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The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

A book by Darryl McMahon

Last updated 2022.11.15

We Have a Winner!!

Dateline: San Francisco CA - Thursday May 12, 2011 - The International Green Book Festival announced the results of its competition, and awarded The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy with Runner-up (second place) in the non-fiction category, coming in ahead of entries by many notable 'green' authors such as David Suzuki.

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The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy in the news

October 2021

It's a long time since I revisited my book or this part of the website. It was always my intention that the book was strong enough, backed copiously with solid research citations, that it would would stand on its own. In the past year, I have seen a resurgence in the hydrogen hype, unaccompanied by any substantive advances in the technology. Other than a 'hail mary' by the nuclear and fossil fuel industries (notably fracked natural gas) to soak up more taxpayer money to greenwash their dismal businesses, I don't understand the play. The technology is substantially the same as it was 150 years ago, with incremental improvements. But the fundamentals of the laws of thermodynamics and economics have not changed.

I have also had multiple requests to update and republish the book. I recently went through the book again, and it has held up remarkably well over 15 years. I will happily update the book if someone wants to pay for my time to do so. Otherwise, not interested. It's still a solid read, educational and occasionally entertaining as is.

I was asked to do an update presentation to a group of which I am a member starting a year ago. I relented this past spring, but have not published the slide deck until now, because I did not have the time to deal with the flame wars that would ensue. I HAVE been here before.

Anyway, with winter approaching, I may have a bit more time for this, as COVID-19 seems to continue pushing off work on my other projects to infinity. Here's the slide deck, and possibly in future some additional articles which shine the reality light on the hydrogen hype. (Intermittent and as time permits)

The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy - Update 15 years on (March, 2021) (PowerPoint PPSX file)

How green is blue hydrogen? April 2021

TL;DR "This best-case scenario for producing blue hydrogen, using renewable electricity instead of natural gas to power the processes, suggests to us that there really is no role for blue hydrogen in a carbon- free future. Greenhouse gas emissions remain high, and there would also be a substantial consumption of renewable electricity, which represents an opportunity cost. We believe the renewable electricity could be better used by society in other ways, replacing the use of fossil fuels."

October 28, 2021 - This is a bit of a slog - about 3 hours - but it's an eye-opening reality check from the conference on Hydrogen (what's needed to make the hydgrogen economy real). TL;DR - it's not ready, funding is a huge problem because lenders see the technology as very risky, and while taking climate change seriously is necessary to give the hydrogen economy a push forward, the case for hydrogen as a climate change solution is shaky.

One speaker (starting at about the 44 minute mark) doesn't even address typical ground transportation as a niche for hydrogen fuel. For those with real skin in the game, it must be clear that plug-in battery and grid-connected electric drive has already captured that market. He speaks to heavy industry, long-haul transport, and maritime sectors as the key markets for hydrogen fuelling sometime after 2030.

This assumes that 'direct electrification' technology will remain stuck in circa 2020 commercial technology levels. That is a poor assumption as battery technology continues to improve dramatically year over year. Electric long-haul transport is being implemented now with Class-8 battery trucks and electrified highways. There are already battery electric ferries in commercial service. The potential for using biofuels is completely ignored. The world is already building infrastructure for liquified natural gas, not only for more compact transport, but also fueling ships. LNG may be a 'bridge fuel', but it will likely appear in precisely the time window to obliterate any niche for hydrogen fuel. LNG based on bio-methane may have a longer life than fossil methane depending on GHG-reduction incentives. Heavy industry will use whatever energy source is available and provides maximum financial advantage. Hydrogen will not be a winner on financials.

Industry promoters still can't bring themselves to give straight answers about GHG emissions, continually blurring the impacts of grey vs. blue vs. green hydrogen. A bit problem for green hydrogen is that there simply isn't enough primary green energy available to power the electrolysis. (My addendum: because it takes 7 times as much energy to power the green hydrogen energy cycle as it does to use green primary energy to charge batteries and power homes, industry and transportation. See my March 2021 PowerPoint deck referenced above.)
Hydrogen - Is it rocket science? (Wikborg|Rein)

October 31st, 2021 - It is not only All Hallows Eve, but scarier still, it is also the eve of the Conference of the Parties 26th annual gathering of the apologists and deniers (COP 26) creating massive GHGs from jet travel for the self-congratulatory PR fest for the powers that be, and where true advocates and problem solvers are left outside the gates. I'll state now that the end-of-event statement will once again mouth platitudes about the scope of the problem, that we must act now, and then serve up zero hard commitments that any government or corporate entity will have to stand to account for, or suffer any penalties for simply continuing the charade as staged regularly since Rio. Happy to have saved you some time with this spoiler.

November 2021

November 3rd, 2021 - One of the purported future uses for (green) hydrogen is to inject it into existing natural gas pipelines for use as a heating fuel to reduce the carbon content of the delivered heating fuel. As I cover in my book, hydrogen is the smallest element, difficult to contain and highly reactive. That means, hydrogen gas - as would be injected into the pipeline infrastructure and into homes and businesses - is very hard to contain and really likes to catch fire or explode.

