Hydrogen is Not The Miracle Fuel of the Future

Hydrogen is abundant in spaceBoingBoing.net is reporting today on a tabletop “hydrogen power station” that produces hydrogen from water using a standard power outlet and costs around $200. While this may sound wonderful on the surface, it merely illustrates how the notion of a “hydrogen economy” is mostly a myth, especially as it pertains to powering vehicles.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: hydrogen is not a energy resource. Hydrogen does not exist naturally in any sufficient quantities to make it a viable energy source, at least on this planet. To get hydrogen in any useful quantities, it must be extracted from natural gas, water or biomass, and all of these result in a net loss of energy. It is more efficient to use these fuels in their original forms.

Hydrogen is more like a battery, an energy storage medium. Unfortunately, (for practical purposes) it is a very impractical battery, with an extremely low energy-to-volume ratio. According to Wikipedia, “The energy density per unit volume of both liquid hydrogen and compressed hydrogen gas at any practicable pressure is significantly less than that of traditional fuel sources, although the energy density per unit fuel mass is higher.”

To be fair, fossil fuels are only energy storage mediums as well, but their energy was accumulated over millions of years, and is readily extracted now in a compact form. Neither hydrogen nor fossil fuels are energy sources, because the energy does not come from them, it came from the sun, the only really abundant energy source we have (not including nuclear and geothermal, which are very small players to date).

The BoingBoing article cites the Navy’s research into hydrogen-powered drones as proof of hydrogen’s future usefulness as an energy carrier. It seems more likely, however, that hydrogen is being tested in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to take advantage its light weight, and not for its ability to store a large amount of energy. The Science Daily article seems to back this up by noting the vehicles light weight and extremely small motor, only .75 horsepower, compared to traditional UAVs.

The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology, while managing to preserve our extremely limited freshwater resources.

I’m sorry, hydrogen fans, but any way you slice it, the hydrogen economy is a myth, at least on this planet.

What do you think? Is a hydrogen economy worth pursuing? Post your opinion in the comments.

Update:I would like to clarify that, when this article refers to the “Hydrogen Economy”, it is mostly referring to the use of hydrogen to power vehicles, not other uses of hydrogen. As several readers have pointed out, there are plenty of other uses for hydrogen, and it certainly has its place as part of a basket of solutions to replace fossil fuels. These include industrial applications, such as powering fork lifts, or commercial applications, such as fuel cells for office buildings.

My central point is that hydrogen is not practical to use in powering automobiles at this time, and isn’t likely to be any time soon. Even if there comes technology that can support powering cars with Hydrogen on a practical level, it still doesn’t make sense to convert natural gas and water to hydrogen on the scale needed for these applications.

Update 2/18/10: For those of you who just can get enough of the pro/con hydrogen discussion, there’s a lively debate going on at reddit.

Update 2/19/10:As several readers have pointed out, my characterization of both hydrogen and natural gas as being “energy stores” and not “energy sources” is somewhat confusing and muddies the waters. (I will admit that sometimes my over-analytical brain wants to point out things that are interesting but tangential, and, in this case, quite semantic in nature.)

I therefore, stand corrected. For the sake of this dis discussion, both hydrogen and natural gas can be considered energy “sources”. You simply need to draw your system boundary in such a way that you only view the system after energy is stored in the medium. The main difference is that natural gas is stable under normal conditions, and hydrogen is not, reacting with other elements unless outside measures are taken.

In any case, all of this detracts from the more important debate about how efficient it is to store energy as hydrogen and then use it to power vehicles, etc., instead of some other method.


The Global Energy Crisis – We’re Running Out Of Ancient Sunlight

The Myth of the Hydrogen Economy

The Five Myths of the Hydrogen Fueled Vehicle

2010 Transportation Predictions: What is the Reality? (TriplePundit)

Future of Fuel Cells Hinges on Asia Action (TriplePundit)

U.S. faces era of water scarcity

Water Facts (water.org)

Water Scarcity – The U.S. Connection (waterproject.org)

Water scarcity clouds California farming’s future (Reuters)


Steve Puma is a sustainability and technology consultant. He currently writes for 3p as well as on his personal blog, ThePumaBlog, about the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future. Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can contact Steve through email or LinkedIn, or follow him on twitter.

Steve Puma is a sustainable business consultant and writer.Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can learn more about Steve by reading his blog, or following his tweets.

75 responses

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  2. “The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology.”

    This is achievable is it not?

    What other alternatives do we have in the longterm?

    1. As I responded in my update to the article, my comment refers to the feasibility of using hydrogen to power automobiles. It is feasible for other uses.

