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The Hydrogen Economy Will Be Highly Unlikely

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As part of the quest of having energy sources that produce near-zero CO2 emissions, energy systems analysts have looked at hydrogen as one such source. They see hydrogen as a possible fuel for transportation.

In California, the hydrogen economy movement has received support, in the form of subsidies and demonstration projects, from the state government and environmental groups, often supported and financed by prominent Hollywood actors.

Current Hydrogen Production: Hydrogen is used by the chemical, oil and gas industries for many purposes. The US produces about 11 million short tons/y, or 19958 million kg/y.

At present, about 95% of the H2 production is by the steam reforming process using fossil fuels as feedstock, mostly low-cost natural gas. This process emits CO2.

Hydrogen for Transportation: Proponents of H2-powered fuel cell vehicles, FCVs, in California think the hydrogen economy will be the future and a good place to start to reduce CO2 emissions from internal combustion vehicles, ICVs, would be to have near-zero-emission vehicles.

Here are examples comparing the fuel cost/mile of an FC light duty vehicle, an E10-gasohol IC vehicle, and an EV:

  • Honda Clarity-FCX, using electrolytic H2 in a fuel cell, mileage about 68 mile/kg, or 14.8 c/mile, at a price of $10/kg at a fueling station in California. About $7/kg is electricity cost, and $3/kg is station cost. The H2 is not taxed. The average commercial electricity rate in California is 13.41c/kWh, which ranks 7th in the nation and is 32.9% greater than the national average rate of 10.09 c/kWh.
  • Honda Accord-LX, using E10-gasohol, mileage about 30 mile/gal, or 8.3 c/mile, at a price of $2.50/gal at a gas station in California; this price includes taxes, surcharges and fees.
  • Tesla Model S, using 0.38 kWh/mile, includes charging and vampire losses of batteries, at user meter, or 7.6 c/mile, at a price of 20 c/kWh at user meter; this price includes taxes, surcharges and fees.

Electrolytic H2 Production: H2 fueling stations can produce electrolytic H2 at high pressure on site with electricity at commercial electric rates, or H2 can be produced by central plants with electricity at industrial rates (typically lower than commercial rates) and delivered by truck to fueling stations.

The turnkey cost of fueling stations is well over $1 million per site, whereas a multi-bay EV charging station costs about $200k. In early 2017, there were (25) H2 fueling stations in California. FCV drivers must go to an H2 station to refuel. EV drivers have flexibility, as they mostly charge at home, or at work, or at public places, such as shopping malls.

Battery and H2 Storage: California generates significant solar electricity from about 10 am to 2 pm, almost every day, which stresses the electric grid and other generators. The state government has mandated utilities install battery storage systems to store some of that electricity for distribution during peak demand hours later in the day. The round trip loss of this set-up is up to 20%.

Central H2 plants likely would increased their H2 production from 10 am to 2 pm, if the state would mandate a low electric rate, of say 5 c/kWh, during those hours. This would reduce the need for expensive battery systems and provide lower-cost H2 to FCVs.

NOTE: H2 fueling stations produce electrolytic H2 at high pressure on site with electricity at commercial electric rates, i.e., the H2 is not delivered or piped to the station. The stations cost about $1 million per site, whereas a multi-bay EV charging station costs about $200k. FCV drivers must go to an H2 station for their energy needs. EV drivers have flexibility, as they mostly charge at home, or at work, or at shopping malls.

NOTE: Whereas EVs and FCVs do not have CO2 emissions, the grid electricity for charging the batteries and producing H2 does have CO2 emissions.

NOTE: The H2 lower heating value is 113819 Btu/kg, which is comparable to the E10-gasohol LLV of 112114 – 116090 Btu/gal. A kg of H2 is about equal to a gallon of E10-gasohol, on a Btu basis. However, H2-powered vehicles have about 2 times the mileage of ICVs, i.e., to displace 1.0 gallon of E10-gasohol, about 0.5 kg of H2 is needed.

NOTE: The purchase price of FCVs and EVs are significantly higher, than of equivalent ICVs, because they are produced in very small quantities per day, whereas ICVs are produced in the thousands per day.

NOTE: In 2015, about 140.43 billion gallons of gasoline were consumed in the United States, a daily average of about 384.74 million gallons.

Lay people are being led to believe the hydrogen economy, i.e., producing H2 by electrolysis from near-CO2-free sources, such as hydro, wind, solar, and nuclear energy, will be a reality in the near future. For that to be true, for this analysis, it is assumed mass production of H2 at a rate of about 375/2 = 187.5 million kg/d would be required.

