% of anticipated power, cost per unit is 5x forecast, at which point a CSP would have been better value for money.
I suspect there's several answers to your first question. For example, the mechanical factor of parabolic mirrors that are typically used for CSP's - they can provide more shelter in terms of wind-deposited dust than flat panels all angled in the same direction (a la PV panels).
I also suspect that mirrors are less sensitive to dust than PV cells. And that it's cheaper to just install more mirrors (flat reflective surfaces) to compensate for anticipated dust build-up, than photovoltaic panels (per unit of area or per unit of power generated).
But, really, I expect there's a fair bit of research on this subject already out there.
As I intimated, it's probably not so much an obsolescence issue, as one of pushing the storage question aside. CSPs address generation, with some ephemeral (cloud, evening, etc) storage capabilities. As per the standard observation - it's going to be a blend of power generation and storage technologies that sees us through.
Good points. I still think that, overall, money talks, and the vast majority of solar installations are not managed nearly as incompetently as this one was (i.e. not forgetting to take into account sand in a desert). So the fact that close to 100% if not 100% of new solar installations are PV over solar thermal really does mean that once you take all these factors into account, PV is still more cost-effective.
The storage issue is interesting, but doesn't matter so much to most plants since they tie into a larger balanced grid, and battery storage is coming down in cost at the same exponential rate as PV. These same advantages are not accruing to solar thermal. So I do think we are seeing the death knell for solar thermal, even when energy storage is desired alongside peak production.
Storage can't be ignored - and the 'balanced grid' that we're all part of relies heavily on burning fossil fuels for both baseload coping with peaks (sun goes behind a cloud or the horizon, or the wind stops for a while). As we decom more of the fossil fuel systems, a more robust & scalable storage system, even a relatively ephemeral one, will become more compelling. (my prediction : )
Thermal solar is a solar heat energy source + classic steam turbine. The efficiency of a thermal->electric converter (turbine) is largely governed by the difference between the hot and cold side.
Increasing both the hot and cold side temperatures equally would not increase efficiency, AFAIK it would actually decrease efficiency, and without lots of water, they can't use evaporative cooling either.
I was merely pointing out that CSP efficiency likely doesn't increase with increasing ambient temperature, it's just inherently more tolerant.
As an aside, your calculations are improper, even though results are close enough. 0℃ is merely 273.15K and the temperature at which water tends to freeze. E.g. PV efficiency is usually quoted at 25℃ (or 300K), so at -20℃ they could generate cca 120% of "max" (rated) capacity.
the point of the tesla battery in south australia wasnt to provide base load continuous power it was to provide close to instant peaking power to smooth the grid it was directly competing with natural gas peaking plants. (which it beats)
I am curious, how do Solar Parks in India work? The Quaid-e-Azam park is in the Thar desert and the desert extends to India as well in the state of Rajasthan. India seems to have built a solar park at Bhadla, ~300 km away from Quaid-e-Azam, in a different part of the same desert.
Interesting, they seemed to be attempting to solve the cleaning problem via automation from an Israeli company:
> In December 2016, Solairedirect signed an agreement with Ecoppia, a PV panel cleaning solutions developer, to provide automated cleaning solutions to the project. Due to the park's location in a desert region, it is prone to dust storms
I think that $150000 per MWh buys you a storage system you can use more than once, rather than being the cost per usage of the storage system. After a few years, the amortized cost drops below coal generation.
I used to drive a hydrogen car once in a while a few years ago. It was nice to fill the car in a few minutes and get about 300km of range, but that was it.
With the hydrogen you have so few refueling stations, they are very expensive, that range anxiety is a thing. To not improve things, reliability is very poor. My work had a hydrogen refueling station on its parking. It was often broken and actually a bit scary to walk past it. They eventually removed it, which was a good call. Another hydrogen station sharing the same design exploded a few months later. The hydrogen car sales dropped from not much to virtually zero since in the country.
So to resume, hydrogen cars are expensive, refueling stations are expensive, the energy is expensive.
Electric cars with large batteries are a much better solution to hydrogen cars IMHO. You can charge everywhere, the eletric grid is very will developped, the energy is cheap. The cars are also much more powerful thanks to the large batteries pack, it's useless but it feels nice.
The issue of charging was also there with BEVs, until Tesla straight up built a huge network of superchargers. The players in hydrogen say they will do the same. But for personal vehicles, hydrogen won't math out, it's greatest advantage is its energy density for trucks.
It's for long range trucks that we will see hydrogen first. Green hydrogen will act as energy storage, big renewables grids can dump excess into green hydrogen and thus avoid curtailment. Then, you replace heavy duty trucks, which need to be able to not have heavy batteries, with fuel cell trucks, and you build out 1000 large hydrogen stations across the transit network.
> The issue of charging was also there with BEVs, until Tesla straight up built a huge network of superchargers. The players in hydrogen say they will do the same.
The fact that EV players actually delivered and built charging networks should offer plenty of proof as to which technology is more viable.
It took decades to build out the network of gas stations across countries. The reason it took much less to build out charging networks is because the power grid already existed, we already had 95% of the infrastructure for delivering the "fuel" for EVs.
But hydrogen companies are still talking as if it's super simple to build out a hydrogen infrastructure. Why would that not take decades as well? And that's assuming there was some kind of massive consumer demand for hydrogen vehicles, which there just isn't.
You're forgetting decades of lithium ion buildout for personal devices. Hydrogen needs time to scale, batteries have been doing so for decades. Tesla was able to build dozens of chargers because others had invented and scaled great cylindrical batteries and they had straubel who knew how to make great packs.
Efficiency isn't, and never has been, a deal breaker. There are hundreds of millions of vehicles that have been built with efficiency levels far lower than the best in class for ICE, and they're still used. Efficiency is just one factor of many that contribute to cost of ownership and operation.
Even then, fuel cells are not super inefficient. At the low end of efficiency, PEM fuel cells are already more efficient than the vast majority of current generation ICE vehicles. And with SOFCs with novel heat recuperation technologies, 85-90% efficiencies are already achievable.
I was wondering the same thing, from a density perspective. And similarly for airplanes.
As planes and boats expend fuel, they get lighter, so less fuel is needed to move the second half of the journey, and less for the last quarter, etc. That “bonus” doesn’t work out with batteries, you need to move all the weight for all the journey. The energy density of batteries, to my understanding, just doesn’t add up correctly for boats or most airplanes.
What I would like to know is, wouldn’t a hydrogen-powered boat or plane not only have a similar calculation on how much fuel is needed, but also (in the case of boats) be even cheaper to move because its fuel payload is lighter than water? Water 997kg/m3 vs liquid hydro 71kg/m3, also gasoline 783kg/m3, sounds like a nice bonus for jumbo jets too. (I am NOT a physicist or mechanical engineer)
Gasoline-powered sea vessels are terrible polluters, incidentally, accounting for 18% of all air pollution. Between the air pollution benefits and possibility of the vessels being so much more fuel efficient, it seems like hydrogen would be a benefit even if the production isn’t completely clean.
For marine propulsion, heavy fuels are typically preferred (bunker fuel typically, thogh deisel and petrol engines do exist). Much of the pollution is in the form of particulates and sulfer emissions. You can actually see major shipping routes on atmospheric sensing maps by SO2 emissions:
As long-term risks these are ... somewhat minor as these contaminants settle out quickly: in days to months rather than centuries to millennia for CO2 and methane. Not great for respiratory health, but not the long-term planetary risk fossil fuel combustion overall is.
> For metal-air batteries, one of the more promising areas of research, the problem is actually worse: the cells gain mass as oxygen is reacted with the metal anode, discharging the battery.
That's interesting, thank you for the info. Having a different characteristic from the usual one might lead to interesting applications. For instance, airplanes use a lot of fuel for takeoff, as they pay double the price for the weight of their fuel: they need to carry it up, when they have the most. This could actually be a game-changer, I think.
That could also be exploited: raise the battery when it is charged, have it gain weight, generate electricity while lowering it. Perpetual motion doesn't exist, of course. But gaining a bit of extra mileage is theoretically possible here :)
More likely, rethinking flight-segment dynamics and design.
The bulk of energy expenditure is on takeoff and climb segments of flight. Cruise is relatively low energy, and during approach and landing, aircraft are frequently effectively gliding. Pilots and aviation engineers speak of the amount of energy in the aircraft, exclusive of fuel, represented by its mass, altitude, and velocity.
Ideas I've seen suggested include catapult or towed launch, ejectable or jettisonable batteries, and/or hybrid fuel/electric designs, exploiting these factors.
The general problems are:
- These all increase complexity and failure risks.
- They are novel (and hence risky) concepts.
