Hey Climate Confident listeners! Welcome to this week's episode of the Climate Confident podcast, where we dive into the world of climate solutions and explore the latest developments in the fight against climate change.
In this episode, I was joined by Emily Pontecorvo, a reporter for Grist, who shared her expertise on the topic of green hydrogen. We explored what green hydrogen is, how it's produced, and its potential to be a game-changer in the fight against climate change.
Emily also shed light on the EU Green Hydrogen Rules, which aim to define green hydrogen and its eligibility for subsidies. We discussed the three criteria the EU has set for green hydrogen: additionality, regionality, and time matching, and the controversy surrounding the monthly time matching requirement.
Emily also touched on the potential uses of hydrogen and the gas industry's push to make hydrogen the future fuel for heating homes. She explained the challenges and limitations of this idea, and why it may not make economic sense.
Overall, this was a fascinating conversation that provided a lot of insights into the world of green hydrogen and its potential to make a positive impact on the environment.
Here is the link to Michael Liebreich's Hydrogen Ladder that we referenced in the episode.
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The wave of, hydrogen enthusiasm, has crested multiple times, I think in the past and then never really come to fruition. But, this time is different. The technology has come a long way to produce hydrogen and to use it. There's a lot more investment in it from governments around the world. And, so it's just a really interesting moment for this solutionTom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast. The number one podcast, showcasing best practices in climate emission, reductions and removals. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice, to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode 110 of the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. Before we start, I would just like to welcome a new supporter of this podcast. Christophe Kottelat. Christophe I hope I'm getting your name right. Christoph signed up to support this podcast after last week's show. Thanks so much for that Christophe. Much appreciated. I've added Christophe's name to the list of supporters published in the show notes of every episode. If you're not a supporter, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee. And your support will make a huge difference in keeping this show going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this episode, every episode. Or simply visit. Tiny url.com/climate pod. Now without further ado with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Emily. Emily welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?Emily Pontecorvo:
Hey, Tom. Yeah. My name is Emily Pontecorvo and I'm a staff writer for Grist. Grist is a climate news outlet. We cover all angles of, the climate change story from science to solutions, technology, business, environmental justice, and, and everything in between.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And why, I mean, there's lots of things happening in the world today. Why has Grist, carved out this section of the news sphere to concentrate on.Emily Pontecorvo:
Well, grist has actually been around for quite a long time. I think it was founded in the late nineties in the age of, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth when Climate Change was first kind of becoming a more mainstream, conversation and issue and, ever since then, the site has kind of been through, a lot of different iterations. I think there was a period of time where it was sort of bloggy. These days, you know, we're, your typical sort of non-profit news outlet, but I think one kind of key shift that, Grist has gone through, at least is moving from a place where, you know, initially I think the idea behind the site was to really get the word out about climate change, to convince people that it was happening, to convince people that it was important and they needed to pay attention to it. And today that's really not the goal anymore. Today we're in a place where we feel that most people believe in climate change. They understand that it's happening and they wanna know what to do about it. They wanna know, you know, what politicians are doing about it and, and be able to hold them accountable to, to do something about it, So to me, it's, cliched, but it is, I think, the biggest story of our time. And, I think journalism is a really important way for people to understand, what's going on in regard to climate change and, and what they can do.Tom Raftery:
Okay, and why is it important to you?Emily Pontecorvo:
There's sort of like the, personal history I have with, I grew up going to a summer camp in the mountains and just, you know, developed a very strong attachment to nature and, and the outdoors. I think that kind of builds in for me early on, just an appreciation of, the environment and environmental issues. But it's kind of hard for me to imagine it not being important to other people. I mean, it's, it's very scary., you know, it's, it's an existential threat, and it's a very, very challenging, problem to overcome. And so, I think it's fascinating for that reason, but, but also just feels just very urgent on a day-to-day basis.Tom Raftery:
Mm, agreed. And it, it's challenging as well because it is an urgent problem, but it's also a long-term problem. And you know, as a species we tend to have a hard time dealing with problems that are not immediate in, in our face. And this is both.Emily Pontecorvo:
You've been writing recently about what's called green hydrogen. So for people who might be unaware, I mean, hydrogen is odorless, colorless, tasteless. So what's this green hydrogen stuff you're talking about?Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah. Just, just going back one, one moment to, to talk for another beat about, you know, climate journalism. I've really tried to focus on, in my reporting on solutions, I'm really interested in, you know, technological solutions. Obviously that's not going to, that's not the only way to solve the problem, but, it's what I've been focusing on. And so green hydrogen is an emerging. I don't know, you might call it a technology. It's, it's really a fuel and it has an interesting history. For a long time people have thought, oh great. Hydrogen might be the fuel of the future. It might be the answer to climate change might be how we can power our cars and, and other fuel powered processes, and the wave of, hydrogen enthusiasm, has crested multiple times, I think in the past and then never really come to fruition. But, this time is different. The technology has come a long way to produce hydrogen and to use it. There's a lot more investment in it from governments around the world. And, so it's just a really interesting moment for this solution. And we can talk more kind of about, the past and, and the future as we go on, but, would you like me to under to sort of, describe what hydrogen is or,Tom Raftery:
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I mean we all know hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, but what is green hydrogen as opposed to any other kind of hydrogen? I mean, we hear people talking about brown hydrogen and blue hydrogen, and I think gray hydrogen as well maybe, and, and green hydrogen, so, For people who might have come across those terms and are kind of scratching their heads, could you give us a quick 1 0 1?Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, absolutely. So, hydrogen is a molecule that we already use throughout the economy. We use it to produce fertilizer. We use it to refine oil and gas. And we use it in, in various other sort of industrial processes. But the hydrogen that we use today is, some people , if you're, if you're using this sort of like rainbow color scheme, the hydrogen we use today is gray. It's made from either coal or natural gas. And the process of making that hydrogen, releases carbon dioxide. So, you know, it's one of these many, many challenges that we have to solve to solve climate change. So there's a few different layers to this kind of, future for hydrogen. But, one of the, sort of the fundamental, the sort of baseline problems to solve is for all this hydrogen that we already use and need in our economy. How can we make that process cleaner? And, there are a few different ways to do this. One is, you know, you can take this sort of process that exists today where you use coal or natural gas to produce hydrogen and you add carbon capture equipment to it. And so you capture any emissions that come out of that process and you sequester them underground and you've reduced, the emissions. That's often called blue hydrogen. Then green hydrogen is, you know, I think favored by, more, you know, environmentalists and climate advocates because it removes natural gas from the picture altogether. And with green hydrogen, you basically take something called an electrolyzer. It's a you know machine that can zap, a water molecule. So you have H two and O, it zaps the water molecule and splits it in half and you've got hydrogen and oxygen. And so it, it produces that hydrogen without releasing any emissions. That being said, when you're using electricity, it really matters where that electricity comes from. And so one of the things that I've been writing about is, if we make hydrogen using electricity, how do we kind of make sure that that electricity is clean? yeah. So I'll, I'll just stop there for now.Tom Raftery:
Sure. Sure. And it's, so the, the idea is that it should to pro, to produce emissions free green hydrogen, it should use solely renewable electricity, but also if you are producing hydrogen using, and you are using renewable energy to produce it, let's say, isn't the production of the hydrogen using that renewable energy, taking renewable energy away from something else unless it's additional renewable energy that you've built specifically for that purpose.Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, so this is one of the sort of risks and fears that people have around building up a new hydrogen economy, especially one that relies on green hydrogen. You know, hydrogen from renewable electricity. It gets very complicated. So I'm, so, so maybe bear, bear with me for a moment. Yeah. If you think about, I'm a hydrogen producer. I'm gonna build a new hydrogen plant and I'm gonna plug into the grid. and there's various reasons that hydrogen producers would wanna plug into the grid rather than produce their own electricity offsite. A lot of potential buyers of hydrogen might need a constant stream of it, so they might need it to be producing around the clock and the grid can provide that stability. So once you plug into the grid, you're getting electricity from whatever source is nearest to you and is operating at, you know, the time that you're drawing that electricity. So it becomes really challenging to say, this electricity that I'm using is clean. Even if you, let's say contract with a solar farm or with a wind farm, that, solar or wind farm is not necessarily sending its electrons to your , to your site.. And you know, once the wind stops blowing or the, the sun goes down and your plant is still operating, you're likely drawing power from a natural gas plant or a coal plant or some other source that's there. And the question that you just asked about, sort of, people often refer to it as sort of cannibalizing, renewable energy that that exists today. So, so if I'm that new hydrogen plant and, I turned my plant online and I, you know, let's say I'm contracting with a solar farm in my, even in my region, that can supply my plant. If that plant already existed, then I'm just taking away renewable energy that, that might have gone to, power people's homes or, or you know, all the other u uses that we have for electricity. And so, there's, this idea that hydrogen producers need to bring their own power,, B Y O P, you know, they need to, this, this renewable electricity needs to be additional to any electricity that exists on the grid today, because otherwise it's just lowering the overall, availability of, of renewable energy for other users.Tom Raftery:
Yep, yep, exactly. You mentioned though, that it is, I mean, hydrogen is used today in various industrial processes. and fertilizer was one of the examples you used. I've also heard, people propose using hydrogen for everything from, powering hydrogen fuel cell cars, which are on the road today in a small number, but they are, they do exist, right the way through to powering ocean liners, crossing the ocean, the likes of, not necessarily cruise ships, but maybe, but I'm thinking more in terms of the kind of container, uh, vessels that, you know, go from port to port, dropping off large numbers of containers, which today typically use the likes of bunker fuel. And, and lots of things in between. Everything from smelting, iron, et cetera, et cetera. Are those the, I mean, tho those today, those kind of processes today, many of them are highly, highly polluting. So is the idea that this green hydrogen would be able to step in, take their place, and thereby massively reduce the emissions of some of these process?Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, so this is sort of like the future and the hype behind hydrogen, making it cleaner, getting it right because it can, even though, you know, we, we use it today and we wanna sort of prioritize the cleaning up the things that we already use it for. It does have potential to decarbonize a lot of other industries. And some of the ones you just mentioned, like shipping and flying and basically as, as a fuel, as an energy dense fuel people have proposed using it for any number of things. There's this joke that it's sort of the Swiss Army knife of the energy transition and we can, plop it in for fossil fuels in any number of industries and call it a day. That idea I think is dangerous and ultimately is not really how things will play out. I don't know if you're familiar with Michael Leibreich, the energy analyst, but you know, he has famously sort of put all of the potential end uses for hydrogen in a hydrogen ladder and, looked at like, ultimately, which of these things are gonna win out. Because, hydrogen producing it, it can be expensive, more expensive than fossil fuels, and also more expensive than potentially just using electricity. So, you know, with just a passenger car, at one point people talked about fueling passenger cars with hydrogen. But what we've ultimately learned with Tesla and other companies is that actually just, you know, installing a battery and making an electric car is a lot more affordable. There's plenty of examples like that where there are these trade-offs between electrifying versus trying to cling to, you know, a fuel-based system and the trade-offs are between the energy used and the cost. So this ladder that Michael Leibreich has, put together, kind of looks at, what's ultimately gonna be competitive for hydrogen, which, which industries, and, you know, what will make sense from an energy efficiency standpoint.Tom Raftery:
And so, I mean, I've come across that I, I know of Michael, but for people listening who might not have come across it, can you, and I'll link to, I'll link to it in the show notes as well. Can you talk about some of the, the winners and losers? I mean, personal transportation obviously a big loser just in terms of both cost and efficiency. But, some of the winners out there, some places where hydrogen might actually make a difference.Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, so, so he kind of ranks these, end uses from unavoidable to uncompetitive. And, you know, the unavoidable ones are like fertilizer for example, because we need fertilizer to feed a growing population and that's what we use hydrogen for today. So, we should really try to clean up that process and, continue, to use hydrogen for fertiliser. Another big one as I just mentioned was, is shipping. This is sort of an interesting one because a lot of experts seem to think that we're not gonna actually use hydrogen itself for shipping to, to power big, you know, cargo ships. But, actually another sort of product that you can make from hydrogen is ammonia. Ammonia is, you know, much easier to transport. And, so there's, there's promise of using ammonia as a, as a shipping fuel. Another big one is, is steel making. Today we use coal as a sort of feed stock in the steel making process, and there's a lot of promise around using hydrogen to replace that. Another big one is, and this is a pretty interesting one when it comes to that whole conversation around grid electricity is long-term battery storage for the grid. So you could use wind and solar power from the grid to produce hydrogen when you have, you know, really, really windy day or, or sunny afternoon and you have excess power, and then you could store that energy as hydrogen. In a tank or underground for, however long you need it, and then, burn it again. You can either combust it in a fuel cell or burn it in a power plant and, produce power later on when, when you need it. So those are just a couple.Tom Raftery:
Sure. Sure, sure, sure. I guess I think one, one of the issues, with the likes of using it for energy storage is it's inefficiency. And that's the, the, the inefficiency is a, is a problem all around, not just for energy storage, but it's one of the big problems as well with personal transportation. I saw a figure where in, if you use using in a fuel cell car, something like, 30% of the energy in a fuel cell car actually goes to turning the wheels, uh, similar to an internal combustion engine vehicle. Whereas with the full battery electric vehicle, it's about 80% of the energy goes to actually turning the wheels. So, uh, you're losing 70%. Of it in a fuel cell vehicle to heat, and conversion losses. And so, in that sense, if you're using renewable energy, you would need two to three times as many wind turbines or solar panels to get the same amount of miles out of your vehicle.Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, absolutely. you know, and I think that, this is one, you know, this idea of using it for, electricity is, still, being debated pretty heavily I think. Some experts feel that, that those trade-offs are worthwhile. That, we do need these kinds of resources that are available anytime you need them for the grid and that this is one of the more promising possibilities there, despite the, energy lost in the conversion.Tom Raftery:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think energy storage is just by virtue of the fact that renewables are becoming a greater and greater percentage, thankfully, of the way we generate electricity. I think energy storage is going to be one of the big, areas of innovation. In the next, I mean, it's been huge in the last 10 years. We've seen lithium ion battery costs fall 90%, or in excessive 90% in the last 10, 12 years. But I think in the next 10, 12, 20 years, we're gonna see even more innovation in the energy storage space.Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I, I think it's one of the most exciting and interesting parts of, decarbonization. There's just so many different types of battery chemistries that people are, developing and also just really innovative, ideas around how we use the grid and, and, demand side, solutions where customers get paid to turn down their thermostats and, and things like that. I think all of those solutions are really interesting.Tom Raftery:
I remember speaking about this at an event back in, 2009 I think it was, where, I was mentioning the fact that is often unappreciated by people, but things like heat and cold are forms of energy storage. So, for example, if you had a, an electric water immersion heater, you could, when electricity is cheap, pull in lots and lots and lots of electricity to heat the water to a very high level, and then let it drift down during the, the day when electricity costs go up, for example, let it drift down from maybe 90 degrees to 50 degrees I'm talking centigrade at this point, sorry. And that way, it's to your point about demand response, about shaping the demand and using pricing signals and smart devices to listen to the price, and then change their behavior accordingly. And similarly with cold, you can, again, when electricity is cheap, when it's abundant, uh, suck in a lot of electricity and freeze a freezer to, minus 20, minus 30, whatever it is. And then when electricity is expensive, when it's in high demand, let the temperature drift back up and, let it drift back up to, minus 10, minus five, whatever it is, as long as if it's, if it's food storage, as long as the food is still frozen, the food doesn't care if it's minus five or minus 10, or minus 15 or minus 40. So, you know, tho those kind of innovations I think are still out there to happen, that we get these smart, cold and hot devices. Listening to signals from the grid, and it's, it's, I think, one of the, the promises of smart grid technology, which has to come yet.Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, absolutely. And kind of bringing that back to the hydrogen question, I think that the, some of the things that you just mentioned, there's gonna be increasing competition for this quote unquote excess renewable energy that we ostensibly might have someday in the future. There's a lot of business models that are based on this idea that we will have excess solar or excess wind and we can store it or use it when it's cheap and then, dispatch it later. And I think that there's really gonna be a lot of competition for that. And it's gonna be interesting to see, which types of companies ultimately gain, gain power over, over that marginal renewable energy. Will it be hydrogen producers or will it be, homeowners with batteries or, will we, will we really have so much access to spare for all these different uses.Tom Raftery:
And it. Fascinating to watch as well, how this is developing in other countries. I mean, we see there are times in Denmark, for example, when the wind energy is producing 140% of the country's demand. And rather than curtailing the production, they're exporting it to neighboring countries, for example. And in the likes of the UK, again, they have a lot of offshore wind. And there's a company there called Octopus Energy. And what Octopus Energy do is they have specific tariffs where if you have an EV for example, uh, or you're a heavy electricity user, they will tell you 24 hours ahead of time what the day ahead price is going to be. So they'll tell you, okay, this coming weekend, between the hours of Saturday, whatever to Sunday whatever the price of electricity will go negative. So at that point, it would be a good time to plug in your ev and literally this happens. The electricity pricing goes negative. So if you have an ev you're actually being paid to charge your car. And then of course you unplug it when the, when it goes positive and you know, so on. And if we get to times when EVs are bidirectional, in their energy, or we have a smart grid situation where there's a, a big battery bank and it's sucking in electricity when it's negatively priced. Then of course, when electricity goes positive, it sells it again. So it's getting paid in both directions.Emily Pontecorvo:
That's really interesting. Yeah, I've heard about octopus energy. I didn't, I didn't know, that was all what they did.Tom Raftery:
So, there's a new thing coming here in Europe called the EU Green Hydrogen Rules. You've, mentioned a bit about that. Do you want to talk to the listeners and explain what that's about?Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah. well, so the EU has been kind of ahead of, of the US on a lot of this stuff around green hydrogen. The, the industry has started developing there much sooner and there was more support for it earlier on. But interestingly, I think the US has caught up and now this similar conversation is kind of happening at the same time, in the EU as as in the US around how do we define green hydrogen. There's this issue of, producers wanting to plug into the grid and claim they're green and can they do that? And if so, what are the rules? And those rules will ultimately determine whether they qualify for subsidies, you know, whether they can be a part of the renewable energy mix later on. And so the EU has, come out with a few sort of drafts of these rules and I think a few days ago, last week, I believe, the EU published the, what I think is the final draft, and they actually, ended up with, relatively strict rules. There's kind of three criteria that you can look at when you're looking at, you know, how green is this hydrogen from the grid. One is called a additionality, so we talked about that a little bit earlier. It's this idea that if you were gonna turn your, your hydrogen plant on, did you bring your own power? Are you, has any new renewable electricity come online to support that production? The second factor is, Regionality, so the idea that this new renewable energy is also actually in your region, it can physically be delivered to your plants in, in theory. And then the third one is time matching. So this is the idea that, you know, when the sun goes down, is your plant just gonna be pulling from a natural gas plant or a coal plant. And so there's an idea that you wanna sort of match your production with the times of day, where there is solar or wind or some other clean energy source being produced. So the EU rules that were just put out, which, which I don't believe are final yet, are pretty strict on, on all three of these things. In terms of additionality, they put sort of time limits on whatever, uh, renewable energy plant you're contracting with has to have been built in the past 36 months. And in terms of, regionality and additionality, that plant that was built in the past 36 months has to be in your, your region. And then in terms of time matching, this is a sort of interesting one, the EU has basically said that matching your production on an hourly basis is too hard right now that we don't have really the technology or the data to do that. And so what