The hydrogen economy

jc

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Ehhh said:
Which leaves the question of where the energy to create the hydrogen will come from. That's the elephant in the room with regard to 'the hydrogen economy'.
That's not the elephant in the room at all.

The elephant is the infrastructure needed to support a hydrogen economy as well as the comparative efficiencies.

The "power-source to end-use" efficiency of hydrogen using (say) a fuel-cell is in the region of 25%. That means that for every 1 unit of energy your car (as an example) uses, 4 need to be generated. "So what", say the advocates here. "With free generation, its all gravy". Well, yes, except that other, non-hydrogen-centric approaches (e.g. Li-ion batteries) offer efficiencies miore like 1 unit of power requiring 1.1 units of generated power.

Transport of hydrogen is also problematic. Cryogenic storage, pressure-based storage...whatever...its all expensive, energy-hungry stuff.

Ah, the advocates say, you're still thinking old-school. The new hydrogen economy will have micro-generators everywhere, and hydrogen will be made where its needed, thus removing the need to transport it at all, which in turn removes much of the inefficiency from the equation.

They have a point...in the sense that in order for a hydrogen economy to work, a distributed network is what is needed rather than a distribution network like we have at present.

Which brings us back to the elephant in the room.

If you want to go for a drive in your car today, and don't just consider the convenietn cases like small islands in Western Europe, then you need to be able to sit in and go for hours...potentially for a couple of thousand km. You want to be able to refuel at will, quickly and cleanly.

If you want to set up a petrol station today, you need some petrol tanks. OK..they're not free, but they're far from rocket science.
If you want to replace these with hydrogen refuelling stations, then you've got a problem. A decentralised network will mean that each station will need its own generating capacity (which should be free energy), its own localised storage facility, the ability to 'fill' fuel-cells (if we go that way instead of storing hydrogen under pressure in tanks in the boot of our cars).....and you need it over a large area.

That is the elephant in the room.

One can forsee, in the short-to-medium term, increased use of hydrogen for things like airport ground-fleet vehicles, or maybe even public transport fleets, where a single or small number of refuelling stations can serve a significant number of vehicles. But it'll be a long, long time before we start seeing anything like a hydrogen economy.
 


badboy2

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Ehhh,

My understanding of what you are saying is that you think oil is a net source of energy but water is not.

You are correct,
however I think they are somewhat analagous.

Crude oil has to be prospected, drilled for, refined and shipped. All this takes energy. Crude oil in its self is of little use, just as sea water won't heat your house.

However just as crude oil is refined into heating oil, water can be refined into hydrogen.

I accept that one is merely the seperation of different chemicals where the other involves an actual chemical reaction.

Now, I do accept that with Crude oil, there seems to be an energy gain, where as with Hydrogen there is not. However that energy gain is what throws us out of kilter with the biosphere.

If we are to live without damaging the bisosphere, it is neceesary to only take out what can be put back. That is why we evolved from non sustainable hunter gatherers to farmers.

Oil is the hunter gatherer. Hydrogen is the farmer.
 

Ehhh

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Yes but then we can only use energy at the rate the sun gives it to us and, given that we've gone through a few millions years of stored solar energy in about a hundred years, that just ain't gonna be enough.
Oil represtents energy that has already been stored. Hydrogen does not. There's very little hydrogen around in its natural state, so we have to get it into that state by putting energy in. We don't get all that energy back (in fact, if jc is correct, we only get a quarter of it back).
The finished product with oil releases considerably more energy than it takes to find, extract, transport and refine it. For various reasons, that ratio has beeen dropping over the years but it is still well above 1:1. This is why I refered to it as an energy source (even though it is simply storing energy that was put there a long time ago) because the net energy released is positive.
In the case of hydrogen, the net energy released is negative, which is why I called it a storage medium. I'm not saying that it has no use as a storage medium (thou again jc has pointed out a variety of issues with this), merely that the energy it stores will have to be generated by some other means.
 

SPN

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jc

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badboy2 said:
That is why we evolved from non sustainable hunter gatherers to farmers.
Hunter-gatherer societies were far more sustainable than farming societies. They just weren't as scalable.

Consider...we've had hunter-gatherer societies since the evolution of modern man - about 500,000 years. On islands such as New Guinea, we still have such societies.

Farming, on the other hand, has been around less than 20,000 years - or 4% of that. As a result of the progress which farming enabled, we are once again hitting barriers of scalability.

Ehhh said:
Yes but then we can only use energy at the rate the sun gives it to us and, given that we've gone through a few millions years of stored solar energy in about a hundred years, that just ain't gonna be enough.
Except we haven't gone through a few million years of stored solar energy.

We've gone through the tiny, tiny fraction of solar energy which has been stored over millions of years.

There's a significant difference.

