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Innovative technologies such as hydrogen, renewable energy, and energy efficiency can eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. A Hydrogen “Manhattan Project” for Energy is needed to accelerate the transition to a Hydrogen Economy and ensure that this vision becomes a reality within the next 10 years. There is no need to wait 20 to 40 years to achieve the Hydrogen Economy vision and eliminate America’s addiction to oil.
Can America's addiction to oil be eliminated? Several innovative renewable energy technologies and greater implementation of energy efficiency can eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. Hydrogen and fuel cells represent one of the most promising and innovative technologies of our era to meet our future energy needs. Switching from a “Hydrocarbon Economy” to a “Hydrogen Economy” has the potential to reduce consumption of hydrocarbon fuels, lower oil and coal-related harmful pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, create thousands of new jobs, and revolutionize the world economies. Some of the issues related to a Hydrogen Economy and Fuel Cells have already been addressed in my previous two papers: “Fuel Cells – To Revolutionize Electric Power Generation” and “Hydrogen Economy – A Revolutionary Vision For The Future of Energy”, which are available on www.energypulse.net. In this article, I will focus on eliminating America’s addiction to oil. I firmly believe America’s growing energy needs can be met by accelerating the transition to a Hydrogen Economy, by utilizing other renewable energy sources in greater amounts, and by enhancing energy efficiency.
Global energy use is expected to increase exponentially in the next decades, driven by rising standards of living in developing countries like India and China and a growing population worldwide. Energy has become a defining issue of this century because the era of cheap and abundant oil is already behind us. Rising energy prices and strong evidence of global warming due to oil and coal energy use threatens economic growth worldwide. We must act responsibly to focus on developing renewable energy resources now! Breaking America’s economic reliance on foreign oil will also relieve a serious national security concern and promote world political stability.
So what needs to be done? We need to bring a real radical change in our energy strategy by developing and enacting long-term comprehensive energy policies that use advanced renewable energy initiatives to keep America’s economy growing. That means building the related infrastructure, providing incentives and adequate funding for leading-edge technology, and promoting renewable resources. Policies for implementing these advance renewable energy initiatives to meet consumer’s energy needs are urgently needed to keep us competitive. Inaction is not an option for America.
Hydrogen (hydrogen is an energy carrier not an energy source) will play a significant role for meeting our future energy needs. The transition to a “Hydrogen Economy” has already begun and the world is already moving toward acceptance of hydrogen as a viable alternative source of energy. We must consider phasing in a renewable energy infrastructure based on hydrogen. Renewable resources should be used in meeting our future energy demands because of their abundant availability. The energy industry and politicians are increasingly excited about the future revolution that a Hydrogen Economy promises to bring.
HYDROGEN ECONOMY VISION
The Hydrogen Economy is the term used to mark the shift from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to hydrogen. Today we have a “Hydrocarbon Economy.” In the near future we will have weaned ourselves from total dependence on carbon and live in a “Hydrogen Economy”. This new era will be powered by hydrogen energy from renewable resources such as wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal, and ethanol that can provide reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. In fact, consumers will have access to hydrogen energy as readily as they now access petroleum, natural gas, and electric power.21
What makes hydrogen so attractive? Hydrogen is the most abundant, clean, and sustainable form of energy in the universe. It is found in the water that envelops 70% of the earth. Hydrogen is flexible, affordable, safe, can be domestically produced resource, and is the key to unlocking pollution-free power.20 Hydrogen Fuel Cells can generate power for homes, office buildings, hospitals, factories, as well as portable electronic devices. Hydrogen has the potential to become one of the world’s most widely available and flexible fuels.21 Hydrogen can be utilized as a combustion fuel in the same manner as gasoline or natural gas. The benefit of using hydrogen combustion over fossil fuel combustion is that it releases fewer emissions—water is the only major byproduct.20
In fact, hydrogen may be the answer to America’s future transportation needs, including providing fuel for the automobiles. However, the automobile industry will not start mass-producing hydrogen vehicles until it is convinced that hydrogen will be available when customers drive up to the pump. Instead of waiting to build a hydrogen infrastructure from scratch, America can start building the hydrogen fuel economy immediately by piggybacking on existing petroleum-based industries. By 2016, half of all new cars sold could be hydrogen-powered, over 50 percent of the nation's gas stations could also pump hydrogen, and the U.S. could get more than half its energy from domestic sources, putting energy independence well within our reach.
The Hydrogen Economy is a bright vision for the future of energy that will revolutionize the world by opening the doors for fundamental changes in economic, political, and social institutions, similar to the impact of steam power at the beginning of the “Industrial Age.”21 It is a vision in which fuel for transportation, home heating, cooking, electricity, and production of goods and services comes directly from the sun, the wind, biomass, biogas and other renewable resources. Looking into the future, a full-fledged Hydrogen Economy can power everything from laptop computers to cars. Fuel cells supplying homes, businesses, hospitals, airports, industrial facilities, and government installations could be linked to a national power grid allowing surplus power at one location to be transferred to areas experiencing power shortages.22 Ultimately, Hydrogen will compete economically with the existing power transmission infrastructure and may change our energy consumption behavior forever.
The Hydrogen Economy is not a dream. Hydrogen fuel cells on board the space shuttle already generate electricity to power life support systems, computers, and produce drinkable water as a by-product. In addition, military and government agencies are already developing hydrogen-fueled air, sea, and land vehicles. Hydrogen powered cars, buses, vans, and scooters are already running on the streets of major U.S., Canadian, and European cities. Hydrogen holds the promise of an ultra-clean and secure energy option for America’s future. It is an ultimate energy solution to eliminate our addiction to foreign oil.
The promise of Hydrogen is very exciting, although reaching commercial viability will require radical and bold new initiatives from the Government for a long-term strategic plan. The following strategies should be considered to develop and implement a Hydrogen Economy:
1. Initiate a Hydrogen “Manhattan Project” for energy to accelerate the transition to a Hydrogen Economy and to ensure that this vision becomes a reality within the next 10 years (instead of 20 to 40 years). Provide multiyear funding of approximately $100 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate the transition to the Hydrogen Economy, advance the necessary technologies, and develop a hydrogen infrastructure.
2. Federal and State governments should fast track the development and implementation of favorable policies to make hydrogen a top priority.
3. Provide funding and tax incentives to support development of a hydrogen refueling/distribution infrastructure nationwide.
4. Pursue aggressive research in regard to the safe production, storage, transportation, and applications of hydrogen and establish standards to overcome technical challenges.
5. Mandate the use of hydrogen by all government agencies in order to assist in the development of hydrogen-related businesses and shift all federal vehicle fleets to fuel cells within 5 to 7 years.
6. Require electric utilities to expand generation of electric power from renewable resources.
7. Develop diverse sources of hydrogen production to bring the cost of hydrogen production down quickly and make energy costs comparable to energy supplied from the power grid and gasoline.
8. Establish new partnership programs with the private sector, states and communities, national laboratories, colleges and universities, nongovernmental organizations, and foreign allies to develop and bring to market new technologies that advance hydrogen, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
9. Form an international partnership on policy development to accelerate hydrogen refueling infrastructure and fuel cell programs.
10. Develop economical and environment friendly methods to extract hydrogen from renewable resources.
11. Collaborate with industry to develop fuel-cell power technologies for multiple applications such as transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial.
12. Dramatically lower the cost of fuel cell vehicles through mass production.
13. Enhance awareness of hydrogen as an energy alternative by mounting a campaign to educate the public and news media about the Hydrogen Economy.
14. Develop public education programs for schools and colleges to empower the younger generation with the knowledge of hydrogen and fuel cells technologies.
MAKING THE TRANSITION
The presently proposed $1.72 billion over the next 5 years to develop hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure is not adequate to bring major technical breakthroughs in hydrogen technologies. To achieve the commercialization of hydrogen technologies, the Federal Government should consider launching a multifaceted bold new strategic plan for the short, mid, and long-term horizon. The approaches should include carefully directed changes to government policy, strategic planning, and private and public investment to make this innovation become part of our everyday lives in few years.
