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Friday, July 19, 2019

Renewable Hydrogen, an emerging alternative to fossil fuel

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas have helped transformed our power and transport industries for decades till now. But recent geo-political situations, depleting fossil sources and Carbon pollution, global warming and climate change have raised serious questions about the future of fossil fuels. However, countries who have massively invested in fossil fuel infrastructure and who have been heavily relying on supply of fossil fuels have started realizing an inescapable truth that they are running out of time to find an alternative to fossil fuels. Recently Hydrogen has been suggested as an alternative source of energy and many countries are gearing up to promote Hydrogen on a massive scale. The countries who have been traditionally using fossil fuels are now focussing on generating hydrogen from fossil fuels as an easier option. But the basic problem with this approach is they still depend on fossil fuels which means they still contribute to Carbon emission and climate change. They can conveniently dispute or deny the fact that man-made Carbon emissions cause global warming in order to score political points among the ‘gullible public’. Democracy is all about numbers and as along as these number stack up the political parties will take advantage of the system and try to push their agenda. But all these efforts are only short term and they still cannot escape the truth that man made Carbon emission is transforming our world for the worst and the future looks bleak. However, there is a silver lining in the dark clouds of global warming and climate change in the form of renewable Hydrogen. It is now possible to generate Hydrogen using renewable energy sources such as Hydro, solar, wind, geothermal and OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion systems) that can used not only decarbonize our present economy and also has the capacity to transform future energy and to a cleaner and more sustainable environment. It is now possible to achieve a circular economy in energy sector which means the CO2 emission from existing and operating power plants using fossil fuels can be reversed using renewable Hydrogen so that one can continue to generate power but with Zero Carbon emission. This is a huge transformation. However, the usage of fossil fuels will continue in other industries such as petrochemicals, polymers and additives, and other synthetic materials. But one can take advantage of using renewable Hydrogen even in such industries using Green Chemistry initiatives so that they can become more sustainable. However Renewable Hydrogen is currently very expensive though it is generated from abundantly available natural resources such as sun, wind and water because PV solar panels are made from high purity silicon material again made from simple sand. We cannot afford to take natural resources lightly because they are precious commodities. With limited usage of renewable energy at current levels the cost of PV solar panels is still very expensive but likely to come down as we deploy more and more solar panels in the future. We should also be careful how we use renewable Hydrogen. Our first and foremost usage of renewable Hydrogen should be to decarbonize the fossil economy and achieve a circular economy. It means we must convert CO2 emissions into renewable natural gas (RNG) using renewable Hydrogen so that the Carbon can be recycled indefinitely with Zero Carbon emission while power plants using fossil fuels can continue to generate a base load power. By this way we will be able to address two issues namely meeting the rising energy demand at a cheaper price while eliminating global warming and climate change. All other use of renewable hydrogen such as Hydrogen vehicles for transportation using fuel cell etc will be secondary because they are not our priority. If we can generate a base load power (24 x7) using renewable Hydrogen with zero Carbon emission, then that should be our focus whether we believe it climate science or not. This will also help us conserve fossil fuels that may be rarely used to meet certain critical needs while substantially reducing the carbon emission. Renewable hydrogen will require massive deployment of renewable energy projects all over the world. One can generate renewable energy and use it directly for domestic or commercial use. But they are intermittent and require large scale energy storage. Moreover, all HT transmission lines are old and designed for transmitting base load power. Such an approach will not help decarbonizing fossil economy currently widely used. That is why renewable Hydrogen will have to play a key role in the future energy mix. Renewable hydrogen can be used as a fuel for transport industries using fuel cell and Japan is leading the way in this field. But such an application has along way to go and it requires massive investment and creation of infrastructure by way of filling stations. Countries like Japan do not have vast land area for solar industries, and they are likely to use cheap nuclear power and sea water to generate large scale hydrogen infrastructure. By this way they can supply power to both hydrogen as well as electric (battery) vehicles. Alternatively, they are looking to import liquified hydrogen (LH2) from countries like Australia who are ready to use cheap brown coal to generate Hydrogen by gasification despite CO2 emissions. Currently Australian government is very keen to encourage LH2 from cheap coal. They have already approved a pilot plant in the state of Victoria and only future can tell whether such a decision is prudent or not. Japanese companies may prefer to invest in Australia to generate and export clean liquid hydrogen leaving behind all emissions including CO2 in Australia. They may generate LH2 from natural gas and export it to Japan, but it may not be acceptable by Japanese companies because it has a potential to poison the Platinum catalyst used in their Fuel cell cars. In fact, Australia has an enormous potential to generate renewable hydrogen and then use it locally as well as to export. This will be more sustainable in the long run.

