Great article in Wired about the Hydrogen Economy by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall.

Wired
How Hydrogen Can Save America
The cost of oil dependence has never been so clear. What had long been largely an environmental issue has suddenly become a deadly serious strategic concern. Oil is an indulgence we can no longer afford, not just because it will run out or turn the planet into a sauna, but because it inexorably leads to global conflict. Enough. What we need is a massive, Apollo-scale effort to unlock the potential of hydrogen, a virtually unlimited source of power. The technology is at a tipping point. Terrorism provides political urgency. Consumers are ready for an alternative. From Detroit to Dallas, even the oil establishment is primed for change. We put a man on the moon in a decade; we can achieve energy independence just as fast. Here's how.
I wrote about the hydrogen economy before. I first learned to use computers at, was on the board of and am currently an advisor to management of one of the pioneering companies in the hydrogen economy, Energy Conversion Devices. The founder Stan Ovshinsky has been talking about the hydrogen economy since 1955 and the company, when founded in 1960, was founded in large part to solve many of the issues discussed in the article. It's amazing to see a "buzz" that takes almost 50 years to come around. I'm glad that at 80 years old, Stan can see a lot of his his vision unfold.

16 Comments

This article is interesting, but the key is towards the end, where after all the H2 promotion it points out that you have to make Hydrogen from somewhere, and that takes energy to get it from water or other hydrocarbons.

You only get a fraction of that energy back when you use Hydrogen in a fuel cell (the fraction will get larger, but never >100%)

Hydrogen isn't a SOURCE of energy, its a store of it, which means you still have to solve the renewable energy problem or even worse use nuclear as the authors suggest towards the end of the article.

There is a more realistic article at http://evworld.com/databases/storybuilder.cfm?storyid=494&subcookie=1

- Mitra

Thanks Mitra. Agree. I think Solar is best. Then we just end up with photons, hydrogen, oxygen and electrons. No more heavy stuff like carbon and uranium.

I've heard wind turbines are even more practical than solar cells for many uses now.

I'm also worried that burning coal to power hydrogen fusion (as many in the US would favor) would make global warming worse than burning gasoline in cars.

I used to be even more worried about this, but unless nuclear bombs are the first technology not to become steadily more widely available and cheaper and smaller as time goes on, we might not have to worry about global warming.

>>I think Solar is best. |||| Solar and other renewables are best, but there is currently no dense, cheap, compact substitute for a primary energy source such as fossil-based fuels. We can't artificially fertilise our crops with solar power, for example. As Mitra points out, hydrogen isn't the magic "freedom fuel" Bush, Blair and Rifkin would have us believe.

Rather than focusing on which one's best, I think it's important to realize that diversity is the key to strength. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, nuclear, fossil fuels...they're all right for some places, in some situations. Appropriate use of each of these technologies is key; relying on any one of them will most likely lead to trouble.

We this war is [ we ] also an energy problem are only for energies. It can read in English which is the technology currently used by the Honda fuel cell car by which BLOG was built. Please [ right or wrong ]

http://babelfish.altavista.com/babelfish/urltrurl?url=http://japaninternet.tv/blog/jit001/&lp=ja_en&tt=url

Fuel cells, solar, wind - they're all part of a clean energy future. We focus on fuel cells because they're the best short-term alternative to oil, and the Wired article is specifically about cultivating that alternative. Solar and wind won't do it.

Note that the next NREL Growth Forum, which will be held in Austin, Texas in November, will focus quite a bit on hydrogen.

Solar is great but the cost of the solar cells is very high due to the fact that they require the use of delicate silicon.

Currently, we are near a tipping point in solar technology. Cheap solar is on the horizon. Innovations like
cheap alloys to replace silicon(http://sacramento.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2002/11/18/daily4.html) and printable/flexible solar cells (http://www.ise.fhg.de/english/current_topics/events/events2002/pdf/farbstoffzelle2002englisch.pdf) are in the works and nearly ready for commercial release. I can't wait to have solar cells embedded into billboards, bustop advertisements, etc. How about a hybrid car with solar paint that allows the car to charge while driving?

A few thoughts...

Hydrogen is only sort of similar to Oil. Hydrogen is will be an efficient method of transporting energy once fuels cells are cheaper and storage gets better. Actually, it is likely that the initial method of creating hydrogen will be the use of the huge amounts of hydrogen produced in manufacturing. This hydrogen is basically thrown away. There also also processes that extract hydrogen from oil or natural gas. Some studies show that there is enough hydrogen to fuel all of the hydrogen cars for several years just in the "extra" hydrogen sitting around in manufacturing waste.