The energy industry will not invest billions of dollars for hydrogen infrastructure because there are only a handful of fuel cell vehicles on the road. Similarly, carmakers will not spend billions to make fuel cell vehicles when there is no hydrogen infrastructure. And neither industry is likely to make the necessary investments solely to achieve societal objectives of reduced dependence on foreign oil and cleaner air. Government support is urgently needed to jump-start the fuel cell future on behalf of all citizens with the understanding that hydrogen and fuel cells must eventually be economical without any government subsidy.22
How much money do we need? It is estimated $100 billion in today's dollars (about the amount spent to put a man on the moon) could easily shift the balance of power from foreign oil producers to U.S. energy consumers within a decade. Only a massive program similar to an “Apollo Project” or “Manhattan Project” can replace hydrocarbons with hydrogen and accelerate the transition to Hydrogen Economy.23 We put a man on the moon in a decade, we can also achieve energy independence just as fast.23
ADVANTAGES OF THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY
The present fossil fuel economy has contributed to significant environmental and political problems worldwide. A Hydrogen Economy promises to eliminate many of the problems that the hydrocarbon technology has created. The advantages of the Hydrogen Economy include25:
The elimination of pollution caused by fossil fuels - When hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to create power, it is a completely clean technology. The only byproduct is water. There are also no environmental dangers like oil spills to worry about with hydrogen.
The elimination of greenhouse gases - If the hydrogen comes from the electrolysis of water, then hydrogen adds no greenhouse gases to the environment. There is a perfect cycle -- electrolysis produces hydrogen from water, and the hydrogen recombines with oxygen to create water and power in a fuel cell.
The elimination of economic dependence - The elimination of oil means no dependence on the Middle East and its oil reserves.
Distributed production - Hydrogen can be produced anywhere that you have electricity and water. People can even produce it in their homes with relatively simple technology.
Generate new employment – This new Hydrogen Economy will create a very positive impact on the world economy.
The Hydrogen Economy may be more beneficial to developing countries because it will generate economic opportunities, reduce poverty, and offer a dramatically cleaner renewable resource to bypass at least part of the expense of building a fossil fuel infrastructure.21
The Hydrogen Economy could produce total decentralization of the global energy market controlled by giant oil companies and utilities (electric and gas) and result in vast redistribution of wealth and power. In the new age of hydrogen, every human being could become the producer as well as the consumer of energy. For example, millions of fuel cell units in homes and cars could be connected to a national power grid (as long as the grid exists), just like the Internet, sharing their excess energy with others.21 The next decade will present tremendous opportunities for “Distributed Generation” to become a major alternative source of supply for the electric power grid.
OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES
The Hydrogen Economy is a clear visionary strategy for America’s future energy security needs. However, we must overcome significant scientific and technical challenges associated with the development of hydrogen infrastructure on a large scale including the lack of domestic and international regulations and standards for hydrogen production, distribution, storage, fueling, transportation, and public acceptance before the hydrogen economy can become a reality. The greatest challenge is to bring the cost down to compete with the energy presently supplied from the power grid.
To move forward the transition to a Hydrogen Economy, the next big challenge is to develop the correct business models that enable distributed generators to deliver real value to end-users. Investments in fuel cell and hydrogen research today will enable America to lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
For fuel cells to become competitive with gasoline engines, we need a nationwide hydrogen production, delivery, and storage network similar to our existing gasoline infrastructure. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are already being produced. However, virtually no nationwide fueling infrastructure exists to serve fuel cell vehicles.
THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY FUTURE
The future looks bright for a Hydrogen Economy. Hydrogen has the potential to do for the energy revolution what the computer, telecommunications and the Internet have done for the information revolution. 21
Hydrogen and fuel cells will bring a total revolution in the energy sector and change the course of history. President Bush has referred to fuel cells as the “wave of the future” and called for a “focused effort to bring fuel cells to market.” The immediate result will be the emergence of quiet, decentralized electric plants sized according to need and small enough to power your car or house. Hydrogen, a renewable energy source, will provide us true energy independence and eliminate our security concerns.
If the price of energy keeps climbing, a global recession could bring America and the whole world to a point of crisis. There will be PANIC. Billions of dollars will be needed to develop new technologies for alternate energy resources. However, it will be too late to prevent the damage to America’s economy. The energy crisis has already arrived. We must invest in alternative energy resources now to save our future. America’s energy problems require solutions way beyond those that policymakers have approved in the 2005 Energy Bill. We need a Hydrogen “Manhattan Project" for Energy now to develop and implement a hydrogen infrastructure. In addition, we need renewable energy resources and energy efficiency to meet our future energy needs.
The Hydrogen Economy appears inevitable because it is an achievable vision. The only issue is whether we can bring it quickly or whether this technology will be stalled by vested interests. I am very encouraged with President Bush’s initiatives on the Hydrogen Economy vision. I urge the present Administration and Congress to move America forward on hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell technologies by providing needed resources to accelerate the transition to the Hydrogen Economy. Any strategic implementation plan must include a vision for commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell technology into the mainstream in the next 10 years. It is in our national interest to do so. Widespread use of hydrogen in transportation and power generation can also have a dramatic and positive impact on our environment.
Initially hydrogen can be extracted from diverse domestic sources including natural gas, solid fossil fuels, nuclear power or biomass, and renewable resources (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, bio-fuels, etc). The ultimate goal should be to produce hydrogen from renewable resources. Renewable energy can make significant contributions to our nation's energy future but only if we bring together the new technologies with the markets and policies necessary to accelerate their acceptance and use. The time is right, the opportunity is there24 - efforts to achieve our energy goals need to begin now and continue with a sustained commitment over the next several years as outlined in Commercializing Strategies. Just imagine, as soon as commodity market speculators realize that hydrogen is a competitive energy source, oil prices could drop to as low as $15-$25 per barrel.
It has been my dream to promote the development of hydrogen as an energy source. We must support President Bush’s Initiative on the development of hydrogen as a fuel source of the future. We must work together to help realize this dream and define a brighter future for our children by accelerating the development of Hydrogen Economy. I am confident that innovative hydrogen-based technologies, increased use of renewable resources, and enhanced energy efficiency can significantly reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, eliminating environmental pollution and political instability. A Hydrogen Economy is a vision worth achieving.
Finally, hydrogen is the fuel of the future. The question is whether the future is now or in two or three decades. To implement a Hydrogen Economy in 10 years will require a concerted effort, coupled with a bold new strategic vision and shift in priorities of America’s energy policies. What matters now is how we choose to use these advantages in pursuit of a cleaner and more secure energy future. We face a number of challenges in the transition to a hydrogen economy. This paper has outlined how these challenges can be addressed and how this transition can be used to America’s advantage. The conversion to a Hydrogen Economy is not a problem of limited technologies but of political priorities. The dangerous turmoil in the Middle East and growing concerns about national energy security requires immediate action. The real question is weather we have the will power to overcome the oil, economic, and political interest. All that's needed is a national commitment to make the Hydrogen Economy happen now. The fate of America depends on it. Welcome to the world of the "Hydrogen Economy."
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and are not intended to represent the views or policies of the United States Department of Agriculture. The author has a passion and commitment to promote renewable energy and the Hydrogen Economy.
To probe further:
The following web sites can provide more information about fuel cell developments, vendor sites, demonstration projects, articles, and papers. Many sites are run by organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.
1. Fuel Cells 2000 (www.fuelcells.org).
2. Department of Energy (www.doe.gov).
3. Department of Defense (www.dodfuelcell.com).
4. National Fuel Cell Research Center (www.nfcrc.uci.edu).
5. Hydrogen Now (www.hydrogennow.org).
6. Hydrogen Information Network (www.eren.doe.gov/hydrogen)
7. National Hydrogen Association (www.ttcorp.com/nha)
8. World Congress for a Hydrogen Economy (www.hydrogennow.org)
Periodicals, Journals, and Articles:
9. “Fuel Cells to Revolutionize Electric Power Generation,” by Darshan Goswami, International Conference on “Electric Power Generation and Environmental Protection” in New Delhi, India, February 4-7, 2000.
10. “Dramatic Changes Coming In The Future Of Energy,” by Darshan Goswami, March 1999, The Pittsburgh Patrika Magazine.
11. “A Hydrogen Economy -The Power to Change the World, “by Jeremy Rifkin.
12. “Building the Solar/Hydrogen Economy,” In May of 2001, the Bush White House project released a 20-year plan.
13. “Roadmap to the Hydrogen Economy,” by Marc Wiseman Ricardo.
