www.itsHYtime home -> Five courses and a desert

The World Economic Forum's Hydrogen Energy Dinner,
October 20, 2003, Geneva, Switzerland:
Five courses and a desert

By

Carl-Jochen Winter, Überlingen, Germany

         Professor Dr.-Ing. C.-J. Winter, Obere St.-Leonhardstr. 9, 88662 Überlingen, Germany, T/F +49 7551 944 5940/1   cjwinter.energon @ t-online.de         


"Visions without actions degrade to illusions"


  1. A word on myself: I am Dr Carl-Jochen Winter, mechanical engineer, 10 years each in academia and the aerospace industry, 20 years in applied energy - R&D, 15 years professor (energy) at the University of Stuttgart, Germany and visiting professor at the Universities of Miami and Hawaii, USA. — Vice President, The International Association for Hydrogen Energy (IAHE).
  2. Energy needs time! Many decades up to half centuries for significant market contributions to the mix are the archetypical measure. Never have humans used only one form of energy, never has a new addition to the mix fully replaced its predecessors, the ever growing demand needed them all. Energy multiplicity is the rationale of energy security. The energy centuries were, are and presumably will be:
    • Up until deep into the 18th century the only energies were renewables of the 1st solar civilisation
    • The 19th century was the century of coal
    • In the 20thh century, oil, natural gas, and nuclear fission were added
    • Indications point to the 21st century becoming the century of energy efficiency, of all sorts of renewables (now of the 2nd solar civilization), and the secondary energy carrier hydrogen, before
    • (perhaps) the 22nd century may see nuclear fusion
    Historically, hydrogen energy exhibits continuous de-carbonization and hydrogenation of the entire mix, and, thus, since the atomic weights of hydrogen and carbon are 1 and 12, respectively, its de-materialization: Energy becomes lighter over time. H/C for coal : oil : natural gas : hydrogen = <1 : 2 : 4 : ∞. The trend points to relatively lesser carbon and more hydrogen. To date, two thirds of the atoms burned are hydrogen atoms, the rest is carbon. The energy related tonnage of carbon decreased by 35% over the last 120 years; and the gradient is still steep. Hydrogen holds the high cards, it avoids placing environmentally and climatically clean future energy at risk!
  3. Of relatively new, though increasing, influence are the two parameters responsibility vis-à-vis environment and climate change. Technologies are key: Higher efficiencies result in more clean energy services from less polluting primary energy raw materials; renewables' operational primary energy raw materials are nil; and, on principle, hydrogen is clean when made renewably via renewable electrolysis or from fossil fuels with sequestration of co- produced CO2. It's the conversion of matter which causes environmental or climatic harm, not the conversion of energy! This is why de-materialization of energy is so decisive.
  4. For long, the hydrogen economy has been in full swing: To date, some annual 50 million tons are traded worldwide by merchant gas traders serving the fat industry, the electronics or glass manufacturing companies, the fertilizer industry or for cooling of electrical generators. Non-traded captive hydrogen for the production of reformulated gasoline or de-sulfurization of diesel fuel in refineries, for methanol or ammonia syntheses or the like, sums up to even much more hydrogen. Markets grow by 10% per year.
    The task before us is perpetuating the hydrogen economy and further developing it into the hydrogen energy economy: Excellently efficient and clean portable, stationary, or mobile fuel cells need pure hydrogen or hydrogen reformate. No energy or mobility sustainability seems feasible without hydrogen energy. It is irrational to expect sustainability even from ever further reduced utilization of hydrocarbons! A gedankenspiel says that the 15 million heating boilers in German buildings replaced by exergetically efficient fuel cells of 5 kilowatt electric each sum up to a virtual power plant of 75.000 MW which comes near the 100.000 MW installed; and the rest heat still suffices to heat the buildings. Firsthand, the fuel cells will be supplied by natural gas, truly clean, however, gets the system only with hydrogen. (A gedankenspiel will never become reality, but at its core is something to think of).
  5. So far, the argumentation was long term. – Near term thinking and acting focus on economics. The most elusive enemy of new energy technologies is cheap energy! That applies to hydrogen energy, too. However, the International Energy Agency /IEA/ recently published a listing of hydrogen cost figures which gives hope. Future Hydrogen Supply Costs US-$/GJ, 2020 /Source: IEA, 2003/

    H2 from US-$/GJ
    - Natural Gas with CCS7 - 11
    - Coal with CCS8 - 11
    - Biomass (gasification)10 - 18
    - Onshore wind17 - 23
    - Offshore wind22 - 30
    - Thermal solar electricity27 - 35
    - Solar PV47 - 75
    - Nuclear15 - 20
    - HTGR cogeneration10 - 25
    For comparisonUS-$/GJ
    - Gasoline/diesel 6 - 8
    - Natural gas3 - 5

