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Solutions to European energy crisis – LNG, hydrogen, or maybe neutrinovoltaic?

fot.PAP/Marcin Bielecki
fot.PAP/Marcin Bielecki

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine supplies of Russian gas—critical for heating, industrial processes, and power—have been cut by more than 80 percent in 2022. Wholesale prices of electricity and gas have surged as much as 15-fold since early 2021.According to Euronews, to cope with dwindling Russian gas supplies, the European Union has massively increased its LNG imports (liquefied natural gas), particularly from the USA. In 2022, US exports to the EU jumped by 143 percent year-on-year.

European countries, including Poland, have also been importing gas from Qatar, Egypt, Algeria, Norway, Azerbaijan and Angola. As a result of this LNG race, the need for LNG terminals and tankers has exploded.

Meantime, a post published on the X portal (formerly Twitter) claimed that the construction of an LNG terminal in Gdańsk will not solve the energy crisis and that the investment is unnecessary.

FSRU (Floating Storage Regasification Unit) in Gdańsk is a major investment. According to Gaz System (responsible for natural gas transmission in Poland), the goal is to create an infrastructure that will enable the off-take of additional volumes of LNG delivered by sea, their subsequent regasification and delivery to Poland’s National Transmission System.
The Gdańsk FSRU is also supported by the European Commission, which in December 2022, under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), awarded the terminal a grant to develop technical specifications and carry out design work, which, according to the sources we quoted, "underlines the project's vital importance in strengthening security of supply and independence from Russian gas and increasing the availability of LNG for Poland and the region".

In 2021, Russia was the main source of natural gas in Poland. Poland's imports amounted to 9.9 billion cubic metres with annual gas consumption at the time up to 23.3 billion cubic metres. Thus, more than 42 percent of the natural gas needed by Poland came from Russia. In second place was LNG imported through the Świnoujście LNG terminal, which accounted for 20 percent of total consumption in 2021. In 2022, gas imports from Russia already accounted for only 20 percent of annual consumption. Since Q1, 2023, Poland has not imported Russian natural gas at all. LNG imports and gas from the Baltic Pipe account for 85 per cent of annual consumption. These are the facts about the Polish gas market in recent years. In addition to Baltic Pipe, the supply of LNG through the terminal is of key importance to meeting Polish gas demand and for the country's energy security.
"The capacity of the Terminal will secure more than 30 percent of domestic demand. The FSRU [floating storage regasification unit-FH] will accelerate Poland's internal development and strengthen the economic position of our country in the region by creating a gas hub for the needs of neighbouring countries," Marcin Chludziński, CEO of Gaz System, said during a ceremony of signing an agreement with the Port of Gdańsk and the Maritime Office in Gdynia on the construction of a floating LNG terminal within the port of Gdańsk.
The crucial importance of the already existing LNG terminal, the Świnoujście one, at a time of perturbations in the fuel and energy market was stressed as early as 2020. In our sources there is an opinion of Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale University, who emphasised that energy security and breaking gas dependence on Russia is Poland's success and the basis for economic development in Central and Eastern Europe.

Taking into account everything that has happened recently on the Polish gas market and the energy crisis in Europe and globally, the claim that there is no need to expand the Polish LNG infrastructure can be regarded as a deliberate disinformation.
It’s also worth remembering that floating LNG terminals avoid building and operating long-distance pipelines—no extensive onshore infrastructure needed. Such terminals offer a fast, commercially attractive and environmentally friendly approach to monetization of offshore stranded gas fields or associated gas from oil production.

The natural hydrogen as a provider of energy security

Hydrogen is a potential paradigm shifter that can play a major role alongside battery electrification and renewable fuels in creating the carbon-neutral world. As an energy carrier hydrogen can help reduce the net sum of greenhouse gas emissions.
This is why the recently discovered deposits of white (geological) hydrogen in France, even if they are as large as initial estimates suggest, were treated as a provider of energy security.

"For the past few days, the media have been writing about the discovery of huge deposits of white hydrogen in France. Hidden deep beneath coal beds, it is set to become part of the country’s and European energy security," the article, fact-checked by FakeHunter, published by the Interia.pl website read. There were several topics within the article, including a background of the energy crisis, and the importance of hydrogen 'colours'. However, it did not provide information necessary to explain the true scale and significance of the (still not accurately estimated) white, or geologically naturally occurring, hydrogen deposits discovered in France.

The hydrogen colours are: green, blue, brown, yellow, turquoise and pink. They provide information about how the hydrogen is produced, the energy carriers and energy sources used, and whether it is climate-neutral. The most environmentally friendly is green hydrogen made by using clean electricity from renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to electrolyse water. Grey, black and brown hydrogen are produced from hydrocarbons and this method is the most environmentally damaging.
The discovery of natural hydrogen deposits in Lorraine is not the latest news, as the article suggested. This is the first inaccuracy. French media reported it in May 2023. The story published first by the World Economic Forum in mid-September and then by Polish media largely duplicated the French ‘Le Point’ article from early September 2023.
It is also worth mentioning that what has been discovered by Lorraine scientists working on the REGALOR university project, in collaboration with La Française de l'Energie (LFDE) and Solexperts France, at the European pilot site at Folschviller, still requires additional confirmation, more detailed studies and estimates, as well as deeper drilling. A lot has to be done to better determine the significance of these discoveries. Scientists need to prove that the hydrogen is evenly distributed across a geological basin of almost five hundred square kilometres. The road to extracting white hydrogen is even longer.
Even if we accept estimates, reported by media, of the deposit size of up to 46 million tonnes, the claim that it would provide energy security of France and Europe is misleading. To understand the true significance of the 46 million tonnes, it is necessary to take into account not only the volume of hydrogen production in the world, but also its contribution to the global energy mix.

