The Hydrogen Economy: Don't Give Up Hope

Comments Off on The Hydrogen Economy: Don't Give Up Hope
The Hydrogen Economy: Don

Three years ago, in his State of the Union address, President Bush dedicated himself to building the hydrogen economy by putting up $1.2 billion for the infrastructure to produce and distribute the world’s lightest gas. And that is certainly a reasonable first step.

But when can we actually expect to see hydrogen cars on the road, and hydrogen filling stations lining the Interstate? Before we can answer those questions, we must provide some context.

There are four major links in the hydrogen energy chain:

  • Production
  • Storage
  • Distribution
  • Utilization

According to a recent article in Popular Mechanics,1 each link involves major stumbling blocks.

Let’s start with production, or providing a source of hydrogen. Hydrogen is exceptionally plentiful throughout the universe. However, since it reacts so easily with carbon and oxygen, hydrogen rarely exists on its own. Therefore, it has to be liberated.

There are two main ways of doing that. The most common is to split it off from natural gas, which consists of carbon atoms attached to hydrogen atoms. This method requires high pressure and temperature, which is costly and also gives off carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Today, some 10 million tons of hydrogen is made that way for such uses as fertilizer. But we’d need 10 times that amount to power the nation’s automobiles. Much of our natural gas is imported. Moreover, there’s no environmental advantage to producing a clean energy source from a dirty one. And that system still tethers us to fossil fuels.

Coal provides a completely domestic source of hydrogen. The Department of Energy is

providing $950 million to build a coal-fired power plant that will produce hydrogen while sequestering the carbon dioxide underground. But that plant won’t start operating for another 10 years.

The other method is electrolysis, splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen by adding electric current. But without some sort of breakthrough, that means burning coal to generate the needed electricity, so we’re back to fossil fuels.

As the Trends editors have forecast, safer, more reliable fourth-generation nuclear plants could produce hydrogen from water during their off-peak hours. But this is also more than a decade away.

The second hurdle, storage, is also daunting. Because hydrogen is so light, it has to be compressed to a liquid to get enough energy to power something like a car engine...

To continue reading, become a paid subscriber for full access.
Already a Trends Magazine subscriber? Login for full access now.

Subscribe for as low as $195/year

  • Get 12 months of Trends that will impact your business and your life
  • Gain access to the entire Trends Research Library
  • Optional Trends monthly CDs in addition to your On-Line access
  • Receive our exclusive "Trends Investor Forecast 2015" as a free online gift
  • If you do not like what you see, you can cancel anytime and receive a 100% full refund