Anorak | Finding the Holy Grail in cutting emissions

Finding the Holy Grail in cutting emissions

by | 9th, September 2013

I’D never really had the Mail pegged as a paper that particularly cared about climate change but they’ve gone overboard on this story about how someone’s found the latest incredible technology that will save us all from Gaia murdering us in our beds. To the point that they are pondering whether it is the Holy Grail of the whole climate change thing:

Scientists believe they have achieved the ‘holy grail’ of the green economy by designing a hydrogen production plant that can split water with sunlight.The University of Colorado at Boulder envisages an array of mirrors that would focus sunlight onto a central tower several hundred feet tall.The tower would heat up to around 1,350 °C – enough to liberate hydrogen from steam with the help of a metal oxide compound.

The answer is that no, this isn’t the Holy Grail of anything.
For a start, it’s not really all that new. Reforming steam (ie, pulling it apart into H and O) has been done by heating it and passing it over iron oxide for donkey’s years. Heating water into steam by focussing the sunlight onto it has also been done for years. And even the idea of doing both at the same time has already been done. So it’s really not all that new news.
Secondly, central production of hydrogen is never going to be the solution to very much. It’s simply too damn difficult to transport (it leaks through the steel of pipelines for example) therefore any system using the gas will have to be a distributed one. And this system just ain’t that.
But the real reason it’s not the holy grail of anything at all is that it’s too damn expensive:

Commercialisation of such a solar-thermal reactor is only likely to happen when the economic conditions are right, claims Professor Weimer.

‘There would have to be a substantial monetary penalty for putting carbon into the atmosphere, or the price of fossil fuels would have to go way up,’ he added.

The Holy Grail of this whole climate change shtick is that we want something that is not fossil fuel but is either the same price, or even better cheaper, as fossil fuels. We’ve already got a vast number of things that are grossly more expensive: finding another one of those just doesn’t cut it.

Posted: 9th, September 2013 | In: Money Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink