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Hydrogen Won't Save Our Economy

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the tell-us-something-we-don't-know dept.

Power 723

anaesthetica writes "Physorg.com is featuring a story asserting that hydrogen is economically infeasible as a replacement for our current energy sources. The premise is that isolating and converting hydrogen into a usable energy source takes up a great deal of energy to begin with, and that subsequently converting that hydrogen fuel into usable energy results in an overall efficiency of only about 25%. Apparently, the increasing scarcity of water is going to make hydrogen too costly and just as politicized as oil." From the article: "[Fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel's] overall energy analysis of a hydrogen economy demonstrates that high energy losses inevitably resulting from the laws of physics mean that a hydrogen economy will never make sense. The advantages of hydrogen praised by journalists (non-toxic, burns to water, abundance of hydrogen in the Universe, etc.) are misleading, because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today."

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umm... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220528)

we're going to have to keep the rising water levels in the oceans down somehow right? ;)

sun and wind (4, Insightful)

C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220530)

sun and wind power are, IMHO, the alternative to oil and coal. hydrogen should be used just as storage/transport of energy.

but even this will be useless if we don't put serious brain power into improving the eficiency of our gadgets/cars/homes/etc.

Re:sun and wind (1)

swissfondue (819240) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220612)

The reasoning behind the "inefficiency" as described in the article is the high energy cost to make and store the liquid hydrogen.

I believe advanced technologies in geothermal energy may help us solve the "energy" supply problem of the equation such as technologies described here [bassfeld.eu]

Just don't build a liquid hydrogen plant in the desert (except if near a desalination plant).

Re:sun and wind (1)

C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220732)

i didn't mean increasing the efficiency of hydrogen production/use. i meant incresing the efficiency of engines/electronics/houses/etc. so they use less energy.

case in point, using diesel cycle engines instead of otto cycle engines, revert the trend of power hungry CPUs in computers, use mini-fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent ones, and things like that.

Re:sun and wind (1)

salec (791463) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221012)

Sure, with enough energy supply, we wouldn't have a problem in the first place. We could use that hypothetic energy source directly or to synthesize portable chemical energy storage fluids, aka fuels, for use in autonomous (i.e. mobile) engines, lol.

Hydrogen, impractical (high pressure, cryogenics, leaky, low energy density) for mobile applications as it may be, will however play major role in raw materials production technology - we need a substitute for traditionally used carbon monoxide as oxide reduction agent that would not produce CO2 in the process (CO2 bad, H2O good) and we need it in industrial amounts. I just hope that after the switch we don't run into "too much atmospheric industrial waste oxygen" problem (if we crack water to get H2, which leaves us with excess O2). However, comparing percentage of CO2 we managed to kick up to percentage of O2 in the air so far, I suppose we would be on a safe side with O2 rise, for a very long time.

BTW, looking at sizes of giant fossils of flying insects and vertebratae that lived on Earth in the past, man has to wonder if air had greater percentage of oxygen back then to provide them with enough muscle power to lift their heavy bodies in the air. Elevated oxygen level would also mean a slightly larger air buoyancy, because O2 is heavier then now prevalent N2, but that is of marginal importance.

Re:sun and wind (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220640)

The use of sun and wind and coal to produce hydrogen ignores the 25% conversion efficiency problem mentioned in the article. If you have 1 Kwh of energy from one of these sources, use it directly rather than convert it to hydrogen. That means refocusing the effort from using hyrdrogen to figuring out a way to deliver electricity to cars, trucks, etc. Some sort of rail transport for cars and trucks, so you can drive onto a rail vehicle and be transported while sitting in your car would probably be the way to do it, and will prevent a lot of accidents by taking the primary failure mechanism (humans) out of the personal transportation control loop.

Re:sun and wind (2, Insightful)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220850)

sun and wind power are, IMHO, the alternative to oil and coal

Wind won't work outside of a very few areas that have the kinds of sustained winds to make it workable. In general, it just takes up too much physical space for the energy it generates.

Solar is potential workable, but not with single-crystal silicon wafers. Those actually require quite a bit of energy to create, and take (I believe) over a year to "pay back" that energy. Recent research into nanocrystalline materials has more potential there, as they require less energy to create.

hydrogen should be used just as storage/transport of energy

You're right by definition on that one - there's no real hydrogen source here, so in any situation we're adding energy to some other material to create hydrogen.

Re:sun and wind (4, Insightful)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220906)

"but even this will be useless if we don't put serious brain power into improving the eficiency of our gadgets/cars/homes/etc."

How about putting some serious brainpower to changing cultural values? How much fucking space, heat, energy, electricity is wasted every year because each family/individual has a house/apartments much bigger then they need yet no people populate the extra empty rooms during the year, etc? Society in their desire for privacy / personal space creates a huge tonne of fucking waste simply through their animal prejudices and "preferences" (read programmed evolutionary emotional responses), we could save a TONNE of money and resources of we did something to develop superior cultural values. How much money would be saved on social programs if governments gave tax breaks to people that took the disabled, homeless, etc into the free space in their homes rent free, etc? How much good could come if people simply weren't dogs infected with the backward behavioural baggage of evolution.

