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Crunching the Numbers on a Hydrogen Economy

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the kilowatt-hourly-rates dept.


mattnyc99 writes "In its new cover story, 'The Truth About Hydrogen,' Popular Mechanics magazine takes a close look at how close the United States is to powering its homes, cars and economy with hydrogen — including a calculation of where all the hydrogen would come from to meet President Bush's demands. Interesting that they break down the future of hydropower not by its advantages but by its challenges: production, storage, distribution and use."

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A wise man once said.. (-1, Offtopic)

Channard (693317) | more than 7 years ago | (#16465991)

.. 'Know how dumb the average person is? Half of 'em are dumber than that.' Now, imagine that half being given access to a potentially explosive element. Doesn't bode well for the future.

Re:A wise man once said.. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466017)

replace element with compound and you have the same arguement for Petrol and Diesel.

easier to make a bomb with Diesel then hydrogen

Re:A wise man once said.. (1)

hcob$ (766699) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466817)

easier to make a bomb with Diesel then hydrogen Ahem... Diesel is non-explosive unless put under high pressure. So if you wan't to make a bomb, generally you mix with other chemicals to make it explosive.

Last I checked you just had to have a container and a heat source to make a nice boom with hydrogen.

Re:A wise man once said.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466031)

Gasoline is so safe you can light it on fire and it won't explode.

Re:A wise man once said.. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466033)

Know how dumb the average person is?
dumb enough not to know the difference between the average and the median?

Re:A wise man once said.. (2, Insightful)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466691)

Know how dumb the average person is?

dumb enough not to know the difference between the average and the median?

Smart enough to not post as Anonymous Coward? From dictionary.com:
Average - typical; common; ordinary: The average secretary couldn't handle such a workload. His grades were nothing special, only average.

Seems to me that "average" is correct. If this crap got 5 points for being "funny" although wrong, I should get 5 points for being right.

Re:A wise man once said.. (1)

miro f (944325) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466925)

not particularly. The point the GP was attempting to make was that not half of the world are below average, because average doesn't mean median.

So while average is correct in the sense of "think how many people are average", it's not strictly correct in terms of "half of them are dumber than that"

of course, while average is a general term referring to one of the three averages (mean, median, mode), in general, when none is specified median is assumed to be the "average" that we are talking about.

So in reality, the GP was just being a smartarse and there was no problem with the OP ;)

Re:A wise man once said.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466201)

God help us if they ever get access to oxygen.

Re:A wise man once said.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466431)

Oh yeah, cos absolutely no one has access to something as dangerous as, say, natural gas, or even electricity.

Electricity + Water (5, Interesting)

dsginter (104154) | more than 7 years ago | (#16465995)

With all the problems that hydrogen has, a good stop gap would come with the advent of an affordable fuel cell. With a fuel cell in each house, you could essentially generate hydrogen from water and electricity at night when the power plants are idling in inefficient speeds. During the day, you could do the opposite and generate electricity from the hydrogen generated the previous night. This would work well for shaving energy consumption during peak levels. With discounts for off-peak electricity, this sort of system could pay for itself while providing backup generator services as a side effect.

Then again, so would a huge flywheel or a bunch of batteries.

Re:Electricity + Water (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466049)

With a fuel cell in each house, you could essentially generate hydrogen from water and electricity at night when the power plants are idling in inefficient speeds. During the day, you could do the opposite and generate electricity from the hydrogen generated the previous night.

Or you could do what most people do when they want hydrogen, heat a hydrocarbon with steam [wikipedia.org]. It is a hell of a lot cheaper than electrolysis! In fact, most fuel cells use some sort of hydrocarbon reforming to get their hydrogen. Unless you store hydrogen as a liquid, its energy density is just too low for any reasonable fuel tank.

Re:Electricity + Water (2, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466095)

At night, the actual load is much less than the peak capacity. Fine. Why make hydrogen at home? Make it at the powerplant to save the 15% line loss and make 15% more H2.

Re:Electricity + Water (2, Insightful)

dsginter (104154) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466277)

Why make hydrogen at home?

There aer many strategies - I guess that I just picked one that doesn't put a bunch of hydrogen in one spot. I was located in an area affected by the blackout of 2003 so putting all of the eggs in one basket just never seems like a good idea to me anymore.

I suppose it would be a good idea to build a power plant on an empty natural gas formation and store all of the generated hydrogen in there. It would certainly help meet the needs during the day and do so with a smaller footprint of a conventional power plant.

Re:Electricity + Water (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466313)

Just as I posted I realized that the 15% will be lost when the H2 is used to generate electricity at the plant, the same line loss. So the line loss idea is really a wash.

Re:Electricity + Water (2, Interesting)

Gramie2 (411713) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466269)

Interesting that you should mention fuel cells. My local paper mentions that a local fuel cell tech company just closed their doors yesterday, after something like 10 years of development and nothing to show for it.

Re:Electricity + Water (3, Informative)

AceJohnny (253840) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466335)

Maybe I'm taking you too literally here, but remember that no fuel cell system aimed at the mass market take pure hydrogen as an input, mainly because of it's inherent danger (think Hindenburg).
Instead, they take some other compound, like ammonia or hydrides, from which they extract the hydrogen to power the fuel cell. The advantage is that at no point do you have a large enough quantity of hydrogen to cause an explosion.

So my point is, generating the appropriate "fuel" for a fuel cell isn't as easy as electrolysing water to get it's hydrogen. You'll then want to combine that hydrogen with a carrier, which is what will be injected into your fuel cell. That's the complicated part.

