Oil Companies Would Welcome the Introduction of Hydrogen’ – UK Scientist
For scientists the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, is a venue to announce the results of their work, and get the attention of world politicians, economists, and business people to the technical progress and innovations being made. For one to succeed this has to be done in a simple form to help leaders make the correct decisions.
According to British chemical engineer Rodney John Allam, the 2012 Global Energy Prize laureate, Member of the Global Energy Prize International Award Committee, Member of the IPCC, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, by 2100, CO2 emissions from power, domestic and commercial space heating, industrial production, and transportation should be reduced to 10% of the current level. To reach that goal, countries should turn to hydrogen which is almost as efficient as natural gas.
Sputnik: You are taking part in this year's St. Petersburg [International Economic] Forum, how important is this event for scientists, for people who work in environmental and energy programmes?
Rodney John Allam: For scientists, it is a venue for announcing the results of work. But it has to be done in a form which is acceptable to politicians and economists and business people.
So the real thing is to be able to announce the types of progress that are being made in a simple form but give accurate information, it is quite a challenge. And in fact, I would say there aren't that many people who do this.
And I have tried to do it myself with some degree of success, I guess. But it is required in the future much, much more. And I think there will be more technical presentations here in the future which will help business people make the correct decisions because you have to sell this sort of thing to the business community.
They are not going to do it on their own and particularly to politicians.
Sputnik: Judging by technology and inventions that you see at the Global Energy Prize from one year to another, including the most recent ones, what are the main directions in which non-traditional energy is going? What are the technologies and probably some of the highlights that we might see explored [in the year]?
Rodney John Allam: In the last 3, 4 or 5 years if you look back, we have rewarded scientists and engineers who have been looking firstly… we have awarded — I won't bother with the names because it will take too long — but for the development of the LED lights, which light the entire exhibition area, they are all LEDs.
They all have electricity requirements which are only about 10% of the previous best. So that is an enormous contribution to clean energy. But in the last three years, we have awarded to people who have developed solar cell technology and battery technology.
And in the recent awards, Mr [B. Jayant] Baliga, for example, who developed the methods of dealing with a variability of the grid system when it has to accept renewable power. So, tremendous problem getting that variability into the grid without damaging the other supplies of energy and that was his contribution.
So you can say that for the last 3 or 4 years, we have concentrated more on renewables, particularly solar, not so much wind. Wind technology, we have not actually given a Global Energy Prize for wind yet, but we will do. But there have been some massive improvements in both wind and in solar.
Sputnik: How quick is the pace of progress when it comes to solar energy and batteries, for example? Because you see these technologies being implemented but they are so expensive, they are so consuming when it comes to weight and production costs.
Rodney John Allam: What you find is that production costs go down enormously. I can give you an example. In the UK we introduced the first offshore wind complex. And it was a big one, about 15 or 20 years ago.
And the guaranteed price from the government was £ 14 per megawatt-hour. The latest contracts for 1500 megawatt systems are going in at 5 to 6 [pounds].
So the reduction is about 2.5 to 2.8 times. And that is solely due to reducing costs. The original turbines, for example, were 1-megawatt turbines but now they are putting in 8-megawatt turbines. And there is an enormous improvement in the electrical connections and in the offshore work less required.
And the same thing is happening in batteries. One of our prize winners this year has developed the electrodes that you put in the lithium-ion batteries. And these electrodes are the key to making them very compact, having an enormously increased power density and therefore, bringing the cost down.
And you are seeing the same trajectory together with the increase in production which also brings the cost down, so all of these technologies once they are introduced, the costs just go down. But what is important here is that you have to be able to have a proper mechanism for introducing them in the first place.
Because taking, for example, wind power, when that first station was authorised the government was subsidising a power cost for its entire life of well over two times what it was paying for power from gas and coal-fired stations.