Friday, May 10, 2019

It is time UN acted on climate change

Carbon emission caused by human beings has become a major issue for our environment and future economy due to changing climate. But there are still few countries who are sceptical about the science of climate change and reluctant to act and refuse to be a part of United Nation’s action on climate change. These countries are either fossil fuel producers such as coal, oil and gas or large economies who have been traditionally depending on usage of fossil fuel for their economy and security. The transition from Carbon economy to non-Carbon economy may not be easier for them in the absence of an alternative technology that can guarantee not only complete elimination of CO2 emission but also efficiency and sustainability. There is a strong political motivation too behind such dithering and they create a fear of slowing economy and large-scale unemployment among the people in the absence of a viable alternative energy source. Therefore, United Nation has an important role to play at this critical juncture of transition to non-carbon economy and save the planet earth from imminent danger of environmental and economic collapse. UN can also stop mass extinction of species and migration of refugees for a better life. UN was successfully able to bring together 174 countries to the negotiating table during Paris climate change conference. However, they failed to reach a unanimous Agreement and announce a concrete action plan to act. They failed to articulate the ways and means of reducing or eliminating man made CO2 emissions in a stipulated time frame. They also failed to bring powerful nations such as USA to the table which made the task even harder. But this situation can be changed if UN is able to articulate a concrete Action plan which is agreeable to all the parties involved. This is possible only if UN can address all the issues involved such as the alternative technology, funding, implementing in a stipulated time frame, measuring and monitoring the progress and achieving the final goal. UN should first be able to create the same level playing field where all Countries can take part equally without any discrimination. It depends completely on focussing the type of technologies to be deployed to achieve the above goals and It should be able to set a specific date to implement such a plan. Currently renewable energy is considered as one of the alternatives along with renewable Hydrogen which can act both as an energy storage and as well as energy carrier. But renewable Energy is intermittent and energy storage has become part of the system. With our limited experience in renewable energy deployment over a decade renewable energy alone Cannot be the solution to address the issue of CO2 emissions. One must estimate the life cycle CO2 emissions of hardware used in renewable energy systems such as PV solar panels, Solar concentrators, wind turbines, storage batteries. Renewable Hydrogen generators, Fuel cells etc. Each of them has their own Carbon footprint that must be incorporated in life cycle assessment. Similarly, even fossil fuel-based power generators such as boilers, steam or gas turbines, pumps and compressors etc too have Carbon footprint that should be assessed. Carbon footprint should be assessed as fixed carbon footprint and variable carbon footprint and then these data should be used to arrive at the Carbon footprint to generate power (tons of CO2/Mwh) Once a life cycle assessment of their Carbon footprint is estimated then it will be easier to rate each technology based on their “Carbon Rating” which will be a measure of their Carbon footprint. The Carbon rating is measured and allocated “number of stars” based on Carbon footprints. Lowest emitting technology will be rated with highest number of stars while highest emitting technologies will get the lowest number of stars. Carbon rating will be a good measure to assess the technology that can be used worldwide. Countries who are reluctant to reduce CO2 emissions will be discouraged to participate in government and private tenders worldwide and exports. Such countries will be treated as “Pariahs” and rejected by consumers due to their low Carbon rating. Technologically advanced countries or companies who can use fossil fuel but with lowest or Zero CO2 emissions will also be able to compete with renewable energy technologies. Carbon Rating will offer everybody the same level playing field. Carbon is the fundamental building block of organic life on earth which is essential for human survival but unabated CO2 emission by human activities is the culprit. I strongly believe Zero Carbon emission can be achieved even while using fossil fuels by constantly recycling CO2 in the form of regenerated synthetic natural gas. It will not only eliminate CO2 emission but also generate synthetic fuel using renewable Hydrogen without any necessity to exploit fresh fossil fuels. Using renewable Hydrogen as a storage medium or as energy carrier may be expensive due to inherent nature of Hydrogen atom. UN can introduce Carbon Rating as a single tool to measure the Carbon footprint of a specific technology with the lowest or Zero CO2 emission worldwide to start with. They should be more proactive in promoting technologies with highest Carbon rating and encourage countries to adopt such measures.