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Why shipping pure hydrogen around the world might already be dead in the water

By January 27, 2022March 4th, 2022No Comments

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Why shipping pure hydrogen around the world might already be dead in the water

Jan 27, 2022 • Recharge

Physics and cost mean that ammonia is a far more economic option for long-distance seaborne transportation

The world’s first shipment of liquid hydrogen — which left southern Australia on Monday on its way to Japan as part of a $350m international project — may have made headlines around the globe, but it might also prove to be a colossal waste of money.

Putting aside the fact that the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project is ruthlessly dirty — sourcing its H2 from unabated brown coal and using polluting diesel to power the Suiso Frontier vessel on its 20-day journey — the notion that any commercial operator would choose to export pure hydrogen by ship is looking increasingly unlikely.

This is not because of greenhouse gas emissions, or the lack of vessels or suitable port facilities, but purely on the grounds of physics and cost.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, German think-tank Agora Energiewende and energy analyst Wood Mackenzie, it would make economic sense to ship ammonia (NH3), a hydrogen derivative, rather than pure H2.

On the surface, this might seem odd. After all, hydrogen is the lightest and most energy-dense substance (by weight) in the universe. So why would you want to make something else out of the H2 and transport that instead?

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