Re:Electricity + Water (4, Informative)

orzetto (545509) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466879)

no fuel cell system aimed at the mass market take pure hydrogen as an input, mainly because of it's inherent danger (think Hindenburg).

That's because there are no fuel cells aimed at the mass market yet, except alcohol testers, which are anyway not a power source. Hydrogen is not more dangerous than gasoline; it does not concentrate on the ground but escapes high to the sky. You can neither be soaked in hydrogen. It does however have a lower threshold for ignition, but putting things together it is not especially dangerous. Thinking Hindenburg, less than half of crew and passengers actually died [wikipedia.org]. Try find that number in any plane crash with an equivalent amount of flames.

Instead, they take some other compound, like ammonia or hydrides, from which they extract the hydrogen to power the fuel cell. The advantage is that at no point do you have a large enough quantity of hydrogen to cause an explosion.

Wish it were like that, but if they contain the energy, hydrides, ammonia or whatever else can also burn. The idea is mostly to increase volumetric energy density, as hydrogen is very light and going around with a 70-MPa cylinder is somewhat unpractical (though not impossible).

Re:Electricity + Water (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466949)

The Hindenburg burned and fell out of the sky. It didn't really explode. Lots of people managed to survive. Hydrogen burns pretty easily, but the explosion risk is, pretty much anyway, overblown.

Current fuel cells take other stuff as input because it is easier to move around and has a higher energy density.

Re:Electricity + Water (2, Informative)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466467)

Everybody building up his own little electricity depot can never be as efficient as a large-scale approach. An advantage of this scenario would however be that these depots would release heat both during charging and decharging. If you use them during the winter and heat up your house as a side effect, there might be a case. During the summer, forget it. Hydrogen is such a complex energy form it can only be profitable in places where you need to take your energy with you, e.g. your car.

Re:Electricity + Water (2, Interesting)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466637)

Everybody building up his own little electricity depot can never be as efficient as a large-scale approach.

Ultimately, this depends on population density and the efficiency advantage of the large-scale approach.

For any generation method limited by Carnot cycle efficiency, this is true. But fuel cells do not have this limit, and their efficiency does not increase very much with their size. Also, given that most homes already have some sort of chemical energy (natural gas or oil) delivered for heating, they could use the same stuff, reform it and generate their own electricity, which would eliminate line losses.

Re:Electricity + Water (1)

tezbobobo (879983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466767)

In addition, regardless of the efficiency, I would point to the social gains to be made by such a system. This could be very valuable, even if inefficient, in small communities and poor communities, even individuals homes. It would provide a more accessible fuel for less developed countries.

Re:Electricity + Water (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466787)

I've often wondered about this exact same thing. Generaly, one of the biggest hold backs to alternative energy is the economics of scale. You cannot product an amount of energy for one house as cheaply as you could by buying it from someone making it for everyone in the area.

So what if it was a block of people. Most alternative energy systems produce more then what is needed durring peak production times as well as off times when the household demand is just low. So instead of develpoment of windmills and such for one house, I'm wondering if it would be more in line of it was produced for 10 houses. The only real difference might be that a meter might be neccesary as well as isolating the 10=20 houses of the block. Excess gets sold back to the electric company/grid like normal, demand from the electric/grip company gets curtailed plus we have the added benefit of scale and size to help keep the costs/unit of energy produced under control.

Re:Electricity + Water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466741)

Sorry but this won't work because you'll lose energy every time. I.E. The energy you get from the fuel cell will be far less that the energy you have spent to fuel it up.

You keep using that word. (5, Informative)

tdemark (512406) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466003)

Interesting that they break down the future of hydropower not by its advantages

I do not think it means [reference.com] what you think it means.

Hydro... power? (3, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466015)

I thought we were talking about Hydrogen Power, not HydroPower. (water power) Or is this another Bushism?

Nope, looks like the submitter just has no idea what it means. Only reference to that in the article is an link to another article that does indeed talk about water power.

As far as 'where to get it'... I've always wondered where they thought they'd get unlimited amounts of any limited resource. We can't destroy the oceans for it, and we can't scoop it out of the sun. (At least, I think we can't.) The article talks about nuclear and fossil fuels... That's the problem we already have... How is this a solution?

We're going to have to sit down and decide to be responsible about the environment some day. We can't keep putting it off forever.

Re:Hydro... power? (2, Interesting)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466071)

We're going to have to sit down and decide to be responsible about the environment some day. We can't keep putting it off forever.
I wish that were true. I see us as more like the alocoholic who drinks himself to death. He knows he's being destructive but he won't change.

Re:Hydro... power? (1)

ronanbear (924575) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466889)

An alcoholic can give up alcohol. Power usage is a more complex problem more akin to someone who eats too much. You're shortening your life-span and risking ill-health. You can't stop eating though. You can stop eating fast food and still eat unhealthily. The solution requires a lot more effort and the effort is constant.

For some addictions stopping the destructive behaviour altoghether is easier than constant moderation every day for the rest of your life.

Re:Where to get this? (1)

jackb_guppy (204733) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466107)

You are right. Hydrogen production takes energy to "make" and releases less energy when "consumed". You need another source of energy to supply the energy needed to Hydrogen will store. That brings us back to Fossil, Nuclear, Solor, Geothermial.

The only advanage that Hydrogen really supplies in my mind, is that "making" will be ran 7x24 at near continous optimised loads, where the power that is being consumed is at or near maximum efficiency. Like Diesel-electric locomotives, that run the main 2-cycle engine at continous peak proformance, and use the electric switching to handle torque convertion.