The fuel cells will take awhile to finish, technically, so I think that hydrogen combustion engines with batteries to create a hybrid car that runs on hydrogen will be the initial vehicle for the hydrogen economy. Still cleaner than burning oil in cars.

Solar IS coming. My father just finished working on a new 30MW amorphous solar plant. I think with a few more iterations, solar will be cheap enough to make so that you can recoup the cost of manufacture within a few years. I think the answer is amorphous thin film roll-to-roll web mass production. A small area of desert in the US covered in solar panels could power all of the US once the cost is in range. Solar energy can easily be harnessed to create hydrogen.

So, here is my suggestion. Create a hydrogen distribution system, build hydrogen combustion cars, take all of the waste hydrogen from factories and fuel these cars. Work as hard as possible on solar, but also deploy all sorts of alternative energy, including wind, bio-mass, etc. to produce more hydrogen. Finish the solar mass production to create more hydrogen, finish the fuel cell, and dump carbon out of our energy loop and stop fighting over oil. ;-)

Just to clarify one again:

There are three parts of the energy cycle. Converting the energy into something storable, transporting the energy, converting stored energy into usable energy when we need it.

Drilling for oil, solar, wind, bio-mass, etc. are all the first phase. You can also "mine" for hydrogen by converting fossil fuels to hydrogen or picking up waste hydrogen. Hydrogen is also great because all you need to do is electrolyze water to convert electricity to hydrogen in the case of solar, wind, etc.

Energy can be transported over wires in the form of electrons, in batteries in the form of chemical storage like NiMH batteries (actually, just hydrogen!), Lead-acid batteries, etc. Oil tanks are also transportation. Hydrogen stored in big tanks filled with material very similar to the material in NiNH batteries is also a way to transport hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be efficiently converted into energy through burning directly for heat, hydrogen combustion engines for direct motor drive, and fuel cells to create electrical energy.

So, the math goes like this:
What is the efficiency of production cost of the manufacture of solar cells (since the sun is free), cost of collection waste hydrogen, cost of other forms of energy and the conversion efficiency into hydrogen.

What is the transportation cost of the energy?

What is the conversion efficiency of the transport method back into useful energy?

Hydrogen is expected to be great for transportation and conversion back into energy from an efficiency and cleanliness perspective. After we finish soaking up waste hydrogen, we will have to rely on all sorts of methods to convert energy into hydrogen.

An interesting developement in hydrogen energy is it is now possible to produce on demand the gas without fossil fuels usuage. It is produced by metals mixed with water to produce enough hydrogen to run a generator that puts out more energy than it uses. No pollition, And cheaper than any other fuel. See CleanWatts.com Read their press releases. They have been issued patients and have contacted companies about contracted manufacture of their product. The company is Alternate energy Corporation and is listed on the exchange as ARGY.

I disagree with Mira's final comment on Nuclear power.

Considering our crippling dependence on fossil fuels, nuclear power, despite the risk if handled unsafely and the waste problem (which a future space elevator could easily resolve) is a viable solution to our energy needs until renewable energy becomes much more cost effective. In time, that will be the case, but during the transitionary period I think nuclear power is the way to go.

In an ongoing effort to learn more and do something about energy and energy related issues, not only locally but globally as well, I would like to share an energy related resource I have ran accross at Energy Resources. Feel free to stop in and become enlighted.

Strongly agree with Mitra. I believe that we should thing about first things first. The problem rigth now is the alternative source of energy and not the management (storage) of energy. Photovoltaics seems to be the solution for the problem. However the cost of solar electricity is steel expensive compared to fossil fuels. Despite that, the lately massive production of silicon - wafers - cells - solar panels is giving the hope that if we continue this way the solar electricity cost will be a lot cheaper than today.

Hydrogen and electricity management and storage is the next step.

Excellent. Now he can pollute the world to an unparalleled level. The production of photovoltaics is the one best producer per watt of poisonous chemicals of any power producing technology. Also, the effective life of panels in actual world installations makes them barely in a position to produce greater than the vitality needed to manufacture them. Good luck scaling up that technology. The important thing to energy efficiency is discount of consumption. Simply one other case of believing that expertise itself can essentially improve our lives with out intelligent application.

Very nice writeup! Thanks for the hint, albeit I am a little late :)

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