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A new day is dawning for a revolutionary way to generate electric power from renewable energy sources. Visualize a future where the electrical power needed to run your computer, television, VCR and DVD is generated from a small appliance (about the size of a dishwasher) located in your home. Imagine that you will probably never experience a power outage. Envision generating electricity without combustion, and producing heat and pure drinking water as by-products. Picture a world powered almost entirely by an infinitely abundant and totally clean fuel. Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, is that fuel. It can be produced from tap water and used to generate power for homes, industry and cars. Imagine a world energy economy based on hydrogen, and a society transformed by the hydrogen revolution.
Imagine being able to drive your car more than 5,000 miles between fill-ups. In the new Hydrogen Economy, your car could become a “power station on wheels” producing about 20 to 40 kilowatts of electricity. Imagine that, while you are at work and your car is in the parking lot, it could be making money for you by supplying energy to the power grid during peak hours when demand for electricity is greatest. While in your garage the same fuel cells in the car could supply power for your home. This affords an ideal opportunity for car owners to become their own energy suppliers, and sell the excess power generated by the car’s fuel cells while it is parked. Automobile, oil, utility, and other major companies are spending billions to make this dream come true.
The Hydrogen Economy is the term used to mark the shift from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas to hydrogen. It represents a vision of an unlimited source of fuel that would be used to generate energy without releasing carbon and other pollutants. This pollution-free Hydrogen Economy is just over the horizon.
In the new age of hydrogen, each individual could become the producer as well as the consumer of energy. Hydrogen has the potential to do for the energy revolution what the computer, telecommunications and the Internet have done for the information revolution. As fossil fuels are depleted and become more expensive to extract and burn, new technological breakthroughs will bring down the cost of using hydrogen in fuel cells. We are moving closer to a day when the Hydrogen Economy will become a reality.
Looking into the future, a full-fledged Hydrogen Economy will power everything from laptop computers to cars. Ultimately, 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. In a Hydrogen Economy utility companies could become obsolete.
WHERE DOES HYDROGEN COME FROM?
Hydrogen (H2) can be produced through a thermal, electrolytic, or photolytic process from fossil fuels, renewable biomass, or water. Renewable and nuclear systems can produce hydrogen from water using a thermal or electrolytic process. The most common method today is the thermal process in which steam is used to produce hydrogen from natural gas or other hydrocarbons. Hydrogen can be stored as a liquid, gas, or as a chemical compound, and later converted into energy.
Hydrogen is “a renewable, versatile, simple, sustainable domestic energy” and the most abundant element on earth. It has the highest energy content per unit of weight (52,000 BTU per pound) than any known fuel, making it an extremely efficient source of energy. Unlike oil or coal however, hydrogen does not exist in a readily consumable form. It is combined with water (H2O), methane (CH4), natural gas, coal, biomass, biogas, or other petroleum products; and must be separated from these other elements.
Today, most of the hydrogen produced commercially is extracted from natural gas and methane. In the future renewable energy resources – wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, biomass, and biogas will be used to produce hydrogen and generate electricity. Some of the generated electric power could be diverted to electrolyze water, producing more hydrogen to power fuel cells, which in turn, could generate more electricity in a virtually endless process. Hydrogen is now being pursued as a safe, clean, energy-efficient, reliable, and “forever fuel of the future.”
WHAT IS A HYDROGEN ECONOMY?
The Hydrogen Economy is an innovative new technology and a vision that offers great promise. It is an economy in which fuel for transportation, home heating, cooking, electricity, and production of goods and services comes directly from the sun, the wind, biomass and biogas. It consists of an economic system in which energy is supplied by renewable resources, and in which hydrogen is the medium used to produce, store, and deliver energy economically and efficiently.
The Hydrogen Economy is increasingly becoming reality. You are experiencing it everyday. For example, nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries are used in billions of consumer products such as laptops, cell phones, and other portable electronic devices. The hydride in these batteries stores hydrogen. They are maintenance free, disposable, and can be recycled. The Hydrogen Economy has already started, and the applications of hydrogen as a major energy source are about to expand exponentially.
Hydrogen has the potential to solve the world’s energy problems. Most scientists agree that hydrogen could play an increasingly important role in the world’s future. The complete evolution to a Hydrogen Economy could take several decades. The U.S. Department of Energy has initiated a “National Vision of America’s Transition to a Hydrogen Economy.” 16HOW DOES THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY WORK?
