Monday, August 25, 2014

Hydrogen from water with cheap catalysts

Until now all hydrolysis catalysts were made out of precious metals, making relatively impractical to produce hydrogen (a top quality fuel that emits only water vapor as residue) in large quantities out of water, what implied the use of polluting methane instead, a bad "solution". 

However US researchers have now developed a nickel-based catalyst that performs even better than the old expensive ones, shows promise of durability and even reduces the electric tension needed so much that even a common 1.5 V battery can do the job. 

Scaled up industrial designs are under research but seem perfectly feasible, judging on the excellent results of these nickel catalysts. 

Effective transformation of electric energy into hydrogen and a modicum of political will are all that are needed to make the jump from a petroleum-based energy system to one based on renewables with minimal, if any, pollution impact.

The main problem of renewable sources of energy is that their supply is somewhat unstable and their relative low portability. However being able to store all that energy in hydrogen form, split out of water, should solve these inconveniences and, politics allowing, even fully replace our current, polluting and growingly expensive, reliance on fossil fuels.


  1. From what I've read, in the near-medium term this is only likely to be viable in California, Japan and Germany, simply due to the cost of building a distribution network. From there it could spread. Hopefully both hydrogen fuel and battery technology keep progressing. They've made good progress so far.

    BTW, you should probably keep in mind that the nuclear industry is a big backer of hydrogen research. Both wind and nuclear end up producing a lot of excess power, so any technology that can store it efficiently will benefit both.

    BTW, give our previous talks about our respective local mountain ranges, thought you might enjoy this photo. That's a 10,000 year old lava flow at Mount Garibaldi near Vancouver. Some of the greenery has died back due to the summer drought, though vegetation on the lava flows themselves is always pretty sparse.

    Location it was taken from:

  2. The cost largely depends on political will: the state builds and maintains roads, ports, hospitals, schools, universities, libraries, museums and all sorts of utilities, as well as pretty useless/harmful armies, police corps, prisons etc. Hence they can perfectly, at least in many cases develop or push for a distribution network on their own might, for example imposing by law that all gas stations must offer hydrogen in order to continue in business legally or taxing heavily those that do not.

    It is all matter of political will, or at least largely so. Another issue is who control the states, which is not the peoples but the corporations, who are no doubt interested in delaying this development as much as possible and attempting to retain the monopoly even on the new sources of energy. For example Spain is now (not before) fighting actively against renewables while promoting huge raises in electricity bills and gas costs only to favor the oligarchs in a socially destructive spiral that leads nowhere.

    Nice "hill" you have over there. I wouldn't have imagined it a volcano, wouldn't you have mentioned: not the typical cone shape.

  3. Political will and public resources aren't unlimited. Such a mandate would mean costs for consumers. The government here has built a few hydrogen stations actually, and some of the buses run on hydrogen, but it hasn't caught on beyond that. The hydrogen stations were part of a plan with California to build a chain stations from Whistler BC to San Diego. It's a lot easier to just install electric charging stations, even if the range of these vehicles is more limited. Do they do that in your neck of the woods actually? There are some public regulations here to force the electric charging stations to the point they've actually become pretty common.

    That hill has more than 200 m on Hiru Erregeen Mahaia btw. Looks small because that picture was taken from well up in the mountains. Here's a view from farther away:

  4. The "hill" thing was obviously a silly joke. I did not expect you take it seriously in any way. It looks big because it has a very marked rocky peak and all the visible vegetation are conifers.

    Political and public resources may not be unlimited but they include ultimately the whole economy of the polity, as every single productive unit can be collectivized for the common good.

    I know that under Capitalism this kind of development can only be slow and difficult, because Capitalism is predatory by nature. In order to establish a sustainable socio-economic system for Humankind, socialism (democratic socialism but without significant concessions to private property, i.e. not at all "social-democracy" = liberalism) must be implemented. There's no possible eco-capitalism. Marx could not see it but the ultimate contradiction of Capital is the ecological one, which forces Humankind to choose between socialism or extinction (what is even worse than exploitation but a direct consequence of it).

    Anyhow the core of the public resources are not economic, let alone that empty illusion we call "finances" and "money", they are about altering the legal frames in favor (or against, as happens now) a stable, free and happy society. Today the states work for the financial corporations and the Capital in general, not for the people as they should. This is the key issue: who controls public power: a bunch of oligarchs via illusory "property" and "money" or the People via real democracy?

    This is ultimately the conflict that brews in our societies right now and has not just social implications but survivability ones. Humankind can follow Capitalism and die out or can take the power in our hands and banish the oligarchs by legally suppressing all their power (property, money, concentrated wealth). It's largely a question of what the law says about ownership of the public resources created by the social work and/or by Nature.

    It's the 90% vs the 1%, with a 9% of petty bourgeoises and mercenaries (police and such) standing as buffer.

    As for "It's a lot easier to just install electric charging stations"... I think we are focusing on vehicles and fuel a bit too much. A great deal of the problem is where does that electricity come from and in most cases it is fossil fuels. Precisely here efficient conversion to hydrogen is a key issue because renewable sources are somewhat unstable or cyclical (solar for example produces zero at night), so the energy taken from the solar radiation must be stored and the simplest and less polluting way of doing it is by making hydrogen from water (and later burning it again into water). Much of this can be done in electricity generation plants, which would gather solar electricity from the grid and convert them into hydrogen, to be burnt later. There is an energetic cost to this but as solar and wind are essentially free energy sources (not only by origin but also in "hidden costs" of pollution and environmental destruction), one compensates the other. And will do even more as investment in these technologies leads to newer and more perfected energy conversion methods.

