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Vladimir Litvinenko: “Hydrogen is an ephemeral product”


In the opinion of the rector of Russia's oldest technical university, this resource cannot compete with natural gas. And all attempts to make it part of the global energy sector in the foreseeable future are doomed to failure.

On Thursday, March 31 the rector of St. Petersburg Mining University, a leading expert in the field of fuel and energy Vladimir Litvinenko participated in the program "Full Contact". Its host Vladimir Solovyov asked the guest to comment on his article published the day before in "Rossiyskaya gazeta". The author warns in it about significant risks for the stability of the energy complex of the country and the world in case of excessive fascination with hydrogen technologies. This topic, as Mr. Solovyov noted, became especially urgent after Anatoly Chubais, the main lobbyist of the H2-related projects, fled the country.

However, the conversation started with a discussion of another, no less momentous event: the switch to rubles in payments for our natural gas supplies to unfriendly countries. According to Vladimir Litvinenko, this measure is extremely necessary for increasing the sustainability of Russia's socio-economic development.

"We have a trade surplus. We have about 10-15%. But what do we spend this money on? Given that the supplies of our minerals abroad are paid for in foreign currency, we essentially spend them to strengthen the economies of the states that emit that currency. In particular, the United States, if we're talking about dollars. We don't need that. We need to strengthen our domestic economy. That is why our country, of course, must bill for energy and other minerals in rubles, thereby strengthening its currency," Litvinenko said.

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He stressed that the natural resources that lie in Russia's bowels must work, first and foremost, in the interests of Russian society. A rich resource base is one of our competitive advantages, and it must be used as efficiently as possible. However, this is hindered by the liberal-minded part of society that advocates minimal government interference in the economy and rejects the need for government regulation.

As the expert explained, ideologues of this way of development in our society still make up a significant part of the establishment and have a serious influence on economic policy-making. For example, they believe that the Central Bank cannot put rubles into circulation to finance investment projects if these funds are not secured by foreign currency. And it can be obtained through the export of oil, gas and other resources.

"This is obvious nonsense. We do not need dollars and euros. The ruble itself could become the dominant world currency in 10-20 years. These are not empty words. For the development of any country we need minerals, they are the basis of almost all technological chains. Of course, the service sector, service or IT companies make a significant contribution to the progress of Western economies. But the duration of geopolitical struggle of the so-called global leadership coalition countries shows that the result of their targeted diplomacy is free access to minerals. First of all, to hydrocarbons, rare earths, non-ferrous metals and a number of other minerals with which they are poor. The United States and the European Union understand perfectly well that no sustainable development is possible without a resource base. We have an advantage in 32 types of minerals and four types of hydrocarbons. And we have to sell them for rubles," said the rector of the Mining University.


He also emphasized that money is the equivalent of labor. But if yesterday a computer was sold in an electronics store for 80 thousand rubles, and today it costs 240 thousand, then the labor of the person who wants to buy this computer automatically turns out to be devalued. In any currency Russia receives funds from unfriendly buyers of our natural resources.

This is why, when paying for energy resources, we should be guided primarily by their ability to generate a certain amount of energy required, for example, to produce one car. The higher the final cost of a car in a car dealership, the higher the price of the amount of natural gas required to make it. That is, ideally, the equivalent of payment for raw materials should not even be rubles, but joules.

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Turning to the main topic of the conversation, Vladimir Litvinenko urged not to blindly copy Western energy security strategies. Because they are based on import dependence. Russia does not have this problem. We can provide ourselves with all the resources we need.

"Why is Europe now involved in hydrogen? Not because it can compete with natural gas, this is not realistic. It's because they do not have free access to traditional raw materials. Yes, of course, humanity must make the energy transition. This is the most important strategic task. But it should be understood that it will take much longer than two or three days or even two or three decades. The West positions hydrogen technology as a lifeline that will help intensify all these processes and move away from dependence on Russian oil and gas. But this is an illusion. Hydrogen is an ephemeral product, elementary laws of physics will never let it have a significant niche in the world fuel and energy balance," Vladimir Litvinenko is convinced.

He reminded that the first one to announce the entry of the world into the era of hydrogen economy was the US president Mr. Bush in 2003. His analysts then proposed a simple but, as they believed, effective way to get away from import dependency in the fuel and energy complex. Its essence was to produce hydrogen from electricity at night, when electricity consumption was lower and there was a surplus in the market. During peak hours, this hydrogen, as experts assured, could be burned.

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"The only goal pursued by the adherents of this idea is to depreciate the potential of hydrocarbons and thereby reduce opportunities for the development of countries that have a rich resource base. This includes Russia. In the mass consciousness of consumers began to infiltrate the idea that oil and gas are cave fuels, and that their use leads to climate change. Another important point is that the only way to prevent global warming is the development of renewable energy sources and hydrogen technologies. It is evident that at the current stage of scientific and technological development this is unrealistic: renewable energy sources and hydrogen cannot become the foundation of the energy complex, due to the low density of the generated energy and high consumption of materials", emphasized Litvinenko.

He is convinced of the need to develop solar and wind power generation in our country, but he believes that implementing technologies that reduce the environmental impact at traditional energy facilities is no less important in the decades to come. Because the role of cogeneration plants running on gas, oil products and coal will be dominant at least until 2050, and most likely for much longer. As for attempts to make hydrogen an integral part of global energy, they are doomed to fail for the foreseeable future.

"At this stage, it is only possible to produce electricity efficiently from hydrogen using the electrochemical method, with the help of so-called hydrogen fuel cells. It is essentially a battery, nothing more. That is, building a car or bus that runs on hydrogen is of course possible. Technologically, there is no problem here. But it is not economically profitable. And it's not safe. Can you imagine what would happen if cars collide, if hydrogen tanks depressurize, and their contents react with oxygen? A very violent explosion, the victims of which could be other road users. Such accidents often happened in the twenties and thirties of the last century, they led to the abandonment of the use of airships, which were then very popular and were fueled by hydrogen," recalled the rector of the Mining University.

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He also clarified that the main way to generate electricity in traditional energy systems is electromagnetic induction. This applies both to the heating cycle and the gas turbine cycle of CHPPs. The expert is sure that it is impossible to replace the first number of the Mendeleev Table with the same natural gas that is used there as an energy resource.

"The existing generation systems that are used at thermal power plants are designed for a combustion temperature of 1500-2500° C. But the combustion temperature of hydrogen under similar conditions is much higher than this level. That is, we at least need additional comprehensive research in the field of materials science and other related areas of science. Even if we imagine that they will be successful, we will have to build from scratch all the infrastructure necessary to produce, transport, store and generate hydrogen. This is a huge expense. An equally important problem is the formation of nitrogen oxide NO2 during the combustion of hydrogen. It is a poisonous gas with suffocating effect", - warned Vladimir Litvinenko.

He summarized that taking into consideration elementary laws of physics, thermodynamic and logistic shortcomings of new energy sources it will take decades in order for them to squeeze hydrocarbons and become the basis of global energy. Therefore, oil and gas, according to the expert, are doomed to form the basis of the energy transition. It is they that can provide mankind with the additional volumes of energy required to change the traditional energy structure. In particular, to create the infrastructure necessary to use hydrogen technology and renewable energy sources.

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