- Virtually all have scaling issues, being possibly feasible for smaller (drone, single-passenger, or few-passenger craft), but not heavy or superheavy jumbo jets. (Square-cube relations mean, generally, small aircraft are easier than large ones).
- The typical power requirements are violated in emergencies. Fuel-driven aircraft can apply TOGO (take-off/go-around) power on demand, whilst a hybrid or compound design likely could not. And final flight-phase aircraft typically have half their takeoff weight, having burnt the difference in fuel, further expanding performance options.
As for "lowering the battery", you'd do better to fly the entire aircraft at a gradually descending flight path, trading lower-drag high altitude for higher-drag lift as the battery gains mass. Current long-haul aircraft (sometimes) practice this in reverse, reching higher flight levels as fuel is consumed, lift requirements reduced, and lower-drag high-elevation flight being possible.
Or non-electrified railways. A modern "diesel" engine is actually diesel-electrical anyways, since curiously diesel->electric->movement is more efficient than straight diesel->movement. For a hydrogen-electrical engine you could presumably stick one or two special tanker cars behind it with the necessary tech to keep it cool. The engine could even be dual-mode and use electrification where available (like this one already does for diesel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombardier_ALP-45DP )
For comparison, an ES44AC [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GE_Evolution_Series] carries 18900l of diesel (weighing 15.7 tons), which at 38.6 MJ/l rounds to 730GJ of energy. Hydrogen seems to have a specific energy of 120-142 MJ/kg, using the conservative 120 that's about 6.1 tons of hydrogen, but now for the volume... https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-storage lists "0.03kg/l" as a "system target"... so 6.1 tons is 203,333l. That's 2 conventional tank cars (but those don't have any cooling or pressurization systems.)
(Of course this assumes the efficiency of diesel->electrical and hydrogen->electrical to be similar, which is not the case.)
Trucks are explicitly limited by weight, ships are somewhat limited by volume. Container ships especially need to be loaded way up because the cargo is less dense than eg crude oil.
Heavy trucks are also a much bigger issue than international shipping, which is only ~2% of global GHG. 6.7% of US GHG emissions come from medium and heavy duty trucks, or 23% of emissions due to transportation.
Would it be though? I understand ships are heavy polluters, but the areas they are polluting in are much larger than trucks in traffic in cities. Cities are so much more dense, and you can see that effect in satellite imagery.
Nope, but you can with a BEV. A SMB could afford to offer a low electric charging station; heck, software companies could offer the possibility to charge their employee cars for free as a perk; even a normal outlet would be enough, 8-9 hours would be more than enough for charging.
Maybe the local administration could offer some incentives to companies that have this.
My reply was mostly meant only for the first 2 sentences, except the trucking part.
I was trying to evidentiate that charging stations built by tesla supplement home charging or any normal outlet. It's a bit different than building a network of superchargers because the demand would be a lot higher because a hydrogen powered car will be fully dependent of those specially built charging stations.
The main idea is that a BEV owner doesn't need a supercharger station to use his car. Sure, it'll be nice, but not mandatory; let's not forget that not everybody lives in US or W. Europe where the network is more developed.
Maybe not with current production cars, but there is plenty of available technology that would allow for it. Fuel cells can be reversible...meaning the same cell that takes hydrogen and oxygen and turns it into electricity and water, can do the reverse: take water and electricity and turn it into hydrogen and oxygen.
Hydrogen may never be competitive with batteries for intermittently used passenger cars, but not all vehicles are intermittently used passenger cars. There is a lot of evidence that hydrogen can be competitive and potentially superior for vehicles which are used all day long, like taxis, delivery vehicles, etc.. And for continuous high power applications like maritime and aviation, batteries are so far from a realistic possibility that at best they are research projects. Batteries might work for ultra low range applications of trucking, like LTL and local delivery, but a lot of useful hauling capacity is given up by hauling batteries around.
There's also the work on wireless charging via the roadway, itself. No, it isn't working right now but it's in its infancy. Only the very first prototypes have been rolled out, and they don't wear well, admittedly. Solutions are being worked on.
Technology is only limited by your imagination and your ability to problem solve. =)
Maybe the way forward for the hydrogen power is to tackle the power storage in the grid first. Yes, I know that it is not very efficient, but few solutions there are efficient and we need some solution if we are going to increase reliance on solar and wind. Maybe while hydrogen energy storage will take its place in the grid, the technologies will get developed further, up to theoretically a point where a hydrogen-based car will make more sense realistically. (For example availability of hydrogen itself, the price and the number of stations around will be more allowing of it.)
