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By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 13/06/23

Graphene with ripples could help make better hydrogen fuel cells, according to a recent study published in the journal Science Advances. The findings could lead to more efficient hydrogen fuel cells. Graphene, a material made of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, is known for its exceptional mechanical and electrical properties including high conductivity and tensile strength. In recent years, graphene has been studied extensively for its potential in various applications, including energy storage and conversion.

The new study focused on the use of graphene with ripples, which are deformations in the graphene lattice that occur naturally or can be induced through various methods. The researchers found that these ripples can enhance the performance of hydrogen fuel cells by increasing the rate of proton transfer, a crucial step in the process of converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity.

The study used computer simulations to model the behavior of hydrogen ions, or protons, as they interacted with a graphene surface with and without ripples. The results showed that the ripples created a more favorable environment for proton transfer, reducing the energy barrier and increasing the efficiency of the process.

The researchers also tested their findings experimentally, using a graphene oxide membrane with ripples as a catalyst in a hydrogen fuel cell. The results showed a significant improvement in the fuel cell's performance, with a higher current density and lower overpotential, which is the extra energy needed to start the reaction.

The promise of better hydrogen fuel cells with graphene has implications beyond clean energy. Hydrogen fuel cells are also used in various industries, including transportation, aerospace, and telecommunications. Improving their efficiency and durability could lead to more cost-effective and reliable applications.

In the transportation sector, hydrogen fuel cells have been touted as a potential alternative to traditional gasoline engines, with several automakers already offering or planning to offer hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. However, their high cost and limited range have been a barrier to widespread adoption. Improving the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells could address these concerns and make them a more viable option for clean transportation.

In the aerospace industry, hydrogen fuel cells have been used in space missions, where their high energy density and low weight make them ideal for powering spacecraft. However, their durability in harsh environments like space has been a challenge. Graphene with ripples could potentially enhance their durability and make them more reliable for space applications.

The recent study on graphene with ripples and its potential to improve hydrogen fuel cells is a promising development in the pursuit of clean energy. With the potential to enhance the efficiency and durability of hydrogen fuel cells, graphene could play a critical role in the transition to a more sustainable future. While there are challenges to be addressed, the potential benefits are worth pursuing, and further research could lead to more innovative and effective solutions.

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 01/06/23

The decision by The UK Labour Party to scale back its £28bn per year green agenda is short-sighted, dangerous and sends completely the wrong message to voters, clean tech investors and innovators.

Earlier this month, June 2023 Labour’s shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves announced that its pledge to spend £28bn per year throughout the next parliament if it is successful in forming a government after the next General Election. The announcement was seized upon by the UKs mostly right-wing media as proof of Labour’s inability to manage the country’s finances, but more measured voices were more concerned about what the party might further roll back on should the economy worsen.

Labour has historically struggled, fairly or otherwise, with its reputation on the economy. To counter these charges, just as Gordon Brown highlighted his intention to be “prudent” with the public purse before Labour’s 1997 General Election win, Reeves has been warning that a new Labour government will not be reckless with public finances. Understandable from an electioneering point of view but, as far as the party’s Green Prosperity Agenda is concerned, its disappointing in a number of ways.

Rachel Reeve’s argument for taming spending in the first 2 years of a Labour government was two-fold. Firstly that the economic situation is much worse than expected at the time of the announcement. Secondly that there would be an unavoidable lag while the country scales up the skills and infrastructure to deliver the Green Prosperity Agenda. At first glance, these sound like reasonable arguments. But neither bears any close examination. On the first point, even if the full catastrophe of Conservative’s reckless Autumn 2022 mini-budget hadn’t been foreseen it has been clear for some years now that the economy would be in a perilous state in at the time of the next parliament. Whatever happened to planning for the best scenario, and preparing for the worst?

On the 2nd point, if its true now that some ramp-up time is required before the full £28bn allocation could be used effectively only after the ramp-up period, it would also have been true when the policy was announced. Either its an excuse, or someone at Labour Strategy HQ didn’t do their homework.

Beyond the nitpicking, we are more concerned about what this means for Labour’s commitment to decarbonisation and its ability to hold its nerve in the face of adversity. If the budget so desperately needed for its Green agenda can be delayed before Labour even achieves government, its whole premise serves only as a hostage to future events. We only have to see how the plans for HS2 have been continually scaled back in the face of mounting costs and diminishing budgets to see how bold visions can quickly become millstones. Worryingly, decarbonisation the economy promises to make laying a railway track down the middle of the country look like a walk in the park. Who is going to invest in a plan that at its very outset looks ripe for culling to appease stock markets. Which companies are going to commit time and resources to Labour’s plan if at the first sign of a problem the money starts to disappear? If Labour can make these policy changes now, can they be trusted with our votes to deliver on their promises?