In theory, the sun provides us daily with far more energy than we need. Far, far more. In practice, harnessing that, in the right place at the right time....thats problematic. That's why we need storage and/or distribution solutions.

Oil represtents energy that has already been stored. Hydrogen does not. There's very little hydrogen around in its natural state, so we have to get it into that state by putting energy in. We don't get all that energy back (in fact, if jc is correct, we only get a quarter of it back).
Getting a quarter back isn't all that bad a deal, if you can limit when/where you use it.

Battery technology also has issues with scalability, for example.

There is no silver buillet. There is no panacea. There is no single, known technology out there which will quickly and effortlessly replace oil, or - in terms that most people tend to look at it - replace the entire hydrocarbon economy. Anyone who is championing any one such technology, in my opinion, has oversimplified the problem.

There will be a hydrogen economy - this much is all but certain. However, to believe that the hydrogen economy will replace the hydrocarbon economy, especially to believe so without requiring intermediate economies to carry us through the long transition), is - in my opinion - overly optimistic.

Maybe we could have had a world where we never became dependant on oil...but we didn't. We are dependant on it, and coal, and natural gas. And unlike how those infrastructures grew up, we now have a planet far more dependant on the existing energy-infrastructure, which only makes transitions harder to make.
 

Colmog

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London appears to be leading the way internationally in terms of the use of hydrogen as a fuel for public transport...Ken Livingstone has set a target of 2015 for 5% of all public vehicles in London using hydrogen.

http://www.breakingnews.ie/world/mhmhgbcwgbgb/


A fleet of hydrogen-powered buses have been bought to operate on London’s streets, it was announced today.

A contract worth almost £10m (€14.2m) was signed for 10 buses, the biggest fleet of its kind in Europe.

The buses will be fully operational by 2010, producing no pollution or carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming.

The announcement follows a trial of hydrogen-powered buses in the capital.

London’s mayor Ken Livingstone said today: “Hydrogen is a fuel of the future as it improves air quality and does not produce the harmful emissions which are causing catastrophic climate change.
 

jc

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Colmog said:
London appears to be leading the way internationally in terms of the use of hydrogen as a fuel for public transport...Ken Livingstone has set a target of 2015 for 5% of all public vehicles in London using hydrogen.

http://www.breakingnews.ie/world/mhmhgbcwgbgb/

A fleet of hydrogen-powered buses have been bought to operate on London’s streets, it was announced today.

A contract worth almost £10m (€14.2m) was signed for 10 buses, the biggest fleet of its kind in Europe.

The buses will be fully operational by 2010, producing no pollution or carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming.
Just to put this in context....

London Bus currently has a fleet of 8000 buses. 5% of that would be 400 buses. 10 buses by 2010 is whats currently planned, leaving 390 more to be comissioned and introduced into service by 2015.


While laudable, these numbers ares a true indication of just how far hydrogen has to come, especially consdering that Red Ken has also plans to put 500 hybrid buses on the streets every year from now till 2012.

ASsuming all goes to plan on both counts, we can see that in the space of time its going to take to fully roll out 10 hydrogen buses, we can expect some 1500 hybrid buses to come alongside them. Two years after that, there'll be 2500 hybrids around - a whole 3 years before the deadline to reach 400 hydrogen buses. If we assumed the same rate of progression with hybrid until 2015, we'd have 400 hydrogen-based and 4000 hybrid buses.

Now, I fully accept that hybrid is not as clean as hydrogen, but I can confidently predict that the impact of 10 buses moving to pollution-free will be far less than the impact of 1500 buses moving to hybrid in the same time-period, just as moving 4000 to bybrid will do more than moving 400 to hydrogen.

Long term, the move to hydrogen is important, because it helps the technology evolve...so that (hopefully) by 2015 Ken's successor may be in a position to say that no more hybrids will be used, and the fleet will be replaced at teh rate of 500-a-year to hydrogen.

The announcement follows a trial of hydrogen-powered buses in the capital.
Ironic.

10 buses to be operational in 3 years time, in one of the largest cities in the developed world is a trial - and a small-scale one at that.

Don't get me wrong...I applaud this move completely, but am equally delighted to see that Livingstone has the smarts to realise that while he's waiting for hydrogen to fuly arrive (and helping it to do so), there's a hell of a lot he can do as an interim measure to make a marked improvement.
 

Auditor #9

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SPN said:
Looks like some progress has been made on improving the efficiency of producing (?) hydrogen.

New technique creates cheap, abundant hydrogenhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20071112/sc_afp/ussciencefuel
Very interesting article. Process uses electron-producing microbes to generate the current used to break down the water. The microbes consume biomass as they do so. Reminds me of Back to the Future II where the mad scientist finds some vegetable matter in a bin then sticks them into the DeLorean as fuel. Possibly very slow process, however. Still, uses sun's energy as stored in plant material of which there is definitely an abundance.

