In the beginning – there was light. Many creation myths have a special moment when the light enters the realm of the living. Light is life.
If we look at current theories about the creation of the universe, we are in familiar territory. Current calculations place the moment of the Big Bang at about 13,7 billion years ago. That’s unfathomably far back in time.
If we imagine this stretch of time as a distance of 13,7 km, every million years would be a meter. All human history would be roughly one centimeter on this 13,7 km stretch. The pyramids would be 4mm back and Julius Caesar was assassinated 2mm from now. The moment of your great grandfather’s birth would only be perceptible with a magnifying glass.
Why am I telling you all this?
It so happens that during all this unfathomably long time, one element was the most abundant of all. And it remained so to this very day. Its the lone superstar of the elements.
Ladies and gentlemen. I am proud to present.
Together with Helium, it was the first element to pop into existence. It did so when the universe had cooled and expanded enough to
- allow quarks and electrons to form
- the quarks to team up with other quarks to form protons and neutrons
- those, in turn, formed atomic nuclei and
- about 380K years after the Big Bang, conditions were stable enough for electrons to be caught into orbits around the nuclei.
Voila, full atoms were formed.
All other elements were subsequently formed. Either through nuclear fusion or nucleosynthesis inside stars and supernovae.
So, its only natural to look at hydrogen as the primordial source of energy in the universe. Its the first, its the purest. It’s the original energy carrier. Hydrogen ho.
But what is hydrogen?
Its a gas. It’s a very reactive gas. It burns and explodes very readily. Hydrogen atoms have a strong tendency to team up with other elements to be stable. The word tendency might be a mischaracterization. Hydrogen wants to team up with other stuff to be stable. Violently so.
And hydrogens atoms are small. Real small. So small that they slip through the spaces between other atoms and molecules. There they create all kinds of weird effects. This leads to a phenomenon called hydrogen embrittlement.
It’s a pretty poorly understood process that affects most materials in some ways. You may look at it as some extreme sort of corrosion. It is changing the chemical structure of everything it touches. In some cases, it even makes metals toxic.
The “Hydrogen as a source of energy” idea is not new. When I was a kid, more than 40 years ago, I read the PM magazine with gusto. It was a popular science and technology monthly magazine in the German language. I waited impatiently for every issue. Some of its topics were far ahead of the time.
When it came up as an idea in PM, hydrogen made immediate sense to me. At this age, I was not troubled by economic and safety considerations. To me, hydrogen was nothing but a flammable gas. And it leaves behind water as a side product when being combusted. Just H2O as a result of reacting hydrogen with air. That’s it – the ultimate zero-emissions engine.
And that’s still the popular image today, 40 years later. Most people are untroubled by thoughts of feasibility and practicality.
Because hydrogen is a dangerous substance. It’s one of the most reactive and explosive substances we work with. And that’s the stuff you want to put into your vehicle’s tank. We all have seen the Hindenburg explosion pictures – that’s the exact same stuff.
That said, I don’t want to create the illusion that this problem cannot be handled. It can – for a price.
Whats way harder to solve is the containment problem. The above-mentioned hydrogen embrittlement destroys the molecular structure of everything hydrogen touches. Most hydrogen is stored under very high pressures. As those pressure vessels need to withstand enormous forces, we have a real bad problem on our hands.
To make sure that tanks are safe, they will have to be exchanged at regular intervals. As those tanks are made from exotic and expensive alloys to hold up a little longer, this is a costly endeavor. But you don’t want to play with this as you don’t want your tank to blow up because of material fatigue.
Wait a minute. Why are we talking hydrogen in the first place? Greens like it as it creates the illusion that we can make hydrogen from renewable energy. That will then power our societies. If this is your driver, I have bad news for you.
Most hydrogen today either is a by-product of some chemical processes. Or it’s specifically produced by steam reformation of methane gas. This – of course – releases the CO2 into the air which does not chime well with the Climate Alarmist folks.
Going fully zero-carbon needs the electrolysis of water and that’s pretty darn expensive. It’s, of course, essential to use electricity from wind or solar projects to stay “green”.
This means that one takes the most expensive form of electricity that cannot exist without extensive subsidies. It is being used to run another very expensive process to split up water into hydrogen and oxygen.
The resulting hydrogen is very hard to store so storage and transport also have a big price tag. And then it’s potentially used in a Fuel Cell. This is a technology with plenty of teething troubles of its own. And all this also usually also means money, money, money.
Of course, companies producing very expensive, special steel alloys needed to contain hydrogen will like this a lot and support it. But its always the consumer that eventually picks up the tab.
Even horribly expensive, subsidized, Electric Vehicles would be a lot cheaper. And more efficient to put in place at that. And EV’s do break the bank already. How much worse will it be with Hydrogen Vehicles then?
Hydrogen is the next sow that is being chased through the village to give the masses something to believe in. Our leaders want us to believe that they are working on solutions. While in the meantime they buy themselves time for their usual nothingness. Its a scam on a scam.
It’s true that hydrogen is a great source of energy – or store of energy as some like to say. It just does not like to provide this service alone. It likes company. And in those more than 10 billion years since its first inception, it has found company in two especially stable companion elements with which it likes to be. Oxygen and Carbon. And in both cases, it creates molecules that are essential in the circle of life. Water and methane.
Let’s follow hydrogens’ suggestions and use methane for energy.