I feel like the draw of hydrogen as a fuel source is that it doesn't disturb the current power structure which is based on control of oil and gas supplies. Countries have to constantly import oil and gas to power their transport networks. That requires those countries to pay in dollars (usually). Control that and you have them by the nose.
Electrification completely upends that. A country that is self sufficient in energy can tell other countries to take a hike.
> Electric cars with large batteries are a much better solution to hydrogen cars IMHO.
Electric cars are still very dangerous when they catch fire though. And the fires are very difficult to control. Especially in multistorey (or underground) car parks. And even more so if there are multiple EVs parked next to eachother.
Sure when the batteries burn it's a problem. But the batteries don't burn that often. For example, when a diesel car did burn inside an airport parking in Stavanger, many electric cars did burn as well but not their batteries.
When you consider the energy required to produce lithium ion batteries they are actually worse than fuel cells from an emissions perspective:
“As an example, a 100kWh battery will give a potential range of 250 miles and, in order to produce that battery, it will take around 20 tonnes of CO2,” he said. “A typical battery lasts for 150,000 miles, so that equates to around 83g/km of CO2. Then, when you take into account charging over that same distance, the same battery car will deliver 124g/km of CO2 over its lifetime.”
By comparison, Auto Express says that a recent study found that a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car produces around 120g/km of CO2 over its lifetime when the manufacturing process is taken into account. But if hydrogen were to be produced by renewable energy, that figure could be reduced significantly.”
TL;DR: These comparisons always use too much energy for battery production, too high efficiency for gasoline cars, and fail to take into account that the grid is rapidly decarbonising, even in backwater countries like USA. Your source claims 20 tonnes for battery production, but reality is around 6 tonnes and falling due to grid decarbonising.
Those figures cited by Auke are self-reported by Tesla. Not saying that invalidates them but important to consider context. It would seem that emissions associated with battery production vary greatly depending on geography and mix of energy sources. Eg in Germany, emissions from Model 3 battery production are estimated at 11 to 15 tonnes per vehicle: https://eufactcheck.eu/factcheck/mostly-false-electric-cars-...
The paper didn’t dispute anything. It made the point that emissions from battery production depend on the local mix of energy sources. At the time of publication, Germany got 1/3 of its energy mix from coal, hence batteries produced there have a higher emissions profile.
What am I ‘doing’ exactly, pointing out a fact that there is no ‘free lunch’ when reducing emissions?
The narrative that diesel cars are better for the environment, which is pushed by the scientists who found the 11-15 tonnes was disputed by your article. From the first section:
“The Belgian newspaper De Standaard published this claim on their website on the 18th of April. We rate this claim as mostly false.”
Again, even if the cost of b battery production in Germany two years ago was 15 tones, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because Germany made almost no car batteries two years ago, and the grid is rapidly decarbonising - in Germany and most of the world.
Now, if you are arguing that it would be better if people lived closer to where they work, and stopped driving cars altogether - I’d agree with that. But cars will continue to be with us for a long time, and the Sonne we can transition the fleet to electric the better.
This article looks like a fine discussion about the economics of hydrogen production, but unless I've missed something it skips over the immense storage difficulty.
Hydrogen is a difficult thing to manage in quantity. Its density is fantastically low, so storing it in gas form requires absurd pressures -- an inherent risk to any vehicle. Storing it in liquid form goes a long way towards solving the density/pressure problem, but now the system must have a full cryogenic process to keep the hydrogen liquified. (Worse yet: over time hydrogen embrittles (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_embrittlement) metals, making storage even more complicated)
This isn't much different than the problems faced by rockets, and it's why liquid hydrogen is not considered a 'storable propellant' for long-duration flight.
In a zero-net-carbon economy, residual demand for high power density may still have to be filled by some kind of bio-derived or synthetic hydrocarbon.
We don't need to rely on metals for hydrogen storage...composites work just fine. And for use cases like maritime and aviation power systems, cryogenic storage isn't necessary. At all. Because even with simple styrofoam insulation, consumption rates vastly exceed evaporation rates.
1. The only hydrogen produced from electricity is ecological. Carbon capture doesn’t work today.
2. The hydrogen from electricity is expensive, though as wind and solar get exponential cheaper, we will end up with spikes excess cheap electricity (negative prices today or disconnecting plants). It makes sense to produce hydrogen during those spikes.
