LibLink: Christine Jardine: Hydrogen has huge potential for decarbonisation

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine looks at Hydrogen as a weapon in our arsenal against climate change.

She looks at many potential uses – from fuelling planes to heating homes and highlights the work of the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney:

EMEC is supporting a project known as HyFlyer which has already achieved the world’s first flight of a commercial-grade hydrogen electric aircraft in September of last year.

ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric Piper Malibu Mirage successfully achieved a 20-minute flight from Cranfield airfield in the UK in which the only fumes it produced were water vapour.

The next phase of the project is targeting a successful commercial-grade flight of a 19-seater craft, potentially in 2023. The green hydrogen fuelling systems required for flight tests will be delivered by EMEC.

Perhaps the best indicator of the potential for hydrogen-powered flight is that the project is backed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK.

There are of course other aircraft being developed across the globe and what is significant for me is the potential for commercial flights, perhaps initially short-haul domestic.

And while the possibility of carbon-free air travel is, for me, one of the most exciting possibilities, there are many more that are unlocked by green hydrogen.

She outlines some of the proposals in her Clean Air Bill to be debated in Parliament later this year.

EMEC is supporting a project known as HyFlyer which has already achieved the world’s first flight of a commercial-grade hydrogen electric aircraft in September of last year.

ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric Piper Malibu Mirage successfully achieved a 20-minute flight from Cranfield airfield in the UK in which the only fumes it produced were water vapour.

The next phase of the project is targeting a successful commercial-grade flight of a 19-seater craft, potentially in 2023. The green hydrogen fuelling systems required for flight tests will be delivered by EMEC.

Perhaps the best indicator of the potential for hydrogen-powered flight is that the project is backed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK.

There are of course other aircraft being developed across the globe and what is significant for me is the potential for commercial flights, perhaps initially short-haul domestic.

And while the possibility of carbon-free air travel is, for me, one of the most exciting possibilities, there are many more that are unlocked by green hydrogen.

She outlines some of the proposals in her Clean Air Bill

It is part of a raft of proposals which my party wants to see used to fight climate change, and investment in cutting-edge energy technologies like green hydrogen is central to that.

It can power our heating and drive our transport, and the UK has the potential to lead the world in the development of green hydrogen technologies and projects.

We have the scientific, geological, and renewable resources, but we need to find the political will.

Our aim should, my party believes, be to decarbonise the power sector completely by supporting renewables in household and community energy projects to create jobs and cut fossil-fuel imports.

We know that decarbonising heat will be difficult, but hydrogen may have a role to play alongside other technologies such as geo-thermal heat pumps.

You can read the whole article here.

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23 Comments

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '21 - 8:56am

    At the moment the electric motor is king. But wait… JCB is developing a hydrogen fuelled internal combustion engine. I gather that hydrogen could be pumped through existing gas pipes to fuel domestic boilers. What’s not to like? OK you have to produce the stuff, which will require some energy. Then, of course, there’s the hydrogen fuel cell, which several car manufacturers have been working on, which would combine with the electric motor, whose production requires scouring the world for rare finite minerals such as lithium and cadmium, plus all the environmental damage that may cause.

    I appreciate that what happened to the Hindenburg at Lakehurst NJ back in 1937 isn’t a good augury. However, hydrogen is worth a punt for other things other than just propelling aircraft and making bombs! This could indeed be the ‘big bang’ we are looking for; but hopefully a controlled one!

  • Hydrogen will certainly play an important role in a carbon-neutral future. However, it has significant limitations:

  • Hydrogen will certainly play an important role in a carbon-neutral future. However, it has significant limitations:
    – It is difficult to store, requiring high pressures and/or very low temperatures, both of which are heavy and expensive
    – It has a low energy density, meaning that the storage needs to be large.
    For these reasons, hydrogen will not be very suitable in many applications, probably including aviation. That is probably why the test flight was only 20 minutes long.

