Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of hydrogen. Part 33. Wrap-up: The Eco-system

By Bjorn Fehrm

April 16, 2021, ©. Leeham News: Last week, we wrapped up the operational part of sustainable air transport using hydrogen as an energy source.

Now we look at where we are with the all-important Eco-system. It has many moving parts and risks a chicken and egg stalemate.Figure 1. The prospective conversion of the European gas pipeline network to hydrogen. Source: EU.

Creating a hydrogen Eco-system

There will be no hydrogen production unless there are end consumers, and there will be no end consumers unless there are production and distribution systems.

Creating a functional and competitive alternative energy distribution system to the existing carbon-based ones is a monumental challenge. Change won’t happen unless there is a strong political will for the change, bootstrapping the process.

That bootstrap is apparent in Europe with the EU as the driver. Over the last three to four years, a political consensus has grown around hydrogen as the alternative energy system for industry, transport, and consumers. The driving force has been the very physical evidence we face a climate crisis, and its effects are here now.

The initial EU emphasis is on the distribution system as this takes longer to establish than hydrogen production. Here the focus is on utilizing the existing gas network and gradually converting sections of it to hydrogen, Figure 1.

The trucks in focus

The truck industry is vital in the creation of an Eco-system for hydrogen. The short range of battery-based trucks and the long re-charging time push non-carbon trucks to hydrogen and fuel cells. All truck manufacturers have prototypes and test fleets in the market.

In December, Daimler Truck AG (Mercedes trucks), IVECO, OMV, Shell, and the Volvo Group announced H2Accelerate, a collaboration to help create the conditions for the mass-market roll-out of hydrogen trucks in Europe. The initiative will create a network of both liquid and gaseous filling stations as  Daimler and Volvo like to go to liquid hydrogen to provide the same range and utility as their diesel trucks.

Figure 2. Daimler’s conceptual Mercedes fuel cell trucks. Source: Daimler.

As late as yesterday, IVECO, OGE (OpenGridEurope, a gas network operator), and Nikola Corp. (a filling station technology provider) announced concrete actions to set up a network of hydrogen distribution to hydrogen fuel cell trucks transporting goods in Europe. The filling stations’ network doesn’t need the density of car fueling systems, as long-distance trucks travel planned routes and can plan ahead for their energy supply.

Batteries as the alternative energy source for cars are already established, so the second sector that drives a hydrogen conversion is the industry. Several high energy consumers like metal and cement industries have announced cooperations with hydrogen energy providers to create new green plants and energy production combines.

Aviation and its air transport will be a smaller but very visible consumer. The government support for aeronautical hydrogen projects is therefore substantial. The lighthouse example is the French government’s announcements last year, but other projects get support from their local governments and long-term investors.

Next week we wrap up with looking at some of the hydrogen research projects that are running beside the major one at Airbus.

32 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: The challenges of hydrogen. Part 33. Wrap-up: The Eco-system

  1. “There will be no hydrogen production unless there are end consumers, and there will be no end consumers unless there are production and distribution systems.” The issue is not with hydrogen gaz (which has plenty of large volume consumers), but with liquid hydrogen LH2. There are no other customers for LH2 that can match the volumes required for aviation. Total H2 liquefaction capacity in Europe (less than 30 t per day) could not even supply a fleet of 3 ZEROe types. Who is going to invest in the liquefaction capacity required to supply a future fleet of thousands of hydrogen airplanes? Who is going to invest in hydrogen aircraft if liquefaction capacity is not there? LH2 aviation requires hundreds (if not thousands) of liquefaction units dedicated to aviation only (single customer) located at close proximity of major airports worldwide.

    • A very good point. Possible answer; store and transport the hydrogen in the form of Green Ammonia (NH3). We already make and transport hundreds of thousands of tonnes of it each year. Hydrogen can be released by catalysis or the ammonia can be burned direct in an internal combustion engine or fed into a fuel cell.

