OCEANERGY

What do you know about this company?

They have a nice PR video: https://vimeo.com/571525481

They want to use ships, pulled by kites to produce hydrogen.

I found one paper from 2015 that analyzed this concept (see: Economic Viability of Kite-Based Wind Energy Powerships with CAES or Hydrogen Storage - ScienceDirect ). Do you know any other papers on this topic?

I would like to understand how realistic this concept is. I have not seen an answer yet to the following questions:
a. How constant is the wind on the best possible routes on the ocean?
b. what would be the average wind speed?
c. how much electrical energy could you harvest, taking the turbine efficiency of 30-40% and the friction losses of the ship into account
d. what would be realistic costs for converting electricity to hydrogen on a ship, taking into account that you need to clean the water first

I mean, the advantages of this concept are clear:

  • pretty constant energy generation, high capacity factor
  • no flying generator needed
  • energy is stored, so the fluctuations over the year do not matter

Any comments?

2 Likes

Un-crewed vessels of that scale flying a kite through the ocean are a wild prospect. Not impossible.
Crews (the ones I know) are expensive

Hydrogen is perhaps the least-efficient approach to energy storage commonly discussed. It is an artifact of “a little knowledge”. People congratulate themselves on remembering one of the first scientific facts they learned right after learning to read - as a kid in third grade: Water is H2O, and can be split into H2 and O2 using electricity.

But right away there are major issues:

  1. Electrolysis is only about 50% efficient. So right away you have tthrown away half the electricity you worked so hard to generate. Imagine if someone sold you a lithium ion battery for your phone and you charged it all the way up then it said “50% charged”. You’d be calling tech support!
  2. But it gets worse: Now that you’ve used up your electricity creating hydrogen, how are you going to store it? Well you have two main options in most cases:
    a) Compress it - once again you will lose perhaps half the energy contained in the hydrogen in compressing it sufficiently to carry around.
    b) cryogenic storage: You can instead use half the energy contained in the hydrogen to cool it to a liquid , then store it as long as you can as it boils off. H2 is supposedly a really bad greenhouse gas too, right? So H2 boiling off is “really bad”, right?

Either way, you are now down to about 25% of the original energy you put in.

Retrieving the energy:
There are, again, two main choices for how to get the energy back from hydrogen:

  1. Burn it in an internal combustion engine such as a turbine or piston engine to spin a generator.
  2. Use a “fuel cell” to “burn” the hydrogen
    Either option is 50% efficient at best, even less for the engine options, especially when you include the generator losses.

So now you are down to getting back, say, a mere12.5% of the energy input.

OK so now imagine you charge your phone to 100%, unplug it and see it suddenly is down to 12.5% charge. What would you do? Could you even leave the house after losing 87.5% of your “100% charge”?

If someone told you they had developed a new “improved” lithium ion battery that could return about 12.5% of the energy input, you’d have to tell them they might want to check in at the local mental health clinic and get checked out to see what is wrong with their brain, right?

Wait, let’s ask Elon Musk what he thinks of hydrogen for energy storage:
Tesla CEO Elon Musk calls hydrogen “the most dumb thing I could possibly imagine for energy storage.”

Elon has proven he can think beyond “bumper-sticker-slogan”-level reasoning.

What is afflicting many people in the face of “global-warming derangement syndrome” is called “Single Factor Analysis”.

“Single-Factor Analysis” is when people take a single fact, such as “Hydrogen can be made from water then used as fuel”, and, without considering all the OTHER facts that go along with the ONE FACT, concoct a complicated story around the SINGLE FACT, while NEGLECTING all the CONSEQUENTIAL FACTS that complete the story. They present a partial story as a complete story, when no such thing is the case at all!

So we are presented with “hydrogen cars!” and “hydrogen airplanes!” which admit they will require up to half the volumetric space in the vehicle just to store the hydrogen, to end up with perhaps 10% of the energy input. So now your airplane can carry half the passengers, to make room for all that super-low-density, ultra-inefficient fuel.

If you choose internal combustion engines to get the energy back, you’ll only get about half the power from the same size engine because hydrogen has a very low energy density compared to hydrocarbon fuels. So congratulations, your airplane will need an engine twice the size and weight, to get the same power as hydrocarbons deliver, from hydrogen fuel. Wow, with hydrogen, almost EVERY FACTOR is twice as bad! Multiply them all together and you have an energy disaster!

If you want to run hydrogen through steel pipes, or store it in steel tanks, hydrogen ruins steel by “hydrogen embrittlement”. Currently, companies like GE struggle to include even a small percentage of hydrogen in the fuel mix of a gas turbine.

ALSO: Pulling a ship by kite so a water-turbine can generate electricity involves two (2) layers of fluid-dynamic inefficiency, and one level of electromagnetic inefficiency. The kite is only going to use a fraction of the wind’s energy to tow the ship, THEN the underwater turbine is going to cut that in half (Betz coefficient), as a start. And the generator will only be about 90% efficient. So the entire process, from beginning to end, yields a less than 5% efficiency.

Average people, including politicians, voters, and investors, are unlikely to appreciate any of this. They go by slogans and bumper-sticker logic. They are thinking “100% energy return” instead of the actual “5% energy return”.

So, all-in-all, I’d say hydrogen production from ships towed by kites is a non-starter of an idea, but today, in light of global-warming derangement syndrome, where facts don’t matter, just feelings, and lines of reasoning must be reduced to a level of simplicity that can fit on a bumper-sticker, this idea could easily get funded, and turn into one more clean-energy bankruptcy, and you can then read about when the auction of the remaining assets is announced.

More likely though, there are enough sensible people around, like Elon Musk, with sufficient adult-level awareness to analyze things beyond a knee-jerk reaction to some slogan, to prevent the waste of time, energy, steel, money, and manpower that such a futile project would entail, that you will never see such a ship built and run.

