Friday, December 22, 2017

Touring the Archive

Find the podcast here.

Happy Christmas! 

Well very nearly. This is the final Sustainable Futures Report for 2017. The next episode will be in mid to late January 2018. This is for two reasons. The first is that I am travelling a bit between now and then and the other is that I have just been accepted by Leeds Beckett University to research for a PhD in sustainability. It's a part time course, but it will still require considerable work. I'm going to have to weigh things up and see whether or not it is compatible with continuing to do the Sustainable Futures Report on a weekly basis.
This year I have published 43 episodes and I thought you might not have caught up with them all. With all the time you’re going to have over Christmas and New Year it's an ideal opportunity to have a look through the archive. In fact if you go into the archives you’ll find it goes right back to 2007 with about 200 separate episodes.

You might also want to watch this TED Talk...

... which Catherine Weetman brought to my attention. There are so many good things on TED Talks that it’s horrendously difficult to find the time to watch enough of them. This one is called: “Got apocalypse fatigue? How to have a real conversation about global warming.” It’s by psychologist Per Espen Stokes, and it’s well worth the 15 minutes.

Let's look what I've covered in 2017.

 If you've listened to this you've obviously found where all the audio files are. If you are going through iTunes you will actually find there is more detail about each individual episode on WWW.SUSBIZ.BIZ . And of course the text of nearly every episode, containing the links to my sources, can be found at . I've put the links in for your convenience and also to help me remember where I got my stories from.

I’m quite proud of some of my titles. 

Greenwash Backwash Backlash - Keep on Keeping Left - Islands of Dreams - The Only Way is Ethics - How Smart is your Meter? - Baby it’s Coal Outside. These episodes covered a wide range of issues. Was I right to attack Greenpeace over their criticism of HSBC financing palm oil? A courier company plans its routes in the UK to maximise the number of left turns because this minimises delay and minimises fuel consumption. (It’s right turns in other countries which drive on the right) Then there are plans to build an island in the North Sea to be the central point for the cables coming from all the wind farms, and what are the business ethics of dealing with global warming and sustainability? How Smart is your Meter? Well, at the second attempt, our supplier has now installed a working smart meter in our house, monitoring our gas and electricity consumption and giving us a constant read-out. Some say that the whole of the UK smart meter programme is ill-conceived, over budget and technologically lacking. Sounds like another episode on that will be coming up. Energy has had wide coverage, from the US decision to promote coal at the recent COP 23 climate conference in Bonn, continuing comments over the Hinckley C nuclear power station, likely to be the single most expensive object in the world, and I've also spoken about transport–everything from HS2 the UK's high speed rail system to electric cars and just a couple of weeks ago hydrogen powered cars.
I have talked about weather and climate change, about plastic pollution and waste, about insecticides and bees. My most popular episode came in June, called “Who's afraid of the big bad Trump?” We've certainly moved on since then. Not sure how happy we all are with the direction of travel.

That's just a very brief summary of topics covered. 

If you go to you can search for your favourite keywords and find the episodes of most interest to you.
And I'm going to leave you to go and do just that. Before that, let me wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and let me thank my patrons whose contributions have helped me cover some of the costs of running this podcast throughout 2017.

If you would like to be a patron... 

pop over to and find out all about it. Well, this is the season of giving after all.
And that's it for now.
I’m Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and I'll be back with you all next year.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Copper Opportunity

Hello again. This is Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 1st December. Not long till Christmas! 
Last week I spoke about hydrogen, the lightest, simplest and one of the most common elements in the world, and one that could be vital to our low carbon future. This week I'm going to talk about copper, another element which will be equally important as we rely less on fossil fuels and more on electricity. Next week I have an interview with George Monbiot, but more about that later.

First let's talk about copper.

