Hydrogen Climate Scams, Just Ask “Where does the hydrogen come from?”

In the race to stop CO2, there are many scams involving hydrogen, but it not always clear who is being scammed!

Background:

Hydrogen: Facts vs Myths, Blue vs Green, see here for background.

Hydrogen Is Not A Source Of Energy, The Energy Source is either Solar/Wind or Fossil Fuels.

There are basically two ways for us to get hydrogen on Earth:

  1. From water, which is combined hydrogen and oxygen (H2O).
    • Use (hopefully renewable) electricity to separate the water, producing O2 as a biproduct.
  2. From An ‘Alkane’, such as natural gas (CH4), which is combined hydrogen and carbon.
    • Use energy to separate the alkane, producing CO2 as a biproduct.

Our planet does not have enough gravity to hang on to raw ‘unattached’ hydrogen, and it floats off into space, so unlike the Sun, or giant planets like Jupiter, we have far less hydrogen and what we do have is combined with other elements.

Hydrogen is still the 10th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and you just need energy to separate it from other elements. Then you get some of that energy back, by letting it reattach to oxygen to form water. Just like a battery: put energy in so you can get it back later.

With method 1, if you use renewable energy for the separating, you have ‘green hydrogen’.

With method 2, the production of the CO2 provides the energy, which is just as well as more energy is needed if you start with water, but this process produces the energy needed.

So you always need an energy source to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen isn’t the energy source, it is what you use the energy source to produce. Just like a battery, hydrogen provides energy storage, and you get back a percentage of the energy from the source later.

Again, you need an energy source to start. Ideally you use ‘green electricity’. You can also use coal as the energy source, but 95% of production uses natural gas, because that gives the energy and the hydrogen in one.

Battery Electric Cars Vs Hydrogen Cars: see here.

There is a full page exploring this, but it turns out, as explored below, most proponents of hydrogen cars have ulterior motives and in the end there are no real benefits to offset having more complex and expensive vehicles with 3x the running costs of battery electric.

Alarm Bells: Hydrogen As The New Snake Oil? Always ask “Where is the energy coming from?”.

The moment anyone says ‘hydrogen as an energy source’, run.

Outside of nuclear energy, hydrogen is never an energy source. When it is suggested hydrogen is the energy source, someone is being scammed. Where is the energy really coming from? Often, when you hear words like this, the person speaking has been scammed, and does not think to ask “where is the energy coming from?”.

You always have to start with an actual energy source and convert the actual energy source to hydrogen. For ‘green hydrogen’ you start with ‘green’ electricity, but in the real world so far, for almost all hydrogen ever produced, your start with fossil fuels and produce more CO2 for each joule of energy, than you produce by burning the fossil fuel.

If a green energy company, or someone else who really does have at least genuine plans for green electrical power, talks about green hydrogen, then they may be genuine. The credibility in green energy, and the production of excess wind and solar is what needed for green hydrogen.

But if a mining company, or a company without green energy plans is talking about hydrogen, at some point it is going to be that someone is being scammed.

Outsider green energy companies wanting to store that green energy, it is best to treat any scheme or technology based on hydrogen with significant scepticism.

Apart from nuclear and rocket fuel for space, there is really nothing you can do with hydrogen, that you can’t do directly with fossil fuels. So most projects around hydrogen, are:

  1. Based around plans to ‘greenwash’ fossil fuels
  2. Or distractions to confuse and delay green energy projects.

Scams:

Blue Hydrogen: Disguised Natural Gas Made Worse.

Blue Hydrogen. The greatest fossil fuel scam in history?

Fossil fuel has carbon, that makes CO2 when you burn it, or when you take out the hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is when you pretend you have a way to catch the CO2

In the video to the right, from the channel “just have a think”, suggests “blue hydrogen” is the greatest fossil fuel scam in history.

Note that even people talking up ‘green hydrogen’ can in fact be looking to create markets for fossil-fuel sourced, ‘blue’ or ‘grey’ hydrogen. Unless you have green electrical energy going to waste, ‘green’ hydrogen is just expensive, and fossil fuel companies have an alternative.

Hydrogen Cars And Trucks.

The Big Picture: The Economics Don’t Add Up, Its A Stalling Tactic, or a ‘fossil fuel’ trick.

I have previously explored in detail the pros and cons of battery electric vs hydrogen cars and found 3x running costs, more expensive cars with no real benefits not available using batteries. The bottom line is, for motor vehicles, the economics just don’t add up to use hydrogen in place of batteries.

