HYDROGEN - grease to the elbow of Scottish power?

In this short post I am inviting input from the TOD community on Scottish plans to become a "tour de force" in hydrogen fuel cell technology and as a hydrogen producer and exporter.

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Press and Journal (October 11th 2006), a newspaper serving Aberdeen and northern Scotland.

The vast economic and energy potential of hydrogen was revealed yesterday in a report which found that it could earn £500million a year for Scotland and sustain 10,000 jobs.

Hydrogen and fuel-cell technology will almost certainly have to be exploited if Scotland is to reach its target of 40% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020, according to the report by the Hydrogen Energy Group.

Despite this, it warns that investment in the sector in Scotland, and the UK as a whole, has been "comparatively negligible" in stark contrast to the US, Japan and some other European countries.

The report states that the hydrogen economy urgently needs about £2.5million a year over the next three years. It recommends support for projects, including those for remote communities, and an inter-university research centre to create fuel cell and hydrogen-based intellectual property.

The group has submitted its report to the Forum for Renewable Energy Development in Scotland and Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen, who is chairman of the forum, was keen about the prospects it set out.

He said he was committed to establishing Scotland as a European leader in renewables and eagerly anticipated making more progress.

The report estimates that the number of people directly employed in this sector will rise tenfold in a decade, from about 1,000 in 2010 to 10,000 in 2020. Some of the jobs will be in research and development and industry but there is also potential to work in community-led projects.

It adds: "To sustain this level of employment, Scotland will have to become a net exporter of hydrogen and fuel-cell skills and technology very similar to the level of expertise in the offshore oil industry that is in high demand from developing countries."

Hydrogen Energy Group chairman David Sigsworth said the report had identified ways in which Scotland could make "a unique contribution" to developing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

"Our renewables potential allied to the research undertaken in Scotland gives us the chance to develop technologies and systems which will have environmental and economic benefits," he said.

In a speech to the British Wind Energy Association's conference in Glasgow, Mr Stephen said the report further highlighted the potential for hydrogen.

Nicol Stephen: Deputy First Minister for Scotland; Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong learning; Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party. Committed to renewable energy and a hydrogen economy?

I am no expert on hydrogen fuel cells, which is why I invite input from the numerous renewable energy experts that post on TOD.

This much I do know:

The Second Law of Thermodynamics:

The entropy of an isolated system not at equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value.

Applied to any process of transforming energy from one sort to another, the second law states that some of that energy will dissipated as heat leading to an increase in entropy. In running hydrogen fuel cells, energy is lost during the manufacture of hydrogen from water or natural gas and more energy is lost during the fuel cell operation. What I've been told is that whole process may be at best 40% efficient meaning that 60% of the renewable energy input is dissipated and may be lost as heat.

So the key question is whether the production of hydrogen from renewable electricity combined with fuel cell technology is the most energy efficient and cost efficient way of mitigating the effect of variable power production from renewable sources?

The variable production of power from renewable sources may be mitigated in three different ways:

1) Storing energy

* Renewables - hydro pump storage schemes

* Fly wheels and compressed air

* Batteries (e.g. V2G - vehicle to grid)

* Domestic storage such as hot water

* Hydrogen fuel cells

2) Balancing power with existing generating capacity

* Renewables balanced with hydro

* Renewables balanced with coal*

* Grid interconnectivity - allowing for cross border balancing

3) Using energy on supply and not on demand

* Smart appliances - programmed to consume when supply is available

* Smart industrial consumption - energy intensive manufacturing using power on supply

* perhaps not ideal for reducing CO2 in the first instance, but a potential way of allowing large penetration of renewable energy into a grid system.

It always struck me as odd when I started to read TOD that fuel cells were hardly ever discussed, and since, I have learned the reason for this is their high cost combined with poor efficiency. Ideal perhaps for spacecraft, but not very practical for every day use?

So why are we Scotts so keen on hydrogen? One reason might be that it was "The Hydrogen Energy Group" that wrote the report recommending more money be spent on hydrogen research.

Is the statement from the Hydrogen Energy group true?

Hydrogen and fuel-cell technology will almost certainly have to be exploited if Scotland is to reach its target of 40% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020

I am very interested to here the views of the TOD community on hydrogen fuel cell technology and how this measures up against the other strategies that are available for mitigating variable power out put from renewable energy sources.

Right now I have the very strong feeling that our government may be squandering resources and opportunities that would ensure the future security of our energy supplies and transport infrastructure. Unlike many of our politicians, Nicol Stephen is genuinely committed to renewable energy and to ensuring that we benefit from renewable energy and renewable technologies. Now is the time to ensure that the correct strategies are put in place.

Cry Wolf BSc PhD

Wrong technology.  IF Scotland has surplus power (electrical or NG ;-P then make ammonia with it.  But as we both know, Soctland does not have a surplus of either.

My quick take (about to take visitor from Los Angeles, responsible for getting the Expo Light Rail Line built, out about our disaster zone and then feed them).

Best Hopes,


That wouldn't be NH3 would it, or alternatively methonol CH3OH, both have been proposed as fuel cell fuels, as has H2  stored in a metal hydrate.

I don't just think of Hydrogen as H2 (H-H).

Both the above liquids could be used as a liquid store of hydrogen, to be liberated in a fuel cell, or for other applications, like the use of ammonia in fertilisers (Ammonium Nitrate or Sulphate).

We liberate energy by breaking non-polar or slightly polar bonds H-H C-H and creating highly polar or ionic bonds H-0-H (H2O)(Hydrogen bonding with O, F, N) with 5-10% of energy of a covalent bond, releasing bond energy. Of course if we start with H20, then  we will lose energy in the process (due to entropy), but may gain other desirable outcomes including storage and transfer of energy (as a gas or liquid).

Electronegativity increases across the periodic table from left to right. It increases going up the periodic table.

Now someone is going to correct my basic knowledge of chemistry.

I think he means make fertilizer, not fuel.
Just like material costs for solar panels...silicon etc, isn't there some precious metal constraint for fuel cell or am I off?


Early Fuel Cells had to use platinum to work.  New versions do not.  And 40% energy efficiency is still better then the 18% efficiency we get from internal combustion engines! :)

But that being said, its still better long term to improve on battery recharge times and improved battery efficiency then use electricity to create hydrogen for fuel cells.

carefull with those efficiencies.  on the surface they are apples and oranges.  to be consistent either you have to look at electrically sourced energy, and compare h2 to electrics

... or if you are using natural gas as your h2 source, compare the resulting well-to-wheels effiencies of the h2 fuel cells to other petrolium fuels.  IMO it does not do well on that basis:


Does not 'do well' ?

In WTW direct it consistantly beats ICE engines using the same fuel source. And ICE is the source we need to equal or beat to maintain business as usual, this is more than 'doing well'.

Of course I do not know what assumptions were made in the calculations (I have only looked at the table so far), add for example electric motors in the wheel hubs, and you reduce the mechanical transmission (gearbox et al) losses from the vehicle. Regenerative breaking, no consumption when stationary etc.

You are also powering it from non-fossel fuel sources.

As long as we have the electrical means to produce the hydrogen from water, then the hydrogen economy could be a viable alternative to the oil based economy.  But I still think its slightly 'retarded' to use the electricity to make the hydrogen when we can just charge batteries and drive around in EVs...
I think that it is slightly "retarded" to live in sprawling communities that require large energy inputs to service and drive around in inefficient rubber tired (high rolling resistance) battery powered (accelerate & brake power source with you that has low energy density) when we could move around in electric (direct from grid, no fuel to move around, no storage losses) Urban rail and live in TOD that is energy efficient for postal workers to walk their route, police to bicycle their beat, many more people per fire station and plumbers & UPS deliveries require far fewer miles each day to do their job.

Best Hopes,


For the record, I am convinced of the case for electricly powered public transport. And see this as a much more practical option in the near-term than electric vehicles.

This is particularly true of high density cities and some like London (the underground), it is the most practical means of moving large numbers of people.

This is a practical and implementable solution much more so than electric vehicles for all.

I don't just comment on comments I think are bad or wrong.

London is the limiting case.

Tube capacity is effectively 100% through much of the day.  Unreliability doesn't help-- the system is ancient, and was badly maintained.

Moscow and Tokyo have great tube (subway) systems.  London's is one delay from collapsing, some days.

As Global Warming takes on, London's problem will get worse:

  • flooding - the '1000 year' Thames Barrier is already becoming the subject of plans for replacement

  • rising water table

  • overheating - London's tunnels aren't big enough to allow airconditioning (nowhere for the hot air to go).  The system was actually designed by the Victorians to cool itself by its own motion pushing the hot air through the tunnels.

The next extension (CrossRail-- E to W under London) will cost £12bn minimum and will not be ready by the Olympics.  And it won't actually create more ridership, just transfer it.

The solution for London will be surface transport:

  • bicycles - bicycles are carbon free.  The climate is mild enough to cycle 100% of the time (but no one wants bicycles chained to their front fence 'bicycles will be removed' is a common threatening sign, and of course no one has shower facilities at work).

  • buses - all of our overpasses and wires are built to take double deckers.  So our mayor has introduced double length bendy buses, which are unreliable, clog traffic and are uncomfortable.  But they have fewer seats, and so can carry more standing. Progress, isn't.  You might say.

  • light rail - more in the suburban areas, there is a tram in Wimbledon (underperforming) and one planned for the Uxbridge Road (suburban west)

One thing we have not seriously considered is El-Trains (elevated railways).  There would be an almight howling from merchants, but I think the noise problems can be beaten, and they would be cheap.  Cross Rail could be built as an El-Train for 1/6th the cost, and covering much more.

In the case of London the Docklands Light Railway (elevated) is something of a joke, so that would condition popular resistance.

I wish NYC had not torn down the 2nd Avenue El.

I was using London as an example of high density and public transport, not as the best underground system in the world.
The tube (underground/subway) can be improved with investment.

Flooding will have to be addressed, and not just for the underground.

I thought the water table was dropping in the South East ?

Overheating is not a unsurmountable problem.

* Bicycles - Not to everyones taste - I live in the UK (England) so I know the climate well. It is not well suited to bicycles all year round (wet, cold, snow, ice etc).
Also unsuitable for longer distances (even within London).

* Buses.
Last resort for many (Bendy or not).

* Light Rail.
I do support light rail, a prefered solution to buses.
(See http://www.lightrailnow.org).

The UK does need to invest in electrified public transport.
both for local and longer distance transport.

Surface transport is much cheaper to build, but must compete for space with other land/road users. Elevated rail addresses this to some extent. New York's underground (subway) was built by digging trenches and then restoring the road above it (rather than the deep underground of London).

The opportunities for sprawl are limited in the UK (by planning and green belt if nothing else).

I've certainly heard no realistic solutions to the London Underground overheating problem.  Air conditioning the stations?  But where would you put the machinery?

90% of UK journeys are less than 5 miles, so well within cycling distance.  In London cycling would actually be faster than most other means of transportation.

On bicycling and climate, it doesn't seem to bother the Danes or the Dutch!  I grew up in Toronto, which is a genuinely inhospitable climate to cycling (too hot and humid or too cold): there aren't 10 days in London which are as bad, in an entire year.  It's all a matter of your reference point.  Given congestion, there really aren't ways of getting another million of us (projected population rise to 2030 I believe) around London.

(I should add, for safety concerns, that I never cycle in London)

Buses.  You have captured the 'middle class British' view perfectly.  Whether Maggie T really said 'anyone over 24 who takes a bus is a loser' or not, I don't know, but the sentiment caught the zeitgeist.

but our dear Mayor has engineered a '4% modal shift' from cars to buses, via the congestion charge.  I don't know if you live in Central London, but I do.  Buses have become a preferred method of transportation (pace the bendy bus, which drives me nuts), even for middle class professionals.  Particularly given what has happened to the Tube (tube journeys have doubled since the late 80s-- arguably a victim of its own success).

There has never been a 'to bus' modal shift recorded in history.  Yet London has managed it.

I expect, in time, that will percolate around the country.  But congestion will have to get much worse, and local councils much tougher.  Not everyone has its own home-grown anarchist-trotskyist demagogue.

Light Rail the Treasury has put the brakes on, because they don't see the cost-benefit working out.  Manchester nearly lost its extension (I think they clawed it back politically).

For sure we should rebuild the Camden Town to Elephant and castle tram line (the one that ran down where the tunnel is at Holborn-Kingsway).  But it's not even on the strategic plan, AFAIK.  Uxbridge Road is the next one.

Water level: before the current drought, the concern in London was that the water level was rising due to less industrial offtake (industry in London almost gone).  The Tube has had recurrent flooding problems.  (my father built some of the original flood doors on the Northern Line-- the plan was to shut them in case of a nuclear war, you can see the grooves in the floor where they would swing.  I think of them fondly every time I walk by them-- son and father connected by 55 years).

If sea levels rise, and we get more flash flooding, then London's underground system is quite vulnerable.

My understanding is New York could use 'cut and cover' subway construction because the roads were wider, and the ground better.  Most North American subways were built with 'cut and cover' it costs something like a 10th of tunneling.

One of the reasons the Picaddilly Line wobbles the way it does is that apparently they couldn't buy the foundation rights from the freeholders, they had to literally dodge some buildings in South Ken and Knightsbridge.

On Sprawl, the Deputy Prime Minister is laying plans for 250,000 new homes in the South East-- Thames Gateway, also Milton Keynes, Northampton and a few other places.  sprawl is very real, and very British.  Agree its less than an American city.

I've certainly heard no realistic solutions to the London Underground overheating problem.  Air conditioning the stations?  But where would you put the machinery?

What machinery is needed inside the stations besides cooling baffels and pipes? It should be bossible to drill lined holes and insert pipes for transfer of the chilled district cooling water to a convienient location for the chilling machinery.

Btw I am quite happy today regarding local post peak oil investments in Sweden. Our new liberal/right wing government presented its first budget today and added 20% on the railway infrastructure maintainance and investment budget.

London is more crowded than that.

You could put chillers on the surface (but not in the central London stations) but

the tunnels are open to the air (every Tube line has open air sections)

so the motion of the trains would just suck the hot air back in.

It's like trying to air condition a building with all the windows and doors open.

Cooling the Tube

I found out about the contest after it was closed.

My proposal:

  1. Run all makeup air for the stations through dehumidifers that also cooled.  This lowers humidity and lowers the temperature a bit.  Comfort zones increase (wider band) as humidity drops.

  2. On cold winter nights (say after midnight weekdays) blow quantities of outside are through the tunnels for several hours.  This will remove some of the acculmulated heat from the rocks that a century of heat (people + electricity) has added.  It may be near freezing in the Tube for those few riders late at night and aftereffects for early morning riders.

  3. Go for lower energy for lighting.  MAXIMUM efficiency.  Lower light levels where safe.  Start pumping less heat into the Tube.

Best Hopes,


I don't live in London, and I am not a Transport expert, so I am not familiar with the underground and it's problems.

This BBC story covers using the ground water pumped out, to cool the air in the tunnels.

Re: modal shift to buses, didn't York achive this first with their park and ride scheme, of course having a medieval city centre and city wall (not to mention the river) limits your options.

No congestion charge, just park and ride schemes and not moterised access to the city centre.

Cycling - It is often the 10% that are more than five miles (like the commute to work) which are non-discresionary.

Isn't the density of the sprawl sufficent to justify light rail or other public transport, (it is not low density sprawl) of course, adding public transport at the planning stage would have been ideal. But that goes for other amenities too.

I have several differences with current government transport policy, their views on light rail and road charging are just two.

York may have got there first.

Banning cars in Central London just wasn't going to work.  They have restricted them to an extraordinary extent as it is, and they are only about 20% of peak traffic.

The congestion charge was the stroke of genius.  The national congestion charge will come, but only when the traffic problem gets almost insuperable.  Traffic grows roughly in line with GDP, so give it 20 years or so and severe traffic congestion will be something like 25% of UK road space, 50% of the time.

The problem with air con on the Tube is you can't put it on the cars, (the tunnels are too small).

Maybe you can air con the stations but most of that would be lost down the tunnels (which are not air tight).

Cycling will be the way forward in London, and other places.  Because cycling has no CO2 impact, and cycling has nearly no congestion impact.

It's the only feasible way to expand the capacity of the system.  Other than buses, but buses without their own right of ways don't cause switching.

To make a subway work financially, on Toronto metrics, you need 20,000 people per square mile.  A British suburb is less than 5,000 people per square mile-- light rail you would need . 10,000.

What the government is saying is that it will not fund the ongoing operating losses of light rail systems.  That is why there has been a halt on constructing new ones.  Note the Wimbledon system in south London has disappointed against traffic projections.

You can do it economically with buses, but as you say people don't like taking buses, and won't if they have an alternative. Milton Keynes being the case in point-- if you don't have a car, you are really cut off in MK.

