Proliferation of clean energy solutions like hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell manufacturing are held back by myths that need to be busted. In this article RMP will use common sense, simple examples, and data to dispel an argument that hydrogen production, storage, and distribution is not economical because it’s less efficient than storing energy in a battery. Many people still peddle and cling to this red herring argument as if it makes sense. That stops today. Dr. Bossel’s keyhole view of mathematics, chemistry, and physics is used as sleight of hand to mislead readers from the big picture of how energy production, storage, and grid administration really works.
Mathematically speaking, storing electrical energy in a battery is very efficient and many times storing energy in a battery makes good common sense. Also, for the record, RMP is not anti-battery and believes that batteries are important to clean energy proliferation and RMP supports the manufacture and adoption of batteries as well as BEVs for many market segments. Yes, batteries are an important part of the Hydrogen Economy.
Dr. Ulf Bossel writes that making hydrogen from electricity is inefficient and therefore a “waste” of energy. Ironically, there are terawatt hours of electrical energy being wasted each year by not using that energy to make hydrogen. The number of kWh wasted each year is also forecast go up as more clean renewable energy comes onto our grid. In the UK alone, according to ITM’s CEO, Dr Graham Cooley, 1TWh of electricity was curtailed in the past year that could have provided enough hydrogen to fuel 3 million cars to travel 350 miles.
Dr. Bossel’s argument goes like this: given a quantity of energy, it is more efficient to store that same quantity of energy in a battery rather than to create and store that same energy as hydrogen. The diagram shown below is used widespread on the Internet as the foundation to support this red herring anti-hydrogen argument. There is much more, however, to the story of producing hydrogen from renewable energy than a lab experiment argument that blows out like a candle in the wind in the real world. RMP will explain in this post why Dr. Bossel’s graph and thesis statement is not credible for economic consideration. Larger quantities of energy than 100 kWh used for demonstration purposes must be considered and those quantities do not extrapolate to a high-voltage electricity grid with simple math. Geography, geopolitics, climate, socio-economics, storage capacities, human usage habits, and natural resources are but a few of several more considerations that cannot be excluded for any economic analysis if it is to be credible.
Let’s assume the math put forth in Dr. Bossel’s diagram is accurate for argument’s sake. It shows 100 kilowatt hours (kWh) generated from a renewable source will have 69 kWh of useful energy transferred to a battery and 23 kWh transferred to your tank after efficiency losses to make H2, compress H2, transport H2, and put that H2 into a fuel cell vehicle. When you couple the simple to follow mathematical diagram with Dr. Bossel’s credentials as a fuel cell consultant, certain media outlets will use his published papers to underpin their arguments to say hydrogen cannot be produced economically.
Bloggers like Fred Lambert who’s Editor in Chief for the Tesla fan site Electrek and Zachary Shahan who’s Director & Chief Editor for the Tesla fan site Clean Technica are more than happy to publish Dr. Bossel’s work to support their anti-hydrogen view points. Websites like Electrek and CleanTechnica attempt to use Dr. Bossell’s lab science as credible information that can be used to write energy and economics policy outside of laboratory parameters. Fred Lambert posted this article using Dr. Bossel’s diagram on the same very same day I started working on this post your reading now. Sites like Electrek & CleanTechnica are still currently publishing Dr. Bossel’s diagram to support their arguments against hydrogen fuel cells even though developments in the fuel cell industry are happening frequently each month and creating mountains of evidence refuting their false viewpoints. Dr. Bossel’s diagram has been propagated for years since he first published it along with his supporting paper “Does a Hydrogen Economy Make Sense” in 2006. Now eleven years later, in 2017, if any media outlet uses Dr. Bossel’s thesis to support economic science, they lose credibility.