Replacing Gasoline With Hydrogen For Light Duty Vehicles: Electricity required would be about 187.5 million kg x 60 kWh/kg = 11250 million kWh per DAY, or 4107 TWh/y, at H2 production plant meters, plus 7% for transmission and distribution losses, plus 4.5% for self-use, for a gross generation by power plants of 4107 x 1.07 x 1.045 = 4592 TWh/y, which would be in addition to the current US gross generation of about 4000 TWh/y. The US would need several times that quantity of electricity to produce H2 for powering many other such energy needs! Generating all that electricity with hydro, wind, solar, and nuclear energy would require enormous investments.

Future Production of Hydrogen: Replacing gasoline with hydrogen, just for light duty vehicles, would require an additional H2 production of about (187.5 million x 365)/19958 = 3.43 times existing production; it is highly unlikely this will happen.

Replacing Gasoline With Electricity For Light Duty Vehicles: Electricity required would be about 2,664,445 million miles/y x 0.38 kWh/mile = 1,012,489 million kWh/y, or 1012 TWh/y, at user meters, plus 7% for transmission and distribution losses, plus 4.5% for self-use, for a gross generation by power plants of 1012 x 1.07 x 1.045 = 1132 TWh/y, which would be in addition to the current US gross generation of about 4000 TWh/y. Generating all that electricity with hydro, wind, solar, and nuclear energy would require enormous investments, but much less than using electrolytic H2.

NOTE: At present, the A to Z electricity input (not just the process) for electrolytic H2 is up to 60 kWh/kg, depending on the efficiency of the system. The future wholesale prices of the electricity from hydro, wind, solar, and nuclear energy* likely would be 2 – 3 times current prices. That means, the efficiency of the electrolysis process would need to be significantly increased to reduce the cost of the electricity input.

*Those, mostly variable, energy sources would require greatly expanded, nationwide transmission system build-outs, plus distributed energy (thermal and electrical) storage system build-outs to ensure electricity and other energy supply throughout the US, 24/7/365, year after year.

Conclusion: Battery-powered EVs likely will be the dominant mode for light/medium duty vehicles, and for mass transit busses, delivery vehicles, like UPS, etc., in the future. China is building multi-billion dollar battery plants, similar to Tesla’s. H2-FCVs likely will be suitable in certain areas with favorable conditions, such as low-cost electricity.

Photo Credit: Zero Emission Resource Organisation

Willem Post's picture

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Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on March 6, 2017

Replacing Gasoline With Hydrogen For Light Duty Vehicles: Electricity required would be about 187.5 million kg x 60 kWh/kg = 11250 million kWh per DAY, or 4107 TWh/y

US wind and solar generation total in 2016 was in the order of 250 TWh/y. So by building mere 16 times more solar & wind dedicated to hydrogen production, you could have hydrogen economy in the US. That’s 1300 GW of wind capacity and 640 GW of solar at current ratios.

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on March 6, 2017

Hydrogen can seep through even the smallest crack and will be rather dangerous if mixed with air.
Anyhow, vehicles using hydrogen should never be allowed to park in an area without proper natural ventilation.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 6, 2017

Even your figures show the viability of H2 by distributed PtG as the Germans are developing!

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 6, 2017

Jarmo,
That quantity is only for powering the light duty vehicles.
Please read the article.
The US would use many times that quantity of electricity to make H2 for powering many other energy needs.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 6, 2017

Thorkil,
I wholly agree.
Fueling a vehicle with H2 at a station would have to be done by a trained person, who is alert while on duty.
Jacobson, whose Group, i.e., some visionary grad students, even envision H2-powered planes.
He presented his report in Paris.
It is just unbelievable the pseudo stuff that gets applauded by the enviro’s.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 6, 2017

Bentvels,
I agree.
My earlier article on 100-h wind and solar lulls posed storage that would provide the about 14 TWh shortfall.
I show the required gas turbine capacity, and gas quantity, and storage reservoir capacity.
For seasonal shifting, the required gas storage would be about 5 times greater.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 6, 2017

The Germans have 200TWh (so ~14 times more) readily available in under earth caverns. Not difficult to arrange more.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 6, 2017

Refueling a vehicle with H2 at the station is done here by the driver himself, as it’s more easy than refueling an ICE car with diesel or petrol.

The refuel nozzle and car contain (safety) electronics, etc.
The driver can walk away when a light shows that the nozzle is connected correctly to the car. The refuel process stops automatically.
The refueling is done in the time you need to walk to the coffee machine and take a cup of coffee out of it.