Brits are not North Americans-- the idea of living in tall apartment blocks in the city centre does not appeal.  I know a lot have been built more recently, but even if downtown Manchester has a population of 15,000 now, from virtually zero 15 years ago, this is still a small fraction of the population of metropolitan Manchester.

and I suspect most people are buying those flats to get a 'foot on the ladder', not to live in them forever.

I would like to have seen cars banned in centeral London, with the best public transport in the country, and further enhancements, I do think you could have done it, and then just expanded the car free (public transport only) zone. Some of the traffic in central London is through traffic!

You are not trying to air condition the underground, but to dump excess heat, here ground water at 12C seemd ideal, as does just using convection to dump heat to the atmosphere by drilling vertical shafts (where practical) and letting convection solve the problem. You can always heat the carrages in the event of the underground becoming too cold.

I am still skeptical that cycling will ever become the dominant form of transport, but when practical facilities should be improved for cycleists, and they could be allowed in public transport zones.

You metrics assume certain factors, if we modify those factors (like restricting access via private car), or just raising the cost of motoring and lowering the cost of public transport, we can influence the metrics that justify public transport. But dense high traffic routes are the obvious targets for high quality frequent public transport (and that does not mean Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in my view).

The densities choosen for new developments are quite high (I don't have the figures).

The first step may be to expand existing rail routes etc and increase capacity and frequency on the railways, examine the underperformance of some light rail schemes light rail and further disincentivise private car use in urban centres through restrictions rather than congestion charges.

One way or another we need to make public transport cheap and convienent, and Rail/Light Rail offers the best opportunity for switching.

Many new towns appear to lack any public transport infrastructure. I am thinking of the one just outside Edinburgh, and Cumbernauld (both on M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow). They are souless.

Look at the Leeds Supertram, they rejected it (in favour of suggesting a BRT scheme), on the grounds that costs had doubled. But that was costs not adjusted for inflation.
Needless to say 12 years of inflation explained the increased costs, and the enabling legislation expired.

I don't see how this would help the Tube in summer.

Ground temperature is almost constant, year round.

What is not constant is the heat generated by the machinery, people and the heat taken in from the outside air.  Every Tube line has open air bits.

We would have to drill new tunnels, which is virtually a physical impossibility.

My understanding it that 100 years of constant heat have elevated the rock temperatures around each Tube station and tunnel.  The Tube is hotter today than during the Blitz.

Tube air temperatures are, broadly, the sum of outside temps + electrical use + body heat.

The concept is to cool the rock around the Tube for, say, 1000 hours/year each year and, at a minimum, stop the increasing temperatures and hopefully reverse the process slightly.

Best Hopes,


Tube air temperatures are, broadly, the sum of outside temps + electrical use + body heat + heat transfer to/from the surrounding rock.
ps the Tube already uses fluorescents.  You could switch to LEDs but it wouldn't save you that much heat.

Lowering the lighting levels any further would be entirely unsafe.

LED's have lower efficiency than fluorescents.

The best white LED's available commercialy struggle to get 40 lumens/watt. Lumiled's best is 120 lumens at 3.7W

Fluorescents get over 90 lumens/watt. Standard T5 triphosphor fluorescents from Osram get 2600 lumens at 28W

LEDs are superior for colored light (tailights, Exit signs, traffic signals), short on/off cycles (closet lights, refrigerator lights, tailights) and lowlight applications (3 watts and less).  For average lighting 4 foot fluorescents are best.

Best Hopes,


In some cases, HIDs and low pressure sodium light get >100 lumens/watt.  But LOTS of light (not generally useable in interiors) and low quality light with low pressure sodium.


Low pressure sodium can be much more efficient than that.
Osram SOX-E 91WBY32D RWL1  gives 17000 lumens for 90W in, that's 189 lumens/watt
Does that include the power to the ballast ?

I thought low pressure sodium was in the 150 lumens/watt range (>100 lumens/watt does not set an upper bound).  Perhaps technology has improved. Good if so :-)


It probably is the lamp alone but high frequency electronic ballasts for low pressure sodium lamps are available that consume only 1W for 90W output. That still leaves 187 lumens/watt.
The NYC subway uses older tech fluorscents.  They could cut consumption my using latest tech fluorscents with 95% reflective, computer designed reflectors to focus light where needed.  My guess NYC could save 1/3 to 1/2 of power consumption.

Since maintenance is an issue in London, I do not expect that they are any better.

Best Hopes,


I am sure London is not!

Frustratingly, even in the rebuilt stations, they are not, AFAIK, thinking energy conservation.

1/2-1/3rd of lighting power consumption, I presume you mean.  The big draws are still electric traction, elevators and air circulation?



(read what the latter has to say about New Orleans, 2/3rds way down)

The point of the above is that people like sprawl, want sprawl, migrate to sprawl.  Hong Kong and New York are the exceptions, not the rules.  In Europe the boundaries of the City Walls created the core city (think Vienna) and the public transport systems were banged in before cars were widely available (we had 30 more low-car years than the Americans).  Those factors haven't prevailed except in a few American cities.

What might happen is, if energy prices were far higher, that sprawl would be curtailed.  But I thought that after the 70s energy crisis, and it hasn't happened-- more the opposite in fact.

That table shows 13.5% w2w efficiency for a fuel cell powered by compressed hydrogen.  A traditional gasoline IC engine is at 12.4% and a gasoline hybrid is at 15.3%.

We could pause to mention the CNG/LNG ICs are 12.7% and 12.9%, or the CNG/LNG fuel cells at 15.1% and 15.4%.

To me, that's a lot of effort to get very nearly the same results.

In fact, if we are starting with fossil fuels, that table shows the IC hybrids as the final, ultimate winners in w2w efficiency.

The king is the diesel hybrid IC at 18.6%

This site is predicated on the reduced availability of fossel fuels, so the effort is required, not optional.

To achive parity with fossel fuels, is better than alternatives, with the exception of electricly powered public transport, which is much better, but is not a car !

These are complex calculations with many assumptions and value judgements, in the process, which have huge impacts on the outcome.

A superficial analysis would rate electric vehicles with lead acid batteries (80% efficient), as a very efficent solution, but that does not take account of the weight of the batteries. (p.s. Lead Acid batteries have been improved).

Look at this article for a confused solution (smae figures ?):

Steam reformed natural gas is No 2 with 27%.
Electrolysis is rated at 13%

But where are the pumping and storage options for the centeralised production of hydrogen. These costs are attributed to Electrolysis that occurs on site, where
losses are due to electricity transmission (10%), not
pumping of gas.

This is how different analysis results in wildly different results, and factors not considered, or applied to one solution and not the other can impact on the delivered solutions.

um, i'm thinking that with reduced availability of fossil fuels, we will want to sheppard the remaining resource as carefully as possible.

if diesel hybrids are the way to stretch those fossil fuels into the most efficient fossil fuel transport, so be it.

what comes after fossil fuel can be judged on its own merits.

(but i don't like the assumtion that some make in ethanol and hydrogen that we should "prime the technology pump" by wasting resoruces now, on the assumption of better tech later.)

I am all for shepparding resources, but as the resources become scarcer, you may still find the cost of the resource been bid up, no matter how efficient your own consumption.

Biofuels fail in my view to make the cut.

Research should be supported.

I would prefer to see other resources put into public transport (especially rail/light rail - electrified) as a proven solution and to provide an infrastruture for those who are priced out of the private car.

I see public transport as a much better solution than pump priming technologies (Like you I dislike pump priming).

Early Fuel Cells had to use platinum to work.  New versions do not.
It was my understanding that platinum is still the predominant material used as the calalyst and alternatives have yet to prove themselves, especially for transport fuel cells. Has that all changed?
From energy source to useful work (wheel, propeller, pump) there are many steps involved if you go through fuel cells. The efficiency decreases with each step. 40%, sure, but you have to multiply that with efficiency of all the other energy conversions.

A simply experiment I took part in a few years ago at the university was very similar to what Heading Out described in The St Louis Renewable Energy Conference - Day 1. (very interesting post btw)

a lamp shining on solar cells, that provided current that electrolyzed water into hydrogen and oxygen, which were stored in columns and then fed to a fuel cell that provided power to drive a small electric car

Except we powered a small propeller instead. We measured current and voltage where we could and calculated the energy loss. I dont remember the specifics, but our calculated overall efficiency of the whole setup was 2-4% including the light to electricity conversion, we had trouble believing our own numbers, but this was confirmed by the instructor to be a valid result. Ofcourse, if you disregard the efficiency of the solar panel you get a lot better results (0.02/0.15=0.1333 0.04/0.15=0.2666). That is without transportation of the hydrogen mind you, for example if you are adding a step for storing the hydrogen as a hydrate and a step retrieving it as H2 the efficiency deteriorates further.

This whole system could fit on a desktop, and put out only a few watts, so I assume the efficiency of a larger system would be better. It still seems to me it is vastly more efficient to transfer electricity through wires and feed it directly to an electric motor, omitting costly conversions from one energy carrier to another and then back to the first.

If you are liberating the Hydrogen from the Hydrate using 'waste heat' you are not reducing efficency of the system overall and as you pointed out the biggest loss was from the solar cell.

You many not have the luxury of on grid transport.
Public transport is on grid transport and a prefered solution.

Hydrogen can be transported as electricity (10% transmission losses) for electrolysis at the fuel station. Or you can use centeralised steam reformation. It helps if you use the stored the oxygen too.

What is the life cycle efficiency for batteries like Li-ion which claim 90% efficency in real life operation in hostile environment over time (ageing), assuming they do not spontainiously combust, a real risk it seems when you have 6000+ laptop batteries in a single (telsa) vehicle.

As I have said elsewhere Li-ion may be the current front runner, but that does not mean we should abandon fuel cells,
in fact Japan plans for both battery and fuel cell vehciles in the future.

Fuel Cells still have much potential, and this justifies continued research. Also see the Oak Ridge National Laboratory paper.

Sorry to keep mentioning it, but the presumption is against Hydrogen and Nuclear.


If you use steam reformation at a nuclear powerplant, and the heat for the steam is essentially waste heat from the electricity production the efficiency would be very high. But high enough to compete with overhead wires and electric motors? At first glance it seems the steam would be better spent in a traditional steam turbine if possible. Also, not very many nuclear reactors are likely to be built in the foreseeable future.

The way I see it, liquid fuels are just so immensely energy dense that more cargo and passenger transport will have to move to electric rails if the supply declines substantially. For some uses there will ofcourse always be a need for traditional roadgoing vehicles, but I'm not certain it will be seen as necassary for all, or even a majority, of the population in the future. A paradigm shift may, or may not, be approaching. I don't really think either fuel cells or batteries will ever be widely adopted. More of us may have to get used to travelling together with a bunch of strangers in a train, or by bicycle, or simply walking.

Nuclear is not renewable either, so it is not really what the Scots are after I think. If you start with wind the numbers don't look as good. Finding a way to use their wind potential is the topic here, and as has been suggested elsewhere in this thread interconnectors with Iceland and England sounds much more reasonable. Perhaps even Ireland and Norway could connect to that grid, probably plenty of hydro in Norway to balance even more wind, not so plenty for pure export of electric power. And the Irish probably won't mind diversifying their energy mix. On the day of the official opening of Langeled, the longest subsea gas pipeline in the world, it is possible to imagine electrical wires replacing hollow tubes at the bottom of the sea as a means of energy transfer.

I got to Nuclear from Hydrogen, but also the Liberal Democrats oppose Nuclear ?

Travelling by train, and expanding rail (electrified), is an attractive solution, cycling and walking are somewhat limited in range, and subject to the weather.

Some areas of Scotland are not accessable by rail and too remote for cycling.

The National Grid already extends between England and Scotland, Norway is already connected to the rest of Scandinavia and to Germany as for Iceland they may have plans for their excess generating capacity.

Fuel cells are specificly mentioned in the original text.

If you read the article:
Hydrogen in a Nuclear context can be used to smooth peak demand and enhance biofuels etc. Some may be applicable to renewable energy sources, and is an alternative strategy.

Fuel cells are still in the Research and Development phase, I have posted links to the latest in Hydrogen storage, and Japan's plans for fuel cell vehicles. I have also mentioned methonol for use in direct methanol fuel cells, and the potential of Li-ion batteries. Unless you are an reasearcher in this field it is difficult to contribute much on the state of the art, except that some are skeptical of Hydrogen, and others think Li-ion has already won the race (regardless of cost and other issues).

Other than the potential for renewables in Scotland and for pumped storage (haven't they just built some pumped storage at Loch Ness ?), they face the same issues as the rest of the UK.

In fact re-reading the original text, there is very little to comment on. Scotland may (per head of population) have more renewables and pumped storage (but we knew that), and I don't know what Scottish Universities can bring to the Fuel Cell party.

A Scotish Hydrogen project.

"Wind Hydrogen Ltd. is hoping to exploit the interest in both technologies, and has recently proposed a hydrogen-producing wind farm in Ladymoor, Scotland with a first phase generation capacity of 125 MW. With a price tag well over £100 million, this is no showcase project like the PEI Wind Hydrogen Village. However, sitting just 12 miles from Glasgow, this development has access to wind resources and nearby population centers that would be hard to replicate in the U.S."

More can be found here:

I don't think there is any alternative to replacing existing Nuclear capacity.

As for Nuclear not been renewable, uranium is not about to peak, we have plutonium and MOX fuel, and we have Thorium as a backup, and Fusion has been demonstrated in principle at JET with a demonstration plant under development in France.

If nothing else this has helped me refine my policies for when I rule the world...

The folks at Community Solutions have an essay composed of several web pages called Fuel Cell Folly, the start of which can be found here, http://www.communitysolution.org/fcf.html

IMO, the best tactic for Scotland is to harvest the energy from its surrounding seas and restless winds.  

As is usual for general media releases, the article says nothing of substance, and contains nothing quantitative or testable.

On the face of it, fuel cells make sense for specialized applications -- not for personal, general transportation.

Re: £2.5million a year over the next three years

That and 5 groats should get you a cup of coffee but I don't think it will give Scotland 40% of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.

The Coinage of James V 1513 - 1539
1 Groat  =  18 pence (at the time)

A silver groat of James V
During this reign groats were valued at 18 pence due to inflation and debasement. A lifelike portrait appears on one side of the coins; the other has the lion rampant and a shield. By this reign all Scottish coins were struck at Edinburgh, although a mint mark was still added to the coins.

Also, the Bawbee was introduced by James V in 1538. But that's off the subject, I think.

Hope this helps!

Dave, its embarrassing to hear both our "scientists" and politicians deluding themselves into believing that so much may be achieved for as you say, the cost of a cup of coffee.

So have you ever heard  Ally Bally?

Whether hydrogen takes off as an energy source depends largely on the equipment cost to produce the fuel, equipment cost to transport and store the fuel, and the equipment cost of the fuel cells.  If the average home owner/auto driver cannot afford this technology in these three areas, then hydrogen will never be a major source of energy, be it from nat gas or renewables.  
Same goes for industrial and major transportation users.  
IMO from an economic standpoint hydrogen can not become feasible until most of the oil is gone or climate change has banned much FF consumption.  That is more than 30 years away.
Hydrogen is NOT an energy source! It's an energy carrier.

it's like planning on having a lot of money in the bank without planning on where it's going to come from.

or, maybe, there is some planning here that we are not privy to.

energy coming from the Pelamis or other wave power machines ?

OK, so Scotland is planning to have energy to store, and to use hydrogen as a method.

the energy comes from ?

another question - when people refer to hydrogen, are they ever referring to electrolysis & compressed hydrogen ?

Hydrogen, I do believe is the main source of energy our solar system has.  What goes around, comes around.
Public Citizen once ran an anti-nuke TV commercial saying that 93 million miles is about as close as you want to get to nuclear power (including hydrogen fusion).  I think they were right then and still right today.
What price do you put on global warming?

If the outcome of manmade CO2 emission is that the planet becomes uninhabitable early in the 22nd century (the Permian extinction-- CO2 ppm rose over 1000ppm probably due to volcanic activity, Hydrogen Sulphide gas was released, 90% of all species became extinct) then what price do you put on non-carbon power?

Let's quantify how close that is.

Scientists think that somewhere between 450 and 850ppm of CO2, the process becomes unstoppable by human action.  The natural 'carbon sinks' stop working, and the whole ecosystem begins adding to CO2 rather than reducing it.

We are at 380ppm CO2 now, and have been rising, the last few years, at nearly 2 ppm per annum.

So at a worst case, assuming no acceleration in human CO2 output (ie China stops growing) we are within 35 years of an unstoppable climate change.

Note all the other effects of climate change for the next couple of centuries are already 'in the bag'.  The 5 degree centigrade temperature rise, 40-80% extinction of all species, flooding of the coastal areas of most countries, etc.  They are pretty much certain to happen, now.

We are at the thin edge of a disaster which would end our civilisation, and could end human life on this planet.

Doesn't nuclear fission become worth the risk, then?