Re:sun and wind (-1, Troll)

mgblst (80109) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221024)

Well, we really should be trying to reduce the problem. The only problem is, you can't really do this on a country by country basis. You really need to reduce the world population (especially in some areas), and it is difficult to do this from inside a country, and outside it has bearing of being a racist. This will not really happen until we have a world government. And we can't really have a world government with rogue nations running around doing anything they want.

I can't believe that I have just given some small justification to the George Bush case for world domination.

Re:sun and wind (1)

boost1 (1035958) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220976)

Cars with improved efficiency are already invented. Cars driving approx. 25-30km pr. litre (65miles pr. gallon). It's just the usage of these cars that is needed. Low powered gadgets, like computers, are also much more common. The focus on low energy usage in houses is also very common atm. Therefore it is, IMO, the focus on new and cleaner types of energy that is the most important.

Eh? (4, Insightful)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220534)

the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare
Eh? What about that huge nuclear furnace in the sky? And the ones we'll be building on Earth? What about two thirds of the planet's surface? That's not runny cheese you know!

Re:Eh? (1, Insightful)

hclyff (925743) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220638)

Two thirds of the planet's surface is salt water, which is not economically feasible to extract fresh water from. As always, the problem is not that we couldn't do that, it just costs too much compared to digging for fossilized fuel.

Re:Eh? (1)

imroy (755) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220716)

But you don't need clean drinking water for electrolysis. In fact, having salts dissolved in the water increases the conductivity and hence speeds up the process. Save the fresh water for plants, animals, and us humans.

Re-use (4, Insightful)

SigILL (6475) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220538)

It doesn't really matter if water is scarce or not, since contrary to gas/oil it can be re-used; it's only an energy carrier. Also, 3/4ths of our planet is covered in the stuff.

Re:Re-use (0)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220740)

"3/4ths of our planet is covered in [water]"

How about I go fetch a bucketfull of the liquid from the nearest ocean, and you drink it all down and then (when and if you get out of hospital), you can explain to me again how "water" is so plentiful.

Re:Re-use (1)

SigILL (6475) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220780)

How about I go fetch a bucketfull of the liquid from the nearest ocean, and you drink it all down and then (when and if you get out of hospital), you can explain to me again how "water" is so plentiful.

Even if it's only 80% water, that amounts to er.. *calculates*... lots :)

Re:Re-use (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221064)

Deuterium is normally made from sea water. That's the major hydrogen source most scientists are talking about when they say hydrogen.

Besides with Tidal, wind, and solar power to power a desalination plant that water could easily be converted into useful water for normal consumption. There is no reason why a desalination plant can't be self supporting.

Besides if we are going to melt the polar ice caps anyways that's a whole lot of fresh water right there.

Re:Re-use (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220828)

Technically, water can only be an energy carrier if it is hot since it has absolutely no chemical potential energy. H2 is the energy carrier created out of water.
And yes, there is indeed a lot of dirty water on most of the planet, but either if you want to drink it or use it for chemical reaction, you need clean water, and this is naturally scarce, and expensive (energy+money) to make out of dirty water.

Re:Re-use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17221072)

Making clean water out of dirty water is relatively simple. It just takes a lot of energy. We can do it just like nature does it: Vaporize the water, leave the crud behind. We don't do it that way because energy is scarce and we don't really have to do it because fresh water is still in good supply. In places where energy is cheap and water is not, desalination is already used.

Overall consumption of energy has to go down... (5, Insightful)

astonishedelf (845821) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220542)

It seems unlikely that some magic bullet will come and solve all our problems. The largest part of any solution has got to be a dramatic downward trend in energy consumption regardless of the source.

Re:Overall consumption of energy has to go down... (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220700)

Why? If energy can be cheaply and cleanly created, transported and consumed, what reason is there at all to decrease its use?

What we actually need to do, at present, is reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, because it's the burning of carbon-based fuels that is the source of all the drawbacks of energy usage.

If you had a battery that never depleted and produced no pollution whatsoever, what would be the benefit of not using it?

Re:Overall consumption of energy has to go down... (0, Flamebait)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220872)

If you had a battery that never depleted and produced no pollution whatsoever, what would be the benefit of not using it?
Demonstrating that you're sane and you understand fundamental physics?

Re:Overall consumption of energy has to go down... (4, Insightful)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220950)

There is no such thing as cheap and clean energy, all we will ever have will be energy that is relatively cheap and clean corresponding to our technology level.
-Oil looks cheap because we are using in a few centuries the production of millions of years.
-Wind or solar energy comes free, but to use them, you need devides that need to be built, maintained and trashed, and due to their power source, they can have significant downtimes. Solar pannels also contains a lot of dangerous materials (As, Ge, Ga...) and their production causes some nasty pollution.
-Nuclear power is probably the best we can have today for fixed power generation: we have largely enough uranium to wait for the fusion reactors and the generated pollution doesn't go into the atmosphere and therefore can be processed, but there will always be a risk with that.
And of course, for the portable energy
-Batteries are neither cheap or clean: they contain lots of toxic chemicals, have a limited life time, and due to Ohm law, can only give back only half of the energy that was put into them.

