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Hydrogen production
Why not fossil fuels?
Hydrogen by electrolysis
Why hydrogen?
Uses of hydrogen
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Hydrogen and energy

The production and uses, and advantages and disadvantages, of hydrogen as a fuel

Electricity is very useful to power our machines, but it is also useful to have liquid or gaseous fuels that can be put in a tank and carried around in cars or planes or conveniently stored.

When we burn fossil fuels like petrol (gas to an American), diesel or the kerosene that we use in our jet planes the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. This has done enormous harm through climate change and ocean acidification as well as air pollution that kills millions of people world wide each year so we must kick the fossil fuel addiction as quickly as possible.

Hydrogen is a gas that when burned produces more energy per kilogram than any fossil fuel, and all that is released into the atmosphere is steam. It has been considered as a replacement for fossil fuels for many years, but there have been a number of serious hurdles that had to be overcome for it to become a sustainable and practical fuel. It seems in 2018 that enough of the problems associated with hydrogen have been solved for us to begin to use it in serious quantities without harming the environment.

I have written on another page on this site about several proposals for producing hydrogen from renewable energy in South Australia.

This page written 2018/04/17, modified 2018/06/05 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David K. Clarke)
 
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A South Australian wind farm
Wind Farm
Photo taken by my drone, 2016/08/14

Hydrogen production

While hydrogen is by far the most common element in the Universe it does not occur in its free form above or under the surface of the Earth in useful deposits. However it is plentiful in petroleum, and most importantly as far as sustainability is concerned, in water. In petroleum hydrogen is combined with carbon and in water it is combined with oxygen.

How do we get free, uncombined, hydrogen?

There are four main sources for the commercial production of hydrogen: natural gas, oil, coal, and electrolysis; which account for 48%, 30% 18% and 4% of the world’s hydrogen production respectively (Wikipedia). The first three methods are of no use if we are to achieve the zero carbon economy that we must have if we are to not irreparably damage the planet because they all involved burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide.

Electrolysis, which uses electricity to break hydrogen away from oxygen in water can be powered sustainably by renewable energy.

 
Mugga Lane solar farm, Canberra, ACT, Australia
Mugga Lane
Photo taken by my drone, 2016/11/07

What's wrong with using gas, oil or coal to produce hydrogen?

If gas is used to produce hydrogen, for every tonne of hydrogen 9 to 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) are also produced (Wikipedia). If oil is used, even more CO2 is produced, and coal is far worse again.

Gas and oil contain substantial amounts of hydrogen, coal contains very little. When coal is used to produce hydrogen it serves only as a source of the energy needed to break the water molecules into free hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This results in huge amounts of CO2 being released; for example, in a pilot plant for using brown coal to produce hydrogen to be built in Australia, 160 tonnes of coal will be used to produce three tonnes of hydrogen, along the way releasing 450 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere; that is 150 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of hydrogen.

A process called carbon capture and storage can theoretically be used to catch the CO2 and put it in underground reservoirs where it will stay for many years. However, this process is so expensive that it is rarely used.

Worldwide the production of hydrogen is a major industry. Chris Goodall states in Carbon Commentary that 1% of the world's greenhouse gases come from the production of hydrogen. There is every reason to believe that hydrogen production and use will increase greatly in years to come so making that production sustainable is very important.

Electrolytic production of hydrogen

 
Sundrop Farms – the solar power installation
Sundrop Farms solar
Sundrop Farm is a huge greenhouse development near Port Augusta in South Australia, powered by solar including the desalination of the water required.
Photo taken by my drone, 2016/03/14
French company Neoen is intending to build the Crystal Brook Energy Park (CBEP) in northern South Australia. The CBEP will include a wind farm, solar farm, big battery and an electrolytic hydrogen plant aimed at producing 20 tonnes of hydrogen per day. Garth Heron of Neoen has said:
"At CB we are aiming to be competitive with Australian based steam methane reformation economics for hydrogen production."
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I believe that most Australian steam methane reformation would use natural gas; that is, mainly methane.

