Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of Hydrogen. Part 14. Supply of Hydrogen

By Bjorn Fehrm

November 6, 2020, ©. Leeham News: In our series on Hydrogen as an energy store for airliners we now look at how to create a supply industry for hydrogen.

The problem of a sizable and competitive hydrogen supply industry is a chicken or egg problem. To achieve a competitive and functioning hydrogen transport system we need an adequate hydrogen infrastructure and to get an adequate hydrogen industry we need large-scale consumers.

Figure 1. The CO2 problem and the main contributors. Source: Wikipedia.

How do we get a hydrogen industry going?

The problem of a sizeable and competitive hydrogen supply chain is a true chicken or egg problem. To get a hydrogen transport system that runs without massive subsidies, we need a competitive hydrogen infrastructure and to get a competitive hydrogen infrastructure we need consumers that consume substantial amounts of hydrogen.

This has been the hydrogen economy’s problem for decades and it’s only the unsustainability of the present solution, carbon-based energy, and its consequences (Figure 1), which results in the present urge to finally get the ball rolling. After analyzing other alternatives, like large scale electrification of the transport industry, hydrogen remains the best large-scale alternative to our carbon energy system.

To that end, the Hydrogen Council has formed three years ago as international cooperation between industry, research, and investors as described in our previous Corner. You read about it here.

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, FCH JU, was formed by EU 2004 to support research, technological development, and demonstration activities in fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies in Europe.

Today, the three members of the FCH JU are the European Commission, fuel cell and hydrogen industries represented by Hydrogen Europe, and the research community represented by Hydrogen Europe Research.

Hydrogen Europe is a trade organization for 160 European companies. It cooperates with FCH JU, which with its €1.3bn budget promotes hydrogen research and demonstration projects, to create catalyst projects that can kick-start the development of a European hydrogen eco-system.

To build a hydrogen ecosystem, we need substantial projects that can gradually replace our present carbon-based energy system. An example of such a project, developed within the FHC JU partnership, that can achieve such a build-up is the proposal for a pan-European hydrogen pipeline system, where re-use of the existing NLG (Liquefied Natural Gas, cooled to -162°) pipelines is a central theme, Figure 2.

Figure 2. A proposal developed under the CFH JU for a European Hydrogen Backbone. Source: Hydrogen Europe.

With the gradual replacement of NLG with LH2, the necessary scale and ubiquity can be achieved for hydrogen. We will need projects like these, where not only pockets like air transport start the non-carbon journey but sizeable parts of the society converts as well. The conversion of a carbon-based NLG to LH2 is a good place to start. The troublesome distribution network is then mostly there.

Such changes will not come from market forces alone. The carbon energy prices do not include the cost of the negative effects of the industry and it’s over 100 years old with investments paid. It will be the role of the state to bootstrap the hydrogen industry so the Chicken or Egg hangup can gradually be untangled.

The investment in hydrogen airplane development by Airbus and its partners shall be seen in this context. It’s a very visible and high profile Lighthouse project. Airbus has repeatably said the many projects that it will start over the next years should be seen as a way to get a supply chain and industry going, both on the technical and energy side.

Airbus needs this industry and the industry needs Airbus. But air transport can’t be alone. It will not achieve critical mass for a hydrogen supply chain.

What other parts of society are candidates for change?

Figure 3 shows the energy consumption by sector in the EU 2018. Air Transport is a small part of Transport. With a conversion of public transport such as busses and rail, a part of the transport sector controlled by society can be converted. Also, with a gradually converted NLG network, either by mixing in LH2 or conversion of parts of the distribution network, large-scale energy consumers like households and industry can be supplied.

Figure 3. Energy consumption in the EU by sector 2018. Source: Eurostat.

Air Transport is too small a sector to drive a hydrogen industry. Other sectors must join to achieve the change. It will require state subsidies, but this shall be OK. It’s either this or taxes to be levied on the carbon industry to pay for its negative effects. Or perhaps both.

But it will require that the negative effects of the present carbon system are seriously felt, like the recent fires, to mobilize the political will for such steps.


22 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of Hydrogen. Part 14. Supply of Hydrogen

  1. If this pipeline system becomes a reality in the EU, delivering a large number of major airports should pose no big issue. In that case we might see a LH2 powered A321 as the worlds first commercial clean airliner in service.