3. Cars on hydrogen don’t make sense at all. The massive cost of infrastructure plus batteries are superior and getting better on that front.
4. Hydrogen from electricity can replace the first reformation from natural gas.
5. Next promising use cases are industrial heating, such as steel production (instead of coal).
6. Least profitable, but still plausible, uses hydrogen as long-term energy storage and mixing it with natural gas.
7. I wonder whether generating hydrogen from seawater and getting back freshwater would improve the economics of this form of energy storage.
> It makes sense to produce hydrogen during those spikes.
I'm not sure that it necessarily does. If you're only producing during those peak periods of electrical output then your you're going to have a lot of hydrogen producing equipment sitting idle at other times.
edit: misinterpreted "desal" as diesel rather than desalinated water.
Well that's just not at all true. Hydrogen by electrolysis costs <$20/kg. A much more interesting fact about a kg of hydrogen is also that it has very close to the same energy content as a gallon of diesel, and significantly more when used in a fuel cell vs an ICE.
I wish I'd stop hearing about Hydrogen as a fuel source. It's not. It's just a battery, and should simply be compared to other types of batteries, like Li-Ion. Maybe Hydrogen fuel cells are better batteries, maybe not.
But it's still just a battery, and needs to be charged from the electric power grid (by using the electricity to separate hydrogen from water), just like any other battery would.
But the fuel was charged from another source in fuel cells too. You don't mine hydrogen. The energy carrier point remains. The primary energy will be from gas, oil, coal, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, or tidal.
Lots of comments on this thread that reveal folks are up to date with the state of hydrogen infrastructure c. 2017. It's changing really fast as billions of dollars are poured into R&D and pilot projects. For example, storage and transport:
EV owner here. Why would I want to drive to a fueling station when I can fuel up at home with electricity? And from a maintenance level, ev’s have substantially fewer parts and almost zero maintenance, whereas hydrogen perpetuates the ICE-engine paradigm... frequent oil changes, many moving parts, lots of service costs at the dealership. The economics of H2 may be different at the commercial scale, but we use a Chevy Bolt in a far northern climate and get nearly 200 miles of range in the winter. The future is already here, and H2 missed the consumer vehicle bandwagon.
I think article missed a really large sector which uses coal and produces millions of tons of co2 each year, That is cement industry. Heating clinker to produce cement is energy intensive long process, where big investments towards technology for using Hydrogen can be fruitful.
yup, new innovation is needed in construction.
But wood is not gonna replace all cement-concrete use-cases.Cement-concrete has far more usecases from skyscrapers like bridges,Dams to road construction.
For current circumstances this makes sense, Natural gas is not carbon neutral.
For electricity, as the renewable energy generation capacity will increase, Storage of excess will be essentially required. when in near future we develop viable tech to generate hydrogen from electricity with low or no carbon impact at reasonable efficiency,we can save them in underground reserves(Safest way in my view) and use existing piping infrastructure of natural gas for its transportation.
we need to do research and wait for appropriate tech to be available.
Following Musk's thinking... i'd really like to see that energy density volume vs mass chart adjusted for average vehicle weight. i.e see the total system, engine, storage components and fuel converter etc.
On that graph, compared to petrol, liquid hydrogen appears to be about 4x larger by volume but interestingly only 2/5ths of the weight.
The electric motors are lighter sure, but then what about the mass and volume of the compressed storage tank and the fuel cell itself? difficult to know if it starts to gain on IC engine again. lots of questions that make that graph feel pretty meaningless.
Hydrogen, to put it simply is a battery, not a fuel, and a relatively poor battery at that. For all the money dumped into it and the amount of research that has been done BEV is now generally considered the way forward. It also doesn't suffer from the problem that Hydrogen tends to go FOOF when you least expect it, and there isn't the pesky problem of Hydrogen embrittlement to deal with.
Hydrogen is sexy but alcohol matches our existing context better.
Small-scale alcohol fuel production integrated into regenerative agriculture farms is different from mass ethanol production.
You can ferment anything that has starch or sugar, the leftovers from the distillation can be composted or fed to livestock. Most existing internal combustion engines can be modified to use alcohol fuel. And it's carbon-neutral.
