197: Hydrogen research is on the rise


Matt and Sean talk about recent breakthroughs in hydrogen research, and talk about Matt’s changing perspective on the tech.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, Why Hydrogen DOES Have a Future https://youtu.be/8UM-XNV9F0Y?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re going to be talking about Matt’s evolving perspective on hydrogen, where it’s been stuck, where it’s breaking free, and what it might mean in the future. Hey, everybody. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids, and I’m just generally curious about tech.

And luckily for me, my brother is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. And as always, joining me now, live from Western Mass, it’s that Matt. How you doing,

Matt? That’s right. Yeah. Before, before we hit record, I was actually just saying to Sean.

I’m a little tired and out of it right now because we just got a puppy and I am not sleeping well. Would be the short story to this, but oh boy.

Yeah. Puppies are, are so much fun and adorable until 2am when they’re screaming at you from a crate. Why am I in here? Where are you? Are you my mommy? It’s yeah, exactly.

I’m doing okay. As we record this, we are on the verge of what is supposed to be a pretty major storm moving through. The New York City area, and I imagine it’ll probably head on up to Massachusetts. Uh, very high winds. Uh, I’m anticipating horizontal rain. Um, and this morning looked forward to a leisurely cup of coffee before settling in to talk to Matt and record the podcasts that we do.

And. My partner sauntered into the room and said, Oh, you realize we have a lot of leaves in the backyard that might plug the drains. So if we don’t want to have flooding, we better take care of that. So I was out early this morning instead of drinking coffee, I was just in my pajamas with a broom in the backyard, sweeping up dead leaves to make sure that I don’t have to swim around my living room later today.

So no puppies, but piles of leaves..

So, as we usually like to do, we like to revisit some comments from previous episodes, and I wanted to share some thoughts that came from our previous episode 195, which was our conversation about offshore solar. That would be the panels mounted on floating platforms in an effort to use Basically, use unused real estate and also have some benefits of being above water that you wouldn’t necessarily guess actually existed, but research is proving that there might be some benefits to doing these things.

There were some comments about possible combos. Like this one from Michael Kulovizari who wrote the ocean solar might also be a good fit with desalination plants on the shore. And K. Volk wrote in to say, I think that the float solar combined with wave motors or offshore wind or all at once is a great solution.

So I wanted to share those. With the question, Matt, do you have any of any new information about the possibility of these kind of combo packages that might be either being researched or might actually be in deployment?

I don’t know of any of them that are being in deployment, but I’ve seen things like that bubble up before in some of the reports and research we’ve done.

So it’s, they’re thinking along the same lines as other people. It’s, it’s one of those. There’s not like an either or situation here. It’s like, go wind or go solar or do something for desalination that’s not connected to anything else. People are looking at these kind of like holistic solutions of you’re doing wind and solar with batteries and it’s a desalination system.

And like, they’re trying to come up with systems that are all kind of intertwined. So yeah, that’s definitely being talked about, but I haven’t seen any that are really in, uh, implemented quite yet.

Yeah. I always like. Going through the comments and seeing the myriad of ideas that are popped into the comments that seem.

And at the same time, they seem both in some cases, like, well, yeah, that’s a pretty good idea. Pretty bluntly, like obvious, but also has anybody thought about it? Like it’s, there are a lot of those, like somebody in this comment, uh, field jumped in to say, well, you talked about how these massive installations can sometimes create Growth that could damage the insulation.

They should coat it with something like a ceramic wax, which would make it too difficult for something to actually cling to. And I was like, well, that seems a little too easy,

but also, yeah,

they should do that. Like, so I’m, I’m, I’m always fascinated by. The kind of off the cuff, uh, Monday morning, uh, Monday morning engineering, I guess you’d call it instead of Monday morning quarterbacking, uh, the idea that people just sitting on their sofa watching these videos and then maybe they’re having a brilliant idea that some engineers somewhere would be like, Oh my God, we didn’t think of that.


I also love that we use that you use Monday morning quarterback. I would have said the same thing. Which is such a U. S.

centric thing. Yeah, it’s very U. S. centric for those people who do not know what that refers to. Here in the U. S., the NFL, the National Football League, the games are usually played on Sundays.

