Britain Hypes the Inexperienced Hydrogen Financial system – Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

A few months ago, a colossal suspected hydrogen coolant leak explosion at a power plant in Australia, which caused blackouts up and down the East Coast, reminded us that hydrogen is not a gas to be toyed with. But nothing appears to be standing in the way of BoJo’s rush to push pressurised hydrogen gas into British vehicles and homes.

Green hydrogen ‘transitioning from a shed-based industry’ says researcher as the UK hedges its H2strategy

Am I blue? Am I green? Government report isn’t quite transparent

The UK government has released its delayed hydrogen strategy which – in a strange move for a colourless gas – hedges its bets between green and blue.

The government claimed the UK-wide hydrogen economy could be worth £900m by 2030, potentially £13bn by 2050. In the next 10 years the universe’s most abundant element could decarbonise energy-intensive industries like chemicals, oil refineries, power and heavy transport by helping these sectors move away from fossil fuels, it claimed.

Light, energy-intensive and carbon-free “hydrogen-based” solutions could make up to 35 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption by 2050, helping the nation meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2050, according to the government paper.

But navigation from the current state of the hydrogen industry to that worthy destination might require some tricky manoeuvres. The vast majority of industrial hydrogen is extracted from natural gas [PDF] in a process that releases greenhouse gasses and requires energy, which often comes from carbon fuels.

In theory, the simplest way to overcome this problem is to use renewable electricity to extract hydrogen from water using electrolysis – so called green hydrogen. The problem is, although it works in the lab, the process has yet to be industrialised on a scale comparable with other fuels in the global energy supply chain. Green hydrogen received a fillip as researchers found methods to make electrolysis more efficient at lower capital costs.

An alternative is to continue to use natural gas as a source of hydrogen but to capture and store the methane and CO2 byproduct, and use renewable energy to power the process. But a recent study found making blue hydrogen was 20 per cent worse for the climate than just using fossil gas over its entire lifecycle.

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As a kid I used to play with hydrogen, used a cheap chemical reaction with ingredients most people have in their homes, to fill party balloons with hydrogen, and tie birthday cake candles or firecrackers to the balloons. A lot of the balloons exploded while we were filling them, if we forgot to squeeze the balloons before filling, or if the rubber didn’t form a good seal with the pipe, the gas swirling inside the balloon and mixing with a trace of air was enough to cause an impressive bang. One time we loaded 5 balloons tied together with so many crackers the balloons failed to ascend above head height – we all hit the deck face down real fast. The blast rattled the windows of my parent’s house, frightened my mum.

The thought of piping pressurised hydrogen into homes, or parking an automobile with tens of litres of compressed hydrogen in the gas tank in an enclosed space, or anywhere near a house, is total insanity. The fuel air blast from an entire leaky gas tank full of hydrogen would likely destroy the house, and smash the windows of all the neighbour’s houses, with obvious consequences for anyone in the vicinity.

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