Today, we have a “hydrocarbon economy” but the transition toward a “Hydrogen Economy” has already begun. For a complete transition to an all “Hydrogen Economy” additional technology must be developed to produce hydrogen from water, and deliver it to consumers in a safe, cost-effective and convenient manner. In the near future we will have weaned ourselves from carbon and live in a “Hydrogen Economy” powered by hydrogen energy from renewable resources. In fact, consumers will have access to hydrogen energy as readily as they now access petroleum, natural gas, and electric power.
All fuel cells use some form of hydrogen to generate power that is clean, quiet, and efficient. A fuel cell is like an electrochemical engine (but with no moving parts) that harnesses the energy released when hydrogen and oxygen combine. A fuel cell operates very much like a rechargeable battery. An electrochemical reaction converts chemical energy into electricity and thermal energy, and continue to do so as long as fuel is provided. The chemical energy normally comes from hydrogen contained in various types of fuel. A fuel cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. As hydrogen circulates in the anode (positive electrode) of the cell, oxygen or air is passed into the cathode (negative electrode). A catalyst causes the hydrogen to split into protons and electrons. The flow of electrons creates a current, which is the source of electricity generated by the cell. At the cathode, the electrons, protons, and oxygen recombine producing water and heat.
Some cities, such as Chicago and Vancouver, already have buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Ford, GM, Honda, BMW and Daimler-Chrysler have prototype cars powered by hydrogen. Toyota sells a fuel cell car in Japan. Ford chairman William Clay Ford Jr. has declared that fuel cells will “finally end the 100-year reign of the internal-combustion engine.” 17
The first mass-produced fuel cell powered vehicles are expected to be on the road in just a few years. These and similar efforts are leading the world toward the “Hydrogen Economy.” Over the next several decades we will begin to see an amazing shift away from the fossil fuel economy toward a much cleaner Hydrogen Economy.
ADVANTAGES OF THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY
The present fossil fuel economy has created significant environmental problems worldwide. The Hydrogen Economy promises to eliminate these problems. Advantages of the Hydrogen Economy include greater fuel efficiency, elimination of pollution caused by fossil fuels, elimination of greenhouse gases, and elimination of dependence on Middle East oil reserves.
Hydrogen has all the potential of being the perfect fuel that will have very positive impacts on the world’s economy and infrastructure. Specifically, the Hydrogen Economy may be even 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.
Fuel cells are considered the “microchip of the hydrogen age,” the key to abundant energy from secure, renewable resources. Fuel cell emits neither noise nor pollution, so they can be placed close to consumers without violating local noise and pollution ordinances. In addition, there is no danger of running out of hydrogen because it is the most abundant element in the universe. The Hydrogen Economy could dramatically cut down on carbon dioxide emissions and thus global warming.
The Hydrogen Economy could produce total decentralization of the global energy market controlled by giant oil companies and utilities, 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. The next decade will present tremendous opportunities for “Distributed Generation” to become a major alternative source of supply for the electric power grid.
CHALLENGES FACING THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY
The Hydrogen Economic revolution must overcome major challenges in regard to the safe production, storage and transportation of hydrogen. New sensor technology must also be developed. The greatest challenge is to bring the cost down enough to compete with the energy presently supplied from the power grid. Safe production of hydrogen is the first step toward a future "shift to a pure Hydrogen Economy." To achieve significant progress toward the Hydrogen Economy, and to achieve national energy security and independence, Federal and State governments must develop and implement favorable policies to make hydrogen energy a top priority.
To be successful, the Hydrogen Economy vision will require strong government-private partnerships on hydrogen energy development. For example, Federal and State governments could become the first customers of the Hydrogen Economy. Government subsidies and tax incentives could be used to encourage mass production and expedite marketing of fuel cells, thus putting the Hydrogen Economy on a fast track.
A “World Hydrogen Energy Roadmap” 16 has been developed to address hydrogen production, delivery and transportation, storage, conversion, public-private partnerships, research, codes and standards, testing, public education, and end use products. The U.S government has been a major force in the progress of fuel cell development and major shift toward the Hydrogen Economy. Today, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Commerce and Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency are all aggressively supporting the development of fuel cells. The promise of fuel cells becoming the automotive and "distributed generation" method of choice will not take off until hydrogen production is put on the forefront. However, to get the Hydrogen Economy on a fast track would require a concerted effort (similar to a “Manhattan Project”) by industry, government, and local communities.
THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY FUTURE
Hydrogen has the potential to do for the energy revolution what the computer, telecommunications and the Internet have done for the information revolution. "The information revolution and the coming energy revolution are similar in that we are using human ingenuity to replace energy and raw materials," according to Joseph J. Romm, Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the US Department of Energy. Romm says, “We can use information technology to avoid travel and transportation, and we can use energy technology to reduce energy consumption, pollution, and our use of natural resources. Both revolutions represent a fundamental transition to a world in which we are not resource constrained, yet we have a higher standard of living." 18
Fuel cells are a “critical technology” that 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.
Eventually, hydrogen can overtake fossil fuels for most end-use energy market applications. Economical and environmental friendly methods must be developed for extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels, biomass, and water. The ultimate goal is to use the renewable energy of the sun to split water into its basic components of oxygen and hydrogen. Once separated, hydrogen becomes a storable fuel for operating fuel cells that provide electricity and power vehicles.
The future looks bright for the Hydrogen Economy. To move forward a national strategy must be developed. The next big challenge is to develop business models that enable distributed generators to deliver real value to end-users. This provides a unique opportunity for utilities not only to contribute their expertise but also benefit from the venture.
Global reliance on Middle East oil will come to an end and international trade balances will be realigned. The disappearance of the electric grid is a possibility; a makeover of the electric-utility industry is nearly certain.
The Hydrogen Economy is a bright vision for the future of energy that will revolutionize the world by reducing our reliance for oil from foreign countries. In addition, the Hydrogen Economy would open the doors for fundamental changes in our economic, political, and social institutions, similar to the impact of steam power at the beginning of the “Industrial Age.”
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. It consists of an economic system in which energy is supplied by renewable resources. In this new economy, hydrogen is the medium of energy storage and transport. There is a general consensus that hydrogen could play an increasingly important role in transforming the future. Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can provide an energy solution for the world. The complete transition to a Hydrogen Economy could take several decades. The U.S. Department of Energy has set a “National Vision of America’s Transition to a Hydrogen Economy." 16
For example, the Icelanders are taking the first steps in their project to create the world's first hydrogen society. Iceland's energy revolution will be based on utilizing its abundant geothermal energy to power its transportation system, thereby slashing emissions and ending its dependence on fossil fuels completely. Iceland has already gone farther than any other country in exploiting its abundant sources of renewable energy. Virtually all of its electricity and heating comes from hydroelectric power and the geothermal water reserves tapped from the hot rock layers lying just beneath the surface of this extraordinary island. 14
The giant oil companies are investing heavily in a hydrogen future to control the design, production, and sales of the devices that produce and consume hydrogen. Fuel companies like Shell, BP, and Texaco are forming hydrogen and fuel cell technology divisions. Electric power companies like ABB and PG&E are investing in and forming numerous partnerships with fuel cell manufacturers. Automotive firms like Daimler Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, and Toyota are racing to put the first fuel cell vehicles on the market by 2004. Many scientists see the evolution of the fuel cell industry as the first step in the transformation to a global Hydrogen Economy.
It is also conceivable that successful development of fuel cells for application in the automotive industry could some day allow General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Benz to compete with electric utilities as power producers. For example, General Motors' has announced its vision for Hydrogen Economy Program to put the Fuel Cells car in the market by 2005 and fuel-cells-powered grid-ready cars by 2010. General Motors is devoting 600 full time staffers and hundreds of millions of dollars to make this vision come true. Mr. Larry Burns, the GM’s vice president for research, development and planning thinks that this could be a much bigger idea than inventing the automobile. Mr. Burns says it not only reinvents the automobile but our industry. 19
The National Energy Policy supports efforts to develop fuel cells and a Hydrogen Economy. But for these markets to reach their full potentials, industry participants may need to take matters into their own hands. The Department of Energy has reaffirmed its commitment to the development of nearly pollution free power plants by 2015 with the addition of seven new projects to its Vision 21 program16.