In more detail:

  • The argument against hydrogen is:
    • If using green hydrogen from electricity, you need 3x more electricity than battery electric cars.
  • The suggested benefits for hydrogen:
    • If you have really really large fuel tanks, you can in theory better range than battery electric cars.
      • In practice, hydrogen cars only better the range of very low price electric vehicles, and there are no low price hydrogen vehicles. In practice, far better range is available from battery electric.
    • Recharging can be faster than the recharging a battery.
      • Battery swapping is faster and safer than rechanging hydrogen, and there are already more battery swap stations than hydrogen stations.

Toyota: The Anti Electric Vehicle Car Company.

So why are some companies still pushing hydrogen cars, including the worlds largest car maker: Toyota?

Because, it turns out that despite being a leader with hybrids, Toyota feels electric vehicles will lead to huge job losses in Japan. It appears their issue is not that hydrogen cars are not the best product, it is that battery electric cars are seen as a threat.

So fixed is Toyota on trying to stop electric vehicles, that the company is facing a consumer backlash and boycotts from environmental groups, over their lobbying and donations to those who vote against electronification.

EPA figures for top automakers: Only Toyota failed to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.

Toyota gained a positive ‘environmental’ reputation with the introduction of hybrids, starting with the Prius in 1997.

Here was a company introducing new technology that reduced emissions!

For the performance and other specification, the Prius was an expensive car. To make a hybrid, you take a normal car make it more complex by adding a battery and electric drive train, and perhaps the motivation of Toyota was simply to sell more complex cars? To move from a hybrid to an EV, you take things out and make the battery bigger, which makes the car simpler. It seems on making cars simpler, Toyota are not so pleased, and looking at the EPA data, maybe the environment is not really their motive.

The main reasons for backing hydrogen cars, is that doing so could slow or even derail the uptake of battery electric cars, which are a threat to:

  • Some existing automakers who will lose market share and as a result employ less staff.
  • Fossil fuel companies.

Not only are hydrogen cars seen as a way to delay the uptake of electric vehicles, but also as a potential market for ‘blue hydrogen’ for fossil fuel companies, and a way to retain pricing and profit for Toyota and some other car makers not ready for battery electric vehicles.

Hyundai: Did You Know They Also Do Oil and Gas?

I thought of Hyundai primarily as a car company, but on corporate web site, automotive is just 1 of 11 activities, and oil and gas is amongst those activities. I do not know if the activities look as synergies, but Hyundai being the only company I know of that does both automotive and oil and gas, as well as now appearing to be the strongest remaining supporter of hydrogen cars, may not be entirely a coincidence.

‘AsianPetrolHead’, an informative reviewer of cars from Korea, recently attended a Hyundai promotion on their plans for hydrogen, and was provided with the message that hydrogen cars “can act as a generator“, and that even entire buildings could be powered by hydrogen.

Given that ‘green hydrogen’ requires more electrical energy to produce than the electrical energy get back, it is not logical to use the fuel cell to generate electricity if the hydrogen was made from electricity.

This means that for Hyundai, it seems clear what the answer to the question “where does the hydrogen come from” is:

  1. ‘Green Hydrogen”, From water, which is combined hydrogen and oxygen (H2O).
  2. Blue/Grey Hydrogen”, From An ‘Alkane’, such as natural gas (CH4), which is combined hydrogen and carbon .

Is it possible that the car division of Hyundai is announcing a strategy to support the “natural resources” division?

Other Brands.

Honda and BMW have also produced a small number of hydrogen cars, but why is not clear, but there is more information here.

Hydrogen Home Gas: Leaky Pipes Anyone?

Michael Liebreich, the influential energy analyst and founder of BloombergNEF, told Recharge in June: “You’re not going to have hydrogen in your home for safety reasons. It’s just not going to be a thing.”

‘Hydrogen in the home would be four times more dangerous than natural gas‘: government report: Recharge.

One suggestion is that hydrogen could replace methane as the gas used over the ‘gas main’. The appeal is that many homes are already fitted for gas.

However, all those gas pipes and fittings have been tested for leaks of methane. These same pipes are untested with hydrogen, which is a major problem as that hydrogen is a gas of much smaller molecules than methane, and will leak when methane would not leak. The reality is that pipes and fittings of the gas main already leak methane, just within acceptable limits. Upgrading theas system of pipes for hydrogen would be very expensive.

Then, all the ‘burners’ and heaters and appliances the burn the gas would need either replacing or modification to work with hydrogen instead of methane or ‘lpg’.