    Hydrogen will probably be produced by electrolysis from water, using electricity. This process is inefficient. If the hydrogen is used to generate heat using a boiler, this is also inefficient. It may therefore be better to use electric heating directly (though the electricity distribution network also has losses) – or even better, to use the electricity to power ground or air source heat pumps.

    The future cannot be carbon-free, only carbon-neutral. For example, we will continue to generate biofuel from waste, and perhaps the best use of this is for aviation. Hydrogen can readily be converted into ammonia, which is easy to store and transport.

    I therefore welcome a Clean Air Bill. However, that should set targets and principles, and should not attempt to define solutions. The technologies of renewable energy are continually advancing and new technologies are emerging. Politicians are not best placed to identify the most promising ones (especially, as Christine herself admits, many of them have never been excited by science).

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '21 - 11:45am

    @Simon Pike
    I would never rule anything out. Look how the cost of electric propulsion has come down and it’s effectiveness and viability has increased. Also, look at the cost of phasing out gas fuelled domestic boilers over the next few years. You use the word ‘inefficient’ for several processes. It all depends on what you mean by the word. If it produces less carbon, I call that efficient. If it’s just down to money, then what price survival? After all, that’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it?

    In order to achieve carbon neutrality the public is being forced to change its habits in ways that could find it considerably out of pocket. Given public expenditure because of COVID you can probably kiss goodbye to government sweeteners in this area. You have to try to make the inevitable and desirable transition as easy and painless as possible. So it is important to keep all your options open. It was West German Economics Minister, Karl Schiller (1911-1994), who told the world back in the late 1960s that our future “belongs to oil”. Well, he got that wrong, didn’t he? So, my advice is; “Never say never”!

    An example for you to consider. At present even the fastest electric chargers take nearly half an hour to do their job. To fill a tank with hydrogen, for example, would surely take a fraction of that time – not a lot different from filling up with petrol or diesel. As for storage, I can’t really see where you are coming from. If it’s feasible, it’s surely worth considering.

  • Antony Watts 4th Aug '21 - 1:27pm

    H2 is wrong way to go. H2 ICE very poor energy efficiency. Electricity is future.

    Stop trying to hang onto stranded assets and move to more efficient power transfer

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Aug '21 - 2:01pm

    Simon Pike : “[Hydrogen] has a low energy density”

    Why do you think that? Actually, hydrogen has nearly 3 times the energy per kg compared to kerosene (jet fuel) : 120 MJ/Kg to 46
    So there’s quite a bit of weight that could go into high pressure storage tanks while still getting much more energy for one’s fuel load.

    A long range 777 fully fuelled carries approx 140 tonnes of kerosene. Same energy could be obtained from 53 tonnes of hydrogen. I think that gives scope for some fancy storage, whether it’s high pressure or low temperature.

  • A more circumspect approach is essential here, not least because the fossil fuel lobbyists push hydrogen. It is promoted as a clean fuel, but is just an energy delivery system like electricity – it has to be manufactured. We are nowhere near producing all our electricity from renewable sources yet, so even further from having massive amounts extra to make hydrogen from water. Almost all hydrogen available now is manufactured from methane, with carbon emissions similar to burning it. It’s green credentials are dependent upon some future rollout of carbon capture, which is perpetually the technology of the tomorrow that never comes.
    A second reason for the fossil fuel industry to push hydrogen is they could continue their lucrative network of service station shops, which are doomed if we go electric.
    Hydrogen is awkward stuff to compress, store and deliver. There may indeed be some specialised uses where it might work, but for most of our energy needs electricity is much cheaper and easier to distribute. Even for transport it has the edge. The latest electric cars can already add 200 miles range in 20minutes, so providing plenty of fast chargers in car parks at supermarkets, motorway services etc will be more convenient than petrol stations and remove the need to clutter streets with charging points.
    Given the present government’s connections and financial dependencies we can assume that it will continue to drag its heels on clean technology and continue its quiet financial support for the fossil fuel industry, whatever its public stance.