Aggressive energy and environmental policies, such as those in Iceland and California, are also necessary for moving forward toward a renewable hydrogen-based economy achieved through R&D, subsidies, tax incentives, and public/private partnerships. The goal of the program should be to develop technologies to safely produce, store and transport hydrogen from water, nature’s abundant and virtually free source of hydrogen. I envision hydrogen as the power generation fuel of the future that will wean the world away from oil, slow global warming, and lift billions out of poverty. Ways to capture hydrogen for use as a fuel source are now within our reach. If significant progress is desired, government and private partnerships must be established to concentrate development efforts. A “Manhattan Hydrogen Project” is needed to ensure the Hydrogen Economy vision becomes a reality soon. We must direct our wisdom and resources to develop Hydrogen Economy for a more positive effect on the living world.
"The views and opinions expressed herein are those solely of the writer and are not intended to represent those of the United States Department of Agriculture."To probe further
The following web sites can provide more information about fuel cell developments, vendor sites, demonstration projects, article and papers. Many sites are run by organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy, Defense and Technology.
Fuel Cells 2000 (www.fuelcells.org).
Department of Energy (www.doe.gov).
Department of Defense (www.dodfuelcell.com).
National Fuel Cell Research Center (www.nfcrc.uci.edu).
Hydrogen Now (www.hydrogennow.org).
Hydrogen Information Network (www.eren.doe.gov/hydrogen)
National Hydrogen Association (www.ttcorp.com/nha)
World Congress for a Hydrogen Economy (www.hydrogennow.org)
Periodicals, Journals, and Articles:
“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.
“Dramatic Changes Coming In The Future Of Energy,” by Darshan Goswami, March 1999, The Pittsburgh Patrika Magazine.
“A Hydrogen Economy -The Power to Change the World, “ by Jeremy Rifkin.
“Building the Solar/Hydrogen Economy,” In May of 2001, the Bush White House project released a 20-year plan.
“Roadmap to the Hydrogen Economy,” by Marc Wiseman Ricardo.
You've got to be kidding! An "infinitely abundant and clean fuel!" Your cheerleading for hydrogen is admirable but is a bit reminiscent of the protesters of yesteryear who said they opposed those aweful nuclear power plants preferring instead to get their clean energy from the wall plug.
You address the question of where the hydrogen will come from -- from water, and it is the most abundant element in the universe and all that. But the real question is where the energy will come from that then is delivered to us in this nice green form from the wall plug, aah, I mean in the form of hydrogen. You correctly state natural gas, methane, and yes, all those renewables will be the energy SOURCES. Hydrogen is just the carrier - like those wires to the wall plug. But we are already getting nice clean electricity from these sources which can be put into the wires that bring the energy to us without producing carbon. That is not where the trouble lies. The problem is that those sources of energy have their limits, giving us but a tiny fraction now of the energy we require. They have to be developed (speak made affordable) and when their energy is competitively available in sufficient quantity to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil the energy problem is solved -- whether we bring it to the consumer via the wires or hydrogen does not matter that much. In the meanwhile, hydrogen can be made using electricity (electrolysis) or heat (steam reforming) from those conventional energy sources (dare I say coal and oil).
Of course, electricity from the wall plug is not easily used to propel our cars. Hydrogen is much easier to burn directly or via fuel cells. So hydrogen is like the wall plug without the long extension cord! A nice way to deliver the energy to the users. BUT -- fuel cells are far from here. Both DaimlerChrysler and Toyota (also Honda) have brought fuel cell cars to the public as you state. But dont try to buy one, even if you had Ted Turner's resources. A few dozen fuel-cell cars sprinkled worldwide to select "customers" (universities, local governments, etc.) is not "racing to put fuel cell cars on the market." They are racing to outdo one another in public relations and image building, having made promises to have fuel cell vehicles by 2004. They did not say in the showrooms, however, a milestone that may take another 15 to 20 years to achieve. The problem is cost which will come down eventually but whether they will be a competitive alternative to the present cars, that remains to be seen. An automotive fuel cell drive is immensely complicated (no moving parts, you say - just listen to the noise all those non-moving parts in a fuel cell vehicle generate). That means expensive, if for no other reason than those exotic catalysts that are required. And then there is storage of this elusive fuel -- no, I cannot envision cars sitting in the parking lots, churning out electricity while idle, which they will sell back to the grid as you describe it. Maybe if they carried little nuclear power plants in their trunks....
