Liquid hydrogen has no place in transport or energy applications and attempts to replicate the success of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are futile, influential energy analyst Michael Liebreich told his 54,000 Twitter followers over the weekend, in a colourful, exclamation mark-laden thread that has been viewed 1.7 million times so far.
Targeted at “those who think we’re going to be importing hydrogen over vast distances”, the viral thread also took aim at ammonia and liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs), which have also been earmarked by hydrogen proponents as potential H2 transport solutions.
But Liebreich reserved the brunt of his ire for liquefied hydrogen (LH2), and particularly the notion that it can be used as a drop-in fuel to replace LNG, an idea that he described as “ahem, bollox [sic]”.
“You need to understand that [liquid] hydrogen is basically -253°C escapey, explodey expanded polystyrene,” he told his followers, before urging people who do not know about lower and higher heating values to “read more and tweet less” about hydrogen.
To maintain its liquefied state, hydrogen has to be cooled to minus 253℃, compared to minus 162℃ for LNG, which will lead to nine times’ the boil-off suffered by LNG cargoes.
Pulling up various slides and links to support his arguments, Liebreich pointed out that LH2 will require 33% more energy to liquefy than LNG, and lose an extra 15% of calorific value due to extra boil off.
With volumetric density of 8.5 MJ/litre compared to 22.2 MJ/litre in LNG, LH2 holds just 38% of the energy of an equivalent volume of LNG, he stated.
And with the exception of power supply and docks, and perhaps 70% of associated fossil gas pipelines, LNG infrastructure cannot be repurposed for hydrogen, Liebreich continued, citing an article from independent energy consultant Paul Martin, which noted that liquefaction and gasification plants, compressors and storage tanks would all need to be replaced.
And liquid hydrogen is even less viable for aviation, he said, warning that planes and airports would have to be redesigned from scratch to accommodate the need for super-cooled hydrogen in steel tanks.
“Are we done with the absurd notion of transporting liquid hydrogen?” he asked. “In fact, LH2 will have no role anywhere in energy and transport.”
But others on the site were unimpressed with Liebreich's arguments, pointing out that respectable analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) among others has found that LH2 might be an economic option to export hydrogen from larger projects over distances under 3,000km.
“Though I don’t think we’ll be shipping liquid hydrogen globally, I wouldn’t be surprised if some does happen,” said Gniewomir Flis, an independent cleantech analyst.
But according to Liebreich, the only economic methods of transporting hydrogen around the world are via pipeline, ammonia (NH3) or LOHCs, but he believes even these are fraught with problems.
“We can and will ship ammonia,” he said, with the caveat that it only makes economic sense when using the NH3 directly for use in fertiliser production or other industries.
“If it's to import green electricity, nested inefficiencies mean huge cycle losses — and HVDC kills it,” he warned, turning next to to fire on Japan, which has based its decarbonisation strategy on clean ammonia imports.
“Betting on ammonia will mean punitive power prices and de-industrialisation,” he said. "Sad.”
LOHCs, another potential method of transporting hydrogen, also caught the sharp end of Liebreich’s analysis.
When hydrogen is combined with a chemical solvent to form an LOHC it can be stored and transported at ambient temperatures, which proponents say is a safer and more economic way of moving H2 around the globe.
“Great!” said Liebreich. “Except you get just 54kg H2 for every [metre squared] of solvent, even worse than liquid hydrogen. May work for stationary storage, useless for shipping.”
But Irena notes that LOHCs can be used to economically transport hydrogen from smaller projects over very long distances — up to 12,000km.
This is the second time in as many months that Liebreich has taken to Twitter to blast advocacy of what he believes is inappropriate use of hydrogen, most recently its use in long distance shipping, either as a cargo or a fuel.
And last month, the BNEF founder took to the stage at the World Hydrogen Congress in Rotterdam to tell its audience of H2 professionals that hydrogen is becoming an economic bubble.
“So that’s why imports of hydrogen and its derivatives will be far lower than you might think,” he said in this weekend’s Twitter tirade. “Clean hydrogen is vitally important to decarbonise certain sectors, but claims it can deliver 20% of CO2 abatement by 2050 are an order of magnitude too high. Electrify everything!”