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3 comments on “The biogenic production of hydrogen”

  1. Bernhard Ahlers

    Hydrogen as an "energy source"? Now we have to pay taxpayers once again billions to research institutions and industry just to have another look at how hydrogen can be used as "energy".

    Germany started the hydrogen age at 5 p.m. on May 1999, 12.

    At that time, the “world's first public” hydrogen filling station went into operation at Munich Airport. It was the first step into the much touted hydrogen economy. In 2006, the next German superlative came about in terms of hydrogen. The “world's largest” hydrogen filling station opened in the middle of Berlin.

    The future had also begun in Hamburg and Stuttgart. Until the end of 2006, both cities each operated three fuel cell buses as part of the European CUTE project (Clean Urban Transport for Europe); The follow-up project HyFLEET: CUTE started at the beginning of 2007. Hamburg had increased its fleet from 3 fuel cell buses to a total of 9. Berlin had purchased 14 buses with hydrogen combustion engines. Another European project was launched at the beginning of 2007: As part of “HyChain Minitrans”, more than 2010 small vehicles with fuel cell drives should be on the road by 150.

    With news like this, one might think that the age of clean transportation using pollutant-free hydrogen is finally within reach. But the impression could not be more wrong: While publicly funded projects are continuing their celebrated progress everywhere, some experts increasingly come to the conclusion after a calculation that the journey into the hydrogen economy is actually a wooden path.

    When BMW presented its Hydrogen 2006, a hydrogen-powered 7 Series, in 7 with the defined goal that celebrities from politics and business should drive the model, then Bundestag Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckhardt (Greens) rejected the 7 Series BMW because of its poor energy balance . Group colleague Toni Hofreiter refused an invitation to present on the grounds that: "A car that swallows 100 liters in 50 km in XNUMX km at the beginning of the third millennium cannot claim sustainability."

    It appears that our politicians assume that hydrogen is an almost inexhaustible source of energy and thus a tempting alternative to energy supply. You can be persuaded that all climate problems are solved in one fell swoop. The energy supply with hydrogen and fuel cells is fascinatingly clean, because hydrogen combines with the oxygen in the air and only a little electricity and water are required.

    Everything is correct, and in view of such obvious facts, it is no wonder that the hydrogen idea fascinates the public, business and politics alike. The voices of the critics are still suppressed, especially since enthusiasts put a triumphant note on their trombone tones.

    In early 2004, the former President of the European Commission proclaimed the "European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Partnership". The transformation of our fossil fuel based economy into a “hydrogen-oriented economy” should be completed by 2030. With widespread hydrogen pipelines that exclusively transport hydrogen produced from renewable sources, with ubiquitous fuel cells in traffic, with decentralized power generation in everyone's home and in thousands and thousands of small appliances.

    In order to realize this vision, around 6 million euros have been spent in the EU's 300th Research Framework Program. In Germany alone, around 2004 million euros flowed into hydrogen and fuel cell research from the federal government, the federal states and the EU in 85, and the Merkel government also put a “national innovation program on hydrogen technologies” on the flag and in the coalition agreement in 2005. The then Federal Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee provided an additional 500 million euros in funding for the development of hydrogen cars. BMW, Mercedes gratefully accepted the gift.

    But what is not answered when propagating a hydrogen revolution is where the huge amounts of hydrogen for this paradise on earth are supposed to come from: hydrogen is not an energy source like oil or natural gas.

    Hydrogen hardly occurs in nature in its free form. Instead, it is bound in water, biomass or fossil hydrocarbons such as coal and natural gas. Before the gas can be used as an energy supplier, it must be released from its existing compounds. That costs a lot of energy - only a small part of which can then be stored in the released hydrogen.

    Anyone who does the whole thing from front to back will come to the conclusion that the hydrogen economy cannot come. Hydrogen could never become competitive as an artificial source of energy that has to be produced at a loss using other energies.

    The total energy consumption of diesel and petrol in the transport sector (710 TWh) corresponds approximately to the energy of Germany's total electricity consumption (650 TWh). With conversion losses one would need three times the capacity of today's power generation to max. Covering 50 percent of traffic needs with hydrogen.

    Another problem is storage. Because the hydrogen atom is the smallest of all atoms. “Hydrogen contains three times more energy than gasoline, based on its weight, but the energy density per volume is much more important. And hydrogen does very, very badly there, ”said Martin Wietschel from the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) in Karlsruhe.