Hydrogen is only an energy carrier -- wireless, yes -- but not a source. To be sure, hydrogen will be a neat, clean way to deliver the energy to us, to the point of use (just like those wires to the wall plug). But by itself, it will do little to solve the energy "problems" and dependence on friendly OPEC. Developing new energy sources (renewables, nuclear) will do that -- we hope. But that is a whole different discussion.
Stanley Widener 2.5.03
Just a brief comment: It's way too rosy a picture when you say, "Some of the generated electric power could be diverted to electrolyze water, producing more hydrogen to power fuel cells, which in turn, could generate more electricity in a virtually endless process." This begins to sound like the elusive (tr: physically impossible) perpetual motion machine. Debates over energy policy are not well-served by such radically distorted pictures of reality. The process is not virtually endless -- it is ended when we make use of the energy to perform useful work. Which, frankly, is the whole purpose of generating the energy in the first place.
Arno Harris 2.5.03
I agree with the above two comments--and I'm mystified as to how this reality has somehow been avoided in the national rush to embrace hydrogen. The "Hydrogren Economy" represents a new transmission and storage method, albiet cleaner than fossil fuel internal combustion, but doesn't fundamentally change our generation paradigm.
Hydrogen is NOT in abundance in a useable form. It is a component of water, but as any high-school physics teacher will explain: IT WILL TAKE MORE ENERGY TO SPLIT THE WATER AND GET THE HYDROGEN OUT, THAN WILL BE GENERATED USING THAT SAME HYDROGEN. And yes, you can get hydrogen through acatalytic process from "bio fuels" and fossil fules--but the byproducts are the same old CO2, NOx, and SOx that come from burning it. No free lunch.
The only advantage I can see from the "Hydrogen Economy" is a potential savings from a reduction of transmission loss. But I have a feeling that the cost of distributing hydrogen to every point of generation will equal or exceed these savings.
The "Hydrogen Economy" is an attempt to put a renewable face on our electrical industry without addressing the fact that all that "renewable" energy is coming from the same old sources--coal, NG and nuclear.
Richard Suslick 2.5.03
I read w/ interest the nay-saying comments of my energy peers above. The fact of the matter is, that someday the last barrel of oil, the last shovelful of coal, & the last ft3 of gas is going to come out of the ground. I am not at all sure that will happen in the next 20 years, but someday it will. We may as well start getting society ready for it. I also am an energy professional, educated as a nuclear engineer, and of late an independent energy development manager, about to trasition into retirement. Somehow I have always viewed nuclear fusion, also a H2-based energy process, but without the fission product problems of todays reactors, as having a lot to do with the energy future. Such plants could play a strong role in transitioning from today's central-station generation to the 'ideal' distributed world envisioned by this article. Serious talk & research about these issues are the only way we as a society will ever make them happen.
Joseph Somsel 2.6.03
I believe that most of the problems of transportation, distribution and end-use can be solved with focused development efforts. These parts will be like going to the moon - not a lot of new science required - and the technical risk is low to moderate. The core issue is that if all the above technologies were in place and economical, one could not buy on the open market fuel-grade hydrogen to make any significant energy market in-roads.
The hard part will be in producing the hydrogen in the first place. Renewables will remain too diffuse and too unreliable for energy-efficient concentration into the high quality energy transport medium that is hydrogen.
The answer will be in direct production of hydrogen in nuclear fission reactors. Uranium will be the ultimate energy source to drive "the hydrogen economy."
This problem of direct hydrogen production by fission has been the subject of research for many years. The Department of Energy has a token grant out now. However, if we want a hydrogen economy, we're going to have to tackle that central issue of generation with much more vigor. Spending a billion on hydrogen cars is like shopping for a new automobile before you have any money or even a job.
Allen Cavedo 2.11.03
It concerns me that an article like this could get published in EnergyPulse. I know this is not exactly Nature, but it serves no purpose to have a ridiculous cheerleading session like this published in your journal. It would be more truthful to publish an article like, "Hydrogen Offers New Energy Storage and Transport Method" or "Energy Storage: Hydrogen vs. Batteries - You Decide". There is no hydrogen economy except in the sense that authors get paid to write about it so it helps their personal economy. On the other hand, if hydrogen economy articles become prevalent enough, OPEC might fall for the ruse and lower oil prices out of fear of being made irrelevant.