And what would we be the benefit, if the hydrogen begins life as electricity, and 50% of the energy is lost by converting to hydrogen? We can already distribute electricity to homes, and there are already cooktops and heaters available. Yes, historically natural gas could be less expensive than electricity, so gas was economic. But those economics are from the past if in future the gas is going to be produced using the electricity! Remember, if you convert electricity to hydrogen, there are inefficiencies and you lose a lot of the energy, and solar is now far less expensive than electricity was in the past. Hydrogen at homes would be used only for heating, as converting back to electricity using fuel cells would be just ridiculous, so the losses are less than with electric cars and other situations where you need the efficiency of electricity, but there are still substantial losses. It will simply cost more even to heat and cook using hydrogen than with the more efficient heat pumps and induction cook tops.

Plus, burning hydrogen is not completely pollution free, and some nitrogen from the air inevitably also becomes burnt, producing some nitrous oxides.

Home hydrogen gas would mean higher power bills, so at least utility companies may be happy, but it still requires changing stoves and heaters in homes, and is not pollution free.

Converting ‘green electricity’ to hydrogen to send to homes does not make economic sense. They only way sending hydrogen to homes in place of electricity could make sense, is if the hydrogen does not come from electricity, but from natural gas. The trouble with using hydrogen from natural gas is, that greenhouse gas emission are greater than from using natural gas. So going through a conversion from natural gas to hydrogen from natural gas, that results higher household energy costs, more CO2 and more dangerous homes, only adds up if you are prepared to make great sacrifices to provide profits for oil and gas suppliers.

Hydrogen Exports: Send Power By Boat Instead Of Electrical Wires.

There are real plans to export ‘green hydrogen’ from places such as the Australian Northern territory. This sounds great, there is so much sunshine and free land at the source location, that solar and wind makes perfect sense.

But just one question: why convert the electrical energy into hydrogen to send it to other countries?

The map here is of the submarine cables that connect the internet, but why would it not be possible to also use submarine cables to send electricity?

Is it really more efficient to send ships loaded with hydrogen to move electrical energy from one point to another? If it is, why have we been wasting all these years using electrical cables to move electricity from one point to another!

Consider Japan’s plan for buying hydrogen:

https://gcaptain.com/norway-races-australia-to-fulfill-japans-hydrogen-society-eream/Under the Australian plan, coal would be converted to gas for processing to remove sulphur, mercury and carbon dioxide, leaving hydrogen. The Norwegian system would use renewable power for high-temperature electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which would be released into the atmosphere. In both cases, the hydrogen would be liquefied for shipment to Japan.

Norway Races Australia to Fulfill Japan’s Hydrogen Society Dream

The entire project to supply Japan was developed around the idea of sending fossil fuel sources hydrogen, and the ability to use fossil fuels is a major reason for sending hydrogen, rather than shipping electricity.

Yes, and advantage of shipping hydrogen is that there can be stored energy at the point of import. But given the inefficiency of physically shipping hydrogen, and the loss of 2/3rds of the energy, using cables and a mix of using some of the electricity immediately, and converting some to hydrogen at the destination just has to be more cost effective if all the hydrogen would be ‘green hydrogen’.

Not Scams?

The Coal, Oil, Gas Replacement, The Delusion Of Fossil Fuel Thinking.

There has been over 100 years of fossil fuel use for in cars as well as heating and power generation. How can we do without a direct replacement? Green hydrogen is the only green fuel could be a direct replacement. You can transport it in tanks, burn it, generate electricity, and generally do everything you could do with fossil fuels.

The problem is that once you start with electricity, many of those things become redundant. Electricity can be more efficiently transported over wires. Even when you have hydrogen, it is better to covert the hydrogen back to electricity than burn it, and why generate electricity from hydrogen if you started with electicity?

So established is a fossil fuel way of thinking, that some people feel hydrogen is the main solution because it feels like it give back the familiar experience of fossil fuels. Maybe sufficient people will remain in this mindset to create a robust market, but this emperor has no clothes, as the old way is now redundant.

Hydrogen Boats and Planes.

The power to weight of hydrogen may have lost to the greater efficiency and utility of batteries for cars, but what about boats and planes? The same disadvantage of size, and weight apply, as well as the same efficiency and other advantages. In summary, hydrogen can, at extra cost, enable things beyond the reach of electric boats or planes, but if electric can work, it is the better option. So what can work?

I will add more links developments materialise, but hydrogen may make sense, at least in some cases, for aircraft.

Hydrogen Energy Storage: Maybe Not A Scam?

I will now add more links as products are released.