Maybe for now they should just stick to trying to convince cargo shipping companies to try being pulled by a kite just as transportation, without trying to save the world twice by producing hydrogen fuel too.

Just got this email: You can waste not only your time, but your money, chasing the hydrogen derangement dream! Don’t worry, no smart people like Elon will be there to ruin it!

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Reminding AWE Community that Ali Fujino, Dave Lang (NASA, Boeing, Drachen, ret.) and Kevin Mahaffy wrote the first white paper on H2 harvested at sea by kite and shared it to Joe Faust’s original AWES Forum and Archives over a decade ago.

ENERGY & THE POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS OF KITES
NIST/TIP WHITE PAPER
Ali Fujino, Dave Lang, and Kevin Mahaffy

DF copy; go to page 65-
Discourse Issue 4 (drachenkite.com)

Hydrogen is great rocket fuel and a standard welding gas, and its uses will only increase under determined and creative engineering. JAL thinks it has found a Hydrogen Killer App as part of its Kite-Fossil Hybrid Plant concept.

First Kite Energy displaces fossil fuel in legacy plants whenever the wind is blowing. When there is no wind, fossil fuel is the backup, for baseload duty. In the next engineering iteration, onsite hydrogen generation creates just enough stored capacity to further displace fossil fuel use, during no wind, using a lot of the same boiler or turbine hardware, including blended gas mixes.

coal-kite-hybrid-schematic

We also need to apply countless industrial processes that can flexibly absorb excess wind electricity.

Well, I would like to have a scientific analysis to compare two simple sceniarios:
a. produce hydrogen using conventional wind turbines on land
b. produce hydrogen using kite ships

What needs less resources and is cheaper.

Of course it does not make sense to use hydrogen to run your car, but there are enough use cases that require hydrogen for a world without coal, for example steel production…

If you have electricity, you can smelt steel using electricity directly. To first create hydrogen using that electricity, you will have thrown away half the original energy, just as a start.
Then we have the issue of how to provide the carbon required to smelt steel, which is an alloy of iron and carbon. Hydrogen doesn’t help there either.

The idea of using hydrogen to smelt steel is typically brought up as a “Hail Mary” (desperate) response to the unwanted facts of what a poor form of energy storage hydrogen actually is. Kind of like saying “But vertical-axis turbines are better for built urban environments because they can better utilize turbulent winds”. All just more bumper-sticker-level “reasoning” based on slogans and single-factor analysis. So far, hydrogen for steelmaking is just an experimental concept, more responsive to slogan-based reasoning than to reality.

Despite electrolysis being well-understood since the early days of industrialization, hydrogen is currently produced from natural gas, since it requires the least energy.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (whom I have met on the ski slopes) announced “The California Hydrogen Highway” concept in 2004. Schwarzenegger was not scientifically trained to understand the technology. He was limited to responding to what others told him - bumper-sticker slogan-based “reasoning”. Unfortunately we are all human, and even highly-trained scientists are not immune from being convinced by emotion-based reasoning, unless they really force themselves to restrict themselves to science-based thinking on emotional issues. 18 years after our bodybuilder movie-actor “governor” announced “The Hydrogen Highway”, there are nearly zero (0) hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road in California, and only a very few symbolic hydrogen fueling stations in the state, almost never used. The program is likely to be dismantled at some point.

The delusion of a future hydrogen economy has long been debunked by level-headed realists, but it is well-known that emotions often trump facts for many people, until at some point, reality cannot be denied forever, and the facts become apparent to all.

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c. charge batteries using kite ships, generate the hydrogen on land or in a central hub.

There are too many unknowns to be able to answer that a priori I think. Maybe the study you linked could give a first list of potential variables and you could update or make your own assumptions. The electricity prices and potential subsidies would also need to be updated.

This for example seems very optimistic:

Here are 2 of 12 articles that cite the study you linked:

Besides the points Doug raises, which makes hydrogen feel similar to bio fuels, there’s also things like this:

Yes that latest warning on H2 is what I was referring to. Who knew? What’s next, tying your shoes is going to end the world?
From the fields of history and sociology, one might point out how the oil and gas companies benefit from the high prices resulting from seemingly arbitrary drilling restrictions, contrived wars, etc.
I think the fields of engineering and accounting would be in order to compare the costs of producing hydrogen via kite-towed ships pulling water turbines versus today’s windfarms.
Scientifically, pulling a kite to produce electricity certainly possible. There are unlimited ways to make (or store) some power at some cost. The question is always the same with any proposed wind energy technology: would it be worth doing? The problem there is, what proposed project ever comes in within early budget predictions?
I’ve maintained from day-one that well-meaning people say “all ya gotta do is” X or Y to store wind or solar energy, and we can easily power the entire world with solar and wind alone.
They don’t seem to realize that energy storage entails:

  1. first creating the energy,
  2. then un-creating the energy,
  3. then re-creating that same energy again.
    Logically, the resulting energy should cost 3 times as much!
    And that doesn’t even take into account the inefficiencies!
    In the case of hydrogen, you lose most of the energy!
    So is this dream of hydrogen realistic at all? Or is it an ill-advised pipe dream that evaporates when you wake up from a third-grade mentality?

At least the ship has plenty of saltwater to work with, but the only land-based hydrogen project ideas I’ve seen, that could possibly make sense, are the one or two proposals targeting existing caves or mines to store the hydrogen without compressing it. That would eliminate one of the 50% losses of a hydrogen storage scenario, but the numbers still suggest a mere 25% return on energy in. Even if the numbers could be improved somewhat, you’re still looking at throwing away half the energy.
One main hurdle is the same gas turbine could only produce half the power if switching over from natural gas, since hydrogen does not have a very high energy density.