You get much more fuel out of biomass if you add hydrogen. For example, from carbohydrates, it's basically (CH2O)n + nH2 --> (CH2)n + nH2O (hydrodeoxygenation). This can make drop-in replacements for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
If you've got a ready source of hydrogen, say from molten salt oxidation of plastics, which produces "syngas" (a mixture of CO and H2), I think you could run that through water to make CO2 and more H2, feed the CO2 to a greenhouse and collect all the H2 for the reaction you described. Does that make sense?
You could, but I think it would be better to break the plastics into smaller not-fully-oxidized fragments, and rearrange those into desired chemicals. If the plastics have oxygen (as, for example, PET does) one could use hydrogen to pull that out, if needed.
Feedstock is the problem here: there's simply not enough net primary productivity on the planet, and humans already appropriate ~20%.
There are some marginal gains possible, but on the order of single-digit percentages of present fossil fuel consumption. Maybe low double-digits.
The US had a largely biofuel based transport system in 1900. Horses consumed 20% of all US grain production, the population was under 100m, and transport generally was a small fraction of today's values (or at least last year's) per capita: closer to 300 mi/yr, much of that walking, than 15,000.
You're right that you couldn't replace every use of fossil fuel, but for a large portion of non-industrial use I think it's a very valid and viable strategy.
The key is that you're producing the alcohol as part of an integrated system of production that mimics Nature. You have a farm that requires no inputs (of fertilizer, and in some cases no irrigation) that produces multiple crops per year. ("Syntropic" agriculture, "Permaculture", food forests) You can grow sugar beets, yams, sugar cane, or starchy plants such as potatoes, certain kinds of reeds, tubers, etc. directly for fermentation, or use scrap fruit from the orchards, etc. Literally anything that has starch or sugar can be used as a feedstock. Scrap dough from a (doughnut) bakery.
The leftovers from the fermentation and distillation aren't wasted: you feed them to livestock. Because it's a yeast culture there's more protein in it now than it had before.
So your farm produces fruits and veggies, meat, and alcohol fuel.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. has 434,164,946 acres of “cropland”—land that is able to be worked in an industrial fashion (monoculture). This is the prime, level, and generally deep agricultural soil. In addition to cropland, the U.S. has 939,279,056 acres of “farmland.” This land is also good for agriculture, but it’s not as level and the soil not as deep. Additionally, there is a vast amount of acreage—swamps, arid or sloped land, even rivers, oceans, and ponds—that the USDA doesn’t count as cropland or farmland, but which is still suitable for growing specialized energy crops.
Of its nearly half a billion acres of prime cropland, the U.S. uses only 72.1 million acres for corn in an average year. The land used for corn takes up only 16.6% of our prime cropland, and only 7.45% of our total agricultural land.
Even if, for alcohol production, we used only what the USDA considers prime flat cropland, we would still have to produce only 368.5 gallons of alcohol per acre to meet 100% of the demand for transportation fuel at today’s levels. Corn could easily produce this level—and a wide variety of standard crops yield up to triple this.
I (and many others more qualified) have run the numbers. It's not pretty.
A decade ago biofuels were my first thought. The maths simply don't add up. Our options are far less energy per person, far fewer people, other sources of energy, or, most likely, some combination of these.
The highest claimed yields are for algae, at a rather improbable 1,000 gal/(acre * year):
[Y]ou might consider floating the algae offshore, along the Pacific and Atlantic costs. It's roughly 1,300 miles from San Diego, CA to Port Angeles, WA, and 1,800 miles from Homestead, FL to Lubec, ME. Dividing our 443,000 square miles by those two added together, we find we'd have to extend our grow region some distance off-shore. That is, 143 miles off-shore. The full length of both coasts.
Or perhaps you'd prefer to re-purpose the Gulf of Mexico. Its total area is about 600,000 mi2, we'd need about 3/4 of it dedicated to algae growth.
You can synthesize alcohol and other carbohydrates straight from air and water as well. This actually is something that, similar to producing hydrogen using excess clean energy, would be technically feasible.
The problem is scale. We eat far less food than we burn fuel. So replacing our fuel with a by product of food production is not going to scale.
Bio fuels at scale only make sense with heavy subsidies currently E.g. the corn industry in the US is a good example of something that would not exist without subsidies.
The article didn't touch on this at all, so has anyone heard updates on attempts at doing in-vehicle hydrogen production from water and some sort of reactant? It's been years since I saw something on it, but if I recall, it used some pellets made of certain metals that react with the water to produce hydrogen. You'd fill the tank with water, and after some number of fill ups you'd also need to replenish the pellets which could be sent off for recycling.