    If generated in world related amounts, if utilized with hydrogen inherent source-to-sink efficiency gains, and if made from the multiplicity of potential primary energy sources (fossil fuels with CO2-sequestration, nuclear, biomass, renewables) while renewable hydrogen is the final goal of the hydrogen energy economy, not its precondition, it seems not at all too far fetched to expect economically viable hydrogen costs in due time. – Because of its ubiquity, hydrogen-"OPECization" seems highly improbable: Truly, a politically stabilizing argument! Embarking on the hydrogen energy economy, the sellers' market gets a powerful counter poise in the buyers' market!
    Some argue in favour of ethanol or methanol in hydrogen's stead: Both are hydrogen rich compounds and should be not excluded, because they point into the right direction. Brazil is a good example for the utilization of ethanol, one third(?) of the nation's automotive fuel demand is met by ethanol from sugar cane mono-culturally planted on a significant land surface area; whether this example is transferable to other continents remains to be seen. – Methanol, particularly made from natural gas, is a world commodity on a well established market. As an automotive fuel it enjoys an existing operational infrastructure. The energy conversion chain from natural gas to methanol to on-board hydrogen reformate as the potential fuel cells' fuel is long. In general, it can be stated that utilizing hydrogen rich storable hydrocarbons as automotive fuels makes necessary only little stationary infrastructure modifications, however, it enforces on-board reformers. And, on principle, a transport system consisting of some hundreds of millions of methanol fuelled vehicles spread over the globe can never be climatically clean. – Another example for an addendum within the forthcoming hydrogen energy economy is so-called "sunfuel" made of residual renewable carbon containing biomass raw material with an addition of renewable hydrogen.
    For all afore mentioned renewable hydrocarbons, their availability in world market quantities is questionable.
  6. Concluding:
    • The question is not (has perhaps never be) whether hydrogen energy will be added to the mix, but when and how: Hydrogen is the indispensable Kyoto compatible clean and abundant energy carrier which helps balancing today's climatically off-balance energy scheme. It doesn't take energy to heaven, but it saves it from peaking, from oligopolization, and from an environmental and climatic collapse.
    • Hydrogen enables energy and mobility sustainability; thus, hydrogen prepares for what the world energy will encounter down the road. It is politically doubtful extrapolating the energy presence into its future.
    • Hydrogen, because technologically driven, is key for energy security of heavy energy import depending industrialized nations: Technology policy is (becoming) energy policy! If this is taken seriously, there will be much more to see than meets the eye today!
    • Not unlike energy in general, hydrogen energy needs many decades, up to half a century for its first significant market introduction! Consequently, it's time to start paving the HYway and see it through, it seems almost always too late. There is no arguing with success, and success compares well with hydrogen energy on the road!
    • Hydrogen stabilizes the world energy cost scheme; potentially, hydrogen levels out or even undercuts hydrocarbons' costs which, with the accelerated exhaustion of mines and wells, tend to be influenced by the oligopolization trend in the energy strategic ellipse spread from the Gulf via Iran, Iraq, Central Asian States to as far as Siberia with an estimated 75% proven reserves' concentration.
    • After decades of research & development in labs and shops, hydrogen is becoming a viable business case, it is now up to entrepreneurs. When was ever a new product or process put on a halt prior to its market entry in order to wait for its very last R&D-result? Market experiences are R&D-results, too! The Diesel engine is more than 100 years old, and still improvements are due – really a surprise?
    • And, a final argument for the involvement of entrepreneurship : The switch from the hydrocarbon energy economy which grew over one to two hundred years to the hydrogen energy economy will not be had on a shoestring, it needs trillions (1012) of EUROs rather than millions or even billions/IEA/. An amount governments do never have, or labs and shops of course much less still: Time for entrepreneurship! -
    • Governments have to see to it that a global accord is reached, at least among industrialized nations, on the parameters of entry into the hydrogen energy economy, because, truly, hydrogen is a global issue, both from an energy and mobility standpoint. Politically, it compares well to a pipe dream to expect that the world's energy scheme will do without hydrogen energy. Many tend to wait for squeaking wheels before acting. However, "Nothing is more successful than the idea whose time has come" (Oscar Wilde).

- and note:         It's HYtime!                   


energy = exergy + anergy; exergy ( English: energy availability) can be converted to any other energy form, anergy can not; e.g. the national energy efficiency of Germany (the world) is some 30% (10%), and its exergy efficiency some 15% (a few %). Doubling of these numbers with available technologies is easily feasible. The boiler in residential heating systems is energetically excellent, exergetically, however, miserable, because it is thermodynamically absurd to generate boiler temperatures of more than 1.000°C in order to provide heat of some 70°C for the radiators! Replacing the boiler by a fuel cell is an exergetization measure, because with some 35 to 40% efficiency it makes firsthand pure exergy (electricity), and the rest heat is still sufficient to heat the home.

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