Hydrogen x 200
Hydrogen has the highest specific energy of all combustible fuels. There may now be a way to get 200 times as much energy from it than burning it--without needing fusion. An energy revolution awaits
Hydrogen is the source of much of the energy consumed by the modern world, although at present it is mainly used indirectly. We use fossil fuels today quite extensively because these familiar hydrogen-containing substances— coal, oil, gasoline, natual gas, etc. — are saturated with lots of juicy hydrogen bonds that can produce copious amounts of energy when broken during combustion.
Combustion is the formal term for a chemical reaction involving oxygen, which we refer to conventionally as “burning”.
In fact, our bodies derive caloric energy from ‘combustion’ of sorts, too, via the hydrogen bonds present in the foods we consume.
In recent years we’ve begun to add vehicles to the world’s fleets that burn hydrogen directly by storing it in the vehicle in compressed form— or by using it indirectly to generate electricity in something called a hydrogen fuel-cell. But storing hydrogen in vehicles is problematic because of the safety issues involved with handling compressed hydrogen.
However, there is something that we can do with hydrogen that is perhaps 200 times as energetic than burning it—and it doesn’t involve huge, centralized fusion reactors operating at millions of degrees, or nuclear processes, either.
It can also be made to occur by extracting the necessary hydrogen from water using electrolysis, meaning that storing compressed hydrogen isn’t necessary; storing water until the hydrogen is required by the reaction is all that is needed, which is exceptionally safe. That’s the subject of today’s post.
Let’s start with the basics. Hydrogen has the highest “energy of combustion” per kilogram of mass than any other substance.
Thanks for reading CognitiveCarbon’s Content! All posts will continue to be free, but if you value my work, your contribution via a paid subscription is deeply and gratefully welcomed.
Yes, you can extract more energy from fusion or nuclear reactions than you can from burning hydrogen; however, if you’re going to burn (or chemically convert) anything, then burning pure hydrogen is the best you can do. It is the upper limit of non-nuclear conventional chemistry.
We’ll get to some of the specific details about non-conventional chemistry later.
So why do we use fossil fuels? Fuels like diesel and gasoline are more portable and safer to store at normal temperatures than gaseous or liquified hydrogen is—therefore, these fuels provide a reasonable trade-off between available energy per “gallon”, practicality, and safety.
But they have a downside, in that they produce carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur oxides as byproducts when burned.
When we need an enormous amount of energy, however—say, to propel rockets into orbit—we turn to hydrogen and oxygen in liquified form to get the most punch per kilogram of mass that we can.
Every kilogram that we have to strap onto a rocket to burn as fuel to get that rocket into orbit is one less kilogram of payload that we can lift into space, so minimizing the mass of fuel needed to load onto the rocket in order to achieve orbit is important.
So, we burn pure hydrogen in pure oxygen in a massive and strong container with a small opening at one end, and the explosive reaction from combustion generates the thrust needed to push a rocket into the stratosphere. Happily, we also generate only water as the byproduct.
The problem is that the massive containment vessels need to hold liquid oxygen and hydrogen are quite heavy themselves, which is why rockets also use solid fuel boosters containing fuels like hydrazine. [Ed: a commenter who worked on the Space Shuttle corrects me: its ammonia nitrate or ammonium perchlorate that is used in solid fuel boosters. But the idea of why they are used in place of liquid boosters still holds.]
These solid fuels don’t provide quite as much punch as burning pure hydrogen in liquid oxygen does, but the weight of the shell needed to contain them is less than what is needed to contain pure hydrogen, so they can offer a good tradeoff.
The Space Shuttle used both types of rocket fuels for different phases of achieving orbit. This video which I posted on Telegram recently explains this visually bit more, and it’s a great video:
Let’s wade in a little deeper and learn some of the necessary lingo and fundamentals.
First of all, what’s a Watt? and Who’s on First? (just kidding. It was just too tempting.) Many of us are familiar with the term “Watt”, because it is used to describe things like how much electrical energy our lightbulbs, hair dryers, toasters and refrigerators use.