14. “Iceland....First Hydrogen Economy,” (www.h2eco.org)
15. "Fuel Cells: Could Fuel Cells be the Ideal Energy Source of Tomorrow?" R. Hubscher.
16. “National Hydrogen Vision Meeting,” Washington, D.C., November 15 and 16, 2001 www.eren.doe.gov
17. “The Coming Hydrogen Economy” Fortune Magazine, November 12, 2001.
18. “Dawn of the Hydrogen Age” by Jacques Leslie.
19. “Electricity-Producing Vehicles” MIT magazine, Technology Review, January 2003.
20. “A National Vision of America’s Transition to a Hydrogen Economy — to 2030 and Beyond.”
21. “Hydrogen Economy - A Revolutionary Vision for the Future of Energy,” by Darshan Goswami, February, 2003, EnergyPulse.net.
22. “Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: Pathway to a Sustainable Energy Future,” C. E. Thomas.
23. “How Hydrogen Can Save America,” By Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall.”
24. “Renewable Electricity: Poised to Make a Difference” – Power Engineering.”
25. “How the Hydrogen Economy Works.” By Marshall Brain.
26. “Strategic Planning For The Hydrogen Economy: Hydrogen Commercialization Plan.”
For information on purchasing reprints of this article, contact sales. Copyright 2013 CyberTech, Inc.
The article was disappointing. I plowed through the standard hydrogen economy boilerplate--abundant, clean, "only water vapor" emitted, yada yada--wondering when I would get to the meat of the article. I didn't find any. Just a vague call for a "Hydrogen Manhattan Project" to "accelerate the transition", and equally vague talk of "forming partnerships". It seemed to boil down to an appeal to throw lots of federal money at the problem, and trust that something would come of it.
I'm not anti-hydrogen. I think it has an important role to play in our future energy economy. I doubt that that role will be as a transportation fuel, however. The problems are formidable, and there easier and more efficient alternatives. But there will be a huge need for hydrogen and oxygen to drive the synthesis of hydrocarbons from coal, biomass, and CO2.
It's certainly possible to produce synthetic hydrocarbons without using externally supplied hydrogen and oxygen. But it means burning roughly half of the feedstock to supply the energy needed to convert the other half to synthesis gas. The result is as much extra CO2 from producing the fuel as the fuel will produce when it is burned. Plus only half as much fuel yield from each ton of carbon feedstock compared to the hydrogen-driven process. That becomes vitally important when the feedstock is biomass.
Electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen and oxygen is a perfect way to deal with the intermittency of solar and wind power. So by all means, let's fund research into lowering the cost and raising the efficiency of electrolysis equipment. But the price of oil is already creating a market for synthetic hydrocarbons from coal. What we mostly need, at this point, is legisltation that mandates the use of carbon-free energy to drive the coal-to-liquids process. Creating a large, reliable market for clean, non-fossil energy is the best way to bring its price down quickly.
I personally doubt that we'll ever see the day when hydrogen fueled vehicles will be a significant part of our transportation system. The storage problem is pretty fundamental, and the problems with fuel cell cost and durability are formidable. It's not that there's no possibility of solving them, and I think we should continue supporting research.
Roger Arnold 8.27.06
Oops! That last paragraph was editing artifact. Should have been deleted when I rewrote part of what I had initially said. Wish this site had a "preview" button for comments.
Darshan Goswami 8.29.06
Thank you for your comments. I am also disappointed with your pessimistic view of Hydrogen Economy. The reality is far more different than your negatives views expressed in your comments. Hydrogen is very promising technology because it can be used across the spectrum of energy use – for transportation, portable and stationary applications. The Hydrogen Fuel Cell is not a dream. We have been using Hydrogen fuel cells on board the space shuttle for over 40 years to generate electricity to power life support systems, computers, and produce drinkable water as a by-product. In addition, military and government agencies are already developing hydrogen-fueled air, sea, and land vehicles. Hydrogen powered cars, buses, vans, and scooters are already running on the streets of major U.S., Canadian, and European cities.
I have personally test driven GM’s HydroGen3 fuel cell minivan and Toyota’s FCHV SUV. Honda’s FCX is already available for limited marketing to public in California and Japan. These vehicles are very impressive and energy efficient. Almost every car company has already produced several models of Fuel Cell vehicle for sale/lease. However, due to the lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure these vehicles can not be mass produced to reduce the cost. Government support is urgently needed to jump-start the Hydrogen Economy by provide funding and tax incentives to support development of a hydrogen refueling/distribution infrastructure nationwide. Additional Government help is also needed to overcome technical challenges associated with the development of hydrogen infrastructure on a large scale including the lack of domestic and international regulations and standards for hydrogen production, distribution, storage, and fueling.
The Federal Government already has a roadmap to achieve the Hydrogen Economy vision in the next 20 to 40 years. I have proposed a bold new strategic plan for commercialization within the next 10 years for a true energy security for America.
The purpose of writing this paper is to encourage Congress and the Administration to provide needed funding to kick start the infrastructure for advancing the Hydrogen Economy. In addition, my goal is to create awareness among scientist, industries, utilities, universities, research organizations, government, politicians, and general public (for acceptance of this new technology) that the energy independence is well with in our reach. This paper has outlined how these challenges can be addressed and how this transition can be used to eliminate America’s addiction to oil.
Roger, I have a huge volume of information on the latest developments on Fuel cells and Hydrogen Economy. In case you need more updated information, please send me an email using “Email This Author.” I will be pleased to share this information with you. Thanks.
These comments by: Darshan Goswami, author of this article
Todd McKissick 8.29.06
Interesting article on the information provided. Unfortunately, I think it's a little to rosey for me to believe. I would love to see a hydrogen economy take hold. I don't think your suggestions or the administration's road map have the scale of the problem in mind. There are just too many considerations to keep in mind.
Are we supposed to stand by while the government buys everyone an expensive fuel cell to run from government subsidized H2 generation? To speed up the market to the 10 year time frame you offer, that is essentially what will be needed. Here's a few reasons why:
You suggest to increase funding for funded research. In my experience, this produces the slowest advancement possible. Not only is this having politicians choose the technologically best winner (bad idea) but most professional research facilities are in the business of staying solvent, not making breakthroughs. I can site numerous friends and relatives quoting this exact goal for their organizations. I'm not saying that the individual researcher can't make progress, but continued funding is the larger concern of the overall organization. Take this one to the bank.
Forcing a technology to market before its time is bad in two fundamental ways. The price gets masked early on which makes it harder to compete when the subsidies go away. It also artificially negates any competing technologies that might have become commercially viable. The only way to overcome the magnitude of the problem is with a mix of solutions. I personally don't see a single one we know about now that won't be part of the solution. (Although the one about capturing car-generated wind in a tunnel seems less than promising to me.)
No government agency can offer the innovation available from the collective public. Grants for research should not be given to the GMs and GEs of the world that can afford their own research, they should be given to Joe down the street who's made his pickup truck run from peanuts. These are the creative minds that need assistance getting to market. Our current grant offerings all require the applicant to have substantial monitary input which is wrong and they also don't allow for unsolicited ideas. I know of 3-4 very promising technologies from the very readers of this forum who cannot obtain grants.
I have yet to see either a working scenerio or forcasted one where H2 is a winner in all the following comparisons along it's full well-to-wheel path. It must be economicly acceptable, its emissions must be vastly less and it must use increasingly less finite natural resources. Remember, to be fully adopted, it must win in all 3 categories. I can easily see how running electrolysis from a wind turbine can create H2 cheaply, but that hasn't powered any cars in L.A. yet.
So while a hydrogen economy is a nice thought, pushing it too fast would be very bad. After all... no mention has even been made to potentially the cheapest method of generating it (concentrated solar thermochemical).
As to your stated goal of "Creat[ing] awareness among scientists, ...", believe me, they are aware. The last thing we need is another governmental agency created to offer information on other places to find information. I think these agencies are already self propagating with the sole function of linking to each other!
If you would like a list of specific provable examples of any of the above info, feel free to E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to supply it.
Roger Arnold 8.30.06
Actually, I'm a raving optimist about the hydrogen economy, in comparison to some prominent hydrogen critics. Ulf Bossel, for example, founder and organizer of the annual European Fuel Cell Forum held in Lucerne, Switzerland. He's quite adamant that the hydrogen economy is a delusion, and that there is no future in low temperature hydrogen fuel cells. He's refocusing the forum on other types of fuel cells--direct carbon, direct methanol, and high temperature SOFC and molten carbonate cells that can be fueled by hydrocarbons.
