Can ‘Carbon’ be disavowed in Decarbonization?

Since the Paris agreements the international community collectively acknowledges the need for sector-wide changes, rhetoric has focused mainly on „Clean Energy“ irrespective of its affordability to all – violating the [Sustainable Development Goal] SDG #7 particularly in the context of humanitarian action. Humanitarian effectiveness is further to be measured by achievements on SDG #10 dealing with the reduction of inequalities as an important principle of humanity enableing neutrality, impartiality and independence. On the other hand today‘s perception of „Clean Energy“ (including Hydrogen from its downstream electrolysis) doesn‘t necessarily address our civilization‘s severest violation against SDG #12 calling for „Responsible Consumption and Production“, namely „Resource Efficiency“! Given the widely accepted scientific consensus on coherence between „Global Warming“ and observed concentration levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, nobody seems to spend a thought on the fact that CO2 is End of Life-Cycle or after „Use“ Carbon and hence never scrutinizes the Efficiency of its Consummation, Use in Production instead of its natural deterioriation. Fact is that over the last 50 years the total turnover of anthropogenic employed or neglected Carbon on our planet has elevenfolded. So Carbon is the most lavishly squandered resource of our nescient civilization.

When lives and livelihoods are at stake, Black Magic novelty is a scant justification for anthropogenic actions to adopt technologies without critical thought. No question, first of all lavish squandering practices come any and all combustion processes. The heavier a so called fuel, the worse! Fire may have given mankind souveraignity over all livelihoods but our civilization‘s addiction to burning everything has taken detrimental extent. On the one hand side, incineration is a destruction of resources, seldomly giving an adequate reconciliation of interest. Even from our body we know that anti-oxidants are the best detoxification against diseases. Combustion being an oxidation process however produces pollutants from otherwise harmless constituents in fuels. Of course there are technologies to prevent their dissemination into air at large to put them into final sinks, but it would be safer and more economic not to produce them in the first place. On the other hand refining fuels adds value and allows extraction of potential oxidants for further unoxidized use in industry or agriculture. The added value of refining actually stems from the higher exergy yield of chemically recovered energy, rather than the combustion’s direct conversion into secondary energy usually awkward to store if not directly used. So a lot of solid or heavy fuel‘s combustion energy is even lost through idling modes. A few years ago the average for coal power plants idled between 40-60% ever increasing with rising volatile new renewable electricity shares in the grids needing to rely on most of the time idling thermo- power-plants‘ back-up for reliability of supply.

Limits of surplus electricity Hydrogen Electrolysis back-up power become evident by looking at the multiples of back-up demand need under already excellent state of art conversion efficiencies of Electrolysors and Fuel Cells at 60% each (disregarding any additional storage efficiency losses): It is 3 times excess electricity of back-up availability. Unless „More of the Same“ volatile new renewable power generation capacities were solely installed for the purpose of surplus electricity production, the correlation can never be self-sufficient. Nor can Elecrolysis Hydrogen mobility argue successfully its efficiency shortfalls versus Battery Electric Vehicles charged from free available New Renewable Energy. And that becomes even worse when Electrolysis Hydrogen shall be used to recycle CO2 into synthetic Hydrocarbon fuel or substitute Natural Gas for consecutive combustion, as if it were an abundant fossil fuel. It requires 2.5 times the electric energy input of any achievable calorific output energy. Politicians like to make these synthetic prothesis suggestive of a future world that could proceed like habitual, but just Carbon neutrally. The price for such a scenario would be 5 times the primary electricity than a system-conversion to a Hydrogen Economy would cost.

The world has entered a new Carbon denial frontier, where only Hydrogen Technologies that discriminate any kind of Carbon are allowed to penetrate all aspects of daily life. This turn is also used by the fossil sector cynically offering CO2 for being recycled with Hydrogen from non-Carbon sources to claim extended rights for its further existence. While in the meantime biospheric cycle Carbon is left to either its natural break-down or at today’s best, bio-energetic use by combustion. Biomass being a Carbohydride compound of Carbon-Hydrogen and Oxygen carries half of it’s energy by its Hydrogen content and the other by its Carbon backbone. And it‘s ligated with stored water, impairing recoverable combustion energy. While crude oil is a Hydrocarbon constituencies‘ mixture carrying slightly more than 2/3 of its energy in Carbon and only 1/3 in Hydrogen, representing only 57% of the Hydrogen : Carbon ratio of biomass. What a WASTE to burn biomass and refine Crude oil! Refining biomass is 3 times more Carbon Efficent and needs just 20% the auxiliary water, crude oil refining does. Reforming biomass into Hydrogen could make Hydrogen mobility about 2 times more effective than Battery electric vehicle transportation, which on the other hand is 3 times more efficient than Electrolysis Hydrogen mobility.

As Carbon Efficiency is not yet deemed problematic per se and water seemingly perceived abundant both behavioral patterns bode ill for climate change mitigation efforts. CO2 abatement actors would need to develop awareness of the adverse effects that they unintentionally inflict by supporting so called Carbon Neutral combustion, turning two times the Carbon into CO2 than Natural Gas would. Using the biomass for Carbon neutral chemical synthesis instead could add much higher values to it and substitute fossil Carbon at quite economic efficiencies and barely any additional auxiliary energy need. Anyone attracted by ideas to replace Natural Gas by electrolysis Hydrogen Synthetic Methane should respect that apart from the unjustifiable auxiliary energy consumption of such CO2 recycling, exemplarily a synthesis of Europe‘s annual Natural Gas consumption would strain an equivalent amount of water as dietary cultivation irrigation requires for Europe’s entire population.

Penchant for ‘Newness’ taking centre stage in recent times, the words ‘innovation’ and ‘technology’ are frequently being bandied about in various sectors. Climate actionism policies are no exception, where particular stakeholder interests profiteering from surrounding inefficiency and ineffectiveness are often given priorities at people‘s expense. Electrolysis Hydrogen is framed as a panacea for all of the decarbonization sector’s issues, but this potentially leads to excessive technological optimism, where ‘newness’ is seemingly hyped up and prioritised ahead of the interests of vulnerable groups. New technologies and innovation bring with it the promise of furthering Climate objectives. But lofty expectations and good intentions alone are not enough to ensure that vulnerable populations will not be marginalized or harmed. If rich highly industrialized parts of wold population overspend on CO2-abatement without peering into addressing Carbon Efficiency in the first place, emerging and developing countries couldn‘t be blamed to support their socially needed economic growth by building more of the same lavishly Carbon squandering infrastructure eco-systems. Most likely on loans from the industrialized world, impeding a system change for long going forward. This tension, as in any other attempts to change status quo, is one that needs to be evaluated carefully. Critical engagement is needed to ensure that technology does not exacerbate existing water shortages or perpetuate inequalities. Hence also the use of new technologies should be tempered by clear guidelines and regulations to ace a critical analysis regarding effectiveness towards the Sustainable Development Goals, to be adopted by academia, industry, humanitarian practitioners, government bodies and climate experts as well as members of communities not aware of the risks they are at.

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