  • Peter Davies 4th Aug '21 - 2:54pm

    The key is storage. It’s not the easiest substance to store but there are currently no serious rivals for long-term energy storage. Britain has a serious problem with this because so much of our energy use is for winter heating and our solar capacity contributes almost nothing in Winter.

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '21 - 3:16pm

    Something else which I have advocated before, in order to cut down the waiting time when recharging an EV is to have a standardised easily exchangeable battery. Back in the 1980s at the Stuttgart Motor Show I believe that the Varta battery company demonstrated a electric powered lorry which used this system.

    It would work a bit like Calorgas in that you buy the initial fully filled cylinder and then only paid for the gas when you exchanged it. For cyclinder read battery and for gas read electricity. So, you would drive into the battery replacement centre, where the battery in your vehicle would be automatically exchanged for a fully charged replacement. Your old battery would then be recharged ready for future use. Of course, you would still be able to recharge your battery at home if you preferred.

    Too far fetched? Possibly, because you would never get the car manufacturers to agree on a standard battery or easy access layout. However, the biggest stumbling block to wide spread acceptance of EVs is the current recharging network – or lack of – and the time it takes to recharge. Will it happen? Probably not. That’s why I wouldn’t give up yet on hydrogen.

  • neil James sandison 4th Aug '21 - 3:17pm

    We should not be so quick to write off Hydrogen based fuels or its potential application to tackle other pollutants like plastic . It can also be converted to electricity generation . Wastes are increasingly entering our water and food chains without some fresh thinking we may reduce carbon emissions but end up with a heavily polluted planet which could beat all efforts to clean up .

  • John Marriott 4th Aug ’21 – 3:16pm:
    Something else which I have advocated before, in order to cut down the waiting time when recharging an EV is to have a standardised easily exchangeable battery.

    Tesla offered that for the Model S some years ago…

    ‘Battery Swap Event’ [2013]:
    https://www.tesla.com/videos/battery-swap-event

    Model S is designed to allow a fast battery swap, exchanging your battery for a fully charged battery in less than half the time it takes to refill a gas tank. This offers Model S drivers another, even faster option when recharging while driving long distances.

    They’ve since abandoned the idea…

    ‘Tesla shuts down battery swap program in favor of Superchargers, for now’ [2016]:

    …three years after Tesla first demonstrated the ability to quickly swap out the floor-mounted battery on a Model S and replace it with a fully charged battery pack, the company has seemingly closed the pilot program in favor of expanding its global network of Superchargers. […]

    Swap time was, on average, seven minutes. There was some trepidation that, upon returning the battery, a driver would receive a different battery with more accumulated mileage on it. Onboard technology did not recognize the swap and assumed that the original trip totals were continuing.

    …you would never get the car manufacturers to agree on a standard battery or easy access layout.

    Standardising form-factor and design across manufacturers would stifle innovation and reduce competition.

  • >“We should not be so quick to write off Hydrogen based fuels”
    The problem is one of scale: scale of production and scale of delivery infrastructure.
    As we are seeing from the reports of those installing EV charging points, building the electric charging network that can handle the millions of vehicles we envisage will be on our roads, is going to take years, I don’t expect 50% of homes to have a charging point by 2030. So the idea that somehow a new fuel, that is some years away from commercial usage can achieve market dominance ahead of EV’s is laughable – unless the politicians turn it into a vanity project and throw £100+ billion at it.

