Wednesday 22nd of September 2021

the new wonder energy...




















The article by Geoff Russell in New Matilda starts well by exposing the problems of creating a manufacture and distribution network for hydrogen, but towards the end it ventures into something about I believe the author is naive... Geoff has not done its homework.


Nuclear energy is so far more expensive per kilowatt than most other energy supplies. A few problems come in the way which have been mentioned on this site, including the remediation of spent fuel and eventually the decommissioning of power stations. Just in term of "carbon footprint", the concrete construction of nuclear plants and the complex technology is way over-budget compared to making wind turbines. As well, the need for EXTRA security is paramount.




Here is Geoff Russell in New Matilda


If only solving the world’s looming energy crisis was as simple as putting out a press release. Geoff Russell explains why the hype over hydrogen isn’t going to cool a warming world. At least not yet, and not thanks to Australia.

It seems our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has been born again, again. This time he’s been baptised in the cold liquid rivers of hydrogen. Hallelujah.

Non-metaphorically, liquid rivers of hydrogen would be -253 degrees C, so immersion would be quite deadly.

Hydrogen is getting plenty of press at present; and for good reason. If you can make hydrogen, then all you need to fuel our entire present transport fleet is carbon pulled from the air; otherwise known as ‘Direct Air Capture’ (DAC). This is because if you have non-CO2 emitting sources of hydrogen and carbon then you can make petrol (and every other kind of hydrocarbon) instead of pumping it out of the ground.

Given more than a billion motor vehicles on the planet, that’s certainly a worthy goal, because it would avoid the huge surge of emissions that would come from rebuilding vehicles that have plenty of useful life in them.

But capturing carbon isn’t easy and I wouldn’t bet on it being cheap at scale. But what good is hydrogen without DAC? Can you burn it to get energy? Yes. Just supply a spark and like atomised petrol, it will ignite (or explode).

You have to be rather careful about it, as with petrol, but even more so. But like petrol, it burns really quickly and you waste most of the embodied energy as heat rather than forward motion. To use it in cars you really need a different engine employing some chemistry that extracts the energy slowly and efficiently rather than with a bang. You actually want to minimise the bang for buck.

Enter the fuel cell.

It breaks the hydrogen into protons and electrons and sends the electrons along a wire to the other side of the cell; meaning you have electricity. At the other side of the fuel cell, the protons and electrons react with oxygen and eventually you just get water. So basically, you put hydrogen in and get water and electricity out.

There are still considerable energy losses in such a system, but far less than just crudely burning the stuff. So why aren’t we all driving vehicles with fuel cells?

Because, in a world without a carbon tax, they are expensive and you need a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure; which is really hard.

Back in 1973, during the OPEC oil embargo, the exact same born-again hydrogen hype was circulating as it is today. Here’s a 1991 paper on the world’s first solar powered hydrogen plant in Germany.

As it happened a cluster of what seem like small simple problems to lay people have always stopped hydrogen getting over the line as an energy transmission source. A hefty carbon tax or simply legislating to phase out petrol would make it happen, but that requires serious political will to put ideology aside and listen to the science; something that all sides of politics have failed to demonstrate in various ways over the past 30 years.

But fuel cells are definitely coming, and we need them. Because there is nowhere near enough battery capacity for everybody to drive Electric Vehicles (EVs), and in any event EVs are not clean enough; because making batteries is a filthy, polluting, carbon-intensive business. When it comes to climate change, the only technologies that should be in the mix are technologies that are at least 90% cleaner than business as usual; and EVs are nowhere near that clean. We don’t just need cleaner EVs, but smaller, simpler, lighter EVs.




Australia as the hydrogen valley to the world

Morrison said he wanted us to be the Silicon Valley of hydrogen… for $275.5 million over five years. This is a bit like a toddler thinking their pocket money will buy a Porsche. But that’s what you do when your background is marketing rather than technology or science or anything where substance matters. If we wanted to match German spending on hydrogen, per capita, we’d be spending about $3 billion. Considering how small and simple a hydrogen molecule is, it’s an expensive research area.

Currently the world produces about 70 million tonnes of hydrogen annually, with virtually none of it being for energy; mostly it’s used to make ammonia and refine oil.

It’s mostly produced on site. But there are some hydrogen pipelines. They total about 4500kms and exist in Europe and the US, but virtually nowhere else. In comparison, the CIA World Factbook lists almost 3 million kilometres of natural gas pipelines, built over the past few decades.

It’s more than likely that we can’t use the existing natural gas pipelines for hydrogen without some serious retrofitting, at best. But that won’t help Australia export hydrogen to the world. There are no bulk carriers (ships) for liquid hydrogen.

Strangely, the Morrison Government’s 2019 National Hydrogen Strategy failed to mention this. There is one Japanese ship that can carry all of 88 tonnes. That ship gets a mention in CSIRO’s 2018 Hydrogen Roadmap as the first of its kind. It has at least been finished and is in the water.


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fake solutions...


Capitalism’s fake solutions to the climate crisis


by Emma Black
23 May 2021

“Net zero by 2050” (or 2060 in China’s case) has become the new mainstream political mantra on climate change. However, this ambitious-sounding, yet still far from adequate, goal is premised on a series of new technologies that remain untested at best and completely hypothetical at worst.

