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Crunching the Numbers on a Hydrogen Economy 396

Posted by CowboyNeal
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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Crunching the Numbers on a Hydrogen Economy

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  • Electricity + Water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dsginter (104154) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:26AM (#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.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:33AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dsginter (104154)
        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 footprin
        • 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: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Gramie2 (411713)
      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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AceJohnny (253840)
      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 elec
      • by orzetto (545509) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @09:01AM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by The_Wilschon (782534)
          According to the wikipedia article that you cite, the hydrogen used for buoyancy was not the main contributor to the flames, but rather a compound used to dope the fabric that formed the skin on the zeppelin.
      • by be951 (772934)

        ...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).

        Why think Hindenburg? Seems like it would be much better to store the hydrogen in modern pressurized tanks than fabric treated with flammable doping compounds. [wikipedia.org] A more likely danger is the extremely high pressure (10,000 psi) at which the hydrogen needs to be stored to give a reasonable energy density.

      • by wowbagger (69688) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @09:25AM (#16467245) Homepage Journal
        The Hindenburg fire was NOT caused by hydrogen, but rather by a new exterior covering that the Zeppelin company was trying out - a butyl rubber fabric coated with iron oxide and powered aluminum - in other words, a formulation very close to what the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters use for fuel.

        In addition, the skin panels were not electrically bonded to the superstructure of the ship and formed a series of capacitors which were highly charged - when the ship was grounded by the mooring lines, the panels discharged, some through the wet cords binding them to the ship, some by arcing (and thus setting themselves on fire).
        • Indeed, the Zeppelin company did a secret report on the Hindenberg tragedy and noted that the canvas covering was extremely flammable, to say the least. I believe on the Graf Zeppelin II (which did fly for a few years before World War II) they went to a less-flammable covering and also changed some of the canvas covering hooks to bronze, which did not transmit electrical discharges like steel ones do.
        • Rubbish (Score:4, Insightful)

          by fnj (64210) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @02:29PM (#16473617)
          The Hindenburg fire was NOT caused by hydrogen, but rather by a new exterior covering that the Zeppelin company was trying out - a butyl rubber fabric coated with iron oxide and powered aluminum - in other words, a formulation very close to what the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters use for fuel.

          There was no butyl rubber involved, but other than that, you have picked up on the revisionist Incendiary Paint Theory. It is voodoo science, nonsense on the face of it, and has been completely discredited through logic, investigation, and experiment; see Definitive rebuttal and many good links [colorado.edu]. The best minds in the field of airship history hashed this out in extreme detail, going over and over every angle. I know because I was involved in some of the debates.

          Incendiary Paint Theory proponents who completely reject evidence and experimental findings are never able to explain away the DOZENS of other hydrogen filled airships which were lost through catastrophic hydrogen fires. None of them were doped with the Magic Incendiary Potion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spectrokid (660550)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ihlosi (895663)
        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

        • by tezbobobo (879983)
          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.
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        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 s
    • over lead/acid batteries? Because that's what you've just described. A battery charger.
    • at night when the power plants are idling in inefficient speeds

      Baseload plants are too expensive to idle at night: they keep right on running. Power companies that have extra nighttime capacity sell the power to neighboring power companies at a reduced rate.

      I worked at a nuclear power plant. The cooling reservior was connected through a hydro power plant and spillway to a river. The reactor was run at 100% all day long, since it's a baseload plant. To cover periods of high demand during the day, some

    • Copper is cheap to run to homes. Pipes that carry natural gas are so-so in costs. Pipes that carry H2 are EXPENSIVE and silly (a million/mile according to the article). Instead, use the piping to go to distributed storage stations. Locate a fill-up stations AND large fuel cell there (perhaps one per neighborhood or one square mile). The advantage of this, is that a site could store several days worth of H2 for doing generation. Even if the main grid is taken down, these might provide power for the local are
  • by tdemark (512406) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:27AM (#16466003) Homepage
    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? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:28AM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Moby Cock (771358)
      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.
      • by ronanbear (924575)
        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.

    • 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 e
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by phlipped (954058)

      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 hydrog

  • What about Iceland? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dcw (87098) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:34AM (#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.
  • Coal to oil (Score:2, Interesting)

    by suntac (252438)
    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 aroun
    • by rkcallaghan (858110) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:54AM (#16466209)
      suntac wrote:
      With oil running out in +/- 43 years ...
      For us unenlightened folks, could you explain the "-43 years" part of that estimate?