I personally find Bossel's staunchly anti-hydrogen bias unjustified--just as I find the staunchly pro-hydrogen bias of others. As an environmentalist and a peace activist, I care very much about the goals of slashing CO2 and curbing our dependence on foreign oil. As an engineer, however, the only thing I care about is what path will get us to those goals most expeditiously. Having an ideologically-based commitment for or against a particular technical approach just strikes me as silly.
My "pessimism" about hydrogen as a transportation fuel is not based on any conviction that it can't be made to work. Clearly it can. But it would take some unlikely breakthroughs to make it a very good solution, in comparison to alternatives. Battery technology is now advancing rapidly, and plug-in hybrid vehicles look set to become a much quicker and more economical route to major savings in oil consumption.
My disappointment with your article, however, isn't that you're an enthusiastic supporter of the hydrogen economy. There's nothing wrong with that. I like to read positions that differ from my own. It can be stimulating and educational. And, to your credit, you gave plenty of references that will help many readers learn more about the subject. My gripe is that there were too few specifics in the program you advocated.
Todd McKissick makes some very good points above. Funded research programs and ill-advised subsidies do not just waste money and resources, they can actively poison the chances for effective solutions to the problems they're nominally trying to address. Exhibit A: NASA and the manned space program.
I'm not unconditionally opposed to funded research and government incentive programs. When they're well designed by people who understand the technology and business landscapes, they can do much good. But the devil is in the details. Specifics matter, and your article (IMHO) fell short on that score.
Chris Neil 8.31.06
The key question is how much is hydrogen going to cost? For hydrogen, what is the equivalent price to gallon of gasoline? It seems like if you are spending a $100 billion on this “Manhatten Project” for hydrogen and using electricity to make the hydrogen, then the hydrogen is going to be really expensive. Just eye-balling it, I can’t see hydrogen costing less than $5 to $10 per gallon equivalent of gasoline.
An alternative to hydrogen is the plug-in hybrid vehicle. The plug-in folks point out that the hydrogen approach is to take electricity, make it into hydrogen, make the hydrogen into electricity in a fuel cell, and then power the car. Why not just put the electricity in the car (in a battery)? The infrastructure already exists for plug-in hybrid vehicles – it’s called the electric system.
The better approach would seem to be to take the $1.72 billion slated for hydrogen development and spend it on development and implementation of plug-in hybrid vehicles. Then the entire $100 billion for the hydrogen “Manhatten Project” could be avoided. Plug-in vehicles have all of the benefits cited in the article for hydrogen, reducing American’s addiction to oil, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and improving the economy and employment.
By-the-way, there has also been talk of developing a coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids industry in the U.S. to displace imported oil. The massive expense of this effort can also be avoided by plug-in hybrid vehicles. Coal-fired generation coupled to plug-in hybrid vehicles is a coal-to-liquids technology.
Chris Neil 8.31.06
I apologize for getting your name wrong.
Gordon Combs 8.31.06
Are you kidding? Do you really think that we are ever going to convince Joe Q. Public (who has only seen that film of the Hindenburg going down in flames about a zillion times) that it is "safe" to start selling hydrogen at all our corner gas stations? Take it from someone who has spent the past thirty-plus years dealing with the public (an increasing number of whom can NOT do the math): You can throw all your facts and technical arguments away, because perception is the real driving force here. Personally, I'm not holding my breath (or selling my oil company stocks, either).
Richard McCann 8.31.06
The crux of the problem in task items 6, 7 and 12. None of these are givens, AND they may not be solvable, either for technical or resource limitation reasons. For exampl,e I'm not sure that we could displace the entire transportation fleet's energy use through feasible renewable energy plant investment. I would rather see commentary that focuses on these three points rather than a broader plan that essentially says, "throw money at the problem."
Daniel Noren 8.31.06
It would be nice to read an article that discusses specific energy problems facing our world (e.g., fossil fuel dependency, global warming, pollution, geo-political concerns, etc.) and compares potential solutions to those problems using economic, engineering, and environmental data from a well-to-wheels perspective. I’m getting tired of all the rhetoric about the Hydrogen Economy that usually boils down to a passionate hand-waving plea for support. It’s getting hard not to view this concept as a fashionable solution searching for a problem. I admire Darshan’s passion on the subject, but there are too many gaps in his analysis to justify any action.
My primary questions/concerns are:
1) Where does the electricity come from to produce hydrogen from water? Since only a very small fraction of the world’s electricity currently comes from renewable sources, is it realistic to assume we can replace all the existing fossil fuel power plants with new renewable plants? And how many additional power plants are required to supply the transportation sector? Without answering these questions, a large scale hydrogen economy doesn’t appear to solve any real problems and will likely make the existing problems of fossil fuel dependency and global warming worse.
2) I can see how the hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle is a potential solution to our oil dependency, but how does it compare to the bio-fueled hybrid (or plug-in hybrid) vehicle?
3) I’m an advocate for fuel cells for stationary power. My doctoral research has been on using SOFC for distributed tri-generation applications and it appears this technology will be competitive in the near future. A major problem I have with many of the Hydrogen Economy advocates is their implied linking of the fuel cell and hydrogen as a fuel. The Hydrogen Economy may depend to some degree on fuel cell technology, but fuel cells DO NOT depend on the Hydrogen Economy. I would hate to see fuel cells get a bad public opinion if and when the hydrogen hype fizzles out.
Ron Rebenitsch 8.31.06
I'm currently developing a small 175 kW project to convert wind energy to hydrogen and would offer some observations based on our experience thus far...
1) Current technology rquires about 1 kG of hydrogen, compressed to 5,000 to 6,000 psi, which is needed to bring the volume to a manageable level. The energy in 1 kG is roughly equal to the energy in 1 gallon of gasoline. 2) The Great Plains has numerous areas that can produce wind energy at an annual level of 40% capacity factor. That high capacity factor translates into roughly 5 cents/kWh (3 cents/kWh after tax benefits) 3) Combining 1) and 2) above yields an energy input cost of about $1.80 to $3.00 per equivalent gallon of gasoline, depending on whether tax benefits are assumed. That is a reasonable energy cost. 4) The expensive part of this issue is the capital cost of the electrolyzer and storage at high pressure. Our 175 kW electrolyzer will cost about $1.5 Million installed and it will be able to produce 60 kG per day. That translates into a very high "at the pump" cost to cover the capital cost. The good news is that economy of scale is strong (as in most energy technologies). For a 20% increase in cost, our negotiations indicated we could have installed a unit 100% larger. Our unit is small at 175 kW. A 10 MW unit should be able to deliver production at a much lower cost per kg. In fact, DOE cost projections for hydrogen (delivered at a centralized facility, using economy of scale electrolyzers) are in not far from existing pump prices. 5) We found fuel cells for vehicles to be prohibitively expensive, not to mention the fact they are not ready for prime time -- or readily available. However, we were able to convert 3 full-size pickups with "Flex-fuel Engines" to hydogen at a much lower cost. In addtion, they are now "tri-fuel", able to burn hydrogen, gasoline and E85 Ethanol. The consultant who converted these vehicles is projecting fuel mileage with hydrogen to be comparable or better than gasoline only.
Given what I've learned with this project, my conclusion is that we need to focus on storage. Compressing to 6,000 psi is using muscle (and energy), rather than brains. Storage represents the biggest opportunity to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
The Plug-in Hybrid is an excellent place to start, but has limited battery storage. Hydrogen can complement Plug-in's, since internal combustion engines can be readily to converted to hydrogen. When fuel cells become available, they have the potential to double the range of a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion vehicle.
Meanwhile, technology advances in hydrogen storage -- in areas such as nanotechnology or metal hydrides -- are the key to energy independence. If storage is solved, the rest of the infrastructure will fall into place. Put another way... "If you store it, they will come".
Ron Rebenitsch, PE Basin Electric Power Cooperative
Anton Paul 9.1.06
I know the USDOE is actively involved in hydrogen research programs, but does the US Dept of Agriculture have (or planning to have) any R&D programs to support the hydrogen economy.
Anton Paul Science Applications International Corporation
Rod Adams 9.1.06
Thank you for including numbers in your comments. Those allow some frank discussion that is otherwise impossible.