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 30/03/23

The Hydrogen Champion Report, written by Jane Toogood, the Chief Executive of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey and Co-Chair of the Hydrogen Advisory Council, was published earlier this week - March 2023. It provides recommendations to the UK government and to industry for accelerating the development of the UK’s H2 economy. The report highlights the importance of a clear and consistent policy framework, investment in infrastructure, and building public support for hydrogen as a clean energy source. The report also recommends the establishment of a Hydrogen Delivery Unit to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. By following these recommendations, the UK can become a global leader in the production and use of hydrogen as a clean energy source. All well and good as far as this goes. But lets take a look at the specific recommendaions made by Toogood:

  • Making a decision on whether to begin blending hydrogen into the gas grid by 2023. This would allow the UK to start building a hydrogen infrastructure and would help to reduce carbon emissions from the heating and transport sectors.
  • Making it mandatory for all boilers being sold and installed in the UK from a certain date to be 'hydrogen ready'. This would ensure that the UK is prepared for a future where hydrogen is a major source of energy.
  • Providing more funding for research and development into hydrogen technologies. This would help to reduce the cost of hydrogen and make it more competitive with other forms of energy.
  • Creating a more supportive regulatory environment for hydrogen. This would include making it easier to get planning permission for hydrogen projects and providing financial incentives for the development of hydrogen infrastructure.
  • Promoting the UK as a global leader in hydrogen technologies. This would help to attract investment and create jobs in the UK hydrogen sector.

Those last 3 points I don’t think any but the most mealy-mouthed would argue with. Those first two recommendations cannot be passed over without comment.

Blending Hydrogen

The blending of hydrogen into the existing gas network is contentious, to say the least. The premise of its inclusion is that it is a kind of a quick win. Quick, perhaps. A win? The jury is out. In fact, no. The answer is no. Clean hydrogen is costly, at least for now. To pump it into the gas network would be to replace one expensive gas with another and doesn’t really represent an efficient use of a precious commodity. If we’re looking for quick wins, we’d have to agree with Michael Liebreich and displace the mountain of grey hydrogen thats being fed into making fertilsers.

Given that blending H2 into the Gas pipe network, it follows that H2 boilers would be a blind alley, especially as air source heat pumps are proving to be more dependable than has been predicted, working efficiently in sub-zero conditions.

Finally we are disappointed that there is still so much emphasis on CCUS throughout the paper. Undoubtedly CCUS could be useful in the short term to sequester the delta of CO2 produced between now and a carbon-free future point. But the very idea of the technology appears in our view to promote the continued use of fossil fuels, as if capture and storage can solve the CO2 conundrum. It cannot. It won’t. We need to move our thinking on and increasingly focus on innovation that will eradicate the need for fossil fuels, not make us feel better about using them.

There’s a lot to agree with in the Hydrogen Champion’s report, and attention to Hydrogen, a market the UK could be a major player in, given its renewable energy profile is always welcome. But there’s also much to think about. There are better, more efficient ways to use H2 quickly and effectively. We need to think more about eliminating grey H2 from the energy mix and we really need to stop this idea that CCUS is going to be anything but a sticking plaster. Rather than build technologies that mean we perpetuate our hydrocarbon addiction lets find ways to eliminating the need for them altogether.

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 20/03/23

It’s a classic vicious circle. Electricity producers work to produce energy for an emerging nation. The people of that nation, unable to afford the energy produced, in desperation risk their lives to access the energy illegally, bypassing meters. The energy producer sees its costs rise and its income reduced, meaning that they don’t invest in cleaner, renewable energy generation, thereby unable to provide cheaper electricity that their customers can afford. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in parts of sub Saharan Africa, particularly in countries with limited resources and infrastructure. estimate that electricity theft in Africa costs the sector billions of dollars every year, leading to financial losses for power companies, increased prices for legal customers, and unreliable electricity supply for many communities. Electricity theft has significant consequences for both the energy sector and society as a whole. It can lead to blackouts, damage to electrical infrastructure, and even fatalities from electrocution. Additionally, it can hinder economic development by discouraging foreign investment and increasing the cost of doing business in affected areas.

But why is this happening and what solutions exist to tackle the issue. In some cases, people may not have access to reliable and affordable electricity, leading them to resort to illegal methods to obtain power. In other cases, electricity theft is a result of corruption, with some individuals or businesses taking advantage of weak enforcement mechanisms to illegally tap into the power grid. Obviously, there are systemic issues that only growing the economy as a whole can fix. This of course implies a competent, non-corrupt government and uncorrupted law enforcement. All of this takes time to deliver and successful outcomes by no means certain.

Fortunately, there are some short-term solutions. For instance, some countries are implementing measures such as increasing penalties for offenders, improving metering technology, and investing in renewable energy sources that are more difficult to steal. However, these efforts often face significant challenges due to the complexity of the issue and the limited resources available for infrastructure development in many parts of the continent. There are several technological solutions to address electricity theft in Africa. Some of these solutions include: Smart metering technology; Prepaid electricity systems and Physical security measures.