Anthony Day (ACD): Well, my guest today is Fleming Voetmann, who is Vice President of Public Affairs for the International Copper Association. Welcome, Fleming!
Fleming Voetmann (FV): Thanks so much. Thanks for having me.
ACD: OK, can you start off just by telling the listeners exactly what the International Copper Association is and what its objectives are?
FV: Absolutely. So, we represent the entire copper industry – that meaning everything from the mining of copper to the production of copper products and also the recycling industry, which is quite significant. So, you can really say it’s the entire value chain of copper. And the aim of the industry is, of course, to work on the interests of the industry – so that is both in terms of technology development, market development, but also, you could say, in tag team with government in Washington and Brussels and Beijing and other places around policy issues, regulatory issues that would impact the copper industry. 
ACD: Right, I see, and no doubt, promoting the sale, development, and use of copper. 

Low Carbon

FV: Yeah, and you could say that the big thing for our industry, of course, is that transitioning towards a low-carbon future. And for us, you could say, one thing is, it’s the right thing to do. But for us, it’s also a really, really good business case. Basically since Thomas Edison and, you know, his peers back in the 1880s rolled out the electricity grid. Copper has been very essential to modern life and goes in everything we would use, whether it’s electricity, you know, powering different kinds of functions – housing, heating, cooling – but when you move into low-carbon future, you’re actually going to use significantly more copper. So, McKinsey estimates about 40% more copper is needed in the low-carbon future. So, to kind of simplify it for the listeners, one of the reasons is that if you take a combustion engine car, and you now go to an electric vehicle, you actually end up using approximately four times more copper. So, for obvious reasons, we support that transition into low carbon, and we’re also committed to actually help that transition. 

Electric Cars

ACD: Right, ok – well, there’s been a lot in the press and the media recently about the electric car. The copper, presumably, goes into the motors, but it also goes into the transmission network because we need all these charging points. And the current grid is just not up to that. Is it?
FV: No, absolutely not. So, you could say the car itself – the powertrain, the cables, the wires, and, of course, it’s the charging infrastructure and so on which is quite essential.

Air Conditioning

ACD: Yeah, ok. You also mentioned on your website about air conditioning. This is copper tubes rather than copper wires.
FV: Yeah. You could say that copper is the best conductor of electricity but it’s also the best conductor of heating and cooling. So, I guess historically a lot of the development in the world, in the United States and Europe, of course, we had a lot of heating demand, but also a lot of air conditioning and how the world develops with what you could say hundreds of millions of people who were in poverty in China, Southeast Asia, moving into the middle class, which is a good thing to lift them out of poverty – that’s the part of the world where in the future you’ll see a big demand for air conditioning, but also refrigeration of food and other essentials. So, you see good development there but that also just requires that you can say some of the other things that other people might take for granted – where there’s air conditioning, refrigeration, and so on – that we talk about maybe close to a billion new people in the middle class. And that requires, of course, that we provide it to them. But we also need to provide it to them in a sustainable fashion. And they shouldn’t make our mistakes. That’s also a key thing into that sort of sustainability challenge that we have in front of us.
ACD: Yeah, an interesting thing is, of course, the other side of it is that if we are actually going to move to electricity for heating, and I think we probably will, then there may well be a lot of scrap copper pipes coming out, which will be recycled because…
FV: Hopefully.


ACD: I believe that something between two-thirds and three-quarters of all copper that’s ever been mined is still in use because it’s been recycled.
FV: That’s correct. 
ACD: How does your industry actually support and encourage recycling?
FV: You could say you have, you mentioned the buildings and stuff like that that hopefully is around for a very, very long time so that might take a lot of time before it’s recycled. What may be recycled today is the installations from the 1950s and the 1960s. So, what’s important for us is, you could say, that that is actually collected so it doesn’t end up in a landfill to begin with, and then our members, of course, are looking at sort of maximizing and getting the most out of their copper, but also trying to eliminate any kind of contaminations that were due to whatever environmental practices we had in the past. Lead is one thing, mercury, and so on. But then, the other huge business, of course, is – one thing is the buildings, and they’re hopefully a many hundred years – but the other thing is dealing with electronic waste. So, where people today are buying a phone, and, you know, 18 months later they need a new phone; they buy a computer, and two years later, they need a new computer. And there we also need to optimize how we collect and recycle all the materials. A couple of our members in Europe – Boliden in Sweden, Aurubis in Germany – they’re they world’s two largest recyclers of electronic waste. And we’ve recycled a lot of waste, but there’s still a lot of waste out there that could be recycled and that for sure shouldn’t end up in a landfill and it’s actually quite a good business case to recycle that. So, that’s one of the things that we work with the industry, but also work with policymakers – whether that’s in Beijing, Brussels, or elsewhere – to kind of facilitate and actually get that recycling going.

