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 political power.

Planetforlife 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.

3 legged stoolThe 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 distribute hydrogen.

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 impractical. 

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 broken!

The Freedom Car and Fuel Initiative

hydrogen atomThe 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. [1] 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 not changed.

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." [2] The Bush Administration dismisses the signatories by labeling them a "Liberal Advocacy."

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?

Contacting Planetforlife

Comment, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Reports of errors in fact, errors in logic, and broken links are very much appreciated. jack@planetforlife.com

CRS[1] Click here 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/

adobe reader[2] http://www.ucsusa.org/ 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. 

arkadiahttp://www.arkadia.com/usa/web-directory/Science/  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.