The Truth About Blue Hydrogen

Blue hydrogen has been making headlines this summer.  It’s made from natural gas in a two-part process called autothermal reformation (ATR).  The ATR process is different than the steam reformation (SMR) process used to make most hydrogen over the past century. There has never been a market for hydrogen for energy so we learn more & more each year about how to make zero, net zero, and low emission hydrogen for future markets.  What distinguishes the ATR process of making hydrogen from the SMR process is a step called partial oxidation.  In the first part of the ATR process, methane (CH4) is partially oxidized to create syngas.  In the 2nd part of the ATR process, called a water-gas shift reaction, the syngas is mixed with steam to make carbon dioxide & hydrogen.1  The chemical notation for the exothermic ATR process is:

Partial oxidation of methane reaction:
CH4 + ½O2 → CO + 2H2 (+ heat)

Water-gas shift reaction:
CO + H2O → CO2 + H2 (+ small amount of heat)

What makes the hydrogen “blue”, and why the US Department of Energy is talking about this pathway for hydrogen production, is that ~95% of the CO2 from the process is easily separated from the natural gas and can be permanently sequestered such that it will never reach our atmosphere.  The reason this hydrogen is being called “net zero” is because the by-products of the process can be used to make the energy required to execute the process as well producing excess energy to power nearby homes & businesses that would otherwise come from burning fossil fuels.

Mark Jacobson is a professor at Stanford University bent on stopping clean hydrogen.  Mark sued fellow researchers at the National Academy of Science for $10M for debunking his study on switching to 100% renewables.  Mark dropped his lawsuit in 2018.  Superior Court Judge Elizabeth C. Wingo in April 2020 said “no jury, properly instructed on the law, could find the statements in this case are defamatory in light of the evidence” and ordered Jacobson to pay the defendants’ attorney fees for the frivolous lawsuit.

Unfortunately, the anti-hydrogen crowd has been spreading misinformation about blue hydrogen recently and it’s gotten into the internet echo chamber.   This misinformation serves its purpose of sowing doubt about a net zero technology that is ready now to help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality in population dense areas.  This time the misinformation comes from an old regular, Mark Jacobson, and co-author Robert Howarth.  Their recently published study spreads misinformation under the guise of peer reviewed science.  Mark Jacobson recently published this anti-hydrogen research paper in August 2021 that will be debunked in this post.

After debunking more misinformation from Mark Jacobson about the benefits of a hydrogen economy, RMP will cover some positive points about how real scientists and real companies are investing billions of dollars into making net zero blue hydrogen here in the USA and also in Canada.  The multi-billion dollar investments recently announced to build blue hydrogen plants will create good paying jobs for real scientists and real engineers.  As long as we keep speaking out against pseudo-science like the Jacobson/Howarth study, there is a chance to save our climate, have clean water, and breath clean air.

Why It’s Important for RMP to Write About Blue Hydrogen Now

“A lie gets half way around the world before the truth has time to put on its shoes” is a famous quote often attributed to Mark Twain.  One hundred years later and with the advent of social media, it could be argued that a lie gets around the world several times over before the truth’s jaw can drop in amazement.  If you’re a hydrogen advocate, like the people who volunteer their free time to help RMP protect our freshwater resources, you know about this all too well.   There are certain folks that don’t seem to care about landfills and waste water threatening our drinking water & being a larger source of methane emissions than the oil & gas industry2.  But, when it comes to net zero hydrogen production that can be made with net zero CO2 / NOx / SOx, these same critics are vehement, vocal, and willing to spread misleading information.

Sulfur Dioxide is much worse for people than CO2 and you will not find a single mention of it in the 13 page Howarth/Jacobson paper.  The word sulfur/sulphur shows up exactly zero times in the Howarth/Jacobson paper.  The word nitrous oxide shows up only once in the same sentence that mentions the paper is solely focused on carbon dioxide & methane.  The word carbon dioxide is spelled out in its entirety 128 times and never once called CO2 which is also a little odd.  It is socially irresponsible to be myopic on environmental studies that have broad implications to our economy and well being.  This is especially true in a country with poorer folks living near fossil fuel plants & oil refineries that release toxic emissions like SOx into the atmosphere disproportionately impacting people of color; this makes reports like the Jacobson/Howarth study even more socially irresponsible in that it ignores these important factors.  We have the technology now to make blue hydrogen to eliminate CO2, NOx, and SOx which can improve the health of every American immediately.  It makes standing up for real environmental science ever so more important which is the purpose of this website/organization.

Mark Jacobson first wound up on RMP’s radar in 2016 as a spreader of hydrogen misinformation.  His situation is unique as a person in a position of influence at a prestigious university (in this case Stanford) and also because he purports to dedicate his life to saving the planet.  Instead of objectively supporting all clean energy technologies, Mark seems focused on attacking clean energy solutions like hydrogen as he has for several years now.   I remember subscribing the Stanford Energy Newsletter in April of 2017 just so I could follow along with the University’s research and follow Mark’s exploits after I became alarmed after reading some of his published work.  I have been subscribed to Stanford’s Energy Newsletter ever since.  Every once in a while, like this past August 2021, Mark publishes something misleading to further an anti-hydrogen agenda and it gets wide traction with media outlets and lawmakers.  The tweet below from congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reaches her audience of 12.7M Twitter followers and most likely uses Mark Jacobson’s junk science to support her false claims.  When coal is burned, it releases CO2, NOx, SOx, particulates, and  mercury into the air.  What AOC tweets below is wrong & alarming.

RMP feels it’s important to carve time out of our very busy lives and away from our day jobs to debunk this kind of junk science in order to fight for the protection of our drinking water and the air we breathe.  Let’s start the debunking and then move on to some good news regarding those who are making multi-billion dollar investments in blue hydrogen in the face of misleading detractors like Mark Jacobson.  Everywhere blue hydrogen production is employed, it will result in net zero carbon dioxide as well as reduced cases of asthma [especially] in poorer communities where coal & natural gas are currently combusting CO2, NOx, & SOx into our atmosphere.

Debunking the Howarth/Jacobson Study

The first major flaw in the Jacobson/Howarth paper is that the study employs a 20-year window to assign a greenhouse gas equivalency to methane instead of the 100-year window the IPCC uses3.  While it’s true methane is a powerful GHG that’s 100 times more potent than CO2, it goes away in about 12 years.  Integrating methane’s warming potential over a 20-year window gives it a CO2 equivalency of 86 which is the figure that Howarth & Jacobson use in their study.  Over a 100-year window, however, it’s only 28 which is 1/3 of the figure Howarth and Jacobson employ.  The 20-year equivalency exaggerates the overall impact of methane emissions because over most of the 100-years, the methane would be long gone from the atmosphere.4

The next major flaw in the report conflates fugitive methane emissions from oil production rather than natural gas production.  RMP has been tracking oil & gas production in the Michigan Basin since 2011.  We’ve mapped every single oil, gas, disposal, and storage well in Michigan and I have personally visited 100s of these wells over the past decade.  RMP’s environmental research & watchdog work in the Michigan oil patch has been covered in Ecowatch, Bridge Magazine, and several other well-known media outlets like MLive.  One thing you learn when you track the brass tacks production operations of the oil industry closely for several years is that natural gas is a nuisance gas at oil wells.

Natural gas is often vented or flared at oil wells because there is no way to get it to market and it’s therefore unwanted.  We need to eliminate the use of oil for so many reasons and natural gas emissions is just one more reason to add to the list.  We need to eliminate the use of oil as soon as humanly possible.  Oil wells are responsible for releasing more methane emissions from subsurface wells than natural gas wells or any other type of well.  This point is conflated in the Jacobson/Howarth study further eroding is credibility.  Oil also threatens our drinking water in a much more substantial way than natural gas which is a point that doesn’t get much attention.  It’s RMP’s stated mission to protect our drinking water.