In the past, the process, which is known as electrohydrogenesis, has had poor efficiency rates and low hydrogen yields. But the researchers at Pennsylvania State University were able to get around these problems by chemically modifying elements of the reactor. In laboratory experiments, their reactor generated hydrogen gas at nearly 99 percent of the theoretical maximum yield using aetic acid, a common dead-end product of glucose fermentation.

"This process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added in the process," said Bruce Logan, a professor of environmental engineering at Penn State.

The technology is economically viable now, which gives hydrogen an edge over another alternative biofuel which is grabbing more headlines, Logan said.
 

badboy2

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The moon is also a source of enery via the tide.

I accept that the hunter gatherer v farmer analogy is not a great one. However what I meant was that if the population of Dublin went hynting in the Dublin Mountains, they would not survive long - so I suppose scalable is a better description.


As to the argument that we must stick with oil because we need the extra energy from millions of years....

In any balanced system, the inouts must equal the outputs. Even if CO2 was not a threat, we should be moving away from oil.



As for Red Ken in London, tragically he is more interested in conning the people of Venezula out of their oil than rolling out hydrogen buses. Still its a start.
 

Auditor #9

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badboy2 said:
As to the argument that we must stick with oil because we need the extra energy from millions of years....

In any balanced system, the inouts must equal the outputs. Even if CO2 was not a threat, we should be moving away from oil.
I'm interested to know if we can sustainably produce enough energy from non-fossil fuel sources for all our needs, assuming certain things about demand and growth of population. Could it be possible to not need oil at all? I don't know of any 100% renewables studies which have been done by Ireland or by anyone else but I'd love to find out. Someone in the Green Party would be the most likely to know.

Because, if it were the case that we had a sustainable source of fuel (ultimately we would be depending generally on the immediate power of the wind, sun and moon - not as much on stored energy except in the case of biomass) then perhaps a lot of other interesting questions could be raised in terms of markets and economics.
 

Pax

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Auditor #9 said:
SPN said:
Looks like some progress has been made on improving the efficiency of producing (?) hydrogen.

New technique creates cheap, abundant hydrogenhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20071112/sc_afp/ussciencefuel
Very interesting article. Process uses electron-producing microbes to generate the current used to break down the water. The microbes consume biomass as they do so. Reminds me of Back to the Future II where the mad scientist finds some vegetable matter in a bin then sticks them into the DeLorean as fuel. Possibly very slow process, however. Still, uses sun's energy as stored in plant material of which there is definitely an abundance.

In the past, the process, which is known as electrohydrogenesis, has had poor efficiency rates and low hydrogen yields. But the researchers at Pennsylvania State University were able to get around these problems by chemically modifying elements of the reactor. In laboratory experiments, their reactor generated hydrogen gas at nearly 99 percent of the theoretical maximum yield using aetic acid, a common dead-end product of glucose fermentation.

"This process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added in the process," said Bruce Logan, a professor of environmental engineering at Penn State.

The technology is economically viable now, which gives hydrogen an edge over another alternative biofuel which is grabbing more headlines, Logan said.
Uses "biodegradable organic material" or "readily available and renewable biomass such as cellulose or glucose," sounds like it could have the same problems as biofuel. Such as using imported palm oil or soya growing on former rainforest, which is much worse than using petrol.

And an increase in food prices as people-chow competes with your daily drive down the local supermarket.

It would also be competing with the meagre amount from left over chip fat and the like.
 

Pax

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Auditor #9 said:
badboy2 said:
As to the argument that we must stick with oil because we need the extra energy from millions of years....

In any balanced system, the inouts must equal the outputs. Even if CO2 was not a threat, we should be moving away from oil.
I'm interested to know if we can sustainably produce enough energy from non-fossil fuel sources for all our needs, assuming certain things about demand and growth of population. Could it be possible to not need oil at all? I don't know of any 100% renewables studies which have been done by Ireland or by anyone else but I'd love to find out. Someone in the Green Party would be the most likely to know.

Because, if it were the case that we had a sustainable source of fuel (ultimately we would be depending generally on the immediate power of the wind, sun and moon - not as much on stored energy except in the case of biomass) then perhaps a lot of other interesting questions could be raised in terms of markets and economics.
Energy reduction will not automatically lead to CO2 reduction. Mainstream economists propose that energy reduction leads to economic growth which then leads to more energy expended.

For instance if I get rid of my car, take a local holiday and put energy saving light bulbs in my house Ill save thousands. What will I do then? Spend it.

Saving energy will not help the planet. Reducing CO2 will.