Re:Hydro... power? (1)

Ullteppe (953103) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466429)

I guess you could strip Jupiter. However, the transport issues are interesting, to say the least. I think the medium-term solution would be to move energy-hungry industries to the moon, and use solar power to power the factories.

It's interesting how little time is spent thinking about long-term energy challenges. Rotten dinosaurs aren't going to last forever!

Re:Hydro... power? (2, Insightful)

phlipped (954058) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466983)

We can't destroy the oceans for it
You're right, we can't destroy the oceans for it.

By which I mean, we wouldn't possibly be able to destroy the oceans via electrolysis in order to obtain hydrogen, even if wanted to. I don't think we'd be able to get enough energy - the ocean(s) is(are) just too big. If you thought your rich uncle's new swimming pool was big, think again - the ocean is heaps bigger. And in addition to the energy requirements of the electrolysis, we'd need somewhere to store all the hydrogen we'd have created long before there was a detectable change in the ocean. Not to mention all the oxygen we'd either have to store or release to the atmosphere (which would probably cause bushfires to run rampant through all the world's forests).

But I forget my own main point, which was meant to be that ...

Using water as a source of hydrogen for the purpose of using the hydrogen as a fuel does not "use up" water, at least not in the long term. Eventually the hydrogen and oxygen will be recombined to release energy, which also creates water (exactly as much as was used in the first place). So once we have siphoned off a (tiny) buffer of water that we can continually split and recombine, we won't need the ocean's water anyway. And any water accidentally or intentiaonally released to the atmosphere will end up precipitating out (probably). The one exception here is that hydrogen gas, being so light, tends to float up to the edge of the atmosphere where it can escape the Earth's gravity and fly off into space. But this would only be significant if we enefficiently leak hydrogen into the air wherever we handle it, and for some reason I reckon we can work out ways for that to NOT happen.

What about Iceland? (5, Interesting)

dcw (87098) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466057)

Not a single mention of Iceland in the article, I guess it is only an option if it is a 'Made In The USA' thing.

Re:What about Iceland? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466505)

What is so special about Iceland?

Re:What about Iceland? (2, Interesting)

McWilde (643703) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466515)

So now there is a single mention of Iceland; it doesn't mean anything to me. Please elaborate. How far along is Iceland in converting to a hydrogen economy? Seriously, I'd like to know?

Re:What about Iceland? (5, Informative)

tonicblue (764384) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466679)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2973885.st m [bbc.co.uk]
http://www.hydro.com/en/press_room/news/archive/20 03_04/hydrogen_island_en.html [hydro.com]
http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,3604,943132 ,00.html [guardian.co.uk]

They don't just use hydrogen.
Some cities, such as Reykjavik, already use hydrogen to power buses. But Iceland gets some electricity and over 80% of its heating and hot water from geothermal energy sources, and can produce the hydrogen emission-free. Other countries need to find ways to produce the hydrogen sustainably.

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/earth/energy-f uels/dn9984 [newscientist.com]

They are lucky they live where they do. It's a hot bed of free energy.

Re:What about Iceland? (2, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466567)

More likely is that it's just not relevant. Iceland gets much of their energy from geothermal sources - the US (and most other countries) do not have that luxury except in certain localities.

Coal to oil (2, Interesting)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466089)

Well at least they are looking at it..... right?

With oil running out in +/- 43 years we are already started very late to start working on good solutions. I think that we, in the end will be working with the coal liquefaction solutions. Creating oil from coal is already done on large scale in South Africa.

We will not be able to change all current diesel driven machines to a other power source so I think this will become to gap closer until we find a better solution. I really wonder what the governments around the world are doing on this subject? Can some people please comment on this to give some insight?

Re:Coal to oil (4, Funny)

rkcallaghan (858110) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466209)

suntac wrote:
With oil running out in +/- 43 years ...
For us unenlightened folks, could you explain the "-43 years" part of that estimate?


Re:Coal to oil (4, Funny)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466307)

Didn't you get the memo? The oil ran out in 1963, the fuel you put in your car and petrol you think is coming from the ground is all the product of a conspiracy that ExxonMobil cooked up with the Rand Corporation and Carslyle Group (under the auspices of the Trilateral Commission and Council on Foreign Relations).

Re:Coal to oil (2, Informative)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466315)

Aspo The organization who is doing research on when the oil consumption will peak and the available quantity has a new figure of the world running completely out of oil in 2050.

http://www.peakoil.ie/newsletters/47/ [peakoil.ie]

Other organizations and institutes a re backing those figures and they agree with this. Meaning that if the figures are correct we will run out in 2050, but as supplies start running out the price of oil will skyrocket.

If they skyrocket this high the price will be to high to, for example, power combines for the harvest of food supplies. This is not a scenario for third world countries, this is a scenario we can expect to have in the US and Europe for example in 20 till 30 years. This is to say if we do not take quick action.

There are solutions to extract fuel from coal, this is done by Germany in world war II when they had almost zero access to oil supplies but where in need of powering a war machine. The solution is today used in South Africa where they have a 28% fuel supply from coal liquefaction.

Even do we are aware of the problem and even do we have a solution in place there is not very much initiative at this moment. We might run out of time. At least that is what I am worried about.

The myth of peak oil (2, Insightful)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466417)

"With oil running out in +/- 43 years we are already started very late to start working on good solutions"

I've seen this prediction-of-doom vary from 10 years to 50 years.... projected at various points over the last 30 years. Chances are, you'll be able to see some headline in 2070: "Oil Running Out in 20 Years!!!"