Better explanation of Hydrogen:
The only true energy sources for the earth are the sun and atomic (E=MC2 by means of nuclear reaction).  All fossil fuels are simply conversions and carriers of the sun's energy.  Hydrogen is likewise converted energy or "carrier" of energy if you prefer.

My main point is the economics of the technology.  If oil prices get high enough, as would all FF that are depleting, then enough demand destruction occurs so that hydrogen never becomes economically feasible.  It will likely remain a "horizon" technology that will never be implemented widely for transporation fuel or stationary power.  As prices for FF rise, so does the cost of some competing energy like hydrogen, which loses a lot of BTU' or joules in the conversion process and takes a lot of complicated technology to use.
More likely energy for the consumer to use is electricity for plug in electric hybrid cars burning biofuel (best is biodiesel) or for electric rail transportation.  These are solutions that can be implemented in 10 year time frame which is necessary if severe oil production decline starts in 2010.  
A hydrogen energy based economy would take 20 or more years to implement, by which time the economy would be ruined and government would lack the funds to assist in new energy technologies.

Yes Hydrogen is an energy carrier, and it may be carried in H2 (Hydrogen Gas) for NH3 (ammonia) form, CH3OH form (methonol).or some other form.

Transmission could be to the home as electricity with electrolosis and compression occuring overnight at home, or via the transport of liquid fuels etc.

Entropy is universal so batteries have internal resistance and are not 100% efficient, flywheels have air resistance or, still loose energy to friction or some other interaction with the environment and power recovery, domestic hot water, conductive and radiant heat. Pumped storage has losses and requires moving large amounts of water uphill (pumping losses) etc.

A internal combustion engine is a complex technology and oil transportation and refinaries use losts of fuel.

Currently batteries may be better than fuel cells but especially Li batteries age, and biofuels can only meet a fraction of the demand for liquid fuels.

Fuel cells offer renewable energy carrier from a electrical energy source.

Fuel cells are not just for vehicles.

NOT an energy source! It's an energy carrier !!!!!

A lot of thoughtless BS lines get dumped out on blogs.
It's to be expected.
No everyone is a Professor G or what have you.

I've bit my toungue (actually my keyboard pecker) on this one for a long time and it keeps coming round again and again. Time to put a stop to it because it is sooooo mindless.

Not to pick on you personally Paulus, but what kind of bullshit line is this about "carrier" vesus "source"?

OIL IS NOT A SOURCE EITHER, but rather a storage means and a "carrier". The real source of energy is the Sun. After that, virtually everything is a carrieir not a source.

This feel good one-liner about source and carrier is mindless horse manure.

Let's stop it.

/end of short rant

My bad for ranting first & reading later.
I see other people tried to explain the hydrogen=carrier issue more politely.

The important thing to understand is the difference between different means of storing energy and transmitting or distributing it. If hydrogen were so terrific, we would have pipes of that stuff flowing into out homes instead of methane (CH4, natural gas). CH4 provides a denser way of packing stored energy. The H=H molecule (also known as H2) has only two hydrogen atoms and a single double bond linking them to gether. The H-CH2-H molecule has four carbon-hydrogen bonds. Also, H2 leaks very easily out of tiny cracks. Its hard to contain. Liquifying H2 is not an answer because compression is a highly inefficient waste of energy.

OK stepback and others, thanks for pointing out the source vs. carrier issue.

It's just that what I stated, is what I learned, and one of the reasons we will never have a hydrogen economy.

I certainly accept that oil and gas are in fact also stored energy.

H2 involves a single covalent bond.

The two Hydrogen both share their electrons (two electrons).

H-H is the correct notation.

Energy density is why liquid CH3OH, or NH3 may be desirable,
CH4 is another option but like H2 is more complex to store and transport than liquid fuels.

However releasing oxides of Carbon (CO, CO2), and Nitrogen (NOx) and Sulphur (SO2) etc are frowned upon, therefore we stick with the simple chemistry of Methanol (CH3OH) rather than the more complex chemistry of longer chain alcohols and hydrocarbons, it also works better in the chemistry of a fuel cell and is reversable.

Another way to put it: There are natural deposits of oil. There are no natural deposits or sources of H2. If you want an H2 economy, you need to make H2. And that requires
energy, which would have to come from something for which there is a natural deposit or source.

I am sure that most people around here understands this,
but I have seen comments in other less informed places
where "the hydrogen economy" is written about as a
replacement  of "the oil economy", without explaining where
the energy is coming from: nuclear, solar, wind, hydro.

Not all our energy comes from the Sun. We are also using
supernova energy, using uranium as carrier. And we might end
up using big bang energy, using deuterium as a carrier.

Big bang theoretically is a singularity where all the laws of physics break down - kind of like the finance singularity that is headed our way where the laws of economics will break down.

Only the sun is an energy source for us.  EVERYTHING else is an energy carrrier!

Roger Conner known to you as ThatsItImout

I've been trying to get through this thread without raising fission - but its impossible.

Solar fusion of H and He in our Sun is the source of all external energy arriving at Earth - the ultimate source of all fossil fuel energy.

However, the heat from within - U, Th, K, Rb, Lu, Re, Sm - is derived from heavy metals and alkalis that formed most probably from a Type II super nova that pre-dated our solar system - information from my younger son, Duncan - age 13.

Point goes to Cry Wolf, right after I posted my comment, I reread it and felt like Homer Simpson, "DOH!" :-), because nuclear is not solar driven in any real sense, but more driven by the laws of the universe.  Some have made the argument that nuclear power is the only "new" source of energy since the birth of civilization, all the others have always been about burning something containing hydrogen, the only argument being what to burn!  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

I believe an equally large issue is that of infrastructure -there is not H2 infrastructure for its use.  It's hard for me to envision the time, energy and money for it not to mention that the equipment has to be purchased to use it.

As an aside, it bothers me that little thought is given as to whether a replacement technology such as H2 will actually be of use in a resource limited world.  The assumption always seems to be that the consumer/growth society will continue in perpetuity which is unlikely.

Hydrogen makes no sense to me.  Getting hydrogen from natural gas is silly, natural gas is a fine energy source.  Getting hydrogen from water means using electricity, which is also a fine energy "source".  So stick that electricity in a battery. Either way you have to end up with less energy than you started with.
As far as exporting the stuff, what are you going to put it in??  It leaks through everything.  And it likes to explode.  I know, we'll mix it with oxygen for transporting - hey, wait a minute...
We need to explore and implement all of these options immediately.  But personal transport like we have now simply won't be possible at some point post-peak.  Still, it would be nice to be able to run tractors, emergency vehicles, local food deliveries, etc, on something!
One quote from Eric's link

Please also note that because of the staggering loss of energy, use of electrolysis for bulk hydrogen apps is a really, really dumb thing to do.
It is the equivalent of exchanging two US dollars for one Mexican peso
Some of the articles are from:
(Energy blog)

Is this what you are looking for?

"Hydrogen fuel must be extracted from fossil fuels or water--both energy-consuming processes. Once produced, the gas must be compressed or liquefied for distribution, and this process and the distribution itself take yet more energy. By the time the hydrogen has been delivered to the fuel cell for conversion to electricity, then, a significant amount of energy has been lost to these processes.

"Along the way, you've thrown away nearly three-quarters of the electricity. No one in their right mind would do that--if your alternative is to just string a power line from zero-carbon electricity and charge a battery onboard a car," says Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, and formerly in charge of energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.""

I think it is a mistake to assume that Li-ion batteries will produce 98% effciency over long periods of time. They are complex.

"Despite its overall advantages, lithium-ion has its drawbacks. It is fragile and requires a protection circuit to maintain safe operation. Built into each pack, the protection circuit limits the peak voltage of each cell during charge and prevents the cell voltage from dropping too low on discharge. In addition, the cell temperature is monitored to prevent temperature extremes. The maximum charge and discharge current on most packs are is limited to between 1C and 2C. With these precautions in place, the possibility of metallic lithium plating occurring due to overcharge is virtually eliminated."

There are thousands (6831) of individual battries  in a Tesla (electric car).

"The BATT Program addresses the fundamental problems of chemical and mechanical instabilities that have impeded the development of EV, HEV, and FCEV batteries with acceptable costs, lifetimes, and safety. The aim is to identify and better understand cell performance and lifetime limitations before initiating battery scale-up and development activities. Emphasis is placed on the synthesis of components into battery cells with determination of failure modes, while maintaining strengths in materials synthesis and evaluation, advanced diagnostics, and improved electrochemical model development. The selected battery chemistries are monitored continuously with timely substitution of more-promising components or modifications thereof, as appropriate. This is done with advice from within the BATT Program and from outside experts, including consultation with automotive companies and DOE. Also factored into the BATT Program decision-making process is the continuous monitoring of world-wide battery R&D activities, including assessments carried out by others. This strategy constitutes a systematic screening of battery chemistries/designs that not only has a built-in methodology for reselection but also provides a clear focus for the development of new materials"

I don't think we can dismiss fuel cells for transportation.
Of course electrified public transport is a better solution, but does not allow for the independance of the car.

Transmission of gas ?
Is the fuel cell costs better than that of a battery (including full life cycle costs).

New development to address aging in Li-ion batteries.

High Temperature Steam Electrolysis (from Nuclear) + CO2, to produce methonol, for fuel cells ?

But how about this article:

"In conclusion, it is found that the concept of alternative liquid fuels produced from nuclear hydrogen and captured carbon dioxide is viable. There is abundant CO2 for use and the hydrogen can be produced with proven technology."

I am not an expert in this field, but to declare victory for the Li-ion battery seems premature.

Small scale Hydrogen storage:

Japans plans for batteries and fuel cells.

Dave, thanks for all your input here.


FWIW, went surfing a little more:

This paper compares the manufacturing and refueling costs of a Fuel-Cell Vehicle (FCV)and a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) using an automobile model reflecting the largestsegment of light-duty vehicles. We use results from widely-cited government studies to compare the manufacturing and refueling costs of a BEV and a FCV capable of delivering 135 horsepower and driving approximately 300 miles. Our results show that a BEV performs far more favorably in terms of cost, energy efficiency, weight, and volume. The differences are particularly dramatic when we assume that energy is derived from renewable resources.



This analysis shows the battery electric vehicle to have 54% efficiency, wind turbine to wheel, versus 30% efficency for the fuel cell electric vehicle.

Not taken into consideration is the regenerative braking capability of the electric vehicle, which can turn kinetic energy (motion) into stored energy (charge in the battery).  This would make the overall efficiency of the battery vehicle even better.  I have heard that some fuel cells can operate in reverse to produce H2 fuel from electrical energy, but at a low efficiency.  Then you have the problem of compressing the H2 for onboard storage.

Looks like batteries are better.  IMO electric rail transit is best choice since light rail vehicles can produce many more seat miles per watt/hour than the electric car.  

Scotland can reach 40% of its domestic consumption from renewables if it uses England as a balancing system as Denmark uses Norway and Sweden.

As was pointed out by Hugh Sharman in an article discussed earlier on TOD titled [why wind power works for Denmark www.thomastelford.com/journals/DocumentLibrary/CIEN.158.2.66.pdf ]    Denmark generates by wind power the equivalent of 24% of its domestic consumption. However it gets over the problem of how to balance the enormous intermitancy by exporting nearly all of the electricity to Norway and Sweden using interconnectors to those countries built before the expansion of Denmark's wind energy program to export Norway's and Sweden's large surplus of hydropower to Germany.  Hydro power is ideally suited for this as it can be rapidly turned up and down to even out the power. The Hydro capacity of Norway is 27GW and Sweden 8GW many times the Danish wind powered capacity.

Scotland with an annual electricity consumption of 34.7TWhr is just 11% of England at 311TWhr. If Scotland intends to meet 40% of its consumption by 2010 the vast bulk of this will be wind power. There is little opportunity for more hydro. Photovoltaic is presently several times more expensive and likely to be somewhat more expensive for the next 10 years and Scotland recieves only about 800kWhr/m² on an ideal south facing slope rather than 1200kWhr/m² All other sources are. I suspect there is no great Scotish agricultural surplus for pure biomass fired generation, Wate and tide are still indevelopment stage and not likely to be available in multi gigawatt capacity bt 2020.

If the favorable wind patterns of Scotland allow a 30% load factor 40% of Scotlands 34.7TWhr could be supplied by wind turbines of combined ratings of 5.3GW and indeed 6.8GW of wind capacity is planned for Scotland.

However Scotland's average consumption of 4GW probably means  a peak of 6GW and a minimum of a 2GW if the spread is similar to the UK as a whole.

The output of a wind turbine is very sensitive to wind speed.Most large wind turbines give about 5% of  their rated power at wind speeds of 5m/s and 95% of their power at 12m/s. It is thus not unusual for the output of the wind generation of a wide area such a Scotland to be over 80% of maximum or under 5%. Sharman's figures in the article referenced above for the West Danmark grid in 2003 is that there were three occasions when he output was over 83% of maximum and dozens over 75% and 45 days when it supplied less than 1% of demand and one occasion when the power used to keep the turbines head into the wind exceeded their generation and they became net consumers.

Thus wind generation that averaged over the year meets 40% of Scotland's consumption, could many times  a year be suppling 200% of consumption when this was at a minimum and many times be suppling almost none. This would be a nightmare to balance if Scotland was isolated and with no more storage than the existing 500MW pumped storage it would be only a minor problem if the grid connections to England are strengthened as is planned.

Even at peak the output would be only about 20% of minimum  UK consuption. A study by UKERC shows that up to 20% of UK electricity by wind power the extra standby generating capacity over and above the standby capacity needed to deal with uncertainties  in demand and conventional generation is only about 5-10% of the wind capacity. In other words 5.3GW of Scotish wind power exported to England would require 265 to 530MW of extra conventional plant to balance it.

I suspect Nichol Stephan was thinking of a much more Scottish based means of getting to the figure of 40% but I suspect the economics will mean the adoption of the Danish scheme, export the variability to a much larger nieghbour and let them smooth it out.

If hydrogen is used for large scale energy storage in the short to medium term it will likely be in the form of electrolysis followed by burning in relatively conventional combined cycle gas turbines. Steam electroysis by the "Hot Elly" process is 95% efficient and the best gas turbine plant runs at better than 65% efficiency. Allowing  a bit for losses n storage and auxillary equipmenr this should give a 58% round trip efficiency. Not only does this match the best fuel cell figures but it is availlable now in GW sizes at reasonable prices. The biggest fuel cells comercialy available are 200 kilowatt and very expensive per kilowatt (Wiki quotes a figure of $1000/kW in 2002). They may well improve in time but 14 years is a short time to scalle things up by an order of magnetude get the price down by a factor of several and get it all tested in production and installed in Scotland.

I had intended to write an article for TOD of the effect on the whole of the UK about going beyond the Governments 20% renewables target where we have no much larger nieghbour to export to. Then storage does  become a problem.

I was composing the following post when I read yours.  I will simply post the incomplete fragment below and go to bed (all to further the debate).

Scotland - 40% Renewable by 2020

At first glance, the only conceivable energy source would be massive wind turbines.  Small amounts of domestic hydroelectric power could be added.  Wave has potential, but the experience with wind turbines indicates that 14 years is just not enough time to take some ideas with minimal testing into large scale commercial generation.  And there is reason to suspect that wave energy will not "make it" economically.

Scotland is just not sunny enough to be a major bio-fuels producer and solar energy source.

So wind it is !

With one unexamined option, a HV DC line to Iceland.  Iceland will soon have about 1.4 GW of hydroelectric power (average output), geothermal power and potential for significantly more.  Iceland has a large number of potential hydro sites that would be good producers in the summer but minimal winter production.

A large wind installation in Scotland, with domestic pumped storage could play Denmark to Iceland's Norway.  England could play the role of Germany, a consuming sink of demand for surplus power but a source of power only in emergencies.  Scotland might be a net exporter of renewable energy to Iceland in the winter (with trade going back and forth throughout the day) and new and existing hydropower plants in Iceland could export in the summer to Scotland, with Scotland being a net renewable energy importer on an annual basis.  Landsvirkjun has plans on file for a 2 GW HV DC line to Scotland, with the intention of selling peak power on demand.  Two such lines might be needed for a mature trade (likely post 2020) and for redundancy.

So, perhaps 2 GW of Scottish pumped hydro storage and Iceland providing some seasonal shifting of power as well shorter term trading on a daily/weekly basis.

Scotland, unlike the foolish English, has continued to develop their non-oil transportation system.  However, that effort needs to be dramatically speeded up.

Best Hopes,


A repost from a recent post on the low sulfur diesel thread.  Some of this is applicable here.

A very rough calc on how much wind + pumped storage (NOT FLOW BATTERIES) needed to replace 1,000 GW of convential power.

Figure 90% availability of convential, so steady 900 GW at peak (min demand 300 GW, average demand 500 GW).

2000 GW wind x .32 capacity factor = 640 GW average output.

50% of generation is used directly, when produced.

50% goes into pumped storage, with 0.81 cycle effiency for hydro pumped storage.  So 320 GW into pumped storage, 259 GW out.  This gives an AVERAGE output of 579 GW versus a need for 500 GW.  Spare capacity for a less windy year (wind varies little year to year) and for seasonal changes in demand & output.

Some of the excess could be put into less efficient pumped air (~60%) in depleted natural gas field (massive storage) for seasonal shifts in demand.

One might count on (depends on area) 5% to 10% of wind being available at peak of 900 GW. So 700 to 800 GW of pumped storage (hydro + air) needed.

To sum 1,000 GW convential generation can be replaced by 2,000 GW of wind turbines and 700 to 800 GW of pumped storage (most hydro, some air).

This is basically how it is done.

Best Hopes,


Nice of you to offload you power regulation problems to England :)

This is a lot of infrastructure to avoid Nuclear power, how do the figures stack up. Anything but Nuclear ?

Page vii

Hydrogen production. Nuclear hydrogen is produced from water, with the by-product production of oxygen. This equipment is operated thousands of hours per year. Production methods may include near-term options, such as conventional electrolysis at night, to longer-term options, such as steadystate thermochemical hydrogen production processes. Hydrogen and oxygen are produced in all nuclear hydrogen systems.

Hydrogen and oxygen storage. Large underground storage facilities are used for the low-cost safe storage of hydrogen and oxygen--the same technology used for low-cost storage of natural gas.
Hydrogen and oxygen can be stored daily, weekly, or seasonally until needed in very large quantities.

Hydrogen-to-electricity conversion. High-efficiency fuel-to-electricity systems with very low capital
costs are required and are potentially possible because of the use of pure oxygen and hydrogen. Two such systems have been identified. Hydrogen and oxygen can be burnt to produce very high temperature, high-pressure steam for high-efficiency (70%) steam turbine, without a boiler and the resulting costs and efficiency limitations it creates (Fig. ES.2). Alternatively, lower-cost fuel cells are possible because oxygen replaces air and drastically reduces the cost of the fuel cell while increasing the efficiency. The cavern storage of hydrogen and oxygen is at high pressure. The higher pressure hydrogen and oxygen lowers the costs of both the steam turbine and fuel-cell power-conversion options.

Personally I remain skeptical of high quality energy capture from the environment (with exceptions like Hydro and Tidal)

What about the environmental impact of all that pumped storage and wind turbines. Although this is more practical in Scotland than England.

What about the environmental impact of all that pumped storage and wind turbines

Minimal, approaching zero.  A few selected square km drowned for pumprd storage (Raccoon Mountain has about 1-1.5 km2  reservior on a mountain top for ~2 GW pumped storage) and uses existing reservior for lower reservior).

Wind turbines will kill some few birds, the access roads & new transmission lines will have some local impact.  The view is not an environmental impact, just aesthetics.  And they look nice to some, especially to the farmer that owns the land and gets the rent.

Nice of you to offload you power regulation problems to England :)

The least the Scots can do for the English >:-)

But my proposal actually ignores the English by & large.  More a balancing back and forth between Iceland and Scotland.  Some periodic sales south to the energy poor English who should be glad for some relief to their coming blackouts.  If the English do not want it, and the local pumped storage is full and the line to Iceland is at capacity, the power will go to waste.  Less than 1% I suspect.

Nuclear could be part of the non-renewable 60% that Scotland uses.  Electricity could be 80% wind & pumped storage & Icelandic imports (net) and 20% nuclear, with geothermal heating and lots of electrified transportation.  That might be close to 40% renewable total energy.

Best hopes,


Alan, I had a long discussion with Valuethinker about wind balanced with coal a few weeks ago.  You got any views on this?  Cycling coal up and down could potentially create huge grid capacity for wind?


Please send me the link, I may have missed this thread.

I know less about coal steam plants than other types (hydro, wind, NG) but let me pass on some factoids (not to be confused with hard facts).

Coal steam plants take a lot of energy (and time) to heat up.  From memory, an old NG steam plant (similar once past fuel handling and shape of boiler) takes the fuel needed to run 30 minutes at max capacity in order to warm up, and close to an hour lead time from decision to on-line.

The SOP is to (simple case) run two coal plants at 40% of capacity at 3 AM and both at near capacity at peak instead of running one at 80% at 3 AM with the other cold (1 at near full load, 1 off has lower fuel costs & hourly operating costs).

A small increase in demand can be meet by a coal steam plant by drawing down the "stockpile of steam".  Larger increases could be meet by more fuel.  Easy with NG, turn on the valve (enough gas compressed under pressure to take additional flow easily),  Coal requires more from stockpile, to grinder  to furnace (some plants can store some ground coal at that step).  Still some minutes to get more than a couple % increase in power.

City of Austin looked at old NG steam plant with the idea of making it a batter "peaker" after decades of use as base load.  One option was to remachine turbine blades (thinner roots).  Easier to heat & cool, less rotating inertia.  Similar issues with coal.  (Frequent heating & cooling cycles are not so good for many components, but CAN be done).

Future coal gasification technology looks better (higher efficiency, CCGT type operation, designed for heat/cool cycles on steam end and gas turbine).  Still lag time (unless gasified coal can be stored, I think it is fed hot into turbines though).

If tasked with going from 100% coal to 40% energy from wind + coal, I would bitch, point out higher maintenance costs on coal plants, demand diversified wind sources, require that some wind power be "spilled" (hydro term) when inconvenient and BEG management for at least one small pumped storage unit to smooth out the interface between wind & coal.  

Best Hopes,


Given the radioactive beaches at Dounreay I would be surprised if Scotland goes large for nuclear again.

Certainly no one is going to do it without explicit state subsidies.

Nuclear is not a trade-off against wind.  Both are a trade-off against gas and coal.

The real problem in UK electricity generation is the future dependence on gas (70% projected of all power by 2020) and the likely prevalence of coal (I think Drax is the largest single source of CO2 in Western Europe).

A sensible strategy would be something like 1/3 renewables, 1/3 gas and coal with sequestration, 1/3 nuclear.  

However that scale of nuclear (to replace the 50TWhr or so of current production and build new capacity of up  125 TWhr or so) is unlikely given the scale of subsidies required.  It's quite a stretch to imagine the UK will build 15 3rd gen units (at 1.5GW each).

I think the UK can get to 25-30GW of wind capacity, producing something over 20% of its total TWhr of 400 in 2020 (350 now).  Beyond doubt the wind resource (onshore and offshore is there) and the load balancing issues can be handled.

Plain old aesthetic objections and NIMBYISM in the planning process will stop the UK getting to that level.  The London Array (offshore) is currently stymied because the local council (Swale BC) objects to the transformer where the power will come on shore.  Such is the Spirit of the Blitz in modern day Britain.

The NGC says that much wind would displace 5GW of 'firm capacity' capacity credit.  But in practice this means you have old fossil fueled stations sitting around, not being used much.  Which shouldn't be too big a burden on the system.

However that scale of nuclear (to replace the 50TWhr or so of current production and build new capacity of up  125 TWhr or so) is unlikely given the scale of subsidies required.  It's quite a stretch to imagine the UK will build 15 3rd gen units (at 1.5GW each).

Why? Finland is building one and have started to plan for a second one. Their population is 5.2 million, United Kingdom has 60.6 million, per capita that is like having 11 building right now and planning another 11.

Small Sweden with 9 million people built 12 generation 2 and 2.5 plants during our nuclear build up and we are since a few years uprating and life lenght extending the 10 left for a cost about equal to one generation 3 plant. Intuitively it would seem quite reasonable to finish one 1500-1600 MW generation 3 plant about every 3-4 years in my small home country when politics allow building for power export and replacement of our generation 2 plants. A nice steady building program also allows for a low cost expansion of the   supply industry for reactor components.

UK is an old industrial power, why dont you think a little bigger? The physical part is no harder then building major off shore oil infrastructure.

We have c. 10 reactors operating now of the Advanced Gas Cooled type-- the ones that announced cracks yesterday.  And a further one PWR reactor.

It's very hard for me to imagine that we will have more nuclear reactors operating in the future, than the maximum we had before (about 16 units, including the Magnox).

There is a siting issue.  They want to use existing sites, otherwise there will be 3 year public inquiries on each new site however some of those existing sites are going to be under water in 2050, at least during bad storms.

As we have a completely privatised electricity industry, I cannot see any single entity taking the financial risk to build more than 1X 2 unit station.  Even EDF.

Britain underinvests in infrastructure (look at our railways) but our record with infrastructure and cost overruns is absolutely horrific.

The government is talking about nuclear being some new saviour.  Actually I think it is a distraction from the hard work.

Political limits due to magic numbers. The (anti) nuclear referandum in Sweden with three choices on how fast nuclear power should be abandoned capped the number of reactors at 12.  I have heard good argumentation that this saved the last two built since the need for the power were absent but prestige forced completion of the series.

This is good today since those were the best ones and they are now to be uprated to 1450MW from todays 1200 MW and they were originally run at about 1000 MW. They realy got them right, a pity ABB Atom is no more and cant deliver them as todays best BWR:s.

Any new builds will be compared to the magic number 12 but I think the relevance of such arbitrary limits is small. If there realy is a need for power they will be broken.

My current guess is that new builds in Sweden will start in 4-5 years based on my belief that peak oil realy will be noticed and also affect the prices for natural gas and coal and that this will become an election issue.

I expect based on fairly logical reasoning that parts of the funding will come from Germany, Denmark and Norway whose state or public corparations also will own parts of or whole new plants. Our power market already works like this with foreign intrests owning and investing in Sweden. The scale of investment with completion of a 1500 MW reactor every other year is only a little larger then todays reinvestments in old nuclear power infrastructure in Sweden and fossil fule infrastructure in Denmark and Germany.

Such an investment program will be pseudo private since a large part of the power companies are completely or partly government owned. It could probably be logical to start a new build consortium for completing a EPR or equivalent in Sweden or neighbouring countries about every third year indefinately as long as they are competitive.

Two EPR:s could replace the oldest BWR:s with external recirculation pumps with about 150% of their capacity. Two EPR:s as close to Denmark as possible and some grid upgrades could replace all of their electricity only coal burning leaving only the combined heat and power plants. Two EPR:s and a few HVDC cables to Germany are probably possible withouth any large grid upgrades within Sweden or Germany. If we get a real break thru for plug in hybrids we could probably have customers four a fourth pair, especially with a new pair of HVDC cables to Finland. Those should be built close to Stockholm as combined heat and power plants.

I an an optimist but 8 new reactors while scrapping at least 3 running and 2 laid up seems reasonable if the current investments continues and power export and plug in hybrids are added to that. In addition this will lower the load on the grid lines to northern Sweden allowing for larger export of peak power when our southern neighbours wind turbines stall during calm weather. Nuclear, hydro and wind power is a good mix.

This thinking is of course outrageous if the current political trends dont continue and when I outline it for greens they realy do turn green.

I dont worry much for sea level rise at the nuclear power plant sites. If we get that making dikes(?) around them will be one of the minor problems. And if it takes three years to get siting permits you realy should start right now.

Our government dont talk about nuclear being a new saviour, that has to be done by the nuclear industry. The governmnet money now mostly goes to non nuclear and non GHG power wich I mostly like since that is about the same as needed for handling post peak oil times. But it would be good with more nuclear research and education to hande new builds if and when they come.

Perhaps I have another view on what is possible since the Swedish public investments in infrastructure and privat einvestments in heavy industry seems to be fairly robust?

The major reason that we dont invest as wisely as the Finns and build new plants today is probbaly that too manny of our politicans still are old time anti nuclear people.

Nick, we are always looking for well-informed guest posts - so if you want to do one contact Chris Vernon and / or PG.

I had a long discussion with Valuethinker a week or so back about balancing wind with coal.  What I would really like to see are the sums for first balancing wind with hydro followed by balancing wind/hydro with coal.

My feeling is that the electricty generators may need to be persuaded to modify generating practices (tax and incentives) in order to open up grid capacity for wind power.  I think that balancing with existing plant should be the way to go - as opposed to inefficient conversion and storage such as hydrogen and fuel cells.

Vehicles will run on electricity - batteries charged when its windy.  For long haul we will need trains.

From my personal recollection, isn't Scotland a large wing generating country with lots of additional sites availabel? If so, then there is plenty of surplus electricity availabel from renewable sources. The problem is storage and efficient use of the electricity to make more jobs and revenue for the Scotts
   As pointed out above, hydrogen is hard to store and dangerous. Perhaps using the surplus electricity to make Amonium Nitrate fertiliser would provide a very marketable product in the world market and much more easily stored and shipped product. With the world population increasing to 9 billion in the next 30 years while the cheap natural gas relied on for these products becoming scarce it should only get more valuable on the world market.
  The largest problem I see with hydrogen as a product is that it requires your customers to purchase fuel cells that use hydrogen. Thje difference is that fertilizer is used worldwide.
Feb 25, 2005 The Hydrogen Economy - Energy and Economic Black Hole  http://www.energypulse.net/centers/article/article_display.cfm?a_id=940

The energy-literate scoff at perpetual motion, free energy, and cold fusion, but what about the hydrogen economy? Before we invest trillions of dollars, let's take a hydrogen car out for a spin. You will discover that hydrogen is the least likely of all the alternative energies to solve our transportation problems. Hydrogen uses more energy than you get out of it. The only winners in the hydrogen scam are large auto companies receiving billions of dollars via the FreedomCAR Initiative to build hydrogen vehicles. And most importantly, the real problem that needs to be solved is how to build hydrogen trucks, so we can plant, harvest, and deliver food and other goods.

Making it

Hydrogen isn't an energy source - it's an energy carrier, like a battery. You have to make it and put energy into it, both of which take energy. Hydrogen has been used commercially for decades, so at least we don't have to figure out how to do this, or what the cheapest, most efficient method is.

Ninety-six percent of hydrogen is made from fossil fuels, mainly to refine oil and hydrogenate vegetable oil--the kind that gives you heart attacks (1). In the United States, ninety percent of hydrogen is made from natural gas, with an efficiency of 72% (2). Efficiency is how much energy you get back compared with how much energy you started out with. So an efficiency of seventy-two percent means you've lost 28% of the energy contained in the natural gas to make hydrogen. And that doesn't count the energy it took to extract and deliver the natural gas to the hydrogen plant.

Only four percent of hydrogen is made from water. This is done with electricity, in a process called electrolysis. Hydrogen is only made from water when the hydrogen must be extremely pure. Most electricity is generated from fossil fuel driven plants that are, on average, 30% efficient. Where does the other seventy percent of the energy go? Most is lost as heat, and some as it travels through the power grid.

Electrolysis is 70% efficient. To calculate the overall efficiency of making hydrogen from water, the standard equation is to multiply the efficiency of each step. In this case you would multiply the 30% efficient power plant times the 70% efficient electrolysis to get an overall efficiency of 20%. This means you have used four units of energy to create one unit of hydrogen energy (3).

Obtaining hydrogen from fossil fuels as a feedstock or an energy source is a bit perverse, since the whole point is to avoid using fossil fuels. The goal is to use renewable energy to make hydrogen from water via electrolysis.

Current wind turbines can generate electricity at 30-40% efficiency, producing hydrogen at an overall 25% efficiency (.35 wind electricity * .70 electrolysis of water), or 3 units of wind energy to get 1 unit of hydrogen energy. When the wind is blowing, that is.

The best solar cells available on a large scale have an efficiency of ten percent when the sun is shining, or nine units of energy to get 1 hydrogen unit of energy (.10 * .70). But that's not bad compared to biological hydrogen. If you use algae that make hydrogen as a byproduct, the efficiency is about .1%, or more than 99 units of energy to get one hydrogen unit of energy (4).

No matter how you look at it, producing hydrogen from water is an energy sink. If you don't understand this concept, please mail me ten dollars and I'll send you back a dollar.

Hydrogen can be made from biomass, but then these problems arise (5):

  1. Biomass is very seasonal
  2. Contains a lot of moisture, requiring energy to store and then dry it before gasification
  3. There are limited supplies
  4. The quantities are not large or consistent enough for large-scale hydrogen production.
  5. A huge amount of land would be required, since even cultivated biomass in good soil has a low yield -- 10 tons of biomass per 2.4 acres
  6. The soil will be degraded from erosion and loss of fertility if stripped of biomass
  7. Any energy put into the land to grow the biomass, such as fertilizers, planting, and harvesting will add to the energy costs
  8. Energy and costs to deliver biomass to the central power plant
  9. It's not suitable for pure hydrogen production

One of the main reasons for switching to hydrogen is to prevent the global warming caused by fossil fuels. When hydrogen is made from natural gas, nitrogen oxides are released, which are 58 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide (6). Coal releases large amounts of CO2 and mercury. Oil is too powerful and useful to waste on hydrogen-it's concentrated sunshine brewed over hundreds of millions of years. A gallon of gas represents about 196,000 pounds of fossil plants, the amount in 40 acres of wheat (7).