Design for Recycling

ACD: Right, now do you work with people like the phone and computer manufacturers to assist them to design things so they can be more easily recycled? Because that’s really one of the foundations of the circular economy. If you can’t take it to bits, then you can’t recycle it, in many cases.
FV: No. That’s a huge challenge. Are we there yet? I think no. We’re absolutely not there yet. I still figure there’s way more room for improvement when it comes to design for recycling, right? And of course one of the main points there is the batteries themselves. So, yes, that’s definitely something we talk with the electronics industry about. That’s something we talk with the auto manufacturers about, that you need to design for recycling. That would simply make it more environmentally friends, and of course often also a better business case. We try and eliminate whatever toxic materials that could be entwined into some of these products, so we’re doing ok, but there’s still room for improvement with the sort of design. 

Mining for More

ACD: Now, looking at the infographic on your website, which talks about the circular economy, it suggests that a third of global demand is met through recycling. But that means that two-thirds has to come from virgin material, if you’d like. And some people are already talking about peak copper – in other words, the fact that as you search for more and more, the ores are of lower and lower grade, you have to dig out more and more material. But global demand is steady, if not increasing. So how are you going to sort that problem out?
FV: Sure, so I think there are a couple positive attributes of the global copper research. We estimate – or rather, the U.S. Geological Service has estimated this resource for about 200 years. And you’re right that you could say that the quality of some of the copper ores is less than what it was maybe 50-100 years ago. But of course, at the same time, the production mechanisms also become more and more efficient. So, it becomes complicated, but of course, you know that the efficiency also goes up. So, I still think that there’s reason to be fairly optimistic, that you still have an abundance. Because I think that’s important because in addition to that is that you have copper mining literally all over the world in all of the continents. I think that’s equally important. Of course, you need the abundance, but you also want to avoid any geopolitical risks, and I think that’s a huge benefit of copper. You have Chile, of course the world’s largest mining country, other countries in Latin America, you have copper mining in Europe, you have copper mining in the U.S., in Asia and Africa. So, there’s an abundance and you avoid some of those geopolitical risks to your supply chain. 

And the Environment?

ACD: On the website, again, you talk about environmental conditions and concerns. You talk about copper pollution. You talk about bio availability, and you admit that in some cases copper can actually get to a level where it poisons plants and organisms. But equally, I think I’m right that copper is essential as a trace element to help some plants actually grow. I think, I know environmentalists listen to this, and I’m sure they’re going to have some questions. And I don’t think they’re going to be so concerned with the contamination from copper itself. It’s the byproducts of the actual refining, and extraction and smelting.
FV: Sure.
ACD: Now, the trouble is, of course, this has been going on for hundreds of years. There’s a case in point – there’s a refinery in Peru, which you probably know about. It’s Arroya. It’s been there a hundred years. It’s gone bankrupt, and nobody will touch it because during the hundred years, the contamination is absolutely immense. I’m quite sure you do an awful lot these days to prevent that level of contamination in new minings, but there’s this legacy problem, and obviously people are going to be very concerned that extraction is a dirty business.
FV: Yeah, absolutely. So I think a couple of points to that. I think absolutely there is a legacy of how people were operating in the 1920s and 1950s and the 1960s. And in all fairness, there’s also been huge improvements ever since. We, every year, do a survey among our members and see how much money do they invest in making their operations more sustainable, and that follows simply just the accounting rules set out by GRI and others and so on, and it’s around $20 billion every year. $20 billion they spend on that. And of course, a lot of that has to do with environmental regulation, labor safety, and so on. So, I think, $20 billion, that’s a lot of money that goes into it. And there’s a constant improvement of all of that. Some of the factories you go to Hamburg, you have Aurubis, we said before is one the world’s largest recycler of electronic waste, they are in the middle of the Hamburg city. The city, of course, was very different a long time ago. Now, all of the sudden, they’re in the middle of the city. That, of course, means they every year invest a lot of money in you can say reducing any kind of air pollution, but also noise, water, whatever. So there’s just been a development over the decades of, you know, when you started the business it was outside the city. All the sudden you’re inside the city. And you want to develop with the cities, right? I’ve visited a lot of these mines. I visit a lot of the production sites. I’m quite impressed with what they do. Is there still work that needs to be done? Absolutely. And, you know, they continue and are very committed to doing that. One of the dilemmas that I think would be to your listeners is of course is that also some of our members are the big multinational companies that maybe years ago a lot of people were slightly unhappy about, but one of the advantages they have of being the multinationals is that they are held accountable in many different jurisdictions across the globe by people like yourself, by the NGOs, and by other people. And that has an enormous advantage because they need to pay attention. And of course they have the leverage of being large scale, so one improvement they do at one mine in the world is easier for them to transfer that know-how to another mine in some other part of the world – whether it’s air pollution, whether it’s water recycling, and so on, and so on. But I think there’s a lot of progress being made out there, and they will continue to do that. 