And the kind of second guessing of decisions is referred to as Monday morning quarterbacking, which is what happens when fans of the game talk about the games on Monday and have all the solutions that nobody knew about on Sunday when the game was actually played. So also in the past from Matt’s recent video, supercharging a Net Zero Home.

This was of course, Matt taking a look at his new home and the various ways that he is trying to not only capture energy through his solar system, but also utilize it most efficiently and hold onto what the house naturally. Gains from where the sun is, positioning, insulation, all of those things combined.

And Matt’s deep dive into that spawned a lot of comments like this one from Miles Anderson, who wrote, maybe take a look at Neoplant One for your air filters. They’re a, they’re a plant synthetic biology company that’s engineered Apothostrain to be the most efficient VOC air purifier to date. And it runs on water.

and Carbon, which is pretty nifty. It doesn’t just sequester VOCs, but breaks them down into monomers to synthesize primary and secondary metabolites with. The plant is literally living off of purifying your air. That comment seemed like the perfect Matt and I, Matt and I often refer to the idea that your comments lead directly to things he explores on his channel.

We talk about it here, obviously, because that’s what feeds our conversations very, very often. But there are these times where a comment pops out, and it’s just too perfect for Matt’s main channel as far as an examination. This tech Available in the home sounds like something would be right up your alley for that.

What do you think about that? I want to

look into this. I had not heard of Neoplant One. I’ve heard of companies that are using like plant materials for filtration. I mean, one of my sponsors on the channel, Lark, does that with their water filters for their pitchers. Right. It’s got this plant based filtering system they’ve created.

But I didn’t know this existed for air filtering. This is kind of blown my mind. I want to look into this. This is right up my

alley for sure. This is not only right up your alley. This is right up sci fi alley. This is like, Oh yeah, we’re in space and we got these air scrubbers, which are actually just plants that live in this hydroponic room.

It’s like something from the movie sunshine. And I’m just like, Oh, okay. That’s we actually are living in the future. It’s the circle of life, Sean. That’s right. Can’t avoid it no matter how hard you try. Now let’s turn our discussion to Matt’s most recent episode. As we’re recording this, it would be our December 5th episode, which is why hydrogen does have a future.

And this, I won’t go too deeply into the tech itself. I think your video kind of like lays everything out very clearly, but I did have some questions about You’re evolving thinking on the tag, because I think that this is a great demonstration of why your channel is called Undecided. I think it’s, it’s very easy for Matt to record a video and then for us to record our podcast and have conversations and for it to sound very conclusion y.

And we do that. I think we do that. To a certain degree, instinctively, unintentionally, but it’s instinctive. I think there’s a part of the human brain that wants to be able to have a conversation and pin down a decision and then walk away knowing that the conclusion was reached as opposed to, I mean, it really kind of sounds disorienting to say, let’s have a conversation about this and discover all the things we don’t know and then end the conversation there.

And That is harder to do. And that is a, that is something I think academics and researchers are very good at. That is the scientific method. The scientific method is about following knowns until you hit the wall of the unknown and then trying to figure out why. But conversationally, it’s a little trickier to do that.

So I want to try and institute that here. In the form of a few questions that occurred to me, you mentioned your shifting perspective on hydrogen as a storage energy storage medium. You’ve talked about this previously. You have other older videos that you’ve pointed people to saying, like, if you want to understand the ins and outs of how this works, I’ve got these older videos that talk about it.

You didn’t though really go deeply into where had your thinking been at the time of those videos, or maybe just a year ago, like whatever seems most familiar to you to right now, to be able to hearken back to, Oh, I used to think X. And I didn’t see how they were going to get over this thing, this hurdle.

Where was your thinking previously? And where are you now?

I guess one way to put it at a kind of high level is like a couple of years ago, my view on this was like hydrogen for something like cars made no sense. Just doesn’t make sense. And still doesn’t today that ship has sailed and it’s mainly because electric vehicles are clearly a superior technology and have such a lead over what hydrogen could even potentially do.

It doesn’t make sense now, but everything else where hydrogen has been purported to be like, Oh, it could be used for X, Y, Z, you know, all these different things. I was kind of like, yeah, that’s interesting. Uh, where now I’ve started to realize the more I’m understanding about hydrogen, the more I’m understanding about all this stuff.

