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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

IS THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY SOON TO COME?

I belong to various e-discussion groups.  Most are like debate sessions dealing with the future of Planet Earth and Humanity.  However, one e-club wants to commercialize OTEC, and they seem serious about getting to some construction stage in the not too distant future, possible because, like me, they are getting old.  One of their potential co-products could well be hydrogen.  The general feeling was that this economy was soon to come, so I sent them a series of articles warning them that I thought the hydrogen economy might happen someday, but it remained premature to depend on an early market:

A little more than six years ago (during the period when oil reached $147/barrel) I began a series of Huffington Post articles on hydrogen:

You ask, what happened to Part 4?  I don't know and don't remember, but here it is from my Daily Blog.  You will note that I began with the Hydrogen Economy, then shifted at the end to the Green Energy Age.  Essentially, I came to a conclusion then that the direct methanol fuel cell made a lot more sense than a hydrogen fuel cell for ground transport, mostly because we are in a liquid fuel infrastructure, but also because hydrogen will for some time be too expensive to produce, transport and store.  Also, as methanol has only one carbon, it is the ONLY liquid fossil  fuel that will ever be reasonably efficiently and DIRECTLY processed by a fuel cell as the expensive step of reformation can be avoided.  Seriously, compare the equivalent cost of a gallon of hydrogen and a gallon of methanol.  My views have only solidified over the past six years.

However, one of the e-participants responded with:

Stanford scientists develop water splitter that runs on ordinary AAA battery -  The hydrogen gas could be used to power fuel cells in zero-emissions vehicles.


As one of the original hydrogen romantics (I participated in their first gathering in Miami 40 years ago, drafted the original hydrogen bill five years later in 1979 when I worked in the U.S. Senate, and today remain as an honorary member of the International Association of Hydrogen Energy Journal editorial board), I've experienced the highs and lows, and I think matured into a realist and sometimes grinch.  Actually, it occurs to me that I've always carried that attitude, for I recall chairing the Secretary of Energy's Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel two decades ago and regularly reminding the board and 100 or so in the hearing audience that we should be realistic about the early commercialization of hydrogen.  I still sense that those six articles above mostly represent hopeful fantasy and very little more.   

Yet, there could well be something to those developments, for:
  • The international automobile industry currently appears to be bullish,  and Toyota will begin to sell hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles next year.
  • Southern California, Japan and pockets in Europe remain serious about all this.
  • Scientists keep announcing potential breakthroughs in the production of hydrogen.

While I continue to worry about the relative economics and timing, I want to believe these optimists are right and would find ecstasy in being proven wrong.  Keep on top of the Hydrogen Economy by subscribing to Peter Hoffman's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Letter.

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