Cities stuck in last mile, Stupid Cities, Scooters and the future of Hydrogen


Two articles this week from 3 conferences I attended.

First look at How Cities are Stuck in the "last mile" and other observations from a conferences on cities and new mobility. I examine how scooter companies are working with cities, and how self-driving car tech is mapping cities by keeping the infrastructure dumb.

Today, I write about the future of Hydrogen in transportation -- it's lost the battle for cars, but might have applications in electric flying cars, and in storage for the grid.


Walking the last mile would do Brad Templeton some good.

Then again, we do have to worry about the San Andreas fault.

Pretty clear and obvious that hydrogen can't compete on efficiency grounds vs batteries for cars.
For aircraft I presume the upper limit for propeller driven aircraft speed would mean that burning it in a turbine would also be considered. While the efficiency would be lower, the advantages of being a renewable energy source and lighter fuel load (longer range) still apply.
Where do ships fit here? Weight is far less crucial than for aircraft, but I'm guessing fuel as a percentage of mass is higher than for a car. Batteries might be too bulky as well as heavy for shipping. Does the efficiency of hydrogen along with its green qualities do enough to give it an advantage over diesel?
Too lazy to look it up but do ships actually use diesel electric with power station like efficiency, or just plain diesel and ICE type efficiency?

I have not studied them as much. I believe they usually drive the screws directly, not diesel-electric. Trains are often diesel-electric, and could power with hydrogen. They can also just do plain electrification on major routes as they have in Europe, which is twice as efficient.

Ships are not very efficient propulsion wise, they become efficient by being huge and doing things at scale. Even so, ship scan gain a fair bit by putting up kites.

Research and development being done now on large ship fuel cells. One of many examples below.

Thanks for the link

I would comment that the analysis is rather ignorant regarding the current state of hydrogen technology. There are technological advancements every day and the world is adopting hydrogen as fuel source as this being typed. Yes in shipping as well.

The link below shows those advancements on nearly a daily basis and the question isn't if but when it becomes the fuel of choice for our future needs.

As I wrote, hydrogen has potential in certain fields, but seems to have lost in cars. It lost because batteries got better and cheaper more quickly than expected, and fuel cells and hydrogen tech, while they also have improved, did not match what batteries did.

Both batteries and hydrogen have a history littered with promising developments "in the lab." Now it's about economics. What cost can you actually buy a fuel cell for. What cost can you actually make renewable hydrogen for? What's the efficiency of the whole cycle?

As noted, if you want to store a very large amount of energy, or want to do it at the lowest weight, hydrogen has some advantages which will make it a good choice once those costs get down. Though it's probably never going to be easy to store.

But the fact that you wrote that hydrogen was a "fuel source" suggests your own understanding may have flaws. H2 is not a fuel source. It is an energy storage medium.

Your analysis doesn't cover the production of hydrogen from biomass and natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide. High temperature hydrogen turbines and SOFCs will allow the latter options to be economic. Battery electric vehicles won't compete with HFCVs where the vehicle weighs a lot and if the range is great which characterizes the U.S. marketplace. BOTH require large batteries vs storage tanks. Also many vehicles are parked on the street or parking lots where it will be difficult to recharge. RNG from biomass will allow our homes and industry to remain unchanged.

Carbon capture natural gas is still not renewable, though it can be non carbon emitting. Biomass conversion could make sense -- can it scale up to meet the transportation demand, and at what price?

Brad, I think your analysis is incomplete and a tad off the mark. Efficiency arguments alone are not particularly decisive. What matters is the price of hydrogen (can it be produced at or below the petroleum equivalent price) - one kilogram of hydrogen will power a FCEV for about 100 kms. And what does it cost to purchase a FCEV. Yes - efficiency gains can bring down the H2 price a bit, and yes, gains in fuel cell efficiency will take the car farther on the same amount of of H2. But these are just incremental factors. That internal combustion engines in automobiles are not much more than 20% efficient has never been a decisive factor for the fossil fuel economy.

The comparison is between FCEV and BEV. While for EVs the cost of fuel is much less important, there is still an issue with it being double for FCEV what it is for BEV, once the H2 is generated from renewable electricity. Yes, the costs of the two systems also matter, as do size of tank, risks, and refueling/charging infrastructure.

In that latter camp, H2 can refuel quickly, but there is almost nowhere to do that, while electricity is everywhere. The slower speed of battery recharge has become much less of an issue.

