Up before it goes down

I was giving a presentation over this week and the topic was around new fuels like hydrogen and ammonia. The key to these “no-carbon” fuels is how they are produced. Because hydrogen and ammonia does not occur in huge quantities in nature and is not a stable form taken to store energy, they require energy from other sources to be produced as fuels themselves. As a result, though they emit no carbon when they are combusted, there might be carbon dioxide emitted in their production pathways. In that sense, saying they are no-carbon is a bit of a misnomer.

The challenge for all the equipment, vessels, engines looking at which fuel to run on is that they have to start re-tuning themselves to be able to burn these alternative fuels but then things will not be able to switch over all at once. Greener versions of these alternative fuels still takes time to be produced. There is about 185 million tonnes of ammonia produced each year and more than 99% of them are produced using natural gas as feedstock to provide the hydrogen required. In addition, energy is used as an input to the Haber Bosch process which further increases the carbon emissions of ammonia.

Yet we all have to start somewhere and pushing along the end-use equipment to adopt these alternative fuel is a large step. Perhaps larger than producing the green versions of the alternative fuels. It’s the same with electric vehicles which are being touted as low-carbon. Well, it all depends on the grid. We can switch all our cars to electric cars but if the subsequent increase in electricity demand causes countries to reactivate their coal power plants, the overall emissions are going to increase and not decrease.

For now, it still seems like carbon emissions have to go up further in order for it to go down.

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