Episode 318. Hydrogen!

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 12th of December 2022.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

Hydrogen Vs Batteries

The use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel has been on the fringes of and in the centre of the renewables debate. That debate not being do we need them but which one is best? 

As we’ve discussed, the private vehicle market is probably going to be battery powered. This will have many benefits beside the obvious. All those batteries out there connected to the grid will provide a huge reservoir of available energy storage. The missing link in grid wide renewable systems. Hydrogen though has other benefits. It can and possibly will replace natural gas fired power stations until the battery conundrum is solved. Equally important are the decisions made by Japanese and South Korean governments to set up hydrogen filling stations to replace petrol versions. That being said these countries will be reliant upon a hydrogen supply. Which moves the balance of power from Russia and the Middle East to however can supply the hydrogen. They could, of course, manufacture their own using wind, solar, tidal and geothermal resources. But this might not be the cheapest way to do things. Provided their hydrogen partners are reliable states without geopolitical adventures in mind, this might not be a problem. But could be a case of replacing one hostage taker for another. Things change as we have seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall in the west and the rise of Xi in China.

Hydrogen though has advantages over batteries for long haul vehicles. The energy density of hydrogen becomes a factor at larger sizes. Instead of burning the hydrogen as a diesel substitute it’s run through fuel cells of which much engineering development is ongoing. 

Another area being developed is in aircraft. I know, hydrogen and aircraft conjures up visions of the Hindenburg disaster and the end of the rigid airship on the 6th of May 1937 in the township of Manchester New Jersey. Google this if you don’t know what happened. Truly horrific. The thing is av-gas is just a flammable as hydrogen and we’ve pretty much solved that issue in aircraft. Other issues, such as hydrogen creating brittle metals when in contact and so on need to be solved.

Hydrogen Planes?

But, a trial is underway. It’s at the jet engine strapped to stand in the middle of nowhere stage but it’s a start.

From the BBC website dated 28 November comes the piece entitled: Rolls-Royce tests a jet engine running on hydrogen:


In a windswept corner of a military site on Salisbury Plain a small aircraft jet engine is undergoing tests that could one day lead to huge changes within the aviation industry.

The engine itself is almost completely conventional. It is a Rolls-Royce AE-2100A gas turbine, a design used widely on regional aeroplanes around the world.

What is wholly unusual about it is the fuel being used. This is the first time a modern aircraft engine has ever been run on hydrogen.

And from further on in the piece:

The immediate aim is a simple one – to show that it is possible to run and control a jet engine using hydrogen fuel, rather than conventional aviation fuels.

In the longer term, the plan is for hydrogen power to play a major role in allowing the aviation industry to continue growing, while cutting climate change emissions dramatically.

End Quote

The possibilities are worth considering. A renewable energy source for aircraft would be a game changer for aviation emissions.

Let’s not rule out battery powered planes either. Much like terrestrial vehicles, smaller size and journey distances favour batteries over hydrogen which may be reserved for that bum numbing trip from Sydney to Dublin via wherever over 26 odd hours. 

Electric Aircraft

From the Smithsonian Magazine dated September 23 2022 comes a piece: Electric Planes Are Taking Flight


As convenient as flying may be, air travel is not great for the environment—by some estimates, commercial flights alone are responsible for 3 to 4 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

But electrifying air travel is one way to reduce the sector’s climate impact. And though experts say that widespread commercial adoption is still down the road, battery-powered planes are starting to gain more traction.

Last week, Air Canada became the latest airline to commit to trying the new, zero-emission technology by ordering 30 battery-powered passenger aircraft from the Sweden-based Heart Aerospace. United Airlines and regional provider Mesa Airlines each ordered 100 of the company’s planes in summer last year.

End Quote

Despite the energy price driven inflation tearing around the globe at present, there are steps being taken to remove the gun to the head of all nations who either don’t produce fossil fuels or who’s energy market is tied into the global pricing system.

Imagine a world where every country could provide its own energy requirements from renewable sources. The changes this would engender are almost beyond comprehension. The geopolitical changes are interesting enough but the climate benefits are enormous and worth the investments now for a quieter, greener, less violent world in the near future.

The ChangeUnderground Academy no-dig gardening course is still available. Link in the show notes. Please tell your friends! 

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back, all things being equal, next week.

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Rolls-Royce tests a jet engine running on hydrogen


Electric Planes Are Taking Flight


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