      ~Rebecca
      • by nelsonal (549144) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:06AM (#16466307) Journal
        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: (Score:2, Informative)

        by suntac (252438)
        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 co
        • by Ingolfke (515826)
          I'm sorry but I have trouble trusting an organization whose Chairman's name is Chicken Little.
          • by BVis (267028)
            Perhaps you can explain something to me.

            Why is it, whenever someone mentions Peak Oil in a (mostly) rational discussion of alternative fuels, there's always someone who needs to belittle the concept and imply that Peak Oil is groundless hysteria?

            Why is it so difficult to believe that eventually we will run out of fossil fuels that are usable by current (and near-term) means? We use it at a far greater rate than it's being generated. Fossil fuels take millions of years to form, and the fact of the matter i
    • by krell (896769)
      "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!!!"
      • by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot@castles ... .us minus author> on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:52AM (#16466753) Homepage Journal
        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.
        • 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.

          This is a true statement. However, what you're not really discussing -- and what really lies behind the worries of people discussing Peak Oil -- is what the social consequences of that increase in cost will be.

          As energy becomes more expensive, the lifestyles that we currentl
    • Oil has been running out in 40 yrs for 40 yrs. It's the mantra of the any fuel but oil crowd. We know that there are untapped massive oil fields off the East Coast of the USA, the Artic, off Florida and in deep-water Gulf of Mexico. The oil sands in Alberta alone have a decade of oil stored in them (it's another discussion on if it is a break-even process to get it out). Technology is allowing older fields new production. We will eventually run out of oil but try a 75 yr horizon and not 40. By the way, the
  • 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 chem
  • Innovation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by s31523 (926314)
    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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nelsonal (549144)
      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.
    • by pubjames (468013)
      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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Smidge204 (605297)
      Way to take a quote out of context!

      Immediately before that quote: Skeptics say that hydrogen promises to be a needlessly expensive solution for applications for which simpler, cheaper and cleaner alternatives already exist. (Emphasis mine)

      In other words, for many applications Hydrogen is the Rube Goldberg machine of energy management.
      =Smidge=
    • by xeno-cat (147219)
      He is speaking like a true economist. Econ 101 is that if you have a resource and an infrastructure for utilizing that resource you should continue to use that resource until it is compleatly depleated. This is because economists have such tiny brains that they can only hold the simple arithmatic for their own specialization in their head. They then make long winded and solomn pronouncements about how things _are_ and make fanciful predictions about how things will turn out, which are rarely true.

      Kind Re
  • by mrdrivel (742076) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:48AM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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.
    • by kfg (145172) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:17AM (#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.

      KFG
      • by smchris (464899)
        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.

        Yeah, but they'll make it up in quantity. When they build up the currently non-existent distribution network they've got it made. Sure, gasoline has the lead but does any other energy source like electricity have a distribution network? Oh, wait....

        Sure, it's one thing to come to /. and visualize the day when there is one linux computer for every person but
    • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @09:00AM (#16466867) Journal
      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.
  • 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
    • 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.
    • 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.
      • Sorry to reply to myself. Forgot to add the links.

        Exxon mobile [yahoo.com] sold 350 Billion dollars of gas and made 40 Billion in profits.

        Shell [yahoo.com] sold 311 billion dollars and got a profit of 27 Billion Dollars.

        If it it only cost 19B$ to build a H2 infrastructure in USA, it is chump change for them.

    • by danpsmith (922127)

      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.

      Yeah, wow, that is a lot to invest in the future when you take into account that: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article12 393.htm [informatio...house.info] The cost of the Iraq war could surpass $1 trillion. But who needs new fuel when you can cause civil wars in countries instead.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:54AM (#16466207) Journal
    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.

  • - 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

    • 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 ini
  • A better approach (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hey! (33014) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:46AM (#16466657) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Huh?

    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.
    • by rohar (253766)
      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 app
  • 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
  • by guidryp (702488) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:54AM (#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.
  • by yancey (136972) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @11:50AM (#16470233)
    In my opinion, hydrogen is a distraction by the petroleum industry, which would be the primary source and that is why G.W. supports it. The problems with hydrogen are stated as "production, storage, distribution and use". It seems to me this is true of any energy source. However, I believe that we have solved all but the storage issue for electricity. We know how to produce electricity in great quantities and new means of production are coming on-line every day (solar, hydro, wind, etc.) and these techniques are ever improving. We have a distribution system in place for electric, which just needs to be expanded. Use is also covered as electric motors are far more efficient than fuel engines. That only leaves storage. Research monies should be spent on engineering storage solutions for electricity instead of solving all of the above stated problems for hydrogen.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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