Battery (3, Informative)

Perseid (660451) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220544)

I read somewhere that some consider hydrogen to be sort of a liquid battery. It costs energy to make it so it's really just a transference mechanism between the source of the energy and your car. The benefit is this, though: That source does not have to be oil. It can be anything. Wind, nuclear, squirrels in hamster wheels, anything. It will not solve our long-term energy problems, but it could help relieve our dependence on foreign oil.

A particularly bad Battery (4, Informative)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220630)

You didn't read the article. Hydrogen is just a 25% efficient battery. We already have much better batteries.
 

Re:A particularly bad Battery (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220718)

Who cares how efficient it is? It's far cleaner than any other presently available energy store. If we use solar, wind and tidal energy to charge the hydrogen batteries, what difference does energy efficiency make, so long as current and future energy needs can be met?

What difference does energy efficiency make? ... (2, Informative)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220924)

If we use solar, wind and tidal energy to charge the hydrogen batteries, what difference does energy efficiency make, so long as current and future energy needs can be met?
Well, you take your energy as hydrogen, I'll take it as electricity at 1/4 of the price...

And it gets worse. Assume we're not going to use 100% *cough* renewable electricity. Assume your energy comes from a local coal power station. They're about 35% efficient, so your 25% efficient battery actually gives you an overall efficiency of 8.8%. You're taking your scarce energy resource, burning it and making use of less than 10% of the energy in that resource.

Until we are using 100% renewable or magical *cough* fusion you're throwing around 90% of your energy away. Afterwards you're throwing 75% away. Either scenario is just fucking dumb. Our existing energy strategies fit into the du

 

What difference does energy efficiency make? ... (2, Informative)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220990)

If we use solar, wind and tidal energy to charge the hydrogen batteries, what difference does energy efficiency make, so long as current and future energy needs can be met?
Well, you take your energy as hydrogen, I'll take it as electricity at 1/4 of the price...

And it gets worse. Assume we're not going to use 100% *cough* renewable electricity. Assume your energy comes from a local coal power station. They're about 35% efficient, so your 25% efficient battery actually gives you an overall efficiency of 8.8%. You're taking your scarce energy resource, burning it and making use of less than 10% of the energy in that resource. Exactly how clean do you think that strategy is?

Until we are using 100% renewable or the magical *cough* fusion you're throwing around 90% of your energy away. Afterwards you're throwing 75% away. Either scenario is just fucking dumb.

The existing energy strategies of many countries fit into the dumb category, particularly knowing the resources are generally going to increase in value in the future.

 

Re:A particularly bad Battery (5, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220722)

You must be new here, Mr UID 2679. If the "editors" don't bother to read articles before submitting them, I don't see why we should bother reading them before commenting.

Re:A particularly bad Battery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220748)

Don't worry, he is new. He just bought that ID off Craigslist.

Re:Battery (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220820)

I read somewhere that some consider hydrogen to be sort of a liquid battery.

An incredibly expensive, complex, and ineffecient battery.

That source does not have to be oil. It can be anything. Wind, nuclear, squirrels in hamster wheels, anything.

You can do that with actual batteries, far less expensively, and much more effeciently.

Re:Battery (1)

WiFiBro (784621) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220916)

25% is quite disappointing, i hoped they could do better.
Mayhaps the fuel cell can deliver more Watts?

A guy in Wageningen University (NL) says they should try to store the energy in something more dense than hydrogen, so the fuel will be more compact and it might leak less. Hydrogen (H2) is a pretty small molecule.

Re:Battery (2, Interesting)

15Bit (940730) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221046)

The fuel cells guys like to call it an "Energy Vector". i.e. just a transport medium.

You don't have to go too far in the research world to find people who are sceptical about the H2 economy ever becoming feasible. You can do the maths in a few different ways, but it requires some fairly serious fudging to make H2 look good in comparison to the competition, simply because it is energy-expensive to make and transport. Couple that with the engineering problems holding back fuel cells (water management in Nafion systems is hilariously complex, molten electrolyte cells are inherently limited in application and solid oxide systems are still very young) and i think its going to be more than a little while before you see the H2 economy take off, if it ever does.

The academics don't talk about it publicly because they get their research money by writing "Clean Hydrogen Technologies" all over the grant proposal. The engineering and business guys don't talk about it because they also get their startup money for "Clean Hydrogen Technologies". The problem is thus one of politics - the politicians are paying for "Hydrogen Economy" research now. Nothing new here, though: Not too long ago you needed to write "Nano" in the proposal (and still do, to some extent), before that "Superconductors"....

From the article (4, Insightful)

api_syurga (443557) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220546)

"We have to solve an energy problem not an energy carrier problem."

There. nuff said.

Re:From the article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220998)

No, not nuff said. In order to solve an energy problem, we need to solve an energy carrier problem. You see, oil has this nice property that it can be transported and stored quite easily.

