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"H-Prize" Announced 394

An anonymous reader writes " The House passed legislation to encourage research into hydrogen as an alternative fuel creating the "H-Prize",allowing scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs to vie for a grand prize of $10 million, and smaller prizes. The Department of Energy would put together a private foundation to set up guidelines and requirements for the prizes. Anyone can participate, as long as the research is performed in the United States and the person, if employed by the government or a national lab, does the research on his own time. Best political Quote: "If we can reinvent the car, imagine the jobs we can create." said bill sponsor Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C."
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"H-Prize" Announced

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  • A good start. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <> on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:23AM (#15307015) Homepage Journal
    That's good news - hopefully, it will spur private enterprises in a similar manner to the X-prize.

    However, I really don't think this admistration seems too interested in ending dependance on foreign oil, when they electric and natural gas cars [] to the tune of $500+/year.

    Hydrogen would be great & all, but what really needs to be done is to improve America's public transport infrastructure & encourage people to start using it. A gradual raising of gas taxes until pump prices are around $7/gallon, with the money raised being pumped into (free) public transport would achieve precisely that.
  • Re:Why hydrogen? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kfg ( 145172 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:36AM (#15307043)
    It wont. On Earth hydrogen is an energy storage and transport medium. Essentially, a battery. The energy has to be put into it first before it can be extracted. "Going Hydrogen" makes about as much sense from the energy saving standpoint as "Going Duracel."

    Because of the Second Law, for the time being there will be a net increase in the use of fossil fuels by using hydrogen as a fuel, just as there would be a net increase in fossil fuel use if everything were run by batteries.

    When the fossil fuels get expensive, hydrogen will get expensive. When the fossil fuel runs out hydrogen will be forced to become things like solar power and be in as short supply as all other forms of solar power.

    The power of the power of fossil fuels is that they are the stored and concentrated solar energy of centuries, which you can use all up in a single trip to the mall. When they're gone you'll need to learn to walk again, i.e. use only as much stored solar energy (in the form of liver glycogen) as can be reasonably concentrated in a timespan relevant to the human lifetime.

  • Re:A good start. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:37AM (#15307046) Homepage Journal
    Oh please. I live in the only capital city in Australia that has decent public transport. It it good for precisely two reasons: it creates local jobs (we build our own buses) and not too many people use it. If it didn't create jobs there wouldn't be nearly as many buses as there are our now, so waiting times would be unacceptable. If more people used it you would have buses filling up real quick and apart from the unpleasant experience that would create in and of itself, you'd also soon have to wait for a bus that wasn't full before you could get on. Quite simply, no one can afford to provide transport for 100% of the population. Either you have a government that puts all its spending into public transport and neglects everything else or you have private individuals who take on cyclic debt to pay for cars. Simply put, driving across a city to go from home to work to the gym to your girlfriend's place is just not sensible. You should move closer to work. Go to a gym that is closer to where you live and ask your girlfriend to move in. But people accept the burden of debt and maintenance for a car for the convience of not doing all these things.
  • by DaedalusHKX ( 660194 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:38AM (#15307048) Journal
    Everyone is focused on everything except one. WHY is the government not looking at NON centralized NON corporatist methods of achieving alternative energy sources?

    Hydrogen would require plants, specialized chargers, etc. Keeping control for ourselves are we?

    Some "we the people" eh?

    I wish some more of us would wake the hell up. The Matrix has you, boys and girls, and you're loving every moment of vying for a few scraps from its table.

    Enjoy yourselves, oh mindless slaves, and keep vying for what they tell you to vie for. After all, you're free to decide for yourselves, not free to think for yourselves.

  • Good Idea but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neuromancer2701 ( 875843 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:40AM (#15307056) Homepage
    I think this is a good idea, but in the end the H2 has to come from some where and Nuclear power is the only real answer. I just love to hear about the genuis's that build a town around driving around in Electric Golf cart so they don't have to have cars, but the forget that the whole town gets their power from the Coal plant down the road. If we did not have the 70s/80s scare tactics about Nuclear power, the power grid would be better and we could make a conversion to Hydrogen easier. I really have no true love for Nuclear power but it is the better option to get away from foreign oil. Personally I think getting away from foreign oil, whether it be with ANWAR or alternative energy, is the best for this country. OPEC could destroy this country in one move and that has nothing to do with Oil companies gouging us.
  • Yay for Socialism! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ulrich Hobelmann ( 861309 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:41AM (#15307059) Journal
    Now that we have loads of federal money, we can finally create thousands of jobs, we can create new technology that wouldn't be possible without the wisdom of central government, we can be more environment-friendly, and of course we have already chosen the One Good new fuel that deserves to be funded. This is our new three-year-plan.

    For just $10M we get a guaranteed great technology, and if it doesn't work out as well, we can do as with public schools and other government programs: just increase funding incredibly, so the darn thing will get done!
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:43AM (#15307065) Homepage Journal
    Right on the spot.

    You can't grow hydrogen trees or dig the ground looking for it. Just about all the hydrogen around us (and yes, there is a lot of it) is combined to Oxygen or Carbon. In order to burn it (a fuel-cell is sort of like burning, without flames) we must first apply energy to get it loose (and, probably, release some carbon to the atmosphere in the process).

    Unless they are talking table top (or "under hood") fusion, this is only an act of "look, we are concerned with the environmental"-type misdirection.

    And a remarkably dumb one.
  • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:48AM (#15307075)
    Hydrogen is not a solution unto itself, as it is an energy storage medium, much as a battery is an energy storage medium. Hydrogen still has to be procured from: 1. Natural gas 2. Bio-mass 3. Electrolysis of water 4. Ethanol, etc. Hydrogen then has to be stored or transported & then stored: 1. At high pressure inside of highly stressed tanks (many thousands of psi) or 2. In tanks with metal hydride structures or similar at lower pressures Hydrogen then has to be transported in a system we don't currently have in place: 1. In underground moderate pressure pipes 2. In higher pressure tank trucks in some areas The cost and time necessary to implement the whole building project to store and deliver the Hydrogen system above is immense, as none of it is in place NOW. The cost of delivering equivalent amounts of energy to EVERY CITY in the U.S. right now is already in place. It is called the electric grid. Power Plants (regardless of the type of basic fuel or energy source, coal, hydro, nuclear) are not only large but thermally VERY efficient (about 3 times as efficent at "burning" fuel as an internal combustion engine). Thus in the end there are lots of tradeoffs, and these have been endlessly analyzed in the private & public and university sectors. Hydrogen does not seem like a cost effective method when the infrastructure costs and times are looked at realistically, otherwise a company would have started doing it to make money already. Politically it looks interesting for votes. Super efficient, cost effective batteries may be the only reasonable way to tap into the power of the national electric grid and provide effectively delivered "power" to automobiles of the future. That may be why there are so many dozens of labs in the U.S. alone attempting to perfect more efficient more cost effective batteries. Politics rarely leads the pack in inventive matters.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:48AM (#15307076) Journal
    Hydrogen is a transport medium for energy. You produce energy at location A, convert it into hydrogen and then use it at location B.


    Well first, the resource may be impractical to transport to B. Simple example, coal gassing plant generates hydrogen for cars. This would be far far far cleaner then running cars on coal, less hassle and you can do the coal burning on a huge scale with highly tuned filtration. Oh and you won't be burning the coals in busy city centers.

    Then there are natural resources. Hydrogen can be easily used as a battery. Just hook an installation up to some remote windmill farm or hydro dam or whatever and collect your tanker full of energy when it is full. Kinda hard to do that with other tech.

    This would work great with countries like greenland that have an abundance of clean energy but wich you can't easily put on the grid of other nations.

    So the basic answer that has been given time and time again and that every person with a brain by now understands. You can use more efficient and alternative sources of energy production by transforming energy into hydrogen and then using the hydrogen.

    It is not just that you apparently haven't yet caught onto this, that can be excused, stupid people have a right to live too. What is really bad is that with your lack of intelligence you still dare to question people who are smarter then you (everyone else in case you are wondering).

    Oh and mods, Bite me.

  • Re:A good start. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <> on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:50AM (#15307082) Homepage Journal
    Oh please. I live in the only capital city in Australia that has decent public transport. It it good for precisely two reasons: it creates local jobs (we build our own buses) and not too many people use it.

    Hmmmmn, my understanding of Australian cities is that they sprawl in a similar fashion to US West Coast cities. If they'd been planned properly (or at least had development & freeway building curbed a little), public transport could be much better.

    But people accept the burden of debt and maintenance for a car for the convience of not doing all these things.

    Well that explains why Australians are the worst greenhouse gas polluters per capita on the planet.
  • Re:A good start. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PeeAitchPee ( 712652 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:51AM (#15307084)

    A gradual raising of gas taxes until pump prices are around $7/gallon, with the money raised being pumped into (free) public transport would achieve precisely that.

    Yeah, that's what we need -- more artificial controls by the government on commodities.

    Your plan won't work for several reasons:

    • $7 a gallon gas will absolutely destroy the economic well-being of the lower and lower-middle class workers in our society, but upper-middle and upper class workers will continue to drive the same as they did before.
    • The US isn't Europe -- we're too spread out for public transportation to be a viable option for a significant portion of the population. Atlanta and LA are perfect examples of this.
    • You're assuming that the government will take the tax revenue from the gas tax and spend all of it on public transportation / alternative energy / whatever it was actually intended for. I guarantee such a new tax fund, much like social security and other well-meaning initiatives before it, will be raided to no end so that very little of our taxes actually end up going to the develpment of public transportation.
    • As much as they'd love the revenue, no elected official in their right mind would ever advocate such a tax. There's no faster way to commit political suicide.

    Nope, this H-Prize approach is the best way, I think -- let our own greed be the catalyst for innovation. I think you'll only see true innovation in alternative energy when a) shortening supplies naturally cause current technology to no longer be a viable option and b) the economic carrot presented by a) becomes more attractive to big energy companies than their current oil business.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:00AM (#15307113)
    Best political Quote: "If we can reinvent the car, imagine the jobs we can create." said bill sponsor Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C.

    Well Republican Bob, you seem to know that the patent system is so corrupted that it will no longer drive innovative research, elsewise why the prize? How about fixing that little problem for us instead of hamming it up for the press with stupid quotes about job creation (which by the way has been the slowest under this administration than anytime in the last 70 years.)

  • Re:A good start. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndersOSU ( 873247 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:18AM (#15307177)
    The limitations of the Hydrogen economy simply aren't technological in nature. They're fundemental. There are so many reasons why hydrogen won't work, and only pie in the sky ideas about how great it would be if it did.

    In a nutshell there are two ways to get hydrogen commercially. The first is striping hydrocarbons. They're called hydrocarbons because it diverts your attention from the very obvious problem with this approach. Hydrocarbons are foriegn oil (more accurately natural gas, but it is the same problem.) Remind me again what the problem is that prompted us to look at alternative fuels.

    The second way is electrolysis of water, the only problem is that pesky second law of thermodynamics. Yes, I know that stationary powerplants are more efficient than IC engines, and yes I know that we might be prepared to pay the energy penalty twice in order to get a transportable fuel, but the fact remains you are starting with a losing proposition.

    If the senate is serious about spurring Hydrogen growth they should be approving new nuclear power plants with the express purpose of making hydrogen. That IMO is the only economically way to produce the stuff. (Sure solar is great, but I think that if we manage to improve solar technology to the point that we can mass produce hydrogen we've solved a bigger problem than foriegn oil. In other words solar power is a bigger problem independent from Hydrogen, and if we lick that we will be less concerned with Hyrdogen.)

    So even if we do have hydrogen production plants you still have very serious storage and transporation issues. Not to mention prohibitively expensive fuel cells and batteries. I think the govenment is already dumping more than enough money into these fields as it is. Maybe the H-prize will help along research in storage, but I think the dozens of million dollar plus university grants are a bit more of an incentive than this prize.

    All in all I view this as a public challenge to violate the laws of thermodynamics. Call me cynical, but I don't think it's going to work out.
  • Re:A good start. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tx ( 96709 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:21AM (#15307189) Journal
    The tube trains are unbelievably slow, they're hot all year round, to the point where there's warnings at the entrances.

    In spite of this, it's still far more convenient then a car (even without factoring in the cogestion charge).

    As I said, there are places where public transport is convenient, travelling within central London is one.

    You don't mention what part of the UK you're from, but a 30 minute commute that's 90 minutes by public transport is an indication the PT is broken there too.

    I disagree. As I pointed out, not everyone can have a train station on their doorstep, or right next to their place of work. Not everyone can have a direct journey on a train or bus. And the trains or busses can only run so frequently. That doesn't make the system "broken", it's just reality.

    If this sort of attitude is typical, then its no wonder that the UK's greenhouse emissions are rising & you're not going to be able to meet your requirements under the kyoto treaty.

    Actually our greenhouse emissions are reducing, just not as fast as they should. In fact the UK is closer to meeting its Kyoto obligations than almost all other EU countries. And our emissions are around a quarter of the per person emissions in the USA.

    And I support reducing our greenhouse emissions, but I happen to think that using means that are actually practical, and don't entail unnecessary inconvenience, can be found, in fact they already exist.
  • Re:A good start. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by killjoe ( 766577 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:27AM (#15307209)
    "Yeah, that's what we need -- more artificial controls by the government on commodities."

    Why not? The govt already controls the prices of everything buy subsidising virtually every industry in the nation. Everything you eat has been subsidized, every piece of paper or scrap of wood, every mineral, everything. There is already a tax on gasoline too.

    "Your plan won't work for several reasons:"

    Seven reasons boil down to these two. Nobody is brave enough, nobody is selfless enough.

    That's it.
  • Re:Why hydrogen? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:31AM (#15307221)
    It doesn't matter where you get your hydrogen from all realistic methods cost more energy than they produce.

    Not entirely the case. You can obtain hydrogen from methane or other hydrocarbons, then burn it in oxygen for a net energy gain. But if you're doing that, then you might as well just burn the hydrocarbons, which is what we do anyway.

    If you're extracting hydrogen from water, then all methods cost more energy than they produce - second law of thermodynamics. But this isn't necessarily a show-stopper. Suppose you have a nuclear breeder reactor. It's an very efficient source of energy, and can manufacture enormous quantities of hydrogen which can then be shipped around the country to fuel cars; or it can supply huge amounts of electricity to recharge hydrogen fuel cells, depending on which way we choose to run the hydrogen economy.

    Despite the fact that you're wasting energy by electrolysing water to make hydrogen which you then burn back to water, there are benefits. All the pollution generated is in a single, probably remote location, rather than on the city streets. And if technology changes at some point, you can replace the nuclear reactors with new superefficient photovoltaics, or fusion, or microwave relay or whatever it may be, and you don't have to refit a quarter of a billion cars.

  • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:39AM (#15307250)
    What if anyone really could easily and rapidly convert water into hydrogen? (spare me the jabs on how easy electrolysis already is, please)

    Excuse me? Electrolysis IS easy and quick, it's just energy-intensive. So what you're asking for is a way to extract the hydrogen without paying the price in energy.

    Well, then we'd be living in a different universe. One where you can convert water to hydrogen and oxygen, and then burn the hydrogen in oxygen to make water again, and yet have a net energy output from the process.

    Thermodynamics is not your friend in this project, I'm afraid.

    You can build systems to make it easy and quick to separate hydrogen from water, but they take a lot of energy which has to come from somewhere. I suppose this could conceivably be your rooftop solar farm, but it's more likely to be the grid.

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:49AM (#15307282) Homepage
    Gasoline go BOOM!, too. Anyone remember the Molotov cocktail?

    Battery go BOOM! There's a crazy guy in Australia who soups up Priuses in his spare time. Last year he made some miscalculations in the design of his homemade battery charger, and posted some pictures of the resulting explosion and fire that came close to burning his house down.

    And of course cell phone battery go BLFSTSZT! burn-um-thighs make-um heap big personal injury lawsuit. But a cell phone battery the size of a gas tank would go BOOM!

    Anything that can crams enough energy to propel a car hundreds of miles into a space the size of a gas tank can go BOOM! Heap smart medicine-man engineer have-um job keep-um genie bottled tightly when not in use.
  • by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @08:59AM (#15307330) Homepage
  • Two issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @09:19AM (#15307492) Journal
    One: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The people in politics run with the corporate jet set. Powerful people tend to congregate together - there's noting inherently insideous about that. Those who spend most of their time trying to figure out how to make money (corporate money, that is), look for corporate solutions. You don't expect a carpenter to figure out how to use steel to build a house cheaper, you expect him to figure it out with wood.

    Two: Decentralized generation of fuel sounds like a really good idea, until you realize that most people are too stupid to do this stuff themselves in a safe manner. Half the people who aren't too stupid don't have the spare time. You have, in fact, a relatively small fraction of the population (I'm going to guess less than 2%) that have the time, space, and resources to generate and store reasonable quantites of fuel safely.

    I mean, sure, I can create my own fuel at home, and given advances in technology [], it might even be somewhat safe. But now you're looking at doubling or tripling the volume of flammable materials in a typical residential setting, and you're adding a large amount of fuel, pre-fuel, and potentially dangerous fuel byproducts that are being transferred on a regular basis. Think about how much gas an American family will go through in a week. With three drivers (two adults plus a teen or elderly live-in), it can easily top 20-30 gallons. Now, switch to ethanol - you're up to 32-40 gallons. You'll probably not want to generate every week, so lets say you run your still twice a month, and you'll never want to drop below 20 gallons or so, or you might run out. Now you've got 100 gallons of ethanol sitting in your garage, in addition to that in your autmotive tank. In a medium-to-high density area, I would consider that an apparent danger that most municipalities would tend to discourage.

    While it may become viable for those with space, it remains wholly impractical for everyone else.

    Third (Okay, I'm one issue over...sue me): you won't be able to produce it as cheaply, on a continuing basis, in your back yard. Sure, you can make a bit from your brush clippings, or buy the materials in bulk, but to really be efficient will require the leverage of a large operation. We can all make our own clothes, but we don't. We could all grow our own food, but we don't. It just isn't cost effective. In the end, making fuel at home won't be either.

    Sorry to be a bummer about this, but while the idea works well on an individual scale, it just doesn't scale to the society level.
  • Re:A good start. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 11, 2006 @09:21AM (#15307509)
    You should move closer to work.

    I know you're Australian, but I hear this a lot from Europeans as well. This might be workable in a country where your job lasts 5-25 years, but if you're a home owner you might not be able to sell and buy on the drop of a hat. People here in the US change jobs frequently, and in many cases not because they want to. In addition, since Aussies and Yanks have enough land it is nice to live on 1/4 - 20 acres instead of being cooped up on top of each other. My answer to the commute is driving a Honda and taking the bus when I can.
  • by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @01:52PM (#15310382)
    The people running Chernobyl certainly prove his point; there were about 10 places in the chain of events that led to that meltdown where somebody should have stood up and said, "no, this is too dangerous, I won't do it." Of course in Communist Russia (tm) that wouldn't have been a politically wise move.

    But Three Mile Island is actually proof that the system works. Multiple failures, and no radiation released... that's a GOOD thing.

"Oh my! An `inflammatory attitude' in alt.flame? Never heard of such a thing..." -- Allen Gwinn, allen@sulaco.Sigma.COM