      • Possible answer, yes
        Pity the passengers in case of even minute ammonia leak,
        Pray for airport users if an NH3 tank or piping leaks.

        • Yup, deaths in Kelowna BC a few years ago when refrigeration system in an ice rink leaked and staff were exposed.

          Serious incident in Langford BC a couple of years ago with leak occurring when technicians were servicing something.

          Can Freon be used as aircraft fuel?

          • Durn WorsePress software omitted my:

            chevron brackets will do that in HTML coded pages

          • Great idea, if only there was no Ozone layer to be destroyed by Freon, and if only this was not banned by the Montreal Protocol. Also you would be injecting Freon right into the Ozone layer when flying at cruise altitude.

      • Does direct burning of NH3 in an internal combustion engine result in high NOx emissions? Intuitively, it would seem that the nitrogen should burn with the oxygen in the air.

    • There is a push to use EU build high power windmills at sea to produce the hydrogen either into the pipelines as H2 or make it liquid at the windmill and pick up by ship.
      There need to be a huge amount of +12MW windmills installed at sea and the pipeline might be filled with “blue” hydrogen made from gas from Russia or Qatar as well.
      The risk of huge methane gas emissions from a melting Russian tundra might force capture and processing into the natural gas pipelines.

      • Sorry Claes,
        the sad truth is that electrolysis just does not work with sea water.
        even with fresh water, plates must be coated with high tech membranes.
        Pollution of plates is a very tough issue.
        at AIR LIQUIDE R and D, more than 100 top engineers have worked on this issue for years, without finding a proper solution.

          • Stanford paper is interresting, but not really new.
            Requirements are very demanding: long life, and high energy density in order to avoid huge plates…
            AIR LIQUIDE has tested plenty of various coating, that must stand a lot of time . Stanford paper mentions 1000 hours; that is far from sufficient, neither is 10 000 hours (you will not change large plates every year!)
            100 000 would be acceptable…
            Desalination at the required purity would be awfully costly.
            A real challenge!

    • Who is going to invest? Everybody. First companies like Linde, Air Products & Air Liquide will open facilities. Right now it’s 30T/day LH2 liquefaction plants that’s popping up in the US. This summer two more by Linde & Air Products, next year another one by Air Liquide. But later there will be larger facilities. Demand will start on the ground, just like Amazon, WalMart and Home Depot are running H2 Fuel Cell forklifts now. Airports will convert their ground handling equipment to run on H2 Fuel Cells. Plug Power has already run H2 Fuel Cell tugs through winter testing. Plug is planning 500T/day in 2025 and 1,000T/day in 2028. All small numbers compared to eventual Aviation needs, but the point is that to start this is as simple as starting with the equipment on the ground. So when the first airplane to run on H2 arrives, there’s already H2 at the airport.

      • Possible, but I believe (I may be wrong) that H2 Fuel Cell forklifts operate with compressed H2 at 350 or 700 barg, as will H2 fueled trains and buses. LH2 may be used to supply H2 from production to distribution points using haulers though. But that may not be viable on the long run.

        • Distribution for forklifts is largely done with LH2 because each truck can carry a lot more H2 when it’s liquefied. That’s also happening with cars and trucks. Now. So it’s mostly irrelevant if forklifts and tugs use compressed H2. The H2 in the storage tank at the fueling station will still be LH2, as it is today. Maybe the very smallest airports will take compressed deliveries, but any airport of any meaningful size will take deliveries for their tugs as LH2.

  2. Notice the absence of a dense natural gas network in France ?
    Thats because they are electrified via Nuclear power.
    I wonder why no one else thought of that.

    Meanwhile in Germany-
    “Germany’s energy regulator on Tuesday said some 4,788 megawatts (MW) of hard coal-fired power generation capacity will cease to be marketable from Jan. 1, 2021 as part of a policy to take carbon-polluting capacity out of the market.”
    Thats hard black coal not even the more CO2 producing ‘brown coal’

    After they took the government subsidy to ‘close’ some were back online fairly soon because of ‘supply bottlenecks’…yes ask them in Texas about those sorts of ‘bottlenecks’ in mid winter.