This white paper, "The H2 readiness of gas shut-off valves in gas meters" (Author: Stephan Brückner, Johnson Electric Smart Metering) contains thiis paragraph:

"To achieve an unlimited infeed of hydrogen in gas distribution networks, all the links in the supply chain will need to be H2 ready – from the entry point through to the exit point where the gas will be used. Intrinsic infrastructure components and materials will have to be investigated and tested for specific compatibility limits with hydrogen admixtures and pure hydrogen."
(paper can be downloaded here)

Think about that for a moment. Think of the enormity of what that implies. Every steel pipe in the NG distribution grid will have to be lined, sealed or replaced to avoid embrittlement. Every connection will have to be replaced. Every cut-off valve will have to be replaced. Where will all that "H2-ready" gear come from in a very short period? Where will the workforce come from? And it has to be a short period, because the distribution network can't distinguish between NG with H2 in it and NG without. Once the H2 starts to be injected, it will be present everywhere within minutes to days. There is no gradual phase-in option for H2 being fed into the distribution network; it's effectively a instantaneous cut-over with the first feed-in.

I think it's a safe bet that the hydrogen energy advocates are not posting that as a headline for their fantasy energy nirvana posters. Because it means they can't simply piggyback on the existing NG distribution infrastructure, they'll have to replace it.

But it begs a more fundamental question, What is the benefit of putting hydrogen into a natural gas distribution network? It's not GHG emissions reductions. In a world where there isn't enough renewable electricity to go around, we're not going to use 7 times as much to make 'green' hydrogen to mix with methane to make a slightly less potent GHG energy carrier. So, that's going to be blue or grey hydrogen, which means we stripped off the carbon molecules upstream somewhere, but they're still being created, just not at point of use. If the objective is heating from green sources, we'll be much better off using electricity to the point of use to power heat pumps for space and water heating. For industrial process heat, it will depend on the desired temperature as to the device used: heat-pump; resistance heating or electric plasma or electric blast furnaces. They're all off-the-shelf tech today, and don't require replacing an existing infrastructure to deploy.

June 2022

June 29, 2022 - One of the purported future uses for (green) hydrogen is to inject it into existing natural gas pipelines for use as a heating fuel to reduce the carbon content of the delivered heating fuel. As I cover in my book, hydrogen is the smallest element, difficult to contain and highly reactive. That means, hydrogen gas - as would be injected into the pipeline infrastructure and into homes and businesses - is very hard to contain and really likes to catch fire or explode.

Here is a report from the Physicians for Social Responsibility titled "Hydrogen Pipe Dreams: Why Burning Hydrogen in Buildings is Bad for Climate and Health. The report's summary begins with:
"Fossil fuel companies are advocating blending hydrogen with “natural” gas (methane) for cooking and space and water heating. They claim this will generate heat while lowering the carbon footprint of the methane gas system. In fact, it will not."

The 30-page report then sets out the logic and evidence used to reach their conclusion.

I liked this paragraph which addresses industry blurring of green hydrogen with fossil-fuel derived hydrogen.
"While burning green hydrogen (produced from renewable energy) is an inefficient, costly way to heat buildings, green hydrogen is very useful for decarbonizing hard-to-electrify industries. In fact, it is critical that we reserve the limited supply of green hydrogen for applications for which it is indispensable, such as fertilizer production. It also has potential for use in steel production, electric grid power-balancing, and long-distance transport, including trucking, shipping, and aviation. Using limited supplies of green hydrogen to inefficiently heat homes and businesses wastes this valuable resource.

August 2022

August 8, 2022 - When even the Mop&Pail, Canada's chief fossil fuels media cheerleader can understand, it speaks poorly of the Canadian federal government not being able to read their own briefing papers. This is the headline: "Repurposing LNG infrastructure for hydrogen exports is not realistic". It's well past time for the feds to stop pandering to the oil & gas industry and look at the evidence and statements from real experts rather than industry shills.

Let me keep it simple for you:
1) Hydrogen made from methane / natural gas ('blue' hydrogen) is not 'green' or clean. Period. Stop blurring the lines.
2) Hydrogen is MUCH harder to contain than natural gas; it is not economically feasible to "repurpose" NG pipelines to carry hydrogen.
3) Using 'green' electricity to make hydrogen is only 1/7th as efficient as putting the electricity in a battery in terms of energy cycle efficiency. (There isn't enough 'green' electricity available to support a hydrogen energy cycle on a mass scale.) Nor can we afford the additional waste heat from all the conversion losses (mulitple conversion processes) on a warming planet.
4) Government support for a hydrogen export industry is just another multi-billion dollar subsidy from taxpayers to the oil and gas industry.