There is another renewably powered electrolytic hydrogen production plant planned for Port Lincoln, also in South Australia. It has been reported that the Port Lincoln facility will produce ten tonnes of hydrogen per day.

It is worth noting that photo-voltaic solar with electrolytic hydrogen production could compete with solar thermal power with storage.






Why use renewable energy to make hydrogen?

Hydrogen can be made using coal as an energy source or from methane by steam-methane reformation, but both processes result in carbon dioxide emissions. Hydrogen can be made by electrolysis, powered by renewably generated electricity, without any carbon dioxide emissions.

As more and more renewable energy, wind, solar PV, solar thermal, wave and others are built, there will be an increasing need to store excess energy when generation is greater than demand.

At present there are times in South Australia, where an average of half of the electricity is generated by wind and solar, when wind turbines have to be turned off because there is too much power being generated.

Some excess energy can be sent elsewhere (interstate in the case of South Australia), but this is limited by the capacity of the power interconnectors, some can be stored in batteries, some in pumped hydro systems, and some can be converted to hydrogen.






What can hydrogen be used for?

Hydrogen has many uses and potential uses. Like so many other things, cost is an important factor; the lower the cost the more uses become viable.

Some uses of hydrogen:

  • It can be injected into an existing natural gas system, mixed with the predominantly methane natural gas; hydrogen, weight-for-weight, produces more heat when burned than any other fuel;

  • It can be combined with nitrogen to produce ammonia, which has many uses and potential uses and is easy to ship around the world;
    • Ammonia can be broken down to recover the hydrogen;
    • Ammonia can be used to produce nitrogenous fertilisers and explosives;
    • Ammonia can be burned in internal combustion engines (with no carbon dioxide emissions);
    • Ammonia has many other uses.

  • It can be burned to power turbines and generate electricity;

  • It can be stored in underground formations for later use;

  • It can fuel vehicles using power cells.
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Related pages

On this site

Power to gas (hydrogen) in Australia

How should Australia generate its electricity?

Mid-North South Australia, leading the nation in renewable energy

Northern SA's renewables; the renewable boom goes beyond the Mid-North

SA's highly successful adoption of renewables

Toward 100% renewable energy

Base load power: the facts

Wind power in Australia

Some impressive renewable energy developments in Australia

Pumped hydro energy as a means of storing energy

Climate change

Climate change, natural disasters and what we should be doing

Major threatened disasters compared; including climate change.

Greatest crime in history (for a person in a position of power to knowingly lie in support of fossil fuels or in opposition of renewable energy development).

The end of coal is imminent

The coal-obsessed Turnbull Australian Government
   Turnbull's brown coal to hydrogen pilot plant proposal

Off this site

Queensland to invest in exploring hydrogen energy, AAP, 2018/05/31. "The Queensland government has announced $750,000 will be allocated in next month's state budget to start developing hydrogen as a viable renewable energy source."

Carbon Commentary, by Chris Goodall; Hydrogen made by the electrolysis of water is now cost competitive and gives us another building block for the low-carbon economy.

Electrolysis of Water; Wikipedia

Assessment of the cost of hydrogen from photovoltaic electricity, Australian Renewable Energy Authority.

Hydrogen production from coal gasification, USA Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

AGL's media release on the hair-brained brown coal to hydrogen project in Victoria. AGL recognises the need for carbon capture and storage if the project goes full scale. They have not providing funding for the pilot coal-to-hydrogen project to be built in Victoria but are providing a site and the needed coal. AGL is the biggest producer of greenhouse gasses in Australia but is aggressively pursuing sustainable alternatives to coal-fired power generation. They have promised to phase out coal for power generation, but not until 2050, which is far later than needed.






Index

On this page...

Electrolytic production of hydrogen
How do we get free, uncombined, hydrogen?
Hydrogen production
Related pages
Uses of hydrogen
Why hydrogen?
Why not fossil fuels? What's wrong with using gas, oil or coal to produce hydrogen?


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