Sustainability Report

ACD: Ok, well that’s good news. Can we expect the industry – or your organization, perhaps – to publish a sustainability report? An annual report? 
FV: Yeah, we do that actually already. So we have on what’s called, we have what is the equivalent of a sustainability report in there with 10 different indicators. The listeners can go into and have a look at those different indicators. So we have about I think 5 years we’ve done the indicators so people can also track progress over time. The good news is, for example, when you come to labor conditions, working safety, you see improvement year by year. Water recycling you see significant improvement on that. Investments in sustainability goes up. The only weak spot we have, in all fairness, is actually energy and carbon emissions. And the other is of course what some people say is the most important – and that’s just in full disclosure – is absolutely one of the biggest challenges that we have. That we are an energy-intensive industry. And we are very much dependent on the host country – so to say the regions we’re in, what kind of energy mix they have. Because some of the mines might have on-site production and a lot of them are sourced from local grid. So there, you can say our carbon emissions are often a reflection of whatever the decisions of the surrounding societies have made. 
ACD: Right, yes. Because I imagine you use quite a lot of energy, and while you might be able to put up solar panels and wind turbines you’d need a lot for the sort of things you’re doing.
FV: That’s true.
ACD: But, what about the water aspect? Because, from my limited knowledge, water is a major component of the refining process. You actually use electrolysis, don’t you? You use sulfuric acid. What happens to the sulfuric acid afterwards?
FV: So the sulfuric acid is a byproduct that’s actually sold today for – well, one of the applications would be for fertilizers. The water recycling is in our sustainability indicators, and the water recycling goes up year by year. And a lot of the sites have very, very high rates of water recycling. And, again, that’s the right thing to do but it’s simply also a good business case and it’s kind of the commitment they have to the local communities because a number of big mines are located in areas where water is a scarce resource.
ACD: Exactly.
FV: So that also means that if you look at Latin America today, some of the mines are in areas that are basically desolate – where water is simply scarce. So, water recycling is strategy #1. The second strategy is desalination. And there, of course, you know with desalination, which is great, but the challenge with desalination is that it is again energy intensive. So that puts more pressure on than if we need to convert to renewable energy and we need to be even more innovative in the desalination process, but also how do we handle that? And there are things, you know – there are opportunities in front of us also to work with the local communities – the farmers who need the water, they might be closer to the ocean, so they might get the desalinated water so they don’t have to pump it all the way to the mine. Then the mine can use a little bit more of the local water. There’s many ways to do that, but again the key to it is try to work with the local communities to figure out how do we do that. But water is really, really important.
ACD: Yes, so in summary, then, are you confident that industry is going to be able to meet the challenge of this move to – well, basically – a move to a greater usage of electricity?
FV: Yeah, I think so. I think the – again, you know, there is abundance. There is copper in many places all over the world, you know. So you could say some of the issues that you may have on other materials – that could be like phosphate, or others – where you know the abundance might be in a few countries here. We work in quite a number of countries. I think that’s a huge, huge advantage. There’s still also a pretty significant untapped potential for recycling. We see that with all of the electronic waste – the amount of electronic waste is just going up. But there is also iPhones and computers that unfortunately end up in a landfill where they shouldn’t end up. So let’s start recycling them. And there, I think there’s a number of countries across the globe that can improve on actually the collecting of all that waste. So there again there’s an untapped potential and actually a pretty good business case for that. 