    So given the scale of things and where we are at, Hydrogen, like LPG is likely to be a niche fuel and most probably going to be distributed in a similar way. However, in 2035 things might look different…

    > the Hindenburg at Lakehurst NJ back in 1937…
    Isn’t really relevant, in the Hindenburg the hydrogen wasn’t compressed – it was being used to provide buoyancy. To use hydrogen as a fuel, it needs to be compressed into gas cylinders which in the event of an accident and/or vehicle fire can become very dangerous. But then so are Li-ion batteries and petrol/diesel tanks, with Li-ion batteries probably being the worst as manufacturing defects, poor management of charging and discharging can cause them to self-combust and as yet the only sure way to put the fire out is to contain it to the vehicle and let it burn itself out over 3~5 days.

    I think the real problem is that many are buying into the greenwash around EV’s; if we really want to go carbon neutral or even carbon zero, we are going to have to accept that fewer of us will be owning cars and all of us will be doing significantly fewer miles in them; lockdown has shown just how much can be achieved by simply changing some accepted norms (although it seems Rishi hasn’t understood the message).

  • …you would never get the car manufacturers to agree on a standard battery or easy access layout.
    Standardising form-factor and design across manufacturers would stifle innovation and reduce competition.

    Standardisation opens markets and enhances competition. If in doubt I suggest you take a look at your Internet router…
    However, the only way to get decent consumer products is for the Standardisation to be driven by governments – exhibit 1 the UK 3-pin plug.

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '21 - 6:00pm

    @Jeff
    So standardisation would “stifle competition”. But is it that such a bad idea if it provides a viable solution?
    @Roland
    The Nazis used hydrogen to lift their airships because helium was more expensive and largely unobtainable to that time. We used to create hydrogen in our school chemistry lessons. To prove its ignition qualities simply required the application of a lit taper to a test tube, which produced the resultant ‘pop’. So, loose or compressed, you need to handle hydrogen with care. But, isn’t that the case with many gases?

  • Peter Davies 4th Aug '21 - 8:43pm

    @Jeff. The existence of standardized AA and AAA batteries has hardly stifled innovation in gadgets that use them.

    A standard form factor would allow most existing filling stations to offer the service. Ideally, it would be a weight that your health and safety officer would let you carry without a trolley. You’d need quite a lot of them in a family car but it would mean you could swap just enough to get you home and you could keep a few spares at home to charge offline.

  • Jenny Barnes 5th Aug '21 - 9:59am

    “Ideally, it would be a weight that your health and safety officer would let you carry without a trolley”

    The typical weight of the batteries in an EV is 500 kg. They take up most of the floor and boot pan. Breaking them up into 10 kg replaceable units would require some very clever design. And of course they deteriorate over time with usage, so replacing one’s very old almost useless battery modules with nice new charged ones would happen a lot.

  • Jenny Barnes 5th Aug '21 - 10:05am

    I have an electric car. Charging would be no problem if 1) you could just pay with a debit card, rather than all these apps 2) you could guarantee a charge point every 30 miles, 3) charging under a canopy, not out in the rain. I’ve only charged it except at home once. The app didn’t work properly, and I had to stand in the rain setting up a different credit card before it would start charging. So when we went on holiday, further than its range, I hired a petrol car.

  • @Jenny Barnes – “So when we went on holiday, further than its range, I hired a petrol car.”
    From the technical reviews of EV battery life, worst in the cars that are affordable to the masses. I expect many people will be doing similar when they discover that their secondhand EV only holds sufficient charge for short trips.
    It would not surprise me if we see an upswing in ICE vehicles in the years immediately prior to the sales cut off.

  • I think hydrogen has a role to play in decarbonising our energy supply, but it will be part of our fuel mix, offering some choice and building in extra resilience to the market, rather than a magic solution that will let us all drive and fly as much as we want.

    I take the same view as John Reed. Just because we can produce hydrogen from green electricity, doesn’t mean that we have enough electricity generated from renewables going spare to create all of this extra hydrogen on top of all of our other electricity demands.

