We are talking more and more about hydrogen today

I am not surprised; in times of energy crisis and resource uncertainty, this is logical. Hydrogen is being talked about as something that will accompany us at every step in the future, something we will use instead of petrol and diesel, for heating, for running our homes… All hydrogen technologies today are poised for a huge development, breaking one taboo after another, and that’s why I want to give you a glimpse into the fascinating world of hydrogen.

Hydrogen has been around forever. It’s been in everything important. It’s the first atom to form after the Big Bang. It’s part of all the water on our planet. However, no one has ever seen it, it’s colourless, it’s been used very little in the nearly 300 years since the first industrial revolution began. Except in the chemical industry, where it is an important intermediate in the production of many products - such as fertilisers.

Hydrogen has a quite extraordinary property - it is smaller than a tiny molecule of helium. It is almost non-existent in the air as an H2 molecule, and natural sources of hydrogen are scarce. Moreover, it has always been very difficult to transport and store. Huge amounts of hydrogen are produced from natural gas, and a very significant source of hydrogen is in coke oven gas. Incidentally, remember the lighting gas that was still part of almost all households in the 1990s. It contained a significant proportion of hydrogen.

In Mendeleev’s table of elements, hydrogen is number 1. If someone is referring to the hydrogen bomb, they are somewhere else. I would like to assure you that we would have to be in a completely different technology where the familiar H2 molecule is not even involved. You’re saying to yourself, I don’t know this, I don’t know this, and that’s why I’m scared. All the „novelties“ are so suspicious. But the basic use of hydrogen in a chemical process or combustion as a heat source has been mastered by mammoth hunters.

Science and companies have developed hydrogen technologies to this day that exploit the amazing property of the number 1 element in its familiar H2 molecule. We can produce hydrogen by electrolysis from renewable sources and we can also store this „green energy“, keeping it for the evening or the winter. Of course, we can also store electricity in batteries in the short term, but hydrogen has many interesting advantages that today’s technology fortunately allows us to exploit. Let’s learn to know „plate one“ better so we can stop being afraid of it. Is it going to explode and take all the water on Earth? Read next time…

Hydrogen explodes and burns

Doesn’t it? I think two hydrogen tragedies are still looming large in people’s minds - the destruction of the Zeppelin Hindenburg and the hydrogen bomb. In the case of the Hindenburg, it was most likely not the hydrogen that exploded and burned, but the airship’s hull, as can be inferred from the visible colour of the flame. The hydrogen flame is colourless! Moreover, the case took place in 1937, when technical standards were completely different, and even theories of sabotage emerged at the time.

The hydrogen bomb does not use the H2 molecule that our water normally contains. It works with the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, which is so-called heavy hydrogen. The principle of this bomb is based on the fusion of hydrogen isotope nuclei. To do this, an initial temperature of several million degrees Celsius is required to set the fusion in motion.

Nothing terrible has happened in the civilian use of hydrogen since the Hindenburg. That there have been no accidents is not true, but the safety of hydrogen is the same as any other similar medium or fuel. For more than 150 years of using luminescent gas, which is a mixture with a high proportion of hydrogen, we have certainly not blown up the Czech Republic. The drama was related to poisoning. That is to say, not with hydrogen, but with another component of luminous gas, namely carbon monoxide. Thanks to current safety measures and the high quality of all the technical parts of hydrogen technology, we can say that hydrogen is as safe a medium as any other. As long as we use it as we should, of course.

I would also like to mention how hydrogen production is said to consume all the water on Earth. Hmmm, that’s a mental shortcut that leads to a dead end. We can think of hydrogen as a gas torch. I’m storing energy in it for later. It’s like a conventional battery - I charge it up and after a while of use it runs out. I’ll be making hydrogen from water, but at the same time I’ll be using it to make water again. It’s a closed cycle. The ideal cycle. No real waste, just water. Hydrogen is the ideal flashlight, it doesn’t age because hydrogen has been around for billions of years, it’s not subject to temperature effects, and draining this gas flashlight will create water again. P.S. Hydrogen cars really won’t make the road slippery in winter. Diesel or gasoline powered cars, create CO2 and water (water vapor). It would have to be freezing everywhere even today. It’s just that water vapor always dissipates into the air in all cars, including the one on the H2.

Obrázek / text

Every new technology has its admirers, visionaries, prophets and enemies

It is clear that most of the naysayers are among the fearful. This is nothing new under the sun. We know the witch trials or the destruction of machines at the beginning of the industrial revolution. But we can educate people, train them, explain to them what is going on, win them to the cause. In a relatively short period of time, the opponents then become supporters of a new development that is no longer new and so need not be feared.