Re:The myth of peak oil (1)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466491)

I admit, I do not really live by this year of 2050. It is a prediction and they will recalculate this again and again and they will readjust this a couple of times but someday in the near future it will run out. It could be 2050 it also could be 2070 in could also be 2100. However one day it will run out and that day is not far ahead.

So lets start preparing for that day and lets do it very very quickly. Do you have any idea how long it will take to change the entire supply change? No you don't and neither do I. Nobody knows because it is never done before.

It is time to take action and start changing those things and this is not written by some environmentalist freak, it is written by someone who is simply worrying about the fact that there are so many people saying not to worry and denying the problem.

Re:The myth of peak oil (1)

orasio (188021) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466807)

100 years ago, oil was not that important. Then, the world changed.
If it runs out in 70 years, it will probably not be that important, because the world didn't cease to change.
For example, nuclear fission is a good source, with its only downside being security or military issues. Environmental issues are non important, specially when they could substitute plants that really harm the environment.

Fusion will most probably happen in less than 50 years but take a bit longer to be economically substainable.

With electricity to spare, we can use whatever we want to power our cars.

Oil was good, and convenient, we just need something better, and we will get it.

Re:The myth of peak oil (1)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466881)

"Oil was good, and convenient, we just need something better, and we will get it."

Very nice, than my question is when? Will be it be on time? Will it be enough?

Re:The myth of peak oil (4, Informative)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466753)

I've seen this prediction-of-doom vary from 10 years to 50 years.... projected at various points over the last 30 years. Chances are, you'll be able to see some headline in 2070: "Oil Running Out in 20 Years!!!"

Amazing how you don't graps what "Peak Oil" really is.

At a certain point, production stops increasing, and in fact starts to decline, because not enough new fields can be found to replace the spent ones. (When's the last time you saw a field of Oil pumps in PA?) The price of oil goes up, as the supply goes down -- making currently non-profitable oil reserves and energy sources, theoretically, more profitable.

We will likely never run out of oil, although it will eventually (50 years? 500?) reach the point where it's simply too expensive to get the stuff out of the ground, and we only use biomass-made oil or some other alternative fuel source.

Re:The myth of peak oil (1)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466857)

Thank you :-)

"We will likely never run out of oil, although it will eventually (50 years? 500?) reach the point where it's simply too expensive to get the stuff out of the ground, and we only use biomass-made oil or some other alternative fuel source."

And yes, than the question is will we be ready? Will we have that alternative fuel source? And will it be available to all of us or only to a happy few? Is it not time to start researching and starting to adopt those new technologies?

As far as I am able to find it there are only a couple of people and companies that are really starting to work on those alternatives. In my opinion this should be a mass concern and there should be a much larger number of people be working on.

Is it just me or......

Re:The myth of peak oil (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466971)

As far as I am able to find it there are only a couple of people and companies that are really starting to work on those alternatives,

Hundreds of companies, thousands of people. The long and short of it is, oil is still cheaper than the alternatives in most cases. Once the price curves cross, then we'll move to other sources of energy. It's just an engineering problem.


Storage as a "compound" (1, Interesting)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466121)

I was fooling around learning about elements not too long ago when I learned something interesting about an element called Palladium. It has a strange ability to, at room temperature, absorb up to 900 times its own volume of hydrogen. It is not known if it really is a true chemical compound as PdH(2)or not. An interesting ability, but could it be used for storeage of hydrogen? When heated enough, the hydrogen diffused out of the palladium, so perhaps it could be used as a storeage medium. But I'm not a chemist; does anyone know how much palladium would be necessary to create a viable storage medium out of it? What kind of heat is needed to get the hydrogen? Palladium is a kind of expensive element, are there others with a similar property?

Re:Storage as a "compound" (1)

contrapunctus (907549) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466283)

There is a big field of research for hydrogen storage materials with exactly your goals in mind. Doing a search for "hydrogen storage materials" will yeald several "scholarly" articles from google.

Re:Storage as a "compound" (3, Informative)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466521)

This is mentioned in TFA (second page, heading "SOLID-STATE"). IIRC there are more materials that can do this, collectively they're called metal hydrides. Metal hydride tanks are heavy and expensive: Mercedes built a car with a metal hydride fuel tank about 10 years ago, the tank alone cost $100k.
The temperature needed to release the hydrogen is about 300 deg C.

Innovation (1, Insightful)

s31523 (926314) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466125)

FTA: " "You have to step back and ask, 'What is the point?'" says Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions.

It is this type of closed mind thinking that prevents innovation. When Brazil started the initiative for a total E85 fuel infrastructure if people listened to people like Joseph Romm saying "Whats the point, we have a plentiful cheap resource already, gas!" they wouldn't be declaring energy independance today. What's the point? Isn't it obvious?

Re:Innovation (2, Informative)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466375)

They have energy independance because they found a bunch of oil off their coast. The E85 helped but contributes only a modest amount (just under 15% or so of oil use) to their overal fuel use. Also, corn is much less efficient at converting solar energy to ethanol, so the US would be relying on imported sugar or ethanol anyway. Brazil is only declaring energy independance because they also have a plentiful cheap resource today, namely petroleum.

Re:Innovation (1)

pubjames (468013) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466537)

Isn't it obvious?

I don't think it is obvious to many people.

I think we have to start promoting this type of thing in a different way. Rather than "it's about protecting the environment" we should be saying "it's about not being dependent upon the Middle East".

Re:Innovation (2, Informative)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466585)

Rather than "it's about protecting the environment" we should be saying "it's about not being dependent upon the Middle East".