Scott Greenbaum 2.11.03
Where is the large quantity of hydrogen going to come from. Burning fossil fuels? That does not break the cycle. To make hydrogen from solar energy would require PV cells on every roof in the world and flat surface. That is not practical. We need a break through in hydrogen technology production if we are going to go into the Hydrogen Economy or we just change from a gasoline economy to hydrogen economy based on Middle East Oil. Stop fooling ourselves.
Earl Springer 2.11.03
The article made me think. It discussed many of the potential and real uses for hydrogen in our society with some ideas new to me.
Yes the cost of producing is noticeable absent but the learning curve on producing this clean burning fuel efficiently is very steep and additional environmental benefits are possible depending on the source of electricity.
In studying renewable energy from wind I ran across an interesting idea. A tremendous source of wind energy lies in North and South Dakota (potentially 1,200 Billion kWh) but two problems make development difficult. One is the line loss to transport the energy to a major metropolitan area and secondly wind is not available on demand. One solution is to use wind powered electricity to generate hydrogen from water then transport the product to a metropolitan center using a pipeline. Line loss and variable wind speed are dropped from the equation and polution is eliminated by generating electricity from wind and hydrogen from water. Economical? ..no Interesting? ...yes.
We need to continue to look for and listen to new ideas and not let traditional thinking create tunnel vision.
Darshan Goswami, M.S., P.E. 2.11.03
This is in response to Mr. Allen Cavedo’s comments dated Feb 11, 2003. This article is not meant to be for cheerleading. This is a vision for the future. The purpose of writing and publishing this article is to create awareness among scientist, industries, utilities, universities, research organizations, government, politicians, and general public (for acceptance of this new technology). My goal in publishing this paper is to show that the energy independence is well with in our reach. Hydrogen Economy can provide a more secure and cleaner energy future for America.
United States Department of Energy (DOE) has already developed National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap. This National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap was officially made public in November 2002. This DOE road map clearly defines the Production, Delivery, Storage, Conversion, Applications, Public Education and Outreach. This National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap is available on DOE website.
Perhaps the following speech by Mr. Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy may convince Mr. Allen Cavedo that the Hydrogen Economy is America’s real achievable dream:
“As we act on President Bush’s Energy Policy development to focus on next generation technologies that expand the diversity of America’s supply of energy and “leap frog” the status quo. This requires a revolution in how we find, produce, deliver, store, and use energy.
Hydrogen represents a potential solution to America’s needs.
To talk about the Hydrogen Economy is to talk about a world that is fundamentally different from the one we know now.
A Hydrogen Economy will mean a world where our pollution problems are solved and where need for abundant and affordable energy is secure……..and where concerns about dwindling resources are a thing of the past.
At the Department of Energy, we’re not just talking about the Hydrogen Economy; we are working to make it a reality.
This Road map provides a framework that can make a Hydrogen Economy a reality.”
Spencer Abraham Secretary of Energy
These comments by: Darshan Goswami, author of this article
kevin gaw 2.11.03
"Hydrogen economy is a technology"? come on. The only revolution that is needed, to bring about the 'hydrogen economy", is an order of magnitude increase in energy pricing in the U.S. and the Western World. This and only this will provide the incentive and political willingness to do something revolutionary about the way we produce and utilize energy.
At 12c/kWh, $30/barrel or even $5/ft3 ENERGY IS CHEAPer today than it has EVER been. There is no need for even thinking about hydrogen before this situation fundamentally changes.
Government leading the revolution? This is disingenuous at best. Environmental issues and generation/transmission/distribution constraints are about the only other forces that may create the demand for a cleaner fueled future. This depends on the heavy hand of government to force the issue. AND IF you want to see failure of government lead industrial change, look no farther than the US Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) of the 1990's.
Fuel cells? I am all for them, when and where they make sense. In my lifetime? I just plain do not see the time or the place for hydrogen to make sense.
Kevin Gaw email@example.com
Rodney Adams 2.13.03
Mr. Goswami is not quite correct when he states "It (hydrogen) has the highest energy content per unit of weight (52,000 BTU per pound) than any known fuel, making it an extremely efficient source of energy."
52,000 BTU is released when 1 pound of hydrogen is chemically combined with 8 pounds of oxygen to form H2O. Of course, most people ignore the oxygen requirement since they can draw from the "free" air. People that think about sealed vehicles like space ships and submarines have a different perspective.
Keeping with Mr. Goswami's system of measure, approximately 360,000,000,000 BTU of heat are released by fissioning a single pound of uranium (or plutonium or any other fissile fuel). I think that number is considerably larger and there is no other reactant required. (Please understand the irony intended in that sentence.)