And this has come from some, quite frankly, harsh critiques I got on previous episodes to just things I’ve just learned on my own over the time and different people I’ve been talking to in the different industries, um, don’t see hydrogen as a major player at all in the future of tech. Um, it’s going to be there.

And most often I see people on one side or the other. So you’re either, you think hydrogen is the stupidest thing, fool’s errand, dangerous, stupid, why even bother? And then there’s the camp that’s like, there’s going to be a hydrogen economy and it’s the future of everything. And I’ve been kind of, I was never in that camp, but I was closer on the spectrum towards that end.

I’ve slowly been kind of drifting a little more towards. The MM-Hmm , not the fool’s errand side, but a little more towards that middle to that side of things where it really only seems to make sense for energy storage systems like onsite or energy storage systems. And part of the reason is I’ve been learning more about how hydrogen would have to get, get transported.

So imagine having oil plants that are making gasoline. It’s like, there’s all these proposals for making gigantic hydrogens facilities that are making tons of hydrogen and like, not literal tons of hydrogen, but it’s making I did. I did know what you meant. Yes. Yes. Yes. Making massive amounts of hydrogen and then you’re having to ship it or.

Pump it through pipes to where it has to go. And as soon as you start to do that, it’s like, Whoa,

that’s where it gets a little like Are we recreating the petroleum problem? Yeah.

Not even that. It’s like, is that safe? Is it stupid to do that? Yeah. Hydrogen is this

like Well, that’s what I meant by the petroleum problem.

It’s like, you know, the petroleum problem, we may not necessarily have a leak that could lead to an explosion, but you absolutely could have a leak that could impact the environment for generations to come. You could have the destructive Had, in fact, cases of fires on oil rigs and things like that, that have been devastating, that have, have, you know, pumped horrible things into the ocean and the atmosphere that have impacts for years and in locations far, far away from where the original, uh, accident took place.

And I can only imagine, I mean, we had the massive lawsuits and protests around the. Canadian oil pipeline. Yeah. I can’t even imagine trying to say, look, it’s not oil, it’s hydrogen. Hydrogen’s good. Hydrogen’s great. And it’s like, it’s, it’s still, if you’re going to be piping something through an area, it’s the exact same argument.

It’s like, you can’t. Move away from the environmental impacts of the pipe itself of actually having to transport a thing. So it’s

just, it was like this past year, I was reading all these news articles about how the UK is starting to move forward with using hydrogen to heat people’s homes, to use it as like you’re burning it.

Yeah. So using infrastructure to do that. And it’s like, what infrastructure are you going to use? Because the pipes that are already there are not rated for hydrogen and hydrogen tends to, I don’t know, corrode metals of certain kinds and like you can’t just pump it through existing infrastructure if it’s not.

rated for that use case. What the hell are you doing? I hope they know what they’re doing and taking all that into account. So there’s all these things that just made me just start to kind of go, Oh man, hydrogen is way been oversold. So my thinking has started to shift. But I still think it has a place.

And like to me, the example from the video is those hospitals and on site energy storage. There’s companies like GKN that has this like trailer size system that is like it’s got a. Uh, Electrolyzer that feeds into solid state hydrogen storage that then comes through a fuel cell and creates energy on the outside coming out the other end.

So it’s literally just a big battery. And the benefit of this is that you can scale those energy storage systems way better than you can a battery. Cause like if you want to double the energy storage of a battery, you’re literally adding twice as many batteries. But with a hydrogen system, you don’t necessarily need to increase the electrolyzer stack or the fuel cell stack.

You just need a bigger tank in the middle to hold more hydrogen, so it’s like it scales in a very different way. It’s not a linear thing like it is with a battery and because of that you can have massive energy storage for a better cost effective ratio than you can with batteries. And so it’s kind of.

When you start to look into it that way of the, it’s not about the efficiency and everybody gets hung up on the efficiency, but it’s like, that’s why my thinking has shifted. It’s because I’m recognizing, yeah, some of these areas that have been sold as Hydrogen’s good. It’s like the challenges around making it feasible are a little more profound than I originally thought.

But there’s these other areas where it’s like, no, it actually does make a lot of sense still for that. And they’re actually doing it now. So it’s kind of, to me, that’s why my thinking has shifted. It’s definitely going to be part of the renewable energy future, but it’s going to be a much smaller piece.

Uh, that’s where I’ve kind of landed.