Dr. Bossel has published the same work explaining his thesis against the Hydrogen Economy in several different years and places but in this particular publication served by the AFDC we get the following quote that disqualifies Dr. Bossel’s work in the very first paragraph:
As there are no environmental or energetic advantages in producing hydrogen from natural gas or other hydrocarbons, we do not consider this option, although hydrogen can be chemically synthesized at relative low cost
Why would you exclude the #1 method by which approx 90% of H2 is currently made in a paper that is supposed to explain how Hydrogen Economy doesn’t make economic sense? Natural gas is a major part of the fossil fuel ramp down in the Hydrogen Economy and he has already disqualified his paper from serious consideration by saying natural gas production of H2 has been excluded from his analysis. Blue Hydrogen, which is hydrogen made from CH4 with its CO2 sequestered, is surely something to consider. #CCS, or Carbon Capture & Sequestration, is currently being done successfully in northern lower Michigan as RMP wrote about here. #CCS technology is working now across the country & logging numbers. Natural gas considerations would absolutely need to be included in a paper about the Hydrogen Economy. This point is a big one because any economic analysis must include every aspect and angle possible. An economic paper cannot rely on a keyhole analysis that distracts from the bigger picture especially when the single biggest current source of H2 production is ignored. There are other examples of where this paper gets it wrong and how it in no way can be considered relevant to understanding how the economy or a high-voltage electricity grid works.
Dr. Bossel does make some valid points in his papers about using neutral hydrocarbons from “the biosphere” as he says and converting them to liquids like methanol. Using carbon neutral hydrocarbons to make liquids for economics of transport for longer distances (e.g. >200km) is smart. Carbon neutral synthetic hydrocarbons like methanol and other liquid H2 carriers like ammonia are necessary to society. Natural gas that is flared and vented in massive oil fields & landfills around the world as a waste gas or nuisance gas could be economically captured as useful methanol to create jobs and reduce GHGs. Read this post RMP published on October 27, 2015 in our Michigan Oil & Gas Monthly magazine as part of our leading coverage of Michigan’s hydrocarbon infrastructure and how RMP supports turning carbon neutral methane into methanol.
Unfortunately Dr. Bossel’s good mathematical points in the paper are overshadowed by his myopic and narrow view of physics while ignoring other important facets of how a complex economy works. Dr. Bossel does not make a good case because he excludes too many considerations for his paper to carry merit. Dr. Bossel’s papers have also lost relevancy given the rapid advances in renewable energy generation capacities that he lacked the foresight to see over approximately 11 years ago. The process to increase hydrogen production from H2O has decreased in costs via many new methods of electrolysis. More stories are being written about breakthroughs in electrolysis economics each new month since Dr. Bossel’s paper was written. One of the most promising electrolysis & fuel cell technologies is called high temperature reversible SOFC electrolysis.
Many things have changed since since Dr. Bossel published most of his work in 2005-2008. Dr. Bossel does not understand how our energy grid works and where waste is really occurring. Dr. Bossel’s thesis statement is that converting water to hydrogen is a wasteful use of electricity. Ironically, we often have more generating capacity than we can use or transmit and we are curtailing electricity generation that hydrogen production could easily soak up and save for cloudy and windless days. It’s actually wasteful to not create hydrogen because so much electricity is going unemployed. RMP will drive this point home throughout this rebuttal to Dr. Bossel’s thesis and we will look at data from various sources like CAISO to support this thesis argument. Economics is a complex subject and it’s imperative that all things are considered which is where Dr. Bossel’s arguments fail.
Like a pinhole aperture on a camera blocking nearly all light for a very specific photo shot to work, Dr. Bossel’s argument is ruined if the oculus is opened even the tiniest of bits. Any sound economic argument, however, must have the aperture cranked all the way open and stand up to broad sunlight scrutiny or it is has no credibility. Having laid down the thesis of why Dr. Bossel’s anti-hydrogen argument doesn’t work, let’s look at some real world examples.