We have ways of creating electric energy efficiently, from renewable sources of energy like wind, water power, solar, and biomass, but cars with an extension cord are not really feasible and we don't know how to store large amounts of electric energy either. The energy carrier problem is THE problem, not just an aside in the renewable energy debate.

my car is eating sugar! (1)

mardin (976086) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220552)

Well, it has happened before and it might happen now, that we find out that nature's way of doing things is not so bad for us. Nature stores it's hydrogen in all kinds of sugar. Pretty harmless and pretty efficient way of transporting hydrogen through a large system. We'll find out.

Re:my car is eating sugar! (5, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220604)

Pretty harmless and pretty efficient way of transporting hydrogen through a large system.

Sugar, like most other forms of easily accessible energy, is dangerous stuff. It only seems harmless since complex mechanisms have evolved to deal with it. Sugar is hydrophilic and will kill microbes that come in contact with it by dehydrating them. It will also destroy cells that contain too much of by osmosis. Your body needs to keep the level of sugar in the bloodstream within very tight limits, or bad things will happen.

(Yeah, I know. Completely offtopic.)

Re:my car is eating sugar! (1)

waferhead (557795) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220802)

I think this is an obtuse way of saying:
Yay for Ethanol!

Re:my car is eating sugar! (1)

nuklearfusion (748554) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220836)

Well, it has happened before and it might happen now, that we find out that nature's way of doing things is not so bad for us. Nature stores it's hydrogen in all kinds of sugar. Pretty harmless and pretty efficient way of transporting hydrogen through a large system. We'll find out.

The problem is that nature doesn't even get particularly great usage out of sugar. in fact, eukaryotes only get ~32% of whats available in glucose [my bio textbook]. if you take into acount the energy that goes into making glucose, then there is a lot less efficiency.

Despite this, i think that you may have a good idea in some respects. if we can harvest the energy stored in say, cellulose, from otherwise discarded/burned*, then we should have another source of energy that takes waste and makes energy, and thus reducing what we need from coal/solar/nuclear/wind/etc. Another great idea comes from what i have heard (although not researched) that there are some forms of algae that can get 90% efficiency from photosynthesis. this would be a great improvement over current solar methods.

* I really do not know what farmers do, but it seems like they must have an efficient method for handling the uneaten parts of all the various crops. if there are any farmers, or anyone who knows what happens, i would like to know. thanks.

Please, pardon the rambling, but its late for me at the end of finals week.

Re:my car is eating sugar! (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221032)

I'm not a farmer*, but hogs will eat damn near anything organic.

(* I do live down the road from a few however)

Why do they have hydrogen cars in Finland then? (3, Insightful)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220558)

Just because it takes alot of energy to create the fuel, doesn't mean the fuel isn't usable on cars. You don't see a whole lot of space shuttles running on coal.

Hydrogen misunderstood. (4, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220562)

Hydrogen will be the energy source that should suffice for a couple of centuries once we figure out how to extract energy from artificial fusion. (Note that this might include "Never", but I hope that's not the case).

Before that, hydrogen is a cumbersome, impractical, lossy way to transport energy. We might as well look into synthesizing hydrocarbons from CO2 and H2O instead of just splitting water into H2 and O2. Any hydrocarbon is less troublesome to handle than hydrogen. If we make the chains long enough, we might even end up with stuff that's pretty much identical to oil-based gasoline.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (1)

VTMarik (880085) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220594)

You bring up an interesting point. If we are able to create engines (however large the originals may be) that can burn coal (which is mostly carbon) then perhaps we can create a system built around the Calvin Cycle. If we could use solar energy to store fuel like a plant converts sugars into starch and back to live, then perhaps we could create a self-feeding car of some sort?

I'm not sure how the science would work, but it seems to me that it is at least possible.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (2, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220758)

Why waste our time with producing something like "oil-based gasoline" when a diesel engine will run fine and dandy on the oil that we can just squeeze out of the end product of about half a billion years worth of plant evolution?

Biologists and architects will get us over the hump, not physicists.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220846)

Unfortunately the filfth that comes out of diesel engines would see off all the biologists and architects, (and blameless physicists too).
I'm all for addressing global warming but when given the choice between a little more carbon dioxide or a whole load more carcinogens I'll take the CO2

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220868)

Unfortunately the filfth that comes out of diesel engines would see off all the biologists and architects,

Particulate filters already exist and work extremely well. "Dirty diesel" is a thing of the past.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (4, Insightful)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220764)

Before that, hydrogen is a cumbersome, impractical, lossy way to transport energy. We might as well look into synthesizing hydrocarbons from CO2 and H2O instead of just splitting water into H2 and O2. Any hydrocarbon is less troublesome to handle than hydrogen. If we make the chains long enough, we might even end up with stuff that's pretty much identical to oil-based gasoline.
That makes no sense. The problem with hydrogen as an energy carrier is that you have to first put the energy into it to separate it from H2O. By creating energy from CO2 and H2O suffers from the same problem. You first have to put the energy into it that you plan to get out of it (different end-products than CO2 and H2O will affect the ratio of energy in to energy out, but the fundamental issue still applies).

The only reason fossil fuels are efficient is that they already exist. Essentially, they are pre-charged batteries.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (2, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220814)

That makes no sense. The problem with hydrogen as an energy carrier is that you have to first put the energy into it to separate it from H2O. By creating energy from CO2 and H2O suffers from the same problem.