Btw.
Car and refill station / nozzle communicate using the wireless blue tooth protocol.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 6, 2017

Bentvels,

Having 200 TWh of pressurized storage means about half is actively available, which would be ample for seasonal shifting.

In a pinch, Russia likely would be willing to top off the underground caverns.

You probably know, Ukraine has vast underground caverns and typically fills them in summer to serve Europe in winter.

Ukraine, always short of money because of corruption, made it a habit to sneakily take from the pipe lines, until Russia insisted on proper metering, and Ukraine also made it a habit not to pay Russia, until Russia insisted on upfront payment for any deliveries.

Germany never would do such shenanigans.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 6, 2017

We agree.
That behavior of Ukraine together with the black-mail policy of Belarus (rights-of-way regarding the other pipeline), caused the installation of the Nordstream pipelines through the Baltic sea.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 6, 2017

Considering the German expansion with wind & solar (now >85GW, with an yearly increase of ~6GW moving towards ~250GW) while it’s:
– many times smaller; and
– far more dense populated; and
– at higher latitude (=less sun)
than USA,
such expansion of wind & solar can’t be a real problem in USA.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on March 6, 2017

Willem, what most people who support alternative hydrogen fuels often are unaware of is that its far more dangerous than natural gas, petroleum and biofuels. Besides having a very wide range of flammability/explosive limits (4% by volume lower limit up to a 75% volume upper limit) compared to other fuels (typically 1% up to 5-15%), hydrogen is also very corrosive. Embrittlement and cracking of steel pipe by hydrogen is the most common problem, which has and will cause fires and explosions in existing infrastructure equipment; including fueling stations. Yes, it takes time for new pipe to embrittle, crack and leak, but when it does, look out!

Based on my past petrochemical experience with steam-methane reformers with shift reactors, pipe cracking and leaks can develop within 5-10 years, if not properly and routinely inspected and maintained.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

Willem, 60 kWh/ kg H2 via on-site electrolysis seems to be an over-estimate.

US DOE cites a range of 1.7 – 6.4 kWh required to compress 1kg H2 to 700 bar, and we should have little doubt that deployed stations are on the lower end of that range.

Actual electrical requirements to create 1 kg/H2 are closer to 50 kWh/kg. I’ve inquired with the major two H2 station vendors in CA to get a confirmed number.

What shouldn’t escape consideration in this analysis is economics of making the vehicle itself – for zero emission driving a fuel cell for a consumer car is about the size of a window air-conditioner, whereas a battery pack capable of delivering even 200 miles in idealized conditions will weigh around 900 lbs.

Due to this discrepancy in shear volume of material required the fuel cell is likely to be much more profitable to produce in models that provide the range that most consumers will deem necessary, and US DOE near term FC cost projections would corroborate – with current cost of FC systems extrapolated to a scale of 500k unit production listed at $53/kw, and the ultimate near-term goal being $30/kw. Li ion batteries seem unlikely to compete with this potential for conventional range vehicles, and therefore the auto industry will likely to continue to push and invest in fuel cell technology and refueling infrastructure.

The auto industry will find allies in refilling infrastructure investments from petroleum giants like the already committed Shell and Total. The question is will there be enough capital available from these industries and governments to create a sizable enough network? Remains to be seen, but without any other sure-fire large scale energy storage or comprehensive zero emission vehicle solutions, I would NOT say it is “highly unlikely”.

When Exxon’s CEO speaks out in agreement with the Paris Climate Treaty, long term bets that gasohol vehicles won’t ever be impeded by carbon emission regulation aren’t advisable. Hydrogen and fuel cells may prove the most practical replacement for many applications.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

Guys,

I insist you glance at the study linked below. Hydrogen dissipates upwards at a rate of 45 mph and readily leaks from any non-specialized enclosure – this includes your house or garage, or a parking garage. These have been demonstrated as major features that promote the safety of this fuel because it doesn’t collect in significantly lethal quantities in normal leak scenario anymore than methane would.

“this study has shown that, when leaks occur, the risks associated with hydrogen are comparable to those associated with a leak from natural gas”

http://www.igem.org.uk/media/361886/final%20report_v13%20for%20publicati...

And Willem, we have dozens of H2 stations in CA already, there is one a block from my work. The pumps are easily self operated, the H2 storage and compression equipment housed in a containment building. Since this is California I’m sure many safety redundancies exist within the containment building.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

For what it’s worth Praxair already operates a 2.5 billion standard cubic foot hydrogen storage cavern in Texas. Not sure what this amounts to in Wh of storage but cavern storage would seem to be feasible assuming there were a pipeline connected for distribution.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

John, you omit to consider very important aspects of safety here regarding hydrogen gas:
-Hydrogen is extremely buoyant – uncontained it dissipates upwards at a speed of 45 mph.
-Hydrogen readily leaks from any non-specially purposes enclosure.

