Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Hydrogen Economy

Idiots parrot all the time how the Hydrogen Economy is going to save the status quo. To a first order analysis this is ludicrous since fuel cells are overcomplexified expensive pieces of crap and hydrogen can't be transported.

However, say we did away with all the futuristic vapourware, what could "hydrogen economy" possibly mean then? Well, it could mean very high temperature nuclear reactors that produce hydrogen thermochemically at very high efficiencies. Assuming the hydrogen produced were cheap enough, there are plenty of applications for it.

Reducing iron ore to pig iron would be one of them. Pig iron can be efficiently turned to steel in an electric arc furnace, without the use of coal. By that point in time, all electricity would be produced by nuclear reactors and coal power plants would have been removed from the equation.

So what would happen to the current production of 1 billion tonnes of coal annually? Well some of it would certainly go to calcinating clinker for concrete cement. Assuming this could be displaced somehow, and assuming enough hydrogen were produced cheaply enough, then it should be possible to transform all of that coal into some synthetic fuel.

Currently, coal to liquids is extremely expensive partly because some of the coal must be burned in order to produce the hydrogen to synthesize the hydrocarbon chains. Assuming this weren't a problem then 1 billion tonnes of coal per year converts into about 30 million barrels per day of synthetic fuel. This falls far short of the current 80 million barrels per day the world uses but it's certainly ... interesting.

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