The Future

ACD: But all in all, you’re optimistic about the future.
FV: I’m super optimistic only because I think, again, the world is going to need copper, and my members are very committed to providing it but also providing it in a very sustainable fashion. And again, you know, that also comes from – I think it comes from a very good relationship with the NGOs and with loads of environmentalists is that we want electric vehicles, we want wind and solar energy. But we only want it if it’s produced sustainably. So we have good alignment of our interests here. We want to facilitate that low-carbon transition, but we also know that we need to deliver on that sustainability all the way back to the mine sites.
ACD: Fleming, that’s been a very interesting conversation. Thank you very much for your time. I’m sure it will lead – I hope it will lead to some responses and questions when we broadcast this, but that’s great. Thank you.
FV: Excellent, thank you so much.

And finally...

That was Fleming Voetmann, who is Vice President of Public Affairs for the International Copper Association. You can find out more at and those recycling companies he mentioned are Aurubis in Germany,, and Boliden in Sweden,
Next week, as I mentioned at the start, we have an interview with George Monbiot. He’s an author and campaigner on environmental, sustainability and political issues. He’s written eight books and there’s a new one just out, and he’s a regular columnist for The Guardian newspaper. That’s next week - Friday 8th December.
For now that’s all from the Sustainable Futures Report. If you like what I do please don’t forget and don’t forget to listen next week.
I’m Anthony Day.

Bye for now.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Lighter than Air

Is Hydrogen the Fuel of the Future?

It's Friday. It's 24th November. I'm Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report. Thank you for listening wherever you are in the world, and listeners to the last episode were in 40 different countries; predominantly the UK and the United States, but increasingly in Australia, (G’day - I’ll be there next month), regular listeners in Canada and a big hello to my one listener in the Cayman Islands. Maybe that's my bank manager on holiday. Thank you to my patrons. More about patrons at the end of this episode, and thank you to all those who have got in touch with suggestions and ideas.

This week I'm going to talk about hydrogen. The big question is, 

“Is Hydrogen the Fuel of the future?”

The first supplementary questions are, “What will the fuel of the future look like? What characteristics must it have? What are we going to use it for?”

What characteristics must our fuel of the future have? 
There are several undesirable characteristics of the fossil fuels that provide much of our energy at present, which is why we are considering moving away from them. The principal reason is pollution. Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide when burnt; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are leading to climate change, or what some would prefer to call the climate crisis. Fossil fuels also emit particulates, which is really a fancy name for soot: microscopic fragments which pollute the atmosphere, which we all inevitably breathe in and which can cause long-term lung damage and disease. 
Energy Density
There’s no doubt that fossil fuels have desirable characteristics which we would like our fuel of the future to share. For example, petrol and diesel are energy-dense, which means that just a small volume can contain enough energy to do a significant amount of work. It’s been calculated that one gallon of gasoline contains the energy-equivalent of between 2 days and 2 weeks of human labour, (depending on what the human is doing, and there is a very wide range of estimates - links on the blog.) Nevertheless, all that energy is concentrated in one container which anyone could carry. 

I hesitate to say that fossil fuels are cheap, but at least they are affordable. Our ideal fuel must compete on price or show very clear advantages to justify a higher cost. Our ideal fuel must not emit greenhouse gases, particulates or other pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide, and depending on the application, it must be at least as energy-dense and portable as fossil fuels.

