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Hyping Hydrogen: The Energy Scam
CNSNEWS ^ | May 07, 2003 | Alan Caruba

Posted on 05/07/2003 11:54:50 AM PDT by Jack of all Trades

Not long ago I wrote a commentary, "The Great Hydrogen Myth," in which I opined that throwing another billion dollars at more research for the purpose of replacing oil, coal, or natural gas was a huge waste. Recently, that commentary was posted on an Internet site for those who work in industries that provide and use various forms of energy. It's a favorite among the many engineers and scientists whose lives are devoted to energy issues.

Here are some of the responses my commentary received. The names of the innocent have been protected because their jobs depend upon it.

"I have often thought that this 'hydrogen economy' seems intuitively flawed; using energy to make hydrogen to then be used as an energy source. Intuitively, it feels like the Escher painting with the water flowing uphill."

Therein lies central issue that undermines the hype about hydrogen as an endless, virtually free, source of energy. First of all, it is not energy. It is what the engineers and scientists call "a carrier." You have to break the hydrogen molecule free from others to use it and that requires energy. Thus, you have to use a lot of energy in order to use hydrogen to make energy. In real life there is no free lunch.

A chemical engineer with 35 years in the chemical and oil industry who knows a lot about catalytic reforming units that make and use hydrogen in the reformation processes, had this to say: "Not only does H2 (hydrogen) require a lot of energy to produce, collect, and store, it presents rather nasty safety problems."

Need it be said he thinks that Ethanol (made from corn!) is another bad idea the environmentalists have foisted on us? Why? "Ethanol costs far more to produce than the fuel value it provides and the Environmental Protection Agency in its wisdom forced industry to oxygenate fuels only to discover that covalent bonds of all oxygenates are very soluble and stable in ground waters when released." In other words, this environmental "solution" has led to the poisoning of ground water supplies throughout the nation. It also forces up the cost of gasoline.

He wasn't through. "While I'm at it - Greens have our environmental experts at EPA on another even wilder goose chase to capture mercury from coal fired utility plants across the USA. If you add up all the Hg (mercury) released from coal combustion and compare it to global sources, the current analytical and statistical techniques and technologies probably will not be able to detect any reduction in the global Hq pool in the environment."

Thank you, thank you, thank you! The Greens live to conjure up endless scare campaigns, always shouting that everyone, especially children, are being "poisoned" by things that pose no real threat. Or they find ways to force government mandates that either end up poisoning us, i.e., ethanol, are represent no real threat, i.e., mercury. The end result is higher costs for energy use of any kind.

Part of the hydrogen hype is its use in fuel cells. A retired General Electric engineer wrote to say, "I previously analyzed and designed fuel cells and it is apparent to me that they will always be too expensive for all but very special uses. They are twenty times the cost of a piston engine and are very likely to remain at least ten times more in spite of all the research done."

Like all realists, engineers and scientists believe we are, in fact, running a risk in our dependence on petroleum. Even with a trillion and maybe even two trillion barrels of oil available, at the present rate of use, the experts estimate we will go through it in about forty years. Others, however, believe there are vast amounts of undiscovered oil reserves.

Part of the problem of energy costs, energy dependency, and the cost of oil can be found in the fact that the US has experienced a drop in its refining capability over the past twenty years. We went from being able to refine 18.5 million barrels to 16.5 million barrels. There has been an even sharper drop in the number of refineries, from 315 to 155! Thus, the US is highly vulnerable if even a small number of refineries stopped producing, even temporarily. A major factor for the dramatic increase in oil prices is this lack of refining capacity.

This may explain why the oil industry and auto manufacturers are willing to spend billions to find a way to make hydrogen the transportation energy of the future. Hybrid vehicles that utilize a fuel cell could get more than 75 miles per gallon of gasoline and that's a good thing. Environmentalists support this and, if the technology can be developed to a point of being affordable, why not? It remains, however, a very big "if".

The real answer, of course, is to build more refineries and, in part, to tap the reserves of oil known to exist in the Alaskan National Wilderness Reserve. Environmentalists have fought both these options.

Here's the bottom line. Without energy, this nation shuts down, and so do all the others. The good news is that technologies are being developed whereby, for transportation and other uses, new engines will revolutionize the use of current energy sources. They will be far more efficient and they will be affordable.

Beware of the hype about hydrogen. Many engineers and scientists know it's baloney, and you should too.


TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events; Technical
KEYWORDS: caruba; energy; energylist; hydrogen; nofreelunch
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1 posted on 05/07/2003 11:54:50 AM PDT by Jack of all Trades
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To: Jack of all Trades
I envision a future with lots of windmills and bio diesel.
2 posted on 05/07/2003 12:00:11 PM PDT by biblewonk (Spose to be a Chrissssstian)
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To: Jack of all Trades
Beware of the hype about hydrogen

Beware the attacks on hydrogen. Especially the anti-hydrogen articles that rountinely avoid mentioning natural gas, coal, and off-hour hydroelectric surplus as sources.

3 posted on 05/07/2003 12:02:28 PM PDT by Shermy
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To: Jack of all Trades
I have a problem with the author of this article about the costs of research into hydrogen energy cells. Expensive or not, R & D costs money, period, without ever having a guarantee of working. This is where the bulk of our defense budget goes.

I also distrust this article because of the experts cited. Not naming the sources outright is not a good sign of a thoroughly researched article.

The potential benefits of hydrogen energy cells justifies research into it. We need to do research before we can decide if it is even possible, not theorize.
4 posted on 05/07/2003 12:03:50 PM PDT by Tony Niar Brain (Choose your enemies carefully, for you will become like them...)
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To: biblewonk
I envision a future with lots of windmills and bio diesel.

5 posted on 05/07/2003 12:06:11 PM PDT by eastsider
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To: biblewonk
Diesel, even biodiesel, is a no-no- for the greens. Too much soot, even thought the vw tdi I drive has less pollutants than an equivalent gas powered car, plus it gets between 47 and 57 mpg.
6 posted on 05/07/2003 12:06:53 PM PDT by KeyWest
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To: eastsider
Must be Iowa. We may be getting another 300mw soon. Did you see GE's new windpower commercial on TV? It's excellent.
7 posted on 05/07/2003 12:07:05 PM PDT by biblewonk (Spose to be a Chrissssstian)
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To: *Energy_List
http://www.freerepublic.com/perl/bump-list
8 posted on 05/07/2003 12:09:32 PM PDT by Libertarianize the GOP (Ideas have consequences)
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To: Jack of all Trades
The Great Hydrogen Myth (FR thread)

It takes some mighty cheap nuclear energy to make hydrogen affordable, heh, heh heh...

9 posted on 05/07/2003 12:09:58 PM PDT by mrsmith
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To: KeyWest
Diesel, even biodiesel, is a no-no- for the greens. Too much soot, even thought the vw tdi I drive has less pollutants than an equivalent gas powered car, plus it gets between 47 and 57 mpg.

"greens" is to general. I'm pretty green myself and it's not a no-no for me. I have a major, flaming tree hugger friend and he and his wife drive a VW diesel that gets about 65 mpg. I wonder how much it will cost to produce lots of bio diesel. In the mean time, if everyone drove those the existing oil supply would sure last a long time.

10 posted on 05/07/2003 12:10:08 PM PDT by biblewonk (Spose to be a Chrissssstian)
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To: Jack of all Trades
Here's the original commentary for reference

By Alan Caruba
Feb. 11, 2003

Over the last 25 years, the government has spent $1.2 billion on fuel cell research and development. President Bush proposed spending another billion for further research in his recent State of the Union speech. Automakers have already spent millions to no avail.

The simple fact is that it still costs far more money to extract hydrogen, breaking its molecule away from others in order to create energy. This is a bad idea.

