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What’s New On The Rungs Of Liebreich’s Hydrogen Ladder?


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There are a number of methods to visualise details about just about something. Hydrogen is not any totally different. There are total shade wheels dedicated to the economic feedstock at current, which presumably are informative to people who find themselves much less shade blind than I’m. However one of many extra helpful hydrogen infographics over the previous few years has been Michael Liebreich’s Hydrogen Ladder, and now he’s up to date it after a few years of stability.

Hydrogen Ladder Version 5.0 courtesy Michael Liebreich under CC by 4.0 Deed

Hydrogen Ladder Model 5.0 courtesy of Michael Liebreich below CC by 4.0 Deed

I’ve mentioned the ladder quite a few occasions, each with Liebreich himself, but in addition with members of the Hydrogen Science Coalition resembling Paul Martin, and with coverage makers and purchasers. It’s a helpful framework to contemplate.

Liebreich is, in fact, the founder of what’s now Bloomberg New Power Finance, and has been assessing the place the massive cash is in half-trillion greenback chunks for the previous 20 years or so. He’s been investing personally within the transition. He’s often been proper.

Hydrogen Demand Projection through 2100

Hydrogen Demand Projection by 2100, chart by creator

I’ve my very own means of visualizing hydrogen and its future, one I’ve iterated just a few occasions as effectively. I most lately up to date mine earlier this yr once I stepped by the total scope of iron and metal globally, the applied sciences which had been already commercialized or confirmed commercially at small scale resembling HYBRIT, and projected demand, options, and decarbonization by 2100.

The variations between the data dumps, each of which have copious pondering, evaluation and element behind them, make for fruitful floor to contemplate. By the way in which, totally different folks use totally different numbers for the present hydrogen demand. I labored mine up and am proud of 120, however others use 100 or 110. And, in fact, error bars on my state of affairs are giant, and it’s a single state of affairs of many I might undertaking, simply the one I feel most probably.

One of many first issues that’s apparent in contrasting the 2 is that my projection is thru time whereas Liebreich’s is a time limit perspective by him of the relative competitiveness of hydrogen in numerous domains. When he and I mentioned our views earlier this yr in London, he’s barely much less bearish on hydrogen demand than I’m, pondering that whole demand shall be within the 200 or maybe 250 million ton per yr vary, whereas I undertaking a decline to the 90 million ton vary from the present 120 million ton.

I believe Liebreich’s is a shorter time period perspective, maybe by 2030 and even 2040, but it surely’s unspoken. Definitely I used to be stunned to see an upward blip between 2040 and 2050 in my very own projection once I built-in the iron new demand projection. And in my aviation projection, demand for biofuels goes up earlier than it goes down as electrification takes over an increasing number of of the house, so take the whole lot like this with a grain of salt and use it as a springboard for pondering and dialogue.

Unsurprisingly, at the very least to me, the underside row of utterly uncompetitive proposed makes use of for hydrogen has develop into a double stack. Liebreich is much from a hydrogen hopium addict, fairly the alternative, however even very bullish hydrogen for power varieties like former chief scientist of Australia Alan Finkel are realizing that it’s simply not match for lots of makes use of, resembling automobiles. I’ve been watching hydrogen for power performs crumble for the previous few years as spreadsheet jockeys who had to make use of actual numbers received concerned and located what’s apparent from serviette math, that hydrogen is a really costly service of power and that electrolyzers and gas cells don’t come as giveaways with a tank of fuel.

The underside row is now replete with eight use instances, together with automobiles, taxis, metro transit, agricultural and mining tools, bulk supply of fuels between international locations, heating below 200° Celsius, home heating, and burning hydrogen that’s simply been created to make electrical energy. Personally, I feel all the hydrogen for power use instances above this may collapse into the utterly non-competitive row over time as Liebreich continues to iterate this. The one development space in power for hydrogen in my projection is said to hydrotreating biofuels in a lot the identical method as hydrogen is used with crude oil immediately, however the quantity is way smaller.

Having carried out my international evaluation of aviation and maritime delivery demand and answer projections by 2100, together with numerous work on battery chemistries and biofuels, I’m fairly comfy that batteries and biofuels will dominate, whereas Liebreich is extra bullish on biologically sourced carbon with electrolyzed hydrogen for these use instances. He asserts that there’s restricted feedstock availability, which I don’t suppose is correct.

My projections — bear in mind, massive error bars, opinion, not carved in granite — present that the demand for burnable fuels for transportation is within the low tons of of thousands and thousands of tons. Present waste meals is 2.5 billion tons of the 7.5 billion tons we manufacture yearly all over the world. Each ton of dried waste biomass (lower than the two.5 billion tons clearly) turns into 0.4 tons of biofuel. Simply the waste meals stream, ignoring the waste agricultural stalks and leaves, waste livestock dung, and waste timber residue is in the identical order of magnitude as all demand. European livestock dung alone is within the order of 1.5 billion tons. My evaluation of aviation gas necessities discovered that present waste stalks had been greater than sufficient.