Landfill and Agriculture RNG Projects in the United States (2005-2020).   As stated earlier, our human waste, animal farm waste, and landfills emit more methane to atmosphere than the oil & gas industry2.  The number of agricultural and landfill projects to employ RNG is on the rise over the past 15 years.  Even after every oil & gas well in the world has been plugged, blue hydrogen will still play a big part in reducing emissions, creating jobs, and creating clean energy. (Source:  USEPA)

RMP would love to see all oil wells plugged and never used again in order to curb their methane emissions and we’ve fought as hard as anyone over the past decade with this website as our body of work to back that statement up.  Natural gas emissions at natural gas wells, however, are not the same.  Natural gas wells have the specific purpose of getting gas to market and operators don’t want that product to leak.   It’s disingenuous to compare leakage rates at oil wells -vs- gas wells which is what the Howarth/Jacobson study does.  This means the 2.6% figure for upstream emissions the Howarth/Jacobson study employs grossly overstates the emissions associated with use of natural gas.

Make no mistake, RMP supports green hydrogen over blue hydrogen from natural gas wells, but blue hydrogen technology can reduce current emissions substantially now from gas wells that are already in use. Blue hydrogen will remain very important for RNG long after every natural gas well in the world has been plugged & forgotten because of more economical green hydrogen.  So blue hydrogen’s importance is not directly tied to natural gas wells.  Blue hydrogen can be employed for 100s of years after all subsurface wells are plugged.

The third and most deceptive flaw of the Howarth/Jacobson paper is the sleight of hand of basing calculations on old school steam methane reforming (SMR) rather than autothermal reformation (ATR).  The acronym SMR is used 69 times in the 13 page paper.  This is a classic hydrogen detractor technique that is used by all the famous detractors that spout scientific misinformation about hydrogen:  claim the historical use of hydrogen for the past 85 years is representative of what blue hydrogen will be or can be.  It is disingenuous to conflate hydrogen made for oil refining as representative of our ability to make zero emission hydrogen for FCEVs that will replace gasoline & diesel cars .  Can you guess how many times the word autothermal is used in Jacobson’s paper?  If you guessed zero, you’re absolutely correct.

One final flaw in the report is section 2.2 of the study calling out the extra power it would take to run the SMR process.   This is actually how blue hydrogen achieves its ‘net zero’ claim through the ATR process.  In section 2.2 of the Jacobson/Howarth study, Mark calculates 31.8g of CO2 are generated to create 1 MJ of hydrogen.   The math is correct, but the irony again is sleight of hand in that this is the amount of CO2 saved because it will be sequestered.  By capturing the CO2 that would otherwise be necessary to create the hydrogen while also having surplus power for nearby homes & businesses, the blue hydrogen produced earns its “net zero” claim.

For the past 100 years hydrogen has been used predominantly in ammonia production , oil refining, methanol production , and ten percent  for other things like the plastic containers that keep salad fresh, the fabric of the seat cushions on your furniture, or the material on your winter jacket.  Hydrogen has never had a market other than to make our food, make gasoline, and make the products we use every day.  We never had the technology to use hydrogen for energy because the technology for hydrogen fuel cells has been incubating in its infancy for over 50 years.   Well guess what?  Hydrogen fuel cell technology has blossomed in the past decade to bear fruit for a clean energy future.  We don’t need to use hydrogen for refining oil in a future state economy, and we don’t need to make it like our fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers used to in the early 1900s. It’s misleading to use century old backward looking stats as the basis for a forward-looking study when new blue hydrogen investments will be using autothermal reformation (ATR) and carbon sequestration.

The math and chemical equations in the Howarth/Jacobson paper are not scientifically accurate as laid out above.  But the bigger problem is the way the study uses sleight of hand tricks to get you to look backward instead of forward.  Howarth and Jacobson go to lengths calculating the chemical mole weights of carbon dioxide from making hydrogen from steam reformation.  On page four of the study there’s a table to summarize how much carbon dioxide is released as flue gas in the SMR process.   Let me say the same thing I said when I debunked Dr. Bossel’s pseudo-scientific paper:  I don’t dispute the Howarth/Jacobson chemical calculations per se, but by plugging the wrong numbers into his equations, Mark arrives at the wrong results.  Let me hang RMP’s thesis on this important point:  new multi-billion dollar investments in blue hydrogen will not use the SMR process to make hydrogen.  Blue hydrogen investments will employ autothermal reformation (ATR) in which 95% of the carbon dioxide will be captured and sequestered forever.  “Net zero” blue hydrogen will be achieved by eliminating the need to generate an external power source to execute the ATR process and the process itself will feed excess power to the grid.  Even staunch anti-hydrogen critic Michael Liebreich poured cold water on the Jacobson/Howarth study by basically saying “garbage in / garbage out”.

There’s no reason to spend any more time debunking the Howarth/Jacobson paper.  Our time is too valuable to rehash these incessant attempts to stifle good technologies like blue hydrogen with misleading information.  Let’s instead focus on what real scientists and engineers are doing to combat climate change.  They’re putting their money where their mouth is and they’re investing their money in ATR plants with CCS to create net zero blue hydrogen and good paying jobs.

Blue Hydrogen Investments Are Happening Now

Blue hydrogen has certainly jumped into the lime-light recently it seems since a key date this summer.  On June 9th, 2021 Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania based Air Products announced in conjunction with the Government of Canada and the Province of Alberta, a multi-billion dollar plan to build a landmark new net-zero hydrogen energy complex in Edmonton, Alberta.5   Edmonton is the heart of western Canada’s hydrogen economy and this news release set the stage for the Canadian city to operate an economically competitive and low-carbon-intensity network of energy.  It was just 47 days after the multi-billion dollar Canadian blue hydrogen project was announced that the Jacobson/Howarth paper denouncing blue hydrogen with misleading pseudo-science was accepted at www.researchgate.net on July 26th, 2021.

When the Edmonton, Alberta blue hydrogen project was announced, Air Products CEO Seifi Ghasemi said “By being a first mover and investing in this innovative landmark project, we are paving the way for hydrogen from Edmonton to meet industrial and transportation needs throughout western Canada. Our highly integrated project will be a model for net-zero atmospheric gas, hydrogen and power production consistent with our announced growth platforms.”

Aerial photo of the location where Air Products will invest $1.3B in a brand new ATR with CCS plant to manufacture net zero blue hydrogen. The plant will make 30 tons per day of liquid H2 which can serve a market of about 40,000 FCEVs like the Toyota Mirai.  (Image source:  https://www.royalparkrealty.com/)

The info-graphic used as this post’s featured image was adapted from the Air Product’s page that explains the details of the Edmonton, Alberta project.  One of the interesting things about the graphic is that it shows a 55 km hydrogen pipeline and indicates multiple ATR/CCS plants could be built along the pipeline scaling up net zero blue hydrogen production to 1,500 tons per day.  If 1,500 tons of blue hydrogen was produced per day, it would be enough for 2,000,000 FCEVs like a Toyota Mirai.  Just imagine two million drivers with zero emissions and zero impact on the electricity grid.  In fact, each plant would put additional energy into the grid at zero emissions to help charge BEVs.  This will be a great way to help Canada achieve their goal of zero emissions energy.

Click Here To See Exact Location of Air Product’s Planned Edmonton Blue Hydrogen Production Facility On RMP’s Map Of Hydrogen Infrastructure

The Jacobson/Howarth study was published with just enough time to malign the narrative around blue hydrogen  because less than two months after the Jacobson/Howarth study was published, Air Products was back with another announcement on October 14th, 2021.  This time it was Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Air Products CEO Seifi Ghasemi announcing a $4.5 billion clean energy complex to be built in Louisiana that will make the state a leader in the United States (U.S.) clean energy transition.

The Louisiana blue hydrogen project practically dwarfs the Edmonton project with some very impressive statistics:  750 million SCF of blue H2 per day, 2000 construction jobs over a period of three years, 170 permanent jobs with an annual payroll of $15.9M per year, and all of this at net zero emissions.  If you convert 750 million SCF of H2 to tons, it’s nearly 2,000 tons per day or enough to service approximately 2.7 million FCEVs.  Again, this is nearly 3 million cars with zero emissions, and zero impact on the grid other than adding additional energy to the grid that can be used to charge BEVs.  The October 14th, 2021 announcement represents Air Products largest ever investment in the USA in the company’s history.

A large portion of the net zero blue hydrogen created in Louisiana will be for making blue ammonia so the 2.7M car equivalency is just to show scale.  The neat thing about hydrogen is how it scales because there is enough for our cars, trucks, boats, and ammonia.  Hydrogen can be used for everything from energy to fertilizer to steel with zero emissions; and you can never run out of it.

Air Liquide will open its 100% renewable hydrogen facility in North Las Vegas this month (Nov 2021) and will begin shipments to California hydrogen refueling stations in early 2022.  The 30 tons per day of hydrogen produced in North Las Vegas will use RNG from landfills and wastewater treatment plants that would otherwise vent to atmosphere.  If this plant were to employ carbon capture & sequestration while using RNG, it would be negative emissions.

The blue hydrogen in Louisiana will be able to connect to Air Product’s recently upgraded 700 miles of hydrogen pipeline that stretches all the way from New Orleans to Galveston Texas.  Additional ATR/CCS hydrogen production facilities can be built from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Lake Charles and all the way over to Houston along the largest hydrogen pipeline system in the world.  As RMP has said before, Texas could come on the scene and possibly surpass California in registered FCEVs on the road in the next decade.

About 95 percent of the carbon dioxide generated at the Louisiana Air Products facility will be captured, compressed and transported by pipeline to multiple inland sequestration sites located along a pipeline corridor extending up to 35 miles to the east of the complex. More than five million metric tons per year of carbon dioxide will be permanently sequestered in geologic pore space secured from the State of Louisiana about a mile below ground. Air Products has received approval from the State Mineral and Energy Board for the permanent sequestration of the carbon dioxide.6

The Edmonton Alberta and Ascension Parish Louisiana blue hydrogen locations have been added to RMP’s map of North American hydrogen infrastructure you can find by clicking here.  The Edmonton Alberta location on RMP’s map is exact while the Air Products location at 8013 Ashland Road in Geismar Louisiana is a real location but only a guess as to the location where the blue hydrogen plant will be built.  The Ashland Road location makes sense as Air Products has a lot of vacant property on the west end of their parcel between the railroad tracks & the Mississippi River.   None of the websites announcing the Ascension Parish location have information on the exact location of the planned blue hydrogen facility.  When RMP learns the exact location of the planned facility, our map will be updated or confirmed as accurate.

#CCS
The MRCSP has surveyed multiple locations within our midwest region for additional Phase 2 carbon dioxide sequestration projects. In all of North America, Michigan now has one of only six Phase 3 sequestration projects underway in all of North America.  Click here to see RMP’s map of phase 3 active carbon dioxide sequestration sites in Michigan.

Michigan has had several CO2 sequestration projects underway for several years now that RMP has written about in the past.  We also recall in 2014 when representative Rick Outman sponsored Michigan legislation (HB5254) that Governor Snyder signed into law April 1, 2014 which modified wording so it was legal to transfer carbon dioxide by pipeline in Michigan.  Michigan has had several wells drilled into geologic formations that could sequester CO2 in the Detroit area.  Several wells have been drilled into the Salina formation in Detroit in the 1970’s7 as well as several wells drilled through the Bass Islands & Traverse formations into the Niagaran formation at about 3,400 feet depth throughout the metro Detroit area.  West Bay has drilled into the Niagaran formation in the Plymouth Canton area as recently as 2009.8

Michigan has all the tools to begin sequestering CO2 now, just like Louisiana.  All the pieces are in place for us to create net zero energy and create good jobs right now here in Detroit.   We can make green hydrogen too, but we have an obligation to reduce CO2, NOx, and SOx in the River Rouge & Zug Island area now which is the armpit of Detroit’s worst emissions and pollution.

We can make Blue Hydrogen here in Michigan just like Lousiana & Edmonton are doing.  Across the river in Sarnia, Air Products already has a hydrogen liquefaction facility that could be upgraded to make net zero Blue Hydrogen.   While ATR/CCS will be for new hydrogen manufacturing plants, it’s true that most hydrogen today is made for the petroleum industry where the goal is cheap even if dirty.  Several coal plants will keep burning coal and oil refiners will continue to use tons of hydrogen to refine oil for our cars & trucks.  The hydrogen used to make gasoline will largely come from SMR with all carbon dioxide vented to atmosphere.  This does not make FCEVs the culprit of gray hydrogen, it makes gasoline & diesel vehicles the culprit of gray hydrogen.  FCEVs running on blue hydrogen or green hydrogen are net zero CO2, NOx, and SOx.  Let’s not conflate the problems of the past with our options for the future.  FCEVs have nothing to do with historical hydrogen manufacturing & distribution over the last 100 years; they need to be judged on their ability to have net zero emissions looking forward.

In 2020, Americans used about 123 billion gallons of motor gasoline—or about 337 million gallons per day—and about 166 million gallons of aviation gasoline. Gasoline is one of the major fuels consumed in the United States and is the main product that U.S. oil refineries produce.9

Final Thoughts on Blue Hydrogen

Green hydrogen is the best.  We can make enough green hydrogen for all in the future.  But, we would be foolish to think we could make enough green hydrogen to replace consumers deeply entrenched reliance on a fossil fuel economy overnight.  Our hospitals, our industry, our military, and our consumers all expect to have all the energy they need on demand to keep America running.  Blue hydrogen is a technology we can use now to start tipping the scales of our fossil fuel reliance toward a green hydrogen future.  After every gas well in the whole world has been plugged and forgotten, the use of blue hydrogen will still play an important part in the hydrogen economy to help create clean energy and good jobs at our landfills, animal farms, and waste water treatment facilities.  Even if the fossil fuel industry disappeared overnight, natural gas will still need to be managed to protect our environment.

Much of the oil refining infrastructure and fossil fuel infrastructure in place today has decades of useful life remaining.  Gasoline powered vehicles are still being sold today with average useful lives of 12.1 years10.   The oil refining industry and gasoline powered cars are connected to how hydrogen is made now.  FCEVs and how hydrogen can be made with zero emissions of CO2, NOx, and SOx is the future.  It is bad science and economics to look at historical hydrogen tied to gasoline cars and say that it’s representative of green & blue hydrogen for hydrogen fuel cell cars in the future.

Map of U.S.A’s Gulf Coast hydrogen pipeline infrastructure.  Air Products recently completed additional hydrogen pipeline making the total pipeline system over 700 miles; stretching from New Orleans in the east to Galveston in the west.   RMP is working on adding this pipeline to our hydrogen infrastructure map.  The map above comes from https://rbnenergy.com/.

Much of the coal burned in the USA happens in the same places SMR is being used to make hydrogen for oil refining.  Detroit’s Zug Island & River Rouge area is a great example of a location where coal is burned, oil is refined, and steel gets made.  Zug Island in Detroit is similar to many other places where energy is made in a concentrated area in order to feed America’s hungry energy consumers & industrial processes.   It is in these industrial areas where energy is made that property values are the lowest because of the toxic emissions these locations belch into our atmosphere.  It is also in these places where Americans below the poverty threshold live and raise their children.

