Is the hydrogen tech ‘revolution’ hope or hype?

Posted: July 1, 2020 by oldbrew in Batteries, Energy, hydrogen

Hydrogen-powered London bus

More hopeless than hope. But for those who want to put a lot of time, effort and money into looking for ‘solutions’ to the non-problem of supposedly human-caused climate change, it’s a topic for discussion. It may have some specific uses, but cost and practicality seem to be strongly against it as a general replacement for traditional fuels.
– – –
Can hydrogen – a relatively clean source of fuel – help power the economy of the future? – asks the BBC.

In his speech on the planned economic recovery, the prime minister said hydrogen technology is an area where the UK leads the world. He hopes it’ll create clean jobs in the future.

But is the hydrogen revolution hope or hype?

The digger with the long-toothed bucket bites into a pile of stones, tilts up and flexes its sturdy mechanical arm.

It swivels, extends the arm and dumps its load on the harsh ground of a Staffordshire quarry.

It’s a beast of a machine and from the front it looks like a normal excavator.

But from the back you can see its tank full of dirty diesel has been replaced with a hydrogen fuel cell.

The excavator is the latest in a generation of vehicles powered by the lightest element on Earth.

The compendium of vehicles powered by hydrogen now stretches from diggers to micro-taxis, trucks, boats, vans, single-deck and now double-decker buses – and even small planes.

It works by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity. The only direct emission is water.

Talking about a revolution
So at last, the long-awaited hydrogen revolution is here. Or is it?

Back in the early 2000s, backers of hydrogen thought it would dominate the clean automobile market.

But the promised “hydrogen highway” never materialised, for a couple of crucial reasons.

Firstly, hydrogen power needed a new infrastructure, whereas rival battery cars could be charged off the near-ubiquitous electricity grid.

Secondly, high-powered batteries at that time were already well-advanced for other uses such as computers, but hydrogen was not.

Continued here.

  1. Chaswarnertoo says:

    H2 is leaky, sneaky and explosive. How about a fuel gas with a few more carbon atoms in it to reduce leakage, improve combustion and much cheaper to produce. Say natural gas?

  2. oldbrew says:

    Hydrogen safety

    Hydrogen possesses the NFPA 704’s highest rating of 4 on the flammability scale because it is flammable when mixed even in small amounts with ordinary air; ignition can occur at a volumetric ratio of hydrogen to air as low as 4% due to the oxygen in the air and the simplicity and chemical properties of the reaction. However, hydrogen has no rating for innate hazard for reactivity or toxicity. The storage and use of hydrogen poses unique challenges due to its ease of leaking as a gaseous fuel, low-energy ignition, wide range of combustible fuel-air mixtures, buoyancy, and its ability to embrittle metals that must be accounted for to ensure safe operation. Liquid hydrogen poses additional challenges due to its increased density and the extremely low temperatures needed to keep it in liquid form.
    – – –
    And before all that it has to be produced from somewhere. It’s never going to compete on price or quantity of production with natural gas etc.

    Wiki also says:
    any building that contains a potential source of hydrogen should have good ventilation, strong ignition suppression systems for all electric devices, and preferably be designed to have a roof that can be safely blown away from the rest of the structure in an explosion.

    How comforting 😕

  3. Chaeremon says:

    Waiting for foto-date with the following hydro-powered transport vessel. Was announced a few years ago; currently eating subsidies from tax-money for promotional “output”. Can someone tell the mistake in the animated cartoon? (it’s not maths)

  4. pochas94 says:

    The problem with hydrogen is the fuel cell catalyst. Platinum is expensive.

  5. RobR says:

    Oldbrew, hydrogen is obviously extremely reactive. It might not have a rating for innate hazard but just think on it for a bit. Hydrogen is just about the fastest oxidising substance in the universe. That is what makes it a candidate as a fuel. The reaction is highly exothermic. Hydrogen is basically half of each of the best known acids. HF, HCl, HNO3, HCO3 and H2SO4. These dissociate readily in water (oxidised hydrogen, the product of H2 and O combustion) and the liberated H+ ions are immediately either very helpful or extremely problematic depending on your viewpoint. The reason is the extreme reactivity of the hydrogen ions. Hydrogen just loves being coupled with other elements. Hydrogen is so reactive that it is almost impossible to find at the surface of this planet as H2. Which is probably why there is a lack of rating as an innate hazard. Hydrogen is also one of the reasons why hydrocarbons make good fuels. Hydrogen and carbon both like to oxidise.

    Sorry to mention something you already knew.

  6. dennisambler says:

    “its tank full of dirty diesel has been replaced with a hydrogen fuel cell” What about the tank for the hydrogen?

