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🔬 Hydrogen: Water Sector Miracle or Decarbonization Problem?

(don't) Waste Water!

Photo by Ana Municio / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Antoine Walter
Guest: Paul Martin | Founder | Spitfire Research
Category: 🔬 Research

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[12:11] “I encountered this concern from people that say […] if we make hydrogen from water by electrolysis, it's going to use a lot of water. […] It's not a good idea because of the water use. And I have to reply to them and say, look, let's say that you want to make one kilogram of hydrogen. To make one kilogram of hydrogen, you need nine kilograms of water, nine liters of water, and the water has to be pure. So let's say it's 10 […] to make it easy. […] To desalinate enough seawater to make 10 kilograms of freshwater, of pure water, by reverse osmosis takes 0.035 kilowatt hours. […] And to make a kilogram of hydrogen from that takes between 50 and 65 kilowatt hours. So you tell me is water use a major issue with relation to hydrogen production? Or is it energy use? And by the way, to make 50 or 65 kilowatt hours of electricity, by […] a thermal power plant, it doesn't matter […] whether it's nuclear, or coal, or natural gas, takes orders of magnitude more water than 10 kilograms.”

[13:41] “Hydrogen’s issue is energy use, [...] not water use. If […] you have access to a brackish well, or wastewater, or the ocean, it's far better for you to not make one kilogram of hydrogen and instead use that energy to purify water.”

[15:36] “Only about 8% of the hydrogen that we make in the world is moved any distance at all. 92% of it is used right where it's made. When industry does something to that extreme extent, […] that's generally for good reasons. And it is in this case. […] We don't move hydrogen around much because it's lossy and expensive to move around.”

[21:04] “The issue isn't water use even in dry places in the world, the issue is energy. Because the thing that separates clean water from dirty is energy. Ultimately, it's the sun. We're taking clean water from lakes and rivers, which came from solar distillation off the oceans largely or from transpiration from plants and the like. So the thing that's driving this purification process is solar energy. So water is actually a very low dollar value, but very high intrinsic value. It's a form of stored solar energy.”

[31:14] “Let's say you're a natural gas distribution utility. If you don't have natural gas to sell, because decarbonisation requires that product to go away, you have to sell something, otherwise, you have to go to business. And going out of business is hard for people to accept. So of course, you're going to sell hydrogen. […] And we've got all these pipes in the ground and all this infrastructure, it would be a shame to let that go to waste. […] This is a sunk cost fallacy. When you look at it in detail, […] putting hydrogen into the natural gas pipelines is a really bad idea. […] It's not just very expensive, it's foolhardy. I mean, it serves a very useful purpose to the fossil fuel industry, it gives their investors the illusion for a time that their natural gas assets have value in a decarbonized future, whereas they don't. They're actually liabilities. […] So there's the problem. It's a win win for the fossil fuel industry. And it's not really a tool in earnest for decarbonisation of much of anything really.

[33:39] “There's only two kinds of hydrogen in the world. There's the kind that you can buy, which is 98.7% derived from fossils without carbon capture. And then there's byproduct hydrogen, 1.3% is made as a byproduct of electrolysis to make chlor-alkali chemicals. […] In fact, the chlor-alkali industry spends a lot of money to avoid making hydrogen, because it costs them money. So they don't want to make hydrogen but in order to run their business they have to. About a third of this byproduct, hydrogen you can claim, was made from renewable electricity, because about a third of the electricity in the world is renewable, or nuclear, no emissions. So there's really only black hydrogen in the world right now.”

[1:11:30] “ I think water is an under appreciated resource.It's my hope that we get smarter about how we use it, and that we waste less of it. But honestly, I think that water ultimately, largely, is a dichotomy. It's extremely valuable to, you know, absolutely necessary to human life and at the same time, it's a very low value commodity that's produced from solar energy, and it's really stored solar energy. So I think that tendency will continue in the world and that we'll continue to experience pressure related to people consuming too much water needlessly, and not being really happy with being forced to do things more sensibly.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google (Original Title: "Is Hydrogen more of a Water Sector Miracle or a World's Decarbonization Problem?")
🕰️ 1 hr 18 min | 🗓️ 03/09/2022
✅ Time saved: 1 hr 16 min