Energy featured

Paul Martin: “Hydrogen – The Decarbonization Problem”

March 31, 2023

Conversation recorded on February 28th, 2022)

Show Summary

On this episode, chemical engineer Paul Martin joins The Great Simplification to talk about all things hydrogen. There are many ‘Fuels of the Future’ about which the media likes to create hopeful and seamless narratives, one of the currently popular of these being hydrogen. Where does hydrogen come from and what do we already depend on hydrogen for – is it as ‘clean’ as the media leads us to believe? How can we think about hydrogen from a systems perspective to determine if it is really an energy solution – or an energy problem? What does this mean for the design of global supply chains entering into a simplified material future?

About Paul Martin

Paul Martin is a Canadian chemical engineer with decades of experience making and using hydrogen and syngas. As a chemical process development specialist, Paul offers services to an international clientele via his private consultancy Spitfire Research. He is also co-founder of the Hydrogen Science Coalition, a nonprofit organization providing science-based information about hydrogen from a position free from commercial interest.

To watch this video episode on Youtube

Show Notes and Links to learn more:

PDF Transcript

00:00 – Paul Martin Works + Info. Featured articles from Paul Martin: Hydrogen summary, Ammonia, Hydrogen production, uses, and the challenges of making it from renewable electricity

04:28What is hydrogen?

04:44Hydrogen and Ammonia (Haber Bosch Fertilizers)

05:21 99% of hydrogen is made from fossils without carbon capture

05:58⅓ of hydrogen is used (Page 89) to desulphurize fossil fuels

06:28 Sulphur level regulations in fossil fuels

07:09 Other uses of hydrogen (Page 89)

08:01 Hydrogen production as a byproduct of the chloralkali process

08:35The challenges of mechanical engineering with hydrogen

11:23Flammability of hydrogen

12:41 On the 20 year time horizon, H is 33x more warming than CO2. On the 100 year time horizon H is 11.5x more warming than CO2 (Section 3.1)

14:05 Hydrogen byproducts of being burned – depending on how you burn it

14:22NOx and its health/climate effects

15:34 IPCC Forecasts

16:55There is no substitute for hydrogen in making ammonia and food production (Table 1.1)

17:32Nitrous oxide production from the soil and methods to reduce that

17:49 1911 Haber-Bosch process invention and corresponding crop production growth rates

18:26 Regenerative Agriculture

18:30 Half of nitrogen in our cells comes from Haber-Bosch cycle

19:54Vaclav Smil

21:55 Hydrogen hype in the news cycle

22:08Nuclear fusion hype

23:12 Receding Horizons

27:59What are the types (colors) of hydrogen

28:40 Hydrogen fuel made from Natural Gas generates 1.4x the emission impact than the original fuel (and 2.3x for Coal) without carbon capture

29:40Percentage of hydrogen created with carbon capture (Page 5)

30:02Making hydrogen produces more CO2 than the entire aviation industry

31:45 Eric Idle, Monty Python

35:42Howarth and Jacobson Paper (2022) on How Green Is Blue Hydrogen? 

37:43 Henry Hub Price

41:23Water use for making electricity and hydrogen

42:30 To make 1kg of Hydrogen from 9kg of water takes 50-60 kWh of electricity (Page 3)

42:45 To desalinate 9kg of water from the ocean takes 0.035 kWh of electricity

44:11 Sins of Thermodynamics

44:45Vaclav Smil on the energy transition

46:30Different types of energy

49:25Current Supply chain infrastructure dependent on liquid fuel source

51:00Heat Pump

53:10Paul’s Article analyzing heat pumps

55:52Canada’s Carbon Tax

56:40UK Discussions on using hydrogen for home heating

58:30 Natural Gas interest in a hydrogen future


1:01:58 Paul’s writing on questionable uses of Hydrogen as a fuel or storage system

1:03:01Energy Density of Hydrogen vs Natural Gas

1:04:38It takes 3x energy to compress a unit of hydrogen as it does to compress a unit of natural gas

1:07:08 Japan and South Korea dependence on imported energy

1:07:40News story of natural hydrogen deposit discovery

1:08:02 Mali natural hydrogen production well and likelihood of other widespread deposits


Teaser photo credit: A Mercedes-Benz O530 Citaro powered by hydrogen fuel cells, in BrnoCzech Republic. Author: Aktron Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: energy transition, Hydrogen