Natural gas is too valuable to make hydrogen with. One use of natural gas is to create fertilizer (as both feedstock and energy source). This has led to a many-fold increase in crop production, allowing an additional 4 billion people to exist who otherwise wouldn't be here (8, 9).

We also don't have enough natural gas left to make a hydrogen economy happen. Extraction of natural gas is declining in North America (10). It will take at least a decade to even begin replacing natural gas with imported LNG (liquified natural gas). Making LNG is so energy intensive that it would be economically and environmentally insane to use natural gas as a source of hydrogen (3).

Putting energy into hydrogen

No matter how it's been made, hydrogen has no energy in it. Hydrogen is the lowest energy dense fuel on earth (5). At room temperature and pressure, hydrogen takes up three thousand more times space than gasoline containing an equivalent amount of energy (3). To put energy into hydrogen, it must be compressed or liquefied. To compress hydrogen to 10,000 psi is a multi-stage process that will lose an additional 15% of the energy contained in the hydrogen.

If you liquefy hydrogen, you will be able to get more hydrogen energy into a smaller container, but you will lose 30-40% of the energy in the process. Handling hydrogen requires extreme precautions because hydrogen is so cold - minus 423 F. Fueling is typically done mechanically with a robot arm (3).


The more you compress hydrogen, the smaller the tank can be. But as you increase the pressure, you also have to increase the thickness of the steel wall, and hence the weight of the tank. Cost increases with pressure. At 2000 psi, it's $400 per kg. At 8000 psi, it's $2100 per kg (5). And the tank will be huge -- at 5000 psi, the tank could take up ten times the volume of a gasoline tank containing the same energy content.

That's why it would be nice to use liquid hydrogen, which allows you to have a much smaller container. But these storage tanks get cold enough to cause plugged valves and other problems. If you add insulation to prevent this, you will increase the weight of an already very heavy storage tank. There are additional components to control the liquid hydrogen which add extra costs and weight (11).

Here's how a hydrogen tank stacks up against a gas tank in a Honda Accord.
[see article on web, it won't copy formatted here]

According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA), "Vehicle weight reduction is probably the most powerful technique for improving fuel economy. Each 10 percent reduction in weight improves the fuel economy of a new vehicle design by approximately eight percent".

Fuel cells are also heavy: "A metal hydride storage system that can hold 5 kg of hydrogen, including the alloy, container, and heat exchangers, would weigh approximately 300 kg (661 lbs), which would lower the fuel efficiency of the vehicle," according to Rosa Young, a physicist and vice president of advanced materials development at Energy Conversion Devices in Troy, Michigan (12).

Fuel cells are expensive. In 2003, they cost $1 million or more. At this stage, they have low reliability, need a much less expensive catalyst than platinum, can clog and lose power if there are impurities in the hydrogen, don't last more than 1000 hours, have yet to achieve a driving range of more than 100 miles, and can't compete with electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius, which is already more energy efficient and lower in CO2 generation than projected fuel cells. (3)

Hydrogen is the Houdini of elements. As soon as you've gotten it into a container, it wants to get out, and since it's the lightest of all gases, it takes a lot of effort to keep it from escaping. Storage devices need a complex set of seals, gaskets, and valves. Liquid hydrogen tanks for vehicles boil off at 3-4% per day (3, 13).

Hydrogen also tends to make metal brittle (14). Embrittled metal can create leaks. In a pipeline, it can cause cracking or fissuring, which can result in potentially catastrophic failure (3). Making metal strong enough to withstand hydrogen adds weight and cost.

Leaks also become more likely as the pressure grows higher. It can leak from un-welded connections, fuel lines, and non-metal seals such as gaskets, O-rings, pipe thread compounds, and packings. A heavy-duty fuel cell engine may have thousands of seals (15). Hydrogen has the lowest ignition point of any fuel, 20 times less than gasoline. So if there's a leak, it can be ignited by a cell phone, a storm miles away (16), or the static from sliding on a car seat.

Leaks and the fires that might result are invisible, and because of they high hydrogen pressure, the fire is like a cutting torch with an invisible flame. Unless you walk into a hydrogen flame, sometimes the only way to know there's a leak is poor performance.

In 2002, given the same volume of fuel, a diesel fuel vehicle could go 90 miles, and a hydrogen vehicle at 3600 psi could go 5 miles. But that's nothing compared to the challenges trucks face. I know we're just supposed to only driving a hydrogen car, but it's really hydrogen trucks that are most critical. If we don't figure out how to make them, we won't have a way to distribute food and other goods across the country.

A truck can go a thousand miles with two 84 gallon tanks placed under the cab, which takes up 23 cubic feet. But the equivalent amount of hydrogen at 3600 psi would take up almost 14 times as much space as the gas tanks. It is hard to imagine where you could put the two cylindrical, twelve feet long by four feet wide hydrogen tanks. They can't go in the cargo space because a hydrogen leak in an enclosed area would explode if there were a leak. You can't put the tanks on top or the truck won't fit beneath underpasses and make the truck top-heavy. Nor would these tanks fit beneath the truck. (23).

To redesign trucks and build hundreds of millions of new ones would take too much energy and money. Yet keeping trucks moving after fossil fuels disappear is far more important that figuring out how to keep cars on the road. Trucks deliver food and other essentials we can't live without.

Batteries are smaller, but they're very heavy. In 2002, Lithium-Metal Polymer batteries could take a truck 500 miles. They weighed 42,635 pounds, using up 85% of the trucks weight capacity (23).


Canister trucks ($250,000 each) can carry enough fuel for 60 cars (3, 13). These trucks weight 40,000 kg but deliver only 400 kg of hydrogen. For a delivery distance of 150 miles, the delivery energy used is nearly 20% of the usable energy in the hydrogen delivered. At 300 miles 40%. The same size truck carrying gasoline delivers 10,000 gallons of fuel, enough to fill about 800 cars (3).

Another alternative is pipelines. The average cost of a natural gas pipeline is one million dollars per mile, and we have 200,000 miles of natural gas pipeline, which we can't re-use because they are composed of metal that would become brittle and leak, as well as the incorrect diameter to maximize hydrogen throughput. If we were to build a similar infrastructure to deliver hydrogen it would cost $200 trillion. The major operating cost of hydrogen pipelines is compressor power and maintenance (3). Compressors in the pipeline keep the gas moving, using hydrogen energy to push the gas forward. After 620 miles, 8% of the hydrogen has been used to move it through the pipeline (17).


At some point along the chain of making, putting energy in, storing, and delivering the hydrogen, you've used more energy than you get back, and this doesn't count the energy used to make fuel cells, storage tanks, delivery systems, and vehicles (17).

The laws of physics mean the hydrogen economy will always be an energy sink. Hydrogen's properties require you to spend more energy to do the following than you get out of it later: overcome waters' hydrogen-oxygen bond, to move heavy cars, to prevent leaks and brittle metals, to transport hydrogen to the destination. It doesn't matter if all of the problems are solved, or how much money is spent. You will use more energy to create, store, and transport hydrogen than you will ever get out of it.

The price of oil and natural gas will go up relentlessly due to geological depletion and political crises in extracting countries. Since the hydrogen infrastructure will be built using the existing oil-based infrastructure (i.e. internal combustion engine vehicles, power plants and factories, plastics, etc), the price of hydrogen will go up as well -- it will never be cheaper than fossil fuels. As depletion continues, factories will be driven out of business by high fuel costs (20, 21, 22) and the parts necessary to build the extremely complex storage tanks and fuel cells might become unavailable. In a society that's looking more and more like Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", hydrogen will be too leaky and explosive to handle.

Any diversion of declining fossil fuels to a hydrogen economy subtracts that energy from other possible uses, such as planting, harvesting, delivering, and cooking food, heating homes, and other essential activities. According to Joseph Romm "The energy and environmental problems facing the nation and the world, especially global warming, are far too serious to risk making major policy mistakes that misallocate scarce resources (3).

When fusion can make cheap hydrogen, reliable long-lasting nanotube fuel cells exist, and light-weight leak-proof carbon-fiber polymer-lined storage tanks / pipelines can be made inexpensively, then let's consider building the hydrogen economy infrastructure. Until then, it's vaporware. All of the technical obstacles must be overcome for any of this to happen (18). Meanwhile, we should stop the FreedomCAR and start setting higher CAFE standards (19).


(1) Michael F. Jacobson Waiter, please hold the hydrogen http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/09/08/EDGRQ8KVR31.DTL

(2) Martin I.Hoffert, et al "Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet" SCIENCE VOL 298 1 November 2002

(3) Joseph J. Romm The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact & Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate 2004

(4) Howard Hayden The Solar Fraud: Why Solar Energy Won't Run the World

(5) D.Simbeck and E.Chang Hydrogen Supply: Cost Estimate for Hydrogen Pathways Scoping Analysis, National Renewable Energy Lab http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy03osti/32525.pdf

(6) Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/renewable_energy/page.cfm?pageID=84

(7) What's in a Gallon of Gas? http://www.discover.com/issues/apr-04/rd/discover-data/

(8) David & Marshall Fisher The Nitrogen Bomb www.discover.com April 2001

(9) Vaclav Smil Scientific American Jul 1997 Global Population & the Nitrogen Cycle

(10) Julian Darley High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis 2004

(11) Rocks in your Gas Tank http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2003/17apr_zeolite.htm

(12) fill'er up--with hydrogen Mechanical Engineering Magazine http://www.memagazine.org/backissues/feb02/features/fillerup/fillerup.html

(13) Wade A. Amos Costs of Storing and Transporting Hydrogen U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy http://www.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/25106.pdf

(14) Omar A. El kebir, Andrzej Szummer Comparison of hydrogen embrittlement of stainless steels and nickel-base alloys International Journal of Hydrogen Energy Volume: 27, Issue: 7-8 July - August, 2002

(15) Fuel Cell Engine Safety U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy http://www.avt.nrel.gov/pdfs/fcm06r0.pdf

(16) Dr. Joseph Romm Testimony for the Hearing Reviewing the Hydrogen Fuel and FreedomCAR Initiatives Submitted to the House Science Committee http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full04/mar03/romm.pdf

(17) Ulf Bossel and Baldur Eliasson Energy and the Hydrogen Economy www.methanol.org/pdfFrame.cfm?pdf=HydrogenEconomyReport2003.pdf

(18) National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap Production, Delivery, Storage, Conversion, Applications, Public Education and Outreach http://www.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/national_h2_roadmap.pdf

(19) Dan Neil Rumble Seat : Toyota's spark of genius http://www.latimes.com/la-danneil-101503-pulitzer,0,7911314.story

(20) Jul 02, 2004 Oil prices raising costs of offshoots By Associated Press http://www.tdn.com/articles/2004/07/02/biz/news03.prt

(21) May 24, 2004 Soaring energy prices dog rosy U.S. farm economy http://www.forbes.com/business/newswire/2004/05/24/rtr1382512.html

(22) March 17, 2004 Chemical Industry in Crisis: Natural Gas Prices Are Up, Factories Are Closing, And Jobs Are Vanishing http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64579-2004Mar16.html

(23) "Fuels of the Future for Cars and Trucks" Dr. James J. Eberhardt Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy 2002 Diesel Engine Emissions Reduction (DEER) Workshop San Diego, California August 25 - 29, 2002 www.osti.gov/fcvt/deer2002/eberhardt.pdf

Ardnassac, thank you for a well researched and referenced comment. This great work is why I read The Oil Drum. I really appreciate your effort and hope that the editors here make it a thread!
You realize he just copied and pasted from wiki right? :P
Not only is it copied it contains loads of errors and irrelevancies.
Hydrogen uses more energy than you get out of it

That hydrogen uses more energy than it consumes is only a statement that it is an energy carrier. The same could be said for electricity, compressed air, hydraulic power, batteries and petrol.  That it is an energy carrier may not be appreciated by some of the general public but it can be assumed that the readers of TOD are well aware of this.

And most importantly, the real problem that needs to be solved is how to build hydrogen trucks

Hydrogen trucks are less of a problem than hydrogen cars as the extra volume of a large liquid hydrogen tank can be more easily accommodated on a truck than a car. The hydrogen buses at Munich airport use a tank of liquid hydrogen to drive a slightly modified diesel engines. They may not be currently competitive but if oil production tanks this approach is technically feasible .

.. mainly to refine oil and hydrogenate vegetable oil--the kind that gives you heart attacks.

The greatest use of hydrogen  currently produced (about 40%) is  to produce ammonia by the Haber process for fertilizer not to hydrogenate oils. Hydrogenated and therefore less saturated oils are less of a risk to the heart than the saturated oils they come from and naturally saturated fats like butter.

ninety percent of hydrogen is made from natural gas, with an efficiency of 72%

Most electricity is generated from fossil fuel driven plants that are, on average, 30% efficient

The whole point of a hydrogen economy is the ability to build a energy distribution system that does not use fossil fuels and, as is the point of this post, energy storage . Most of the readers of TOD are convinced that these will  soon be in very short supply and for climate change  reasons should be drastically curtailed even where available. Calculations such as the efficiency of converting methane to hydrogen are an irrelevant as is the discussion of the efficiency of the thermal efficiency of fossil fuel stations to provide electricity for electrolysis. The only reason to use fossil fuel derived hydrogen is to kick start this process.   However on the point of generation efficiency, until this year when coal has swung back, the UK has generates almost as much electricity from gas as from electricity, almost all of in now using combined cycle plant at an average efficiency of about 60%, some over 65%. Most of the coal powered electricity is from modern plants such as Drax at an efficiency over 40%.  

Electrolysis is 70% efficient.

Steam electrolysis using the HOT ELLY process is better than 92% efficient and alkaline electrolysers
such as that from [Norsk Hydro ]
are 80% efficient. In large scale operation the waste heat could be used as in combined heat and power units increasing the efficiency of electrical conversion.

Current wind turbines can generate electricity at 30-40% efficiency,

Quoting the efficiency of a wind turbine is a complete red herring. The wind energy is available in practically unlimited quantities and free as a fuel.  If it is not captured by the wind turbine it is not used anywhere else. It is not a choice like fossil fuels where fuel used in one process is not available elsewhere. There are high capital investment costs with wind turbines but the efficiency of conversion of wind energy is only a factor to the extent that it affects capital cost. Conversion of wind energy to hydrogen is one of the ways of overcoming the intermittency of wind energy. It can be stored  at not to exorbitant cost in the expanding gas holders that were common when we used coal derived town gas that was 50% hydrogen.


The best solar cells available on a large scale have an efficiency of ten percent

SPR220 silicon panels from Sunpower  achieve 17.7% efficiency at a module level. Concentrator systems using multilayer cells are now commercially available from green and gold energy at a module efficiency of 33%. Again the efficiency is only a concern in that it affects capital cost and area where this is limited such as on roofs. Likewise hydrogen production is a way lessen the problems of intermittency.

No matter how you look at it, producing hydrogen from water is an energy sink. If you don't understand this concept, please mail me ten dollars and I'll send you back a dollar.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier and storage mechanism with less than 100% efficiency as is any other system used to transport energy  where the primary form of energy cannot be used directly at place it is required or at the time it was produced. There are plenty of reasons to question whether it is the best way to achieve this end but the fact that the transfer is less than 100% efficient is not one of them.
Biomass is very seasonal

But in many forms easily storable. If you have to dry it anyway you can dry it first and then store it. The other objections to using biomass to produce hydrogen in the context of this post, the use of hydrogen to enable Scotland to reach 40% renewables by 2020 are valid.
I am not suggesting that hydrogen from fossil fuels is used as any other that a starter for hydrogen from renewables. In fact I am not sure it is the best way to transfer and store energy from renewables but your arguments against the use of hydrogen from fossil fuels are more than a little mixed up.
When hydrogen is made from natural gas, nitrogen oxides are released, which are 58 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

I do not know where you got this idea. The reference you give only states that methane has 58 times the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide, although I do see it propagated across the web without any authoritative backing. Since hydrogen is produced from natural gas by reacting with water and neither of the reactants contain nitrogen, oxides of nitrogen can only arise from contamination and the temperatures used for its production are nowhere near those in an internal combustion engines or turbines where nitrogen oxides are produced from atmospheric nitrogen. On count hydrogen is better.
Coal releases large amounts of CO2 and mercury. Oil is too powerful and useful to waste on hydrogen-it's concentrated sunshine brewed over hundreds of millions of years. A gallon of gas represents about 196,000 pounds of fossil plants, the amount in 40 acres of wheat

What is the point you are trying to make here? That coal shouldn't be used? As you have acknowledged, hydrogen is an energy carrier mechanism. If you want to suggest that there are more efficient ways of getting the energy of coal to transport users (e.g electric trains) you may well be right but you need to say what they are and how you would persuade people to adopt them. If you are saying that we should use a lot less energy on transport I agree but this has nothing to do with the relative efficiencies of various means of transfer. That oil is a concentrated form of energy is clear but it is not of itself a `waste' to use hydrogen for transfer that energy. The losses in the hydrogen route may of may not be greater than the losses due to the awful efficiency of internal combustion engines by its direct route but this is what you have to show rather than simply dismissing conversion to oil as a waste.