    • There has been a huge natural gas network in France for many years…
      Should have been on the map.
      was started in the late fifties when the a large natural gas deposit was discovered in LACQ (not so far from Toulouse)
      Went all the way to Paris, where it was connected to pipes coming from Holland (Groningen)
      it is also connected to pipes coming from French harbours (Le Havre, Nantes,. Marseille.) fed by large LNG boats coming from Algeria, Qatar, etc…)
      Natural gas has been for years the most competitive energy for central heating, much cheaper than electricity (cheaper in France than anywhere else in Europe thanks to nuclear)

  3. Hydrogen makes so much more sense for cement it’s not funny. Renewable hydrocarbons are the only viable short term solution for aircraft. When the cradle to grave comparisons are taken into consideration, including infrastructure, the carbon price will be too high. Batteries future looks much more promising to soak up extra unused erenewable electricity that hydrgen hopes to use.
    I still think the first big hydrogen accident will decimate the idea.

    • – There have been hydrogen buses and trains in use in European countries for more than a year. It’s not aviation, but it is mass transport. No notable accidents to date. The map in the (Dutch) link shows the location of hydrogen refueling stations in The Netherlands and Germany.

      – Batteries are problematic for the future because of severe issues with lithium supply/extraction and battery EOL. They also have a much lower energy density than hydrogen.

      – As regards aviation, I agree that hydrogen is not a viable path for many years to come. In the Netherlands, authorities are currently opting for SAF rather than hydrogen. A facility for annual production of 50,000 tons of SAF is currently being built in the port of Amsterdam, with pipeline transfer to Amsterdam airport.

      • Yet.

        Of course if someone suggested to a person with no exposure to automobiles that she ride in a magic cart powered by a volatile flammable – even explosive – easily spilled fuel she’droll on the ground laughing or spear him for being a danger to the tribe. :-o)

    • What’s the cost compared to coal?
      Is it 5 x or more greater in cost per unit?
      Don’t forget that 70% of the emissions come from decomposition of limestone, the rest is the fuel used……hmmmm

      • Emphasis has shifted from carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the power sector to carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) in industry; specifically by transforming carbon dioxide into fuels, chemicals and materials.

        The European Commission is currently supporting several carbon capture and utilisation projects, which involve using carbon dioxide to produce methanol or ethanol.

        The new ‘calcination’ processes may be radically different. Some involve filters to purify the CO2 so it can be liquified & shipped, others involve carbon looping where the lime is burned in H2/O2 to produce a near pure CO2 stream and another involves using electrolysis to produce acids and bases that are then use to release the CO2 rather than heat. At minimum burning in H2 can reduced emissions by 40% with the unavoidable CO2 used to make fuel or plastics. Mobil’s zeolite catalyst based MTG “methanol to gasoline” process can also be adapted to utilise ethanol and to produce jet fuel.

        • It’s all experimenting, by collectivist control-freak elites based on a negative view of humans, at the expense of poor people whose lives have been enriched and extended by affordable portable energy.

          I have detailed in this forum that humans cannot ruin earth’s average climate, because of the saturation effect of overlap of absorption/emission spectra of carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide vapour.
          I have detailed that earth’s climate temperature is not running away, according to accurate temperature sensors and government tide gages.

          But anti-business high priests like David Suzuki blather on, removing material from his web site when challenged with facts by the likes of Vivian Krause and I, refusing to debate questioners because it is beneath him.

          Aviation had an early example of the reality that elites are not always right – a couple of bicycle mechanics did what subsidized perfessor failed to do: fly a manned airplane up then to a controlled landing. (The elite launched on a trajectory into the Potomac River – crashing on both attempts.)