What this means, as demonstrated by the linked study below, is that a hydrogen leak occurring in a home outfitted with H2 appliances and connected to H2 distribution isn’t significantly more dangerous than a methane leak in a conventional home. That is almost literally what the stated implications of the study findings are.

http://www.igem.org.uk/media/361886/final%20report_v13%20for%20publicati...

In the open air scenario of vehicle refilling the normal risk is even lower. The one unique situation is a major containment breach where large quantities of the gas are released at once, though I am sure these have also been considered in the design and permitting of these stations but would have to research further.

We already have a couple dozen H2 stations in my immediate area. Normal citizens are expected to operate it just like a gas pump. I don’t really believe it’s any more dangerous than gasoline.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 6, 2017

The cost figures I’ve seen for your hydrogen station buildouts are in excess of $1 million per site, whereas a multi-bay Supercharger station costs under $200k.  This is compounded by the fact that the H2FCEV must go to a hydrogen station for ALL its energy needs, while EV drivers will do most of their charging at home or work.

Green Car Reports estimates that filling one H2FCEV per day requires about $55k in capital expenditure.  A hydrogen station may fill 36 Mirai’s per day, while a Supercharger station can serve 70 with ease at a fraction of the price.

Hypedrogen (as I like to call it) is being pushed by the oilco’s as a way to maintain control over the energy used in transportation.  It has no other purpose.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

And on what basis is the assertion that a hydrogen fueling station can only serve 36 cars per day as an upper limit? NREL has provided economic analysis with the inclusion of 1500 kg stations. An economic learning curve applies to the dispensing equipment and construction + permitting of these stations just as it would to anything else.

http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/56412.pdf

“It (hydrogen) has no other purpose”

Decarbonisation in any case, even in the scenario that nuclear fission power is universally embraced as a solution to invest in, will require vast amounts of stored energy. Hydrogen has a variety of attributes that make it uniquely suitable and scalable for storing large amounts of energy over long periods of time.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can achieve a range and refill time of a conventional compact car with a fuel cell about the size of a window air conditioning unit and ever-shrinking. To get a comparable range from batteries would require around 1500 lbs of material, much of which is very energy intensive to produce, and the recharge time is much longer. It is also a fallacy that mass adoption of battery electric vehicles won’t require considerable infrastructure investment. For example, an entire apartment complex could not readily handle the demand from a parking lot full of BEVs even if charging service for all of the cars were routed as needed under the concrete parking lot free of charge. Panel and distribution upgrades would be required.

I have a very high level of confidence that the automotive industry at large is correct about this issue, and that fuel cells will be extremely common in coming decades.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 6, 2017

One has to look at the energy/kg on an A to Z basis, not just the process.
Present H2 is made with low-cost natural gas which emits CO2.
California prices are about $10/kg at the fueling station, untaxed, which is comparable to $5/gallon, untaxed.
Future H2 would be with wind and solar, which likely would be more expensive.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

I’m not following the logic Willem.

Most electricity is currently made by natural gas or coal. Steam methane reformation is considerably more efficient than either a gas or coal plant is in practice at generating electricity, and therefore for the near term hydrogen vehicles can offer a comparable A to Z utilization of energy inputs in comparison to other efficient vehicle types.

It will likely take 2+ or more decades for much of the incumbent energy generation infrastructure around the world to reach an impactful replacement cycle. In the event that wind and solar see costs decrease to the point where significant contributions from them are possible without depressing economic activity, hydrogen production is more accommodating to the intermittent nature of wind and solar than on-board batteries of vehicles can ever be.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 6, 2017

And on what basis is the assertion that a hydrogen fueling station can only serve 36 cars per day as an upper limit?

Can you increase the capacity without increasing the cost?  Let’s see you do it!

(Damn, the taste of late-night popcorn is so good!)

“It (hydrogen) has no other purpose”

Decarbonisation in any case, even in the scenario that nuclear fission power is universally embraced as a solution to invest in, will require vast amounts of stored energy.

Are you still clueless after all the tutorials given to you?  Actinides ARE stored energy!  200 MeV per atom is 7 orders of magnitude more than anything you can get from chemistry.

Hydrogen has a variety of attributes that make it uniquely suitable and scalable for storing large amounts of energy over long periods of time.

