Are you ready for ... greenie hydrogen?

Green hydrogen is the latest “energy” fad from the global warming warriors.

Today’s hydrogen hype proposes using wind and solar energy to produce “green” hydrogen by electrolysis of water.

It is mainly hot air.

Hydrogen will NEVER be a source of energy. Unlike coal, oil, or natural gas, hydrogen rarely occurs naturally – it must be manufactured, and that process consumes far more energy than the hydrogen “fuel” can recover.

It's actually an idea that is quite old and discredited. “Hydro-gen” means “born of water,” but there has been a commercial fuel containing hydrogen that was born of coal. (Maybe it should be called “carbo-gen”?) In the past, it was called “town gas.” It was manufactured by heating coal to produce hydrogen, methane, and oxides of carbon. The resultant mixture of flammable gases was used for street lighting and domestic heating and cooking.

It was replaced by “clean coal by wire” (electricity), which was less costly and more energy-efficient. 

The reality is that all green generators are unreliable and intermittent – they seldom produce rated capacity for more than a few hours. “Green hydrogen” would create a messy scatter of expensive equipment for panels, turbines, roads, power lines, electrolytic cells, and specialised storage tanks and freighters - all to produce stop-start supplies of a tricky, dangerous new fuel. Risking capital in such ventures is best suited to unsubsidized and well-insured speculators.

There are other problems.

Australia, where I am, is a huge dry continent. Burning hydrocarbons like coal, oil, and gas releases plant-friendly CO2 and water into the atmosphere. (Every tonne of hydrogen in coal produces 9 tonnes of new water as it burns.)  However, every tonne of green hydrogen extracted using electrolysis will remove more than 9 tonnes of fresh surface water from the local environment. That water may be released to the atmosphere far away, wherever the hydrogen is consumed (maybe in another hemisphere). The tonnage of water thus removed (often from sunny dry outback areas) would be substantial. Farmers will wake up one morning to see their hills covered in wind turbines and power lines, their flats smothered in solar panels, and a huge hydrogen generator draining their water supply. Not green at all.

The hydrogen molecule is tiny, seeking any minute escape hole. Once it reaches the air, one small spark will ignite a violent explosion (once detonated, it burns ten times faster than natural gas). This makes storage and transport of hydrogen difficult, and the swift destruction of the Hindenburg illustrates the danger. It cannot be moved safely in natural gas pipelines and exporting it as a liquefied gas just wastes another 30% of the energy and adds another layer of cost, complexity, and danger.

Using hydrogen for fuel cells in vehicles makes a bit more sense than promoting electric vehicles powered by massive flammable batteries made of rare metals.

This green dream faces huge costs and obstacles to generate the extra electricity, mine the battery metals, establish reliable battery charging stations all over the country and cope with battery disposal problems.  Hydrogen-fuelled cars would improve city air quality at the vast expense of producing, handling, and dispensing a dangerous gas. Hydrogen makes no sense for replacing petrol and diesel on country roads or farms.

For hydrogen to replace coal, oil and gas would require immense quantities of hydrogen, needing huge quantities of reliable electricity to generate it.

So what’s best?

If there was a profitable market for hydrogen it would be far more efficient to use coal, gas, hydro or nuclear power for continuous production of hydrogen in an area well supplied with fresh water. These same proven, reliable, and abundant fuels are best suited to provide cheap reliable electricity and transport fuel for all factories, smelters, farms, vehicles, ships, and planes.

Forget the global warming religion and get rid of intermittent wind and solar generators from the grid unless they provide their own backup generators. Cut their subsidies and let them use their intermittent energy to generate unsubsidized green hydrogen for sale to whoever will buy it.

Image: Pixabay / Pixabay License

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