A Hydrogen Fantasy

A Hydrogen Fantasy

Europe may be becoming desperate in its efforts to cut CO2 emissions by 95%.

So far, Europe has only reduced CO2 emissions by 22% since 1990, with emissions actually increasing slightly in 2018.

The latest sign of desperation is the admission that it might not be possible to meet the 95% target with the publication of the paper, “50% Hydrogen for Europe: a manifesto.”

In essence, this paper says Europe can’t meet its CO2 goals without hydrogen, and that Europe can use its existing gas distributions system while building a huge hydrogen gas pipeline as the backbone for Hydrogen transportation.

The hydrogen would be produced by electrolysis using wind and solar to generate the needed electricity.

There are three problems with this fantasy.

First there is a serious question about using hydrogen in the existing gas distribution system.

NREL points out in its paper, Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues, that natural gas pipelines can only safely carry a mixture containing less than 20% hydrogen. Another restriction is that some appliances, such as gas stoves, can’t safely use gas with higher levels of hydrogen.

An important complication is that the gas distribution system contains a variety of pipes, including copper, iron, and plastics, and that each material reacts differently to hydrogen.

Hydrogen concentrations higher than 20% can cause embrittlement in copper piping resulting in cracks and leakage, while hydrogen in plastic piping can leak through the pipe’s walls.

The European system is no different, and in fact may be even more complicated since much of the gas distribution system was built prior to the formation of the EU with different countries having differing regulations.

The 50% Hydrogen for Europe: a manifesto claims, “The existing gas transmission and distribution infrastructure is suitable for hydrogen with minimal or no modifications.”

Such a claim flies in the face of NREL’s studies. Expediency could easily sacrifice safety.

The second problem is having sufficient wind and solar capacity available for electrolysis to produce the required quantities of hydrogen after building wind and solar farms to satisfy the need for electricity elsewhere. No one has addressed this question, but Germany has only reduced its CO2 emissions by 31% and is having difficulty building sufficient wind and solar farms to meet the objectives of its Energiewende program, let alone building more wind and solar for a hydrogen program.

But, even if these two problems can be overcome, building the hydrogen pipeline backbone is a huge undertaking.


Map from 50% Hydrogen for Europe: a manifesto. Natural gas infrastructure in Europe (blue and red lines) and hydrogen backbone infrastructure (orange lines)

The hydrogen backbone pipeline is approximately 7,000 miles long with some of it under water. There have been less than 2,000 miles of hydrogen pipeline built over the past decades in Europe, so a great deal of learning experience will be added to any cost estimates.

Referencing an Oil & Gas Journal, 2016 report, the average cost of natural gas pipelines built in the United States that year was $7.5 million per mile.

This would suggest that the cost of a 7,000 mies hydrogen pipeline will be at least $52 billion. Since hydrogen pipelines will require special materials, joints and compressors to prevent leakage, the cost is very likely to be much higher.

The concept of 50% hydrogen doesn’t address some of the other mundane problems associated with hydrogen. For example, vehicles using hydrogen will need to use cylinders rated 10,000 psi in which to store hydrogen on the vehicle. A hydrogen fueling system will be needed adding to overall costs. Transporting hydrogen as a liquid, which will be needed where pipelines aren’t available, incurs large energy losses. The cost of hydrogen produced from electricity generated by wind and solar will be more expensive than the fuels used today, such as gasoline and natural gas, thereby burdening the European economy with added costs.

Summary

Europe is becoming desperate to meet its CO2 targets and achieve decarbonization.

While hydrogen can be used for nearly every aspect of energy usage, including, vehicles, e.g., fuel cell vehicles, generation of electricity using gas turbines, and heating, i.e., using electricity made from hydrogen, it can be seen, theoretically, as the perfect solution to cutting CO2.

But, for the three primary reasons cited above, as well as the secondary problems associated with hydrogen, the  “50% Hydrogen for Europe: a manifesto” proposal is mere wishful thinking.

It merely adds to confusion and provides supporters of the AGW hypothesis with talking points to embellish their unworkable proposals and create an aura of inevitability, while covering up the reality that the world won’t cut CO2 emissions 100% by 2050.

Note: As mentioned previously, sources of studies and reports mentioned in any article can be had by requesting them when commenting on the article.

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6 Replies to “A Hydrogen Fantasy”

  1. Cng vehicles are a nightmare and they want to do hydrogen ? The tanks on a cng refuse truck have to recertified every couple of years and a high percentage fail and the back log at the one certification station is long .
    I don’t know about anyone else but I’m not comfortable driving around with carbon fiber bombs strapped to my @ss.
    Carb has been talking about hydrogen for heavy equipment for a few years now

    • Thanks for your comments. I wasn’t aware that the tanks had to be recertified. That would make H2 tanks even more problematic.

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