You think so?  Others are claiming that H2 pipelines to H2FCEV fueling stations are ridiculous… mostly because they don’t exist yet.  Chu’s “4 miracles” have yet to appear.  I doubt they ever will.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can achieve a range and refill time of a conventional compact car with a fuel cell about the size of a window air conditioning unit and ever-shrinking.

You ignore the size of the hydrogen storage system, and that battery charging times have shrunk to minutes for certain chemistries.  You also ignore the fact that most driving is not long-distance and the “fueling time” of cars parked for hours at home or at work is pretty much irrelevant.  No batteries of interest take more than your average work-day to fully charge.

To get a comparable range from batteries would require around 1500 lbs of material, much of which is very energy intensive to produce, and the recharge time is much longer.

A Tesla battery pack is about 1300 lbs and half-charges in 30 minutes or less… which most people need very seldom.

an entire apartment complex could not readily handle the demand from a parking lot full of BEVs even if charging service for all of the cars were routed as needed under the concrete parking lot free of charge. Panel and distribution upgrades would be required.

Oh, boo hoo.

Let me extrapolate from an apartment building I once lived in.  It had 3 bays of 6 apartments each, total 18.  It had about 2 parking slots per unit, total ~36.  Supplying half of them at maximum Level 2 charger rates (240 VAC @ 16 A, 3840 W RMS) is 69 kW, less than 2 kW apiece.  That would have fully charged a Nissan Leaf per unit in about 6 hours.  If you gave greater allowances for off-peak capacity, you could fully charge 2 Leafs per unit between 7 PM and 7 AM.

This is a MUCH smaller problem than you claim it is.

I have a very high level of confidence that the automotive industry at large is correct about this issue, and that fuel cells will be extremely common in coming decades.

I have a very high level of confidence that the current ratio of BEVs to H2FCEVs is correct about this issue, and that hydrogen fuel cells are a solution looking for a problem they will not find in transportation.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on March 6, 2017

I wonder how many “pumps” the stations in this article have?

Air Products, the leading global supplier of hydrogen to refineries to assist in producing cleaner burning transportation fuels, has vast experience in the hydrogen fueling industry. In fact, several sites today for certain hydrogen fueling applications are fueling at rates of over 75,000 refills per year.

B W – How much of a technology learning curve do you see with fuel cells?

Obviously there are 1000s of researchers working on batteries because they are so ubiquitous. How about fuel cells?

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

Engineer poet – I provided a link for an NREL study on this exact topic. I suggest reading it as a means to answer your questions.

Yes actinides are stored form of energy. However nuclear power plants are very capital intensive – meaning that to offer a desired return on investment they must be run as much as possible. A scenario where NPPs are dedicated to matching demand variation and deployed capacity equals peak demand would be very uneconomic indeed. Also many transport and industrial applications will continue to require high energy density storage form. – hence a major need for storage.

Hydrogen pipelines do exist. There is a 600 mile high pressure hydrogen pipeline delivering H2 to refineries along the gulf in TX. For stations H2 need not be delivered by pipe because NREL already estimates distributed SMR can deliver H2 affordably, and electrolysis may be able to eventually as well.

A tesla battery pack doesn’t offer comparable range, it offers around 80 miles less in the 85 kWh variety which I believe weighs around 1300 lbs. The Honda clarity offers 366 miles and recharges fully in a few minutes. Very large advantage.

The near term DOE cost target for fuel cells is $30/kw. The projected cost of current tech scaled to 500k unit production is $53/kw. Fuel cells pose a major cost advantage for many vehicle types as Li ion battery packs currently cost $190/kWh. I highly doubt they can be supplied to satisfy global vehicle demand at a competitive cost with fuel cells.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on March 6, 2017

To make the scenario realistic, we must allow fossil fuel into those areas where the cost saving is greatest. For example, with a wholesale hydrogen cost of say $2/kg, the Btu equivalent cost is $17.5/MMBtu, which dwarfs the $3/MMBtu cost of fossil gas. So power-to-fuel-to-power can’t compete with fossil_gas-to-power; so power-to-fuel-to-power will simply never be widespread.

It is also clear that for hydrogen production via electrolysis, the electricity must be cheap, as discussed in this TEC article. It is plausible that 10-30% of the generated electricity could be considered excess, and sold at a deep discount to syn-fuel plants (free-market principles dictate that everyone be allowed to buy this cheap off-peak electricity, which implies low revenue for solar producers for example).