What about storage?
Coal, petrol, diesel and gasoil can all be relatively easily stored at ambient temperature and ambient pressures. Of course the right sort of container is needed to prevent leakage, fires or explosions, but this is all relatively low-tech. Natural gas is more demanding in that it has to be delivered by pipeline at carefully controlled pressure, but the national gas grid is well established and runs safely and reliably without any of us thinking about it much.
At this point I think we should talk about electric batteries which are becoming an increasingly important method of storing energy. There is a tremendous amount of research going in to improve batteries, but at the moment they are not nearly as energy dense as petrol or diesel. They also require conflict minerals in their manufacturer: materials that come from war-torn failed states, some of them with child miners guarded by child soldiers. And once the batteries reach the end of their lives there is much more than an empty metal tank to recycle. Let’s look at production and distribution. 
How will our ideal fuel measure up on that?
Oil has a long-established supply chain between refineries and consumers. Industries can be served by rail tanker or pipeline. Home heating fuel is delivered by road tankers. Petrol stations are far less numerous than they used to be, but most motorists live within a mile or so of their nearest one. The other side of the refinery, the upstream side, can be more problematic. Crude oil can be delivered to the refinery by ship or by pipeline but the ultimate source of the oil is increasingly controversial. While new techniques mean that more oil can be recovered from reserves than was previously possible, oil companies have been forced to exploit wells in increasingly hostile environments like the Arctic regions and the deep oceans. It's not always successful, and BP's Deepwater Horizon is only one example of things which have gone spectacularly wrong. 
The oil and the gas markets have been revolutionised by the spread of fracking in the United States. By injecting high-pressure water into the crevices in shale and oil-bearing rock, producers have been able to extract oil and gas. Not without controversy. Many claim that there are risks of polluting the water table and drinking water supplies. They claim that fracking for natural gas can release fugitive methane emissions, and methane is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. (Some say 20 times as bad, some say 120 times.) Some countries, like France and Scotland have put a total ban on fracking. In England preliminary drilling has taken place and protesters have been arrested. It is expected that the Secretary of State will shortly give approval for production to start. Apparently the decision has been held over, because it was not considered to be a good idea to announce the approval during the recent COP 23 climate conference in Bonn.
Our ideal fuel should not cause GHG emissions from the production process, and ideally should be distributed using existing pipelines and tankers.

Using it
According to Wikipedia, 20% of energy is used in residential and commercial buildings and a further 26% by transport. The remaining 54% is consumed by industry.
Our ideal fuel should serve all those needs.
How does Hydrogen measure up?

First of all - is it clean?
Hydrogen releases energy either in an internal combustion engine - like the engine of a petrol car - or in a fuel cell. The internal combustion engine is attractive, because it’s existing technology and only needs a modification to the fuel delivery system. There's a company in the United Kingdom which will convert to your road vehicle all your stationary engine to run on hydrogen. For some reason they're based in Shetland, equidistant from Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Norway. Hydrogen burnt in an internal combustion engine is very clean. The process produces pure water and very low levels of nitrous oxides.
The fuel cell is a completely different technology from the internal combustion engine. It is fed with hydrogen and produces electricity, some heat and pure water. The most important difference between the fuel cell and the internal combustion engine running on hydrogen is that the internal combustion engine is about 20 to 25% efficient, whereas the fuel cell is closer to 60% efficient. Carmakers BMW and Ford have produced internal combustion engined cars running on hydrogen but Toyota has chosen to go with fuel cells. A small company in Wales, UK, has developed a fuel cell car with some quite innovative ideas. I strongly recommend you watch the video. Search for riversimple hydrogen cars, or find the link on the blog at  
What about energy density?