I see a bigger problem in the uncritical admirers. They believe that hydrogen technology will solve everything. And preferably on their own and without us. Yes, hydrogen will solve a lot, but you need a lot of time, a gradual roll-out of pilot projects and their future interconnection. When the President of the European Commission speaks Ursula von der Leyen, I always get a lot of negative reactions. Their authors are right, because we hear a lot of inaccuracies about hydrogen technology from EC officials.

Another neuralgic partner is the gas industry. Sure, they have a lot of money invested in natural gas pipelines, but filling dirty natural gas pipes with clean „green“ hydrogen is really crazy. And in this case, Europe wants to give subsidies for de facto disposal of clean hydrogen and its dirtying in the pipes. It’s kind of a return to luminescent gas, this time without the carbon monoxide. Another idea is 40 000 km of hydrogen pipeline across Europe. I’d rather not comment on that. The Nord Stream explosions have amply demonstrated the risks. And if we already have power lines into which we can send electricity from hydrogen, why should we drill Europe with hydrogen pipelines?

But the imaginary final for the enemies of hydrogen would be won by the proponents of electric cars. It’s an interesting bunch who are bolshevikly stubborn in their belief that battery powered cars are the ONLY solution to personal transportation. Everything else, including hydrogen is completely wrong. They cheat for their „truth“, they distort the data on hydrogen, they want to push their „one true electric version“ of motoring. I don’t get it, hydrogen cars are the little brothers of electromobility, plus they have solved what electro can’t. They have excellent range and a dramatically lower fire risk. Of course, I haven’t described everything, but there’s more to come.

I hear a lot about hydrogen in the energy sector

Most often in connection with its addition to the mixture with natural gas. But I see that as just a nice „well, if they want it, let’s put it in“ kind of use. It’s neither effective nor smart. It’s basically the easiest, I want to say dumbest, thing to come up with in the „hydrogen energy“ business.

We need to look at hydrogen as an „energy store“ and a stabilizer of the power grid. Storing energy in hydrogen has the same thought basis as, say, the principle of pumped storage plants like Long Slopes. But we can’t build pumped storage everywhere…

With the increasing use of renewables, the distribution system is increasingly exposed to an imbalance between production and consumption. If there is an excess of production over consumption - typically the case with photovoltaic power generation from spring to autumn in the midday and afternoon - the surplus energy can be used for hydrogen production. This will reduce the surplus and bring production into balance with consumption. The hydrogen produced in this way then has a lower production cost (because the lower electricity price and the payment from the grid operator for this service will play a role). In addition, the production of hydrogen generates heat that can be used for heating or hot water and oxygen that has a positive effect in improving combustion processes. We all know that by blowing on the fire, it just burns better.

In times of electricity shortages, hydrogen can be turned back into electricity. Today, there are two ways. Firstly, in the fuel cell, where electrochemically electricity is directly generated with much higher efficiency and the rest is waste heat that can be used in cogeneration units or in turbines with a generator. Secondly, we can use a cogeneration unit, which is actually an internal combustion engine where natural gas, natural gas with hydrogen or hydrogen is burned instead of diesel. The engine speed drives the generator and the generator produces electricity. At the same time, cooling the engine generates heat, again for heating or hot water.

Hydrogen can therefore be used to stabilise the electricity grid and return the hydrogen generated to electricity in times of shortage, to mobility or for use in the chemical industry. And in the future, no doubt, in other sectors as well. So hydrogen in the energy sector is 4 in 1, four uses of the same element.

Green, blue, gray, purple, brown… hydrogen

The layman thinks, oh, so hydrogen is like a rainbow, beautifully coloured. It’ll be beautiful when we use it. I’m going to disappoint you all. Hydrogen is usually colourless. Even a hydrogen flame is colourless.

The colours (and only imaginary colours) were given to hydrogen by a European politician. The colour designation identifies the origin of the hydrogen, the way it is produced. Thus we have „green hydrogen“ - produced from renewable sources and without CO2 generation; „blue hydrogen“ - produced from fossil sources, but the CO2 generated is captured and stored; „grey hydrogen“ - produced from fossil sources and also „purple hydrogen“ - produced using electricity from nuclear power plants and many other word-coloured hydrogens.

The hydrogen that smells most like Europe right now is green. Until recently, Europe would not hear of any other colour. At the moment, purple hydrogen, that is to say, hydrogen from electricity from nuclear power stations, is also acceptable. Green or purple H2 is great because it increases Europe’s energy independence. It is produced by the electrolysis of water and is the cleanest. (As a reminder for schoolwork: electrolysis is a physico-chemical phenomenon whereby the bonds between hydrogen and oxygen are broken by the passage of an electric current, thus breaking the water into these two gases.)

But what about taking advantage of the other possibilities that exist in Europe and we have an endless problem with them. What do I mean? Just use the waste. Unfortunately, European politicians don’t want to hear about hydrogen from the ubiquitous waste. This is a pity, because industrial Europe is full of waste, which we are now disposing of in a complex, non-environmental and uneconomic way. Yet in the United States, for example, waste hydrogen from the chemical industry is being used successfully, and most of it is consumed in ‚green‘ California. In fact, whatever the imaginary colour of hydrogen, it is important that hydrogen ensures Europe’s energy self-sufficiency.

From this point of view, it is only clean or dirty hydrogen, which is, of course, about the characteristics of the hydrogen itself, however produced. Hydrogen can contain a number of impurities that go against the desired active reaction with air and have a negative effect on fuel cells. Therefore, for example, only the purest hydrogen belongs in hydrogen cars. How does one achieve its purity to 99.99 or 99.999 percent? That is quite a large topic. So next time.

Here we go!

The recent European agreement to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines running on conventional fossil fuels from 2035 sheds a whole new light on the frog war over the victory of electricity over hydrogen - sibling over brother.

An electric car has an electric motor under the bonnet that is powered by a battery. The car’s total mileage depends on its capacity. It is recharged from a home, company or public charger, and generally the faster the charge, the higher the price per kWh of electricity received.

A hydrogen car also has an electric motor and a small battery. It also has a so-called fuel cell under the bonnet and a tank for compressed hydrogen gas in the rear. It doesn’t charge anywhere, it doesn’t need any socket or fast charger. Instead, it is filled with hydrogen gas at 700 bar (for cars) or 350 bar (for trucks, trains, etc.). The refuelling speed varies depending on the type of filler. Even that can work wonders for little money and efficient operation.

And what about range? The range and performance of an electric car is determined by the capacity of the battery, its weight and price. The range of a hydrogen vehicle is determined by the tank capacity and the power of the fuel cell.

But beware! A seemingly small detail is often forgotten. That is the heating or air conditioning of the car’s cabin. Nobody wants to drive around in a fur coat or a bathing suit. In an electric car, we take the energy for our comfort directly from the battery. We’re fine, but the range is reduced. In hydrogen cars, the heat is generated in the fuel cell. That either heats or air-conditioning. Comfort is not compromised by hydrogen, range is virtually unchanged.

In general, electromobility makes sense for local transport up to about 350 km (on a single battery charge). And this is mainly for cars and smaller vehicles. Hydrogen makes sense where we need longer range and more power. A hydrogen car currently has a range of over 500 km, and refuelling to a full tank is quick. The heavy electric battery limits the transport capacity. When hydrogen comes on the scene, it will offer the ability to power a more powerful engine without the need to install a heavy battery.

But no one is saying that hydrogen has to go hard against its electric sister. You just have to choose according to your own capabilities, circumstances and broader climate considerations. I’m all for the „water car“.

Text / obrázek

So we discovered that many things revolve around the Sun!

Generating electricity from solar panels is in. Most of the electricity in photovoltaics is naturally produced in the summer, very little is produced in the winter and none at night. The prices of the purchased energy that your home or business produces and does not consume are lowest or even negative when everyone is producing and highest when no one is producing. The grid faces technical constraints, and the question is whether all of the intended PV can even be connected to the grid. Or how much the cost of new substations, new high or very high voltage lines would be realistic.

Hydrogen can help us solve the question of cost and technical constraints. More specifically, its production by electrolysis. If the plant produces hydrogen when the sun is shining the most, or when the price of electricity on the grid is cheapest, I can improve the economics of both photovoltaics and hydrogen.

Hydrogen production is consumption. In a given moment of excess „solar power“, it is consumption beyond the point of being wanted and useful. It stabilizes the grid, and the hydrogen produced in this way is green. There is still a big shortage of it on the EU market. The hydrogen produced is also very clean, so it can be used for fuel cells, even in cars.

Hydrogen can help solve the technical limits of the grid so that if a photovoltaic plant cannot be connected to the grid at all, we can convert all the electricity produced into hydrogen. Without the need to enter the grid.

Hydrogen and photovoltaics, when combined appropriately, create an interesting symbiosis and can go in the same direction in future energy production. To not. We could not live on our planet without the sun and hydrogen. And then there’s oxygen. Also, as you’ll recognize, a pretty essential element.

The electrolytic production of hydrogen produces large quantities of oxygen. This can be used in many ways. And I’m not referring here to oxygen for respiration, but to the very common oxygen without which we couldn’t weld, for example. Oxygen, for example, to improve combustion processes, you need it in steel mills, cement plants…

If I want to calculate the economics of a photovoltaic-hydrogen partnership, it always depends on the specific project. But in any case, in combination with renewables, hydrogen makes more and more sense. Not only from a technical point of view, but also from an economic point of view.

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