Low cost energy without pollution is here. This article explains why, what, and how.
Our global economy squanders trillions of dollars on energy that could instead be spent on other things. The same energy for a fraction of the money, would improve your household budget. Globally, trillions of dollars per year could instead go toward protecting sensitive ecosystems, colonizing space, preventative medicines, Pleistocene rewilding, art, or any host of other endeavours. Instead, as a species we use the quaint old idea of finding, moving, changing, and distributing carbon fuels to special devices for oxidation; such as engines, turbines, and furnaces. It\’s more efficient to bring oxygen to underground fuel deposits than carry fuel to oxygen at surface. Oxygen is everywhere on Earth, but fuel is not. Done the first way, everything except H2 can stay locked in the ground. More on this later.
In Great Great Granny\’s time, health hazards of burning carbon fuels were less clear perhaps
. Even 10 years ago, the case was argued for net benefits of fossil fuel energy exceeding net negatives of environmental damage like air pollution. There are now clearly cheaper alternatives to oil and natural gas such as hydrogen; so the moral high-ground of killing millions of people per year through air pollution (according to the World Health Organization), has sunk. Beyond these 2-3 deaths per second, nano-particles from tailpipes cause dementia, chronic inflammatory diseases, cancers, and according to some studies, reduce our happiness and intelligence. This is all very unnecessary.
So that\’s why; save a lot of money, live healthy full-length lives, and minimize environmental destruction.
The best way to carry electrons around isn\’t batteries. Electrons can attach to protons in a light-weight, low friction molecule; H2
. While attached to H2
, these electrons can move tremendous distances without loses or hysteresis, so it basically all arrives at the other end of a pipeline or coated tunnel. If an H2
molecule arrives to a hydrogen fuel cell, perhaps in a city, the electron is stripped off and used as electricity. The leftover Protons combine with atmospheric oxygen to make pure H2
Producing electricity and water from H2
where it is needed, in a city or home for example, adds extra efficiencies. No need to pump so much water around. Cities can get much more efficient and enjoy green grass. Most of you are probably already familiar with the massive benefits of H2
, but might be tempted to believe some common fallacies; like these:
Common Fallacy 1) Efficiency is more important than cost of alternatives for widespread implementation.
Common Fallacy 2) All economic steam reforming releases CO2
to the atmosphere.
Common Fallacy 3) Only solar or wind to electrolysis are good ways to make H2
without emissions and they are expensive, hard to scale, and intermittent.
Common Fallacy 4) Hydrogen is less safe to deal with than alternatives like gasoline.
Regardless of beliefs around those, most people agree that air pollution is undesirable. Most agree that H2 fuel cells work good and their cost and availability are improving. Most agree that very low cost H2
can replace some or all natural gas / coal at existing power plants and be added to residential natural gas supply. Most agree that cheap H2 makes cheap ammonia, which makes cheap fertilizer, which makes cheap food. Most agree that to separate H2
O requires a lot of energy, whether electrolysis or chemical reactions. Most agree that very low cost H2
can allows their 900 horsepower pick-up truck (like the Badger) to fuel up for a few dollars, and can power their house while not releasing air pollution or noise, and making pure water.
I won\’t go further into viability or end use arguments here; the hydrogen market is already about $165 billion/year.
So that\’s what; low cost clean hydrogen can expand existing and potential uses.
Well; Hydrogen wells.
Anyone who has built a campfire has found a hydrocarbon fuel, harvested it, transported it, processed it, and oxidized it in a purposeful place; resulting in \”smoke\” and other gases. That\’s basically what we do for all hydrocarbon fuels like diesel, gasoline, bunker fuel, coal, and natural gas.
In the air, hydrocarbons essentially continue to oxidize until the fuel is gone. We think of this as combustion or burning. If instead we were on the moon Titan, where hydrocarbons are abundant everywhere and oxygen is not, any oxidation would be limited by the amount of oxygen we could bring to the reaction. There is some energy released and some gases. Think of it like a sauna perhaps; within beach sand; in our case. Our process is like a campfire on Titan, where we release oxidizer. When the oxidizer is gone, the reaction stops. So if we wanted to stop the reaction, we would stop injecting oxygen. An oil field, or depleted oil field has a huge amount of fuel but no oxygen.
Our process places oxygen into a sealed fuel deposit between grains of rock, which causes oxidation. The oxidation in a fuel-rich place releases energy which causes several well-understood reactions, and the net result is a lot of H2
gets separated from H2
O while in place. We have a downhole H2
filter that only lets H2
come to surface, leaving everything else in the ground where it started.
There are significant advantages to our process;
- No fuel cost. If you want a big low quality oil field, people will give them to you if you are willing to take on their abandonment liability. It is not possible to corner the market on low quality oil fields, and when oil fields are abandoned, it only means that they have reached the economic limit of moving oil molecules to a production well. Usually most of the oil is still in the ground when an oil field is abandoned. By contrast, it is relatively easy for an injected oxygen molecule to find an oil molecule down there.
- No emissions. Everything stays in the ground except H2.
- No expensive processing and waste streams like with refineries.
- Thermal efficiency (irrelevant in comparison to cost but efficiency folks like to know it). Surprisingly little energy is lost to heating surrounding rock during the project lifetime, and much of it can be harvested back at the end as geothermal power.
- Infrastructure; the roads, pipes, powerlines, people, turbines, regulations, are basically all in place already. This is brownfield at its best; turning used gear into a clean energy asset.
- Enormously scalable, and quickly. The main limiting factor is how fast oxygen can be jammed into the fuel deposit. As mentioned, oxygen is everywhere.
So that\’s how; bring oxidizer to a fuel source to make emissions-free H2 at huge scale.
Summary: We will all be healthier and wealthier if we switch to very low cost clean H2