      There are many other options, and the best I think are bio-diesel and battery powered EVs and PHEVs. The nice thing about electric vehicles is that it doesn't matter where you get your electricity from, so you can get it from coal now, you can get if from wind/solar when it becomes available to you, and you can get it from fusion, etc. in the future (whatever comes about).

  3. OK as a energy source maybe we us it as a fuel producer. You who appose it are battery only folks. I ” me personally” want to get rid of gasoline for gas has a cost to our economy that is good one day bad the next.People who think it is a good source for environment I would think you own fuel stock.I have not seen jobs created in abundance.I think it is a dirty substance my self. Hydrogen can create water in our tanks.Cleaner substances. I want our Country to continue to use it for we have put billions in this clean product. It works and will create jobs.I tired of putting our tax dollars out and not using our products.It has real potential historically now and futuristically

    1. I am not a “battery only guy”. I would love nothing better than for hydrogen to be a viable resource that we can use to power vehicles. Even if it were feasible, I suspect that collecting the water that would come out of the tailpipe would not be feasible, because it would have to be stored on-board, or else it would become contaminated. Storing it on-board is not going to be feasible, because it will increase the weight of the car dramatically and would require very large amounts of storage volume.

      1. I don't know why you have an intellectual or practical problem with the water produced by burning Hydrogen gas. It is much better than releasing Carbon Dioxide. Also the water vapour produced during production (which is clean) can assimilate into the atmosphere and fall as rain somewhere. As rain is both cleansing and essential to plant growth, as well as irrigation water being a scarce commodity these days, it can only do good. Also, in either mobile or static homes, burning hydrogen would be safer as if there there is poor ventillation, at least CO2 will not accumulate and become hazardous to health in the same way that burning natural gases would. Surely hydrogen competes with natural gas in many ways, but doesn't have the residual chemical burn-off problems. Of course, it would have to be produced using a form of natural energy generation from solar or wind power, but this applies to all energy production if one is to get away from fossil fuels, which will not be available some day

  4. In the past two years there have been several breakthroughs in both H2gen and HFC materials and tech which allow H2 at a cost per equivalent gallon of gas significantly cheaper than existing retail gas rates. The new fuel cell tech allows non precious metals (lower costs and abundant material supply) and the efficacy remains at about 98% vs under 30% for most internal combustion applications. New ironless electric motor tech is getting about 5hp/ lb so about 4x the best internal combustion engines (excluding new geared reduction drive turbofans for commercial jets). These ironless electric motors are running at about 95% efficiency. These new technolgies are in prototype testing and should be in production units within 18 months. It is a number of factors which provide advantages leading to adoption from weight, foodprint, design flexibility, operating costs and efficacy. These factors will ultimately drive widespread adoption of HFCs/ HFCVs/ HFCPUs. The new H2gen tech will allow distributed in-situ on demand H2gen at an efficiency and production volume which allow home of building units to supply the power and H2 for both building and associated vehicles. Of course there are the environmental aspects as well, especially if solar or other renewable energy sources are used for the H2gen. This is all possible now with the new technologies coming on line within the next couple of years. We have had critical strategic security reasons for moving to alt fuel/energy sources since '73. We still need our government to lead the way with grants, subsidies, tax incentives etc but we are begining to close in on benign, renewable, home grown energy sources with inherent economic and performance incentives for widespread adoption.

  5. This isn't a news article, it is a blog entry. The only source used here to back up the rather pessimistic opinion is a little fact from Wikipedia. And, the opinion isn't anything new. I'm disappointed with the quality of this article.

    1. Perhaps you didn't bother to read the numerous other sources cited in the article, not to mention the numerous facts from the Wikipedia article, nor the numerous citations on which the Wikipedia article is based, nor the resources at the bottom of the article.

  6. I agree with your headline, H is not the miracle fuel of the future. I think most of the rest of your assumptions might be a bit off base though. For instance, one of your sources, “The Five Myths…” says in #5 that “producing hydrogen typically does create carbon dioxide emissions” and then shows that electrolysis by PV has no CO2 emissions. Neither does H produced by wind power, or hydroelectric, or geothermal…. you get the picture.

    Storage in the near term will be at pressure, 35MPa and 70MPa. It's true that it doesn't have the energy density of petroleum (yet), but it is an excellent way to store large quantities of energy if the charging stations are too far apart. Or non-existent as in the case of ships and boats. Further, your Wiki quote says “at any practicable pressure”. What does that mean? Not so long ago, 35MPa (5,000psi) was not “practicable”. Now we're at twice that, 70MPa or 10,000psi. ( http://tinyurl.com/y89ftl6 ). Standards for retail sale at 35MPa and 70Mpa have already been developed and proposed.