I have written previously on how renewables cannot replace fossil fuels with out the addition of storage.

The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind does not always blow. In reality if you have a big enough connected areas, the sun always shines somewhere during daytime, and the is always wind somewhere, but politics usually block having a large enough connected area, and even then there is the day night thing unless the connection is global. Reality is, storages is needed.

The most tried and tested storage in pumped hydro, and there are places that have now proved batteries as storage. I need to check again if anywhere has hydrogen as storage, but in theory if the area is too flat for pumped hydro, then hydrogen should be a good option. Hydrogen for storage need not be a scam, but it is unproven and so far, as soon as hydrogen is mentioned, the natural gas people tend to try and hijack the project.

Hydrogen Metals: Green Steel, Green Aluminium: No Scam.

Not all coal is destined for coal fired power plants, there is also metallurgical or ‘coking coal‘, which as described by that link, is ‘essential’, for making steel.

Some Hydrogen Projects Are Genuine.

At one point I thought that as this coal was the source of the carbon that is part of steel, and would not harm the environment as it is not burned. I was wrong.

The basic principal is that metal ‘ores’ are mostly oxides or other compounds with oxygen: iron ores are mostly a form of iron oxide, and aluminium ore, or ‘bauxite’ is also primarily aluminium and oxygen. The key process to remove the oxygen, is to bond the oxygen with carbon, and emit CO2.

Green steel and green aluminium, are formed without the production of CO2 to remove the oxygen. The established ‘green’ method is to instead bond the oxygen with hydrogen, and thus produce H20 in place of CO2. Note, green steel still has carbon in the steel, but that is very little carbon and as it is not used to produce CO2, there is no problem with that use of carbon.

Who Is Being Scammed?

this section still being updated.

Governments.

It sounds good. A supplier offers you hydrogen, and undertakes to ramp up the percentage over time that is “green hydrogen” or even that magical “blue hydrogen”. If you are buying the hydrogen from another country, is it your problem if there are emissions at the location of the source of the hydrogen?

After all, it still lets you have commit to targets for reducing greenhouse gases within your country!

Do not need wonder why supplier does not suggest sending electricity via submarine cable, given that if it is green hydrogen made from electricity, that would be more efficient than sending hydrogen?

Consumers.

I thing everyone has heard the taglines:

  • The most abundant material in the universe!
  • Pure clean energy that produces only water as a waste product.

The reality is that hydrogen is not readily available everywhere as the tagline suggests, and even ‘green hydrogen’ never quite matches electricity for lack of environmental impact. It can’t because the cleanest way to use the hydrogen is to use the hydrogen to produce electricity anyway, and you always need more energy to start with.

If you listen to the stories, you could easily believe hydrogen is even better than electricity, and the main reason is that there are huge amounts of marketing behind hydrogen.

Investors.

All they hype, it is not just consumers being trapped. The promise of schemes make millions from hydrogen infrastructure is also a real thing. One of the key reasons is that building infrastructure around hydrogen can be a distraction from other projects that genuinely transition away from fossil fuels. The more infrastructure projects in the works, the longer we keep using fossil fuels in the interim. That does not mean that hydrogen projects will actually make economic sense once the required green electrictiy is available.

Conclusion.

Always question: “Where is the hydrogen coming from?”

(page still being updated until 31 October 2021).

4 thoughts on “Hydrogen Climate Scams, Just Ask “Where does the hydrogen come from?”

Add yours

  1. “Renewable” technology isn’t “green” either, you cannot produce solar panels, wind turbines or EV’s without burning OIL, COAL or NATURAL GAS!

    We need OIL to mine their raw materials, we need OIL to process those materials & we need OIL, COAL OR NATURAL GAS to produce the electricity we need to CHARGE those EV’s.
    How can California demand we buy electric cars when today their having blackouts, more EV’s = even more blackouts!

    I know of no way we can produce “renewables” or EV’s without burning OIL, COAL or NATURAL GAS.
    Even hydro electric & nuclear are TIED TO OIL to produce the generators, produce the the cement for the dam & the reactor & to produce those uranium rods to fuel the nuclear reactor.
    ALL so called “renewables” are tightly tied to FOSSIL RESOURCES & FOSSIL FUELS & we cannot ‘transition’ from DECLINING RESOURCES to a RESOURCE DEPENDENT TECHNOLOGY!
    We will “get off” fossil fuels but not by transisioning to a FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENT TECHNOLOGY that can inefficiently transform some of the weak, unreliable, energy it receives into electricity some of the time.
    WASF!!!

    Like

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