Liquid hydrogen has a very high energy density. This is great for space rockets where it has been used successfully to blast them into orbit. The problem with using liquid hydrogen in other applications is that it boils at 20° Kelvin which is about -253°C. It takes vast amounts of energy to cool hydrogen to this level and masses of insulation to keep it cool.
Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell car takes 5kg of hydrogen and needs to store it at 700 bar (that’s around 10,000psi) to reduce it to an acceptable volume. That gives a range of around 300 miles or just under 500 kilometres. Commercial vehicles; lorries, buses, trains can all use hydrogen. They can use bigger storage tanks which will still be much smaller in relation to the payload than that in a passenger car. Stationary engines or static fuel cells have far less constraint on space for fuel storage, so the tanks can be bigger and can operate at lower pressure.
Storing and distributing hydrogen  
Storage and distribution are an issue. There are only three public hydrogen filling stations in the UK at present, although more are planned. The existing infrastructure of tankers and pipelines used for oil and natural gas can certainly not be used for hydrogen. [Unless the iron gas mains have been replaced with plastic] According to Wikipedia, “Hydrogen poses a number of hazards to human safety, from potential detonations and fires when mixed with air to being an asphyxiant in its pure, oxygen-free form.[126] In addition, liquid hydrogen is a cryogen and presents dangers (such as frostbite) associated with very cold liquids.[127] Hydrogen dissolves in many metals, and, in addition to leaking out, may have adverse effects on them, such as hydrogen embrittlement,[128] leading to cracks and explosions.[129] Hydrogen gas leaking into external air may spontaneously ignite. Moreover, hydrogen fire, while being extremely hot, is almost invisible, and thus can lead to accidental burns.”
The US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy publishes guidance on hydrogen storage and related challenges.

Hydrogen production
There are two main processes for the production of hydrogen. The first is extraction from natural gas. Natural gas is principally made up of methane and the chemical formula is CH4, which means one carbon atom to four hydrogen atoms. Stripping out the hydrogen leaves the carbon which reacts with oxygen in the extraction process and produces CO2 or carbon dioxide. Thus a hydrogen engine or fuel cell can be almost completely clean in operation, but the CO2 emissions have been released at the point of hydrogen production. It's a similar argument to electric power. Electricity is totally clean at the point of use, but it may have come from a polluting power station.
The other process is electrolysis, which involves passing an electric current through water. Water is H2O, two hydrogen atoms to one of oxygen, and the process splits them apart. There are no greenhouse gas emissions, but electrolysis is not very efficient and the hydrogen produced can contain as little as 40% of the energy in the electricity used. This may make sense where there is excess renewable electricity, but it is a very inefficient use of electricity produced by a traditional gas, coal or nuclear-power station.
What it costs
The currently UK pump price makes the fuel cost per mile comparable with a petrol or diesel car, although hydrogen is significantly more expensive than gasoline at the pump in the US. Are very few hydrogen cars on the road at present, but the Toyota Mirai is on sale at £65,000. That's about US$85,000. It's an expensive car although it's designed to be a luxury car and is still less expensive than the Tesla Model S, their pure electric vehicle. At this stage Toyota prefer to lease the Mirai rather than sell it outright. Interestingly the River Simple hydrogen car company in Wales is planning the same approach.
In summary,
How does hydrogen measure up?
  • It’s almost totally clean and emission-free at the point of use.
  • The cost of fuel is currently about the same per mile as petrol or diesel.
  • A hydrogen car can be refuelled as quickly as a petrol car and much faster than an electric car.
  • Current methods of production are either very inefficient produce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There is no distribution infrastructure at present, apart from three vehicle filling stations in the UK, and similarly small numbers in the United States and in some European countries.
  • Hydrogen cannot be distributed using existing tankers or pipelines. These must be built specifically for transporting hydrogen.
On balance, hydrogen doesn’t look like a good idea, but there’s a whole lot more to this story.
Hydrogen Council
Apart from Toyota; BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Nissan and many others are all working on hydrogen fuel cell cars. These companies are members of the Hydrogen Council and so are Shell, Total, Statoil, Mitsubishi and other major corporations. At COP23 in Bonn last week they claimed that hydrogen could power between 10 and 15 million cars by 2030. Clearly they expect the problems to be overcome. The Nikola Corporation is launching its hydrogen-powered Nikola One truck, with a million miles free hydrogen fuel. Do look at their website - - it’s very detailed.
There is promising research into new methods of extracting hydrogen cleanly from natural gas. It has been known that metallic catalysts can trap the carbon and prevent it from reacting to become CO2. The problem is that the surface of the metal soon becomes coated with carbon and absorption stops. Now scientists have developed a process which involves bubbling natural gas through a molten metal catalyst. The hydrogen is released and the carbon floats to the surface of the metal as a solid.
Other researchers have developed a solar-powered electrolysis system using cheaper materials for the electrodes and incorporating super-capacitor storage. No data is available yet on the efficiency of this process.
In Japan researchers have found a compound which allows them to create hydrogen from water using near infra-red light.
In January, in Brussels, Belgium, the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Energy Summit takes place. Sadly I can’t go. Over two days, followed by site visits, they will be talking about
Overview of the actual hydrogen and fuel cells market
Latest technologies involved in the renewable sources
Policy and regulations
Power-to-gas solutions
Decarbonisation of the energy sector
Hydrogen storage improvements
Security aspects in hydrogen production, storage and distribution
Monetisation advice and partnership
Hydrogen mobility applications
Integration and standards