August 11, 2022 - Natural gas does not make 'green' hydrogen, and the existing NG infrastructure is NOT suitable for carrying hydrogen
This article is a refreshing dose of reality on the Canadian government's hydrogen pipedream. (National Observer)
This quote from Paul Martin (Hydrogen Science Coalition) on the plan to repurpose natural gas infrastructue to carry hydrogen kind of sums up the dangerous fantasy the oil & gas industry and their government cheerleaders are spinning:
“It's so factually incorrect that it kind of drives you crazy to hear people say it.”
Blue hydrogen is not 'clean' in terms of climate change GHG emissions or environmental contamination. People in positions of authority have to stop saying it is.

September 2022

September 3, 2022 - NASA has been working with hydrogen in large quantities for a long time. So it should serve as a stark warning when even they have trouble with it in a high profile situation. Years after shuttle, NASA rediscovers the perils of liquid hydrogen (ArsTechica)
Despite the nascent hydrogen energy sector playing down the risks, they are not neglible, and must not be underestimated, let alone ignored, in the mad rush to chase the hydrogen mirage.

September 20, 2022 - The ‘hydrogen hyperbole epidemic’ comes to Nova Scotia
There are some sane voices quoted in this Halifax Examiner article. You should just read it.
I'm all in favour of NS developing more in-province renewable energy resources. However, at the current state of the 'green hydrogen' technology and the need for the world to shift away from burning fossil carbon, we can't afford to waste that green energy on making a lot of heat and a little hydrogen. Much better to use that renewable very-low-GHG energy to displace high-GHG energy production.

September 20, 2022 - Fuelling homes with hydrogen is a pretty lame idea with terrible financials. That's why the hydrogen industry (read oil and gas industry looking for a halo) is letting taxpayers foot the bill.
‘World-first’ hydrogen project raises questions about its role in fuelling future homes (The Guardian)
"On the northern shores of the Firth of Forth, royal blue waters lap against the weathered walls of Methil Docks. The quays were once a hub for coal exports but, since the late 1970s, haven’t dealt in the black stuff. Now, the town on Scotland’s east coast is flirting with another era in the energy industry – but it doesn’t appear to be going to plan." The take at the end of the article is interesting: that hydrogen house heating will be for low income areas, while affluent areas will get better technology which we already know works (heat pumps, solar panels, deep energy efficiency housing designs ...). Kind of like how we design poor neighbourhoods to be downwind of refineries and other emitting industries.

September 21, 2022 - Shouldn't the priority be displacing fossil fuel use in NS with green electricity?
Nova Scotia announces plan for hydrogen made from offshore wind, but confirms majority of energy will be sent elsewhere (National Observer)
I'm all for producing more green electricity and displacing fossil fuel use, such as powering heat pumps for heating houses instead of heating oil. That would reduce energy costs for residents, reduce GHG emissions, and reduce payments leaving the province to pay for foreign energy, thus strengthening the provincial economy (financial independence, energy indepence, resilience. When the domestic needs are fulfilled, definitely look to export green electricity to export markets. But, given the massive conversion losses associated with hydrogen production / storage / transport / use, this should really be the last option explored, especially with taxpayer money as we enter a recession.

The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy now cited by [*dead link:" the U.S. Department of Energy as a textbook on Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology

Book review in the Spring 2009 Greenlife Ottawa magazine

Book review at Journey to Forever 2008

Book Review in Current Events magazine (Electric Auto Association) June/July 2007

The Oil Drum article, Kyoto, Canadians, Energy and the Environment 2007.02.22

Autobloggreen article on The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy 2007.01.13

The Green Majority (CIUT radio 89.5 FM Toronto) 2006.12.29
(interview starts at about 32:30 into the broadcast)

Canadian Newsblog Interview 2006.12.23

Article in the Ottawa Citizen 2006.12.15 (reprinted in Montreal Gazette 2007.01.08)

More News

A Local Review

The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy by Darryl McMahon

This book is a great read for the energy conscious person who is concerned with the environment and how ours and future generations will cope with our depleting fossil fuels. At present, McMahon believes hydrogen is not the answer. He reviews the many ways that hydrogen can be produced.

McMahon points out that although hydrogen is an exceptional environmentally friendly fuel, its production uses fossil fuels which contribute to global warming. Hydrogen is not viable at present but can be a very clean and efficient 'future fuel' when technology finds ways of manufacturing it using alternative energy sources.

With the world's fossil fuel supply quickly running out, the author uses the latter portion of the book to suggest ways of conserving energy. This section is a must read for everyone who wants to use less energy and save money at the same time.
( Peter Bayfield )

The Personal Energy Plan ¤ Browse the book ¤ More News
Book Updates¤ About the Title ¤ On Being an Author

Edmonton (Alberta) Outlets for the Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

Audrey's Books 10702 Jasper Avenue NW

North Bay (Ontario) Outlets for The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

[Link has bitrotted:] Gulliver's Books 157 Main Street West

Ottawa Outlets for The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

Check your favourite bookstore to get your copy of The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy to prepare yourself for a future of rising energy prices.

Arbour Environmental Shoppe (800 Bank Street)

Ridemore 456 McArthur (at St. Laurent)

Perfect Books (258 Elgin Street, near MacLaren)

(If your favourite store for new books does not have The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy, ask them to get it for you.)

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