Energy and Civilization series: More than just Electricity II, The Electric Boogaloo

So I feel I need to add a bit of an addendum to my last post. I stated that there wasn’t really a very efficient or effective way to reach the very high temperatures that industrial processes like making cement require (1400C and above) but then I remembered that I’m a fool and missed the forest for the trees. 

Before there were Teslas and giant batteries powering sections of cities or provinces, the go to clean energy fuel of the future was simple unassuming hydrogen. That tiniest and most fundamental of atoms that makes up so much of our universe that it is absurd.  No, I’m not talking about some fancy pie in the sky idea like using fusion for heat. I like the idea of fusion and I’ve got some money on a bet for which group will do it first but that’s not the point of this. The point I’m making is that hydrogen burns like really, really well. And also, Really, Really hot. How hot you ask? I’ll let NASA give you a demonstration

About that hot. Now granted that that is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. If we don’t want to deal with cryogenic liquids in our standard industrial plants (and who does other than Praxair?) then we could just use regular gaseous hydrogen and oxygen. Which gives you something more like this

2500 C in a tiny little handheld torch from a water splitter running off a garage electrical socket. Sure, making hydrogen isn’t very efficient. otherwise, we might have seen some more impressive progress on hydrogen vehicles over the last thirty years. But that has to do more with how hard hydrogen is to store and transport long distances than it really is to make it. All you need to make it is electricity and water, or heat and hydrocarbons, and making it doesn’t even release CO2. And I seem to remember that my home province of Alberta has a lot of hydrocarbons that everyone seems to get really mad that we keep turning into CO2.

With nuclear plants for making hydrogen, we would have a lot more heat and electricity for basically every possible use. And if you have a small nuclear reactor making your hydrogen and oxygen on site, you can almost make your heating system a closed loop and recapture all the water you make from burning the hydrogen back as water to split again and again and again. So even if you still used hydrocarbons to start the process and make up the losses of operation you could still run the process almost completely off of recycled water that you made and not have to draw any from aquifers or nearby rivers or reservoirs. And I don’t know about you, but that sounds a hell of a lot better to me than burning coal or natural gas for heat. 

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