Which I wasn't going to contest. My point was that handling anything that has carbon in it is much, much easier than hydrogen, which has some fairly nasty properties like diffusing through almost anything.

A practical energy carrier should be at least as convenient as natural gas. Bonus points are awarded for being liquid.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (1)

lobotomir (882610) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220890)

Fair enough. I only disagree on the time scale for adopting fusion reactor technology. According to the people behind the $20 billion ITER [wikipedia.org] project, the first commercially viable fusion power plant is expected to be online by 2050.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (1)

BigTom (38321) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220978)

Ah, still ~50 years away then. That's a relief, I thought there had been a breakthrough.

Re:Hydrogen misunderstood. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220992)

Maybe the supercables [sciam.com] described in the link can help solve the problem: transport hydrogen and cool at the same time a superconductor as a substitute carrier for DC electricity...

Regards

Well, yeah, wasn't that obvious? (3, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220566)

The hydrogen economy was an idea dreamed up by those with a vested interest to divert attention and money away from more promising and immediate technologies which compete with their own investments. Still, the government got to spend lots of money.

 

Re:Well, yeah, wasn't that obvious? (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220776)

The hydrogen economy was an idea dreamed up by those with a vested interest to divert attention and money away from more promising and immediate technologies
Such as?

Re:Well, yeah, wasn't that obvious? (1)

giorgiofr (887762) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220806)

Fission and geothermal.

Re:Well, yeah, wasn't that obvious? (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220860)

Both of those are being researched, and I fail to see how either are more promising than hydrogen. Geothermal and fusion(*) are ways of generating energy. Hydrogen is all about storage and distribution of energy.

(*)I know you said fission. Fission has extreme drawbacks which, while addressable, keep it from being an ideal energy source.

water is not scarce. (4, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220574)

You don't need clean drinking water for electrolysis.

Isn't salt water better? (2, Informative)

interactive_civilian (205158) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221044)

Call me crazy (or just lazy because I don't feel like looking it up), but doesn't electrolysis happen more readily in salt water?

I seem to recall needing to add salt to the mix whenever we did electrolysis experiments in junior high science classes...

Still interesting in many places (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220590)

...because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today

So you need to put your hydrogen plants where you have both water nearby (ocean, desalinate?) and energy (sun?). California maybe? Sounds like a big enough market.

Energy (0, Flamebait)

jocks (56885) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220596)

As far as I can tell there is no scarcity of resources such as oil or gas - any supply constraints are put in place by OPEC to ensure the price of oil does not fall below an economic level. There is enough known resource to last for 200 years at current rates of consumption.

As for wind and sun as sources of electrical power, can I ask what we do when it is dark? Or there is no wind blowing? These are lovely ideas but if wind was any damn good the Dutch would still be using it, but they have stopped further wind turbine installations.

It is time for real engineers to make the decisions on how we proceed and not unqualified "experts" of which there appears to be an almost limitless resource.

Re:Energy (1)

PainBot (844233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220684)

Then I guess we could use these experts as a source of energy if there are that many of them.

As for what we do when it's dark ? We use the stored hydrogen produced before. Just because a plant works 50% of the time doesn't mean it's not a good design. Just make it bigger and it'll produce more energy... I kinda wanna say "D'uh".

Re:Energy (0)

jocks (56885) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220800)

Wind only generates energy 27% of the time, duh. So, when you connect that to hydrogen to store the energy, duh, it, duh, goes through another loss of 40%, which duh, then gets converted back to energy it, duh, goes through another 40% reduction before you get electricity back. Duh.

So from you original 27% you get sod all back. I can substantiate these figures on demand for anyone that wants it. My comments are not flamebait, I am simply pointing out that many people are claiming the sky is falling in without any evidence to support it.

As for solar, it is practically useless for electricity production outside the tropical lattitudes. Again, what happens when it goes dark? We are back to the very lossy hydrogen storage approach. The point of the article above. Duh.

Scarcity of water?! (0, Redundant)

jimicus (737525) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220622)

Could someone explain in lay terms exactly how water can be deemed to be scarce when the Earth's surface is two-thirds covered in the stuff?

Scarcity of pure, clean water - now that I can believe.

Re:Scarcity of water?! (1)

Elkboy (770849) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221068)

Pure, clean water is the waste product of hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells, isn't it? So when you get energy from hydrogen you're also creating more pure water.

Unless you're too proud to drink from an exhaust pipe, there's your water.

Doesn't have to be CHEAPER (1)

Woek (161635) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220626)

First of all: Hydrogen as an energy carrier IS feasible, just not as 'attractive' as fossil fuels. Second: soon fossil fuels are not going to be an option at all, so you'd have to compare hydrogen with other alternatives for energy carriers, like synthesized alcohols. Hydrogen then becomes very attractive.

No surprise here. (5, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220628)

And it underlines a point that I'd like to see raised more often: a lot of people are looking for a "magic bullet", meaning some sort of drop-in replacement for oil, whether it's bio-fuels, or hydrogen or something else. They want something that would solve all of our energy problems in one fell swoop. And that's just not going to happen.