Producing, compressing, and storing hydrogen might seem wasteful in a laboratory analysis, but the opposite is true in the real world. Let’s talk about electricity “curtailment”. Curtailment of carbon zero renewable electricity is when wind & solar electricity generation capacity exceeds society’s immediate needs and the grid operator does not allow that electricity onto the grid. Terawatt hours are being wasted each year on grids around the globe because of not employing that capacity to store energy as hydrogen. This video from fully charged explains clearly how using excess electricity for making hydrogen is a smart economic solution for citizens in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The Orkney Islands’ example shows a microcosm of how governance of a high voltage electric grid is helped by making hydrogen with surplus renewable electricity.
A major high-voltage electricity grid can be understood well by turning to the California ISO, hereafter CAISO. CAISO governs the California electricity grid and California is massive. If California was a country, it would have an economy as large as the economy of France. CAISO is led by an experienced Board of Governors and executive management team that set policies to ensure the reliable performance of the high-voltage electricity grid, open access to participants, and a transparent, competitive market for energy. The California ISO provides open and non-discriminatory access to the bulk of the state’s wholesale transmission grid, supported by a competitive energy market and comprehensive infrastructure planning efforts. CAISO publishes this short and straightforward document that in 4 short pages explains some fast facts about renewable energy and the “Duck Chart” that is stereotypical of any major high-voltage electricity grid. Within that document is a paragraph that refutes Dr. Bossel’s thesis. On the Over Supply Mitigation section on page 3 of the document, the first paragraph reads:
Oversupply is when all anticipated generation, including renewables, exceeds the real-time demand. The potential for this increases as more renewable energy is added to the grid but demand for electricity does not increase. This is a concern because if the market cannot automatically manage oversupply it can lead to overgeneration, which requires manual intervention of the market to maintain reliability. During oversupply times, wholesale prices can be very low and even go negative in which generators have to pay utilities to take the energy. But the market often remedies the oversupply situation and automatically works to restore the balance between supply and demand. In almost all cases, oversupply is a manageable condition but it is not a sustainable condition over time — and this drives the need for proactive policies and actions to avoid the situation.
RMP has been publishing a similar thesis point to CAISO’s oversupply mitigation policy for years. RMP is at its core an organization dedicated to protecting freshwater natural resources by making better use of things that are otherwise considered waste. All of that wasted electricity could be employed easily, economically, and with proven technology if it were used to convert water into hydrogen. The argument that making, compressing, and storing hydrogen is 3 times less efficient than putting that same electricity into a battery is a red herring argument plain and simple because of this. The costs to store electricity as hydrogen are between €10 & €20 euro per kilowatt hour vs approx €600 to €800 per kilowatt hour in lithium batteries (jump to 16:05 mark). There are tens of thousands of megawatt hours curtailed each month on California’s grid alone and RMP is predicting we will soon see over 100k megawatt hours curtailed in a single month in California. California has so much renewable energy generation capacity being added to the grid each year the 100k MWh threshold in a single month could even be surpassed as early as 2018. Furthermore, California is but a microcosm example of every other major high-voltage grid around the world. Now let’s back these arguments up with data that can be verified by anyone with an Internet connection.
CAISO has been keeping curtailment data records for years but has specifically started detailing curtailment increases in the past few years when renewable energy generation started rapidly integrating onto the California grid. The graph to the left depicts historical curtailment data of renewable generation since 2014 and can be accessed directly from this link. This graph demonstrates clearly the irony and opposite nature of Dr. Bossel’s incorrect thesis. If electricity is supposed to be wasted by making hydrogen, why then are we wasting so much electricity now? Dr. Bossel’s argument doesn’t make any sense, yet it has been used to mislead many people on media sites with low journalistic integrity. Junk science is being used to mislead people against clean and sustainable hydrogen production based on emotional and incorrect information. The truth is that electricity is being wasted by not making hydrogen. All of these wasted MWh of electricity could be turned into hydrogen to balance the grid and take pressure off of it. Furthermore, the number of curtailed MWh is trending upward which means even more wasted MWh are forecasted for the future if we don’t employ proven water to hydrogen electrolysis assets on our grids around the world. NEL hydrogen has been in the clean energy production business since 1927. NEL has been growing their business and creating jobs to bring sustainably produced hydrogen to market for 90 years. NEL’s contributions to a sustainable grid about are about to grow by exponential sales figures in the coming years. Here’s a great presentation of what NEL Hydrogen does that defies Dr. Bossel’s thesis. NEL is creating jobs with a solution that relieves pressure on aging grids with otherwise wasted or curtailed electricity generation from renewable sources.