According to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) 'Global Hydrogen Review 2022' report cited by the 100re-map.net website, global hydrogen production reached 94 million tonnes in 2021. This provided about 2.5 percent of global energy consumption. On top of that the vast majority was so-called grey hydrogen.
However, this is only a nominal amount, as the main sector in which hydrogen is used is not energy, but the refining industry. It is used to remove impurities, particularly sulphur, and to improve the quality of heavy crude oil to produce lighter petroleum products. According to the sources we used for fact-checking, refineries around the world use almost 40 million tonnes of hydrogen per year. This is, of course, indirectly linked to energy production, as the final products are fuels. Nonetheless, the effective importance of the hydrogen produced in the world energy mix is still not very high.
Therefore, a deposit containing half of the hydrogen produced in the world, which is generally of marginal importance to the world's energy industry, cannot be a provider of energy security.

Neutrinovoltaic technology

According to NEUTRINO Deutschland, neutrinovoltaic is a technology used to convert the thermal motion of graphene atoms and the energy of the surrounding fields of invisible radiation, including neutrinos, into electric current using a multilayer graphene-based nanomaterial. But the question whether it is a viable alternative for energy generation remains unanswered.
FakeHunter fact-checked an article published by the Swiatoze.pl website suggesting that the Neutrino Energy Group, founded by a German, Holger Thorsten Schubart, that advertises a 'power cube' called the Neutrino Power Cube, could generate electricity from layers of silicon and graphene through which neutrinos would pass.
The device is supposed to be produced next year and is expected to generate a current of about 1.5 volts and 2 amperes. The culmination of all this information creates the impression that we are at the threshold of generating energy in useful quantities derived from neutrinos.
It is not entirely clear on what physical principles the operation of this device would be based and whether it would actually involve the capture of neutrinos. If it is suggested that it is about harvesting energy from neutrinos, the available knowledge about these particles and experts’ opinions exclude such a possibility.
The following calculation was published on the StackExchange forum as an answer to a question about 'neutrino solar panels': “The neutrino flux experienced on any given part of Earth's surface is approximately 3 * 10^15 per square metre per second, or 10^19 per hour. The average solar neutrino carries an energy of ~400 keV (kiloelectronvolt, a unit of energy used in physics).

For comparison, 1 kwH = 2.2 * 10^22 keV. So, if we could capture all of the energy from the neutrinos passing through a given square metre (which, in view of the elusiveness of neutrinos, as discussed below, is unrealistic), we would have 4 * 10^21 kEv or about 0.2 kWh.
The average insolation of a square metre on a sunny day is less than 1.4 kW. Therefore, a solar panel need only be 15 percent efficient to outperform a magical material that can stop 100 percent of all neutrinos dead in their tracks.
With 100 percent neutrino capture, this is only a theory that cannot be even dreamt of at the moment, since the probability of a neutrino interacting at all with the matter through which it penetrates is 1 in 10^24.”
Neutrinos interact extremely weakly with the rest of the known particles. Neutrino researchers, such as Hans Bethe and Rudolf Peierls, calculated many decades ago that a neutrino could easily traverse the entire globe without interacting with anything. Later, physicists Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines built a neutrino detector and placed it next to the Savannah River Plant near Aiken, South Carolina, USA. Their experiment succeeded in capturing a few of the hundreds of trillions of neutrinos emitted by the reactor.
Since then, neutrino physics has come a long way. Ray Davis and Masatoshi Koshiba won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for building improved neutrino detectors. In Davis' case, it was a 600-tonne tank of carbon tetrachloride in a mine, from which every few months he separated a handful of argon atoms created when a neutrino was absorbed by the carbon tetrachloride. The Koshiba detector is the Kamiokande neutrino observatory, called Super-K, which is still being expanded and is world-famous. Its first version contained about 50,000 tonnes of ultrapure water (highly purified water). There, readings occur in real time because neutrinos striking water nuclei produce small flashes of light received by photomultipliers surrounding the water tank.
Until recently, it was thought that neutrinos in general were massless. If this were the case, the extraction of any energy by known methods would be out of the question. Today, we know that their mass is non-zero. However, neutrinos come in three ‘flavours’, and they do not stick to just one of these flavours—they oscillate from flavour to flavour as they move through space. Scientists are not sure what the value is of each of the three flavours or what their hierarchy is. The normal hierarchy for particles is two light masses and one heavier mass, and the inverted hierarchy is two heavy masses and one lighter mass. Scientific experiments have established that the heaviest of these must have 0.0000059 of the mass of an electron.
These elusive particles sporadically interact with other particles and atoms, with the very small probability. The known solar photovoltaic methods are based on the photoelectric effect, which is the interaction of particles (photons) with atoms. One could, generalising, say that most, if not all, of the energy extraction methods we are familiar with rely on matter-matter interaction.
Therefore, the extraction of energy from neutrinos, which hardly interact with matter, is at present, with the knowledge and technologies at our disposal, a totally unrealistic thing, and suggestions that the prospect of ‘neutrinovoltaics’ is looming in the foreseeable future are misleading.
All European governments facing the energy crisis have started to implement a wide range of policy responses to mitigate the impact of higher costs on consumers and businesses. Poland’s government have introduced shields and fuel purchase allowances, lowered high energy prices and ensured the availability of coal. The government has also ensured security of gas supply through the construction of the Baltic Pipe pipeline and the Świnoujście LNG terminal, as well as the future floating LNG terminal in Gdańsk. All these had one goal—to make Poland independent of Russian hydrocarbons and increase country’s energy security.