Penn State researchers Bruce Logan and Shaoan Cheng announced yesterday the results of experimental research that produces hydrogen from microbes. Built upon earlier work that led to the production of electricity from microbes, Logan’s team has shown how to take those same hard working microbes and make hydrogen. Could the hydrogen economy be just around the corner?
Several years ago, after reading Eco Economy – Building an Economy for the Earth by Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, I felt I had a pretty good understanding of how a hydrogen based economy might work. Since its publication in early 2001 (and doesn’t that seem so long ago) I kept reading reports of the “false promise of the hydrogen economy” and my enthusiasm waned for hydrogen, despite my respect for Lester Brown’s visionary work. The obstacles to making hydrogen an efficient carrier of energy do appear daunting.
But technology and human innovation don’t always follow expectations.
This reminds me of the early days of digital audio. Allow me to explain.
It’s 1981, I Have a Record Collection
I am trained as a sound engineer. I received most of my formal training in the early 80’s and distinctly remember a teacher making a vague, offhand reference to something called “digital audio”. Mostly dismissive, the expert teaching us at the time didn’t hold out much promise for the new technology to fundamentally change how we went about our work. I remember learning to edit audio tape with a razor blade. I skill I never really had to use much after school, for by then, digital audio had taken a firm hold and had already begun to completely change the way audio production and distribution worked.
Not even the proponents of digital audio could have imagined how the technology has so fundamentally changed not only how I go about my work, but how the entire music industry is structured. Many reading this post probably think of a vinyl record as some strange oddity that only really old people ever really used. When I learned the skills for my initial career path, we made records. Out of vinyl. And by scratching a needle through grooves in the vinyl we made music. It wasn’t that long ago.
I don’t even buy CD’s anymore (let alone LP’s) and now go online to download all my music to play on my iPod. In the early 80’s, that sentence wouldn’t have made any sense at all.
You’ll pardon this personal analogy and trip down memory lane. My point is that through the confluence of creative energy, visionary thinking, and a little courage, it is possible to see what is really needed and find a way to provide it. It’s just good business. My hope in hydrogen is restored.
Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. (Wasn’t that a band in the 60’s?)