In most cases the communities subjected to America’s nastiest emissions are disproportionally communities of color.  Blue hydrogen and IGCC with CCS technology are ways to cut America’s emissions now, improve air quality for those suffering the most from NOx, SOx, and particulate emissions.  The actions of reducing pollution need to happen in conjunction with the build out of green energy infrastructure.  We need to capitalize on every solution available to create a pathway for thousands of American workers to transition from dirty energy to a clean hydrogen economy.  To deny this is to continue to relegate so many American’s to breathe dirty air for years to come.  Why?  What is someone’s true agenda when they badmouth solutions that will eliminate CO2, NOx, & SOx without showing us any alternative solutions that scale to the 101 quadrillion BTUs America uses each year which is only 17% of the 599 quadrillion BTUs the world uses each year? 11

Blue hydrogen is an excellent investment for the USA & Canada to reduce GHG emissions to pre-industrial levels now.    We can scale production of green & blue hydrogen to serve every single energy situation as well as steel, concrete, and fertilizer; no other solution can say that.  We can scale up green hydrogen while blue hydrogen helps to descale the fossil fuel industry.  This is the way.

Thanks for reading.  If you like our maps and our posts, please consider making a secure and tax deductible donation to RMP by clicking here.  We have very little revenue to cover web hosting services and appreciate your support.

 

 


Footnotes:

Footnote #1“Hydrogen Production: Natural Gas Reforming” U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-production-natural-gas-reforming

Footnote #2–  Andrew Benedek, CalMatters.org, “Why we must turn food waste into a renewable fuel” Published October 21, 2021  https://calmatters.org/commentary/2021/10/why-we-must-turn-food-waste-into-a-renewable-fuel/

Footnote #3 – Allen, M.R., Shine, K.P., Fuglestvedt, J.S. et al. “A solution to the misrepresentations of CO2-equivalent emissions of short-lived climate pollutants under ambitious mitigation”  npj Clim Atmos Sci 1, 16 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41612-018-0026-8

Footnote #4 – Roger Arnold, Natural Gas World, “Bashing Blue Hydrogen: False Numbers, Flawed Models [Gas in Transition]” published October 13, 2021 https://www.naturalgasworld.com/bashing-blue-hydrogen-false-numbers-flawed-models-gas-in-transition-92613

Footnote #5 – Press Release, Air Products Corporation, “Air Products Announces Multi-Billion Dollar Net-Zero Hydrogen Energy Complex in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada” published June 9, 2021 https://www.airproducts.com/news-center/2021/06/0609-air-products-net-zero-hydrogen-energy-complex-in-edmonton-alberta-canada

Footnote #6 – Press Release, Office of the Governor of the State of Louisiana “Gov. Edwards, Air Products Announce $4.5 Billion Blue Hydrogen Clean Energy Complex” published October 14, 2021 https://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/newsroom/detail/3421

Footnote #7 – Well file Michigan Department of Environment, Energy, and Great Lakes “Permit 32883 – State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey Division ” published February 9, 1979 http://www.deq.state.mi.us/GeoWebface/GeoWebface/WF/163/32883_WF.pdf

Footnote #8 – Well file Michigan Department of Environment, Energy, and Great Lakes “Permit 59922- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality – Office of Geological Survey ” published May 6, 2009 http://www.deq.state.mi.us/GeoWebface/GeoWebface/WF/163/59922_WF.pdf

Footnote #9 – U.S. Energy Information Administration “Gasoline Explained – Use of Gasoline” published 2020 https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/gasoline/use-of-gasoline.php

Footnote #10 – Mathilde Carlier, Statista.com “U.S Vehicle Age from 2018 to 2021 (in years)” published September 29, 2021 https://www.statista.com/statistics/738667/us-vehicles-projected-age/

Footnote #11 – U.S. Energy Information Association “FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQS), What is the United States’ share of world energy consumption?” Last updated November 5, 2021 https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=87

USA’s Public Retail Hydrogen History: A View from Late 2020

Three new hydrogen refueling stations have come online recently that mark a paradigm change in retail hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the USA:

  • Shell Oakland with 800kg capacity Oakland, California 9/20/2019
  • TrueZero Fountain Valley with 1,200kg capacity Fountain Valley, California 7/3/2020
  • TrueZero Mission Hills with 1,200kg capacity Mission Hills, California 10/26/2020

Sometimes when you want to understand where you are or what just happened, you have to look back to appreciate how you got here.  To understand something generationally new, you have to understand its predecessor technology to appreciate the contrast between the way it was and the way it will be going forward.  RMP has been writing about some BIG new hydrogen refueling stations that would be coming online soon, and now… they’re here.  They’re open now.  Now that they’re open & with more BIG stations on the way, it’s starting to set in that we have reached a milestone in retail hydrogen refueling infrastructure.  That said, it seems like a good reflection point to look back at retail hydrogen infrastructure development thus far and understand the USA’s history in hydrogen clean energy technology.

People following hydrogen infrastructure development will have many different takes on where we started and how far we’ve come.  How far to go back in history is an ambiguous question.  RMP will focus on Continue reading “USA’s Public Retail Hydrogen History: A View from Late 2020”

Zero Emission Ammonia Production from Green Hydrogen

Could the future of renewable energy lie in a basic household chemical under your kitchen sink?  Ammonia might power your household cleaning and fertilize your plants, but it could become an important zero emission energy carrier for moving clean energy around the world economically. Oil & gas, which make up most of our current energy supply, can easily be shipped & stored, but renewable energy that travels through the power grid as electricity cannot.  This prevents renewables from becoming a bigger player in the world market of produced & distributed energy.  It’s also why researchers are working to streamline current processes to convert solar & wind energy into liquid ammonia which would allow it to be shipped around the world & stored as easily as petroleum products for those hot evenings & cloudy days when the wind isn’t blowing & the sun isn’t shining.

We need to master our ability to create cheap green hydrogen for essential ammonia production even if we leave the BEV-vs-FCEV passenger car debate completely out of the picture. The conventional manufacture of ammonia (NH3) is a dirty process.  But without ammonia, we would not be able to produce food for nearly 60% of the world’s population1.  Ammonia is made from nitrogen & hydrogen. Nitrogen molecules are separated from the air we breathe and hydrogen is generally derived from either natural gas or coal in a process which creates greenhouse gasses or about 1.8% of CO2 emissions worldwide2.  Once you have the nitrogen & hydrogen segregated, the Haber-Bosch process is employed to make ammonia.

Fritz Haber was a German chemist who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his invention of the Haber–Bosch process used to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen.

Projects are underway around the world that will change how ammonia is manufactured by using renewable solar & wind energy to create the hydrogen from water instead of steam reformed natural gas.  The implications of making “green ammonia” are bigger than just fertilizer too.   Liquid ammonia is also an energy carrier with a higher energy density (11.5 MJ/liter) than liquid hydrogen (8.5 MJ/liter)3.  Ammonia is easier and much cheaper to store & transport than liquid hydrogen because infrastructure & equipment can be used that already exists (e.g. propane infrastructure).  While there are many places around the world working on green ammonia pilot plants (Oxford, United KingdomFukashima, Japan –  Iberdola, Spain& more)  RMP thinks Australia is the world leader in the large scale pilot manufacture of green ammonia.  Australia has abundant renewable energy resources & potential resources available to boost their economy through the manufacture of green ammonia.

Practical Manufacturing of Green Ammonia & Its Energy Storage Potential

There are a number of reasons why Australia is the primary focus of RMP’s first report on green ammonia.  Australia is in the spotlight because of its massive resources and investment in renewable solar & wind energy.  Australia currently has 95 large renewable energy infrastructure projects that are in construction (or due to start construction soon).  These projects will deliver over $19 billion in capital costs, 11,007 MW of new renewable energy capacity and create 13,567 direct jobs4.  Each year terawatt hours of electricity are curtailed5 or go to waste because the electricity cannot be used at the time of generation.  It’s a problem that has and will continue get worse as more renewable electricity generation capacity comes online.

