Hydrogen: what GWP and climate impacts?

This data-file aggregates technical data into the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of hydrogen, in order to draw conclusions for decision-makers in the energy transition. So what is hydrogen GWP versus methane?

(1) Hydrogen is not a direct GWP, as H-H bonds in the hydrogen molecule do not directly absorb infrared radiation, indeed nor do other symmetrical diatomic molecules like N2 or O2 (no permanent dipole moments).

(2) But hydrogen is an indirect GWP, as it breaks down in the atmosphere over 1-2 years, and its reaction products increase the GWP impacts of other GHGs, such as methane, tropospheric ozone and stratospheric water vapor.

(3) The best estimates we have tabulated in our data-file give a 100-year GWP for hydrogen that is 11x stronger than CO2 and for methane that is 34x stronger than CO2 (please download the data-file for the details).

(4) Concerns? In other words, if you are worried about the climate impacts of leaking 0.6 – 3.5% methane across global gas value chains, the climate impacts are effectively the same for leaking 2 – 10% hydrogen across a hydrogen value chain.

(5) 3x higher hydrogen leakage rates are not an unjustified concern, because the radius of an H2 molecule is about 3x smaller than the radius of a CH4 molecule, and the boiling point is -253C (versus -162C for methane) resulting in more boil-off, and thus upper estimates for H2 leakage rates as high as 20% have crossed our screen.

(6) The hydrogen industry might adapt: by monitoring and mitigating its leakage rates, much like the gas industry needs to do; and by preferring shorter and simpler value chains, direct substitution for pre-existing hydrogen in industry; or transporting hydrogen in carrier molecules (toluene, ammonia, electrofuels are less likely to result in hydrogen emissions, even if they are more expensive).

(7) CH4 Condemnation? Over 50% of the GWP impacts of hydrogen arise because hydrogen mops up hydroxyl radicals, which in turn, prevents these hydroxyl radicals from breaking down methane molecules. Thus the 100-year warming impacts of methane are exacerbated. In other words, the climate impacts of atmospheric hydrogen directly link to the atmospheric impacts of methane. The more worried you are about one, then logically, the more worried you should be about the other. Hydrogen and methane are “in it together” when it comes to GWP.

(8) CH4 Collaboration. Atmospheric methane is around 1,900 ppb, 160% above pre-industrial levels. Every year, about 40% of the world’s methane emissions comes from natural sources like wetlands, 25% from agriculture, cow burps and rice, 25% from coal, oil and gas and c10% from waste landfills. H2’s GWP can be improved by encouraging better methane management in all of these other categories.

Recent Commentary: please see our article here.

Steel production: the economics?

This data-file captures the economics and CO2 intensity of producing iron/steel by the reduction of iron ore, in an integrated facility with a blast furnace and basic oxygen furnace.

Our base case is a marginal cost of $550/ton and 2.4 tons of CO2 emitted per ton of steel. Although the results are sensitive to input assumptions, which are backed up by technical data, but can also be stress-tested.

The data-file also allows some evaluation of decarbonization options, including electrification, blue hydrogen and green hydrogen, both as reducing agents and as heating sources.

Rocket fuels: an overview?

This data-file profiles five types of rocket fuels, based on data from 100 rockets that have flown over the past 80-years: kerosene, hydrogen, solid fuels, nitrogen tetroxides and an exciting new-comer, LNG.

Although hydrogen provides the greatest specific impulse, a measure of a rocket’s thrust per fuel mass, we actually find a surprising trend away from liquid hydrogen in rocket designs, due to low volumetric density and high complexity.

Most notably, SpaceX and Blue Origin are tilting towards LNG as their fuel-of-choice in the Raptor and BE-4 rockets. The former has cited some amazing chamber pressures (3,900psi) and thrust:weight ratio targets (200).

Monolith: turquoise hydrogen breakthrough?