    • Problem is why not go by rail? All the destinations with major airports are also reachable by high speed rail. LH2 needs to be available in the smaller airports, especial on islands like Ibiza.

      • Amsterdam – Milan is 90 minutes by plane and 15 hours by train.
        Copenhagen – Madrid takes 30 hours by train.
        Do you need any other examples?

        • It is 30 hours because the network has not been build not because it is that far. But the LH2 network has also not been build

          • What’s your problem here? What’s wrong with flying with green hydrogen instead of going by train?

            Building a full European High-speed rail system will not only require huge investments, but those new rails will also have quite an ecological impact. Besides, I would prioritize the electrification of the European railways. It is still less than 60%, which means that a huge portion of trains is running on (dirty) diesel.

            Besides, the pipeline system for natural gas are built and will become useless at some point. So why not use them for H2 instead. Sure they must be updated, but that should be not too difficult.

          • There is nothing wrong with flying but i and most people prefer a 2 hour longer rail journey above flying.

            The European high speed rail network has already been partly build or is being build at the moment so the ecological impact is already there.
            And it is true that not all railway lines are electrified, but those are mostly the quiet lines so not a huge portion.

            Pipeline system can only be re-used for H2 after the use for NG has stopped. That will take some time. But a bigger problem is that i don’t see the Great Future of H2 outside part of the chemical industry and possible flying.

  2. Boosting the Natural Gas piplines with hydrogen gas is already happening on a small scale. Other combustion Engines in ships and trucks can pretty easy be converted technically, there are verisons running on LNG already and for trucks you see signs at almost every truckstop in Europe, still price is a big factor to move to hydrogen. The EU will decide the rules and pace of converison as the electriciaty for producing green LH2 will compete with other electrical solutions like electrial cars, electrical powered heat pumps that replace oil/gas heating and hydrogren generation for steel plants. Hence the electrical grid besides the gas grid needs major investments while research are continuing in small steps inventing new catalysts in producing green hydrogen using less and less electrical Power. Hence it might require a new EU HVDC network that can be sea based as major cities are often where rivers meet the seas and DC Cables work in water, but just deciding on it with funding can easily take 30-40 years in the EU.

    • LH2 has a problem with storing the fuel for any longer time period than 24 hours in quantities that are not massive. CH2 tanks needs a big check-up/replacement after 15 years. Fueling also requires a lot of electricity. Batteries/electricity network are just a much easier solution. It has only a problem with weight and access to main electricity. Weight is only a problem in the air and access only in the air and on the sea.

      • But LH2 only needs to be Liquid before it is loaded into the planes.
        H2 can be stored for years. There are some plans in the UK for store H2 produced in summer in caves for use it during winter

        • LH2 needs to stay liquid in the plane. A little boil off is alright if it can be used or vented but H2 takes much more volume when it is a gas under 1 atmosphere than as a liquid. 2 orders of magnitude at least. So you need or an enormous tank or a still much larger very strong (read heavy) high pressure tank. Neither works with airplanes.

          H2 can obviously be stored for years but H2 has only one H-H bond unlike CH4 that has 4 H-C bonds. So only around a quarter of the energy per molecule. All gases has under the same pressure & temperature the same number of molecules in a volume so H2 will only store about quater of energy in the same storage facility. Problem is that H2 leaks much easier than CH4 so using caves works great for natural gas but is leaky for H2.
          If you want to store electricity than H2 is possible but there are other methodes that are more efficient and have more room to scale. Like for instance flow batteries, of which H2 fuel cells is a type

        • Airports thus need piplines supplyling H2 and LH2 processing facilities besides high power electrical supply. It can be done with massive investments and the goverments running the aiports can charge alot for the LH2 services. With more precision navigation I would not be surprised seeing massive amounts of huge windmills around airports in the future helping out with electrical power . We that have been working at airports know that they are often windy.

          • Big airports like Heatrow or Frankfurt need tens of GW to make the hydrogen if aviation switches to hydrogen. This is too big for local windturbines.

  3. I still do not get why we should go to LH2. If you can produce H2 in a non-CO2 producing and economical way. Today the Carbon capture is getting lower cost. Then it is only to use the good old Fisher-Tropsch method to make any hydrocarbon fuel you want. And then the current infrastructure and Airplanes , Trucks etc can be used. On a total cost basis this must be much cheaper than conversion to H2. And you can still use Fuel Cells if more economical than the the combustion alternatives, only to use a reformer that produces H2 from a hydrocarbon fuel. (This is what Toyota and Nissan are looking at).