Battery storage solutions that only last for 24 hours or as peakers are great and serve very important purposes.  Battery storage projects also have great payback as short term energy solutions.  However, short burst solutions are part of the problem with massive demand for energy as they only satisfy a fraction of what is needed for base-load power over extended durations.  We need solutions like ammonia that will have costs scale down as usage scales up because of solar, wind, & hydrogen abundance.  Short term battery solutions become too expensive as they scale larger than the peaker size.  Batteries also are not the right solution if we need energy for days, weeks, months, and seasons.  It is one of the toughest problems to solve with renewable energy that has its highest output during hours when humans don’t need electricity and vice versa.  We need a way to store massive amounts of wasted electrical energy so we can have it back when we need it.  As more and more renewable energy comes online, cumulative curtailed electricity numbers will continue to climb without the means to store excess generation.

When in liquid form at ambient temperature, ammonia has an energy density of about 3 kWh/liter and if chilled to negative 35 celsius, ammonia’s energy density approaches 4 kWh/liter6.  Australia can use their vast renewable resources to achieve economical manufacture, production, and storage of green ammonia by simply buying electrolyzers that turn water into H2 & O2.  Australia can be on their way to making more green ammonia with proven technology that is easy to deploy.  While ammonia is an absolute societal necessity for agricultural fertilizer in an established world market, it also has even bigger economic potential as a carrier of energy.  Energy is a new market for ammonia that will displace oil & gas market share.

The Yara Pilbara Renewable Ammonia Feasibility Study is for a demonstration-scale renewable hydrogen and renewable ammonia production and export facility on the Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia.  Yara’s Burrup Peninsula facility currently produces ammonia by using natural gas as a feedstock for its steam methane reforming process, which produces fossil-fuel based hydrogen. The hydrogen is then used to feed an ammonia synthesis process to produce ammonia. Yara is investigating producing renewable hydrogen to feed its ammonia production process, which will reduce emissions produced by the facility.

yara pilbara
The Yara Pilbara pilot plant will make 30,000 tons of green ammonia that would otherwise be made with fossil fuels. This initial amount of green ammonia replaces 3% of the plant’s fossil fuel capacity. The plant could eventually scale up to 1,000,000 tons of solar PV green ammonia that would otherwise be made with fossil fuels. This is ammonia that already has demand predominantly for fertilizer. (Click image to enlarge).

In collaboration with global energy company ENGIE, the Yara Pilbara Renewable Ammonia Feasibility Study will investigate the feasibility of producing renewable hydrogen via electrolysis powered by onsite solar PV. Yara’s objective is that for the demonstration plant, up to three per cent of the hydrogen consumed on site will be renewable hydrogen. The blended hydrogen will subsequently be converted to ammonia and sold for further processing into domestic and international markets. The feasibility study will also investigate using seawater for the electrolyzer.

The feasibility study will help manufacture 30,000 tons of green ammonia that Yara currently would make using fossil fuels. The study will be the first step on the path to achieving commercial scale production of renewable hydrogen and ammonia for export7. In the long term, Yara is aiming to produce hydrogen and ammonia entirely through renewable energy. This approach will allow Yara to avoid any major augmentation to the existing plant and therefore minimise the cost and time needed to produce renewable ammonia.

This project has the potential to ‘unlock’ the value of vast areas of vacant Pilbara land by supporting the development of a new industry that captures solar energy for conversion to hydrogen and other valuable products.  Because project’s like Yara Pilbara are likely to surpass feasibility expectations similar to most renewable hydrogen projects, its $3.76m price tag is being funded in part by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) with a $995k investment.  The Australian government recognizes how making green ammonia for export can literally transform the continent into an economic powerhouse as renewable generation scales up.

Source: Yara (click to enlarge)

Australia’s government and scientific community want to make green ammonia a significant part of their future economic plans.  Australia has renewable resource potential to produce so much more energy than Australians alone can consume which means ammonia has significant export potential which can quickly increase sovereign wealth.  A challenge associated with using ammonia as a zero carbon energy carrier is “cracking” the ammonia back into its constituent elements nitrogen & hydrogen.  In order to make green ammonia more attractive as an export product, the Aussie’s are attacking this challenge with their top scientific researchers.  Enter Australia’s CSIRO.

Cracking Green Ammonia

CSIRO is Australia’s national science research agency.  The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), says their mission is to shape the future. CSIRO says it does this by using science to solve real issues to unlock a better future for Australia’s community, economy, & planet.  You may remember it was about two years ago to the month (8/08/2018) that CSIRO published a blog post about the successful refueling of a Toyota Mirai & Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel vehicle with ultra pure hydrogen “cracked” from ammonia using a brand new membrane technology created by CSIRO scientists.  The news humbly/quietly signaled a paradigm change in zero carbon energy for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like busses, trucks, trains, airplanes, and passenger vehicles.  If  you have abundant renewable energy to produce green ammonia and a method to crack that ammonia back into hydrogen on demand, you literally have a game changer for green energy.

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall was one of the first to ride in the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo vehicles powered by ultra-high purity hydrogen, produced in Queensland using CSIRO’s membrane technology.  The membrane separates ultra-high purity hydrogen from ammonia, while blocking all other gases.  It links hydrogen production, distribution and delivery in the form of a modular unit that can be used at, or near, a refueling station.  This means that the transportation and storage of hydrogen – currently a complex and relatively expensive process – is simplified, allowing bulk hydrogen to be transported economically and efficiently in the form of liquid ammonia.

Demonstration of a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle refueled by hydrogen from ammonia “cracked” at CSIRO in Queensland, Australia.  CSIRO’s new membrane technology decomposes ammonia into its constituent elements nitrogen & hydrogen.  The hydrogen is ultra pure 99.999% (aka five nines) hydrogen which means it can refuel a Mirai like this one in about the same amount of time it takes to refuel a gasoline vehicle with similar range. Photo courtesy of CSIRO (click to enlarge)

“This is a watershed moment for energy, and we look forward to applying CSIRO innovation to enable this exciting renewably-sourced fuel and energy storage medium a smoother path to market,” Dr Marshall said.  BOC Sales and Marketing Director Bruce Currie congratulated CSIRO on the successful refueling of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which proved the effectiveness of CSIRO’s membrane technology from generation, right through to point of use.  With this successful demonstration under CSIRO’s belt, the technology will be increased in scale and deployed in several larger-scale demonstrations, in Australia and abroad.  CSIRO’s membrane technology will make green ammonia more attractive to foreign consumers who want to import the zero carbon energy carrier into their smog & CO2 belching countries.  This is particularly relevant for enormous nearby markets like China, Japan, and South Korea who have committed to hydrogen economies to decarbonize and de-smog their cities.

Worldwide Green Ammonia Distribution Logistics

Green ammonia will be competing with many other forms of energy that are fighting for investment dollars.  Ammonia has a couple tricks up its sleeves with regard to affordability & return on investment.  One of the key fuels that ammonia will compete with out on the open oceans is Liquified Natural Gas which has a very high volumetric energy content at 6 kWh/liter compared to ammonia’s 3 kWh/liter at ambient temperature or almost 4 kWh/liter if chilled to -35C.  RMP created our map of all LNG facilities in the world when Cheniere was granted the USA’s first permit to export LNG in 2011.  Green ammonia will have to compete with LNG that has grown significantly since RMP first wrote about Cheniere in August of 2015 just over five years ago.  America now has 5 LNG liquefaction facilities permitted for export & built since 2015.  These are carefully planned investment decisions on plants that take years to build.  Even the F.I.D’s on a new LNG plant can take years because of the risk of investing so much money over such a long horizon.