Is there another

tech? Or I am landing because my thinking is not set in stone. I just want to make that clear.

Is there another tech that you may have talked about or maybe even not talked about where the same thing might be true, where you. have over time seen it shift from, Oh, this is going to be a major competitor to all the things that appear to be like, I would assume that as far as like established tech we know would be things like solar for energy production, wind for, for energy production, uh, lithium ion batteries, things like that, that are like, okay, these are here.

They are here, they are right now, we’re using them every day, that’s what’s going on. Have you had anything that’s similar to this hydrogen evolution? Where you thought, Oh, here’s another thing that could vie with lithium or solar or wind or what have you, but it’s shifted slowly along with hydrogen down to a, Oh, it’s going to be a more of a niche thing.

There are going to be use cases that work well with it, but it’s not going to be widely Utilized.

Um, not on the scale of my hydrogen shift. Uh, but yeah, I’ve had shifting thoughts, like flow batteries is one. I do think there’s still going to be an important part of the future, but it’s not, I think once again, it’s kind of been oversold and it’s going to be a very niche use case, like for utility scale.

Um, there’s companies that are trying to make systems for home use. Um, there’s a company that. was bragging on like we can do cars with this stuff which was just bonkers excuse me for saying this stupid there’s no way that’s ever going to be a thing but it’s like I would say flow batteries is one of those technologies that is kind of in that realm of I thought it might have a little more impact than it probably will end up having.

And part of the reason for that is there’s other battery technologies that are improving, that are giving it a run for its money. Right. That may make it a non, not, not a non starter, but make it more of a niche product than I originally

thought. That leads us right into my last question, which is anything that’s gone the opposite direction.

Anything that you’re like, Oh, this is going to be that little tiny thing percolating in the corner. And then you’re now seeing news break where you’re like, Oh, this is going more mainstream than I anticipated. Uh,

the jury is still very much out on this, so, uh, hopefully I don’t get a flame war going on this.

Uh, two things, e fuels, like e fuels, biofuels, I’ve, I’ve always thought were kind of on the stupid side. Um, and, but yet there’s a lot of things in the ethanol

family, I


like, like, no, like, like, um. It’s, well, it kind of goes hand in hand with like, uh, carbon, uh, sequestration methods. Uh, there are companies that are like, we’re going to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and make fuel out of it that can be used for, uh, flight.

And then all that CO2 that goes back in the atmosphere, we’re going to pull it back out again and make more fuel. So it’s like, that’s kind of

the system.

I’ve always thought that was, oh man, so dubious and like, there’s no way that’s going to really catch on. Maybe it’s a really tiny part of the market.

Over the past year, it’s like, there’s been a

lot of You didn’t question it from a scientific perspective. Like, you recognize scientists were like, oh, we can pull this lever and it happens. And you’re like, I see, I see that. They can

do it. They can do it. And they’re proving that it can be done. But who actually wants to do that?

And all the argument against that kind of stuff is like, oh, it’s just the fossil fuel industry. And because it’s the fossil fuel industry, we hate it. It’s bad. And I don’t fall into that camp at all, but it’s just like a, I can’t imagine that being a thing. It’s kind of becoming a thing. And it’s like one of those, oh my God, there’s like this very like loud contingent that’s just like, it can’t be a thing because the fossil fuel industry is pushing this and it’s going to give excuses to keep burning fuel.

And then there’s the other side that’s like, no, this is a great option. Let’s not kind of cut off our nose to spite our face. And I’ve always thought. It was just kind of like, there’s no way it’s going to be cost effective because it’s very expensive and slow and all this kind of stuff. So it’s kind of like, I’m really kind of surprised just almost from a scientific engineering side of it, just like the cost of doing it.

I’m not even arguing the environmental sides. It’s just like, really that you’re opening a huge plant and it’s actually happening. It’s like, and this company is actually going to start using it. What? It’s actually happening. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now in those. So, what does

that do to the argument about fossil fuel usage, if we do step into that?

Yeah. Does that technology eventually lead to the dwindling out of use of fossil fuels? Or does it, are they making the argument, this means we don’t need to worry about using fossil fuels because we can clean the air in this way?

That’s usually the argument, that one. It’s like, it’s carbon neutral. That’s the argument that’s always made.