Burning stuff for power is deeply inefficient, and as we gained’t be simply digging the stuff up and processing it comparatively evenly, however manufacturing it at nice expense, I see no motive to suppose we’ll perpetuate the follow the place there’s the choice of electrification. There’s numerous waste biomass from human business.

On that word, there’s numerous yellow on the chart (in accordance with individuals who aren’t shade blind). That’s all of the stuff the place the choice is extra immediately utilizing electrical energy, both from the grid or through the magic of electrochemistry, aka batteries. Apart from metal on the second row, the place I undertaking a development of doubtless 30 million tons for the HYBRIT inexperienced metal course of and related ones, which use 55 or so kilograms of hydrogen per ton of latest metal, I count on all of these to break down into row G over time.

There shall be quick time period exceptions, however they are going to be quick time period. Hydrogen followers had been delighted that India was shopping for electrical locomotives, for instance, as a result of they didn’t take a look at the rails they’d be used on or examine to electrification. India is dedicated to 100% heavy rail electrification by 2025, and is approaching 90% of the way in which there. The hydrogen engines had been for historic, slender, windy, ornamental vacationer trains operating by scenic areas, as I perceive it. They didn’t wish to spoil the view with overhead strains and it will have been costly, too. That’s going to develop into accessible to rising battery power densities, so the hydrogen engines will develop into superfluous and too costly.

Decrease Saxony’s expertise is the truth of hydrogen rail trials. They cease them when what was apparent earlier than the trials began turns into too apparent to disregard, that hydrogen for transportation is at minimal 3 times as costly as grid-ties and batteries.

Liebreich remains to be contemplating high-temperature industrial warmth as a spot the place hydrogen can play. I don’t suppose it’s going to, though I feel anthropogenic biomethane will play within the house till it’s price scrapping legacy infrastructure for rather more environment friendly and price efficient electrified infrastructure. Some very costly hydrogen for warmth performs shall be tried, however I feel it’s deeply unlikely that they are going to be aggressive.

Let’s discover why it is a little bit. Let’s take a look at blue and inexperienced hydrogen as the 2 main pathways.

Blue hydrogen is attention-grabbing. It begins with pure fuel, aka fossil methane, aka CH4, aka one carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms bonded collectively by thousands and thousands of years of strain and warmth performing on lengthy lifeless vegetation, with the occasional dinosaur combined in.

Pure fuel is a fairly helpful supply of warmth. It burns comparatively cleanly in comparison with coal and it burns sizzling in comparison with alcohols like ethanol and methanol, 900° Celsius to 1,000° Celsius hotter. It’s additionally filth low-cost numerous the time with the appearance of shale oil and fracking, so the warmth hasn’t been costly and its price was steady from the early 2000s till lately.

Do not forget that it’s made up of carbon and hydrogen. Nicely, 45% of the power from burning it comes from that one carbon atom. Solely 55% of the power is from the 4 hydrogen atoms. And stripping that carbon atom off by bonding it with oxygen from the air to kind carbon dioxide, then capturing that carbon dioxide, delivery it to a sequestration web site and shoving it underground takes power too. Once we make ‘blue’ hydrogen we are literally utilizing power to throw away 45% of the power in pure fuel, in addition to including a bunch of capital and operational prices.

That implies that blue hydrogen, even when it’s produced from pure fuel on the precise place the place the warmth is required, shall be greater than twice as costly per unit of warmth as burning the pure fuel. There aren’t any methods round that. The fundamentals of chemistry and physics don’t bend to wishful pondering by finance varieties.

Inexperienced hydrogen can be costly. It takes numerous electrical energy to show water into hydrogen, about 60 MWh per ton with the steadiness of plant. That’s inefficient as a result of when the hydrogen is used, as soon as once more even whether it is manufactured precisely at level of use, it will return a most of 70% of the power with a bunch of further capital and operational prices. Electrical energy per unit of warmth is dearer than filth low-cost pure fuel, so inexperienced hydrogen is much more costly.

That remark about ‘at level of use’ is necessary. The overwhelming majority of hydrogen is manufactured on the level the place it’s plugged right into a chemical course of like manufacturing methanol or hydrocracking crude oil. That’s as a result of it’s one of the vital costly molecules to move. It needs to be compressed massively or chilled to twenty° above absolute zero, and even then, its density is decrease than alternate options. It’s simply costly to retailer and transfer.

This isn’t to extol the virtues of pure fuel, by any means. It’s to level out that hydrogen is a extremely dumb thought for industrial warmth in numerous methods than pure fuel or coal are. It’s at all times going to be very costly no matter how we make it, and electrical warmth sources are going to be cheaper to function. So long as we try to really clear up local weather change, not deal with the ambiance as an open sewer and never destroy our financial system, utilizing electrical energy immediately for warmth will at all times be cheaper and decrease emissions.

Sexy / Unsexy, Practical / Impractical quadrant chart for residential, commercial and industrial heat sources by Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Strategy Inc.

Attractive / Unsexy, Sensible / Impractical quadrant chart for residential, business and industrial warmth sources, chart by Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Technique Inc.