Monolith claims it is the “only producer of cost effective commercially viable clean hydrogen today” as it has developed a proprietary technology for methane pyrolysis using 100% renewable electricity, producing clean hydrogen and carbon black. We like this turquoise hydrogen theme and its potentially strong economics.

The company is based in Lincoln, Nebraska and has a $100M demonstration facility at Hallam, Nebraska, constructed in 2016-18, following a pilot was build in California in 2013-15. The next step is a $1bn expansion of its Olive Creek facility and a tender of 2M MWh pa of renewable electricity (or equivalent RECs) to energize the plant.

Overall this was not one of our most successful patent screens, as we found many of the patents to be disjunctive, thus it was hard to de-risk the technology. Some specific question marks are noted in the data-file.


Green hydrogen electrolysers in Europe: a database?

This data-file derives some conclusions into the evolving landscape of green hydrogen electrolysers in Europe, based on a list of c240 distinct projects, looking project-by-project, country-by-country.

The market is shifting away from smaller alkaline electrolyers in the hundreds of kW of capacity to super-giant PEMs, and SOECs, with overall project capacities potentially reaching GW-scale.

Key controversies are visibly emerging around the powering of electrolysers (from the broader grid, rather than just from renewables), for use of the hydrogen and for delivery of ambitious, early-stage projects.

CO2 electrolysis: the economics?

Carbon monoxide is an important chemical input for metals, materials and fuels. Could it be produced by capturing CO2 from the atmosphere or using the amine process, then electrolysing the CO2 into CO and oxygen?

This data-file models the economics of CO2 electrolysis, including recent advances from leading industrial gas companies, and by analogy to hydrogen electrolysis.

10% IRRs can be achieved at $800/ton carbon monoxide pricing, which can be competitive with conventional syngas production, and far more economic than small-scale distribution of CO containers.

The data-file contains input assumptions, detailed notes from half-a-dozen recent technical papers, and short summary of different companies’ initiatives, including Haldor Topsoe, Siemens, Covestro, Methanex and Carbon Recycling.

Hydrogen blending: costs and complexities?

This data-file estimate the costs of blending hydrogen into pre-existing natural gas pipeline networks. Costs are relatively low per mcf of gas, but very high per ton of CO2 abated. Costs also rise exponentially, as more hydrogen is blended into the mix.

Our estimates are based upon technical papers and TSE’s economic models, and they cover capacity degradation, maintenance costs and upgrading boilers, appliances and turbines.

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells: what challenges?

This data-file reviews fifty patents into proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), filed by leading companies in the space in 2020, in order to understand the key challenges the industry is striving to overcome.

The key focus areas are controlling the temperature, humidity and longevity of hydrogen fuel cells. But unfortunately, we find over half of the proposed solutions are likely to increase end costs.

We remain cautious on the practicalities and the economics of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (2x most costly than conventional vehicles per km, note here) and hydrogen fuel cells for power generation (10x more costly, note here).

Deep blue: cracking the code of carbon capture?

Carbon capture is cursed by colossal costs at small scale. But blue hydrogen may be its saviour. Crucial economies of scale are guaranteed by deploying both technologies together. The combination is a dream scenario for gas producers. This 22-page note outlines the opportunity and costs.

Blue hydrogen from methane reforming: the economics?

This data-file captures the economics of hydrogen production via reforming natural gas: either steam-methane reforming (SMR) or auto-thermal reforming (ATR), which yields blue hydrogen if purified CO2 is sequestered.

Costs are drawn from technical papers in the final three tabs of the data-file, which also include our notes on blue hydrogen and an explanation of operating parameters in the model.

ATR is preferable to SMR as a decarbonization technology, eliminating 90% versus 60% of respective CO2 emissions relative to natural gas (chart below).

We find that blue hydrogen production may be competitive with CCS. Please downlaod the data-file to stress-test sensitivities to capex costs, opex costs, gas efficiency, gas prices, power prices, CO2 prices and fiscal regimes.


Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.