    Frozen or under pressure

    In order to use hydrogen as drive energy in cars with acceptable ranges, the gas on board must be stored either at very high pressures of up to 700 bar or in liquid form at minus 253 degrees.

    Another disadvantage is that the tank content of a hydrogen car dissolves in air after a short time. Because the hydrogen atom is so small that it is hardly possible to seal all components against leakage in vapor form. Liquid hydrogen warms up over time and then simply evaporates. For a while, the hope for better tanks also rested on metal hydride stores that absorb gaseous hydrogen and release it when heated. However, they proved to be too expensive and heavy to be used only in submarines and ships, where both factors hardly play a role.

    For the time being, only storage under high pressure or at low temperatures remains. However, both processes continue to contribute to the poor energy balance of hydrogen. Even the compression of gaseous hydrogen to 700 bar consumes 13 percent of the energy it contains, and even under this high pressure it has only about a third of the energy density of gasoline. All in all, not even half of the highly subsidized electrical wind photovoltaic energy that was used to generate the hydrogen ends up in the pressure tank. It looks worse with liquefaction. It eats between 30 and 50 percent of the energy in hydrogen. Transport is not included in these figures.

    Overall, no more than 20 to 25 percent of the original “primary energy” arrives at the wheels of a hydrogen-powered fuel cell car. The hydrogen combustion engine is much less because of its poorer efficiency.

    Scientists and engineers already calculated all this in detail at the beginning of 2003 in "The Future of the Hydrogen Economy: Bright or Bleak?" Hydrogen economy is nothing more than a waste of energy. These are very simple engineering calculations! I blame the hydrogen prophets for not even understanding these calculations. At Linde AG, one of the largest hydrogen manufacturers in the world, there is no denying that the calculations are correct.

    There is no doubt that Germany is 98 percent dependent on oil, the economy has to think and act strategically, then you have to think about what you can do because we have an energy and a CO2 problem.

    There is no doubt about that - but why the German economy pounced on hydrogen as an antidote does not make sense to me. In 2020, 20 years after the start of the hydrogen age in Germany, there will be neither fuel cell cars at competitive prices nor affordable hydrogen for them in the foreseeable future.

    The wind and photovoltaic lobby, however, do a different calculation today. The expansion has stalled because the power grids collapse when the wind farms are expanded due to strong winds and high levels of solar radiation. The companies in the wind farm industry do not want to do without the constantly bubbling billions of taxpayers. Therefore, they propose to advance the expansion of wind turbines against civil protests. The "overproductions" can then be converted into hydrogen and stored, which is then converted back into electricity when the wind is calm and at night. One thing is already evident without arithmetic skills; that will be quite expensive electricity!

    The hydrogen prophets are happy to keep silent about the fact that every conversion from one energy source to another occurs. German private consumers are already paying the highest electricity price in Europe. Ascending trend!

    Let me end with the words of a great German physicist.

    When asked which the most common element in the universe was, Albert Einstein once answered: “Hydrogen and the stupidity of people. But I'm not quite sure about hydrogen. ”

    Here are the data tables:

  2. Energy balance of hydrogen (energy losses in production and transportation
  3. Comparison of hydrogen with petrol and diesel (energy requirements, range, costs)
  4. Thank you for the informative article! Mr Ahlers' comment and arguments are valid. That is why I see the area of ​​application of hydrogen primarily in the industrial sector and not in the transport sector, especially in the car. I therefore see the NWS as an opportunity to replace the industrial demand for gray hydrogen with green hydrogen. The sealed off renewable energy output was 5,5 GWh last year. However, this electricity should be used! It should be examined whether this electricity can be used to produce hydrogen economically and sustainably in electrolysis plants.

  5. The severe limitation of available hydrogen in the first few years makes it a very valuable resource / commodity on the market. I agree that it makes a lot of sense to use the limited, CO2-neutral hydrogen in industry. In an industrial nation like Germany, the use of green hydrogen in industry offers the greatest leverage. The reduction of C02 in industrial processes is not only the hardest (high temperatures, 24/7 RE energy demand), but also saves additional costs (CO2 price for certificates of the EU ETS), which is what German / European industry makes in the international price war Markets are even more competitive and thus secure jobs and prosperity. And not to use the renewable electricity produced is actually pretty much the most senseless thing an energy industry can "treat" itself to.

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