Thankfully CAISO has been collecting and publishing hourly usage & curtailment data for years so we can use real world data to refute phony arguments about how producing hydrogen would waste electricity. Furthermore, even if you didn’t understand much about high-voltage electricity grids, you can clearly see a trend in the graph showing the number of MWh of renewable electricity curtailed going up each year as a result of more solar and wind generation capacity coming online each year. While Dr. Bossel’s thesis statement does not extrapolate from the laboratory out to the real world at all, RMP’s thesis statement that curtailed electricity MWh will continue to go up each year can be extrapolated to every grid around the world. This phenomenon will increase as we construct more and more clean renewable electricity generation each year like wind & solar. Hydrogen can be made cheaply and in unlimited quantities wherever there is generation capacity being curtailed or wasted. While batteries can play an important part of working together with fuel cells to help in ramping flexibility so grid operators like CAISO can react quickly to changes in electricity net demand, batteries on their own are not economical for large storage that can feed electricity into the grid for days, weeks, or months when renewable generation is weak and unreliable. This is especially true in major cities north of the 40th parallel that experience long cold winters when the skies are mostly overcast for months at a time.
Making hydrogen from otherwise wasted electricity generation capacity takes pressure off the grid with the growth of intermittent renewables. Fast charging like Tesla’s Super Charging sites, however, are virtually all on grid, which adds pressure to the grid while also relying on transmission lines that are vulnerable to our increasingly volatile weather. If transmission is disrupted by felled power lines, so too would grid charging transportation be disrupted until power is restored. Hydrogen allows us to balance the grid as well as go off the grid because H2 fueling stations provide off grid storage.
We need to see a plan of how an anti-hydrogen activist’s grid would work that can be peer reviewed. There was a long ramp to get into our current situation with base load coal plants still burning and belching SOx, NOx, COx, Hg, & PMs into our air and water around the clock. The ramp down of fossil fuels to a fossil free society must be explained in a manner that can be peer reviewed with substantive explanations. We need an explanation that includes numbers and support, not empty ad hominem attacks. How are we going to decommission coal plants and replace the base load power they supply without using fuel cells? In the Hydrogen Economy, the Hydrogen Council, which is meeting in Bonn Germany in this month, just published this “Hydrogen Scaling Up” document that explains initiatives in detail and is open for peer review. The United States Department of Energy has a whole section on their website called H2@Scale explaining how the Hydrogen Economy works and is also peer reviewable public information. With so many credible sources publishing peer reviewable plans for the Hydrogen Economy, where are the plans showing a sustainable economy without hydrogen or fuel cells?
2016 Aggregate electricity generation data from the EIA shows that of 4.08 trillion kWh produced in the USA, over 30% of that production (1.24 trillion kWh) came from coal generation. There has to be a ramp to get down from where we are today. We need to see a plan from those who think a switch gets magically flipped and those 1.24 trillion kWh of base load power are replaced. The same replacement explanation is needed to explain how natural gas (@ 1.38 trillion kWh), and nuclear (@ 803 billion kWh) would be replaced. How do you replace this generation without fuel cells? Show us the plan. If you were to cut out fossil fuel generation overnight, the effects would be devastating with a recent case & point being the island of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. As of November 13, 2017, still half of Puerto Rico’s grid remains off line. People remain in desperate need of energy in order to have clean water and to generate power for their hospitals. In a Hydrogen Economy with a distributed grid, power outages would be less wide spread. Natural gas lines generally run underground and can feed SOFCs and PAFCs that are powerful enough to provide electricity and hot water for hospitals & hotels at upwards of 85% efficiency. Natural gas lines are much less likely to be taken out by natural disasters like above ground power lines. If you have a BEV in Puerto Rico, you might be part of 50% of the population that has not been able to charge it since September. People in Puerto Rico at the date of this publication are still desperate for gasoline to power their vehicles. These serious issues deserve serious consideration.