Natural gas is too valuable to make hydrogen with

We also don't have enough natural gas left to make a hydrogen economy happen.

Simply we do not have enough energy to carry on as we are going. That is the main point of this blog. This does eliminate particular ways of using what is left. We need to compare the ways of using what we have to best meet the restraints of  falling supply and climate change. One of the reasons that can be advanced for hydrogen from fossil fuel is that carbon dioxide can be captured and sequestered at a small number of fixed hydrogen plants but cannot from millions of mobile vehicles and domestic boilers.

hydrogen has no energy in it. Hydrogen is the lowest energy dense fuel on earth

It may be low volume density but it has one of the highest mass densities. 1 kg of hydrogen contains the same amount of energy as 2.1 kg of natural gas or 2.8 kg of petrol. Your remarks about the difficulty of storing hydrogen for transport are valid especially for cars but the Munich airport buses show that liquid hydrogen for trucks is not impossible. The cost of converting the fleet may be massive but as fossil fuel production falls the only alternative is to do without, carry on for a short time with filthy sources of hydrocarbons such as tar sands and oil shale and ensure climatic catastrophe or find some other path for which liquid hydrogen at least needs considering.

For energy storage from wind generation which was the original point of this post there is no need to liquefy  or compress. There are still some expanding gas holders left from the days of town gas. More could be built.

In a society that's looking more and more like Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", hydrogen will be too leaky and explosive to handle.

All the horrors expressed about  hydrogen gas storage and transport ignore the fact that Britain used town gas containing 50% hydrogen and 15% carbon monoxide for decades. When I was a child many gas devices didn't even have the precaution of a pilot light. You just had to remember to light it or switch off. The pipes didn't seem to leak much. I expect many of them are still there. If 1920 technology could handle hydrogen so will  2020 technology

Conclusion You will use more energy to create, store, and transport hydrogen than you will ever get out of it.

So what! All energy production and distribution systems require more energy input than they produce at the point of delivery.  Still you don't see the point of hydrogen being a energy carrier. Even you had to put 5 joules of energy in at places where there the energy is available to get 1 joule of energy out at the place you needed it and no better system was available you would use it.

There are many serious problems with the wide spread use of hydrogen but this mishmash of misunderstandings and errors does not cover them.

Nick, good to get alternative views - I don't have time to address all points you make just now, but here's two queries:

  1. was town gas really 50% hydrogen, and if so what was the source?

  2. at some point you need to pay attention to EROEI - we just can't build tens of thousands of windmills and a huge hydrogen infrastructure - if all that comes out is a trickle of electricity.

My feeling on this one is that there are plenty alternatives to hydrogen for smoothing out renewables output and for storing mobile energy (batteries) and it just doesn't seem that hydrogen linked to electrolysis of water and wind energy makes much sense.

Roger Connor has different views using Thin Film Solar


but I don't think this is a starter in northern latitudes where the sun doesn't shine all winter.

Yes town gas was 50% hydrogen. It lasted just long enough to see the introduction of the very thin polythene bags in which you get clothes returned from the dry cleaner. Tied up at the neck and  bottom and filled with gas from the gas poker used to light the coal fire they would float up. We used to have races with them. The gas was made by passing a mixture of steam and air over coal. The mixture was adjusted to maintain the reaction temperature, the steam reaction is endothermic and the air reaction is exothermic.
There was also 15% carbon monoxide. It was a common form of suicide to put your head in an unlit gas oven.
All sorts of organic chemicals were distilled off and collected. These gave gas works the characteristic smell I can still remember.
Yes of course we need to remember EROEI and I am far from convinced that wide spread use of hydrogen will be the best path forward but there are limited possibilities in the UK for storage on the TWhr scale. I think that those who point to pumped storage from an American perspective do not appreciate how little spare mountain space there is in the UK and how strongly what there is  guarded. There is the possibility of installing back pumping at existing hydro sites without much protest. But electrolysis followed by gas turbines is available technology on the scale required and if not brilliant efficiency acceptable if there is no other alternative.
Nick - you are obviously a few years older than I am - i knew about the CO in town gas, but not the H.

In terms of pump storage - back pumping existing hydro would be what I had in mind - not much point in doing anything else.  This could work well for Scotland - but England admitedly is screwed in this regard - especially if the SNP win the largest minority of seats in next May's elections for the Scottish Parliament.

Wales and Scotland have some decent mountains.  I really have little doubt that sites can be found.  Worst case, excavate inside a mountain, out of sight.

Great Britain once tore up their landscape in search of energy, using a modest dimple in a mountain top, out of sight unless one is on top of it, seems "acceptable".  Sensitivities should decline by the time the UK builds enough wind to matter.  (You will, especially England, I am afraid, have to experience domestic energy problems due to a lack of NG before building enough wind to matter.  By the time that 10 GW of wind is installed in the UK, keeping the lights on will be a priority).

In other words, in a world where England installs enough wind turbines to affect grid stability, in that future world building hydro pumped storage will also be acceptable.

Hydro pumped storage usually stores enough energy for weekly balancing, not enough for seasonal shifting.  For that pumped air (depleted NG fields, old mines) can work.  A loss of cycle efficiency from ~81% to ~60%.

Both are better technologies than electrolysis IMO.

Another option is connecting to the wider grid.  Trade wind power with Swiss, Austrian, Icelandic & Norwegian hydro, balance your wind with Irish, Spanish, German, Danish and even Polish wind.

Best Hopes,


If you want to suggest that there are more efficient ways of getting the energy of coal to transport users (e.g electric trains) you may well be right but you need to say what they are and how you would persuade people to adopt them

Burn coal in powerplant (hopefully more efficient gasified coal plant in the future).  Feed electricity into grid and from there to overhead wire above locomotive.  Electricity is used to run electric motor > wheels over low friction rails.

Quite good efficiency except for first step (coal > electricity).

Simple gov't decision/incentives (they own the track I believe) are all that is needed.

No hydrogen required.

BTW, Russia finished electrifying the Trans-Siberian in 2002 and electrified to Murmansk last Christmas Eve.

Cry Wolf,

The piece above is Ulf Bossel. His great-grandfather invented the fuel cell concept. He has some strange ideas about the future if you ask me, but he expains the hydrogen fuel cell quite well.

Ulf retired the H fuel cell (2 years ago?) with these words:

EU forum declares hydrogen fuel cell dead

[...] the laws of physics cannot be changed with further research, investments or political decisions. A sustainable future energy harvested from renewable sources (nuclear energy is not sustainable!) must be distributed and used with the highest efficiency. A wasteful hydrogen economy does not meet the criteria of sustainability. As a result, a viable free-market hydrogen infrastructure will never be established and fuel cells for hydrogen may not be needed. For all applications electricity from hydrogen fuel cells have to compete with the source electricity used to make hydrogen.

The European Fuel Cell Forum is committed to the establishment of a safe energy future. Therefore, it will continue to promote fuel cells for sustainable fuels, but discontinue supporting the development of fuel cells for hypothetical fuel supplies. Time has come for decisions. Keeping all options open is not an adequate response to mounting energy problems.

Therefore, the schedule of the European SOFC Forum will be continued in 2008 with an extended conference every second year. Beginning 2007 (July 2 to 6) sustainable energy topics will be emphasized in odd years. Despite earlier announcements the European PEFC Forum series will not be continued.

I would like to thank all who have contributed to establish the European PEFC Forum. You and your colleagues have developed a magnificent technology, but the fuel needed to make it work is not offered by nature. We cannot solve the energy problem by wasting energy. The laws of physics speak against a hydrogen economy. Physics cannot be replaced by wishful thinking, or changed by presidential initiatives, research programs and venture capital.

See also here, and Google him. The discussion is over.

too bad we all seem to be in a holding pattern circling hydrogen again and again since politicians are not scientists (all except germany?).  Thanks for the great links.  
Thanks Roel - it seems that he is not very much in favour of the hydrogen economy.  Although, I have to note that Roger Connor is, I believe, arguing in its favour.

Not quite completely dead and buried yet.

Current wind turbines can generate electricity at 30-40% efficiency, producing hydrogen at an overall 25% efficiency (.35 wind electricity * .70 electrolysis of water), or 3 units of wind energy to get 1 unit of hydrogen energy. When the wind is blowing, that is.

It is more relevant to compare cost then efficiency when comparing energy sources where there are no other pathways for utlizing the basic energy source.

Stating that wind power is bad becouse it cant use more of the wind blowing thru the turbine or that nuclear power is bad due to large losses of low grade heat energy does not lead to any usefull conclusions. It would however be usefull for comparing high temperature nuclear reactors doing chemical hydrogen synthesis compared with ordinary electricity producing reactors and elctrolysis but even there it is highly relevant with a cost comparision.

Overall I hope for cheaper electrolysis cells since using off peak and excess nuclear, hydro and wind electricity for making hydrogen for fertlizer production, low level mixing in wehicle gas, upgrading of heavy oil and complementing biomass fed FT or methanol synthesis would be nice. I agree that gaseois or liquid hydrogen is to cumbersome to transport for direct wehicle fuel use.

No matter how it's been made, hydrogen has no energy in it. Hydrogen is the lowest energy dense fuel on earth (5). At room temperature and pressure, hydrogen takes up three thousand more times space than gasoline containing an equivalent amount of energy (3). To put energy into hydrogen, it must be compressed or liquefied.

This is scietifically a bullshit statement. It is true that liquification and the chilling/boiloff during distribution and storage use a lot of energy and that compression use a lot of energy but it is not god to phrase that as realy bad PR-speak in an otherwise fairly good article.

Ardnassac - thanks very much for this comprehensive piece - I will hand deliver this to Mr Nicol Stephen.
Perhaps this book will address some of the issues.
Prospects for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

I haven't read it, I just found it just now.

     Assessment of Nuclear-Hydrogen
     Synergies with Renewable Energy
     Systems and Coal Liquefaction

Including: Hydrogen Intermediate and Peak Electrical System

Subsidize it, and they will come.

50 kWHR / efficiency = 1 kg hydrogen

Perhaps they will fund some wind turbine electrolysers and who knows what else. I find not substance in the article.

By the early 1970s it started to become clear that Oil would not be the major energy source for Humankind for much longer (on a long-term perspective). New sources like Natural Gas and Nuclear seemed at the time bound to take Oil's first place by the beginning of the XXI century.

So people started wondering how cars would run beyond oil, what energy vector would they use? At that time Nuclear energy really seemed to be the future with an unimaginable mineral resource (U-238, which now doesn't seem that huge) that could feed Earth for some centuries. In this environment Hydrogen emerged as a vector to "easily" distribute the energy generated at Nuclear power plants built offshore, way from major population centers (the Atomic Isles). Cesare Marchetti was one of the pioneers of these ideas.

Then along came Three Mile Island and very sadly Chernobyl. A major campaign against Nuclear followed, which turned this technology to the eyes of public opinion in a monster ready to swallow Humankind.

The funny thing was that almost the same people that alerted for the perils of Nuclear and campaigned against it continued pushing forward Hydrogen as an energy vector. They just forgot to say what the new energy source would be.

Although I don't know much about chemistry, an element with an atomic number of 2 seems a very bad choice for an energy vector - huge volume, impossible to store without considerable losses. If fuel cells come to be (which is nigh on happening for cell phones and tablet PC) it will probably be with a liquid vector like methanol.

Yes Luis, and what about hydrogen with an atomic number = 1
Hum... as I said I'm not much into chemistry, but I think that free hidrogen atoms (isotopes) are very uncommon to occur in Nature.
Ok I was wrong, in Nature the atomic form is the most common (from Wikipedia):

Throughout the universe, hydrogen is mostly found in the [atomic] and plasma states whose properties are quite different from molecular hydrogen.

But on Earth Hydrogen is more common on the molecular form:

Under ordinary conditions on Earth, elemental hydrogen exists as the diatomic gas, H2

I'm not familiar with the possibility of using hydrogen in the atomic form as an energy carrier, I'll leave that to others more savvy than I. Half the atomic mass, double the problems?

Since the fuel cell makes me think of cars, I'll reply from a car perspective.  I'm sure you can use fuel cells for something else, but let's face it, that's where most people want to use it.

It's looking bleak.  In fact, I recall that when Japan's Mazda came out with hydrogen cars the engineers said that it would never be ready for the mass market.  How can Scotland differ?  Strike One!

Here's a site regarding the "Myth of the Hydrogen Economy", where this shows in more detail how odd a material hydrogen is related to the very complicated engineering process that may interest TOD readers:

Myth of Hydrogen Economy

Doesn't really matter if we go hydrogen or not.  There are just not enough resources in the world to justify a "new" replacement economy on every single vehicle and every single fillup station based on such a flimsy and hard to manage substance.  Any worldwide shortage on any needed resources would hit Scotland as well.  Strrrrike Two!

Most of hydrogen is made from natural gas, used at a 60% loss as mentioned in the article.  This is important to note because as gas levels decrease so does available hydrogen.  Scotland and others would have wasted their time and effort and would remain dependent upon GAZPROM for their economy.  Not self-sufficent at all.  Strrrrike Three! You're outta there!

Instead of wishing for an instant replacement to cars to maintain our current way of life we are going to have to rethink our way of life and live smaller.  How about conservation?  Or new close-knit urban designs? And _duh_ stop driving?  All together these would do more for any country and economy than any so-called replacement.  We actually just have to slow down and not expect instant replacement of cars.  

Europe has always had a more village like existence than North America, and because of it Europe will prosper where others cannot.  The shorter haul of food and goods remains manageable.    

Hydrogen can't make plastics as well as any number of other materials that are made from oil, nor can it single-handedly provide the energy needed to make vehicles to begin with.  The sheer scale required to put a car on the road only using hydrogen would waste so much natural gas as to put the ERoEI on a car into a ridiculously massive loss.  

As great the invention of the fuel cell is, this may be the case for smaller scale useage only.  It remains unreal to expect it to replace all our transportation needs without followup changes.  

Since this dreamland psychology is not being addressed I find the claims of any hydrogen economy so obtuse to the point of being deaf and blind at the same time.

Europe is in at least as bad an energy position as anywhere else, except perhaps the USA.

We import all our energy.  We are collectively as large a car market as the US.  We drive down our highways at 90mph.

Most of us live in big suburban sprawls. Look at the new communities being built outside of Rome or Madrid.  The North German Plain feels like one giant suburb, let along the road network around the Ruhr.

The main sources of electric energy in Europe are gas and coal.  Nuclear runs third, but mostly because France is so heavily nuclear.

Having a second home and flying to it is nothing for northern Europeans.  We are some of the world's biggest users of low cost airlines.

We have long holidays, and think nothing of jetting across the planet for those holidays.

Air conditioning is mushrooming as the temperature rises.  I see air conditioners in Italy, now.

We import most of our goods from the Far East.  Almost all our freight moves by rail.

Our agricultural policy is energy intensive and disastrous.

Eastern Europe is of course an environmental disaster.  Meditteranean Europe still dumps raw sewage and chemicals into the Med.

Maybe if everyone in Europe adhered to Swedish standards of energy efficiency, and bicycled like the Dutch.  But I don't see it, any time soon.

I don't doubt that the suburban nightmare that plagues North America isn't any less in Europe, however it at least has a history of towns and villages who in large part are still there.  These will come alive again under re-localization whereas North America will have to re-invent them or start from scratch.
You might be right.  It's just my sense is Europe is so plugged into road freight, flying etc. that it would be a real wrench.

What you do have in Europe is strong government control at many levels.  If Europe had petrol rationing, it would be enforced (albeit at a cost of some social disorder and a huge black market).  But it would be enforced, in most countries.

My biggest fear in Europe is xenophobia.  We have been so successful importing Polish workers, that we are going to restrict the number of Rumanians and Bulgarians who can come.

People here genuinely think that if we let the Rumanians come to work, they will have gypsy encampments on the village common.

The Home Secretary here can score political points by demanding moslem women remove their veils.

In Belgium, the far right anti immigrant party has gained votes, and is kept out of power in Antwerp by a coalition of every other party (that have nothing in common).  This story is being repeated again and again across Europe.

If the world goes into a Peak Oil state, I think the European dislike of foreigners will assert itself 10 times over.

In which case, the liberal cosmopolitanism of the postwar years will have turned out just to be a break in the long run trend of European history, rather than a new departure.

Sounds like a politician who picked up a great idea ten years ago and converted it into an obsession.

Hydrogen as a transport energy is a dead end. If fuel cells are the way to go for cars, then it's to replace the ICE in hybrids. In which case, I suspect that good old petrol or diesel, be they bio-, will turn out to be optimum fuel-cell fuel.

But to get back to Scottish practicalities : Play along with the puppy. Encourage him. Back the electricity-generation projects that will make Scotland an energy exporter, post-oil. And quietly avoid spending money funding hydrogen projects. (Political subsidies to losing technologies, no thanks.) But invest in battery R&D, for the same effect.

