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 Continue reading “The Truth About Blue 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.
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 Kingdom – Fukashima, 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Continue reading more about RMP’s new map of Ann Arbor, Michigan… Continue reading “Gelman DIoxane 1,4 Plume Map Ann Arbor Michigan”
Fuel cells have helped push General Motors back into working with the US Military. GM recently created a new division called GM Defense LLC that is supplying fuel cell technology to the US military for land & submarine vehicles. RMP has done a quick write up with some pictures of the new full size ZH2 fuel cell pickup truck concept based on the Chevy Silverado that looks ready to be used in combat missions.
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.
Feel free to tell RMP where we you think we got it wrong and please leave a comment whether you support or disagree with RMP. Click here to follow our Twitter feed and click here to like RMP on facebook. Thanks for reading and please share this post on your social media by clicking the share links below. If you can afford to support our Michigan based 501(c) non-profit organization in a financial way please click here to make a tax deductible donation (only donations made in the USA are tax deductible but we would welcome international contributions too). If you would like to join us and publish your articles right here on RMP’s website and you can support your arguments for green energy with verifiable references, please contact RMP by leaving a comment below or writing to us at email@example.com. We would love to publish more content that debunks junk science. Thanks for reading.
It’s that time of year again to report production numbers in Michigan for oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids for the first six months of 2016. As stated many times here, the production data lags behind real time so we have to wait until just about this time of year to get all of the data from January to June. After compiling the data for the first six months of 2016 we see a couple of Continue reading “2016 Michigan Hydrocarbon Production Results January – June”
This month a group calling themselves the MICATS staged a protest at Attorney General Bill Schuette’s home in Midland, Michigan. The Detroit News has a story here.
For the record, I have never supported extremist groups or individuals like those in MICATS and neither has respectmyplanet.org. I don’t know them, affiliate with them, or in any way condone what they did. RMP supports as part of our stated mission the migration away from oil as an energy source. RMP supports ending oil pipelines that traverse our Continue reading “Michigan Oil & Gas Monthly – July 2016”
Update 6/14/2019 – The map in this post has been updated as of June 14, 2019 to our “Generation 2” style map. This is the first fully interactive map of the three Gelman Dioxane 1,4 plumes, all of available locations, and their corresponding data. Check out our new map below 🙂 CLICK HERE to read the new post showcasing RMP’s new generation 2 map. Keep reading to read our original map post. Thanks!
End Update from 6/14/2019
2015 Michigan petroleum production numbers are approximately 98% reported as of today. RMP has always focused on the numbers as they are often greater than adjectives. Opinions are overrated. People want to hear the numbers and then decide for themselves. This is RMP’s fifth year studying, parsing, organizing, compiling, and reporting numbers related to Michigan petroleum production. The information RMP publishes will always be free access to the public. RMP has always followed three fundamental tenets as a research and reporting philosophy:
- It’s all about the rock. Always respect the geology.
- Follow the money. Money talks.
- Follow the wastewater. Waste means inefficiency and problems. Inefficiency and problems mean additional costs. With regard to costs, see point #2.
Following the money has proven to be difficult because of the voluminous and Continue reading “Michigan Oil & Gas Production Report January – December 2015”
RMP Update 5/18/2022 – RMP’s interactive contamination map of Wurtsmith AFB at the bottom of this story has been temporarily taken down. RMP is always upgrading our Made In Michigan mapping software. We are currently in the process of upgrading old maps to our version 3 software. A new and improved map of Wurtsmith AFB will be published soon. Stay tuned. Still a great story below even 6 years after original publication. Enjoy the rest of the story.
The Detroit Free Press published an article March 10, 2016 written by Keith Matheny that raises awareness about groundwater contamination at Wurtsmith Air Force Base (WAFB) in Oscoda, Michigan. You can read the Freep article by clicking here. Keith’s article has current information and details about an upcoming “open house” being held by the MDEQ & US Air Force on March 23, 2016 in Oscoda in order to brief the public about groundwater contamination at WAFB. Each day thousands of gallons of Pure Michigan freshwater soak through Landfill #27 and become contaminated water that flows south through Clark’s Marsh to the Au Sable River and then out to Lake Huron. The extent of the contamination plume around WAFB is not fully understood but ongoing studies are underway to delineate the pollution. A “do not eat” fish advisory was issued immediately after data first became available on May 2, 2012 that showed contamination levels at WAFB above GSI criteria. It’s great to see Freep covering issues that raise awareness about important contamination “hot spots” in the Michigan Basin. RMP has been working on a list of contaminated hot spots in Michigan and WAFB is on our top 10 list. In this post, I will write a little bit about Continue reading “Landfill #27 At Wurtsmith Air Force Base”