RMP compiled data from the EIA here to make a quick graph shown at the left to demonstrate the breakdown of our USA electricity generation. Total renewable generation makes up 16.1% of all generation of 4.08 trillion kWh while approximately 65% of that generation came from fossil fuels. Of the 16.1% generation from renewable sources, hydropower leads the way at 6.5%. Wind comes in second at 5.6% and solar registers at less than 1% !!! The notion that we switch to BEVs only and put solar panels on our roofs and we’re all done is not a credible position to have. Using BEVs and solar panels on our rooftops is a great idea and it’s admirable to pioneers who are looking to help make the world a better place; but those efforts do not scratch the surface of the challenges we face in order to eliminate fossil fuels from our economy. We have to be much more thoughtful than that. There is no flipping a switch to get there and we need to see a thoughtful white paper from someone other than Dr. Bossel, because his thesis is not credible nor is any media outlet that uses it to support economic viewpoints.
And that’s how the debunking of Dr. Bossel’s anti-hydrogen thesis ends. RMP does not mean to pick on Dr. Bossel in a personal way but must stand up to protect the truth when someone gets the science wrong and misleads the public. Dr. Bossel has made good contributions to the science of physics and makes good points about the energy density issues of methanol and ammonia versus those of compressed or liquefied H2. To those points, RMP finds common ground with Dr. Bossel. But, where economic science is concerned, Dr. Bossel’s thesis quickly falls apart and becomes not credible.
Dr. Bossel’s failure to include natural gas in his analysis shot his argument in the foot from the very first paragraph. By failing to demonstrate knowledge of how a high-voltage electricity grid works, Dr. Bossel further disqualifies himself as a credible source.
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26 Replies to “Debunking Dr. Bossel’s Anti-Hydrogen Thesis”
Important issues. Difficult to read.
The main facts and points are mixed up and confused with comments about the Anti Hydrogen people.
Ken points should be stated simply and directly without a lot of unnecessary comments.
Fair enough Ken. Thanks for reading.
Resonating with Ken on this: overload on target attack. But on the other hand, the good Dr. maybe talking about an isolated H2 system from prime source to H2. Then numbers are correct.
It is a very different matter to figure out an escape from the isolated case. IF CASIO & world body of generators are aware of the ungenerated electricity, that is also a fine information. But what will add credence to RMP position in a revised paper would be to demonstrate that these people , politics, money people will allow to have H2 generators soaking up extra generation- I would imagine colocation of H2 gens..one way. Knowing all this, I think it would require mighty force to overcome. Understood, Dr Bossell does not deal with this possibility at all. The systems approach to suck in the extra energy to be stored in H2 is what RMP has to present to make this Article totally immune to ad Hominem.
This “so called” debunking appears to be seriously flawed. The argument about not including H2 from steam reformed methane is nonsensical. Each 2 kg of methane would produce 5.5 kg of CO2 – What are you going to do with the CO2? Put it in the atmosphere? We know that sequestering does not work.
As for using hydrolysis for H2. Each kg of H2 requires 9 kg of water!. Where are you going to get the water??
This rebuttal is totally busted.
I think when you say “hydrolysis” you mean “electrolysis”? The world is 2/3 water. Hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet, so there’s plenty for everyone.
Thanks for long and detailed arguments. The reason why Natural gas is ignored is actually quite simple. In order to decarbonize the world to slow down climate change the fossil fuels need to stay in ground. If you are going to make hydrogen from natural gas, you may as well run your car on natural gas. Both ways you still heating up the planet.
