Massive money is flowing into energy that will change the world.
SPECIAL TREND UPDATE: THE EMERGING HYDROGEN ECONOMY
July 29 (King World News) – Gerald Celente: In April 2021, we detailed key technologies and players in the rapidly evolving industry making hydrogen as an energy medium. We noted then that hydrogen, so far the poor relation in the alternative fuel family, is being recognized not only as viable but also as the preferred fuel in certain markets. Those markets are offering opportunities to entrepreneurs and investors who understand hydrogen’s limits as well as its benefits.
This update highlights technologies’ advances, which have brought more money and new players into the sector.
OIL MAJORS, PRIVATE EQUITY FIRMS POUR MONEY INTO HYDROGEN VENTURES
While solar, wind, and battery power steal the headlines, investors – including major oil companies – are plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into tomorrow’s hydrogen economy.
India’s Adani Group has announced it will invest $50 billion in partnership with French oil giant TotalEnergies SE over the next five years to develop projects that harvest hydrogen from water.
BP – the corporation that was British Petroleum and now wants to be known as “Beyond Petroleum” – bought 40.5 percent of the $30-billion Asian Renewable Energy Hub in Australia’s Outback and has agreed to be the project’s operator.
Eventually, the project will produce about 1.6 million tons of green hydrogen a year as vehicle fuel and industrial feedstock.
The project has the potential to become “one of the largest green hydrogen hubs in the world,” BP boasts.
In the next few months, two Shell subsidiaries plan to begin construction of Holland Hydrogen 1, which will be Europe’s largest hydrogen production plant when it begins operating in 2025, producing 60,000 kilograms of renewable hydrogen per day [more than 130,000 pounds], the company said.
“Shell’s ambition is to help build a global hydrogen economy by developing opportunities in the production, storage, transport, and delivery of hydrogen to end customers,” it added.
Hydrogen is where the money is going.
Private equity firm TP Group led a recent $300-million funding round for Monolith, which has developed a proprietary process for extracting hydrogen from water. (See related story below.)
Private equity colossus BlackRock and Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s national wealth fund, have created Decarbonization Partners to put money into renewable energy projects, including Monolith.
Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund recently expanded its hydrogen portfolio, adding companies such as Sunfire and Electric Hydrogen, both of which have developed new versions of electrolyzers, the technology that can produce hydrogen using water and renewable energy.
Electric Hydrogen goes a step further and makes not only electrolyzers but also designs and builds entire plants to house them and handle the hydrogen that results.
Electric Hydrogen’s other backers in its recent $198-million funding round include Honeywell, Silicon Valley Bank, Trinity Capital, and Rio Tinto, the world’s third largest mining company by revenue.
Recent spikes in oil and gas prices, due in part to Russia’s war in Ukraine and resulting sanctions, have “changed the paradigm and made the question of [hydrogen’s] economics less of a ’10 years away’ question,” Amir Sharifi, chief investment officer with Hy24, a $1.7-billion fund devoted to financing hydrogen projects,” told the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s already there in some places,” he added.
These companies are placing bets on hydrogen’s future even as worldwide oil prices are near their highest prices in years and natural gas’s price is setting records.
Oil companies and financiers see the future as being powered by renewable energy and their profits, and even their survival, depends on embedding themselves squarely in the transition now under way.
THE COLOR OF HYDROGEN: WHY IT MATTERS
Even though hydrogen gas is invisible, it comes in colors.
So-called “blue” hydrogen is collected using the conventional method of superheating natural gas – methane – under enormous pressure, which cracks apart the carbon and hydrogen atoms in the gas. The hydrogen is harvested and the carbon dioxide gas is vented.
It’s called “blue” because that’s the characteristic color of a methane flame when it burns.
The problem: making blue hydrogen puts more carbon waste into the air.
The global shift from fossil fuels is forsaking blue hydrogen for “green” hydrogen, which, ideally, is siphoned from water in processes powered by renewable or “green” energy – no fossil fuels required and no waste carbon emitted.
The iron and steel industries both have completed successful demonstration projects using green hydrogen to fuel their refining and manufacturing processes.
However, making green hydrogen is expensive and demand is still too small to fertilize a large green hydrogen extraction industry.
As a result, some hydrogen has gone turquoise, a hue that mixes blue and green: natural gas is still the feedstock for gathering hydrogen, but the carbon molecules also are harvested instead of wasted.
A turquoise hydrogen process cracks methane molecules in the presence of steam. That process yields hydrogen and carbon, not carbon dioxide gas.
That carbon can then be collected for a practical use. Current projects are selling carbon black, an industrial feedstock used to toughen tires and as pigments for inks and paints.
A recent estimate from Norway’s SINTEF Energy Research figures a well-designed turquoise hydrogen plant would deliver carbon at a little more than $300 per ton, making it “highly competitive” as an industrial material.
Turquoise hydrogen production produces carbon, a marketable product with wide industrial demand.
Revenue from carbon sales can make hydrogen harvesting financially feasible and help to gradually cultivate a market for hydrogen as a vehicle fuel. At that point, green hydrogen fuel provide hydrogen to the emerging market in tandem with demand and without requiring heavy investments in new infrastructure.