    In synthesis: we can largely live well off with most of our modern techno-comfort (or even more) with renewables+hydrogen, with almost infinite less cost to the environment. It can be done now and will be even more efficient in the future, however political corruption by Capital stands in our way to betterment and even survival.

  5. My bad on the "hill" lol. Matter of perspective I guess. The top part there is not nearly as steep or tall as the rest of the mountain. Hiking it is tough - last time I did it one of my friends ended up in the hospital from sunburns and heatstroke. I got off with just sunburns that bled. :/

    I don't think your comments about the economic system are entirely relevant here. Regardless of our economic system, resources are still going to be limited. There will always be a tradeoff between investing in one technology or investing in another, or in more social spending.

    In terms of hydrogen strictly for energy storage outside of transportation, I'm not sure that would be very efficient at a large scale. There are energy costs related to separating, pressurizing and storing it that I think will give it a hard time in competing against stuff like pumped storage for industrial scale operations.

    1. No prob man, irony and sarcasm are often hard to transmit on written form. Confusion is common.

      "Sunburns that bled"? I've never seen anything like that: sounds very bad. Does that have anything to do with snow reflection. I can't figure why unless you guys were way too pale.

      "Regardless of our economic system, resources are still going to be limited".

      Actually the measure of what a resource is should be almost opposite in capitalism and eco-socialism. For capitalism measures it all in terms of value (market price, profits) and that means that what is abundant has no or very low value, it thrives (up to some limits) in creating scarcity in fact. Also it is wildly predatory/exploitative, so everything that is free or semi-free is exploited till exhaustion, for example fish and everything natural. It is all measured in money, not in real social and ecologic value.

      Instead in eco-socialism, resources should be measured for what they actually produce in terms social and ecologic, while money should not exist as we know it (some kind of accountancy is unavoidable but it should be rather a flexible rationing system, not any way of private accumulation). Greed is bad, extremely so.

      The priority in socialism is not that some individuals get rich while the rest struggle and nature is destroyed but that all people can live with dignity while the social/natural resources are protected and properly managed. This naturally can only be guaranteed with very participative democratic methods, affecting not just politics but also and very especially all the economic sphere. If there's no economic democracy (management by the people of the economy), then there is no democracy at all.

      "There will always be a tradeoff"...

      Maybe but that's for the people to decide on, not the the corporations and their puppet governments.

      "In terms of hydrogen strictly for energy storage outside of transportation, I'm not sure that would be very efficient at a large scale."

      It depends, at least partly, on how you measure costs. How do we factor the costs of Chernobyl, how many Fukushimas or how much global warming is worth not using these technologies? The old school techs have way too many hidden costs that nobody is factoring. Almost any rate of energy conversion is better than bearing with those horrific hidden costs.

      If you measure only in money and accept the absolutely wrong short-termist calculations of the bourgeois accountants, then and only then, renewables are not worth it. But that's like trying to get a GPS working with Newtonian physics: it won't work because Newton was wrong, or at least not right enough. We need Einstenian physics to have that gadget working, we need Chaos Science to understand the weather... and we need ecology and not mere bourgeois accountancy, as Naredo correctly dubbed the "economic science" (cultist dogma) taught in universities around the World.

      Energy costs are undesirable but they are anyhow better than those other "hidden" costs of the polluting energy production systems we rely on now. If the sources are clean and the residue is clean, then we can overdimension initially to put up for those petty energy costs, with no significant ecological nor social extra cost. As technology is improved (and is happening very fast) those costs will be minimized anyhow.

    2. It's probably a combination of pale skin and snow cover. I've had it happen to me without snow before, but I hadn't put on sunscreen that time. Apparently there's a pretty significant increase in cancer risk each time it happens. For the sunburns I got on my eyelids, I'll blame that 100% on the snow. Didn't even think to put sunscreen there. Dat German/British Isles heritage. :/ Or in my friend's case, Russian heritage. Neither seem well adapted to lots of sun.

      In terms of hidden costs, yah, agreed, but I'm talking about pumped storage here. That's hydrogen's main competitor for industrial scale (rather than personal scale) power storage. We're talking about pumping water up a hill and then letting it run back down during the day. There are costs there for sure, but it's not like they are vast or hard to define.

    3. Pumping water up a hill? Never thought of it. Wouldn't you need to create some sort of large reservoir? How would it be different from merely storing water from natural sources as is already done (hydroelectric power), sometimes with major impacts?

      But whatever works better, sure.

    4. It's similar to a hydroelectric dam (which are great a storing power too). A conventional dam is limited by how much water flows through it in terms of how much power it can generate. For pumped storage, you basically build a second dam, letting you recycle the water you pass through during peak hours. Far lower net water use (and you don't necessarily have to dam a river at all). You can even use stagnant water sources like lakes or the sea, which can be very relevant in sunny arid areas with a high potential for solar power.

      In BC here there's been a movement to privately funded (you could just as easily do it with public funding but thought I should mention this since its controversial) run-of-the-river hydroelectric power that generates power from the flow of the river without damming it. You basically just sink turbines into the river and let them generate power as the water flows by (the new turbines only have a 0.1% kill rate for fish so this is less disruptive to the wildlife). It's pretty common to include pumped storage with this so that the flow at night can be used to generate power during the day without the environmental consequences of a full fledged dam. Niagra Falls' power station even has some pumped storage.


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