Hydrogen is held out as a clean-burning, virtually inexhaustible source of energy, but as a Washington Times editorial pointed out in November, others "suggest it is a gaseous dream rising on the rhetoric of environmental windbags."

If enough billions are spent, it seems reasonable to expect hydrogen to become an energy source, but like most environmental pipe dreams, this one has the silent agenda of eliminating petroleum as an energy source - nor can we reasonably expect a dramatic breakthrough. Did I mention this is a very bad idea?

Oil is the Green's number one enemy after population. The object is not to make the Earth safer, but to continue the pressure to reduce reliance on it, putting everyone at a disadvantage when it comes to utilizing this primary form of energy.

Given the fact that the Earth shows no signs of running out of oil in the near or even far future, the notion of spending billions to replace it seems odd at best, foolish at worst. The Earth's reserves of oil have been consistently underestimated for decades since oil was first discovered. To the contrary, discoveries of new reserves occur every year and the technology to get at it has improved as well.

The mere fact that Greens have fought attempts to open Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration tells you more about their real agenda than anything else you need to know. The Department of Energy estimates there are at least one trillion barrels currently available worldwide.

If the Saudis were not sitting atop huge reserves, they would still be camel drivers and goat herders. If Saddam Hussein did not control the second largest reserve of oil, we might not be going to war to wrest control from this madman.

While it is true that a hydrogen-based economy is deemed inevitable for reasons of efficiency, environmental benefit and inexhaustibility, I remain wary of this. It is true, too, that hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to be almost twice as efficient as internal combustion engines, emitting only air and water vapor. But there are huge problems involved.

Three experts, Lawrence D. Burns, Byron McCormick and Christopher E. Borroni-Bird, noted in the October issue of Science that, "Viewed from where we are today, fuel cells and a hydrogen fueling infrastructure are a chicken-and-egg problem. We cannot have large numbers of fuel-cell vehicles without adequate fuel available to support them, but we will not be able to create the required infrastructure unless there are significant numbers of fuel-cell vehicles on the roadways."

Breaking a hydrogen molecule into electrons and protons, and then sending it through an electric drive motor, and recombining the particles with oxygen to produce water poses an enormous challenge.

"While hydrogen is universally abundant, it's not cheap to get at," noted the Washington Times editorial. "At the moment, fuel cells are actually energy losers, since it costs more to free the hydrogen than is earned by running hydrogen through fuel cells." In brief, it costs more energy to turn hydrogen into energy than current technology would permit.

Writing recently on the topic, Llewellyn King, publisher of White House Weekly ,
Noted, "In an act of political brilliance, President Bush, in his State of the Union Speech, stole the Holy Grail of environmentalism, the hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car. For two decades, environmentalists have held out the 'hydrogen economy' as the pollution-free future for transportation. Unfortunately, it also has had about it the whiff of a free lunch."

Five Presidents have put the federal government to work trying to achieve this goal. It remains a very bad idea.

The process involved is called hydrolysis, popularly called "cracking water." As King pointed out, "The former defeats the purpose because you still have to have oil, coal or natural gas to manufacture hydrogen."

This is what the Greens like to gloss over. Why not, asks King, just run a vehicle on natural gas to begin with? Why burden a vehicle with a duel system of reforming the gas and then making electricity? This seems so obvious that one is also compelled to ask, why not just keep using gasoline? The entire, worldwide structure of extracting oil to transporting it to refining it would have to be changed. Why not just keep finding new sources of oil since there is no evidence we are in imminent danger of running out of it?

Hydrogen has a very low energy density. It would cost more to fuel your car with it than our current system. As King notes, "The energy density of hydrogen is about one-tenth that of natural gas." Hybrid engines, available only in "demonstration" vehicles, would reduce our dependency on imported gas and this well may be the President's interest in this power source. That does not, however, make it any less of a bad idea.

