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Growth Isnt Possible

Growth Isnt Possible

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Published by: paradigmes21 on Nov 03, 2011
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03/13/2013

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It is often argued that the next evolutionary step in the global energy system is the
substitution of natural gas with hydrogen – often assumed to be a zero-carbon fuel.
Whilst this is true at the point of end use, it ignores carbon embedded within the fuel.

Hydrogen itself is not a source of energy, but a carrier. Because of this, hydrogen frst
has to be produced from the reaction between carbon monoxide (CO) and methanol,
through steam reactions (steam reformation) with natural gas, oil or even coal or
by the electrolysis of water (effciencies of fuel cells and hydrogen production are
discussed later). But there are two problems here.

Hydrogen will only be truly zero carbon if it is produced through zero-carbon electricity
generation. A life-cycle assessment by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
estimates the carbon emissions associated with hydrogen production from the steam
reformation of natural gas without CCS, would equal just under 12kg of CO

2e for every

kg of H

2 – one kg of H

2 has a similar energy content to 3m3

of natural gas, or the same

amount of energy required to drive a 2003 Golf Edition approximately 30km.310

A hydrogen economy, promoted as a zero-carbon energy source, based on the energy
system we have at present (i.e., dominance of fossil fuels) relies heavily on the
assumption that CCS is safe and secure. And, we have already argued that CCS is by no
means guaranteed to work, and there are limited gas reserves.

Other alternatives to steam reforming include the electrolysis of water into hydrogen
by using a renewable energy source, such as wind. Yet the process of electrolysing
water to hydrogen, and then burning it as a clean fuel to use in a fuel cell to produce
electricity introduces two additional ineffciencies. Why introduce these ineffciencies
if there is zero-carbon electricity generation in the frst place? Secondly transportation
of hydrogen is expensive (both cost and energy).311

Whilst hydrogen may become an effective way of storing energy from renewables to
cope with intermittency of electricity supply from renewables, such as wave, solar and
wind (an issue often raised by those not in favour of renewable energy), it doesn’t seem
likely that the hydrogen economy will be upon us any time soon.

Growth isn’t possible

94

Box 22: Hydrogen economy for the UK’s
transport system: is it possible?
312

If we decided to run Britain’s road transport system, say, on cleanly produced
hydrogen – electrolysing water using non-CO

2-emitting forms of generation –

our options would be:

P solar array covering every inch of Norfolk and Derbyshire combined;

P a wind farm bigger than the entire southwest region of England.

All very well, but we’d also need space for renewable energy technology for use in
our homes, offces and industries.

95

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