This suggest that only about 20% of light duty vehicles can be economically supplied with sustainable hydrogen. Perhaps this is enough, when combined with even larger BEV deployments, and hybrids/high_fuel_economy ICE vehicles burning bio-fuel. Or perhaps all of the synfuel should be used for heavy duty vehicles (since batteries are less suited to long-haul applications). In the US, diesel is about 33% the size of the gasoline market. Focusing on heavy-duty vehicles removes the safety concerns with storage in enclosed areas and the aesthetic concern with fitting the required large tanks; it also allows consideration of liquid hydrogen and especially ammonia fuel as a much more energy dense replacements for gaseous hydrogen.

The impact sustainable transportation has on the electric grid depends on the vehicle fleet. High hydrogen (or ammonia) vehicle deployment makes grid more tolerant of variable renewables (because synfuel plants make great dispatchable load for electricity shortages lasting many days), but very low electricity prices are required, and environmental impact is large due to the large electricity requirement. Battery vehicles, which I assume will be charged nightly, will tend to make the grid more friendly towards baseload (e.g. nuclear, geothermal) power; in regions that have few cloudy days (e.g. deserts), solar can make a significant contribution to BEV charging provided that daytime/workplace charging is widely deployed.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

For fuel cells themselves the US DOE already projects that the current state of technology scaled to a volume of 500k unit production would yield a cost of $53/kw. What this means is even at this very early period fuel cells will most likely present an upfront cost advantage compared to battery powered vehicles that require 50-60 kWh of on-board energy. This is true even if optimistic projections for battery cost reduction are met.

But the DOE near term targets are what are really affirming. The 2020 target is $40/kw. Beyond that the target is $30/kw. It is worth noting that the auto industry has consistently met a variety of DOE targets for fuel cell cost performance and reliability. If fuel cells reach this level of affordability, batteries are highly unlikely to be able to compete in any vehicle categories that offer conventional range.

The battery cells tesla is using are very similar to laptop battery cells that have already been manufactured by the hundreds of millions. Fuel cells by comparison are expected to see a much steeper cost decline curve, and benefit from a much less resource intensive and constrained supply chain when it comes to scaling to the needs of global automobile demand.

B W's picture
B W on March 6, 2017

Wholesale cost of producing hydrogen via SMR is well under a dollar at prevailing methane prices. Your point still stands, though I would generalize it to say that avoidance to store energy in general is pragmatic, and that if energy needs to be stored that it be dispatched to the most lucrative market opportunity possible.

The amount of excess energy generation you refer to in your second paragraph will be highly dependent on the adopted energy mix and the demand profile by region. The number of customers competing with electrolysis to exploit such cheap excess energy is highly uncertain. Applications that can opportunistically exploit power prices depressed by renewables would likely have to be lower on the capital cost spectrum. Many things worth researching further.

Curious how you arrive at the number of 20% for sustainable hydrogen? I’m assuming a fair share of vehicles would be fully battery operated, that some fuel cell models may even be plug in hybrids (I believe Mercedes is already planning one of these for near term release, and Audi has shown one as a concept), that some liquid fuels would remain necessary for heavy duty applications, and that sustainable H2 could be sourced for about 10% of transport fuels through steam methane reformation of biomethane sourced from manure/sewage/trash (Toyota cites 10% for all transport).

Also we could assume that cavern storage of CO2 from SMR of fracked methane would also be implemented to some extent.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 6, 2017

…explosions in … fueling stations.“??
I’m not aware of any such explosion in/at an H2 fueling station, but remember several with petrol stations here!

We have to see whether the risk is indeed far less due to the increased security of H2 fuel stations as predicted by the engineers.
There are not enough H2 stations to make a good comparison yet.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 7, 2017

Willem,
With your own numbers you can calculate that hydrogen produced via PtG during overproduction (wind & sun) will be much cheaper than present hydrogen prices.
Just check the whole sale prices during overproduction by wind & solar.*)

It’s the reason we see the development of an unsubsidized 8MW PtG plant in NL (at industry area in the north, delivering the H2 to surrounding chemical factories).
Also the frenzy development of smaller unmanned PtG plants in standard containers, intended to be placed at H2 car refuel stations.
__________
*) Of course nuclear generated electricity is too expensive for this method.
With nuclear directly using high temperatures may be an option, though that isn’t operating anywhere as far as I know. Probably because those high temperatures in combination with neutrons create their own expensive material problems (embrittlement, etc).

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 7, 2017

A tesla battery pack doesn’t offer comparable range, it offers around 80 miles less in the 85 kWh variety

Now compare the availability of electricity to the offerings of hype-drogen.  Even CNG is scarce on the ground.  You can drive neither a Murai nor a Civic GX from coast to coast, but people have been doing it in Teslas for years already.