IMHO, thinking of hydrogen as an energy source is about the same as thinking about pumped storage systems as energy sources.
There is no stored potential energy in a body of water at sea level, but if one wants to expend energy pumping it up hill - with all of the associated losses - some of the energy can be captured when the water flows back down hill. If you look at tap water as the source of hydrogen, you have to put in the work to break the hydrogen apart from the oxygen - a process which is about 30-40% efficient after many decades of refinement in industrial applications - an then you can capture the energy released when the hydrogen and oxygen recombine.
Quoting politicians like Spencer Abraham and spouting about visions sounds an awful lot like a sales pitch to me.
Oh yeah - the industry that has worked for decades to refine the process of producing hydrogen is the petroleum industry. Its major industrial use is in refining heavy oils to make more gasoline instead of lower octane fuels. Subsidies for improving hydrogen technology go straight to the oil producers. Interesting.
Rod Adams www.atomicinsights.com
Ken Regelson 2.18.03
Mr. Adams and others:
Regarding "30-40% efficient" electrolysis...
I believe currently available electrolysis is more in the 85 - 90% efficient range.
Visit http://www.stuartenergy.com/main_tech.html , click on FAQ: Fuel for Thought (left column). Scroll down a bit to the "What is the efficiency..." question in the right column.
I have seen other less easily reached references to electrolysis efficiencies as high as 95% and experimental round trip efficiencies (electricity to split water into hydrogen, store the hydrogen, then back into electricity later) of 75%.
Commercially available round trip efficiencies appear to be in the 45 - 60% range. The leftover energy from this round trip is easily captured heat.
These efficiencies are obtained by using fuel cells…currently a very expensive thing to do.
So, what about cost? According to General Motors (4/2002) “…the cost of fuel cell stacks has decreased tenfold in just three years…”. GM believes that the cost per kW of stationary fuel cells will be in the $1000 to $500 range by 2005 (another ten-fold drop).
So from what I can tell, the question of hydrogen as an option for storing electricity isn’t if, it is when. And the answer to that might be very soon.
Ken Regelson firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Hard 2.18.03
Mr. Regelson, et al. The web site you point us to is a commercially self-interested assertion concerning very high efficiencies claimed for their own fuel cells. The effciency claim concerns the energy captured by the fuel cell, not the total energy used in the process from the production of the hydrogen through its use to generate power. The web site simply maintains that electrolysis is commercially reasonable--it most certainly does not maintain that there is an efficency of 85% to 90% in the conversion of fuel to electricity to hydrogen to electricity.
From an air quality standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to use a fuel like hydrogen to power cars. Controlling pollution at a few thousand points (power stations) is a lot easier than controlling it at 150 million points (the number of US vehicles). Still, generating the hydrogen is--and always will be--the 900 pound gorilla. No matter how much is spent on research, and no matter how large the savings from scaling up the technologies, we're up against the laws of thermodynamics.
Start with a quantity of natural gas. Combust it in a turbine and the theoretical maximum efficiency you can hope for is around 36%. (I.e. 36% of the heat energy can be converted to electricity.) Recycle the exhaust heat through a steam circuit and you drive system efficiency just above 60% in a combined cycle unit. So you've now lost perhaps 40% of the potential energy in the fuel (gas), and that's doing extremely well.
Now use the electricity to make hydrogen from water. Don't you think there's waste heat/energy loss there as well? Now compress the hydrogen for transmission. More energy loss. Now run it through a fuel cell. I've seen claims in Nature magazine for efficiencies of 70% or a little higher--which sounds outstanding--but bear in mind that this means you've lost another 30% of your potential energy from the natural gas you started with. (Claims of 90% efficeincy are simply implausible, and/or they assume useful work being done by the waste heat from the cell. Using the waste heat for space heating for part of the year might make sense in some applications, but when we're talking about cars, waste heat is just that.)
The net effect, if you're extremely lucky, is to capture maybe 20%-25% of the energy from gas in order to fuel a car with hydrogen, when you could have fuelled the car with natural gas in the first place and achieved an energy efficiency (and cost advantage) closer to 30%. You'd actually be creating more poluution (in the form of CO2) by using a hydrogen cycle because you'd be burning more gas to produce the same automotive power. (If you used coal instead of gas for electrolysis, your energy-from-hydrogen efficeincy would fall closer to 12% or so.)