          • I was aware of the non linear (logarithmic) absorption spectra of Co2 that has saturated and therefor greatly limits absorption of infrared but not of water. I shall look it up. The increase in CO2 is real and dramatic. These things buy us much time. However as they say never let a good crisis go to waste and the juggernaut is rolling. Hopefully the technology developed will ‘democratise’ energy distribution and lead to a an increase in wealth in some countries now and reduction in conflict in others. Inevitably conflict will be over water, fisheries, fresh air, sunlight.

  4. It is important to notice that only 15% of the hydrogen passing through the European Hydrogen Network will be used for transport (automobiles, shipping, aviation etc). The bulk will go to industry eg decarbonising iron production, electricity generation. It will particularly well in cold Europe where waste heat from local electricity generation can be used to heat buildings.

    The production of bio-methane (from say agricultural and garbage waste) will be almost as great as hydrogen and 2.5 times as much biomethane will be supplied to the transport sector suggesting that most jet fuel will be SAF made from biogas via fisher tropsch. See page viii for an info graphic.

    Ammonia can be used as carrier for hydrogen transport. Tens of millions of tons are produced and transported each year so we know how to handle it safety. The company MAN is promising to have a commercially available 2 stroke marine diesels suitable for dual fuel use (ammonia and diesel) by 2025. If energy is exported from say Australia via ship it will likely be in the form of PtL synfuel, ammonia and perhaps liquified hydrogen.

    In terms of reduce harmful emissions the production of iron, cement, electricity, district heating is low hanging fruit.

    • There is competion for the wood waste and sorted municipal waste for heat and electricity production. Hence some public owned powerplants are dependent on it and the politicians might not approve a big diversion of easy to burn waste to make avaition fuel. So SAF fuel might take longer and be more expensive for a long time. If you start massive plantation of high quality tree spieces it still takes 25-45 years before you get substaintial harvests and in colder climates even longer time, still they suck up CO2 at higher and higher speeds as they grow.

      • “…still they suck up CO2 at higher and higher speeds as they grow”.

        And they give back CO2 at higher and higher speeds as they burn.

        • The idea is that the valuable parts of each log in the forest goes to construction (replacing concrete) and the rest is split between giving nutrients back to the forest and burned/syn-fuel. Hence only 10-23% of the tree mass is emitting CO2 in the short time (all construction timber will give up by time but it can be a 50-150 year delay)

          • If a large tract of forest burns in Siberia, California or Australia, it’s returning 100% of its captured CO2 to the atmosphere — within a matter of days.

  5. I wonder how small fuel cells consuming gaseous H2 compare to batteries for use in mid-size drones.

  6. I am certain that is true regarding wood waste. The Biogas (methane) I referred to however is produced from crop waste, manures, silage, stalks and potentially domestic, resturaunt and food company waste with fats, sugars, starches and some cellulosic material digested. Conversion efficiency is quite high: a stale loaf of bread with 9000Kj/2500kWHr would be converted to methane at up to 60% efficiency which if converted to Fischer-Tropsch jet fuel would produced about half a cup. Just agricultural waste could power Holland’s jet fleet without turning to domestic food waste or wood.

    Wood has always been a problem because the lignins prevent bacterial enzymes accessing the cellulose.. One solution is saccharification of lignocellulosic biomass by hydrolysis with an acid, say a formic acid solution at high temperature. The sugars can then be fermented. It hasn’t been a popular solution due to the energy input required but if that is renewable its not such an issue.

    I believe there has been some significant progress in Sweden in genetically engineered bacteria that can breakdown lignoceluslosc wood materials and perhaps this is what you refer to?

    I don’t like energy crops though crop waste or over production to ensure food surpluses is OK. Energy crops consume land and wilderness. Here DAC direct air capture is far more acceptable.

  7. Bjorn. You should look at the material handling business. Warehouse forklifts are running on H2 now. (Amazon, WalMart, Home Depot, etc) Plug Power internal demand for LH2 has exceeded 40T/day already. This type of material handling is similar to airport ground handling equipment and is a much better building block to put H2 infrastructure at airports than long distance trucking powered by H2.

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