Why discuss hydrogen?

The context of this discussion Is the decision by Tata Steel to close the blast furnaces at Port Talbot in South Wales. The immediate proposal is to import steel from Tata’s other plants in Europe. Longer term It is proposed to instal electric arc furnaces to recycle scrap steel. The EU Is funding steel plants in Europe To refine iron ore by using hydrogen as the reducing agent in electric arc furnaces. There is no proposal to do this in Port Talbot. As the European electricity market is more or less unified, there is not even a particular advantage to do it in Port Talbot. In fact, the levy placed on electricity produced by gas turbines to pay subsidies to wind and solar producers means the UK has high electricity costs.

Red hydrogen uses experience in Advanced Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors in which the UK has a unique record of decades of operating experience and could give Port Talbot sustainable advantages.

The argument for Red Hydrogen is discussed in the post https://volgatrader.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2178&action=edit

This post discusses the colours of hydrogen.

Sunset over steel making in Port Talbot?

Colouring Hydrogen

There are a variety of ways of making hydrogen. They are described by colours but the terminology is very inconsistent between industry bodies. To reduce confusion their use in Customer Refocus’s discussion on nuclear steelmaking is explained below.

White Hydrogen

White Hydrogen is found in underground deposits and is obtained by drilling in a similar manner to natural gas. A French company claims to have found a signifcant deposit. White Hydrogen is potentially very cheap but it remains uncertain how much is available.

Black (Turquoise/Grey) Hydrogen

These colours of hydrogen use gas or brown coal as a feedstock. Steam is added and hydrogen and byproducts of carbon dioxide or carbon black are produced. This is environmentally unsound and couples strongly with the high energy prices that already penalise steel production in the UK. However, it is long established and reliable technology. Scalable process plant is available almost on demand and Wales imports huge amounts of gas at Milford Haven.

Air Products supplies Black hydrogen to Tata Steel from Llanwern. BOC does the same for Port Talbot and some other industrial sites. A number of other firms have on site capabilities for small volumes of hydrogen, all black.

Russia is aiming to become a major producer of Black hydrogen and may determine prices of hydrogen in the tradeable market. Low cost hydrogen production solutions are therefore required for sustainable hydrogen based businesses in the UK.

Gold Hydrogen

Gold hydrogen is made by bacterial decomposition of waste organic matter. This typically produces methane which is treated like Black Hydrogen. Some bacteria produce hydrogen directly but this process is so far ineffective.

Blue (Green/Pink/Yellow) Hydrogen

Blue hydrogen uses electricity from the grid from all sources to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen, a process known as electrolysis. The electricity may be from any source.

The different colours relate to the source of electrical power. Mislabelling all of these, especially Blue as Green Hydrogen is the cause of considerable confusion.

Green hydrogen uses wind power as the source for electricity. In practice green hydrogen doesn’t exist due to intermittent supply and cost. In spring 20203, the UK grid had 27 GW of wind turbine capacity installed. This is not available. On a typical summer’s day it wind turbines struggles to deliver a peak of 3 GW of output. On a warm summer’s day, the UK needs about 25GW. Even in winter, there is almost never surplus, low cost capacity to generate hydrogen. Wind promoters hide the awkward fact of intermittency in averages. The website https://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/ shows UK generation samples at 5 minutes intervals so the reader can draw their own conclusions. The 15 GW of solar was even less available. Countries with surpluses of hydroelectric power such as Russia and Norway may be able to take this route.

With vary rare eceptions, the output from intermittent sources is sold to the electricity grid at subsidized market price. There is no spare low cost output. 20 year old ideas about creating a hydrogen economy along the M4 to Wales and across the greater UK have failed due to these realities.

Pink hydrogen uses electricity produced by nuclear power for electrolysis. In principle this could be accomplished in Port Talbot by a DC cable from Hinkley Point nuclear power station to supply the electrolysers but prices of electricity would still be tied to the UK grid and therefore still expensive relative to Black and Red Hydrogen. Russia has nuclear power and will add Pink hydrogen to its black and green hydrogen output. To avoid sanctions, Russia may move Black and Pink investment to its BRICS+ partners in particular Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Yellow hydrogen is produced by electrolysis from solar power. This is inconsequential in the UK. 15 GW of installed solar panels produce trivial output in the UK in winter and over 5 GW peak at noon is a very good day even in summer, 3 GW more typical. However, in sunnier climates Yellow hydrogen could be very cheaply produced as solar panel costs are very low. Solar panels are so cheap that individual steel plants could build solar farms isolated from their national electricity grid. thus obtaining very low electricity prices. The green steelworks proposed in Oman could reliably use Yellow hydrogen, including stored hydrogen for the few cloudy days to operate electric arc furnaces and produce hydrogen. The world’s low cost steel production could switch to sunny locations next to iron ore bodies and a source of water which might be the sea. Oman is one example; Western Australia has the potential to be another.

Red Hydrogen

Red hydrogen is a plausible UK advantage.

Electrolysis is not the only way to make hydrogen from water. Hydrogen and oxygen can be produced from water by high temperature chemical reactions in the presence of catalysts. This is far more thermodynamically efficient than electrolysis (The Blue hydrogens) and thus inherently lower cost than using electricity.

Iodine and sulphur are used for intermediate compounds but are available for reuse at the end of the cycle thus costing nothing. The process has been demonstrated at industrial semi tech scale in Japan with a High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor.

The inputs are high temperature provided at very low fuel cost by nuclear reactors and water. This is an inherently low cost process.

The outputs are hydrogen, oxygen, surplus heat (that can be used to generate electricity) and at the cost of some sulphur, sulphuric acid.

The UK has unique experience in operating a fleet of Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors (AGRs). The UK has operated them for four decades. No other country has. the operational experience and engineering know-how. This can enhance any development programme for high-temperature gas cooling.

The Japanese High Temperature Test Reactor first produced Red Hydrogen in 2004. In 2010 the HTTR achieved 50 days of continuous operation at semi-tech scale (30 MW) useful enough for industrial production. The Fukushima incident resulted in the closure of the project. It was reopened in 2021 and the HTTR  has been producing hydrogen continuously ever since. A much larger unit is being planned with Mitsubishi Heavy Industry in cooperation with Air Liquide. The Japanese government aims to be producing 3 million tonnes of hydrogen a year by 2030. French industry has also declared interest in developing this source of hydrogen.

The National Nuclear Laboratory in the UK and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency have a long history of cooperation. Their working agreement was renewed this year, 2023. Cooperation on red hydrogen would make this agreement economically meaningful. High temperature reactors have applications in chemical processes well beyond the steel industry. Fertilizer, cement and many specialist chemical production systems need high temperatures currently provided by hydrocarbons.

It is a case where the UK making its own deal with Japan might move faster than with the EU which is weighed down with conflicting interests, including Germany’s reluctance to engage with nuclear technology, although of course France is already in place.

Whether White, Black, Turquoise, Grey, Gold, Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow or Red, hydrogen can be used to make virgin steel from iron ore in an electric arc furnace.

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