If you had a robocar, it could drive itself to H2 refueling stations, which would be a big plus for H2 when it happens. But costing twice as much per kwh will still be an issue. The other issue is discharge rate. The BEVs can take you to 60mph in 3 to 5 seconds. The Mirai takes 9 seconds.

Their experiment is to take watered out hydrocarbon reservoirs which have no current economic value and gasify them underground by introducing oxygen, which would mean the hydrogen would float to the top and be harvested with zero carbon emission. The hydrogen cost would be as low as $.10/kg. They did a proof of concept, but it will be a year before they attempt production at commercial scale.
The hydrogen would be produced wherever there are deep reservoirs of hydrocarbons or coal so it would be in a lot of places in certain countries. I would love to read comments about how that would affect hydrogen's possibility in the automobile market.

Obviously 10 cents/kg would be a very attractive price, particularly in markets where you don't need to build a large fueling infrastructure, such as trucks, trains, and robotaxi fleets.

The question is, can they produce the volumes needed to serve those markets. It's a lot of hydrogen. And how long to deplete the known reservoirs?

There are lots of watered out oilfields for starters, and they think there will be more money in it for producers to switch good fields into hydrogen producers as well.

Have you done the math, or has somebody done the math? How many watered our oilfields are there? How much H2 can you get from them?

Is this one of those things that solves the problem, or solves 2% of it? That's important to know.

I only read what is on their site. Maybe a geologist will show up here and provide insight.
Proton claims that the oilsands (aka tarsands) alone have enough hydrogen to provide 300+ years of power for Canada. After all these years of production, there are a lot more economically watered out wells loaded with hydrogen than producing oilwells, and I think most wells have some water in them and the watercut can only increase with production. The water will also yield hydrogen in their process.
Maybe there is as much recoverable hydrogen as hydrocarbons although they can't recover hydrogen from shallow reservoirs.

This is another one of those claims from the lab. With energy, it's all about economics. If the economics don't work it doesn't work. So when somebody says, "We hope in the future to make hydrogen for 50 cents/kg" then that's something to tell investors, because you can't buy the H2 from them at that price.

Of course the economics are foremost, but it also matters how renewable it is and if it emits CO2. Where does the CO2 go in this process? It is not renewable, and even saying it could run for a long time while depleting a resource will only get accepted as a stopgap and if it's much cheaper than the other methods.

So, what matters is what price they can actually make it for, or failing that, what price a lot of informed people are confident is a probable result.

The process would be carbon free because the earth is the combustion chamber. The 700 degrees C process converts everything into gaseous elements, so the light and slippery hydrogen that emerges from the former hydrocarbon and water floats at the top but the carbon is heavier so ends up on the bottom, forever. Presently any abandonment well process that meets government enviro regulations does not recover the unrecoverable oil because it can't and there is no need to deal with it after cementing the cap rock because it is sealed it in place where it has always been.
The best place for a well to capture a reservoir's hydrocarbon contents is at the top, so the same is true for capturing hydrogen. The palladium membrane placed at the bottom of the drilled well before the heat event does not allow anything but tiny hydrogen through it.

While I think people would have concern over the non-renewability of the process, if it had no other consequences it could be a reasonable hydrogen source for several decades to ramp up renewable H2 production, and perhaps increase the efficiency of fuel cells. However, if the H2 costs truly such a low price per kg, it can compete with other sources at that price. We still have the issues of shipping and storing the gas but they can be resolved. As I have said, I think for electric airplanes and possibly ships/trains and the grid too.

Another thing that would help people get over the non-renewable nature of it is if it enables other renewables, like grid solar. Right now the barrier to grid solar is that storage is expensive and you need tons of power from 5:30pm to 9pm in the summer which solar can't provide. If you got it from carbon neutral but not renewable H2 that could be valuable, again as a temporary measure.

Proton would not create any mess like solar does, because everything not used remains underground. Gas lines transporting hydrogen would require embrittlement but their hydrogen carrying limit would be stuck at 15% although the furnaces could handle more. Oil pipelines can handle hydrogen with the oil so no adjustments would be needed for that although they would end up producing hydrocarbons. Hydrogen is also trucked or sent by rail currently.
I don't know anything else about how it would be transported, and it is early days.

I generally agree with the state of play you presented in your November 2019 articles on Hydrogen applications. However there is an area where green hydrogen's advantages will see the mining industry being an early adopter. Could be the basis of a follow up article for you? This space is rapidly progressing and all the large mining companies are backing it as a diesel replacement.

Yes, I could see where it could make sense to have emissions free power deep in a tunnel. are they using fuel cells or just burning the H2?

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