While LNG liquefaction has received significant investment in the past five years on assets that are expected to deliver for 25 plus year useful lives, LNG is at a severe disadvantage to ammonia for both maritime use & for maritime bunkering.  While ammonia has big advantage over all other 100% green energy carriers with energy density, its real secret weapon against grey and potentially “blue” fuels, like LNG, is its ability to use existing infrastructure like that used for LPGs (e.g. propane).   Financial investments with the strongest bang for their buck always win.  Green ammonia will be a fierce competitor with regard to economic return on investment.

green ammonia
Figure 4 from The Royal Society, Ammonia: zero-carbon fertiliser, fuel and energy store” Published February 2020.  This infographic shows the energy densities for various green & dirty fuels.  Where ammonia lacks in volumetric energy density versus hydrocarbons like LNG, it more than makes up for it in ease of use & cost effective bunkering for maritime use.

Because ammonia can be liquified at 7.5 bar at ambient temperatures similar to propane & butane, it has an advantage over LNG as a 100% green energy carrier  and could potentially hurt LNG investments as shipbuilders might prefer 0% zero emission vessels & cargo.  Ammonia easily fits this role of clean energy ambassador to enormous cargo ships with cheaper bunkering costs.  Ammonia bunkering costs will be orders of magnitude cheaper than LNG because of the liquefaction trains & cryogenic storage required for LNG.  There is great irony here in that for 10 years we have heard that hydrogen suffers from a “chicken or egg” problem but the truth is the chicken or egg problem befalls LNG to a much more significant degree than ammonia which means hydrogen’s chicken or egg problem also could rapidly become yesterday’s story.

For LNG, the dilemma has been that shipowners have been reluctant to make the switch to LNG as bunker fuel in the absence of ports around the world able to supply it. Yet, the development of the required infrastructure is dependent on such demand. As ammonia is already produced and transported in large quantities around the world by ship, bunker supplies could be readily accommodated, though of course it will have to be expanded once the first ammonia powered vessels are realized, says Niels de Vries, a Naval Architect with C-Job Naval Architects in the Netherlands.

“Nowadays the main consumer of ammonia is the fertilizer industry,” he says. “This industry is supplied by ships which carry ammonia in bulk loads of up to 60,000 dwt. The industry’s existing infrastructure could be used to realize bunker locations for ships in the future, and current production offers the possibility of a smooth transition. There are ports available already that could supply the first ships.”

Vigor, the Pacific Northwest’s biggest shipbuilder, has launched the Harvest, the first liquefied ammonia barge built in the US since 1982. It was built for the Mosaic Co. of Minnesota, a leading producer of concentrated phosphate and potash fertilizers, and will be operated in the Gulf by a subsidiary of the Savage Company. The 508-foot hull was constructed at Vigor’s HQ and base facility, the Swan Island Shipyard in Portland, with the assistance of other Vigor divisions in the region. Photo courtesy of Vigor. (Click to enlarge)

Shipbuilders are/were already ready to make an economic case for using ammonia as low emission fuel by combusting it and scrubbing NOx.  But, with ammonia cracking technology like that mentioned by CSIRO that can turn ammonia to hydrogen on demand, you don’t need to combust it because you can use it in a fuel cell which has more than 2x the efficiency of a combustion engine with zero harmful emissions.  All of the sudden, the economics you could use to justify ammonia as fuel have just gotten twice as good & your emissions drop to zero.  It really bodes well for ammonia as a green energy carrier.  Speaking of CSIRO’s technology to crack ammonia into N2 & H2, phys.org just published a recent article August 19, 2020 regarding a new low-cost membrane technology developed by the Korea Institute of Science & Technology (KIST) to decompose ammonia into high purity hydrogen & nitrogen.  More evidence top research authorities like CSIRO & KIST are demonstrating scientists around the world are working fast to unlock the potential of green ammonia.  You can bet there are some labs in the USA & UK that will be touting some similar breakthroughs soon.

RMP had to squeeze in two photos of the new liquified ammonia barge Harvest because life is short and boats are cool.  Look at the size of this massive vessel.  The enormous self-climbing gantry crane was used to lift and position the 680-ton bow and the 470-ton stern modules.  Harvest contains four 1,100 ton ammonia tanks each having a capacity of 5,500 tons of ammonia.  This American made ship created over a million labor hours of good American jobs in Portland Oregon.  We can build more of these and make a significant amount of our energy domestically with green ammonia. Photo courtesy of Vigor. (Click to enlarge)

Recent advances in renewable energy technology have set up the new 2020 decade for continued scaling in the manufacture of zero emission ammonia for sustainable energy.  Because hydrogen is inexhaustible, abundant, and in every local community, it could mean economies of scale could make hydrogen very cheap as old petroleum infrastructure could be retrofitted for ammonia storage & distribution.  Ammonia is already transported by ocean freight by big ships like Vigor’s 508 foot hull Harvest recently built supporting millions of labor hours in America’s pacific northwest Portland area8.  The Harvest was built by American workers using over 9,000 tons of American steel & 4,400 tons of equipment.  The Harvest has four cargo tanks, each capable of holding 5,500 tons of liquid anhydrous ammonia at very low pressure.  This was the first ammonia vessel built in America since 1982!   Think about all the jobs & labor hours America could generate to make even more ships like this that transport ammonia safely across our oceans.  Speaking of safety, we need to talk about safety & toxicity in more detail.

Ammonia’s risk profile is similar in magnitude to methane or methanol.  For ammonia, the main risks are related to health, as ammonia is toxic.  Ammonia’s fire risk profile on the other hand is lower. Ammonia can be stored as a liquid either at -34 degrees Celsius at atmospheric pressure (usually applied for large scale applications) or at room temperature at 10 bar (usually applied for small scale applications).  RMP’s stated mission as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization is to protect our fresh water resources.   Toxic & water are two words that need to always be separate to protect drinking water.  How does RMP recommend a toxic substance, ammonia, and reconcile that position with our mission statement of protecting Michigan’s and the world’s fresh water resources?

Reconciling ammonia’s toxicity with RMP’s mission of protecting freshwater

Ammonia is a product necessary for humans to survive.  Ammonia is a naturally occurring compound being created in your body’s cells right now as you read this sentence.  Ammonia will continue to be manufactured, stored, and transported in the future the same way it is now and has been used in industry for over 100 years.  Like all energy carriers & fuels, ammonia is dangerous and must be handled with appropriate safeguards.  RMP was founded on protecting fresh water and eliminating the use of fossil fuels.  RMP specifically wants to eliminate crude oil from our energy mix first as it causes great harm to our fresh water resources.  Crude oil, gasoline, diesel, and other fuel oils contaminate water wherever they are produced, stored, & distributed.  Crude oil has environmental remediation costs that drain public budgets & and ruin our environment irreversibly no matter how much we spend to try to clean it up. Famous spills like the Exxon Valdez that happened in April of 1989 are still costing money to clean up today9.  That’s just one example of literally thousands of major instances.  Right here in our backyards of Michigan, we remember the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline disaster just over ten years ago that RMP wrote about on its 5 year anniversary.   Ammonia is different in relation to environmental disasters; it’s not like fossil fuels.  While ammonia can cause fish kills on release and can be deadly, its toxicity to the environment is temporary.