How about telling the truth, just to be different?


Re:Innovation (1)

pubjames (468013) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466773)

? Not following you - they are both valid and truthful reasons.

Re:Innovation (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466923)

They are both valid, but they are neither truthful.

Make a test; go out in some vaguely natural environment and start producing some small amount of hydrogen without burning fossil fuels or disturbing said environment by some other means.


Re:Innovation (1)

s31523 (926314) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466789)

Precisely. Energy is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of increasing population and technology. My whole point was that if we listen to people who are just dismissing a form of technology because it is difficult to master with "what's the point?", then innovation can never happen. If all the innovators in time listened to this we would still be living in caves. I expect better from leaders in the energy community, that is all I am saying. Who knows if Hydrogen is a realistic energy source, but to just dismiss it with, hey we got oil whats the point, is short sighted and stupid.

*sigh* (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466129)

Dr. Ulf Bossel, organizer of the Lucerne Fuel Cell Forum, about his announcement that hydrogen will no longer be a topic of conversation at the conference [thewatt.com]

Please also note that because of the staggering loss of exergy, use of [tinaja.com]
electrolysis for bulk hydrogen apps is a really, really dumb thing to do.
It is the equivalent of exchanging two US dollars for one Mexican peso.

"Hydrogen power will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas admissions"
- Speaking on the topic of energy independence, Washington D.C., February 6, 2003 Or how about the mere announcement of spending "In 2003, President George Bush announced an $1.7bn investment to turn the US into the world leaders of hydrogen-powered automobiles."

Now....who ya gonna believe....Don Lancaster (who has more geek cred than most /. readers), Dr. Ulf Bossel, or some hack writers at Popular Mechanics and President Bush?

Belief.... (0)

wish bot (265150) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466131)

I can't quite still believe people write things like this...
When burned, these carbon-based fuels release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gas traps heat and is believed to contribute to global warming.

It's established beyond doubt that it does do this - there's no belief required. We're not discussing religion, it's not controversial - we're discussing thousands of real scientific studies. We don't have to believe anything - unlike religion it exists whether we believe in it or not. I mean, I don't have to believe that my powerbook is hot and heats up the table - it just fickin happens. When will these people wake up from their self induced delusions?

Two sides to every issue (1)

rsd-17 (765038) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466321)

This is "reporter speak". There are two sides to every issue and they have equal validity...at least thet's the way the mantra goes. We shouldn't ever cloud the issue with facts.

Re:Belief.... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466543)

"It's established beyond doubt that it does do this - there's no belief required."

Except that 'global warming' has so many meanings to different people that it's pretty much impossible to make any objective statement using the term. It's almost certain that increased CO2 is warming the planet to some extent, so to people who use the term to mean 'the planet is warming because of CO2 emissions', then you're right. But to those who use the term to mean 'oh my God! The sky is falling! We're all going to die if we don't give control of global industry to the commies^H^H^H^H^H^Hgreenies!', that's only a belief (and a false one at that).

Hydrogen Not A Fuel? (5, Insightful)

mrdrivel (742076) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466157)

From the article:
But unlike oil and gas, hydrogen is not a fuel. It is a way of storing or transporting energy. You have to make it before you can use it -- generally by extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels, or by using electricity to split it from water.
How is hydrogen not a fuel? I always thought fuel was a substance that when it goes through a chemical reaction releases energy. While many fuels are burned, the process of generating energy in a fuel cell is still a chemical reaction.

Secondly, aren't there other fuels that have to be made before we can use them? Gasoline and diesel have to be refined -- it's not like we find them naturally in the ground.

So hydrogen is just a way of "storing and transporting energy". I thought the use of fuels was a way to "store and transport energy".

Re:Hydrogen Not A Fuel? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466225)

The difference is that you don't have to spend energy to create oil.
That's done for us over millions of years by mother nature.
With hydrogen, you're creating the fuel, the actual energy stored in chemical bonds.

Re:Hydrogen Not A Fuel? (4, Informative)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466409)

Yes, hydrogen is a fuel, but it is not an energy source. It is a fuel you have to put the power into. The phrase "hydrogen economy" is an idiocy at best; a fraud at worst. The economy will be based on whatever source of energy is used to make the the hydrogen. Like, oooooooooooh, gas and coal.

The more things change. . .

Gasoline and diesel have to be refined -- it's not like we find them naturally in the ground.

But the energy is already in the crude (stored solar) and it can be used to power its own refinement. There is a loss of available energy in the process, but a net gain nonetheless.

There is nothing but net loss in hydrogen since any energy that can be extracted from it must be put in it the first place - and the Second Law wins. The current cheapest and quickest way to put energy into hydrogen is to . . .burn oil and coal. Using hydrogen as a fuel increases coal and oil use until the price of them rises above the cost of energizing hydrogen by other means.

In other words, when hydrogen becomes really, really expensive itself.


Re:Hydrogen Not A Fuel? (3, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466867)

OK, if you want to nitpick, H2 is not a primary fuel. You need some other energy source to create it. So it is more like electricity than crude oil. Of course, H2 will become a primary fuel the day we start mining Jupiter and Saturn for H2.