So for people focused on greenhouse gas emission cuts, hydrogen from gas derived from fossil sources if off the tables.
I agree with the other comments on the use of natural gas. Not only because of the CO2 emissions, there is also a significant energy loss (25-35%) during the reaction of CH4 with H2O.
Another key issue is the economic penalty due to the intermittency of wind and solar energy, knowing that these energies will first meet the demand for electricity and that hydropower is used to meet the peaks in electricity demand.
BS article. DR. Bossel is solidly grounded in his position on the hydrogen economy.
Please elaborate on what is BS about the article. Which argument(s) do you disagree with? It’s getting harder to argue against the points I made in the article because there is evidence mounting more & more that prove out the points. Here is just one recent example with Air Liquide in Hobro Denmark called the HyBalance Project. Air Liquide, working with Hydrogenics out of Toronto Canada area, will be converting “waste” electricity into 500kg of carbon free hydrogen each day. This is one example of many that supports my argument and there are many more going on around the world. You say “its BS” but my points are not theoretical, they’re substantiated with more and more real world examples. You sound like sour grapes. It’s a good thing to use otherwise wasted energy to reduce our imports of energy. Is this your LinkedIn page Lawrence? If so, it looks like you’re a technical writer, do you have any papers you’ve published that support your points that argue mine? I would rather read some technical support to your argument instead of just “its BS”.
Agree! Bossel’s article is based on the universal laws of physics and thermodynamics. Indeed, if there were “waste energy” you might consider to turn it into hydrogen. However, such “waste energy” is only produced by windmills and solar panels at moments of sunshine at hours of low demand, or moments of high winds at hours of low demand. This happens at only a small proportion of time (at present, max. 10%). Who would invest in a hydrogen electrolysis plant which runs only 10% of time? This article is just promotion of a company that makes it’s money from production of hydrogen generation equipment.
This article has valid points that show why hydrogen energy storage is good for society and will be encouraged by policy makers.
People commenting on this article must realize technological tendencies that are becoming apparent:
1) Semi trucks cannot effectively use batteries to power propulsion because the weight of the batteries consumes an enormous amount of the payload of the semi truck. Also semi trucks emit an a lot of CO2. The only foreseeable way to decarbonize semi trucks is with hydrogen fuel cells. Thank you Toyota and Nikola for developing hydrogen fuel cell trucks.
2) Although steam methane reforming produces some CO2, it is much less than an internal combustion engine. Also the methane used in the reforming process can be sourced from biological sources (landfills, bio-digesters, etc.). The amount of H2 supplied from reforming will be reduced in the future, but at the beginning of the hydrogen transition, the budgetary benefit of hydrogen from reforming cannot be ignored.
I dislike arguments between battery and hydrogen promoters because the focus should be on the environment and the benefit to society. Battery cars are great for individuals who want a commuter car, but the technology also has limitations. Anyone who does not admit the benefit of both technologies is sincerely biased. (In fact the technologies complement each other very well: a hydrogen range extender in conjunction with a battery electric vehicle can increase the vehicle’s range so that the vehicle can be driven longer distances and refueled quickly.)