  4. I am working for an industrial company that used H2, and could use a lot more. We are looking into installing our own renewable supply and electrolyser. It helps that we can also use the O2. We are looking at this as using the gases as energy storage for a variable source.
    It is a lonely path.

  5. A European pipeline grid fir LH2 is an interesting thought, but……. Is the plan to fill up the pipeline with LH2 – how Long Does that take, at what (effiency) cost? Or is the plan to liquify the with another chemical to lower the required temperature, and use fuel cell technology at the consumer end?

    How much H2 gas will at any one time be in the pipeline, – for example compared to the annual consumption?

    In the petroleum industry one uses ‘plugs’ to separate the ‘individual packages in the pipeline. Do one envisage sameting similar in this case? And isn’t ‘packages of gas’ similar to train/truck loads? The latter sounds most effecient in (remote) areas with low consumption, – here the gas will stat in the pipeline for some time.

    I remember when a (new) large (gas?) petroleum pipeline in North-America should start up (be filled up), the price of gas rose ‘a lot’ – and everybody wondered why – until one found out, – it’s the pipeline!

    It’s Saturday afteroon, the rain is pouring down – I think, I stay inside and read up on the subject – after all, what is the Internet for?

  6. Bjorn,
    I do not think these converted pipelines are cryogenic LNG pipelines. I think these pipelines are operating at ambiant temperature. In Europe, LNG is shipped and stored at the unloading harbour. When natural gas needs to be distributed, stored LNG is pumped and heated/vapourised for transportation through these gas pipelines at ambiant temperature. These NG pipelines may be reused to distribute H2 gas (either pure or mixed with natural gas), but there is no way they can handle cryogenic LH2.

    Because large H2 consumers (steelmaking, Oil&Gas, Chemicals…) mainly use H2 gas and not LH2, the liquefied H2 market is small compared to global H2 gas market. There are only a few H2 liquefaction units in Europe and total LH2 production capacity in Europe is less than 30 mt/day, with the biggest unit producing 10 mt/day, mainly for aerospace industry (rocket fuel). 10 mt is more or less the amount of LH2 an hydrogen airplane similar in size to an A320 would consume in a day.

    Therefore, if you plan a ‘small’ fleet of 50 such hydrogen aircraft in Europe, you would need to build liquefaction units with a total capacity of 500 mt (>7000 m3) per day. That’s a huge step change from existing situation. I may be wrong, but I do not think it is feasible to distribute such large quantities of cryogenic LH2 over large distances to airports, using pipelines or rail tankers. Instead, I can imagine gas pipelines would be delivering H2 gas to the vicinity of airports, where new large H2 liquefaction units would produce the quantities of LH2 fuel required by hydrogen aircraft. Implementing these new industrial infrastructures close to airport facilities will raise quite a few challenges as well.

    • Yes, the H2 will come to Airports mainly thru pipelines and there electrical powered LH2 plants will make and store the LH2 for mainly LH2 fuel and defuel trucks. There are big Money for the goverments in this process as they own the Airports, in most countries the goverment owns the electrical Power lines and will most likely own the Airport LH2 processing plants. I Think there migt be intermediate versions with both LH2 and LNG tanks in new Aircraft models with the APU replaced with a fuel cell and Engines running on a mix of LH2 and LNG with the LNG can be a mix of Biogas and Natural gas until the green LH2 processing capacity is there. Hence Airports will have double processing plants for LH2 and LNG. The aircraft LNG tanks will later be modified or replaced with LH2 tanks. We will see what France is doing at CDG/Orly and Germany in FRA/MUC.