And AlistairC sounds like someone who has jumped on the anti-hydrogen bandwagon.

What if batteries (li-ion) are not the solution?

This site is predicated on the reduced availablity of petrol and diesel, and bio-fuels are energy negative and cannot produce the quantities required.

Backing more than one horse seems like a prudent approach.

Patronising know it all, is not a good way to be percived.

Where is the meat in your comment?

FWIW, I think research is great, and we should be placing bets widely.

The thing that kills me though, is that out here (west coast, USA), we are building "premature infrastructure" based on the asssumption that very specific technology bets will pay off.

What is the point of a hydrogen fueling station in 2005?  The proponents would tell you that the infrastructure was needed for when the cars would be ready.

I'd prefer it if someone proved the cars (in energy and economics) first.  That way we won't end up, say, with the unfortunate combination of breakthrough batteries, and a lot of hydrogen filling stations.

(the most painful thing of course is that ALL of our hydgrogen filling stations reform from natural gas.  that's natural gas that could be used to power our buses, for as long as it lasts.)

Hydrogen strikes me as another one of those 'clear politics, dirty air' type policies.   Ethanol in its current form strikes me as somewhat similar.

We are looking for a magic bullet, but from a total system, total CO2 emission perspective, (or a total energy efficiency one), there isn't such a thing.

I am trying to find out a bit more about steam cars.  Don't laugh: they actually outperformed petrol cars in the early days, but the Stanley Brothers were lousy businessmen and Ford and co. drove them out of business.


It strikes me a steam-electric car could get some amazing energy efficiencies, and burn virtually any hydrocarbon fuel.

I enjoy your posts, btw.  Thank you.

David T., the meat in Alistair C.'s comment is contained in the rather flippant "Play with the puppy...ect" part of his comment. Too often on TOD we act as though there is only one possible solution, the ideal which has been decided in advance. That is not how humans work in the real universe..
   When the oil business really took off was the beginning of the 20th century. Producers discovered how to get  large quantities of "rock oil " out of the ground and the owners of railroads and ships saw its immense cost advantages over coal and switched. It wasn't rational central planning. by engineers who built internal combustion engine factories in  and refineries and gas stations and highway in advance of discovering  and producing oil. All that stuff came along as the result of having the supply available.
  Likewise, if the various countries of the world build wind generating capacity, somebody will figure out the most efficent useages of all that cheap power through the free market, and it probably won't be what anyone envisions.
  Lots of times on TOD we focus on the efficiencies without examining how to get there. We need to start focusing on political realities too. And its a lot like sailing. Its a heck of a lot easier to change direction than to overcome inertia and start moving. Inexpensive renewable energy is going to be used no matter what, and it will be a net good for humanity. So I hope the Scotts do the deal.
  And Khosla is wrong to focus on ethanol as the saviour for the automobile culture. Its crazy, but, and this is a large but, his initiative has made 35 million Californians start thinking about replacing oil and cutting foreign imports. This is a huge benefit, and it will be easier to tack than to start up the initial movement. Maybe it will save the planet for truth, justice and the American way.
Thanks Bob the Oilman, I'm glad someone understands me!

I have / have had enough involvement with politics and politicians to understand something of the dynamics of trying to effect meaningful policy change. Politicos who do not understand, or (worse) who understand but cynically decline to present the options to the voting public (Too Complicated For Them!) are a large part of the problem.

So when you've got one who's committed to working in the right direction, it's important to work with them. Even if they get the wrong idée fixe. Publicly opposing them on a silly little technical detail (like the fact that the "hydrogen economy" is a pipe dream) is seriously counter-productive, because it discredits all concerned in the eyes of the public.

David T : I certainly wouldn't put all the eggs in the "li-ion" basket. But I wouldn't put any in the hydrogen basket.
My personal preference would be for a high-density transport fuel that can be synthesised out of air and water in a decentralised manner using "spare" electricity. Hydrogen isn't it, and never will be.

But having re-read your posts and links, David T, please allow me to back down a bit and specify that I'm only dissing the bottle-of-hydrogen -in-your-car "hydrogen economy."

If you define "hydrogen" as including methanol and solid hydrogen-storing polymers, then by all means, let's explore these options as possible alternatives to batteries.


It is interesting that discussion of the Scottish attempt at developing/commercializing hydrogen as a fuel should come up on TOD UK at this time, given that just the other day on TOD I was involved in a discussion concerning renewable hydrogen.
As I recall, I closed the post with the rather assertive sentence, "Pay me now, or pay me later.  What I was referring to in this sentence was my view that we keep going through an endless set of conversions to basically get hydrocarbons, then try to dispose of the carbon side, and make use of the hydrogen side.  Such is the nature of crude oil itself, natural gas, tar sand, ethanol, biofuels in general, shale oil, and on and on.  In all these cases, it is the hydrogen component that we essentially need.

The only thing that makes any of the above seem efficient is if we "externalize" most of the costs, on the input side (fuel production and transportation, military expense to protect the source, etc.) and on output side (CO2 production, pollution and sulfur, and or in the case of certain fuels such as coal, slag or solid material disposal.  This externalizing has always made fossil fuel look much more efficient than it is.

This leads us to the whole argument that hydrogen cannot be efficient in production.  Such was my discussion the other day dismissed out of hand, such as the analysis below by a poster, Starship Trooper,
"This comes out to be the equivalent of  18 x 10^15 BTU/year at current gasoline usage rates (9.5 MMBPD).  Assuming "perfect" adiabatic conditions, this is the equivalent of 605 GW being generated every hour of the 8760 hours in each year.  No one assumes this and at best the energy based conversion efficiency is about 50% whether thermal or electrolytic methods are used.  There's that pesky second law of thermodynamics butting in.

 Total generating capacity in the US is just about 1000 GW.  If we were going to use electrolytic methods (and assuming 50% conversion efficiency) that would require more than 1.2 terawatts of generating capacity to be added to the existing system or more than the current existing capacity.  A similar case is made by a link posted by one of the contenders in the discussion, in which it is argued that producing is not the best use of electricity:


Now, we notice a few things that demand attention.  When we have a discussion of how many "terawatts" are required to produce enough hydrogen to replace all of the gasoline in the U.S., we don't mention two important points:
(a) The amount of gasoline used can be modified, and if one accepts anything like "peak oil" occurring, will have to be modified, and very substantially.
(b)  There is conveniently no discussion of how many terrawatts are required to produce all the gasoline in the U.S., just a number assigned to the energy in the gasoline.  We leave out all externalities, as usual, when it comes to getting the crude oil, refining the crude oil, transporting and retailing the crude oil, and then, trying to fix the CO2 climate damage caused by the burning of the crude oil.  Does anyone have a number, what is the "terrawatt" equivalent in climate change, and how would you assign such a number.  What is the "terrawatt" cost of a nuclear carrier group on station 24/7 in the Persian Gulf, and what percent would you assign to the cost of oil source protection?  

Interestingly, neither "Starship Trooper", "www.thewatt.com" article linked, or anyone else seem to give any benefit to hydrogen on the basis of two very large factors, those being (a) no CO2 discharge, and (b) onsite production.

It is obvious that completely avoiding carbon release is an advantage if we accept any concern about climate change as important to the discussion.  However,  the cost of trying to remediate climate change and pollution created by fossil fuels go completely "off book" in it's comparison to hydrogen.  Likewise, the cost of transportation of fossil fuels.  When people discuss hydrogen, they seem to picture a world in which it will be carried about, from here to there, to be retailed and then used by the customer.  This is a clear failure of visualization, because that would be, in most cases, a needless step.  Why do people still think this way?

Most people, when they think of hydrogen, are NOT thinking of the potential of renewable hydrogen.  Hydrogen from natural gas is a waste, and in the end a dead end.  It is at most an intermediate step, to help establish the infrastructure and technology of hydrogen, and is not conceived as the final step in the development chain.  This is of extreme importance to understand:  Hydrogen derived from fossil fuel obviously solves nothing:  Not depletion, not carbon release, not the limiting factors of carrying the source fuel about.  It would be pointless as a goal.  But renewable hydrogen opens up the ability of the renewable energy technologies to create a flexible, controllable, storable portable liquid fuel.  It is NOT intended to compete with electricity, nor with batteries, which many, including the writer of "the watt" article seem to think.  This would merely put hydrogen into what I like to call "the land of 1000 conversions" that all other energy systems face.  The number of conversions when dealing with hydrogen should be kept to the minimum possible, thus it's advantage.

For example,  If we take a simple solar production of hydrogen,
What we see is onsite, direct ability to use a solar set of panels to extract hydrogen from water, store it, and then run it through a fuel cell at time of need.  I am not yet convinced of the advantage of fuel cells, so my preference would be to run it through a IC engine, of the natural gas type.  It could also be burned in a heating furnace in such an installation.

So what's the advantage?  Simply this:  You completely end run the expensive and consumptive infrastructure, and by this, we mean ALL THE INFRASTRUCTURE, from the oil fields of a foreign land, to the nuclear craft protecting them, to the prostitution of foreign policy, to the supertankers plying the seas, to the port facilities, to the refineries, to the highway trucks and rail tanks carrying the fuel, to the retail establishments selling it, the "1000 conversions" that bleed us to death, but are never counted fully in the analysis of fossil fuel.
Thus, fossil fuel is trounced out as "cheap" and magnificent on EROEI.  This of course is in no way correct.  What is being done is to "externalize" almost all costs, and then claiming of a fuel such as hydrogen that it is "inefficient" based on a simple conversion formula, without seeing the benefit of avoiding the thousand conversions.  By the way, did you notice the one big externality that I did not even mention in my fossil fuel vs. hydrogen count?
CARBON.  The complete avoidance of having to deal with the giant externality of carbon release is PRICELESS in the exchange, but almost never counted in favor of onsite renewable hydrogen energy.

The methods of extracting hydrogen are becoming surprisingly simple:


The ideas shown here are not the product of some backyard tinker, but are the product of the work of Julian Keable and the Swiss Federal University of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland and enabled by an R and D grant from  the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.

It is with interest that we note that while the posters of TOD seem to understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the technicians and scientists at the best Swiss academies do not!

Of course, the great leap forward will be home power by way of solar energy.  In Europe, work on this has been available for some time:

Honda has began with a home hydrogen by natural gas system, but we know this is not the goal.  How?


First, Honda's recent announcement that they intend to enter the advanced thin film solar business in a big way gives us an indication of the direction they intend to go.  But, in fact, for those of us who have been watching, we have already seen it:

So this leaves us with an intriguing question, doesn't it?  If hydrogen is an absolutely unworkable option as usable energy, why are some of the best minds in the world attempting to make it a usable option?

It is to be noted that the two nations at the front of this effort have virtually NO home energy available to them.  Except for sunlight and water, they cannot, as we seem to think we can in America, waste money on endless conversions of alcohol, tar sand, oil shale, coal, and on and on and on, and they do not accept the carbon release nightmare that will come from these endless conversions.  Their view seems to be the same as the one I have arrived at, after years doubting the hydrogen/solar option:  We just do not have the time for these endless diversions.

The time is now.  Go past the diversions, past the endless conversions, past the billions paid in dead ends which will leave junk scattered around the world, and be collecting dust and rust in only a couple of decades.  Decentralized, renewable, clean, and DIRECT is the only path that will work in the long run.  End the "depletion tail chase", end the "carbon" burden once and for all, and count fairly all the externalities of the other options, the carbon burden, the military burden, the political burden, the drilling and refining and transporting burden, and then the 50% of sunlight that is falling on the land anyway that may be given up in the extraction of hydrogen will seem tine compared to the fantastical loses we are giving up every single day in the production of fossil fuels.  

Many quote, or I should say, misquote, the laws of entropy and thermodynamics, in a fight to stop going the shortest route that frankly leaves me perplexed, unless they wish to see a catastrophe.  I quote one law of geometry:
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Take it.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Ulf Bossel: Hydrogen is an artificial, synthetic fuel. It has to be made from other energy. If you look at renewable energy, most of it is harvested as electricity, some as biomass and some as solar heat, but basically most of the renewable energy is harvested as electricity. Hydrogen has to be made artificially by splitting water by electrolysis. This requires more energy than you will ever recover from the hydrogen. However, hydrogen has to be compressed or liquefied for handling, it has to be distributed, and then reconverted back to, guess what, electricity. That means electricity derived from hydrogen has to compete with its original energy source, electricity. If you go through a hydrogen chain, you find that after the fuel cell only 25% of the original electricity is available for use by consumers. A hydrogen economy is a gigantic energy waste. We cannot afford this in the future. Therefore, three of four renewable energy power plants are needed to balance the losses within a hydrogen economy luxury. Because of the losses, electricity derived from fuel cells and hydrogen must be four times more expensive than power from the grid.


Thanks for this one Roger!

This is the most confused thinking. Again we have the cry that hydrogen production uses more energy than it will ever generate with the implication that it should not be used for that reason alone. Those that forward this argument proclaim, as if it is news, that hydrogen is an energy carrier and storage mechanism and not an energy source and then ignore the implication of this. All energy carrier and storage mechanisms get less out than you put in. You have to put more electricity into the national grid than you ever get out but no one suggests that we should not use the national grid. If you have a factory compressed air system, the compressor will have to put more energy in than you will ever get out but no one suggests abandoning those. Likewise with rechargeable batteries, hydraulic systems and the long trail that gets the energy in the oil in the ground to energy in the wheel of a vehicle. All are less than 100% efficient.
Obviously there applications where a route via hydrogen is very much less efficient and capital intensive than alternative. The transmission of wind generated electricity to a stationary user for use at the instant it is generated is an obvious example where the alternative, the national grid is far better and I don't think anyone is seriously suggesting this. Thus saying "Because of the losses, electricity derived from fuel cells and hydrogen must be four times more expensive than power from the grid." is true but irrelevant to the real questions. Energy from non-rechargeable batteries is a thousand times more expensive than grid electricity but is still used.

The real questions are.

1)How do you get wind energy to a non-tracked vehicle? Much as I agree with Alanfrombigeasy that we want more trains and trams there will remain a large requirement for non-tracked vehicles. If we choose or are forced to drastically reduce fossil fuel use there have to be massive changes. There is no point in comparing hydrogen to existing petrol/diesel vehicles. There are great problems with hydrogen powered vehicles but there are  also great problems with batteries and biofuels. It may be that the latter are a better alternative but the comparison needs made in detail and fuel cells are not the only way of using hydrogen. Hydrogen powered internal combustion engines and turbines are a viable alternative
as the Munich airport buses show.

2)How do you get wind generated electricity to users days or weeks after it was generated in massive amounts? If we are thinking of wind energy at 40% or more of load and we are not going to rely on exports to much larger users this is a huge problem. Again there are alternatives such as pumped storage, compressed air and building many fossil fuel stations that are only rarely used but they all have problems and again fuel cells are not the only way of using hydrogen. As an earlier poster pointed out, pure oxygen/hydrogen combustion can generate electricity at 70% thermal efficiency and with the best steam electrolysis at 92% efficiency you have a system that promises higher efficiency that compressed air. By being able to site the storage near the wind farm, the savings from having the electrical transmission rated  at average wind generation rather than the peak there may be further savings over other alternatives.  

Nick - you hit both questions square on the head.

  1. - non tracked vehicles - I'd be using a lot less LNG for electricity generation right now and using more LNG in cars.  It looks like straight battery powered cars will be used for short - haul commuter trips.  From what I understand, I don't really see hydrogen in any form being widely used to power cars - in the foreseeabl future.

  2. the day time scale is less of a problem than the week time scale. If the whole of Europe is flat calm for a week then that woud spell big trouble.  That's where I may be tempted by ideas of wind balanced with coal - you would basically need 100% fossil back up capacity - a doubling in the cost of electricity ? - doesn't sound so bad.  Coal would be better than gas - cos you just need to stock pile a mountain and use it / replenish it as needs be.

I'd be interested to know the relative cost of this compared with a hydrogen infrastrucure.  Balancing wind with coal might even allow you to get rid of your nukes.

One final note, most of those who advocate H here, seem to be doing so in the sense of combusting it in a thermal power station - as opposed to using it in fuel cells.  I just wonder if the notions of high pressure storage etc (expensive) are going in the wrong direction.  Low pressure storage and transmission in a pipeline may be more practical. Less pressure - less leakage?

Cry Wolf, you have to be careful with the word balancing. It is used by the generating industry in a different sense than you use it here. In the UK as in most European countries electricity on the generation side is bought and sold on a market system. The deals done are on a variety of time scales. Some are on long term contracts and some at very much shorter term contracts. Nuclear generated power is always sold on long term contracts.