  7. pochas94 says:

    If you really want to see a hydrogen explosion, go over to Cape Canaveral and watch a few tons of the stuff lifted into space.

  8. Graeme No.3 says:

    I think the the BBC should be the first to convert to hydrogen gas for heating.

  9. pochas94 says:

    @Tim Crome”

    That was no explosion.

  10. oldbrew says:

    The report says:
    Past fears of hydrogen tanks exploding have been addressed by the advent of tanks lined with Kevlar and hydrogen release mechanisms in case the tank is struck.

  11. Curious George says:

    Hydrogen buses have been used in London since 2011. Just curious, how reliable did they prove in service?

  12. cognog2 says:

    Re: the Electric Portliner:
    It would be a bit more simple if the 1.6MWhr battery container was replaced with a 7 foot cubed tank of diesel and an efficient engine.
    It would cut out the need for wind turbines etc. complex refuelling arrangements and give extra space for a container. Could even cut out the need for subsidies; but perhaps I ask too much.

    Renewables all suffer the same problem. It takes a lot of energy and resources to harvest them. There is no free lunch in the thermodynamic rule book.

  13. oldbrew says:

    More delusional climate nonsense…

    JULY 1, 2020
    Scientists install sensors in Glasgow, Scotland schools to monitor greenhouse gases in real time

  14. saighdear says:

    Well, what’ll really niggle them, ‘There’s a “Y” in Hydrogen and in Hype ‘ so now you know. and what I think about it too after reading & thinking so much!

  15. Chaeremon says:

    @cognog2 says, July 1, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    The animated cartoon shows 1] no engine(s!) room, 2] no propeller shaft(s!), 3] no steering engine(s!), there is no space reserved for these things. Add that and the (hallucinated hydro) vessel is going to be drowned on launch.
    But what is scaring me is that there is no room on deck for my Maserati and the crane to land the car.

  16. pochas94 says:

    When the all-in cost of hydrogen transportation is within reach of fossil fuels, the driving experience will win you over.

  17. Gamecock says:

    Hydrogen gas is DOA for widespread use, until they come up with a practical odorant. Which doesn’t seem likely. Some think ethyl isobutyrate might work, but it is still theoretical.

    Widespread use of an odorless, explosive gas is a prescription for disaster. See: Hindenburg.

    “Those who don’t know the past . . . .”

  18. oldbrew says:

    Industry was using 70 million tons of hydrogen in 2019.

    95% of it was made from fossil fuels 😀 — don’t tell the BBC.

  19. oldbrew says:

    GCC: ‘The German Government has also announced a national hydrogen strategy, with plans to ramp up production capacity to 5 GW by 2030 and 10 GW by 2040. By 2030, Germany aims to have generators with a total capacity of up to 5 GW, which corresponds to hydrogen generation of about 14TWh.

    Hydrogen will be used first where processes cannot be electrified—for example, in heavy goods transport, steel production, the chemical industry and aviation. Companies in these sectors will receive financial support if they invest in electrolysis plants to transform their production processes.

    Germany’s environment minister did not originally envisage the use of hydrogen in the transport sector. However, there are now plans to support the development of infrastructure for hydrogen refuelling.’
    – – –
    They must have noticed that renewables are unpredictable and/or that batteries are too small-scale to serve entire countries, or anything energy-intensive.

  20. ivan says:

    @pochas94 That was no explosion.

    No, that was the fire started by the explosion – hydrogen is NOT a safe fuel, it has this habit of going BOOM at the most inopportune times from airships to space rockets and we now wait for the first bus.

  21. Graeme No.3 says:

    If only there was some efficient way of converting press releases into renewable energy then the problem would be solved.
    Eye of nowt, and stuff from blog,
    Wool of eyes, and brain of dog,
    Accountant’s false, blind believers sing,
    penguin’s egg and polar bear’s ring,—
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
    Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

  22. pochas94 says:

    For those terrified of pulling up next to a hydrogen car at a stoplight, valium may be the answer.

  23. A C Osborn says:

    Has anyone else noticed that according to our august Prime Minister the UK leads the world in just about everything.
    Funny that I have never noticed it before, other than stupidity that is.

  24. tom0mason says:

    All this talk of “create clean jobs” just remind me of Howard Hughes and how he became fixated on not catching any bug or bacteria. Both are dumb ideas.
    ‘Clean jobs’ usually means that the dirty part is done elsewhere, usually somewhere foreign. Clean jobs are never all their cracked up to be, what is this ‘clean’ method of making/extracting hydrogen? What is the ‘clean’ methods of transporting it to where it is needed, and what are the ‘clean’ methods for when a spill, or when an accident happens.