One of the conference partners is Hydrogenics, a Canadian company with branches across the world. They were also involved in last week’s Hydrail Symposium staged in Toronto. The Ministry of Transportation and rail operator Metrolinx invited industry leaders to take a look at how hydrogen fuel cell technology could potentially electrify the entire Ontario rail network. Without overhead wires. There was a live web cast of the event and the archive recording is still available on the website. Links to this and many other things that I've covered in this episode are on the blog at as always.
The Hydrogenics company offers a whole range of energy solutions involving hydrogen. A link to their website is below.
And finally,
And this is a very important part of the hydrogen story. I'm coming closer to home, to Leeds in West Yorkshire in United Kingdom.
Leeds City Gate - H21 is a plan to establish a hydrogen economy in Leeds. 
Let me quote from the Executive Summary of the report:

“The H 21 Leeds City Gate Project is a study with the aim of determining the feasibility, from both a technical and economic viewpoint, of converting the existing natural gas network in Leeds, one of the largest UK cities, to 100% hydrogen.
The project has been designed to minimise disruption for existing customers and to deliver heat at the same cost as current natural gas to customers.
The project has shown that:
  • The gas network has the correct capacity for such a conversion
  • It can be converted incrementally with minimal disruption to customers
  • Minimal new energy infrastructure will be required compared to alternatives
  • The existing heat demand for Leeds can be met via steam methane reforming and salt cavern storage using technology in use around the world today
The project has provided costs for the scheme and has modelled these costs in a regulatory finance model.
In addition, the availability of low-cost bulk hydrogen in a gas network could revolutionise the potential for hydrogen vehicles and, via fuel cells, support a decentralised model of combined heat and power and localised power generation.”

Now that’s a vision!
Is hydrogen the fuel of the future? 
What do you think? 
I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

And that's it for another week. I'm Anthony Day. Thank you for listening to the Sustainable Futures Report. By the way, I told you last week that I was going to commission some researchers to write articles for this podcast. I asked them to write about hydrogen. You should have seen the rubbish I got. It might have suited an encyclopaedia. Come to think of it, that's probably where they got it from. No, as usual, I have written and researched all this myself. If you like it please get in touch and let me know. If you don't like it please get in touch and tell me why. 
Next week we are in December and next week’s Sustainable Futures Report will be devoted to another element: this time it’s copper. The week after that, 8th December, we have an interview with George Monbiot which you certainly shouldn't miss. After that I'm going to take some time off until after Christmas. I expect you'll want some time off too.
If you're thinking of Christmas presents, well why don't you sign up as a patron of the Sustainable Futures Report? Just go to  where you’ll find all the details. I'm grateful to all my current patrons and their contributions to covering the expenses of running this podcast. You know who you are. Thank you all - wherever you are in the world.
And yes, that is it for this week. Have a great week.
 I will catch up again on 1 December. 
This is Anthony Day. 
That was the Sustainable Futures Report. 
That's all for now.

Hydrogen Production
Energy Density
Cars and road vehicles


Fuel Cell v Internal Combustion Engines

Organisations, Conferences and Plans