1. Can you provide the additional assumptions underlying your 5 cents per kilowatt hour figure for the cost of generating electricity using wind turbines in the Great Plains? Obviously there is more than capacity factor involved in the equation - how much does a turbine cost per kilowatt capacity, what is the interest rate, what is the assumed lifetime, how much does it cost to maintain the turbine, is the hydrogen production facility located in the middle of the Great Plains, or is there a transmission cost that must be added, etc.
2. What is the scaling factor that you would assume for determining the cost of a 10 MW electrolyzer? Are there any scale diseconomies?
Though many people seem focused on the technically very challenging task of replacing petroleum based fuels in personal transportation, it seems to me that there is a huge opportunity to work on replacing fossil fuel consumption in vehicles like locomotives (where electricity can be provided as the vehicle is operating) and in large ships (where the weight of reactor plant shielding is less than the weight of the fossil fuel that is needed to push the ship for more than a few days.)
Eliminating oil use in those applications would free up a lot of petroleum for personal automobiles.
R. Rejikumar 9.2.06
Darshan, Good analysis and recommendations - but hydrogen economy appears to be 25 years away atleast (if atall it becomes a reality). In the mean time OIL can be effectively substituted only with NUCLEAR POWER, which is commercially proven technology that can produce electricity in abundance; and with rapid progress the hydrids (Prius etal) are making in the recent past, it can significantly reduce oil consumption. Governments and citizens should argue for more nucler power and buy only hybrids.
Len Gould 9.3.06
Agree with R. Rejikumar but modify to "buy only hybrids." to "buy only plug- hybrids, esp. with supercapacitor energy storage."
Ferdinand E. Banks 9.4.06
The expression by R. Rejikumar "can significantly reduce oil consumption" is important. It explains why certain up-market types have suddenly - and surprisingly - come to the conclusion that in reality there is plenty of oil in the crust of the earth, and it is only a matter of time before oil prices collapse. The implication is that since this is the case, you shouldn't spend any extra money buying vehicles that use less fuel. I don't think that it will wash this time however.
As noted by Mr Rejikumar and Len Gould, more nuclear and more hybrids are what we need at present. The question is, will we get what we need, and will we get it in time.
Arvid Hallén 9.4.06
I am afraid I can't share your optimism for the Hydrogen Economy. Not because it is a bad idea, but because there is a better, cheaper, cleaner and more efficient idea: the Electron Economy.
Oil is mainly used for transportation and that is what I am going to concentrate on. The other uses, heating, power generation and industry, can (at least in theory) quite easily be replaced by other energy sources, be they natural gas, electricity from a number of sources, or something else.
But transportation is almost completely reliant on oil. There are a few alternatives like trains and trams, and they are very good alternatives indeed and should be supported.
But if we are interested in continuing driving autos after global oil production peaks, we need an alternative to oil that can be used to fuel our cars.
Hydrogen is such an alternative. But there is a better alternative. First plug-in electric hybrids and later "pure" electric cars.
Why are electric cars better than hydrogen cars?
1. They are cheaper.
2. The vital technology, the batteries, are developing at a much faster rate than hydrogen fuel cells are developing. See for example http://www.a123systems.com/html/home.html
3. Due to the fewer and more efficient energy conversions involved, electric cars are _at least_ twice as energy efficient as hydrogen cars. This means that electric cars will always be cheaper to own than hydrogen cars, except if the capital cost of hydrogen cars were much lower than those of electric cars. In reality the opposite is true and the capital cost gap is widening.
4. For hydrogen to become a relevant fuel a vast hydrogen infastructure must be created, at an astronomic cost. And there is also a hen-or-egg problem here. Who would invest in pumps and pipelines if there are no hydrogen cars, and who would buy a hydrogen car if there were no fuel for it?
For electric cars, the transmission system already exist and it's called the grid (though it might need be a bit strengthened due to increaed power demand). A very rough back of the envelope calculaltion shows that electrifying all vehicle transportation in an industrialized country would require something like 10-50 % more power. Hydrogen would require at least twice as much new power.
5. Hydrogen vehicles do not exist on the market. Electric vehicles already exist, unsubsidized, on the market. I know this as I happen to own one. http://www.e-max-scooter.com/en/produkte-e-max.php
For those with fatter wallets there are other alternatives, like the widely published Tesla Roadster. http://www.teslamotors.com/index.php?js_enabled=1
----------------- By the way, it's fun to see that Rod Adams also writes here. I use the name "Starvid" on his blog. And it's also fun to see that I happen to live in the same city as Prof. Banks.
doug korthof 9.4.06
This confusing -- and confused -- article is disappointing not just in the unexamined assumptions, but in its own internal contradictions.
The author blandly, in the same paragraph, contradicts himself:
"...Hydrogen (hydrogen is an energy carrier not an energy source) will play a significant role for meeting our future energy needs...the world is already moving toward acceptance of hydrogen as a viable alternative source of energy..."
Hydrogen must be manufactured, so it's not a "source" of energy, but the author equivocates and relies on Hydrogen as a "source of energy".
It's easy to sling terms such as "renewable energy" around, but the only proven non-gasoline automobile transportation is battery electric vehicles charged by plugging-in to off-peak electric power paid for by on-peak solar PV generation.
There are hundreds of us doing this "PV-EV" lifestyle right now; the only fact stopping more people adopting PV-EV is that bureaucrats allowed the auto and oil industries to kill the Electric plug-in car program, and crush almost all the Electric cars. There are only a few hundred highly valued Toyota RAV4-EV on the road, and they are all in use, largely to allow their drivers to go oil-free.
The author shoud perhaps study existing facts before calling for a push to Hydrogen.
The problem is not that PV-EV is unavailable; the problem is not that the people aren't ready. The problem IS that the auto and oil industry took away the EV in "PV-EV". The program that's needed is forcing the oil industry to disgorge the patent rights to the NiMH batteries, and the auto industry to sell an EV on the free market.
Glenn Andersen 9.5.06
Hydrogen sounds like it can be done, someday. But what can be done today! Another point of view, realising that I do not have a monopoly on truth and understanding, but just a point of view:
What are some other things that could be done in the renewable energy field with the $100 billion mentioned in the article?
A 1MW wind turbine has an installed price tag of roughly $1 million. For $100 billion one could theoretically buy and install 100,000 1MW wind turbines, with enough electrical generating capacity for about 30 million homes. (If one uses the figure of 300 homes supplied with electricity for one 1MW wind turbine)
If one accepts the logic of this argument, then it is not hard to see how the U.S. could stop using coal, oil, and nuclear for electrical generation in less than a generation. New technologies may make the job easier, but existing technologies look they can be used to get the job done now. If the human race waits too long, new technologies may be useless.
Dennis Moran 9.5.06
I will become a believer in the hydrogen economy as soon as I see the first successful hydrogen well drilled. Until then, I wish the hydrogen supports would stop deluding the country into thinking hydrogen is some type of solution. It is an ENERGY CARRIER, not and ENERGY SOURCE. Unfortunately it also is a massive black hole for tax dollars that could be spent on far more useful R&D addressing the energy supply problems we face. Dennis Moran
Darshan Goswami 9.5.06
I have received numerous emails regarding the safe production, transportation and utilization of Hydrogen. Attached is a brief response to these questions. Thank you for asking this important question:
Hydrogen can be produced from varieties of resources. Initially hydrogen can be extracted from diverse domestic sources including natural gas, solid fossil fuels, nuclear power or biomass, and renewable resources (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, bio-fuels, etc). The ultimate goal should be to produce hydrogen from renewable resources.
Researchers are developing a wide range of technologies that include reforming of natural gas or liquid renewable, electrolysis using renewable, nuclear or thermo chemical energy, gasification, and microbial metabolic processes to produce hydrogen economically from a variety of resource. Hydrogen may be produced at large-scale central locations and then transported to multiple end use destinations. Alternatively, it can be produced on-site at small-scale decentralized locations closer to the point of use.
To date most hydrogen is produced from natural gas and is used immediately, generally at the same site it is produced, because hydrogen storage and transport is expensive. The total worldwide hydrogen production, using primarily natural gas, is estimated to be around 40 million tons per year. This is equivalent to 1/9th of the world gasoline consumption or 34.6 billion gallons of gasoline. Although hydrogen has been produced and utilized for industrial applications for decades, a primary challenge to large-scale hydrogen production for mass market utilization continues to be achieving production costs that are competitive with conventional fuels.
Attaining greater energy security and environmental benefits from hydrogen requires 1) use renewable resources like sunlight and wind to generate electricity that then splits water into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen; 2) or extracts hydrogen from renewable liquid fuels, such as ethanol or bio-diesel. Research on the use of renewable energy in hydrogen production involves improving efficiencies that would allow for large-scale production of hydrogen.
An important advantage to using hydrogen as an energy carrier is that it can be produced at a large centralized location or on-site at small-scale decentralized locations closer to the point of use. On-site production is currently the most viable approach because the demand for hydrogen is low. As demand for hydrogen grows, it can then be economically produced in semi-central (10-50 miles from point of use) and centralized large facilities to take advantage of economies of scale. Research and development efforts are focused on reducing capital, operating and maintenance costs and improving hydrogen production efficiencies of these various technologies.
Currently there are over 100 hydrogen fueling stations operating worldwide. These hydrogen fuel stations look much like modern gas stations, only with fuel dispenser for gaseous or liquid hydrogen instead of a traditional gasoline or diesel hose. The hydrogen is either delivered to the station via truck from a centralized location, like gasoline is delivered from a refinery to gas stations; or is generated on-site through the use of reformers, which produce hydrogen from natural gas or other liquid fuels, or through the use of electrolyzers, which produce hydrogen from water. The hydrogen is stored in tanks that are sited either below-ground like gasoline, or above-ground, like propane gas. A recent experiment comparing a hydrogen fuel cell car experience with that of a traditional car, in terms of daily driving demands, confirmed that refueling a fuel cell car is not much different from refueling traditional cars in that the pumping is similar and the process only takes a few minutes.
These comments by: Darshan Goswami, author of this article
William Griffith 9.5.06
I have not read all of the comments, but some look very good. I too am in the "Electron Economy" camp. Unless electricity were free, it doesn't make sense to convert electricity, particularly from expensive renewable sources, to hydrogen, and back to electricity. I have my doubts whether we can find large scale ways of producing Hydrogen beyond electrolysis (I know there are proposals). As has been pointed out by many, you can go at least 3, if not 4, times further using the electricity directly for transportation. I personally favor the PHEV which effectively yields an electric commuter car and a liquid fueled road car in one. Albeit, this will be at a higher acquisition cost, but still much cheaper than I imagine with Hydrogen. A fraction of the Hydrogen money spent on better battery technology has a higher probability of success than hydrogen. In the mean time we can turn the corner with clean diesel technology with the latest particle traps and NOX treatments.
On the other hand, maybe hydrogen can work better as large scale electrical storage for peak demand at stationary power plants. Here, the efficiencies can be raised and the safety issues are less of a problem.
William I. Griffith, Ph.D.
P.S. for anyone interested in discussing this, call 864-363-0743.
Arvid Hallén 9.5.06
I still don't see how hydrogen in any way would be a better energy carrier than electricity stored in modern batteries.
"Hydrogen can be produced from varieties of resources. Initially hydrogen can be extracted from diverse domestic sources including natural gas, solid fossil fuels, nuclear power or biomass, and renewable resources (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, bio-fuels, etc)."
So can electricity.
"Hydrogen may be produced at large-scale central locations and then transported to multiple end use destinations. Alternatively, it can be produced on-site at small-scale decentralized locations closer to the point of use."
So can electricity.
"An important advantage to using hydrogen as an energy carrier is that it can be produced at a large centralized location or on-site at small-scale decentralized locations closer to the point of use."
So can electricity.
"Currently there are over 100 hydrogen fueling stations operating worldwide. "
Currently there are hundreds of millions of wall sockets able to charge electric vehicles. Constructing high voltage fast charge machines at gasoline stations should be a piece of cake.
I really can't see how hydrogen in any way is better as an energy carrier than electricity in batteries. The only relevant pro for hydrogen is that it is faster to load a tankfull of hydrogen than it is to charge a li-ion battery. But what does this matter when the electric car has a range of 250 miles, like the Telsa Roadster has?
Furthermore, Toshiba and other companies are developing high capacity batteries that are allegedly going to have a charge time of just a few minutes.
Arvid Hallén 9.5.06
Verry sorry, it should be Mr. Goswami, not Mr. Goswani.
Sean Cordry 9.5.06
Hello, Mr. Goswami:
Thanks for your article. As a physicist, I'm pretty up-to-speed on the ideas of energy conversion and the whole "energy carrier" vs. "energy source" debate. And I think that they create large technological obstacles to the wide-spread adoption of hydrogen as a primary energy-storage medium.
Part of me wants to be optimistic about hydrogen, but part of me has a nagging feeling of doubt. Not doubt over the technological or economic feasibility, but doubt over our humanity and our ecology.
If we could (or did) move to a hydrogen-fueled economy, would be swapping one set of promblems for another. Some examples: 1) wind power has been demonstrated to alter region weather patterns--what would be the overall impact of millions of wind-towers around the country? 2) Hydroelectric power reeks havoc with the environment--would we need even more hydroelectric power to generate our hydrogen? 3) The production of ethanol (from any source) requires copious water inputs--this has already been an issue in southern Minnesota, and many places around the world (and the US) are already past their source capacity.
I'm not advocating or endorsing an anti-renewable energy platform; in fact, I support renewable energy wholeheartedly. I also think we need to look at the overall human footprint issue.
The real issue with global warming and energy production is not the nature of the fuel, but the nature of the fueled: we must curb our ambitions and see ourselves as a part of the ecosystem and not as something separate from it. We need a new model for how to run our civilization, our economies. Growth as the metric of progress will lead to disaster in the end--no matter what source of energy is utilized.
-Sean M. Cordry, PhD
Todd McKissick 9.5.06
In a nutshell, any source of energy can be considered as only a carrier and visa-versa. The difference is in how much of the cycle is included in the scope of the question. For example, if you look at hydrogen only from the point of where it exits the fueling station hose, it becomes a source. If one looks at oil and includes the input of the dinosaurs eating vegitation, etc, then it becomes a carrier. The current confusion is simply that we don't have a single scope for all fuels.
As a side note, the only fuel that's a true source (in the scope of Earth's history) is solar. All others can be considered a storage medium. :)
Regarding the issue of which storage medium is better between hydrogen and batteries, they both share lots of benefits, but one primary difference never mentioned is the resources required to manufacture the 'tank'. I can forsee each being possible on the scale we need for our transportation needs. However if AA batteries already cause concern of landfil contamination, what will half a ton of batteries per car do? What natural resources will be required? What chemical processes and wastes are created along the way and how will they be dealt with? On the side of hydrogen, is it possible that a new industry of breaking down water here and transporting it to there will be able to aid our potable water shortage in some way?
Beyond those concerns, for me the H2 vs. battery debate comes down to individual convenience, total system EROEI and overall adoption costs.
Sean Casten 9.5.06
I am deeply in favor of the intent of this article - namely, dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions, greater use of efficiency and (implicitly) drastic changes in the nature of US energy use. For all those reasons, I have to point out that hydrogen is not only flawed, but actually dangerous as a policy idea.
For starters, the storage issue is absolutely paramount. To date, there is neither an energy-efficient way to store hydrogen at the meaningful densities, nor even a theory of whether or not it's possible. Compression to the ~7000 psi needed to give a 300 mile range in a 90 mpg-equivalent fuel cell vehicle uses about 7% of the energy in the hydrogen just to compress (I don't imply that the energy comes from the hydrogen, rather that this 7% loss must be factored into the fuel chain). Liquefaction takes a whopping 30%. By contrast, the current petroleum fuel chain has a well-to-pump fuel chain efficiency of about 80%. So even if you could get the hydrogen for free (e.g., from a fully renewable source), you may still be in a losing game as far as raw energy use.