USA thinks about it, Iceland takes action (2, Interesting)

muttoj (572791) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466161)

Synopsis For years, people laughed at Bragi Arnason - a pudgy Icelandic Professor who had a dream of society powered by hydrogen. Now they're feting him as a visionary, as Iceland embarks on a radical plan to get rid of all fossil fuels in the country in the next fifty years. Europe Correspondent Geoff Hutchison explores the stunning vistas of Iceland, a remote island high in the North Atlantic, and home to one of Europe's last pristine wildernesses. Settled by Norwegian Vikings in the 900s, it's a land of glaciers and arctic deserts, and - most importantly - rivers and volcanoes. Iceland has no fossil fuels of its own, and in the oil crisis of the 1970s, the fiercely independent Icelanders realised that their high standard of living could not be sustained so long as all fuel had to be imported. But abundant supplies of water means cheap, clean electricity, and it's here that the clue to the hydrogen economy lies. Thirty years ago, a plan was hatched to heat the capital, Reykjavik, with steam-powered turbines using Iceland's huge reservoirs of hot underground water. It worked, and today, hot water from Reykjavik is piped all over the country. But it was a massive step from geo-thermal power, to cars running on water. Now, that's about to happen. And it's all down to Professor Hydrogen, as Bragi Arnason is known today. In the 1970s, Arnason was living on top of a glacier and mapping Iceland's underground water reservoirs as part of his doctoral thesis in chemistry. The reservoirs were no secret, in a land where people have been known to cook by burying boxes of bread in the ground. But the professor was the first to map the extent of Iceland's geothermic energy reserves. He began to wonder why, if Iceland could heat its houses, it couldn't fuel its cars - and thus the idea of the hydrogen economy was born. He spent the next few decades trying to convince his colleagues, and the government, that his vision could work, but it wasn't until 1999, when Daimler-Chrysler arrived in town to set up a joint venture with the Icelandic government, that the sceptics were finally silenced. In a couple of months, Iceland's first hydrogen-powered buses will be on the streets, filling up at the world's first hydrogen filling station. "This is a new energy resource coming into the market, and we as an energy company want to be involved in the future," a Shell representative tells Geoff. The key to producing power from H2Ois to zap it with electricity. This splits the hydrogen from the oxygen. The hydrogen is then passed through a fuel cell that powers an electric motor. There are no pollutants, just steam. Iceland currently owns more cars per head than almost any other nation on earth, and is the largest per capita producer of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases, due to its huge fishing fleet and metal smelting industry, so the benefits of a switch to hydrogen power will be global. Not only that - Icelanders are hoping that they can serve as a laboratory for the rest of the world. "If it comes together in a positive way we can show the rest of the world that it's possible to have an entire society based on a new kind of energy," President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson tells Geoff. "Energy that doesn't threaten the life on earth, doesn't threaten the climate and is friendly to the future of mankind." Of course there are still many hurdles to overcome - at the moment it costs twice to three times as much to produce hydrogen as the equivalent amount of oil, and the buses cost around six times as much to manufacture as their conventional counterparts. The cost of replacing an entire infrastructure based around oil will also be huge. Shell Hydrogen estimates it would take at least $US19 billion to build hydrogen fuel stations in the US. But because Iceland is so small, the cost will be millions rather than billions - making it the ideal location for a grand experiment. It's also a nation accustomed to being in front - famous for its innovation, and the imagination of its people. It seems that once more, Iceland is ahead of the rest of world. "I will see the first steps," says Professor Arnason. "My children will watch the transformation, and my grandchildren will live in this new energy economy.'

Holy broken keyboards, Batman! (1)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466259)

Penguin stole his enter/return key so nobody could read his comment and we'd slip deeper into global warming and bring about the inevitable next ice age!

Re:Holy broken keyboards, Batman! (0, Offtopic)

Porchroof (726270) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466387)

Nah. He has an enter/return key on his keyboard. It's just that SlashDot's "Post Comment" ignores it. At the end of each of the sentences above I pressed my return key twice. (And here also.) When is SlashDot gonna fix it?

Re:USA thinks about it, Iceland takes action (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466593)

Well hooray for Iceland. Too bad the article did not mention the LOW EFFICIENCY of making hydrogen by electrolysis, or the difficulties in storing and transporting huge quantities of the stuff. I hope some Icelandic economist gets a Nobel Prize for pointing out the true costs of oil versus hydrogen. A little more sanity is needed if we're going to survive.

When is 19 billion dollars a big sum for Shell? (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466979)

19 Billion dollars is just chump change for Shell and other oil companies. In the last run up of gas prices to 3.50$ a gallon, they made 10 billion dollars in profit per quarter. Come on. Get real.

Crisis is in Transportation sector. (5, Informative)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466207)

We should recognize that there are two distinct energy sectors, and one is in crisis and the other one has some breathing space for a smooth landing.

The fixed or stationary energy use, at homes, offices, and factories is not in as much of a crisis as the transportation sector. For electricity generation, there are alternatives like coal (yeah, it is dirty), or nuclear (yeah, most people fear it) or tar sands (yeah, it is expensive to recover) or wind (yeah, it has some problems), solar (yes, it needs high investment). There are problems, but USA is self suffiicient in them, and we wont be held hostage by foreign powers. There is breathing space to develop really good alternatives.

On the other hand, in the transportation sector is in crisis already. So much of personal transportation depends on gasoline and freight depends on diesel and air transportation depends on kerosene. No serious alternatives are emerging and the time is running out on those sectors. Most predictions of peak oil is around now or 2010. Even the most optimistic estimates about the Hydrogen powered cars or biodiesel driven trucks talk about widespread adaptation around 2020.

America is particularly vulnerable to this energy crisis. It is not as densely populated like Europe or Urban India and China. It is not easy to switch USA to use electricity driven public transportation. So much of the economy depends on the high home values of the sprawled cities and the humongous fleets of trucks delivering goods. So much of the infrastructure is built around the idea it is very cheap to transport goods over 100s of miles. And America is not self sufficient in this energy sector. This is a grave crisis.