A theory like that ignores most of known basic physics.
What would the energy source be? It does not matter what chemical or electrochemical reactions are possible in general, what matters is where does the energy come from. Water does not contain any energy. (Not any chemical energy that can easily be extracted. Of course it contains energy in the sense that E=MC^2, but in that sense we have about the same chance to run a car on sand, or rocks or oreos.)
On the other hand, if you do have an energy source, then why would you need water at all?? You would just use the energy to drive the car (like EVs do), you wouldn't waste half of it to hydrolysis of water into hydrogen first to use that hydrogen...
A theory about a "car running on water" (which, at least in my experience is often followed by conversations about how Nicola Tesla could transfer energy through the air, or about how government has all the technology for infinite energy, but they block it from being used because they are evil) - is a pipe dream which is heavily based on ignorance about physics and gross underestimation of the difficulty of real engineering problems.
Saying this ignores basic physics is like saying gasoline engines ignore basic physics. No one is saying that it's free energy. The question is, what is the energy to produce/recycle the alloy? How many miles can you get out of a reasonable supply of the alloy before replacing it? If those numbers are good enough, maybe they'll perform better than battery vehicles. And so I'm asking what's the state of that research.
There is a video on YouTube about Bob Lazar the area 51 guy. Only it's about how he uses solar and wind to break down water into oxygen and hydrogen. He stores the hydrogen as a metal hydride. The tanks are heated to release the hydrogen and it's used to power his car.
A recent report  looked at the efficiencies of generating hydrogen at a waste water treatment plant to lower production costs. The WWTP provides the water and uses the oxygen that is also produced by electrolysis to increase the efficiency of the biological treatment process vs air. Some of the electricity for the electrolysis can also be sourced from biogas produced by the WWTP.
The lower the energy used by a generator, the higher its efficiency would be; a 100%-efficient electrolyser would consume 39.4 kilowatt-hours per kilogram (142 MJ/kg) of hydrogen, 12,749 joules per litre (12.75 MJ/m3). Practical electrolysis (using a rotating electrolyser at 15 bar pressure) may consume 50 kW⋅h/kg (180 MJ/kg), and a further 15 kW⋅h (54 MJ) if the hydrogen is compressed for use in hydrogen cars.
It's not great, but it doesn't seem unworkable. I can't read the article, but isn't the idea to use hydrogen tanks as a battery to smooth out the variability of renewables like solar?
It’s an engineering-tradeoff. The efficiency losses in hydrogen production are offset by the ability to refuel a hydrogen tank in under a minute compared to the hours it takes to safely recharge a BEV. Plus, if hydrogen fuel production is powered by environmentally friendly electricity then the efficiency losses should only worry people concerned about the heat-death of the universe (and it’s no worse than the 20% efficiency of an ICE engine. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”, etc)
 While Tesla’s V3 Superchargers are amazing in that charging stops can now be as short as 10-15 minutes to for 100+ miles of range - Superchargers should not be used for day-to-day charging because it wears out the battery too much (hence the hype over the new generation of Lithium cells, that “million-mile battery”, but for the rest of us using current-gen Lithium batteries (myself included, I drive a Tesla too) I don’t want to have to drop $20k+ for an out-of-warranty battery replacement).
If you want an hydrogen-powered car, buy a Toyota Mirai. They've been on sale in California since 2016. There are a few hydrogen stations where you can fill it. 5 minute refuel, about 300 mile range. (400 miles in the 2021 model.) The first three years of hydrogen are included with the vehicle purchase. Vehicle price about US$60K. (Expected to be higher for the 2021 model.)
Something practical not mentioned here is that the proton exchange membrane in fuel cells generally degrade in a few years and need to be replaced. This is a major expense. Degradation is accelerated if the hydrogen (fuel) or oxygen (from environment) are not pure.
I think the charts are saying roughly a litre of lithium battery has 1kwh, a litre of liquid hydrogen 3kw and a litre of petrol 10kw. By 2050 your litre of green hydrogen might cost 10 cents to make or 3c per kWh.
Electricity is approaching 1c per kWh in some recent solar plant bids. For example, there were a few bids in the middle east recently that were getting close to that. Battery cost is on track to dip below 100$ per kwh. E.g. Tesla is rumored to be at or below that already/in the near future.