    Like electric cars, hydrogen is a great choice of fuel where travel is essential and air quality is currently poor. Switching buses and delivery vehicles to hydrogen for our busiest routes will help to clean up our air, but in many cases the creation of ‘green hydrogen’ is just the renewable electricity equivalent robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    Regarding batteries for electric cars. A lot of work is ongoing to deal with the very rare cases where thermal runaway might happen, to limit that, or to limit the consequences. One of the challenges is that it’s still a novel technology, so inevitably the emergency services take a cautious approach. Of course, even better to make thermal runaway even less likely, or to be able to sense when it could happen so it can be avoided.

    Battery ‘end of life’ is a key area. I know there’s a lot of research going on, but as yet it seems limited planning on what to do with batteries which are no longer able to accept a full charge. One option is that those batteries are given a second life for general electricity storage in locations where volume/weight is not critical, such as at solar farms, EV charging stations or in industrial locations as spare capacity where continuous power is required.

    Lithium is considered too cheap to bother recycling, and yet I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone here about the social, political consequences and environmental consequences of mining in places like the Congo.

  • Roland 4th Aug ’21 – 4:48pm:
    Standardisation opens markets and enhances competition. If in doubt I suggest you take a look at your Internet router…

    Depends what the market is. The standards used by a router are electrical and software protocols to enable interoperability. They do not dictate the form factor or additional feature set of the device.

    However, the only way to get decent consumer products is for the Standardisation to be driven by governments – exhibit 1 the UK 3-pin plug.

    That’s a rare example, designed in wartime to facilitate the adoption of the ring circuit system in order to reduce the demand for copper. Normally standards are developed by private companies and then only later submitted to a (usually) independent industry panel or organisation. Almost all the many thousands of internet and software standards you are using to read these words originated this way.

    It’s said that observing the rapid growth of the US personal computer industry is what convinced Mikhail Gorbachev that top-down command economies were a failure and in need of Perestroika.

  • John Marriott 4th Aug ’21 – 6:00pm:
    So standardisation would “stifle competition”. But is it that such a bad idea if it provides a viable solution?

    Yes, it would “stifle innovation and reduce competition”. Just look at the innovation that’s occurred with eBikes. In that market batteries have been made in all sorts of different shapes and capacities for mounting in different locations. This enables market differentiation. To take two radically different solutions, compare the bulky retrofittable power pack, incorporating the controller, used by Swytch:
    https://www.swytchbike.com

    With the elegant in-the-frame design of FLX’s Babymaker:
    https://flx.bike/products/babymaker

    Tesla appear to have found their Battery Swap Program unviable. The article I cited earlier suggests there was customer resistance to having their new battery they’ve paid for swapped for an older one. For the charging station it’s likely to result in a variant of Gresham’s Law where bad batteries drive out good as customers who pick-up nearly new batteries would tend to hang on to them to recharge only.

  • Complete EV battery swapping may come (back) in
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl5UJQzP7NE

    I can see it perhaps being useful for those that run fleets of vehicles.

    One of the issues AIUI is that the charge capacity of lithium batteries decline (quite substantially) over time – and many car companies have had a model were you rent/lease the battery and have a maximum mileage you can use and pay more per mile if you go over a certain mileage. So if you swap batteries you get the problem of potentially get a (much) lower quality battery back if you swap it. But this may well be improving and improve further.

    Incidentally there was a post in an earlier thread that lithium battery production takes a lot of CO emissions note that this has massively improved since the link that was posted to in that thread. And it is estimated that it takes the same as driving a petrol car for 1.4-2.4 years https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/may/11/viral-image/producing-electric-cars-battery-does-not-emit-same/ – as this a US calculation where at a guess fuel efficiency of petrol cars is less it may take a bit more in the UK.

  • Perhaps of interest this popped up on my MSN news feed – https://www.msn.com/en-gb/money/technology/village-becomes-first-in-uk-to-burn-hydrogen-in-boilers-and-hobs/ar-AAN2V61

    It seems that it might be possible to mix up to 20% hydrogen into the natural gas supply to reduce CO emissions.

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