And wrt markets and economics....Only some are at the 'sweet-spot' of consumption versus CO2 emissions at the moment, and they mightn't be there for long.*

* as I posted on the carbon tax thread but as relevant here (from New Scientist )

Cuba Flies Lone Flag for Sustainability
http://www.indymedia.ie/article/84625




We don’t need environmental evangelicals to tell us that sustainable development is a good idea. Yet, if that is our goal, we are
heading in the wrong direction - with the exception of Cuba. So says the first study to examine the ecological impact of changing lifestyles around the globe.

An international team led by Mathis Wackernagel of the Global Footprint Network looked at how the living conditions and ecological footprints of 93 nations have changed in the last 30 years.
We need to reduce consumption and CO2 big time, and share it equitably, otherwise any energy savings will just be spent leading to more energy expenditure.

For other examples check out the 10 point plan from Heat by Monbiot. It includes ideas on renewable batteries in cars and using hydrogen for heat to replace natural gas.
 

Auditor #9

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Pax said:
Mainstream economists propose that energy reduction leads to economic growth which then leads to more energy expended.

For instance if I get rid of my car, take a local holiday and put energy saving light bulbs in my house Ill save thousands. What will I do then? Spend it.
Nice point but it depends on what you spend it on. There would be a big difference between getting yourself a good Tai Chi guru, catching up on all the Lara Croft software you missed and eating a steak every two days.

And markets... my question is very naive really and assumes perfect supply.
 

Auditor #9

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Ehhh said:
Eddiepops said:
Actually, "creating" the hydrogen (through electrolysis, etc) is very energy intensive and does not get nearly an equavalence of hydrogen as a product. Factor in compression, storage, distribution etc and apparently you come out with an energy efficiency of about 22%:
I wasn't considering those elements just the generation of the hydrogen. I'm pretty sure that I've read somewhere (though I'm open to correction) that that is pretty efficient.

With regard to fusion aren't they already tendering to build a small (by power plant standards) prototype reactor in Europe. I read this a couple of years ago (though havn't been able to find the same source since).
The two year old report on the bbc website below was the first that appeared on a google search for 'fusion marseilles iter japan france'. The rest of the first page google hits are generally from that time too. Maybe they aren't finished yet...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4629239.stm
 

Auditor #9

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Controlling a donut of plasma - superhot gas - using magnetic fields is what they're at with ITER and previously Tokamak and someone described it as trying to pin jelly onto the ceiling using needles...A definition of futility it seems given the amount spent on the project and the paltry results to date for fusion.

I was under the impression however, that in this project they were going to drop the plasma into a vessel of water to produce steam which would deplete the water but still replacing it from below until the plasma lost its energy, reiterating the process as required. Or a slight refinement on this. Ultimately we're still in the Steam Age even with fusion, though I think another poster, maybe riven sees the mechanical benefits of using steam a lot clearer than I do.
 

soubresauts

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It looks as though Europe is going to do plenty of research on the hydrogen economy over the next few years, with the EU Commission planning to put up 470 million Euro, with similar contributions from industry.

I have no doubt that they'll refine the technology of fuel cells and hydrogen-burning engines, so that buses (at least) will be operating efficiently in cities. However, the big problems of generating sufficient hydrogen and distributing it will not be easily overcome.

Chinese cities, for example, have a huge incentive to use hydrogen for vehicle traffic because of air pollution problems, but they have little prospect of generating enough hydrogen locally, unless they burn conventional fuels to do so (horrors!).

What are the chances of being able to transport liquid hydrogen in supertankers? Can they make it safe? Would hot, sunny countries -- such as Saudi Arabia! -- be able to produce vast amounts of hydrogen from solar power? Just wondering...
 

badboy2

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470 Million is a small amount compared say with the cost of a small war.

All new technologies have issues with them. Infrastructure has to develop to facilitate them and that often goes in different ways to what we expect.

As a xociety we seem to have become chronically bad at creating infrastructure.

We rely on 19th century sewers and railways. Building a bypass around a small village seems to take a lifetime.

They dug a tunnel in Dublin a few years ago and they charge you 20quid to have a look at it. As fo the latest railway project, it doesn't meet in the middle.

Ireland seems to struggle with basic infrastructural projects.

I think this is the problem with a society that puts such a fundamental value on private property.
 

Auditor #9

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soubresauts said:
What are the chances of being able to transport liquid hydrogen in supertankers? Can they make it safe? Would hot, sunny countries -- such as Saudi Arabia! -- be able to produce vast amounts of hydrogen from solar power? Just wondering...
You need water and electric current to make hyrdrogen by electrolysis(passing the current through the water to seperate the constituents H, O). Saudi Arabia has a coastline and plenty of sunshine to create electric current so it would be an ideal candidate for hydrogen production if it didn't already have the worlds biggest oil fields.

Given the simplicity of H production, it should lend itself to localised production literally anywhere there is water and potential for current. (SPNs link above talks about using bacteria to generate current. The bacteria feed on rotting vegetable matter as they produce the current so that's another way potentially)

As for Supertankers...no idea
 


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