By 2050, energy cost is going to be measured differently. IMHO it stops being a variable cost once it dips substantially below 1c per kwh. Your basically spending more on coffee to keep yourself going on an average journey, Arguably, if you have access to square meters, it's a cost that is amortized over the one time cost of installing wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and other infrastructure. Kind of expensive today but doable; that will be very much different 3 decades from now.
Any business operating fleets of vehicles will want to minimize this cost. That means investing in cheap sources of energy and a mass switch to battery electric vehicles that is already kicking off right now. This takes time obviously and doesn't happen overnight. But it's also not going to take decades. It's one of those things where the payoff is non linear meaning it goes from "oh wouldn't that be nice" to "I must do this now to survive as a business" in just a few years. In other words, this will have largely been completed by 2050.
This is good news for hydrogen as well because it means that there will be plenty of excess energy from peak solar/wind that's basically there to be used. Producing hydrogen and other synthetic fuels (and water) is an obvious way to put that to use and can be used as a solution to fix e.g. shipping, heavy industrial use, and other sectors currently depending on oil or coal. That's after we've topped up our TWH of deployed grid and ev batteries of course.
And maybe we'll figure out fusion as well by that time.
The explosion limits of hydrogen are very wide. I do not want to live in a world with a widely deployed hydrogen infrastructure. Stuff is going to blow up. People are going to die. Disclaimer: chemical engineer, German University.
People said that about electricity, too. A lot of people died. Houses burned. Norms were changed regarding cabling and earthing. Hopefully, whatever we decide to adopt as a technology will come with adequate safety norms.
While only tangentially related, a lot of people think about the Hindenburg accident when talking about either hydrogen or dirigibles. But those contain less fuel than an airplane, at least in terms of energy. And 35 people died, around a third. To contrast with airliner accidents. But it sure left a mark on collective psyche. And I agree that hydrogen is incredibly volatile and explosive, which isn't a good fit for every application.
Paywalls are ok if there's a workaround. Users usually post workarounds in the thread. Yes, it sucks, but the alternatives suck worse. The Economist has been the source for a lot of good HN discussions, as have other soft-paywalled sites. We don't allow hard-paywalled ones.
In practice, hydrogen @10 kpsi/70 MPa is currently a bit over 1 MJ/L when including the tanks. Gasoline is misleading as well, because a fuel cell is easily twice as efficient as a gas engine and up to 3x.
Li-ion batteries are anywhere from .5 to 2.5 MJ/L, for reference. Thing is, volumetric efficiency is all but irrelevant for most applications. Even airplanes have huge amounts of empty space that could accommodate tanks; container ships would be less efficient but that's about it.
> You need ~5-10 kilograms of H2 to deal with light duty vehicles.
5 kg will take a Toyota Mirai over 300 miles.
> Training and retraining all the gas station attendants to deal with cryogenic materials is no small undertaking.
This is not a thing. Attendants don't need to do anything with cryogenic anything.
> Hydrogen penetrates metals. Makes metals the enemy and things can wear down unexpectedly. Scary stuff. Preventative maintenance is complicated.
This is an issue when you're trying to build electron microscopes, not when you're fueling cars. The diffusion rate of hydrogen is negligible for everyday purposes like safety. Certain parts need to be designed to avoid embrittlement, but it's a minor problem- embrittlement is only really an issue at VERY high temperatures. If the steel isn't glowing, it's a minor issue, and for most other metals it's even less of an issue.
> Pumping hydrogen into a vehicle is done slowly from my recollection.
It's as fast as a highway pump, and often slightly faster. It's pretty hard to pump slowly when 10 kpsi is involved, after all.
> Hydrogen's flames are invisible. It's a pale blue flame that's difficult to see during the day.
Typically it just explodes, unfortunately. Hydrogen is always at such high pressure that it spreads out rapidly and sustained flames are very unlikely, and then there's the fact that the energy density causes things to break.
> The efficiency of manufacturing hydrogen for fuel usage is probably like 10% to 30%. Can't imagine it being more than that.
Commercial processes are ~60% and non-commercial are above 80%.
Hydrogen might make some sense for long haul trucks. Then you need fewer refueling stations on only the major routes. You could also generate the hydrogen locally by using electricity.
Alternatively you could equip the trucks with batteries and connect them to the electrical grid via overhead lines similar to trains for recharging. Combined with autonomous driving those trucks could go non-stop and leave the highway with full batteries.