Think about the early 19th century, for instance: oil was just one energy possibility among many others. Most people used wind power to process cereals into flour, or mechanical water power. They used coal or wood to warm themselves and candles or whale oil to light themselves. They also used solar power, for instance in salt flats. Then came steam engines -- again wood or coal -- and so on and so forth.

Of course, the 21st century is a much more advanced society, but the energy possibilities are also much more numerous: from bio-fuels to nuclear, with solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wind power, bio-mass, natural gas, tide power, etc... etc... Our technology level has progressed by leaps and bounds and may well end up covering most our needs, IF we also improve efficiency and energy savings (= no more gas guzzler for you, sorry). But the key idea here is this: the 20th century, from and energy point of view, was an historical abberation: a time when we solved most of our energy needs on one solution. The 21st century may well see us come back to a more diversified picture, and something more in line with the previous centuries.

Water shortage? (3, Informative)

Nemosoft Unv. (16776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220642)

Considering that 3/4 of the planet is covered with oceans, at some points kilometers deep, I fail to see a "water shortage". There may be a shortage on fresh water, yes, but salt water elctrolyzes just as well (even better, since it contains ions). To boot, you end up with sodium, chloride and some other chemical elements that can be sold as by-product.

The real problem with hydrogen is that it's an inefficient way to store energy. Plus, storage is difficult since it's a very tiny atom (one proton only...) so it tends to seep out of every container; it's highly flammable, and to store it effectively you need either very high pressure, or very cold temperatures (20K). Gasoline really isn't that bad for a fuel...

No, the real boon would be to either store electricity very efficiently, or somehow convert the CO2 in the atmosphere directly into fuel again, using some form of renewable energy like the sun.

Re:Water shortage? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220680)

The real problem with hydrogen is that it's an inefficient way to store energy

But Methane (CH4) is a fantastic way to store and transport energy. We already have pipelines and ships to transport it and busses which run on the stuff. All you need to do is burn the hydrogen down to Methane, taking carbon out of the atmosphere in the process.

Sure it will... (1)

BalkanBoy (201243) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220652)

just ask this fellow [ens-newswire.com] at the H pump. He could not have figured out a better distraction for the American public.

Focusing on the wrong thing (1, Insightful)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220662)

Efficiency is irrelevant. Fossil fuels are essentially fully charged batteries. Water is essentially a flat hydrogen battery. Of course using an already charged battery is going to be more efficient than charging a flat battery.

The problem with fossil fuels isn't that they are efficient. That's their sole benefit. The drawbacks are pollution, global warming, scarcity and terrorism.

The hydrogen economy has absolutely *NONE* of those problems. The only problem it has is efficiency. We have to first charge the battery (separate H2 from H2O). Fortunately, there is a virtually unlimited supply of both H2O (the ocean!) and energy (the sun, wind, waves, etc). We can tap both the fuel supply (water) and generate hydrogen from it, even at extreme inefficiencies, without *ANY DRAWBACKS WHATSOEVER*, once the initial investment is paid for.

Cheaper, cleaner, doesn't fund terrorism, doesn't emit greenhouse gasses. What's the downside?

NOT enough profits for the oil companies, strupid. (1)

Petkov (1011081) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220714)

THAT's the downside.
Watch me get -1 for daring to question israel here

Re:Focusing on the wrong thing (1)

cnlohfin3109 (758597) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220788)

pumping money into the middle east is not the same as funding terrorism

Re:Focusing on the wrong thing (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220910)

pumping money into the middle east is not the same as funding terrorism
Of course it isn't. Of course that's not what I said, either.

A non-trivial amount of money generated by the sale of oil in the middle east *is* used to fund terrorism, war, and other things which make the area such an abysmal place (there is also much greatness in the region, but that's not the issue I'm addressing here).

Re:Focusing on the wrong thing (1)

eggywat (1020737) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220964)

"A non-trivial amount of money generated by the sale of oil in the middle east *is* used to fund terrorism, war, and other things which make the area such an abysmal place (there is also much greatness in the region, but that's not the issue I'm addressing here)."

So why mention terrorism at all?

Imagine someone outside the US suggesting that we starve the US economy as a means to stop power crazed US presidents from threatening, manipulating and invading foriegn governments?

Drop the terror obsession, its unbecoming.

Re:Focusing on the wrong thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220930)

Disagreed. The ruling families (the ones who get oil) and governments fund extremely islamist teaching programmes and supports radical imams worldwide, both in western countries and as missionaries. Look it up, it's not difficult.

My personal speculation of their motives is that it's a way they, conscience-wise, compensate for the way their society is structured, by furthering radical Islam in other countries. YMMV on this. YMMNV on the world's oil spending going into radical islamist teaching programmes.

Re:Focusing on the wrong thing (1)

Two99Point80 (542678) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220804)

>Efficiency is irrelevant. Only if cost is also irrelevant. Have you unlimited funds?

Re:Focusing on the wrong thing (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220884)

The issue at hand isn't economic efficiency, but work (physics) efficiency.

Economic efficiency is a different issue, and it *is* relevant.