And the consumer has to pay that cost through taxation. So it is not money that you pluck out of the tree, it is something which people, in general, have to comply with in terms of their tax burden. If they don't want to pay the tax, there won't be any progress. So it starts with the individual, who puts his light on at home and pays the price.
Sputnik: In your main area of expertise, you have done a lot of research with gases and transformation of gases in cryogenic liquids. We see commercial products already in the markets, for example, automobiles, cars with hydrogen fuel, already 2 or 3 I think. Is there something in the way of such technologies besides their kind of cause production costs? Is there resistance on behalf of fossil fuel manufacturers?
Rodney John Allam: I don't think so. I think that the oil companies, for example, would welcome the introduction of hydrogen. Because the only way that you can economically make the vast amounts of hydrogen that would be required is really from natural gas or from light hydrocarbons.
So instead of putting the light hydrocarbons into petrol and diesel, you can actually make fuel gases. They vaporise, so you can just as easily use them.
So you have a spectrum of hydrocarbons from say diesel down to natural gas, which you can use to make hydrogen, that is the first thing. The second thing is the cost of making the hydrogen. And in the UK we are even looking now at the possibility of replacing natural gas for district heating and commercial and just heating in your home with hydrogen.
And the reason for this is that we converted to natural gas back in 1962, and before then we used what is known as town gas which was hydrogen and carbon monoxide mixed with a little bit of hydrocarbon.
So there isn't any real problem about sending hydrogen. We were also the first country in the world to actually supply gas domestically. We were doing that. My local town, I can remember when I was a boy back in the 50s — I am a bit older than I look — but we still had a gas works running in the 50s, and it was supplying town gas for the plant. That gas works was built in the 1860s. And therefore, the gas mains were in a terrible condition.
You know, they were made of cast iron. So the in the 60s and 70s, the UK replaced virtually all the domestic gas pipes with modern high thickness, high-density PVC pipes, and they are ideal for hydrogen. So we already have the pipes there for the hydrogen.
Sputnik: So you have to remember the old experience and just bring it to life again?
Rodney John Allam: Yes. And the third thing that you have to have is a very, very efficient hydrogen production system. And one of the things that I am going to be announcing today is that it is possible to produce hydrogen at 80 to 90 percent of the heating value of the natural gas that went in in the first place.
And if you can replace natural gas and only lose say 15% of the heating value inefficiencies that is a pretty good deal because you can make the hydrogen with 100% carbon capture. So you convert the methane to hydrogen, you make CO2, you can capture all of that at high pressure or as a liquid and get rid of it underground.
Sputnik: And the applications can be from cars to heating to..?
Rodney John Allam: Once you have got hydrogen, you have a phenomenal energy vector. Firstly, a car running on a fuel cell can easily achieve 400 to 600 miles range, easily, with a reasonable size fuel tank. Nowadays, they run the fuel tanks at 700 Bars pressure, all that technology is known.
In the company I work for, we put in the first proper dispensers, which the public could use in approximately 2003. The first one was put in in Washington DC and simultaneously another one was put in — that was for Shell — and the other one was put in in Singapore for BP.
So you can drive your car in, fill up the tank in 5 to 10 minutes and the tank is completely full, and you have got a 400 to 600 miles range.
Sputnik: Which is impressive.
Rodney John Allam: Now, if you want to charge a battery in 10 minutes for a domestic car, you need hundreds of kilowatts of power, hundreds, you need thick cables, you need a lot of… and that infrastructure doesn't exist.
So, in actual fact, the infrastructure for hydrogen is not such a problem as some people think. It will depend on the country but certainly, in the UK and in parts of America and in parts of Western Europe it is going to be relatively easy to introduce hydrogen.
And you don't have to do it all at once. You can mix hydrogen with natural gas and introduce it gradually if you want to. Now, you have to change the burners on the gas stoves. But then we changed all the burners in the UK for every appliance that existed in the UK and it was all done in about 12 months.
Sputnik: So it is not that hard.
Rodney John Allam: No, it is not a big deal.
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