Re:Crisis is in Transportation sector. (1)

pete.com (741064) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466377)

Amazing how the "Peak Oil" time keeps slipping into the future. I guess the new discovery http://money.cnn.com/2006/09/05/news/companies/che vron_gulf/index.htm [cnn.com] of oil in the Gulf of Mexico might push this back another few years.

Re:Crisis is in Transportation sector. (4, Informative)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466425)

From my understanding throughout the 20th century we've always had about 40 years of production in known reserves. The only valid arguement for peak oil is that the Saudis have been lying through their teeth about their reserves (the Matt Simmons arguement). He makes a good case, and certainly knows more about oil extraction than most of us.

Re:Crisis is in Transportation sector. (2, Interesting)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466435)

It is calculated that, lets take the most promising figures available, the newly found oil fields will hold around a 4 month supply in the year 2020. Meaning we will be able to run only 4 months on these fields according to the oil demand in 2020.

And this is only the case if there is what they predict there will be.

Re:Crisis is in Transportation sector. (1)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466411)

Correct correct the oil consumption is likely to peak in 2010 however there will still be oil to power cars and truck,..... However we will only have a couple of years to switch from this to a other power source.

In my opinion the solution can be found in coal liquefactions during the transition face. However more and more research needs to be done and we should already have started this years ago. However it looks like this is not a topic that a lot of people are interested in.

Hydrogen will be the energy source of the future - (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466503)

- as soon as we get all the intricacies of fusion reactors (hot, cold, or on the rocks) figured out. (there is a big jackpot to be won here by the first nation (or group of nations) to work this out)

Until then, it is just a problematic way of storing energy. If we're going to synthesize it as fuel for cars and planes, we might as well look into synthesizing something that is easier to store (preferably liquid at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, but if it doesn't diffuse through almost any material, that would be a start). Yes, this might mean that there is carbon in our synthesized fuel, but if we take it out of the atmosphere (technically or biologically) instead out of underground deposits, it is just as CO2 neutral as hydrogen.

Re:Hydrogen will be the energy source of the futur (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466609)

Transporting it will be the main issue.
Distribution of hydrogen like Petroleum is what is needed. Its a classic case of chicken and the egg.
Our Govt. could step in pump in its own money to build the necessary infrastructure (or subsidize it with our tax money) so that companies can solve the chicken-egg problem.
Instead of wasting money in Iraq (which is a dead-beat case), we could spend the 1 billion at home every month to fund distribution pipelines for Hydrogen, build processing,routing plants, build initial nuke plants which would break down Natural Gas or water into hydrogen.
But then our Prez is well known for his mouth in a*s approach to this, and instead will continue to expect insurgency in Iraq will end so that Texmaco and BP can pump cheap oil (it ain't cheap)...
For once we should vote against this as*shole and tell him we should not waste anymore lives for oil when we can use that money to build an economy of Hydrogen...


So, our cars won't move anymore. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466581)

Like every other article on Hidrogen vs. Petrol, it fails to point one little detail: the auto industry isn't the only one directly connected to petrol production. It's the raw source, in majority, for the chemistry industry. Without it, forget about plastics and medicine.

Re:So, our cars won't move anymore. (1)

suntac (252438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466777)

"forget about plastics and medicine" replacing oil for those area's will take very long and intense research. The question now is do we have this time.

We could "buy" some time be switching away from oil for transportation and keeping the oil that is left for other applications like the production of for example Plastics and medicine. In my opinion we should start buying time as fast as possible.

However, it looks like the majority of the public is not interested in this subject and they are only interested in powering their cars with the currently cheap oil. In the long run this will be a wrong decision I think. By betting on oil to power your cars at this moment we throw away valuable years in the near future when we really start to understand that there is a end to the oil reserves.

Oops! Missed the most likely method of production. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466627)

The most likely method of production of hydrogen (as a useable fuel for cars, etc) is probably via a process similar to photosynthesis.

    Sunlight energy + water (with catalyst present) ==> hydrogen + oxygen

You let the oxygen escape to the atmosphere (just like the plants do). You keep and store the hydrogen (possibly using nanostructures as a carrier).

In a vehicle, inside a fuel cell you release the hydrogen, let it react with oxygen from the atmosphere. This would balance the oxygen you released into the atmosphere in the earlier "photosynthesis" step.

    oxygen + hydrogen ==> water + electrical energy

This way, your deserts can become resources. Vast areas of former desert given over to hydrogen fuel farms. You just pipe water in (possibly from a nearby ocean), add sunlight in the presence of your catalyst, and you make your fuel.

You make your fuel using a resource that was previously a wasteland. You supplement the natural action of forests (phootosynthesis). You collect fuel for the cost of maintenance & transportation. Your fuel is pollution free, and 100% renewable.

This is the basis of a hydrogen economy. Despite the naysayers, it should be quite achieveable.

A better approach (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466657)

Leaving aside the various technical problems with the "hydrogen economy", the biggest hurdle I see is that there may be no incremental way to make it work. You need the distribution system to exist to make developing the technologies for generating and using it practically and vice versa. To transition to a hydrogen economy would take the kind of concerted national effort we haven't seen here in the US in sixty years.

Hydrogen is not an energy source, it is transmission medium. We already have a highly effective transmission medium: electricity. Improvements in our electricity generation and distribution systems would be a simple, incremental means towards a more diverse energy generation portfolio.