"You never get what you pay for" (1)

cyclomedia (882859) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220666)

it's one of the laws of thermodynamics, along with "it takes money to make money". Though the thermo laws dont strictly apply in this case the principal is similar.

To get energy out of hydrogen you have to get the hydrogen out of water, which itself takes energy, lots of energy. This indirectly makes the process similar creating a hydrogen based battery. You put the energy in in the seawater processing plant, and get it back out to drive your automobile, if the voltameters at the plant are solar powered you might as well have a solar powered car and cut out the middle step. However, if the plant were fusion powered then it might be a different story.

Hellohoo! McFly! Anybody home!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220674)

Hydrogen is not an energy source. It is an energy storage.

time for USA to attack ANOTHER oil-rich country (1)

Petkov (1011081) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220682)

yep. Whats there left t do?

ram scoop (1)

yincrash (854885) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220692)

what we should do is make a giant ram scoop that orbits the earth and funnel the space hydrogen back to earth to use as fuel.

nasa has got nothing better to do at the moment.

Not Hydrogen Alone (3, Insightful)

vivin (671928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220710)

We need to stop relying on one single solution.

In the future (if there is one once we get our act together soon enough), the "solution" has to be a combination of solutions. Wind, Geothermal, Tidal, Nuclear (yes, Nuclear - although it's gotten a bad rap, it's actually a pretty good source), and perhaps Fusion, in addition to Hydrogen. The Earth's Oceans are a huge source of Deuterium, which can be used for Fusion (if we have it figured out), and possibly we could even use it as fuel (burning it). But I'm not sure of the effects of having slightly radioactive water vapor. Maybe it's not a good thing.

I know there's a lot of IFs, but the sooner we start...

Discovery had a good show today, outlining doomsday scenarios because of our overdependence on fossil fuels. It seems the Pentagon is actually seriously considering the implications to National Security from Global Warming and the rising cost of Oil, especially when it can involve droughts, and lots of war.

WATER??? (1)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220730)

Someone needs to remind this guy that drinking water is not needed to make Hydrogen. We have a whole sea of suitable materials.

Hydrogen is out... (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220738)


C2H5OH with [H2SO4] as a catalyst -----> C2H4 + H2O

      and with that cute little double bond, I can make any hydrocarbon you want. Where do we get the ethanol? There's plenty of arable land left for now - so much so that certain governments pay their farmers NOT to plant crops. Instead of making energy to create H2, perhaps we should use the sun's energy to work for us, as we have been doing anyway for the past few billion years...

Re:Hydrogen is out... (1)

waferhead (557795) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220848)

Someone mod parent up...

Re:Hydrogen is out... (2, Interesting)

guy-in-corner (614138) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220904)

There's plenty of arable land left for now - so much so that certain governments pay their farmers NOT to plant crops.

The problem with this is that (according to some sources) we don't have enough water suitable for irrigation. See this [planetark.org] for example.

Eejits at physorg. - Bacteria, sunlight (1)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220750)

The cheapest way to make hydrogen would be to develop a bacteria which lives in water and converts water into hydrogen and oxygen. IIRC someone developed a bacteria just like this that needed just a small bit of electricity to do its thing. (Which is a good thing, since it allows us to control the process.)

Pour some of these into the sea in some sort of screened-off area and the only technical issue is to separate the hydrogen gas from the oxygen and transport them. A plant like this would require next to no maintenace, and costs otherwise endured would be minimal. If hydrogen efficiency is only 25% you just increase volume by 400%, since it's dirt-cheap!

Re:Eejits at physorg. - Bacteria, sunlight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220908)

You may recall Physorg as the website responsible for publicizing the laughable "discovery of axions" a few weeks ago.

Transport, not source (1)

RMB2 (936187) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220754)

Others have pointed out as well, but anaesthetica seems to have fallen victim to the common misconception that plagues hydrogen discussions; specifically, incorrectly identifying hydrogen as an "energy source". I suppose, then, some blame is also to be shared by kdawson for posting this most frequent of mistakes.

As hydrogen is not readily available in atomic or molecular form (even tho it is plentiful in H2O) hydrogen (H2) must be created USING another energy source. The liquified or compressed gas hydrogen can then be transported, combined with the O2 readily available as ~30% of the atmosphere, and releasing the stored energy. Contrary to the author of this particular article, I still believe there are a number of applications for this type of energy system.

Peak Oil (1)

Enquest (579041) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220768)

We will have to come up with something. They say peakoil was in 2005 November... That means every year less energie. After 2010 3 to 5 % less oil each year. The energy crunch will be devastating if we don't change or out smart this problem.

I think solar power is the only option. I read on slashdot it goes now to 40% efficiency.

Re:Peak Oil (1)

jocks (56885) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220856)

Who exactly says peak oil was last year?

You are making this up.

Re:Peak Oil (1)

Enquest (579041) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220926)

No I'm not making this up. Kenneth S. Deffeyes say's so. http://poweringdown.blogspot.com/2005_11_01_poweri ngdown_archive.html [blogspot.com]

Since November 2005 we havn't produced more oil then that month. That could well have been the peak. However it does not matter if it was 2005 november or it will be 2009 april... The fact is once we go in decline there is no stopping it. We now have a little bit time to change or energie habbits and to secure your future.