And in my work digging by all the numerous use instances and expertise for all features of heating, I haven’t discovered a single use case that we didn’t have electrical applied sciences that had been match for function. What I did discover had been lots of people who framed the query as changing their burning gases or liquids with clear gases or liquids as an alternative of asking the place the power would come from and how one can apply it. That misframing has numerous causes behind it, a lot of them venal.

As at all times with Liebreich’s Hydrogen Ladder, I wish to remind those that the highest row isn’t an announcement of continued or rising demand of excessive volumes of hydrogen. Hydrocracking and desulphurisation (and hydrotreating) are virtually totally issues carried out to crude oil in refineries. Whereas there could also be no alternate options to hydrogen for these use instances, these use instances are going to be in severe decline over the approaching many years. Peak oil demand is that this decade, and the heavy, bitter crude which calls for essentially the most hydrogen to refine goes to be off the market first on account of financial challenges.

Methanol is an issue of a distinct order, and having reassessed my place on it, extra prone to diminish as a requirement supply for hydrogen, not enhance, one thing I’ll tackle in my subsequent hydrogen projection. Liebreich factors out that biomass / biogas could present the feedstock for it, however the course of nonetheless goes by steam reformation of methane into hydrogen. As hydrogen should decarbonize it’s going to get dearer, and alternate options for the economic solvent and feedstock will develop into extra aggressive. Whereas it’s being touted as a maritime gas different, I’m on report as noting the bait and swap nature of the trouble. In different phrases, economics will seemingly drive a discount in methanol demand regardless of the business’s lobbying to make it multiply as an alternative.

Fertilizer is a distinct concern as effectively. Once we say fertilizer within the context of hydrogen, we’re actually speaking ammonia, aka a nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. The previous 60 years of fantastic crop productiveness will increase has been due largely to manufacturing ammonia from fossil fuels and placing it on fields. The fields don’t care concerning the hydrogen, that’s added to make a molecule that vegetation can do one thing with. The vegetation care concerning the nitrogen. As much as 5% of a plant’s dry mass is nitrogen.

Each ton of ammonia placed on fields ends in about 14 tons extra of crops. That’s why we’re utilizing much less land to develop much more meals than we used to. Because the begin of the present Inexperienced Revolution in agriculture, development in ammonia fertilizers has not saved tempo with development in inhabitants or GDP. It’s been market development, however we’ve been utilizing it an increasing number of effectively. With the latest worth spikes in pure fuel and shutting down Russian exports — Russia is an enormous producer and exporter of ammonia for fertilizer — agribusinesses have been on the lookout for alternate options.

We’re not going to eradicate ammonia fertilizers. However they’re an enormous local weather downside coming and going. Each ton of ammonia comes with about six tons of greenhouse gases from manufacturing and distributing it, and when utilized to fields a bunch turns into nitrous oxides that are the equal of about three tons of greenhouse gases per ton of ammonia. Each ends of which are priced in carbon pricing schemes, together with the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism as of 2026, so fertilizer prices to farmers are going up, not down.

Their use might be minimized with out anybody ravenous. Agrigenetics just like the nitrogen fixing microbes from Pivot Bio are already decreasing ammonia necessities by 25% on thousands and thousands of acres of corn within the USA, they usually have a goal of 100% for all three main grain crops by 2030. Precision spraying with electrically powered megadrones is grounding the helicopters and lightweight plane that used to overspray fields, and reducing product plenty by 30% or extra with the identical crop yield. And low-tillage agriculture has benefits on this regard as effectively.

I undertaking a discount in ammonia fertilizer demand, if not elimination of it, whereas Liebreich asserts that there’s no actual different for it. As soon as once more, timeframes for that query matter.

Lastly, there’s lengthy length grid balancing on the second row. I actually don’t see something about seasonal electrical energy storage for 10 or 100 yr issues meaning the traits of inexperienced hydrogen are the very best ones. I feel it’s extra seemingly that diverting the huge quantities of anthropogenically created methane to salt caverns makes extra financial and local weather sense than manufacturing low-carbon hydrogen and shoving it underground the place it’s going to strive actually laborious to leak. It’s the Houdini of molecules, in spite of everything.

I additionally suppose {that a} 10 or 100 yr downside is a really totally different beast economically than the whole lot else we’re speaking about. It’s extra within the class of the Svalbard International Seed Vault, a severe wet day concern. For the following few many years, placing fossil methane away for a wet day is sweet sufficient, as if we now have to burn it solely a few weeks each few  years, we’re means forward of the local weather recreation.

None of that is to say unfavourable issues concerning the Ladder. It’s a really great tool for discussing the comparative deserves of the totally different use instances for the Swiss Military knife molecule. Just like the tiny corkscrew, blade, and toothpick on the Swiss Military knife, hydrogen simply isn’t the go-to molecule if there are alternate options, and there are virtually at all times alternate options. And in hydrogen’s case, numerous the present use instances are going to decrease on account of financial and local weather imperatives, not develop.

 


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