A “Watt” is not a unit of energy, however. It is a unit of power. To confuse us, the word “power” means something very specific in physics and engineering contexts; that same word “power”, however, means something quite different in the context of politics or sociology.
It’s important to disambiguate these uses of the word “power” in our minds when we talk about energy. (Ironically, however, the control of access to energy in our civilizations’ history necessarily involves political power, which is an interesting double-meaning of the word—this control point is the nexus where both meanings get entangled with each other. I wrote about that recently in It's always been about Energy.)
Power in the physics sense simply means “Energy per unit of time.” A Watt is formally expressed as “one Joule of energy (used or generated) per second.” We use the letter “J” to denote Joules. As a shorthand we’ll also use prefixes like “kilo” and “mega” in front to indicate thousands or millions of Joules, e.g., kilo Joules (KJ) or mega Joules (MJ).
To convert from Watts (power) to energy (Joules) you just need to multiply by the length of time that you used a certain number of Watts. For example, a 100-Watt bulb lit for 60 seconds uses 100*60 = 6,000 Joules of energy.
If you look at the bill from your electric company, you’ll see “kiloWatt hours”. This is just another way of doing the same sort of math: a kiloWatt hour (kWh) is 1,000 Watts of power used continuously for one hour. It works out that one kWh is equal to 3,600,000 Joules (or 3.6 Mega Joules, or 3.6 MJ).
On a given day, a typical suburban house might use 30 kiloWatt-hours of electric energy, or about 1.4 kWh every hour. That’s about 5 million Joules per hour, or 5 MJ (mega Joules.) It’s also roughly equivalent to the amount of energy you’d use up if you left your hairdryer on for an hour and nothing else in your house was plugged in at the same time.
So, now let’s get back to talking about hydrogen, and tie all this together.
Remember that I said burning pure hydrogen in pure oxygen was the best that you can do theoretically, if you burn anything at all for fuel.
Here’s a chart that shows you where different substances stack up in terms of specific energy (Joules per kilogram) versus energy per volume (Joules per Liter.) Because hydrogen is not very dense as a gas, it doesn’t offer as many Joules per Liter as other materials; but it still offers the most Joules per kilogram.
This chart also shows where Lithium-Ion batteries lie, even though they’re not really burning when they produce energy for use.
I highlighted three areas: Lithium-ion batteries are what is used in electric cars; Diesel and gasoline is what is used in conventional internal combustion engines; and hydrogen is the grandaddy of them all, used for example in rocketry.
The further to the right on the chart, the more Mega Joules of energy are produced per kilogram of material.
You can clearly see why rocket engines use pure hydrogen.
By the way, there are lots of reasons why electric cars are NOT the solution to the nation’s energy problems: this chart hammers home one way that they (don’t) stack up.
The obvious thing that most people (including Mr. Biden) overlook with electric cars is this: how do you produce and distribute the electricity needed to charge the electric cars in the first place?
Right now, 90% of that energy is generated at a powerplant using fossil fuels like coal or natural gas, or possibly in nuclear power plants (which I’m in favor of, or at least I was, until learning about the subject of this post.)
When you use “the grid” to move that energy from the power plant to where you charge your car, the lines carrying the power lose some of it along the way (efficiency loss—sometimes 5-15%.)
No, using solar panels or wind turbines does NOT actually help; that’s a complicated subject for another post about “energy return on energy invested”, which takes into account how much energy is needed in the first place just to produce the device (like the solar panel) that is making your electricity for you. When one accounts for that properly, solar and wind power doesn’t look so appealing. Never mind that solar power doesn’t work at night, and wind power doesn’t work unless there’s a breeze.
The highest energy-return on energy-invested (EROEI) in the world right now is nuclear energy.
The best solution for energy production will always be to produce energy right at the place and right at the time it is needed, so that transmission (and storage) losses are eliminated.
OK, so now let’s Jen Psaki-back… er, I mean, circle back—to the topic of hydrogen.