Peakoil might even be good for the locale economie. I don't know however I think things will look bleak and we will go to a dark page in the history of human kind. Why, because the politicians arn't taking this on top of the agenda and transform our economy from Oil based to "solar... based".

water and gravity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220790)

one way would to use dams to make
hydrogen.
now just a side note:
hover dams "drop" water onto a turbine which
turns a generator, which converts to electricity.
fortunately water is pretty heavy/dense, but if
water is "split" into oxygen and hydrogen, well
hydrogen is lighter then air.
so, if one would make hydrogen at the bottom of a
hydro-dam, let it naturally float up (say inside
a pipe) and then burn it at the top of a hydro dam,
the resulting water could be "dropped" back down
on the turbine, which turns a generator, which ...

hmmm, something must be wrong :P

Re:water and gravity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220934)

Lisa, In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!

Paradigm Change (1)

Dreyden (1039296) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220810)

One of the most interesting uses of Hydrogen is not just as an energy source or storage. Hydrogen may change the centralized generation paradigm in use. In the same way that the Internet changed the way information was created from individual sources to end to end communication, Hydrogen may allow smaller generation plants.
While one method is to switch to bigger and bigger energy plants and more massive interconnected networks, the other is to swith to individual generation facilities, where dependence from traditional utilities is reduced.

Water Rare? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17220844)

"...availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today."

Water Rare????? People need to stop with the stupidity NOW. Water is 3/4 of the planets surface area, and that means that the VOLUME of water on the planet is absolutely insane compared with the volume humans take up on the planet.

There is no shortage of water, the only shortage is in infrastructure and technology.

Anyone who says there's a water shortage anywhere on the planet is missinformed. You might have regions on the planet without access to water but again, that is a problem with infrastrcuture.

The average depth for the planet's oceans is 4km! Give me a break.

But even then lets do some analysis:

"Turkmenistan withdrew more than 5 000 cubic meters per person per year, with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan all withdrawing 2 000 cubic meters or more per person per year. By comparison, per-capita withdrawals in the United States were around 1 800 cubic meters, in France 650 and in the United Kingdom 200"

"1.268 × 10^9 km3" is the approximate volume of water on the planet.

Now 1 cubic kilometer = 1 000 000 000 cubic meters.

So, assuming everyone on the planet used up (the water vanished totally or was 100% contaminated) 5000 cubic meters per year we woulda have:

Earths Population x 5000 cubic meters = 6,562,976,420 x 5000 = 38,214,882,100,000 cubic meters of water used per person per year (assuming every person used up as much water as Turkmenistan withdrew.

Now the total water on the planet is 1.268 × 10^9 km3 x 1 000 000 000 cubic meters

= 1.268 x 10^18 cubic meters.

So, Total Withdrawl of humans on planet if we all withdrew as much as Turkmenistan

3.821 x 10^13 vs 1.268 x 10^18 cubic meters of total water.

This gives 33,185 years of water if 5000 cubic meters of water dissappeared per person on the planet per year (assuming population remained constant).

There is no water shortage on planet. If there is a local water shortage it's due to bad infrastructure and again, it's only a local problem where that may be the case.

People (especially the media and school textbooks) need to stop talking about a water shortage on the planet.

Scarcity of clean water ? (1)

thrill12 (711899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220870)

That, scarcity of clean water, should not be an issue. There is certainly not a scarcity of salt-water. As hydrogen is produced from (for example) electrolysis, this will work for salt water as well.
Yes, there is a scarcity of clean drinking water - but we do not have to use that water for this purpose. I call this particular point moot.

An unfair comparison (2, Informative)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 7 years ago | (#17220912)

There is no "electric car with regenerative breaking". There may be a few golf-cart sized vehicles with or small cars with limited ranges, but a practical, mid-sized sedan with acceptable range on electricity only is far from a reality. Also, he seems to forgete that the batteries have to carry themselves, lowering their efficiency. Of course this is true of liquid fuels as well, but their energy density is much higher, so this issue is much less of a concern.

It seems that the title of this article should be "hydrogen infererior to magic batteries".

Whoopdie doo...

What about semi-permiable membranes (1)

pnosker (802807) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221016)

The Danish have done it: http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/?p=1071 [jcwinnie.biz] They take cow-dung and take the methane out of it. Why not use a platinum catalyst to catalyze methane's decomposition? Semipermiable membranes could be used to extract the hydrogen with particulate platinum. Sounds feasible to me, considering they can power towns off of the methane produced by cow crap.

Railway (1)

pfortuny (857713) | more than 7 years ago | (#17221070)

Well, they were saying more or less the same in the 1890's: railways won't save our economy, they are too slow and too attached to a fixed path...

And just some years later man **began to fly**

So

a) We may think today that hydrogen won't save our economy. But we are also unable to predict the discovery of _________ (insert your favorite here).

b) It may come out, though, that Hydrogen *does* save our economy in a way too different from what we know NOW. ... ... ...

these arguments about the future keep boring me.
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