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Will Hydrogen Be Our Future?

All of a sudden it seems that everyone is talking about hydrogen - that wonderful, light-weight gas or liquid (see the Apollo mission Saturn rocket and Space Shuttle) which has the unfortunate tendency to explode (see Hindenburg).

In my first engineering job, I was fortunate to work with both gaseous hydrogen as well as cryogenic liquid hydrogen. As a bonus, I worked with solid hydrogen too (more on that later).

Part of the discussion about hydrogen and the future has to do with economics. And part has to do with how "green" the source matter is. Getting hydrogen from water is green, especially when coupled with a renewable energy source to drive the process.

One of the hopes for hydrogen supporters is that it will help us develop a carbon-free economy. In that it is combustible, hydrogen can potentially be used for all kinds of things such as automobile and aircraft fuel.

I read an article this week on H2Pro, an Israeli startup company who has raised funding from, among others, Bill Gates Breakthrough Ventures. H2Pro claims to have developed a dramatically more efficient electrolysis process to produce green hydrogen. They call their system "E-TAC". Lab scale tests show the process is 95% efficient, a huge improvement over existing processes which are only 70% efficient.

Hydrogen can be produced from other source matter such as natural gas. This is considered "gray" hydrogen as it emits CO2 as part of the hydrogen production process. This is discussed briefly in the above-linked article on H2Pro.

If that is not enough, there are concepts to produce hydrogen using small-scale nuclear reactors – something of which I am aware that AFT software has been used to model.

If you want to read more on the economics of hydrogen, see this article Hydrogen Is a Trillion-Dollar Bet on the Future. This article brings up yet one more concept called "blue" hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is essentially gray hydrogen with a carbon capture process added.

For those wondering about solid hydrogen and my experience with it, as a young engineer I worked on the X-30 National Aerospace Plane (NASP) project – which was never built. The propellant for the X-30 was "slush hydrogen", a mixture of liquid and solid hydrogen. In aerospace, it is common to make reference to GH2 (or GH2 – gaseous hydrogen) and LH2 (or LH2 – liquid hydrogen). What was new to us was SLH2 (or SLH2 – slush hydrogen, or perhaps also solid-liquid hydrogen). As I recall, storing the propellant as slush hydrogen increased the hydrogen density by 15%. This enabled engineers to put 15% more hydrogen propellent in a flight vehicle propellant tank. I worked on the slush hydrogen tank and performed scale model tests of a recirculating spray system inside the tank. I got to attend one NASP design review at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Pretty cool for a young engineer! 

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Tuesday, 28 November 2023
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