 The grid operator, National grid in the UK, predicts what the demand will be as it swings up and down over the day for some time ahead and puts out requests to bid for generation to fill this demand pattern and accepts the lowest priced bit received. They can be reasonably sure of the general pattern long ahead and buy generation to fill what they believe to be the minimum demand on long term contracts. As they get nearer to the point these contracts must be fulfilled the likely pattern of demand, as well as any supply problems such as caused by equipment failures, becomes clearer and shorter term contracts are put out for bids to round out the already contracted generation to match the upcoming demand. The shortest term contracts issued on this basis are for generation starting one hour from the time of  contract. Because coal power takes many hours to start up it is only eligible for the medium term contracts.

This system meets vast bulk of demand requirement but since generation has to meet supply second by second there is need for contracts to be issued for supply that the grid operator can take control of and turn up and down second by second from those generators that are able to accept this external control. It is this externally controlled 1% or so of final load that is termed balancing by the generating industry and such power commands a premium price. Dinorwic pumped storage system which can, when synchronised, turn 1.8GW up and down in 16 seconds is ideal for this process.

When you hear of the German grid operators complaining about the difficulty of balancing the increasing amount of wind power they are not talking about the difficulty of filling the great troughs in wind generation that are predictable from weather forecasts a day or so ahead. They can be filled with the normal bidding process as these troughs are at the present level of wind generation less than the medium term filling of the demand curve that would be there in any case. This may change if wind generation grows further.

It is only the short term uncertainty of wind power that needs to be evened out by balancing power in this sense of the word balancing power. Predicting wind speeds very accurately even an hour ahead is difficult. Errors of prediction of  ±1.5m/s are fairly common. If the wind speeds are near the value that gives about half the rated power, the power level is very sensitive to wind speed. 1.5m/s up can take the power up to 70% of rating and 1.5m/s down can take the power down to 30% of rating. This means a short term uncertainty of 40% of rating. This is evened out somewhat by averaging over a wide geographical area but is certainly a significant problem. That being said, despite their complaints the German grid operators  have not yet failed to balance supply and demand.

It is interesting that the German wind turbine manufacturer Enercon has suggested that since the output of wind turbines can be controlled by feathering the blades, they could be adapted for external control and used for balancing in the way that coal generation could not.  Since the minimum available  power from a turbine will  predictable several hours ahead there would seem to be no reason, if so adapted that they should not enter the bidding for short term balancing.

All of this does not remove the very real problem you were talking about of how to fill the gap caused by predicable medium term loss of wind power when this becomes comparable to the amount of spare capacity the grid has anyway to meet various eventualities.

My understanding (one of the topics covered in two private conservations with Dr. Bragi Arnason of the Univ. of Iceland, aka Dr. Hydrogen) is that high efficiency steam electrolysis is capital intensive and does not scale down well ATM).  He had hopes for smaller scale, high efficiency (steam is extremely cheap in Iceland and he did pioneering work on reduced electrical consumption with higher temp water).

In the 92% efficiency factor calculated with electricity in vs. hydrogen out with "free steam" ?

From my limited understanding of the issues invloved, I suspect that is the case.

Free steam in Iceland is a close approximation of reality.  Not so in Scotland.


Up to a point, a near calm accross Europe (any examples in last 100+ years ?) and it's effects would depend upon how much water was behind Norwegian, Swiss, Austrian and other dams.

It would also depend on whether their was surplus power from nukes, run-of-river hydro, coal & NG at 3 AM.  If so, 3 AM surplus power could pump water up for peak use later.

In reality, one does NOT need 100% FF backup for several reasons.

  1. Wind is never zero everywhere over a wide area (Poland to Spain for example).  A worst case (once every 10 to 50 years perhaps) needs to be set up based upon history.

  2. Surplus FF & nuke power above base load can also be used for pumped storage at minimum demand times.  Not ideal (burning NG for pumped storage) but acceptable once every few decades for a few days.

  3. Rare shortages can involve extraordinary preplanned consumption reductions.

For example, during recent heat wave and stressed grid, Washington DC Metro slowed top speed to 45 mph in order to reduce power demand.  Schedules dropped by only a few minutes because much time is spent at stations and accelerating/ decelerating.

4) Storage hydro can be drained to make up for lost wind.

My conclusion is that FF (coal, NG), nuke and biomass should be available for a substantial fraction of the installed wind capacity, but NOT 100%.

From a net energy POV, installed FF & nuke, (if combined with large pumped storage) equal to ~2/3rds of peak demand should be able to support a windless grid indefinitely.  Basically run the traditional plants at full load 24 hours/day.

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

Roger - you lost me a bit here.  I think all the points you make about the external costs of fossil fuels including CO2, are well made.

But your final comment about geometry I don't understand.  Surely the shortest route - is windmill to electricity to wheel.

You seem to be arguing in favour of a square - windmill to electricity to hydrogen to electricity to wheel.

Or does you thin film solar go direct from sunlight (UV?) to hydrogen - with high efficiency?  How much sun light do you need.  And how does this work in high latitudes where there is a very negaitve correlation between sunlight availability and power reuirements - I'm thinking the land of the midday dark!

Main question really is - do we need the intermediate hydrogen step?  Are their not enough other means of balancing / storing / using renewable eletricity to make hydrogen irrelevant?

Cry Wolf asked,
"Main question really is - do we need the intermediate hydrogen step?  Are their not enough other means of balancing / storing / using renewable electricity to make hydrogen irrelevant?"

Now that is EXACTLY the right question!  Because if there is, and if batteries and other systems can be built that are good enough to store electric power, and we find no need for chemical stock hydrogen or high density power liquid fuel,  I will be THE FIRST one to jump right off the hydrogen effort and say of course, use the simplest, cheapest route!

I am not a hydrogen "loyalist", in the way some who have spent long year pushing the hydrogen effort would be.  I came to the hydrogen cause late and reluctantly, well aware of the extraction difficulties and expense involved.  But in the end, I came to view renewable produced hydrogen, even at it's high expense in lost conversion power, as the only clean, non carbon path off of the endless depletion treadmill.  Only time and effort will tell if I am correct, or chasing castles in the air.

My problem is the same one that others have brought up before.  There are a fair number of applications that seem to require on demand powerful portable liquid fuel.  For example, a battery powered airliner does not seem to be technically viable.  Certain pharmaceuticals and plastics require hydrogen as an elemental part of their construction.  And when we talk autos we often speak of the obvious efficiencies of plug hybrid, but of course still rely on at least some volume of liquid fuel as a range extender, instant on power source in a small fossil fuel engine, either piston or turbine.

In other words, we are looking down the road to when liquid fossil fuel will not only be very expensive, but begin to get rare as well.

Can anyone envision a reasonably modern technical world with absolutely no liquid combustible or hydrogen providing fuel available?  I don't think it would be possible, and we would have to try to produce it, even if it cost a great deal.  I think this time is still a long time away, thankfully, even with peak oil looming at some point on the horizon (and in terms of planning, if peak is even 20 or 30 years away, it is essentially here, given the needed development times), the world will not, as many keep misstating "run out" of fossil fuel for a very, very long time (in the theoretical sense, it never will, because the final small pockets of fossil fuel will be too expensive to find and develop, even far exceeding the cost of extracting hydrogen straight from water).  However, if consider the release of carbon a serious issue, we leave ourselves in a hard bind:
Basically we are saying, "Peak says the fuel may not be readily available at a resonantly acceptable price" while global warming says, "even if it is, you cannot use it in available volumes because it will create a climate catastrophe."

On your question about thin film solar, the answer is no, it does not go direct from ultraviolet to hydrogen, but does leave the electricity producing step in the loop, which then produces the hydrogen.  The way it would be used in practice is to have enough square feet of film to provide electric power on consumption, but in all times of low consumption, hydrogen would act as, to use your phrase as  "balancing/storing" system to avoid the complete waste of hours of sun simply being wasted away.  In other words, we would start viewing every hour of sunlight not caught as a waste.  Wasted square feet (roof space, abandoned brown belts around cities, etc.) would also be viewed as a loss, if they are doing nothing except soaking up sun...that would be sunlight we would want to, in fact have to, catch).   The cost of the film would mean EVERYTHING, because we would want to provide cheap, and in volumes of millions of meters.

Much more interesting however, is the hydrogen solar system as pioneered by the Swiss, which does in fact envision a film that extracts the hydrogen by direct sunlight on the film:

This is a radical system.  What the output per hour per meter of film would be, we do not know, and how much per meter the film would cost at the given output we do not know.  However, if the principle works, then it becomes purely an exercise in cost accounting.  Again, it goes without saying that developments are moving very fast, so any number given today would be out of date tomorrow.  Thin film of both the conventional kind and the hydrogen solar type are dropping in price.  Again, the cost of the film would mean EVERYTHING.

I will sum up this way:  Again, if we can find ways to store, balance and use solar and wind, and find virtually no need for hydrogen as a power source, chemical stock, then forget this whole business, and leave it.  If we can't, it must come from the sun at some point in the future.  Those who make such a strong argument that the Earth is a "closed" system already know this.  Given the carbon release problem, we are are the more pressed to begin the development NOW, rather than releasing all the carbon from the Earth's hydrocarbons, creating a climate catastrophe and an almost unlivable planet, and then deciding, much too late, to go over to solar hydrogen at the last second.  The MUCH better choice is to begin making the move while we still have raw materials, and remaining fossil fuel in the ground (this is an endowment that we must retain at least some volume of, for the types of hydrocarbon chemistry that ONLY fossil fuels can provide.  As an aside, we should, make that MUST already be underway on methane recapture from waste in agriculture, landfill and sewer gas.  This methane is a treasure that is simply being allowed to vapor off to do climate damage with no extraction gotten from it.  Someday soon, it will be viewed as a sin to ever have been so horrific in our waste.

Some make the error of saying however that the Earth's energy loop is a "closed" system.  Our oil loop, our fossil fuel loop is closed, but our overall energy loop is certainly not.  It is receiving input daily, and more of it than we can use.  The only question is, are we clever enough fellows to actually use it (Edison said he would bet his money on solar in the long run, and he did not have a habit of missing bets often!)

( minor point, your question about the "land of the midday dark", well, somebody may have to carry the hydrogen to you, I never really gave a lot of deep thought as to how well solar power would work inside the arctic circle, I considered it a bit of a marginal market area for solar power, to be honest!) :-)

Thanks for the feedback, and an interesting discussion all around!
Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

It is with interest that we note that while the posters of TOD seem to understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the technicians and scientists at the best Swiss academies do not!

It's always nice to be appreciated, Robert.

I would have been more impressed if they (EPFL) had tested there solar fuel station in mid-winter, rather than mid-summer.

Solar Power and Swiss winters do not strike me as a good source of solar energy, perhaps this is just a mistaken assumption on my part.

You don't need to be in the arctic to experience low light levels in winter.

I haven't had chance to read all the links.

The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, if your surface is a sphere :P

My impression of Switzerland is the winters are plenty sunny.  Much more so than the UK.

A greater problem is shadow length from the mountains, you would need to be well up the slopes to beat that.  Certainly your solar cells would need to be pivoted.

We're saved! (not)

Proton Energy Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Distributed Energy Systems Corp. (NASDAQ: DESC), announced today that its hydrogen technology group has signed a contract with Shell Hydrogen LLC, part of Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS-B) to install a hydrogen fueling system in the New York City metropolitan area. The contract will showcase Proton's onsite hydrogen generation technology for vehicle fueling.

This is the insanity of hydrogen in today's world.  Let's "showcase" a system that can fill maybe one car per day:

Proton Energy Systems is providing its hydrogen experience and expertise to the project and will supply the fueling system with a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolyzer capable of producing 12 kilograms of hydrogen per day. The electrolyzer is expected to represent in part the future of on-site hydrogen generation for fueling stations with a retail-centric focus.

... at least it isn't another natural gas system.


I know, doesn't this trying to change the world one car at a time just make you sick and tired, I mean they develop one damm car and think that that will somehow create a revolution!  IDIOTS who think they can change the world!


(Benz patent wagon, 1886)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Hydrogen Fuel cells - the dream for the future - purely an illusion.

Sounds to me like the H2 Fuel Group have simply got out the acdemic begging bowl, if you can be certain that £2 MN now will generate 10,000 jobs in 10 years you have found the economic equivalent of the perpetual motion machine.

Pound to a pinch of snuff they get the money ...and then piss it up against the wall on conferences in sunny seaside cities.

Countries that are poor in renewables are going to have to import their energy from counties that are rich in solar and wind. The only way to do that is with some kind of energy carrier. Hydrogen seems to be the most viable carrier.
HV DC, ammonia and methanol are the best ways to transfer power.  NOT hydrogen.

Attending a semunar on the 44 GW Grand Inga project.  HV DC as far as Spain & Italy (also Egypt to South Africa).  Produce ammonia with seasonal surplus power.

Best Hopes,


I'm wondering if natural gas shortages in future may make methanol etc expensive, where hydrogen may be useful strictly as a local battery unaffected by global politics or acting as a buffer?  

Starting from the beginning with self-sufficiency in mind,  I can see where local wind generation may use hydrogen as a temporary battery (if better than li-on gel or other variations). Thus making hydrogen a part of generation methods rather than a transport material.

Further to the point that hydrogen isn't the "answer" we get from thewatt.com ::

"""transcript of the recent podcast conversation ... with Dr. Ulf Bossel, organizer of the Lucerne Fuel Cell Forum, about his announcement that hydrogen will no longer be a topic of conversation at the conference, and also his vision for a sustainable energy future."""


Basically noting the unsuitability of hydrogen for serious use for now, and more emphasis on other profitable means: solar, wind, biomass, hydropower, geothermal.

I personally think geothermal is highly underrated as a effective conservation measure, and just lacks from good marketing to make it widespread at the residential, commerical and industrial level.     If taken together as a strategy for energy management rather than a one source fixes all approach, Scotland or anyone else can find energy savings.  Then the issue of supply if not matching up to speed can be compared to actual need, saving money again.

Here's a local Toronto megaproject example with Deep Lake Water Cooling:  http://enwave.com/enwave/dlwc/

The Toronto system isn't an energy 'source', it still burns electricity.

What it does do is lower the air conditioning load in central Toronto by about 25% by hooking up the big office buildings to one giant air conditioning plant.

There is also a district steam heating system, which was in bad shape, but I think they have done it up.


Interestingly the replacement power plant in the Toronto Beach, will be CCGT (550MW - the Portlands Energy Centre) rather than a CHP unit.  They said they couldn't find a ready market for the heat.

Toronto has a pretty unique geography though, in that it sits on one of the world's largest bodies of fresh water, whereas most cities sit on the river or the sea.  I don't know if you could make a sea bed one work.

Also Toronto has newish infrastructure, wide streets etc. (all laid down in the mid 19th century by Victorian planners).  So relatively easy to build new underground infrastructure.

I'm not sure you could manage this in Manhattan, say.  Places like Shanghai are on a river, rather than a big open body of water.

I am no expert in these issues. However, I understand an issue at the moment in Scotland is power transmission capacity between the high wind areas and the population centres.

A possible way forward may be for wind farms to overbuild capacity compared with the transmission capacity but then put in a hydrogen plant, H2 storage and a CCGT. Then, when the wind is blowing hard and the transmission capacity is used up, H2 would be produced and stored to await a low wind period. The export of the power in the low wind period uses the transmission lines that are already in place, meaning no additional transmission infrastructure is needed.

Effectively this would be similar to balancing the wind capacity with a local pumped storage scheme or a big battery etc. The economics of each particular location would decide which option is best. However, I am sure an H2/CCGT package could easily be developed.

In UK I could see a system of "local balancing" like this may work, as the spot price of power is likely to increase in low wind periods, making the power produced by an H2 run CCGT profitable. The other advantage is that the power transmission lines need not be matched to the maximum output of the facility. I am unsure of the economics, but I am sure increasing the capacity of long distance transmission lines to match peak output does not come cheap.

Three options for good wind site with limited transmission capacity.

  1. Upgrade transmission
  2. Generate H2 at times of high wind and use it later
  3. "spill" wind during high wind, turning off some turbines (saves wear & tear as well) and produce only so much as can be transmitted.

#1 and #3 will always "pencil out" as the most economic choices IMHO.  Capital structure with staff for use ~5% of the time will never work economically.


From Slashdot.

Popular Mechanics has an article on Hydrogen.

And new Scientist has a special report on Energy (Some articles behind the paywall, some free)

20% wind power not feasible ?
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/earth/energy-fuels/mg18825253.400-uk-wind-power-takes-a-batterin g.html

Fallouts in the environmentalist camp.

The International Energy Agency's MARKAL model gives a cost per tonne of carbon saved by solar electricity in 2020 of between £2200 and £3300.

I knew there was a reason I rejected Solar in the UK, that was it, not enough Sunshine!
thanks for the links.  If you can keep an eye out for tidal generators or the like, that would also rock.  The key benefit would be that since tidal forces are predictable, so would it be for the electricity ;)
Even in the UK, solar water heating has an effective place (with backup alternatives).  A fair amount of energy in used heating water today.

Some solar water heaters can get decently hot water even on cloudy, cool days.  These are the higher tech versions.

Best Hopes,