The main problems are battery technology for mobile applications, and long distance transmission. The inability to ship electricity across the continent divides our nation into geographic markets; it is not possible to harvest wind energy in North Dakota and sell it in California. In my state of Massachusetts there is a huge brouhaha over a massive ocean based wind farm right off the coast of our prime tourist area. This farm would be unnecessary if we could buy wind power from distant land based wind farms.

The answer would be a national superconducting electricity grid.

One advantage of a national super grid would be that it would create a superior storage medium for renewable but variable sources, such as solar voltaic, wind and tidal power, by converting them to natural gas and diesel fuel reserves with near perfect effiency.


It's simple: we have already natural gas and diesel plants that burn fossil fuels and supply a major fraction of our electricity. If they don't burn as much fuel because a distant, renewable source is providing power to the local grid, the difference in fuel is saved. From a national viewpoint, if that renewable energy had been magically converted into diesel oil, tbe practical result wouldn't be any different, on the "penny saved is a penny earned" theory.

A superconducting grid may also be the missing incremental step towards increased hydrogen use. The superconducting transmission lines would have to be cooled. If liquid hydrogen were used as a coolant, then it would provide an alternative (but less efficient) form of energy storage to saved fossil fuels. The producers would provide a mix of hydrogen and electricity and inject them into the transimission line. On the receiving end, the hydrogen would be gasified and converted into electricity at a rate sufficient to maintain cooling in the transmission line.

This would provide a local source of liquid or gasified hydrogen that could be piped or tankered to power hydrogen fleet vehicles at the outset. An example might be post office delivery vehicles, for whom a daily range of a couple of hundred miles is acceptable; or possibly some mass transit buses that take many short distance trips and could be refuled during the day. If there were other local uses for the hydrogen, then the local terminal would request more and the producers would alter their electricty/hydrogen mix. However if hydrogen is outstripped by battery technology, then the basic infrastructure is still useful.

The best part of this is that it could be done much faster than a fossil fuel to hydrogen transition.

Re:A better approach (1)

rohar (253766) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466887)

Improving the electrical grid is a good idea and for all of Canada and the northern US, more energy is used by an average family for home heating than personal transportation and home heating can be easily and relatively cheaply converted to electric (electric forced air, radiant heat, etc).
A indirect solar electrical system [energytower.org] that is location independent and generating the electricity as close as possible to the market is a much more viable approach and decentrallization of the power generation and grid applies much of the same distributed ideas as the Internet to power generation from a military perspective.

Ideas for Solar Hydrogen Production (1)

rohar (253766) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466681)

This pilot project [shec-labs.com] is being built in Regina, Canada and will use a Dry Fuel Reformation [shec-labs.com] solar process to crack hydrogen from landfill methane.
This project [energytower.org] is a new concept for indirect solar power generation system with a focus on on-farm electrical power generation and the system will store large amounts of thermal energy [energytower.org] which could be used to create large methane bioreactors. Another idea is to reduce the fossil fuel inputs in agriculture by growing smaller plants [energytower.org] that have a shorter growing season and can be more readily adapted [valcent.net] to being farmed with a system that is completely electrically powered. Once the fossil fuel dependency is lowered in agriculture [energytower.org], clean energy products (ethanol, biodiesel, methane, hydrogen) can be produced on a large scale without the high fossil fuel input.

It's still easier and more efficient to transport hydrogen with carbon as in ethanol. If ethanol or biodiesel can be produced with renewable energy, they are carbon neutral and much easier to handle than pure hydrogen.

Hydrogen form Solar == artifical photosynthesis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466821)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_photosynth esis [wikipedia.org]

"Sometimes splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen by using sunlight energy is also referred to as artificial photosynthesis."

http://www.csiro.au/promos/ozadvances/Series14Arti fical.htm [csiro.au]

http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2003/bnlpr09090 3.htm [bnl.gov]

http://www.climateark.org/articles/2000/4th/rework to.htm [climateark.org]

Why bother? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466781)

Why bother with hydro-/nuclear/whatever-power when there's electricity available in every wall socket?

EEstor or advanced flywheels seem better. (3, Insightful)

guidryp (702488) | more than 7 years ago | (#16466799)

Hydrogen is nothing but an energy storage medium. There will be an energy loss converting to hydrogen, an energy loss converting from hydrogen. A whole infrastructure to build for conversion/delivery. Storage issues in cars....

Wouldn't a better battery be a much better solution. We already have the distribution network(electric grid). EEStor ultra capacitors seem to be that better battery if they deliver on promises, but there are also advanced flywheels (composite wheels in a vacuum, superconducting magnetic bearings, turning neark 100k rpm). These can be charged or discharge quickly and should last the life of the vehicle.

http://tyler.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2006/1/19 /1715549.html [blogware.com] (ultracaps)
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.05/flywheel.h tml [wired.com] (advanced flywheels)

Fuel cells don't solve any energy creation issues and as a deliver mechanism, it doesn't seem so hot, I would much prefer to stick with mechanisms we aleady have like the electric grid.

Re:EEstor or advanced flywheels seem better. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466981)

Fuel cells don't solve any energy creation issues

True. By themselves, fuel cells don't solve anything.

Artificial photosynthesis coupled with fuel cells in vehicles, however, is a hydrogen fuel/solar energy energy collection method that gives us a pollution free renewable "fuel" as a part of the cycle that can be used in cars/trains/ships ... possibly even planes.

Most of the existing infrastructure (roads, bridges, all our buildings even down to the carparks) would still be useful. The only bit that needs replacing, really, is the petrocarbon fuel.

FRiST PSOT (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16466819)

and the Bazaar for m3mbership.
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