Sunday, August 27, 2023

Taking a short break - no post this week

I'm taking a short break this week and expect to post again on Sunday, September 3.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

'White' hydrogen: The hydrogen economy zombie rises again

Just when you thought the hydrogen economy zombie was dead and gone, it rises again, this time in color.

Yes, hydrogen comes in many colors these days: green, blue, gray and now white. No, these are not literal colors, but rather marketing tools designed to convince investors, policymakers (think: public subsidies), and the public (think: support of public subsidies) that the hydrogen economy is right around the corner and will be a key to addressing climate change. When burned, of course, hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce water. When manufactured, however, the process can produce a little or a lot of carbon dioxide depending how the manufacturing is done and whether fossil fuels are used as feedstocks.

Periodically, hydrogen advocates create a boomlet in media coverage to announce the coming of the hydrogen economy that never seems to arrive.

White hydrogen is the newest hydrogen media boomlet. It denotes hydrogen occurring naturally in reservoirs in the Earth's crust as a free gas not combined with other elements. Its presence has been known for a long time. But no one believed the reservoirs were numerous enough or large enough to bother extracting. That thinking has changed, and there are now companies actively prospecting for underground hydrogen reservoirs.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Thinking about a world of scarcity

It has now become more fashionable to talk about shortages. Computer chips have been in shortage and then in glut in the last few years. Natural gas was acutely in shortage in Europe after the war in Ukraine and pipeline sabotage brought supplies from Russia down to a trickle. Then, heroic efforts at conservation and in obtaining liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments to Europe led to a dramatic reduction in price. But last week just the potential for labor strikes among LNG workers in Australia, a major LNG exporter, sent the European price spiking again.

The world seemed so well supplied with everything in the previous decade that the shortages of this decade seem shocking to those with memories that do not extend further back than 2010.

But in what is actually recent memory, we have examples. It was the mid-2000s that brought us spiking food prices. Now they are rising again. It also brought us the highest price ever for a barrel of oil. Now oil prices are elevated again. Metals prices rose. Now they are again.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Why I assume "fixes" meant to prevent collapse won't work

There are those who believe our current way of life is not facing any near term threat and will go on indefinitely. In this view, any existential problems—should they ever arise—will be dealt with by new technologies.

Others assume the threat of civilizational collapse is real and can be and even will be addressed. They may believe that the threats include climate change, the challenge of evolving microbes that are rendering antibiotics useless, and the increasing toxicity of the biosphere due to human releases of novel toxic chemicals. This group frantically offers solutions which are emitted on an almost daily schedule from the world's universities and industrial research laboratories.

The solutions that are offered usually address an isolated issue such as carbon-free energy. A recent proposal suggests burning iron powder. As one reads about this "solution," it seems more and more like a nonstarter. There's plenty of iron, of course. But we need to ramp up dramatically the manufacture of iron powder. This gets burned to make iron oxide. Then we can make iron "renewable" by using hydrogen to strip away the oxygen from the resulting iron oxide so we get iron again.