Obviously, hydrogen does not--and never will--represent a lower cost option. Since it takes more energy to generate hydrogen than you can get out of the hydrogen you've generated, it will ALWAYS be a higher cost option. Improved air quality might offset the higher cost involved in generating and using hydrogen--if air quality is seen as having a large enough economic value--but only if the hydrogen can be generated without producing air pollution of its own. The only remotely economic way to do that on a scale that would make a difference would be to generate hydrogen with nuclear power. Since the current nuclear fleet is base-loaded for current power production needs, this would mean the construction of a massive new nuclear fleet purpose-built to make hydrogen. This may well be laudable, but something tells me that the clean air constituency that's pushing for hydrogen overlaps with the constituency that hates nuclear power plants.
Using nukes to make hydrogen makes some sense from the standpoint that it is the most logiccal way to power cars with uranium. Still, it should be noted that while nuclear power is "home grown," uranium is not. The three biggest sources of uranium now fueling US nuke plants are Russia, Canada and Australia. Although you could use coal on a much larger scale as an alternative to nuclear, doing so would blow away whatever air quality benefits you were hoping to achieve. And it would do so at a far higher cost, to boot.
Ken Regelson 2.19.03
Stuart Energy does not -- to date -- make fuel cells. They make electrolysis equipment.
They make no claims (and neither did I) for efficiencies for "fuel to electricity to hydrogen to electricity".
If you can factually refute their claim that they achieve 90% efficiency for electrolysis (electricity to hydrogen) then please do so. And, yes, they are a company. I worry about "spin" on their numbers as well and would sincerely appreciate knowing what "real" numbers are for this small but important part of the puzzle.
I wholeheartedly agree that you cannot ignore electricity source and efficiencies of production of electricity in attempting to understand the overall picture.
Ken Regelson. email@example.com
Gerry Runte 2.19.03
Part of the problem here is that this debate (and I am speaking more broadly than just this page of comments) is mostly driven by engineers and chemists: the topic requires a "big picture" perspective that values the societal and economic factors, going well beyond the basic science.
Hydrogen is an energy carrier. That may be the appropriate semantics for an engineer, but in the context of what we are talking about, it's a distinction without a difference. Yes, raw materials and energy are necessary to extract the hydrogen desired, but so what! When was the last time you were walking in the woods and encountered a little stream of gasoline? All of the "primary" sources of energy require raw materials and an expenditure of energy to get them in a useful form and at the place intended.
Hydrogen costs too much. These comparisons of the cost of hydrogen with fossil fuels are apples and oranges comparisons because they never consider the full costs on the fossil side, much like quantifiying the cost of nuclear without considering waste disposal and decommissioning. Does $1.75/gallon really represent the full costs of that gasoline? What about the $/gallon adders that are missing, such as asthma and other related respiratory health costs, or that portion of the defense budget necessary to maintain security of fuel supply? Are current prices likely to remain the same over the next 10 to 20 years? This is a social issue with social costs and the equation changes immensely when "consequential damages" (damages which hydrogen does not share) are incorporated into the comparison.
Extracting and using hydrogen is less efficient. So it may be under certain ways of looking at things, but "wastefullness" is in the eye of the beholder. The big picture is also necessary here. It depends on what it is you are "wasting." Most photovoltaic cells have efficiencies much less than 10%. There have been a number of studies that indicated nuclear power, when all things, including waste disposal are considered, is a net energy loss. Efficiency is indeed important when you are dealing with a declining raw material whose cost is both volatile and upward trending. During the early years of a transition to hydrogen, some fossil fuels might end up being used less efficiently than they are today. The choice is maintain the status quo, perhaps adding a few years to available resouce base but facing a crisis later when a transition has to happen very quickly, or foregoing some efficiency now but managing the transition as smoothly as possible.
Rajon Mestra 6.8.12
Hydrogen economy works best on automobiles since the price of gas is now rising to its peak. There were several types of autos being invented just to serve as alternator. On the mere side, hydrogen economy would not only benefit drivers but also automotive companies as their sales would boost though it could be a lost for fuel businesses in the world. Being said that, it's good to know that people are now learning the truth about our economy today. As such automotive companies were not addressing fuel cost thru other alternative like efficient car starter, suspension and ignition parts.