We figured out above that a typical house needs about 5 MJ (mega Joules) of energy every hour. If we burned pure hydrogen in oxygen and somehow magically converted all of that energy to electricity 100% efficiently (impossible, by the way, but let’s go with it for now) we would need an amount of hydrogen found like this:
Take the 5 MJ of energy we need, divided by 141 MJ/kg (the specific energy, or energy of combustion of hydrogen) and the result comes to about 35 grams of hydrogen.
To power our home for an hour, we therefore need to burn at least 35 grams of hydrogen, in the ideal case. If we used natural gas instead, we’d need about 3 times as much, because the specific energy of natural gas is about 1/3 that of pure hydrogen— so roughly 100 grams (rounding off to nearest hundreds.)
Now we get to the tootsie-roll at the center of the lollipop of this article (forgive the abuse of the metaphor for humorous effect, but it works.)
Dr. Randell Mills, over the course of nearly 30 years, has been working on a new model of physics that offers an alternative explanation for how electrons behave — they behave in a different way than conventional quantum physics accounts for. As a consequence, he realized that hydrogen—the simplest element in the periodic table, containing one proton in its nucleus and one electron in a shell around it—also behaves differently than conventional physics predicts. And he came up with a way to exploit this new physics.
He is an enigmatic individual, someone that many people find hard to understand because of how his mind works. I hosted him for a talk he gave at Fresno State in 2017, and I’ve been to see him many times over the years. I’m honored to know him as a friend, and I consider him to quite possibly be the most brilliant scientist our world has known for centuries. This is an example of his written work. If his work succeeds, and finally reaches the mainstream in the coming years, my description of him will prove accurate.
Using the theoretical foundation that he has developed in his decades of research, he has found a means to extract 200 times as much energy from hydrogen than is possible from perfect combustion. He can cause this plasma-like reaction to take place at relatively normal temperatures of a few thousand degrees (not millions of degrees like in fusion reactors) and it doesn’t involve nuclear processes, so there is no dangerous radiation.
A conventional lightbulb filament made from tungsten, for example, also operates at roughly the same temperature as occurs inside Dr. Mills SunCell.
All of this means that hydrogen — the most abundant substance in the entire Universe, which is also the cleanest and most abundant fuel for energy generation on our planet — could be used in a way such that perhaps 200 homes could be powered from the same amount of “fuel” that would today only power a single home.
If energy costs were to plummet by a factor of 200 - or even 20! — for all uses of energy worldwide, that would radically transform all world economies and make it possible for each of us to be largely self-sufficient.
All without any CO2 produced as a side effect. Furthermore, that energy could be produced on site at every home, where and when it is needed, eliminating the grid; water could be used as the source of hydrogen needed to power it; a SunCell could be used to power your car, or at least, your car could be charged from your home’s own energy source, freeing it from the grid; and all of this would open the door to a kind of energy independence for individual people around the world that has never been dreamed of before in world history.
It’s time to start talking about all of this much more, raising awareness, and getting people to realize there is a potential energy revolution coming that will allow us all to throw off the yoke of the energy-baron elites once and for all.
It is the knowledge that this day is coming, and the fear of it, that drives the behavior of the political elite around the world.
Because a day is coming when we won’t need them, their fossil fuel based dynasties, their centrally owned and controlled power stations, or their fiat currencies anymore. We will throw off our chains and live our lives with a freedom mankind has rarely ever experienced.
For the wonks among the readers of this post, here are some reference links.
There’s some healthy debate going on in the comments. One of the commenters led me to post this chart I made to fuel further discussion. This is a slide from a deck I keep handy to discuss the current state of astrophysics and theoretical physics with people who are unaware of the current gaps, anomalies, and areas of unknown. What is interesting is that some of these issues are neatly described by Mills’ theoretical framework. Make of that what you wish.
The recent news about the mass of the W-boson, if it holds up, is another chink in the armor of the Standard Model.
I also provided this diagram that I created to the commenter. It is a way to help analyze the energy balance in Mills current work with what he calls the “Thermal SunCell.” Based on his measurements, this diagram helps to determine how likely it is that he’s got new physics going on (I think he does; but I don’t currently have the opportunity to go collect these measurements independently, for myself. I’m relying on Mills data.)
I haven’t been able to visit him since last year, although I’d like to return sometime this year.