I just ran across your article about my fundamental analysis of a hydrogen economy. I cannot recall the E-mail you claim to have sent 10 years ago, but I normally reply to messages of technical relevance. Anyway, I appreciate your concerns about my founded conclusions. We both share the goal of establishing a clean and sustainable energy future without CO2 based on energy from renewable source. For that we suggest significant modifications of our energy system. We booth realize that energy transport to the consumer is a key issue of the energy transition. Energy harvested from renewable sources has to be distributed to the users with highest efficiency and lowest cost using, whenever possible, existing infrastructures. Now comes the point you have not properly considered in your article. Most renewable energy will be harvested in the form of electricity. Electric power can be distributed to users by exiting grids or directly from PV roofs to batteries in the basement. Only minor changes are needed for the establishment of an “Electron Economy”. Green electricity is clean, affordable and of universal use. About 90% of the primary Energy is available to satisfy consumer needs. If hydrogen is chosen as energy carrier, most of the green electricity is lost in or has to be supplied to various technical processes like water make-up, electrolysis, compression or liquefaction, transport, transfer to tanks, pressurizing again for transfer into vehicles, losses in fuel cells, DC-AC conversion etc. All these stages are technically matured and well described by laws of physics and engineering. No significant efficiency improvements are possible. The total energy required to deliver primary electricity via hydrogen and fuel cells to the consumer is significant. Depending on the chosen hydrogen route, only 15 to 30 % of the original energy is available for practical use. Furthermore, a new infrastructure is needed. We have to solve an energy problem by established physics and rational engineering and not by wishful thinking. We now have the choice betweena swift completion of the energy and climate transition by a most efficient “Electron Economy” or starting a wasteful “Hydrogen Economy” that will eventually fail because not enough green electricity can be harvested and because of excessive costs. Also, who would invest in a 5 MW electrolyser system to rescue the power output of a 5 MW wind turbine for a few hours per year? You may have noticed the trends in the automobile sector. All automobile and bus companies have shifted their attention to battery-electric solutions. Also, people will soon discover that green power from the roof top is much less expensive than hydrogen supplied by pipe lines. In other words, the implementation of a clean energy transition is endangered by a hasty start into a hydrogen economy.
Please study my original publication (The Future of the Hydrogen economy: Bright or Bleak?) again and reconsider your statements.
Thank you for taking the time to read the post and reply but the arguments you make are weak. In this article written nearly 4 years ago I posited a prediction to prove how wrong your argument is to think that we can use either battery or hydrogen. I posited that California would soon curtail 100MWh as proof of how wrong you are to think we must choose one or the other. I updated this post in April (just two months ago) because California curtailed over 350MWh!! There are no batteries that can store this energy cost effectively so it is wasted. Just as I predicted and was vindicated. This is why we still have zero off-grid battery fast-charging stations using renewable energy. I just posted yesterday about this. If you want to charge BEVs with renewable energy at scale and economically, it will require hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells work together with batteries. They’re both nearly the same thing: an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte. For you to continue to profess a false dichotomy that does not exist and say we must choose just one technology, I say what I said nearly 4 years ago: you’re wrong. We must use both. RMP has no issue with batteries and fully supports battery technology alongside hydrogen fuel cells.
Curtailing is standard in power engineering. Power plants are designed for maximum needs, but operated at 50% output or less. Also, cars engines deliver 200 kW, although only 20 kW are needed for normal driving. To convert unused green power into hydrogen, you need electrolyzers and equipment. The question is not the use of free electricity, but the amortization of expensive equipment for hydrogen production from water make-up to supply to the consumer. The total investiment will lead to unaffordable cost of hydrogen. Please accept the reality and do not worry about the “waste” of green electricity. For a safe energy supply we have to oversize the generating capacities. Batteries in the end sector will be useful. Intermittent energy storage with hydrogen is a fading opton. Please look at the fate of hydrogen-fuel cell cars. High expectations in 2000, Today a dead horse. Electromobility has suceeded.
The paragraph above is from a Reuters article published 4 days ago. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm calls green hydrogen a game changer with a cost of $1 per kg. Do you think $1/kg is expensive?
The Dapartment of Energy should respect physics instead of publishing wishful thoughts. A Hydrogen Economy will be a total flop. There are always better solutions for power to the people. We can watch this in the car industry. 20 years ago hydrogen fuel cell cars were just around the corner. Now the hype has gone. Battery electric cars prove to be the better solution well-to-wheel. we will see the same in all segments of hydrogen trials.
just to get notifications
The fundamentals of Bossel’s papers are still remaining actual. Whatever the progress of the methods of converting the water-power system into H2 + 1/2 O2, the thermodynamic limitations for electrolysis, H2 compression and possibly the reverse of electrolysis will cause a great waste of energy. Thus much higher cost for H2 than for power, particularly for transport. As a result, economics will prioritize power over H2. In Europe, car builders are starting to realize that.