Of these Smart Metering appears to be the most interesting from a technology point of view.

The business case for smart metering solutions is clear. Northeast Group a research house focused on Smart Cities and Smart Metering suggests that electricity theft and other so-called “non-technical losses” total $96 billion per year globally (Link). Back in 2011 the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) predicted that a fully developed smart grid could save anywhere between $1.3 to $2 trillion, in comparison to the deployment costs, which would be between $338 and $476 billion over 20 years (Link). These are large sums indeed, especially in light of the need to invest in renewables at pace.

Smart meters work by using advanced analytics or in some cases AI to accurately measure and monitor energy consumption. They can detect abnormal energy usage patterns, such as sudden spikes or drops, which may indicate electricity theft. This technology can also enable utilities to remotely monitor and control power usage, reducing the need for physical intervention and preventing tampering. The better solutions manage the whole process of analysing and identifying energy theft, alerting the local field force, record the resolution of the theft and report in detail for subsequent legal action if pursued.

However the goal should not be simply to persecute would-be customers that simply cannot afford energy costs. Until energy is affordable and plentiful in Africa people will find a way to access these resources illegally. The goal should be much bigger: To plough the restored revenue into developing sustainable electricity generation from renewable resources that can eventually drive down the costs of energy and allow those very people affordable access to energy.

By Andrew Tanner-Smith on 18/03/23

India's Recent Investment in Hydrogen: A Clean Energy Game-Changer?

India has recently announced a major investment in hydrogen as part of its plan to transition to clean energy. The country aims to become a global leader in hydrogen production and use, and has set ambitious targets for the development of a hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen promises much. It is, on the face of it, abundant in the extreme. Being the lightest and most abundant of all the elements. Great as far as it goes. Unfortunately however, it does not exist naturally on its own. Instead it is produced from a variety of sources, by far the biggest being its extraction from water via a process of electrolysis. Once the H2 has been extracted from the H2O it can be used in a wide range of applications, from fuel cells for transportation to industrial processes and power generation.

India's investment in hydrogen technology is a significant step forward in the country's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and transition to a more sustainable energy future. The government has announced plans to build a national hydrogen mission that will focus on the development of hydrogen technologies and infrastructure.

One of the key objectives of the national hydrogen mission is to develop a roadmap for scaling up hydrogen production and use in India. This will involve identifying the most promising technologies and applications for hydrogen, as well as developing the necessary infrastructure and regulatory frameworks to support the growth of a hydrogen economy.

The government has also announced plans to launch pilot projects for the use of hydrogen in various sectors, including transportation and industry. These pilot projects will help to demonstrate the feasibility and potential of hydrogen as a clean energy source, as well as provide valuable data and insights for the development of larger-scale projects.

As ever, where government money leads, private sector money follows. Several major companies have announced plans to develop hydrogen technologies and infrastructure, including Tata Motors, Reliance Industries, and Indian Oil Corporation.

Tata Motors, for example, has announced its first customer order for its hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in India due in 2024. The company aims to become a leader in the development of hydrogen-powered transportation in the country, and has partnered with Indian Oil Corporation to set up hydrogen refuelling stations across the country.

Reliance Industries, meanwhile, has announced plans to develop a green hydrogen plant in Jamnagar, Gujarat. The plant will use renewable energy to produce hydrogen, and will have a capacity of 100 MW. The company aims to use the green hydrogen produced at the plant to power its own operations, as well as provide a clean energy source for other industries.

Indian Oil Corporation, one of the country's largest oil and gas companies, has also announced plans to develop hydrogen infrastructure. The company aims to build a network of hydrogen refuelling stations across India, and has partnered with several companies to develop hydrogen technologies and applications.

India's investment in hydrogen is a major step forward in the country's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and transition to a more sustainable energy future. The development of a hydrogen economy has the potential to create new jobs and industries, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.

However, there are also challenges to the development of a hydrogen economy in India. One of the key challenges is the high cost of hydrogen production and infrastructure. The development of a hydrogen economy will require significant investment in research and development, as well as the construction of new infrastructure and the retrofitting of existing infrastructure.

Another challenge is the lack of a clear regulatory framework for hydrogen. The development of a hydrogen economy will require the development of new regulations and standards for the production, distribution, and use of hydrogen, as well as the establishment of safety protocols and guidelines.

Despite these challenges, India's big bet on hydrogen is a positive step forward for the technology. It is hoping that the high price of green hydrogen production will be offset by economies of scale and electrolysis technology over the coming years. History is peppered with examples tipping points in the lifecycle of a technology has seen large influxes of cash and subsequent relatively rapid technological innovation. Driving the development of a regulatory framework for hydrogen may take longer and require more than just an injection of money.

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