they've, they sort of compromised and said between now and 2030 we'll ask that you match your production on a monthly basis. So every month you have to sort of account for, you know, what, when, how many hours your plant was operating, and how many hours of renewable energy you, you purchased and, and do those kind of align up. By 2030, hopefully we've had more innovation to do a more granular matching system. And, in theory the results will change then. I think this is a little bit controversial in, in the US. There, I've spoken with researchers who are pushing really hard for the hourly matching system that, you know, the monthly matching system doesn't quite solve the problem. Um, and I don't think I said this earlier, but it's pretty significant problem. if you produce hydrogen from the grid, unless the grid is really, really clean, like more than 90% clean, That process will be dirtier than if you just made it the old fashioned way from natural gas. It'll use a lot more energy and ultimately cause more, fossil fuel power plants to turn on and more and more emissions. So, the electricity has to be really, really clean in order for this green hydrogen to be kind of worth making. So, yeah, it, it's interesting. We'll see, you know, the US has yet to release its version of these rules that that should come in the next several months. So it's, it's an evolving story.Tom Raftery:
Sure. And are there any smoke signals coming outta the US yet? Do we have any indication which way it's going to go?Emily Pontecorvo:
You know, we don't really, um, we have, there was a public comment period and thousands of companies and, and, um, experts weighed in, maybe not thousands, maybe, maybe hundreds is more accurate. But, there's a pretty big divide between a lot of companies who are pushing for laxer rules, who are arguing that this time matching and this additionality is just gonna be too burdensome. It's gonna make the hydrogen more expensive and ultimately not worth it, not able to compete with the fossil fueled hydrogen that exists today. And other experts weighing in, saying that's not true. And, and if we don't get it right now, then, we're building this new industry on a lie and, it's not actually solving the problem. So, yeah, I, I'm not really sure which way things are gonna go.Tom Raftery:
Okay, Cool. We're coming towards the end of the podcast now, Emily, is there any question that I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this that we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, I think there, there is actually one area that, that we haven't touched on too much and that's the sort of uses for hydrogen that don't seem to make as much sense from an energy standpoint or, or a financial standpoint but, are still on the table. I would say that the gas industry is really sort of clinging to hydrogen as a lifeline to, stay relevant in the future and, today, the gas industry, their main business is delivering natural gas to your home, to heat your home and, and fuel your stove and your clothing dryer and all kinds of appliances. And, they're really pushing this idea that eventually that that fuel that they deliver to your home could be hydrogen. And, while technologically there's not, any issue with that, that that is technologically feasible, it's very hard to, to see from an economic standpoint. The pipelines that deliver natural gas to our homes are not fit to deliver hydrogen. They would have to be replaced, your appliances would have to be replaced. A lot of them talk about blending hydrogen into the pipelines at a sort of smaller percentage today to lower the emissions of, the fuel they delivered to your house today without actually having to change everything out. And while there's been a lot of sort of promising pilot projects that have tested the safety of that, it doesn't actually reduce the emissions that much. It's, you know, you put 5% or 10% hydrogen into the pipeline, and you reduce emissions by, you know, a pretty minuscule amount. So, I think that's just something for, listeners to kind of keep an eye on because, politically natural gas companies have a lot of power and, and this is really what they're, they're pushing politicians to consider and, it's, it's just not clear how, how it makes senseTom Raftery:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, totally, totally. Super. Emily, that's been great. If people would like to know more about yourself or green hydrogen, or any of the topics we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?Emily Pontecorvo:
Yeah, well, they can check out grist.org, that's G R I S t where you'll find, you know, my reporting as well as my colleagues on kind of all things climate change. And you can follow me on Twitter. I'm at Emily Pont on Twitter. Yeah. And tho those are the best places to learn more.Tom Raftery:
Super. I'll drop those links in the show notes as well. Emily, that's been fantastic. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Emily Pontecorvo:
Thank you so much for having me.Tom Raftery:
Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to Tom firstname.lastname@example.org. Or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please, don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks, catch you all next time.