There are no metal hydrides out there that have the right size/weight characteristics, and the other contenders (sodium borohydrides, carbon nanotubes, etc.) are either far from commercial and/or subject to their own technical constraints. I'm an optimist on technology, and would like to believe that given enough effort, we could like this problem. However, until we do, any fuel chain that relies on hydrogen as an energy carrier would be more efficient withOUT the H2 intermediary. (e.g., there's no reason to convert solar, wind, hydro er even coal power into hydrogen if you then convert the hydrogen back into electricity in the same spot - and vehicular uses don't work without storage.) Thus, if we don't solve this problem, a hydrogen economy would actually consume more raw energy than the current status quo. There is also a good case to be made (made most eloquently by John Heywood at MIT) that even if a hydrogen vehicle fuel chains shows a slight increase in energy/cost relative to the current gas/IC engine - for instance, as from a natural gas fueled hydrogen infrastructure - this goes away if one assumes modest increases in on-board efficiency; from this logic, we get much more bang for our limited bucks by shifting to Priuses than to FCVs - to say nothing of some of the more fuel efficient (but still cheap compared to an FCV) hybrid vehicles now in development.
The reason that all this makes for danger, rather than simply an academic debate is that (a) the scale of investment in a H2 economy is so enormous from an infrasturcture perspective that once we go down that path, it will be politically difficult to "go back" if it turns out our investment was wrong. Therefore, we better make sure that the goal is actually a positive one before siinking big $ in, R&D or otherwise; and (b) without dramatic reductions in the cost of renewable energy, the hands down cheapest way to produce hydrogen is from natural gas, off-peak coal & nuke. Thus, if we encourage hydrogen, we are actually increasing our use of these conventional sources. And if we don't solve the storage problem, we're going to end up using those conventional sources much less efficiently than we are today.
Bottom line is that if I worked for the coal, gas or nuclear industry, I'd be rooting for hydrogen. If I worked for the auto industry, I'd be rooting for hydrogen, if only to get the emissions-compliance monkey off my back. And if I could root for it while cloaking myself in the guise of an environmentalist, all the better. But if the intent is to reduce fossil fuel use and lower emissions (including GHGs) I'd be rooting against it.
So - as someone who cares an awful lot about the economic and environmental consequences of our national energy policy, I'd like to see uss put our collective eggs in more responsible baskets. Let's keep investing in R&D for hydrogen storage - but until that nut is cracked, let's keep our other focuses on efficiency, combined heat and power, biomass (since any future fuel/feed/chemical chain will require carbon) and those other measures that don't have such severely negative consequences.
P M Dekker 9.5.06
I love the intense discussion! Is it that we have our focus on the wrong thing?
How does a different alternative fit in here in this discussion? I was recently introduced to (for me) a new alternative, along the lines of recycling. Has anyone here in this learned community heard about MagneGas? (see www.magnegas.com) I hadn't seen this before last week, and it seems that this gentleman has addressed a lot of issues around transportation fuel generation and conversion of vehicles using existing technology. Is there something wrong in his technology or is it just that he has a poorly formatted site? Please let me know. PM Dekker
Chris Neil 9.5.06
First, Mr. Goshwami suggests a 10-year crash program to develop hydrogen to replace oil. I have the impressions that the oil companies can see 10 years into the future. They have a pretty good idea of where the oil is going to come from for the next 10 years. The oil companies have a good thing going – the last thing they want to happen is to run out of oil. If the oil companies were running out of oil, they would be aggressively exploring ways to keep their companies going. Since that does not seem to be happening, it does not appear to be necessary to implement a 10-year crash program to develop hydrogen. Implementing steps to keep oil going as long as possible does seem appropriate, however.
Next, Ron Rebenitsch above appears to have some very useful numbers for hydrogen costs as well as insight into a hydrogen system. Mr. Rebenitsch indicates that hydrogen can probably be produced for $1.80 to $3.00 per gallon equivalent and my quick check confirms these numbers.
I have long thought that duplicating the pipelines of the oil system would add billions to the cost of hydrogen. Mr. Rebenitsch implicitly says that one way to design a hydrogen distribution system would be to have electric power lines to the service station and an electrolyzer at the station. The only pipes would be from the electrolyzer to the pump on the station. In short, the hydrogen distribution system might not be a problem or a massive cost.
The power demand for generating hydrogen would be significant. At 10 MW per service station, this would be a huge electric load. One million hydrogen powered cars would require about 3,500 MW of generating capacity, which is about three nuclear plants (at 90% capacity factor) or all of the country’s existing wind generating capacity of 10,000 MW (at 35% capacity factor). This assumes Mr. Rebenitsch’s 60 kg of hydrogen per day for 175 kW at 100% load factor, 12,000 miles per year per car and 27.5 mpg. If the storage issue can be resolved, power generation is not a show stopper but is an important consideration.
Arvid Hallén 9.5.06
"If the oil companies were running out of oil, they would be aggressively exploring ways to keep their companies going. Since that does not seem to be happening, it does not appear to be necessary to implement a 10-year crash program to develop hydrogen."
The oil companies are exploring as aggresively as possible, but there are no oil provinces left to exploit. Offshore in the Gulf of Mexico is being exploited and so is offshore Western Africa. There might be some oil in eastern Greenland and in northern Siberia and in the Antarctic, but exploration and exploitation cost will be immense, not counting all the political problems.
The few places left where production can be expanded is either under control of national oil companies (mainly in the Persian Gulf region) who of course want to husband their reserves to maximise long term profits, or in Iraq.
Raymond Kenard 9.5.06
The transition to the hydrogen transportation economy in the US is predicated on the FreedomCAR program which is a $1.2 billion exercise to demonstrate by 2015 that a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is commercially possible. The US DOE has been unwilling to consider hydrogen fueled internal combustion engine vehicles as they feel it is more important to spend the money on developing the fuel cell vehicle for service after 2015.
Many of the questions being asked about the hydrogen transportation economy are already answered in Europe which has had many years of experience already and which is rapidly advancing to the level of a commercial operation.
MAN, the German bus manufacturer, started developing the hydrogen fueled internal combustion engine (HICE) in 1996. As early as 2001 the Munich Airport has had a hydrogen infrastructure and five hydrogen fueled buses from MAN. Three buses were hydrogen fueled internal combustion engine (HICE) vehicles and two were fuel cell vehicles. The buses have driven over 500,000 kilometers already.
Nine cities in Europe have had more than three years experience each with three fuel cell buses. The Berlin transit authority (BVG) also had 14 MAN HICE buses. Recently BVG announced they would purchase 250 MAN HICE buses representing 20% of their fleet. The Rotterdam transit company has also announced that they would become the largest hydrogen fueled public transit company in the world and have recently purchased MAN HICE buses. MAN has expressed the intent of building mass production facilities.
BVG announced that the decision in favor of the HICE bus reflected the fact that the initial cost was lower, the maintenance was less, the reliability was greater and a less pure hydrogen was required for the HICE vehicle than for the fuel cell vehicle.
Quantum Technologies has recently sold to Norway 15 hydrogen-modified Prius vehicles and expects orders in the next two years for 200 to 300 hydrogen fueled Prius vehicles in Europe. The United Nations Development Program includes hydrogen fueled transit vehicles in six cities. Beijing recently put three buses in service and Shanghai will be putting three buses in service in December. Eight hydrogen-modified GM Silverado pickup trucks have been sold to Vancouver. There are 115 fueling stations in operation and 57 more being built in various countries.
In the United States Quantum has sold 34 hydrogen-modified Prius in California and two to my company, American Wind Power and Hydrogen, for a project at the SUNY campus in Buffalo.
My first effort was to propose a study to the U. S. Army Material Command for a hydrogen infrastructure and the conversion of a fleet of 20 ICE vehicles to hydrogen fuel which would be refueled at a dedicated fueling station at West Point. The study was done but West Point decided not to go forward with the project.
I tried to get the DOE interested in HICE vehicles but they were fully committed to fuel cell vehicles and the 2015 project and didn’t even want to talk about HICE vehicles. The New York Power Authority became interested and eventually my company was awarded a hydrogen technology demonstration contract for $500,000. We have supplied two Prius vehicles modified by Quantum Technologies to use hydrogen as the fuel and a small fueling station and cylinders of hydrogen gas. We located the vehicle at the State University of New York campus in Buffalo because of the proximity to Niagara Falls. We expected that the Niagara Falls’ hydroelectricity would be used to generate hydrogen in an electrolysis facility eventually.
We now have available as hydrogen modified ICE vehicles the GM Silverado pickup truck and next year will have a Ford Escape hybrid SUV and are preparing proposal to New York State for dedicated fueling stations in various cities that would fuel fleets of HICE vehicles. One of the State agencies is considering an electrolysis facility at Niagara Falls.