Fuel cells pose a major cost advantage for many vehicle types as Li ion battery packs currently cost $190/kWh.

If you have to fill up your Murai every 5 days, you need $11,000 of H2 station dedicated just to you.  That’s 58 kWh of battery at $190/kWh, and that figure is coming down.

NREL already estimates distributed SMR can deliver H2 affordably

In other words, keeping our transport system hostage to the fossil fuel industry forever, and using the atmosphere as a dump for carbon.  Yeah, “renewable”.

Do you even LISTEN to yourself?  Or are you just a shill for the gas industry?

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

BW,
Is the H2 produced at the station?
Prices, $/kg
Turnkey cost of the station?
Attendant, or self service?

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

Bentvels,
And will cause it to be expanded, per Germany’s intent.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

BW,

At what pressure?

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

John,
I have experience designing laboratory equipment for compressed H2, and corrosion/embrittlement required special materials.

I would assume the fueling stations in California have such materials.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

EP,

Thank you for your comments
I agree, with all you write.
Better batteries will be developed soon.
Battery-powered EV is the lowest-cost way to go, without a doubt.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

NREL is not a neutral entity

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

At present, the A to Z electricity input (not just the process) for electrolytic H2 is about 60 kWh/kg. The future wholesale prices of the electricity from hydro, wind, solar, and nuclear energy* likely would be 2 – 3 times current prices. That means, the efficiency of the electrolysis process would need to be significantly increased to reduce the cost of the electricity input.

*Those, mostly variable, energy sources would require greatly expanded, nationwide transmission system build-outs, plus distributed energy (thermal and electrical) storage system build-outs to ensure electricity and other energy supply throughout the US, 24/7/365, year after year.

H2 fueling stations cost well over $1 million per site, whereas a multi-bay EV charging station costs about $200k. FCV drivers must go to an H2 station for ALL energy needs. EV drivers mostly charge at home or work.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

Bentvels,

In theory, anytime electricity at low WHOLESALE rates is available during higher wind and higher solar periods, it would be advantageous to use that electricity to produce H2.

But, electricity to an H2 fueling station (which makes/compresses H2 on site) is supplied by the grid at commercial rates, which are largely independent of the weather, sun and season.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 7, 2017

Willem,
Future wholesale and cost prices of electricity by wind and solar will decrease. All experts, except pro-nuclear, expect such further price decreases.**)
German think tank Agora study predicts that even in insolation poor Germany, the unsubsidized price of PV-solar will be 2-3cnt/KWh in 2050.
Hydro costs may increase with inflation, but hydro plays a small role.

With 3cnt/KWh and 51KWh/kg***) the fuel price for H2 is $1.53/KG.
With standardized unmanned PtG in a container, the equipment & operating cost may add ~$1/KG, which implies ~$2.53/KG H2.*)
Which is already substantial below present H2 prices.

Note that further PtG efficiency improvement are widely expected.
_______
*) 3cnt/KWh is the average price at the Power Exchanges here nowadays. Futures indicate some further price decrease for next 6 years (delivery over 6yrs is the max. term Futures are publicly traded at the APX / EPEX).

**) Only nuclear cost price may increase. Especially with the advent of revived old technology such as High Temperature Reactors, MSR’s or SMR’s. But nuclear is anyway far too expensive to play a role in this picture.

***) Corrected towards B W ‘s figure below

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 7, 2017

Willem,
Here in NW – EU bigger customers such as PtG plants (can) buy their electricity directly at the Public Power Exchange.
Or they may use a trader (or unite and act as a cooperation) but that increases the price very little as it’s all computerized nowadays.

Couldn’t find similar open power exchange in USA?
As I was interested in the prices of traded Futures.
Such as those for delivery in 2022.

Btw.
The grid only transports electricity, a natural monopoly in the hands of govt (NL) or fully govt controlled (Germany).
You pay them for their transport services (as consumer dependent on the capacity of the connection).

You buy electricity from one of the many competing utilities or at the APX / EPEX if you are a big consumer.

B W's picture
B W on March 7, 2017

Price varies from $9.99 to $16/kg.
In the US I believe there are two stations with on site electrolysis units made by ITM. ITM claims an achievable cost of H2 right now from their equipment at $10/kg.

There is no station attendant.

The stations are reported to cost 1.6 million each.

The questions regarding electrolysis are: how much would scale reduce the cost of an electrolysis unit?
how likely are we to see a significant improvement in catalyst performance or significant reduction in catalyst cost?
and how much excess clean energy will really be available for this purpose?