This is a carbon neutral fuel. It won’t make the problem worse. Because we’re, we’re taking what’s what’s already there, making fuel, you’re burning it, you’re putting it right back. So it just creates that closed loop is that that’s the argument. But when you start to look at some of the facts that may not be a hundred percent accurate.

And so there’s the, from an environmental standpoint, there’s a lot of people that are kind of like, no, no, no bad. But at the same time, there’s, we’re going to have to have fuel of some kind. Like we can’t do everything we do today purely from batteries. Right. We, we can’t. So we have to have some other alternatives that are there.

We’ve talked in the past about things like electric jets and things like that. Like, can we get there? And that’s, and that’s one of the hurdles that we have is there are certain technologies and the way that life is lived. Mod in our current setting to do some of the things that we do requires the use of fossil fuels.

And that’s not something that I say with a, and that’s good news. I, I’m, I just, you have to recognize it for what it is, um, to remove fossil fuel usage in its entirety. with the technology we have today would be to take us back to sailing vessels on the ocean and, uh, flying potentially by hang glider or some other like, like very low impact means, which would effectively shut down how our world works.

So it becomes, um, too big a hurdle.

I would kind of take it from the point of view, I tend not to look at the things of, I’m always looking for the perfect solution. It’s like, is this a good enough solution? Right. Is it better than what we’re currently doing today? Yeah, it’s better. I still don’t like it, but it’s definitely better.

It’s a step in the right direction. So it’s, it’s one of those, I, it’s kind of a squishy topic and I know some people are going to be very upset about what I just said and that I’m sorry. But, um, Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a difficult topic because I, I sometimes worry that people are always angling for, well, that solution’s interesting, but it’s still not perfect because it has problem X.

Yeah. Well, is problem X demonstrably better than the problem we currently have today? If it is, then yeah, okay. It has a problem, but it’s still a huge step in the right direction. I think that’s kind of what we have to stay focused

on. Yeah. And you also can’t exclude people who have. Access to more capital than most other players on the planet.

You cannot exclude them from looking for solutions. If they are finally at the point of recognizing, okay, we need to help fix this, and that’s not to defend. The reasons why they may think that, they may think that for no other reason than PR. Like, oh, we get kicked around all the time because we’ve been destroying the planet’s environment.

Let’s start looking for a solution so that we can stop looking like the bad guy. That’s still Better than not great. That’s not great, but it is better than ignoring the problem, which is what most of those industries did for the entirety of their existence. I mean, like, um, and it goes back, you know, not just the fossil fuel industry, the entire idea of resource management and what does it mean to be in free enterprise has always had a complete Disregard for impact.

And that goes, that’s, that’s what led to most of the turmoil in our history is because somebody was just like, Oh, we want a thing. You got that thing. We’re going to come take that thing and we’re going to use it. No regard for who are you, how are you using that, is it even worth us using it, and if we do, what is the impact?

No consideration of that, so excluding the industries that have all of the resources to say, well we could do the research, we could look into this, we could figure out a path forward, just out of, it’s not the perfect, you’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that’s, you know, that’s where, that’s where I land on that.

So once again, it’s. This is my invitation to the listeners, as you can see, we have A keen interest in all of your thoughts about these topics and the conversation we’ve just had I hope invites some people to jump in the comments and share places where like Matt has your thinking changed about a certain tech.

It doesn’t have to be about hydrogen, it doesn’t have to be about anything we’ve talked about in this episode. You could share your thoughts about something that you five, ten years ago thought was It’s never going to go anywhere, but it turns out to be a great solution. Or the opposite. Did you see something years ago that you thought, Oh, finally, here’s the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for.

And then it didn’t pan out. Share those stories in the comments. We’d love to see what you have to share and potentially even pick up some of those threads for future conversations. So let us know. If you’d like to support the show, please consider leaving a review on Whatever platform it was, you found us, go back there, leave a review, don’t forget to subscribe and please do share it with your friends.

All of those are great ways to support the channel. And if you’d like to support us directly, you can click the join button on YouTube or you can go to stilltbd. fm. Click the become a supporter button there. It allows you to throw some coins at our heads. We appreciate the welts. They heal. We make the podcast.

And everybody ends the day happy. Thank you so much, everybody, for taking the time to listen or watch. We’ll talk to you next time.

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