Consequently, economics will give priority to power over H2, except possibly in the event of overproduction of renewable energies.
For example, renewables are able to provide 23% of Germany’s power. But when there is a production of wind or solar power exceeding the demand, Germany is OBLIGED to export at low cost or even at negative cost. See for example “Figure 20 – Daily average wholesale power prices in the CWE region”. (Germany, France, Netherland, Belgium). In this period, the average price of power in this area is 40 € / MWh. But only German prices fall 6 times under 30 € / Mwh because of its obligation to export the excess power. It is in these periods that it will be interesting to store energy in H2. This is hardly sufficient to justify the necessary investments.
When the wind is blowing, it’s everywhere in northern Europe. When all of Germany’s neighbors will be equipped like him, what will happen? Electrolysers everywhere operating for a few weeks a year ?
The H2 route could be more realistic with offshore wind turbines, but the power cost will be larger.
Hi Matt, good article! just to add my two pennies worth to the ‘graph’ debate’
Dr Bossel’s graph is purely based on efficiencies and is more or less correct – my take away is h2 production is never going to be efficient (actually very inefficient) due to the laws of physics – therefore it doesn’t make any sense to convert energy in such an inefficient manner.
This is fairly black and white, but perfectly reasonable argument to put forward, however, the real world throws in many other variables that need to be factored in when looking at the bigger energy picture. Here are just a few:-
1 The problem with ‘renewables’ has always been intermittency
2 Cost of solar and wind power continues to drop – only five years ago the UK Gov’ assessment on wind costs were out by 30-50% below current costs and this continues to go down – less the £40 MWh in some cases.
3 UK is currently building Hinkley point C nuclear power plant estimated at £92.50 per MWh (although this price is likely to rise further).
4 It is widely reported the cost of producing green hydrogen is going to be on parity with grey in the next ten years in many parts of the world.
5 First UK Gov’ subsidy free wind farms are due to start operating in 2023
Given the economics of energy are driven by price, my question would be at which point does the science/ efficiency argument fall away? – does it ever? – but even UB must admit at some point the principle no longer has relevance given the wider economic factors (lets simplify as ‘price’) – hitting the necessary sweet spot – at which point H2 conversion efficiency no longer really matters.
A report commissioned by Greenpeace back in 2016 makes interesting reading on a real life example https://tinyurl.com/xftetcbz. Please take into account the report is from 2016 so costs for wind have gone down dramatically and the cost for Hinkley C have gone up dramatically. Whilst this is a short report with assumptions that can be pulled apart and discussed ad infinitum, the principle stands – ie. the UK gov’ could have made significant cost savings opting for the electrolysis route.
Why do you think Orsted is testing electrolysis directly at the wind turbine? – they are doing this because this brings down their costs – they see their very effective energy generation business model being further unlocked by becoming a 24/7 power source provider – and H2 is providing that transition vehicle.
Personally I think this is a case of not being able to see the wood from the trees.
The problems with solar and wind is not just intermittency but the stupidity of building such forms of energy production out in the open where they can be totally destroyed by severe storms and weather. Big thunderstorms can totally destroy solar and wind and Puerto Rico saw this with Hurriane Maria in 2017. Wind turbines CAN NOT BE DESIGNED AGAINST VERTICAL STRESS. Underneath large thunderstorm cells all blades are driven down together and when fronts pass with storms the wind veers 180 degrees instantaneously. They don’t stand up well to big hail and lightning either. The level of gear box and bearing failures around the world are quite high, most occurring by five years and it is impossible to keep the blades in balance once installed.
The probable answer to our future fuel problems is nuclear power producing methanol or di-methyl ether which was proposed by the former Nobel Laurette in Chemistry – Prof. George Olah from California in his book “Beyond Oil and Gas – The Methanol economy ” I think what Dr. Bossel has written is correct.