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Vladimir Litvinenko: “Hydrogen as an ephemeral equivalent of hydrocarbons could blow up the world economy”

© Форпост Северо-Запад

After the US President Mr. Bush declared in 2003 that the world has entered the era of hydrogen economy, hydrogen has become a geopolitical resource for politicians to devalue the world's hydrocarbon potential. Is this true and what could happen to the world economy with such a policy?
The Paris climate agreement was the result of a scientific-political dialogue that scientists lost. Meanwhile, science, as the world's new knowledge sector, has benefited from greater attention to itself. This paradox is due to the fact that the prospect of further growth of the share of alternative non-fossil energy in the global fuel and energy balance depends, for the most part, on progress in the use of hydrogen as a resource that will allow the accumulation on an industrial scale of energy produced by renewable energy sources (RES). At the same time, the elementary laws of physics tell us that there are too many barriers to making hydrogen initiatives a reality, making their implementation on a global scale an overly expensive and unsafe undertaking.

In this we see major global risks to the sustainability of the existing global energy of the country and the world. Advertising the possibilities of wind or solar energy, we subconsciously already perceive it not as a separate (local) kind of energy, but as a major source of "green hydrogen. But the consumer is not waiting for hydrogen. They are waiting for a new kind of energy - green hydrogen energy, which has undeniable competitive advantages. Will these expectations be met, given the fact that hydrogen itself is not a tool to decarbonize the global energy and economy of the future? "Brown", "green", "gray" and its other color classifications cannot solve the problem of climate change, much less replace hydrocarbons, because it takes as much energy to organize production and produce the lightest gas in nature as it can return it through the electrochemical cycle.

At the present stage, efficient production of electric energy from hydrogen is possible only by electrochemical method, with the help of so-called hydrogen fuel cells. The main way of its production in traditional energy systems is electromagnetic induction. At the current stage of scientific progress, it is impossible to realize it by using H2. This applies both to the cogeneration cycle, and to the gas turbine cycle of CHPP. This fact is associated with a complex of unresolved problems of managing the kinematic mechanism of high-temperature combustion of this resource, which significantly exceeds the threshold limits of technological capabilities of existing generation systems, both in air, oxygen environment, and in a mixture with natural gas. No less important problem, in our opinion, is the formation of nitrogen oxide NO2 during combustion of hydrogen. It is a poisonous gas with suffocating effect.

Our research on uncertainties in climate projections and the magnitude of the problems associated with the use of hydrogen and stream energy (solar, wind) proves that the accelerated transition to low-carbon resources provokes structural (intractable) inflation at the expense of unbalanced growth of individual industries. It disrupts the global relationship between energy, food and well-being. Given the elementary laws of physics and the thermodynamic and logistical shortcomings of new energy sources, it will take decades before they overtake hydrocarbons and become the foundation of the global energy industry. Therefore, oil and gas are doomed to be at the heart of the energy transition. It is they that can provide humanity with the additional amounts of energy required to change the traditional energy order. In particular, to create the infrastructure necessary to use hydrogen technology and renewable energy sources. Under no circumstances will the latter be able to cover the growth of consumption and simultaneously reduce carbon intensity in the next 20-30 years because of the low density and high cost of the energy they produce.

The material intensity of electrochemical technologies and flow energy is an additional planetary problem. For example, a global increase in the share of alternative primary energy sources by only 1% requires the additionally involvement in the technological cycle of over 100 thousand tons of rare-earth metals and more than 5 million tons of copper. At the same time, the increase in demand for scarce metals as a percentage is inversely proportional to the energy density of the sources used. The low energy efficiency of electrochemical and renewable energy sources should be taken into account (at the level of multiexajoule estimates). In this regard, for our economy, nuclear, hydropower and natural gas should be urgently recognized as carbon-neutral types of generation for the coming years. A scientifically-motivated tradeoff between lower energy production density and higher material intensity is also required.

Attempts to artificially limit CO2 emissions through "indirect carbon taxes," stricter environmental, social, and governance requirements for mining companies (ESG) are a serious brake on attracting capital into the growth of all minerals. This includes fossil fuels. However, a radical reduction in investment needed to develop the basic facilities of modern global energy in order to intensify the abandonment of hydrocarbons, can lead to a shortage of them in the next 3-5 years. There will be nothing to replace them at this stage. The absence of a new competitive energy resource as a commodity and, as a consequence, its market will make the scale of the problem critical, which may not only have political consequences, but also blow up the whole world economy.

Hydrogen is an ephemeral resource for global energy. In the nearest 10-15 years there is no alternative to hydrocarbons, because creation of conditions for energy production by means of electromagnetic induction in the heating cycle designed for 1500-2500° C is problematic from the position of the laws of physics. That’s because the temperature of hydrogen combustion under similar conditions, as mentioned above, significantly exceeds this level; and therefore it requires additional comprehensive research in the field of materials science and other related areas of science.

Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of St. Petersburg Mining University

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta