October 30, 2020, ©. Leeham News: In our series on Hydrogen as an energy store for airliners we now address the problem of liquid hydrogen supply for air transport.
Before we go into the ecosystem and its costs, let’s start with a more principle discussion. Is continuing today’s consumption pattern a valid alternative?
If we go directly into the hydrogen infrastructure needed and the cost of supply we shortcut the overall discussion on what options do we have for our energy supply in general and air transport in particular?
Figure 1 shows our energy consumption by energy type (right-hand pie chart) and the development of the types over time. If we group the energy types as Carbon-based, Nuclear based, and Renewable we get Figure 2.
Our energy mix by 2018 was 85% Carbon-based, 4% Nuclear, and 11% Renewable energy.
We know we live on borrowed time regarding our energy supply, as we to 85% (or more, data from 2018) burn Carbon-based fuels that were produced millions of years ago. The consumption of these fuels causes problems that are more manifest by the year.
Last year’s fires in Australia and this year’s on the US West coast tells us the development in Figure 1, where Carbon-based energy consumption increases and alternatives remain at around 15%, will create ever-larger problems for us.
There is no lack of renewable energy sources. The Sun creates enormous amounts of energy. It deposits a power of about 1kW/m2 on earth when in Zenith on a clear day (the solar constant). This energy goes to waste in the deserts and creates winds and rain over our land masses and waters.
Our problem with capturing this energy is that we don’t have an efficient form of storing energy so that we then can use it at places where we have the need.
Presently we build power grids to connect hydropower, solar panels, and wind farms with our consumption networks. This means these capture areas must be close to where we use the energy.
Hydrogen, through electrolysis of water, can be the means to fix this problem. It’s the most energy-dense way of transporting captured energy (to my knowledge).
Given the above, we can question if the general problem is that produced hydrogen through electrolysis is xx% more expensive than if we consume the same energy from our carbon sources? Is this a valid comparison?
Given the effects of burning carbon fuels, I would say no.
In my view, the question is, what alternatives do we have to the present consumption pattern and how much extra must we pay to achieve a needed change?
Can it be that the present energy prices are so cheap because our generation is consuming energy in a way that our kids will pay for in the future?
I know this is dragging values into the discussion but I think it’s worth a thought and debate. The question is, are we energy squanderers today, leaving the problems we create with our consumption for others to fix?
If we are, then it’s a question of what a more sustainable path costs, not if it’s too costly compared to our today’s consumption.