The name dropping of an array of these high-tech “solutions” to the climate crisis was a feature of US President Joe Biden’s Earth Day summit in April. Among those in which Biden has promised to invest US$35 billion as part of his proposed American Jobs Plan are carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, nuclear, floating offshore wind, biofuels and electric vehicles.

While the disappearance of the outright climate denialism of the Trump era might seem cause for celebration, the new trend for spruiking the magical power of technology to solve the climate crisis is cause for serious concern. When you look beyond the headline-grabbing announcements of increased long-term ambition, the Earth Day summit amounted to little more than another case of government greenwashing of the business as usual of fossil-fuelled capitalism.


Instead of detailing the changes to be made in the here and now to reduce emissions, Biden and other world leaders instead promoted faith in the capacity of science and technology to come to the rescue at an indeterminate point in the future. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was among them. While the media highlighted the supposed gulf between a progressive, “green” Biden and the conservative, fossil-fuel-loving Morrison, they both promoted the same faith in the powers of technology. Like Biden, Morrison has vowed to invest tens of billions of dollars in developing carbon capture and storage technologies, “clean” hydrogen, “blue” carbon and “green” steel—among other colourful innovations. 

In May’s federal budget, the Coalition allocated more than half a billion dollars to developing the first two of these technologies—$263.7 million for carbon capture and storage (CCS) and $275.5 million for “clean” hydrogen. 

CCS mostly involves capturing C02 emissions at their source—in mines, power stations and so on—and pumping them deep underground (so the theory goes) to be permanently stored in appropriately porous and stable rock formations. But despite politicians and business leaders spruiking CCS as an easy fix for the climate crisis for decades, it has never been shown to work on anything near the scale required.

Australia already boasts the world’s largest, supposedly functional, CCS facility at Chevron’s Gorgon gas project in Western Australia. However, according to the Climate Council, “the Gorgon CCS trial has been a big, expensive failure ... capturing less than half the emissions needed to make CCS viable”. In what is only the latest in a series of problems since it became operational in 2019, Michael Mazengarb reported in Renew Economy earlier this year that pumping equipment required to clear water from the undersea formation into which the C02 is to be injected had become clogged with sand. 

However, while CCS may be useless for addressing climate change, it remains an extremely useful political tool for the government—providing it with green cover while it continues to funnel money to Coalition supporters in the coal and gas industries. And of course, it’s also useful for those companies on the receiving end of the government’s “green” largesse. 


Bernard Keane was right in his assessment of it as a scam in Crikey. “Fossil fuel interests”, he wrote in 2019, “sense the opportunity to extract some taxpayer funding from a government worried it might have to pretend it believes in climate change”. With this year’s budget, they hit the jackpot.

But if CCS is a scam, what about “clean” hydrogen? In his speech to the Earth Day summit, Morrison vowed to rival US innovation by investing billions in high-tech “hydrogen valleys”. “In the United States you have the Silicon Valley”, he said. “Here in Australia we are creating our own ‘Hydrogen Valleys’, where we will transform our transport industries, our mining and resource sectors, our manufacturing, our fuel and energy production.” 

Hydrogen is potentially a clean energy source, but only if it’s produced using renewable energy. And to be produced at the scale required to transform the economy in the way Morrison is implying would require a lot of electricity. 

In his recent contribution to the Quarterly Essay, Australia’s former chief scientist, Alan Finkel, calculates that to produce the equivalent volume of hydrogen to what Australia currently exports in liquefied natural gas would require “approximately 2,200 terawatt-hours” of electricity. This, Finkel notes, “is about eight times Australia’s total electricity generation in 2019”.

If Morrison genuinely believes the “hydrogen boom” he envisages will be based on production of renewable energy on that kind of scale, the government would have provided increased funding for renewables in the budget. None was forthcoming.

The reality is that Morrison sees the talk of “hydrogen valleys” as a way of greenwashing the same old “gas-fired recovery” he was promoting last year. The government doesn’t envisage producing hydrogen with electricity from renewables, but rather from gas. The focus on CCS gives the game away. The “hydrogen valleys” of the future will be criss-crossed with pipelines and peppered with gas-fired power stations with (we’re supposed to believe) the magic of CCS ensuring that the whole operation can nevertheless be run green and guilt-free. 

“Clean” hydrogen then, just like CCS, turns out to be just another technological chimera designed to greenwash capitalism’s continuing addiction to fossil fuels.

What then of the other technological solutions being touted? Perhaps the most headline grabbing of them has been Biden’s proposed US$174 billion investment in the infrastructure for electric vehicles and their production. On the surface, again, this might sound like a good idea. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world in which we can all drive around in sleek, silent, powerful and “green” electric vehicles like Teslas?

Again, however, this is just another fake technological “fix” to the climate crisis that will help perpetuate the environmentally destructive status quo. A genuinely sustainable society won’t be built around the kind of car culture that exists today. What’s needed, among other things, is a massive investment in public transport and the transformation of cities to reduce the need for long commutes.



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