MONOLITH: TURQUOISE HYDROGEN IS HERE
Nebraska-based Monolith has perfected a way to convert “blue” natural gas into hydrogen in a pollution-free pyrolysis process.
In the process, natural gas – a blend of hydrogen and carbon – is pumped into a closed chamber. Electricity harvested through wind or solar collection technologies heats the gas to temperatures high enough to break the bonds between hydrogen and carbon atoms.
Each kind of atom is siphoned off separately. The hydrogen is ready to use as fuel or feedstock. In the company’s demonstration project, the carbon becomes carbon black, which is used to toughen tires and plastics and also as a pigment in inks and paints.
When operating at scale, Monolith also plans to make ammonia, a combination of hydrogen and nitrogen that is a key ingredient in fertilizer.
Ammonia is typically made through a process called steam methane reforming, which is energy-intensive. Worldwide, making ammonia emits as much carbon waste gas globally each year as the United Kingdom, according to Monolith.
In contrast, the company’s pyrolysis process yields 95 percent fewer emissions, it says.
If the company’s process can use methane drawn from landfills, agricultural methane digesters, or other waste sources, the process could ultimately take more carbon out of the air than it puts in, Monolith claims.
By the end of the year, Monolith expects to fulfill conditions that will qualify it for a $1-billion loan from the U.S. energy department that the company would use to build its first commercial plant.
The global transition to green energy is now under way but will proceed much more slowly than the wider public is demanding.
Using readily-available methane as a source of hydrogen will speed that transition while delivering a useful industrial material, sales of which will speed green hydrogen’s financial feasibility.
BERLIN: ANOTHER SHADE OF TURQUOISE HYDROGEN
Germany’s capital city of 3.8 million people has set a goal of cutting its 2050 carbon emissions by 95 percent compared to 1990’s.
Part of the plan is to make hydrogen from methane – but not just ordinary methane from natural gas. The city has teamed with the private company Graforce in a pilot project that will pull methane out of wastewater.
Waste liquid and sludge from the city’s various wastewater streams will run through what Graforce calls a “plasmalyzer,” which blasts the waste with an electric current that cracks molecules to free, then harvest, hydrogen and nitrogen.
The gases are drawn off through a membrane and automatically separated. The hydrogen is ready to use as an energy source and the nitrogen will be sold to industrial users such as fertilizer factories.
The process uses 20 to 40 percent less energy than cracking water molecules to get at the hydrogen, Graforce explains.
Graforce’s innovation puts hydrogen generation into the circular economy, in which waste from one source becomes feedstock for another. It also cuts the cost of collecting hydrogen.
Making hydrogen more affordable will be a key factor in how fast a hydrogen fuel economy can emerge.
POWDERS PRODUCE HYDROGEN ON DEMAND, ON THE SPOT
Hydrogen is promising as an efficient fuel, but transporting and storing the volatile gas is always tricky. It has to be kept under high pressure and a tank rupture can cause an explosion.
That happened in 2019 at a hydrogen filling station in Norway. The blast closed a major intersection in the city of Sandvika and prompted firefighters to surround the destroyed station with a 500-yard safety zone.
Now two recent breakthroughs eliminate hydrogen’s “last mile” problem.
First, the Hong Kong-based EPRO Advanced Technology has created a porous version of silicon it calls Si+.
When you need hydrogen, you simply immerse the gray Si+ powder in water and, moments later, hydrogen gas starts bubbling off.
The powder works across a range of temperatures, from just above freezing to near-boiling.
The only leftover is silicon dioxide, the main component of sand and a common material used in the manufacture of solar panels.
The world’s first ship built to carry liquid hydrogen was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to move hydrogen from Australia to Japan and can carry only 88.5 tons of the stuff, EPRO said.
In contrast, the same ship has space to carry enough Si+ to make at least 30,000 tons of hydrogen, the company has calculated.
Second, scientists at Australia’s Deakin University have discovered that boron nitride can store hydrogen at room temperatures and pressures.
Boron nitride is an especially effective absorbent used in everything from cosmetics to paints to dental cement and also is very chemically stable.
The researchers put boron nitride powder into a ball mill, a chamber holding stainless steel balls that rotates at high speeds.
The researchers then added a mixture of gases that needed to be separated.
When the mill rotated, the collisions among the balls, the chamber wall, and the boron nitride caused the boron compound to suck up hydrogen.
The boron powder packed with hydrogen gas then could be removed from the mill and carried and stored at room temperatures and pressures.
To recover the hydrogen, the boron nitride is warmed in a vacuum chamber. The boron then can be reused to collect more hydrogen.
The research team was so surprised by the result of the test that they repeated the experiment more than 20 times to make sure it wasn’t a mistake, they said.
The breakthroughs open a vast new field of research in hydrogen energy.
More broadly, the use of these two common chemicals could revolutionize the hydrogen industry, eliminating the need for tanker trucks and pressurized storage tanks.
In theory, engines also could be designed that mix Si+ and water internally, or that liberate hydrogen from boron nitride, and flow it directly to combustion chambers.
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