Hydrogen Intermodal Transporation
A Foundation for All Nations to Compete in the Global Economy
Hydrogen is unlikely to ever be the cheapest carrier of energy over long distances.
Future advances in electrolysis and fuel cell technology will not address the underlying cost problem.
By far the cheapest way to move energy around the planet is in the form of oil in a pipeline or supertanker, or coal on a barge or rail car. (Uranium in a high-security armored rail car is still cheaper, but unpopular.)
Natural gas pipelines (and [liquified natural gas] tankers) are much more expensive, in comparison, which explains why natural gas from Alaska's North Slope is currently reinjected into the ground rather than shipped to the lower 48 states where it would be worth a fortune.
Electric power lines move energy at even higher cost than natural gas pipelines, so that power stations are generally located within a hundred miles (160 km) of the loads they serve.
Long distance power lines are used to average out imbalances between local electrical supply and demand, by moving a small portion of the total electricity generated.
For example, California burns an average of about 30 gigawatts of electricity, and has a north-south transmission capacity bottleneck (the 500 kV Path 15) of 5.4 gigawatts.
Hydrogen pipelines are unfortunately more expensive than even long-distance electric lines.
They are more expensive not just because the electrolyzers and fuel cells cost so much, but because a pipeline carrying hydrogen is much more expensive than a wire carrying electricity.
Hydrogen is about three times bulkier than natural gas for the same energy delivered, and hydrogen accelerates the cracking of steel (hydrogen embrittlement), which increases maintenance costs, leakage rates, and material costs.
The difference in cost is likely to expand with newer technology: wires suspended in air can utilize higher voltage with only marginally increased material costs, but higher pressure pipes require proportionally more material.
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