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Learning by Proxy

Fuels | Learning by Proxy

In the 1870s Edison invented the Tungsten based Incandescent bulb. As soon as he invented it, he saw the potential of the bulb lighting up every household. He had till then been working with Direct Current (DC) and envisaged a network where DC could be supplied to every house and business. The only problem, DC did not transmit well. As you transmitted direct current over long distances, due to losses (heat and other) in the wires, not much would reach the destination. He came up with the idea of stepping up the voltage using transformers which in his network would be placed at every mile. This was unwieldy and expensive.

In the meantime, an apprentice had suggested using Alternating Current (AC). Tesla was scorned by Edison and he finally left Edison to help George Westinghouse create the AC network. By 1890, the world has settled for the AC network.

Despite the horse murders that Edison committed in the middle of New York to show how unsafe AC was, he failed.


A similar tug of war was underway since the 1990s between battery power and hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars. Momentarily, it would seem that battery had won the war thanks to the PR offensive by Elon Musk.

As the world realises that the days of coal are numbered, there is an increasing push towards renewable energy. The trouble with renewables is supply. The sun is not out throughout the day, the wind will not blow when you want it to, and in the winters rivers will not flow with the same force as during the summers.

This implies that there is a need to capture as much of that energy as we can when it is available and use it later. Batteries, well… We are going to run out of Lithium by the end of this decade. While we can hope that Elon will mine it on the moon, there are better alternatives.

Utimately a fuel is a store of energy.

In the olden days, one way of storing human energy was by raising water to an altitude, you could then convert the potential energy of the water into kinetic energy and have energy at your disposal when you wanted. Today, it is possible for us to store energy by splitting water into Hydrogen and Oxygen. The Hydrogen can then be converted into energy through a fuel cell or by combustion.

Suddenly the debate does not seem to be settled!

There are many ways in which you can manufacture hydrogen. each method is colour coded.

Green hydrogen is produced through water electrolysis process by employing renewable electricity. The reason it is called green is that there is no CO2 emission during the production process. Water electrolysis is a process which uses electricity to decompose water into hydrogen gas and oxygen.

Blue hydrogen is sourced from fossil fuel. However, the CO2 is captured and stored underground (carbon sequestration). Companies are also trying to utilise the captured carbon called carbon capture, storage and utilisation (CCSU). Utilisation is not essential to qualify for blue hydrogen. As no CO2 is emitted, so the blue hydrogen production process is categorised as carbon neutral.

Gray hydrogen is produced from fossil fuel and commonly uses steam methane reforming (SMR) method. During this process, CO2 is produced and eventually released to the atmosphere.

Black or brown hydrogen is produced from coal. The black and brown colours refer to the type bituminous (black) and lignite (brown) coal. The gasification of coal is a method used to produce hydrogen. However, it is a very polluting process, and CO2 and carbon monoxide are produced as by-products and released to the atmosphere.

Turquoise hydrogen can be extracted by using the thermal splitting of methane via methane pyrolysis. The process, though at the experimental stage, remove the carbon in a solid form instead of CO2 gas.

Purple hydrogen is made though using nuclear power and heat through combined chemo thermal electrolysis splitting of water.

Pink hydrogen is generated through electrolysis of water by using electricity from a nuclear power plant.

Red hydrogen is produced through the high-temperature catalytic splitting of water using nuclear power thermal as an energy source.

White hydrogen refers to naturally occurring hydrogen.

Source: H2 Bulletin

The two colours of hydrogen that are of most interest today are Green and Blue. India is making a big push towards producing green hydrogen. With the ambitious goal of increasing renewable capacity to 500GW, there is a need to make the most of that energy.

Gail India has launched a tender for what would be India’s largest electrolyser as the nation aims to build up its green hydrogen capacity.

Gail chairman Manoj Jain confirmed at the India Energy Forum by CERAWeek that his company had launched a global tender to procure a 10-megawatt electrolyser capable of producing 4.5 tonnes per day of hydrogen.

Source: Upstream Online

Apart from GAIL, IOC and several other Indian giants have made announcements to the effect. The UK based Ineos has announced plants across Norway, Belgium and Germany.

America is getting North America’s largest green hydrogen plant in New York State.

It will create 68 jobs, it seems. A parking lot at a mall creates more jobs in India because we can’t follow signboards!

Hydrogen fuel cell-based cars were derided not because the cars themselves were expensive to make, it was the hydrogen that was crazy expensive to make. While the cost of Lithium-Ion batteries was also high, the electricity needed to feed the battery existed and was prevalent across the eco-system.

Elon Musk never made the cost argument, he always stuck to the same argument that Edison used – Hydrogen was unsafe and could explode. Well, so have lithium-ion batteries. And it is this kind of argument that keep research dollars from flowing into finding ways to make hydrogen transportation safer.

Today, the US has very few hydrogen pumping stations and most of them are in California.

Source: Alternate Fuels Data Center

Europe has an order of magnitude more. Germany alone has over 100!

Source: H2 Live

So does Japan.

With these plants being set up and the large scale generation of Hydrogen, the question of using Hydrogen Fuel cells is again back on the table. Probably why the German car manufacturers never stopped manufacturing Fuel Cell cars.

Source: Mercedes Benz

Now imagine, a company with a technology that is using an element that is dwindling and a process that is hazardous to the environment; another company with a technology that uses a fuel that we are going to produce in abundance, that we will not run out of and one that is safe for the environment.

In the long run which one might win out?

Now you know the real reason, Elon Musk is selling his shares. Not twitter poll; not tax payment; he is shorting Tesla.

But he has learnt to control media through his Twitter account and the media breathlessly reports every little word that flows through there.

In the meantime, the real guys who have been fooled by Musk’s Twitter account seem to be the Chinese.

Chinese lithium mining and battery companies are splurging big, both at home and abroad.

It’s all part of the country’s race to secure supplies of the battery metals and to expand production capacity of lithium-ion batteries, for which demand is forecast to rocket over the next decade.

One senior industry executive captured the sentiment of the red-hot sector in an interview (link in Chinese) this month with Shanghai Securities Times: “Grab the scale, grab [market] share, profit is not a matter of consideration at this stage.”

Source: Quartz

Another Evergrand in the making.

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