As soon as ammonia is released into the environment, it begins neutralizing.  Spilled ammonia, while toxic, will quickly dissipate reacting with moisture to form ammonium. Ammonium then quickly binds to negatively charged soil, organic matter, and clays. Ammonium rarely accumulates in soil because bacteria will rapidly convert the ammonium that is not taken up by plant roots into nitrates (nitrification)9.  Yes ammonia is toxic & can cause accidents that could turn deadly if they’re not handled safely; this is the same with all fuels.  The difference with ammonia is that spill or release events will always be isolated and short term clean ups.  When I think of a serious ammonia accident, I’m reminded of when I was young and I would share my scientific theories with my dad.  My dad would remind me of La Chatlier’s principle of chemical equilibrium.  Ammonia is a good example of something toxic that quickly finds an equilibrium with the environment to form something non-toxic.  I’m glad my dad taught me about La Chatlier’s principle because there is going to be FUD surrounding ammonia just like any other fuel we use.  RMP knows, no matter what form of energy we use, there will be people who oppose it [viciously].

RMP supports green ammonia as part of the solution of clean renewable energy that is safe for the environment.  While dangers exist with ammonia like any other high energy density medium, imagine the flip side:  without ammonia nearly 60% of the world’s population would perish from starvation.   The possibility of an accident is the risk to pay to avoid certain calamity if there was no ammonia.   When the ammonia FUD comes and people say the sky is falling, remember this paragraph.  Ammonia has been in use around the world for a century.  No one has any reason to panic, but ammonia certainly needs to be handled safely similar to any other fuel we use today.

Here are three bullet points from the CDC’s Frequently Asked Questions page regarding ammonia when it enters the environment:

  • Ammonia is found throughout the environment in air, water, soil, animals, and plants.
  • Ammonia does not last very long in the environment. It is rapidly taken up by plants, bacteria, and animals.
  • Ammonia does not build up in the food chain, but serves as a nutrient for plants and bacteria.

Again, the points listed above are not to diminish the serious toxic & safety hazards associated with ammonia and the importance of following strict safety protocols to prevent injury, death, or fish kills in an accidental release.   Ammonia, like all other forms of substantial energy carriers comes with strict safety protocols for manufacture, handling, storage, and distribution.

RMP hopes to have made clear in this article why the  leaders and the scientific community in Australia are all in on green hydrogen & piloting green ammonia plants & commercializing technology to crack ammonia into N2 & H2.  In less than one week, on August 27 & 28, 2020, the Australian Chapter of the Ammonia Energy Association will host their 2ND Ammonia = Hydrogen 2.0 Conference (virtual this year due to COVID-19).  The conference will be hosted from Monash University based in Melbourne Australia on the south coast. 

Australia currently has 95 large renewable energy infrastructure projects that are in construction (or due to start construction soon).  These projects will deliver over $19 billion in capital costs, 11,007 MW of new renewable energy capacity and create 13,567 direct jobs.  Source: Australia’s Clean Energy Council (click to enlarge)

China, Korea, & Japan are all in on green hydrogen and will leverage Australia as a regional trading partner.  Australia can provide clean hydrogen energy in a format with a similar economics & logistics to petroleum without the nasty BTEX environmental traits that are silent killers of sovereign wealth. Europe is also expected to be a dominant green ammonia producer according to this article.

Currently, China must invest in all sorts of remote places places in Brazil, Africa, Canada, the USA, and the Middle east to get the coal, crude oil, natural gas, & NGLs  it so desperately needs to provide energy & industrial feedstocks for its over 1.3 billion power hungry consumers.  What if China could do away with crude oil boondoggles & all those far away countries and get clean green energy from domestic production supplemented by a nearby trading partner like Australia?  This is why RMP writes about China’s extensive economic investments into the manufacture of green hydrogen & fuel cells all across China.  The exact same goes for Japan & Korea.  For those who find interest in the study of chemistry & economics, it’s not difficult to see why so many people around the world are investing sovereign wealth into green ammonia and the hydrogen economy.  Green ammonia is a stepping stone on the critical path to a decarbonized society.

Final Conclusion

There are different battery chemistries (NiCd, NiMH, Lead Acid, Li-ion, low cobalt li-ion, lithium polymer) that compete with each other for practical real world applications.  There are many different types of fuel cells (PEM, SOFC, PAFC, Alkaline) that also compete with each other for practical applications.  All will have roles to play with some more dominant than others just like a sports team made up of great athletes.  Similar to the way an artist needs all of the colors in the spectrum on their palette to paint a masterpiece, getting to 100% carbon free energy will need every battery chemistry & fuel cell type to compete with each other on the same canvass of human needs.  Because different types of energy are competitors, it does not mean they must be enemies.  This is true for humans too.

A lot of human energy goes into arguing about batteries vs hydrogen but clenched fists cannot reach for olive branches.  All the battery chemistries & types of fuel cells can compete & coexist in an inclusive arena that understands we will need batteries for some green energy storage & hydrogen for other green stuff.   For example, we will need green hydrogen to make green ammonia because ammonia is essential for life.  And, as long as we invest in green ammonia to make it cheap & abundant, we should also use it as an energy storage medium with a high energy density that replaces the oil & natural gas we use now.  Imagine blue skies & pure drinking water for everyone around the world.  Think about so many people here in America and those around the world who should not have to breathe NOx & SOx pollution because they live near a power plant.  We have hundreds if not thousands of people now living next to SOx & NOx fumes right here in Detroit near Zug Island & DTE’s River Rouge plant.  I know Detroit needs big energy to forge metal & make the cars and trucks that keep America moving, but yuck.  Just yuck.  We gotta just stop with dirty energy.  Ammonia can provide the energy needed to make clean steel in a very cost effective manner here in Detroit, the same way as it can in Australia or Asia.

RMP is a Michigan registered & federal 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  RMP writes about and advocates for clean energy that helps protect our freshwater resources here in Michigan and around the world. RMP also makes maps of clean & dirty energy infrastructure using the Google Maps API.  Follow us on Twitter and like us on  Facebook.  Please click here to make a tax deductible donation to RMP to help us keep publishing free content with no ads & energy infrastructure maps.

The featured infographic image for this post comes from the Iberdola Spain green ammonia pilot plant.  The Iberdola green ammonia plant will be a $177M investment, create 700 jobs, and eliminate 40,000 tons of CO2 each year.


Footnotes:

Footnote #1“Yara Green Ammonia” YouTube, uploaded by Yara International November 2019 @ 17 second mark of 1:54 video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVwDeMPcJio

Footnote #2–  The Royal Society, “Ammonia: zero-carbon fertiliser, fuel and energy store” Published February 2020 – pp4. https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/green-ammonia/green-ammonia-policy-briefing.pdf

Footnote #3 – Frontiers In Energy Research, “Ammonia as a suitable fuel for fuel cells” last modified August 2014 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenrg.2014.00035/full

Footnote #4 – Clean Energy Council “Project Tracker” last updated June 2020 https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/resources/project-tracker

Footnote #5 – ScienceDirect “Sunny with a Chance of Curtailment: Operating the US Grid with Very High Levels of Solar Photovoltaics” November 2019 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589004219303967

Footnote #6–  The Royal Society, “Ammonia: zero-carbon fertiliser, fuel and energy store” Published February 2020 – pp7. https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/green-ammonia/green-ammonia-policy-briefing.pdf

Footnote #7–  Australian Government – Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), “Yara Pilbara Renewable Ammonia Feasibility Study” Published February 2020 https://arena.gov.au/projects/yara-pilbara-renewable-ammonia-feasibility-study/

Footnote #8–  Pacific Maritime Magazine, “New Liquefied Ammonia ATB tank barge” Published November 2017 https://www.pacmar.com/story/2017/11/01/features/new-liquefied-ammonia-atb-tank-barge/557.html

Footnote #9–  Anchorage Daily News, “Don’t let government give up on Exxon Valdez restoration” Published June 2020 https://www.adn.com/opinions/2020/06/18/dont-let-government-give-up-on-exxon-valdez-restoration/

Footnote #10–  Minnesota Department of Agriculture, “Ecological Effects of Ammonia Published on the Nitrification Cycle information page. https://www.mda.state.mn.us/ecological-effects-ammonia#:~:text=Ammonia%20in%20Air%20and%20Soil&text=Ammonium%20then%20quickly%20binds%20to,roots%20into%20nitrates%20(nitrification).