B W's picture
B W on March 7, 2017

Didn’t find a confirmed number for that site.
A number of other high H2 % town gas storage caverns have stored gas at 80-100 bar

https://refman.energytransitionmodel.com/publications/1793/download

B W's picture
B W on March 7, 2017

They are a Laboratory of the US government. I believe them to be quite objective.

I’d appreciate it if you identify specific points of objection you have with the study rather than to dismiss it out of hand and with the claim that this government Laboratory is intentionally trying to deceive people.

B W's picture
B W on March 7, 2017

Willem, I refuted your claim that H2 fueling via electrolysis takes 60 kWh by providing data from the DOE defining the range of compression electricity required to compress 1 kg of H2 to 700 bar as 1.7 to 6.4 kWh. This means that electrolysis overall consumer somewhere around 51kwh/kg. Not 60.

Let’s observe confirmed facts and not make up our own.

B W's picture
B W on March 7, 2017

Hydrogen could be generated according to price of electricity and stored for later use

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 7, 2017

Willem,
As you can see in the streets, most people don’t choose the lowest cost but optimize between convenience, etc. and costs difference.

Nowadays convenience plays a major role and it’s clear that the short refuel time and long range of FCEV’s will win the hearts of most people.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on March 7, 2017

Suppose electrolytic hydrogen costs, as you say, 60 cents/kWh. ThorCon’s website claims liquid fission power @ 3 cents/kWh. At 68 miles/kg, this is only 2.64 cents/mile. Of course you’d have to get the H2 from the power plant to the car. An easier way might be to transmit the electricity to filling stations and hydrolyze there. Might still be economical at double the cost.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 7, 2017

easier … to transmit the electricity to filling stations and hydrolyze there.

That is what the Germans are developing and piloting.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

BW,

If $10/kg, then about $7/kg is for the H2 and the rest is the fueling station site allocated to each kg.

E10-gasohol would need to be $5/gal to be competitive.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 7, 2017

BW,

I agree electrolysis numbers can vary from 50 to 60 kWh/kg. Much depends on the efficiency of the system.

A higher efficiency system may be more expensive than a lower efficiency system. Owners look for system reliability.

Costs other than $/kg of H2 likely have a bigger impact on final price than a few kWh one way or another.

In a prior comment you mentioned prices at the fueling station of $10 to $16 per kg. That likely includes about $7/kg for the H2, the rest is Other.

The below website has various numbers below $10/kg

https://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/08/f18/fcto_2014_electrolytic_h...

I think a survey of station pricing in California should be made, to get a real world picture.

Here is a RECENT website with a $10/kg price

http://www.airproducts.com/Company/news-center/2017/03/0306-air-products...$10-per-kilogram.aspx

BW, you may also see my article (slightly revised/updated) on this website.

http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/the-hydrogen-economy

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on March 7, 2017

I’m posting this as a new comment at the outer level, but it’s partly a response to some of the comments already posted by others further in. I’m doing it this way to make it easier to read, but also in part to protect the guilty. I’m feeling a little annoyed with the guilty party. I don’t want to fan the flames by naming him, but he’s one of the better informed commenters at TEC. He ought to know better.

On the issue of batteries vs. hydrogen fuel cells for transportation in the long term, at even odds I’d definitely place my bet on batteries. But I find the technical issues more balanced than Willem and most of the commenters here are arguing. I don’t think I’d give 2:1 on batteries.

I agree with those who feel that the particular vision of a decarbonized future based entirely on wind and solar and electrolytic hydrogen is a pipe dream. Electrolysis is and will remain a very expensive way to produce hydrogen in bulk. The round-trip energy efficiency of P2G2P sucks, and there are semi-fundamental reasons why it won’t get much better. But that doesn’t mean there’s no future for hydrogen or hydrogen FCEVs. There are other ways to produce hydrogen.

I’m thinking mostly of SMR of natural gas, but coal-to-hydrogen is also viable. And to those who would denounce that as “selling out to fossil fuel interests”, I ask, “so”?

The thing about both SMR and CTH is that it’s easy to arrange it so that the off-stream is nearly pure CO2. It would be easy to sequester. If your hydrogen plant were located close to one of the nearly 5000 miles of existing pipeline carrying CO2 to oilfields for EOR, or close to an unserved market for it (e.g. southern California), then the CO2 stream would even be profitable. As a practical environmentalist, I’d happily “sell out” to fossil fuel interests if the terms of the sale included elimination of carbon emissions and an end to opposition to a proper carbon tax.

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