The futility of hydrogen
There are many books, magazine articles, and
websites promoting the hydrogen economy idea. With minor exceptions, they
do not deal with physics, chemistry and engineering. Instead they point
out the advantages of job creation and not being dependent on Middle East
oil. They see it as a solution to global warming and pollution. One
popular book even suggests that the benefits include the redistribution of
examines physics, chemistry, and engineering. The coming world energy
crisis has enormous political implications, but the problem can only be
solved by the application of physics, chemistry and engineering.
hydrogen economy has three major problems. The hydrogen economy does not
work unless all three problems are solved. Like a three legged stool, the
hydrogen economy does not work if even one of the problems remains.
Problem 1, there is no good way to get hydrogen.
Oil and natural gas are potential hydrogen
sources, but the energy cost is high, and it seems pointless to
develop an enormous infrastructure which depends on rapidly
depleting resources. Coal is a potential hydrogen source too, but
the poor energy efficiency and environmental degradation makes this plan
this untenable. Electricity, derived from wind or solar, is another
potential hydrogen source. But it is crazy to use wind and solar electricity to
make hydrogen while fossil fuel is used to make electricity. It is better to use
wind and solar derived electricity to free up fossil fuel. Hydrogen is produced from the
freed up fossil fuel, a recipe that
leads to 2 or 3 times more hydrogen production for the same inputs. Recall that
the original goal was to eliminate or reduce dependence on fossil fuel.
Problem 2, there is no good way to store and
Hydrogen must be liquefied or compressed to be
useful. Hydrogen tanks are very expensive and heavy in either case.
Hydrogen liquefaction or compression requires considerable energy.
Methane, ethane, propane, ethanol, and even gasoline are better choices
as energy carriers. Moving hydrogen via pipeline or truck is also
Problem 3, hydrogen powered vehicles with fuel cells are
breathtakingly expensive and they don't work very well.
Acceptable hydrogen powered vehicles must be
economical, lightweight, efficient, and long lived. Fuel cells are
supposed to make this possible. Despite intensive research, fuel cells
are not economical, lightweight, efficient, or long lived. An automobile
equipped with a hydrogen powered conventional engine can equal or beat a
fuel cell/electric vehicle in every respect, including overall emissions.
All three legs are
The Freedom Car and Fuel Initiative
Freedom Car and Fuel Initiative started in January 2003 when President
Bush said; "Tonight I am proposing $1.2 billion in research funding
so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered
automobiles." Of course, thousands of academics immediately started
thinking about grant proposals when they heard this figure.
The impetus for the initiative did not come from
scientists. The hydrogen economy idea is old and well explored and
scientists are not generally enthusiastic about it. 
For example, in April of 1995, the Congressional Research Service
(CRS) sent a comprehensive and highly critical report to Congress. This
report should have killed the hydrogen economy idea for good, but it
didn't. This report is old but physics and the chemistry of hydrogen have
It is sad to say that scientific literacy is not
common in government. It is sadder to say that the current administration
is pointedly anti-science.
An open letter signed by 60 top scientists,
including 20 Nobel laureates and former science advisers to past
Republican administrations, accuse the Bush administration of
"suppressing, distorting or manipulating work done by scientists at
federal agencies."  The Bush
Administration dismisses the signatories by labeling them a "Liberal
The public trusts the government to provide accurate
information about global warming, the spread of disease, nuclear
proliferation, and environmental dangers. That trust has been betrayed and
the public should be outraged.
Why does the government support the hydrogen economy
idea if the science is dubious?
suggestions, and questions are welcome. Reports of errors in fact, errors
in logic, and broken links are very much appreciated. email@example.com
to see the 1995 report
the Congressional Research Service (CRS) sent to Congress. (The
77kb report is in html and it is on this site.) This report is old but the
basic facts have not changed and, of course, the physics and chemistry of
hydrogen have not changed. This report was found at: http://www.ncseonline.org/NLE/
Union of Concerned Scientists website. Scientific
Integrity in Policymaking, An Investigation into the Bush
Administration's Misuse of Science. Union of Concerned Scientists,
February 2004. Click here to
see the full report, a 657KB PDF on this website.
Fuel Cell Folly. "It is the assertion of this article that the fuel cell vehicle (FCV) mania will last no
longer than that of the electric vehicle (EV), about five years." This is a 44
page PDF dated 2003 May. It is a very good general source of information about the
Hydrogen Economy concept, although the scientific explanations are a little ragged.
Click here to see it.
This is a large and interesting site devoted science and many other
things. It also contains an extensive collection of links relating to the hydrogen economy.
Here is the direct link to it.
http://www.arkadia.com It turns out that
arkadia.com is the the website of Arkadia WorldWide Properties which is an
iagency based in France! You will find classified ads from homeowners or brokers to buy,
sell or rent your property, house, apartment, business, or land. An
international real estate site is not an obvious place to look, but this is an
excellent science site.