  7. So to get the (L)H2 economy going, we need transport, households or industry to switch from CH to pure H. How could that happen.
    the relative benefit of pure H compared to either battery or CH is energy per weight, and it is abysmal in energy per volume. We can trade some of the weight advantage to improve the volume disadvantage (Heavy cold storage tanks for LH)
    I live in an gas-free house and consume less than 15 MWh/year, 40 kWh/day (including electric car (maybe part of transport), heating (using ground heat exchanger), cooking… everything). Why would I need Hydrogen?
    Even If I needed a backup for some reason, an 3.5 m3 lead-acid battery would do me a week. I think Households will be fine going to electricity.
    I drive a cheap, second hand electric car that will reliably take me 150 km on a 30kWh battery (mid winter and such). My daily commute of 50km oneway is considered substantial here, I don’t know about elsewhere. But even if your commute is longer, it’s usually parked for at least 8 hrs. That’s plenty of time to charge the car from a standard outlet (15 Amps/240V here, the car can take 29Amps, so it even works out in lower voltage areas). So I do not see the need for Hydrogen in domestic transportation. and there is fast charging.
    Commercial transportation is a bigger opportunity. Stopping every 2 hours for a 30min fast charging top up (or even a full battery switch) is not desirable and a truck is typically more limited in volume than weight – allowing them to take advantage of the high energy density of (L)H2. the same mostly goes for, smaller delivery trucks, busses and tractors. they are high value assets that are used a lot more intensely than personal cars. But that is still just a portion of the 30.3% for transport.
    I think industry is much like households in this question. What they use CH for (heating and motors) can be replaced by electricity without the need for H.
    As such I do not see a very bright future for hydrogen.
    one thig is missing from the above – energy storage. With the rise of (intermittent) renewables like solar and wind, we need grid level energy storage to allow us to watch TV on a windless night… I do see a pathway for ample H2 for aviation fuel as a byproduct from the energy storage industry.

    • The hydrogen electrical storage path has low overall efficiency, no more that 40% with today’s electrolysis technology. Less if you include the cost of compression or liquefaction for storage. That could rise to 60% with advances in electrolysis & fuel cells.

      This could still be cost effective with really low-cost electricity. But if that cost drops, so will the costs of alternative solutions. So hard to predict what technology might ultimately prove most cost-effective.

      I think as Bjorn has pointed out, if we go with hydrogen, we just have to accept the costs for whatever they are, and agree those costs are worthwhile. That decision seems to be the greatest hurdle to moving forward.

      The problem with comparing many solutions and trying to pick the best, is that none really stand out as being ideal. That leads to hesitation and disagreement, which perpetually kicks the can down the road.

      My own view is that we should make a list of energy applications, then a list of acceptable energy sources & technologies, and then let each region determine the best match up for their circumstances. Then look for commonality and opportunities to build common infrastructure in support of those choices. That would start the move away from a carbon economy in a cohesive and optimized manner.

      Initially carbon fuels will play a role in the matching, but wherever they are selected, there would be a replacement technology specified, with the displacement rate weighted by the percentage contribution to climate change. Worst offenders first. Then aircraft would be well down the list, but research could be ongoing such that solutions are available when we get that far.

  8. Sigh, Bjorn continues to mislead such as with graphs in this thread – he starts with a conclusion that is not supported by facts.

    Look at government sea level gages collected at, you’ll even find some locations in the region where Scott lives have lower sea level (probably from tilting of tectonic plates).

    Examine temperature data from weather balloons and satellite sensors.

    Check into the physics of greenhouse gas molecules that determine absorption and emission of energy from them. The ‘saturation effect’ of the overlap of spectra of carbon dioxide
    Limited amount most of which has already been received.
    Even the IPCC agrees but theorizes a positive feedback mechanism that did not occur in the warmer MWP when Vikings farmed southwest Greenland.

    Observe the utter failure of modelling that alarmists including IPCC use:
    Review those models to see how they handle water vapour, clouds and biological processes.
    Evaluate whether the atmosphere is performing as they predict, noting especially water vapour and temperatures at middle altitudes.

    And other examples of their incompetence:

    And how some analysis methods cause bias:

  9. A small diversion for future analysis by Bjorn: Specs for Toyota’s 2021 Mirai are trickling out and it looks like Toyota doubled energy density of their new Hydrogen Fuel Cell. 2016 model had 2KW/kg, 2021 model has 4KW/kg (KW/Liter didn’t double, but still sharp improvement). This is about in line with Audi/Ballard’s 4.5KW/kg Fuel Cell (and slightly ‘behind’ Hyzon’s effort at 5.5+KW/kg). Toyota’s Fuel Cell is the one that’s mass produced now, at 30,000/year factory capacity. Not sure how viable it is for Toyota to continue to double energy density every 5 years, but this might give some pause to think about which role Hydrogen Fuel Cells will play in Aviation. Just the APU function that Airbus is talking about, or also full Electric Propulsion for some missions? I noticed that Bjorn used 2KW/kg (from memory, sorry if wrong) in some past analysis so I figured I’d mention this…

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