    As always governments offering new ‘clean’ jobs has all the usual hype, hubris, and counterfeit sincerity of a dumb charlatan. It was just the same when someone said “The Britain that is going to be forged in the ‘white heat’ of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.” — said just before the power hungry unions destroyed so much of British industries. Or “The value of the pound in your pocket will not be affected” just before a financial crash and the Britain went abegging internationally. Or any other time a politician has the temerity to attempt using public money to ‘pick a winner’.

    No it is all just political smoke and mirrors, a distraction from doing what is best for the nation by ensuring the UK job’s market expands, or encouraging investment in improving ‘tried and tested’ technologies.

  25. Johna says:

    Hydrogen? Hype and nothing but the Hype. As someone who designed CNG equipment in the UK, when; Exon Mobil Renault Perkins London’s Mayor and all the hangers on, were all pleased with our prototype Gas engine driven CNG Stations (Meads) and the follow on plan to seed the UK Motorways services with CNG – so that CNG powered HGV PSV could trade from Europe. Alas as this was going to happen along came TB and Co and scuppered our hard work and £3 million funding. They said our Natural Gas (North Sea) is to precious a resource to be used on vehicles – later caveated by the Tory libdems with imported LPG as being the same situation – so Defo no CNG Folks as its now being imported from dubious sources? Anyway it was a given that in 2004 Compressed Hydrogen at 700 bar was the next step for us grease monkeys to develop. And with a few more tweaks it is was entirely doable proposition for IC engines – same as for fuel cell tech. So, unless some smart alec comes up with a cheap supply of hydrogen it’s an ongoing pipe dream – even with the CO2 reductions vorsprung durch technik made for the MOT. Don’t get me wrong though, but whilst our smart alecs are trying to brainwash the public that all things CO2 are frazzling the planet, they can multitask and try and come up with some means of energising the 400kv power lines from no CO2 cheap as chips last forever Nuclear Fusion – Made in GREAT Britain!

  26. Chris says:

    Please explain where this hydrogen comes from? Fossil fuels? Electrolysis of Water? All energy dense activities.

  27. oldbrew says:

    Chris – mostly fossil fuels at the moment, but they would like to use wind and solar power.

    Some obvious problems there though, as renewables can’t even generate anywhere near enough electricity to cover existing demand, never mind electric cars etc. planned for the next decade. Plus eye-watering costs, unpredictable intermittency, inefficiency, lack of infrastructure, etc.

  28. dscott says:

    Why not use methane? Not PC enough? Leave it to the green profiteers to rule out the most practical fuel in favor of exotic non solutions. I guess there really isn’t enough money to be scammed from government to endlessly study and prototype expensive equipment where methane is concerned.

    You do realize where most of the hydrogen is derived on an industrial scale? … wait for it, wait for it … methane as feed stock via Steam Reforming

    Of course, the green profiteers are not going to include the energy needed to create the hydrogen for use in their schemes. These people are shameless, greedy and self absorbed.

  29. Johna says:

    Chris says:
    July 4, 2020 at 1:19 am
    Please explain…

    Hi Chris sorry for delay as i’m not a blogger and only get heat up with the ongoing attack on us poor folk whose lives depend all things fossil fuel and the dream and dictat that renewables will power the planet. But my understanding of hydrogen as a fuel for IC engines was that its the same as current best processes, ie ” water electrolysis (PEM or alkaline electrolysis) which have an effective electrical efficiency of 70–80%, producing 1 kg of hydrogen (which has a specific energy of 143 MJ/kg) requires 50–55 kW⋅h (180–200 MJ) of electricity!.. For sure science keeps evolving and I always say a good engineer or scientist stays true to test results from standardised test procedures. Just wished the AWG scientists were forced to do this to?

  30. pochas94 says:

    Hey Johna
    That 70-80 percent efficiency of electrolysis is good news for hydrogen. Couple it with ~50 percent for a fuel cell and you deliver 35 – 40 percent to the road. Beats the ~15 percent for a gas buggy. The real problems lie in power costs (of course we want nuclear), economic life of electrolysis equipment, and catalyst costs. Other problems are delivery systems, fueling points, and people who think hydrogen is an unacceptable explosion hazard. But, no CO2

  31. Michael says:


    Ever heard of “Ballard”. If not then I have a piece of a slightly overused H2 propaganda you might want to invest in. This is the complete stock price history not the truncated version on the company’s website.

    Unbelievable but this is the same smoke and mirrors exercise all over again, it seems twenty years must be the extent of some peoples memories.

    H2 was a con game back when and it still is today. The same nice greedy lying Pillocks behind it this time too,

    If you are a masochist go ahead invest, in your unicorn future but I would advise you to read Ballard’s financial statements very carefully. Just as an example, what is the $40 million goodwill asset they keep sticking on their balance sheet? Also if you can find it please show us all a time period where there wasn’t a net loss per share.

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