eco: YouTuber hypes Plasma Kinetics hydrogen nonsense

Hydrogen, the clean fuel of the future (as long as you ignore the problems of making it cleanly, distributing it, and storing it, and its inevitably worse efficiency than electrifying all the things) keeps getting hyped by people who choose not to know better. The latest credulous nonsense is YouTuber “Undecided with Matt Ferrell” thoughtlessly parroting the claims of Plasma Kinetics in Energy Storage Breakthrough – Solid Hydrogen Explained. This company has a poor computer rendering of a cartridge containing a tape that can absorb lots of hydrogen and then release the hydrogen when it’s unspooled past a laser. It’s like LaserVision meets 8-track cartridges (two failed media formats, kids).

Here’s my comment (this link may work to view it in context on YouTube, where the timestamps should jump to the right part of the video).

What an utter garbage dumpster fire of a video. The nonsense starts in the first seconds with “Being clean and abundant, green hydrogen…” Green hydrogen is almost non-existent! “As of 2020, the most common source for global hydrogen production was methane via steam-reforming [i.e. dirty unnatural gas with massive CO2 emissions], with renewable electrolysis only accounting for 0.3 percent” [source]. That’s why fossil fuel companies and their shills promote new uses for hydrogen, because it means DECADES of increased demand for their dirty product. We definitely need to switch the 70 Mt of dirty hydrogen that industry already uses annually to green hydrogen, but that will take 400 GW of electrolyzers if they run 24 hours a day, requiring 1 Terawatt of dedicated renewables and storage.

You mention the grim reality of today’s high-carbon hydrogen production at 6:55, suggesting that “Plasma Kinetics zero-carbon capture could have a massive environmental benefit.” But there’s no connection. The only way to get a stream of hydrogen for their film cartridges to absorb is… to make hydrogen. 3:54 “The device could extract metric tons per day of 99.99% pure hydrogen directly from smokestacks” is, haha, a nonsensical smokescreen. There’s minimal hydrogen in what comes out of a smokestack, but there’s a crapton of CO2 in it.

Hydrogen storage is a challenge and worth addressing for air and land transportation and long-duration energy storage. But Matt Ferrell, you utterly failed to do any kind of critical reporting on this “breakthrough.” At a bare minimum, you should have contacted manufactures of hydrogen storage equipment – tanks, pressure vessels, compressors – and asked for their take, instead of parroting the company’s highly optimistic claims. And they aren’t that impressive. 9:03 “by loading their containers on a single ship, they can safely move 20,000 tons of hydrogen”. Oh wow, cool! But Kawasaki has built the Suiso Frontier H2 transport ship that it claims carries 1,250 m^3 of liquid hydrogen. That’s… 87,000 tonnes, four times more. Anyone who thinks shipping hundreds of thousands of 8-track cartridges will be cheaper than filling a liquid hydrogen tanker is a fool.

The obvious problem with this is power density. Look at the stupidity of the animation at 9:00. There’s one open tray containing 4 cartridges among 120 more trays. Presumably some robotic tape loader crams the 8-track into the 8-track player that shines light on it. (Does this sound cheaper than a large pressurized container? but anyway…) But how much hydrogen per second, and thus power does the player produce? Matt Ferrell, nowhere does your awful video give a figure for this. The idea that unspooling a thin tape can produce gobs of hydrogen strains credulity. I suspect to power a truck you’ll need dozens of the players feeding hydrogen into its fuel cell.

And here’s the next problem, the economics of it. The claimed cost reductions for H2 storage undoubtedly hinge on reusing the tape and cartridge 150 times, amortizing the high cost of the cartridges and the tape player. Well, we’ll see! But even accepting that projection, how much does it cost to send the cartridges back to Plasma Kinetics for a top-up? How much will this elaborate robotic videocassette rewinding factory-cum-green hydrogen facility cost per kg of hydrogen going out the door?

Pretty damn shameful, Mr. Ferrell.

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