Hydrogen is the new darling of the Greens as was nuclear energy a few decades ago until they abandoned their support and now actively fight the creation of new nuclear energy plants.

Forget about some spectacular breakthrough on hydrogen as an energy source. Do not be fooled by the Green's claims because, like everything else they propose, their primary goal is to reduce the population of the Earth and anything that can serve their agenda will be pursued amidst a flood of lies.
11 posted on 05/07/2003 12:10:57 PM PDT by Jack of all Trades
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To: biblewonk
Yes!

All seriousness aside ... it looks like a Christo creation.

12 posted on 05/07/2003 12:14:35 PM PDT by eastsider (Support ALL the troops -- Vote Josh Gracin)
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To: Jack of all Trades
So you're telling me I should dump my Ballard Power Systems stock, which I bought at 70 and is now around 10?
13 posted on 05/07/2003 12:15:13 PM PDT by Maceman
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To: biblewonk
Must be Iowa. We may be getting another 300mw soon. Did you see GE's new windpower commercial on TV? It's excellent.

No, but I shoot on Tuesday with a couple of GE employees who wear t-shirts with GE mini-guns on them.

The Caption: "We bring good things to life"

14 posted on 05/07/2003 12:15:34 PM PDT by TC Rider (The United States Constitution 1791. All Rights Reserved.)
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To: Shermy
I posted this more for the commentary on hype rather than on Hydrogen. Most general interest articles on H2 mention it as a replacement for fossil fuels. You correctly recognize that it is not.
15 posted on 05/07/2003 12:16:09 PM PDT by Jack of all Trades
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To: Jack of all Trades
Part of the problem of energy costs, energy dependency, and the cost of oil can be found in the fact that the US has experienced a drop in its refining capability over the past twenty years. We went from being able to refine 18.5 million barrels to 16.5 million barrels. There has been an even sharper drop in the number of refineries, from 315 to 155! Thus, the US is highly vulnerable if even a small number of refineries stopped producing, even temporarily. A major factor for the dramatic increase in oil prices is this lack of refining capacity.

I found the article interesting until I hit the above paragraph. What the heck is that? The requise nod to the handwring-"Ashes, all is ashes!" crowd?

16 posted on 05/07/2003 12:19:06 PM PDT by yankeedame ("Born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.")
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To: Tony Niar Brain; Shermy
Attack of the scientifically illiterate.

Hydrogen requires a source of energy. If you are talking about replacing any significant number of fossil-fueled vehicles with hydrogen vehicles, you are going to need an energy source that is not a gimmick and is much cheaper than current methods of generating electricity.

In other words, hydrogen cars will make sense when you have a fusion reactor in your garage.

Until you realize that you are just going to sound stupid to people who understand basic math.

Bush should have spent that money teaching science so that this issue will go away.

17 posted on 05/07/2003 12:21:00 PM PDT by hopespringseternal
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To: Shermy
Beware the attacks on hydrogen. Especially the anti-hydrogen articles that rountinely avoid mentioning natural gas, coal, and off-hour hydroelectric surplus as sources.

How much of the coal or natural gas would we have to burn to get the energy to separate the hydrogen?

18 posted on 05/07/2003 12:21:19 PM PDT by Toddsterpatriot
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To: TC Rider
No, but I shoot on Tuesday with a couple of GE employees who wear t-shirts with GE mini-guns on them.

The Caption: "We bring good things to life"

===================

LOL! Shouldn't it read: "We bring good things to the After Life"?

19 posted on 05/07/2003 12:21:47 PM PDT by yankeedame ("Born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.")
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To: biblewonk
I have an '89 Jetta diesel that is now mostly retired from service. I drove it about 100K miles in four years. Even though my foot was on the floor most of the time, I got between 45 and 50 MPG. I never tried biodiesel, but I bet it would have been nice to have smelled like popcorn all the time.
20 posted on 05/07/2003 12:21:54 PM PDT by Jack of all Trades
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