Todd McKissack’s comments that it is a bad idea to have politician choose the technology and force the technology to market as it negates any competing technologies is demonstrated by my experience.
The major consumers of carbonaceous fuels, and contributors to global warming emissions, are trucks and buses in vehicle fleets that are fueled at dedicated fueling stations. A small portion of the funds being spent on improving fuel cell technology by 2015, if spent on HICE trucks and buses, as is being done in Europe, could make a major impact on today’s problems.
Troy Helming 9.5.06
Good comments. For those who would like more TECHNICAL data on economic costs to produce large quanties of hydrogen from wind energy and/or costs of producing H2 using small distributed renewable resource facilities, feel free to download a free White Paper of the Freedom Plan (chapter 6 of The Clean Power Revolution) on www.cleanpowerrevolution.com. Or go directly to the page where the white paper is located: http://www.troyhelming.com/freedom_plansm.htm
Using reasonable assumptions and today's Midwest wind resource potential and today's wind energy costs (also listed in my book in Chapter 4 in detail), we can produce H2 at less than $1.00 per KG. Transportation costs are included in the Freedom Plan to get that H2 to population centers to be used in stationary fuel cells and H2 ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles near term. Or call me to discuss further if you wish at 913.888.0500 x102.
By the way, the Freedom Plan would save the U.S. economy about $20 Trillion by 2025 if it were implemented in 10 years beginning now...
Roger Arnold 9.6.06
Such a fine smorgasborg of comments!
I like Sean Cordry's comment about the issue being "not the nature of the fuel, but the nature of the fueled." I agree with the sentiment.
I also agree with Sean Casten's comments about the central importance and critical nature of the hydrogen storage problem. Short of cryogenic liquefaction—which has its own intractable problems—the best of the direct hydrogen storage approaches available for mobile applications has a working mass efficiency of only 4%. (I.e., there are 25 kilos of storage system for every kilo of stored hydrogen delivered.) That renders hydrogen fuel cell systems little if any better than lithium-ion batteries in terms of mass per kilowatt-hour. Fast refueling is then the only major advantage that hydrogen can offer over batteries.
Even that advantage is lost if one considers battery system designs that spit out depleted battery modules at a refueling station and swallow freshly charged modules. It’s actually quite easy to include a microchip in each battery module that monitors its charge state and health, so that users can be credited if the depleted battery modules they are exchanging are only partially depleted, or are newer with longer lifetimes ahead of them than the modules they are loading up with. The design of the battery module system and of a suitable battery swapping robot is a straightforward mechanical engineering exercise.
Hydrogen really “wants” to be a gas. None of the fancier storage approaches tried to date seems to work significantly better than just cramming the compressed gas into a very strong, pressure vessel. Research continues—as it should—but it looks like the only way to do much better is to bind the hydrogen chemically. Ideally, the bound product will be a liquid, for easy handling. The best candidate to supply the binding force looks to be the carbon atom…
Oops! We know about that solution, don’t we? Depending on the average length of the carbon chains, the resulting liquid carrier is called gasoline, diesel fuel, or kerosene.
Finally, I'd like to thank Troy Helming for the links and the specific information. Without yet having reviewed his material in any depth, I have to note that an estimate of $1.00 per kilogram for hydrogen produced by electrolysis (regardless of the source of electricity) seems extremely optimistic. A fairly recent estimate by a group at the EERE estimated more like $4.50 per kilogram, from electricity at the 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour available for industrial base load. A good portion of that cost was in the capital cost of the electrolysis equipment. The study was based on what was commercially available in 2004. So there's certainly room for improvement. But to get from $4.50 to only $1.00 per kilogram seems quite a stretch.
Perhaps I'll change my mind after studying his white paper. If so, I'll repost.
Andrew Gill 9.6.06
I don't see how a Hydrogen Economy can reduce CO2 emissions. Even if fossil fuel is not used for road transport or home heating, it is STILL extracted from the ground at exactly the same rate, because it is still so economically valuable compared with hydrogen.
Do you mean that, if US voters drove hydrogen-powered cars, then the US president would have the political freedom to bomb Arab oil-wells and Chinese coal-pits into a non-productive state? What other technique would stop these obsenely rich dictators from maintaining their luxurious and powerful lives by operating their wells and mines?
Sean Casten 9.6.06
Andrew makes a good point - which is why any intelligent energy policy has to start with more emphasis on energy efficiency. Every other policy either asks us to compromise our standard of living (e.g., "wear a sweater, don't turn up the thermostat") or else embrace fuel switching and hope that markets don't notice - which creates the problems Andrew brings up. EE is not incompatible with hydrogen, solar, coal or any other strategy but it ought to be the beginning of the policy, not a band-aid on the back end as it currently sits. And do keep in mind that EE cannot be limited just to better appliances and fuel economy standards. 1/3 of our energy use is in power generation, where current regulatory models provide no real incentives for efficiency, as evidenced by the 30+ year flat-line in efficiency growth. Fix that regulatory problem and lots of other issues become much easier. But focusing on hydrogen (or any other fuel switch, for that matter) is a canard that diverts attention and resources from more viable alternatives.
Len Gould 9.6.06
Cost of development of the hydrogen infrastructure, at least at the production level, should be left to the oil companies for now. As the standard available crude's get heavier, more hydrogen is needed for upgrading in the refineries. (eg. see oilsands projects, hydrocracking etc.) Any government money invested in hydrogen generation now is just a direct subsidy to oil refiners, which is probably why it is so popular with politicians.
Todd McKissick 9.7.06
Raymond - Thanks for all the information. It's very interesting to see outside our box (the US) and learn what others are doing. Do you have any numbers on those costs, efficiencies or how big of a market those can support and how fast?
Roger - If you want to up the efficiency of a HICE and recoup some of the liquifaction energy losses, you should consider the Stirling engine (external combustion engine). It's cold side could really make use of the heat sink of liquid H2 & O2. (Unfortunately, I can't offer you working results just yet since my engineering team has let the political games undermine motivation.) In addition to the thermal storage and the chemical storage capacities of compressed LH2, there's also the potential energy available in the pressure. I think there's still a fair amount of creative thinking that has yet to become public when it comes to storing it in compressed form.
Troy - I'm impressed at the detail given in your referenced white paper. It ventures outside the accepted mantra but maintains a level of reality. I'm not quite sure it would be successful tho because only the government could pull off a program of that scale and we know they won't. I am disappointed to find that you so greatly favor wind over solar. If you're only considering solar PV, I can understand your point, but there's no denying that a private endeavor of solar thermal would easily compete with wind in cost, reliability and storage economics. Full residential electrical and heating needs can be met without the need for hydrogen at all, or the hydrogen could back up the heat storage used by the electricity generator. I see this as much easier to adopt by the public than a complete 'final' system with fuel cells and electrolizers and PHEV/BEV autos. Since it would be market driven also, the market alone would set the growth of that industry, not the influencial people.
Andrew - As Troy's cost analysis shows, the cost of consumer energy can be beat. This is the simplest and fastest way to move a vast number of people off oil. Granted that for a long period of time, this will only reduce the cost of oil to India & China, but at some point, the demand will eventually ease. When demand is being met and profitability begins to drop significantly, we'll see some change. This is the point we have to get to before the mines and wells begin to close.
Len - Not only that, but they will be increasing H2 demand right up to the point that we run out of oil and don't need the H2 for refineries anymore. All the more for other uses.
Joseph Somsel 9.7.06
Electrolysis is a huge energy waste and degrades the high energy quality of electricity. One throws away more than half the input making oxygen (some of that from internal process inefficiencies). As a co-product, O2 will be near worthless in a major hydrogen economy based on electrolysis as O2 swamps the market.
Direct generation of hydrogen by nuclear reactors driving a thermal decomposition of water looks very feasible although a developmental challenge - 900 deg C process temperatures are required. Once free hydrogen is available, distribution and consumption options abound. One is direct combustion of hydrogen gas; another is production of liquid hydrocarbons by reaction with coal.
I agree that a major effort for hydrogen power is needed but the focus must be first and foremost on nuclear production. Once we have confidence that uranium can efficently produce hydrogen in quantity, then we can decide on how we wish to exploit it. "Renewables" are, as usual, pipe dreams.
Like money, making energy is the hard part while spending it is easy.