USA & CANADA QUARTERLY H2 INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE 2020-Q1

Welcome new readers of RMP’s quarterly H2 infrastructure report.  Each quarter we look back on the major stories related to hydrogen infrastructure advancements and we compare the current AFDC database to the AFDC database in the prior quarter to see what has changed.  The AFDC database is updated by the US Dept of Energy & can be found by clicking here.  Canada does not have a centralized database of alternative fuel vehicle information so we collect Canadian data by hand.  Ok, on with the report…

The opening quarter in 2020 has many important headlines but there are two major events for hydrogen infrastructure in North America that will be the focus of this article:  1) On March 5, 2020 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the Fuel Cell Energy & Toyota collaboration micro grid project that will use directed biogas from cow manure to produce 100% renewable #hydrogen for Class 8 trucks at the Port of Long Beach & the Port of Los Angeles. 2) On January 31, 2020 Air Products & the Orange County Transit Authority opened the largest fast fill hydrogen refueling station in America at OCTA’s Santa Ana Bus Base on the banks of the Santa Ana River in Southern Los Angeles.

The significance of the Project Portal approval is well conceptualized with a famous economic analogy.  One of my favorite authors, Reed Jacobson, once wrote something in a computer programming book that has stuck with me for over 20 years:  “Long before Henry Ford, and even before Marc Brunel, the economist Adam Smith reasoned that in a single day, a single worker could make only one straight pin, but ten people could subdivide the work and create 48,000 pins in the same day—an almost 5,000-fold increase in productivity.”   The concept Reed was teaching in that one sentence was the concept of writing a ‘loop’ in a computer language.  A loop is a chunk of computer code called a subroutine that specializes in one purpose & therefore can execute its special purpose very fast.  If you spend the time to get that loop set up correctly, its payback to you in terms of run-time execution & lines of code reduced, is 5,000-fold.  That powerful concept has helped improve productivity in our economy for hundreds of years in many different industries as well as helped me write more effective code for over twenty years now. Continue reading “USA & CANADA QUARTERLY H2 INFRASTRUCTURE UPDATE 2020-Q1”

USA’s First Hydrogen Passenger Rail – San Bernadino California

America’s first hydrogen fuel cell train is expected to be operational in San Bernadino California in 2024 and there’s a cool connection back to Michigan State University. Hydrogen fuel cell powered trains are already in public service in both Germany & China. Hydrogen fuel cell trains create their own electricity onboard by running hydrogen from a tank & oxygen from the ambient air through a fuel cell. That electricity powers a motor that runs the wheels & on-board “right-sized” battery pack that buffers electricity flow and the only emission is potable water. Hydrogen fuel cell trains are being hash tagged on Twitter as #Hydrail.

The San Bernadino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) has begun mainline construction on the Redlands Passenger Rail Project, which is bringing the next generation of passenger rail service to the East Valley. To celebrate this momentous occasion, SBCTA had a Groundbreaking Event on July 19,2019 near the corner of Third Street and Stuart Avenue in Redlands.

california hydrogen train
The Redlands Rail project in San Bernadino California is already under construction & will be operational by 2021. A hydrogen fuel cell powered train is on order from Stadler that should be operational on the new route by 2024. If you want to see a real world Google map of the rail route, click here. (click image to enlarge)

The Redlands Passenger Rail Project will add a nine-mile rail connection between the University of Redlands and the San Bernadino Transit Center, a multi-modal transit hub that can provide access to all points west. When completed, the project will house the Arrow commuter line, featuring specially designed zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell powered trains. The zero-emission units will be the first of their kind in North America. The Arrow system is expected to be operational in 2021 & up to date information about construction on the project & road crossing closures as the construction plays out can be Continue reading “USA’s First Hydrogen Passenger Rail – San Bernadino California”

Gelman DIoxane 1,4 Plume Map Ann Arbor Michigan

Welcome to RMP’s new Generation 2 map of the Ann Arbor Dioxane 1,4 Plume.  This is RMP’s first Gen2 map and is a leap forward in RMP’s environmental mapping software and it’s free to use for anybody with an internet connection.

CLICK HERE TO OPEN THE MAP IN NEW WINDOW, THEN BOOKMARK IT IN YOUR FAVORITES

Continue reading more about RMP’s new map of Ann Arbor, Michigan… Continue reading “Gelman DIoxane 1,4 Plume Map Ann Arbor Michigan”

Quarterly USA H2 Report Becomes Quarterly USA & Canada H2 Report

RMP is based near Detroit, Michigan.   The Detroit River separates the City of Detroit & the City of Windsor.  The Ambassador Bridge connects the two cities and soon the Gordy Howe International Bridge, a once in a generation undertaking, will be a second major bridge connecting the two cities.  Windsor is my personal connection to Canada and has been woven into the fabric of my life since I was a child.  I can remember seeing Ronald Reagan at Cobo Hall in the morning & crossing the bridge to Windsor and seeing Queen Elizabeth in Windsor on the very same day.   The USA & Canada border is vast and the friendship & commerce all along the USA & Canada border provides many folks from Washington to New York their own personal connections to our neighbor to the north.

Canada is also a leader in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology.  Ballard Power is Continue reading “Quarterly USA H2 Report Becomes Quarterly USA & Canada H2 Report”

USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q2

This quarterly report looks back at all the H2 infrastructure activity from the previous three months. This issue of our report is focused on activity that occurred between 3/31/2018 and 6/30/2018. With things happening faster now than they have in the past, we may need to make this a monthly report in the near future. If you like keeping up to date on RMP’s H2 data observations, please subscribe to our blog by entering your email address in the WordPress subscribe widget. RMP uses the AFDC database as our main source to generate the information in this report. Several data updates on the Alternative Fuels Data Center database occurred this quarter, which is the 2nd straight quarter RMP has monitored higher frequency in data updates since we started following the AFDC database over six years ago. The AFDC database is also the main source of RMP’s Hydrogen Station Map. Areas of the database that have been stagnate for years, now show an increased frequency in updates. RMP notices every small change from quarter to quarter using special data analytics techniques developed over years of tracking environmental data & creating our environmental Google maps. You can help RMP improve our research & publications by making a tax-deductible donation (USA only) by clicking here.

Seven data records for H2 stations disappeared from the database this quarter. Two of the stations no longer showing on the AFDC database are the Continue reading “USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q2”

USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q1

Respectmyplanet.org has created a new quarterly report called the USA H2 Infrastructure Quarterly Update. This is our 2nd report since our inaugural report on 12/31/2017, but our first with the new ‘quarterly’ title.  You can read our first H2 infrastructure update report published in December by clicking here.  A quarterly frequency should be appropriate to report on H2 station construction & news in the USA, but things are certainly happening faster now than they have in the past. This report may need to become a monthly report in the near future if the pace continues to quicken.

More things H2 related are happening in the USA now than they ever have in the past. There were more data updates on the Alternative Fuels Data Center DB (AFDC database) this quarter than in Continue reading “USA Quarterly H2 Infrastructure Update 2018-Q1”

2016 Michigan Hydrocarbon Production Results – Full Year

The MDEQ publishes full year numbers for hydrocarbon production about 4 to 5 months lagging behind calendar date.  That means these 2016 full year numbers are a little late, but better late than never.  The good news is 2017 results will be ready in May of this year so full year results for 2017 will be just around the corner.

Michigan Natural Gas Production 2016

One of the things RMP talked about in October 2016 was Riverside LLC becoming Continue reading “2016 Michigan Hydrocarbon Production Results – Full Year”