    So your comment “The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology” is dunsel. We've been able to produce H from renewable energy ever since there was renewable energy (the electrolysis process is over 2 centuries old), the efficiency is improving and will by leaps and bounds when it's profitable to improve it. We can already store it at high pressure.

    Looking through your columns shows I think that you're an EV fan. I am too. I think EV will be the transportation answer for most drivers who average less than 40 miles a day to work and back, and maybe even more. I think there will be a pretty robust market for H/electric hybrids because of the lower fuel requirements. But there are lots of other needs for concentrated, stored energy. There is no miracle fuel that will replace petroleum directly. We don't need one magic bullet, we need an intelligent mix. I thought this rational died a few years ago. If not it should.

    1. Rob,

      Thank you for your comments. If you have read some of my other articles, then you know that there are other ways to extend range of EVs, such as battery-swap. Also, I do agree that the solution to oil is a basket of solutions.

      Perhaps the article should have been titled “Hydrogen is not the Miracle Fuel of the Future for Cars”, because I did not mean to imply that Hydrogen had no uses for other applications.

      I'm not sure why my comment “The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology” is “dunsel.” (Matter of fact, I'm not even sure what “dunsel” means. I couldn't find a definition in any online dictionary.)

      As a matter of fact, your statements, if true, merely confirm my statement. In order for Hydrogen to work, it needs to be made from renewable sources of energy (which we have), and be compact enough to be practical (which you stated already exists). So it seems like I hit it right no the head, no?

      One issue that still has not been addressed is where all this Hydrogen comes from. If it comes from Natural Gas, you are better off burning the natural gas, which burns clean. Converting it to Hydrogen simply results in a net energy loss. I don't see the point in that.

      So you are left converting water into Hydrogen, which doesn't sound like a great solution either, unless you can recapture the water in some sort of uncontaminated form. Even though it doesn't get as much press, clean water will probably be a much more immediate problem for human survival than peak oil or climate change. I would prefer not to use our clean water for powering cars when we have plenty of other, more efficient solutions.

      For the record, let me reiterate: I'm not suggesting that there will ever be ONE replacement for oil. Hydrogen has it's place in a basket of solutions, but it doesn't make a lot of sense for transportation.

      1. Dunsel is a rather dated Star Trek reference. It means a part that has no function. It googles well.

        I'm pretty puzzled that you think my examples of renewable produced H2 and storage confirm your statements. They don't, they contradict them.

        You said
        “The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology”.

        and I showed you references that current technology is available off the self and in common use to produce it. (For instance, use a wind generator to power a standard industrial H2 generator.) The other reference was about storage. This stuff exists already. So it seems that No, you didn't hit the nail on the head at all.

        As for where the H2 comes from? Granted, the previous administration got all hot and bothered about the new H2 economy when someone told them that H2 comes from natural gas. But that was just a red herring.

        I spent several years as a reverse osmosis desalination technician. Clean water is not a technical problem at all. It is an energy and wealth problem. Clean water is available anywhere there is water, energy, and some money. H2 electrolysis machines need cleaner water than tap so they incorporate reverse osmosis in the box. If you have the energy and wealth to produce H2, clean water is not an obstacle at all.

        The practical scenario is an offshore wind generator that has built into its base a standard reverse osmosis machine to derive pure water from the seawater and feed it into a standard H2 generator. There is plenty of no carbon energy and plenty of water. You don't need to recapture the water from the tailpipe, the Earth will recycle it as it has almost forever. Storage is in undersea bags anchored to the seafloor and transportation is also easy (see Hindenburg reference).

        There is lots of technology in the works to improve the efficiencies, but right now it's not economically competitive with the status quo. The much hyped Bloom Box may actually be one of them. There's a reference on the site to using the same technology to produce H2. The assumption would of course be that it would provide a major efficiency gain. But that's not really relevant. Higher efficiency will be a natural market mechanism when we address the actual problem which is the political and social problem of the cost of CO2.

        BTW, I think the Bloom Box may very well be a game changer for land transportation. Combining its efficiency gains with high pressure storage, and then using the alluded to H2 production technology may very well provide for quite practical H2 powered HEVs using the SOFC instead of an ICE. The Bloom Box's efficiency gain means that a vehicle would need less stored energy (H2) reducing the pressure and volume of the storage container (and costs of manufacturing and compression). So actually, H2 may be the fuel of the future after all. We'll see.

  7. None of the “barriers” to hydrogen utilization presented in this “article” are any more insurmountable than the barriers that existed to bring our current energy supplies into common usage. Who could have imagined 150 years ago the practicality of stringing heavy copper wires to every household in the country?

    Of course hydrogen is only an energy storage medium. but it is an elegantly simple one. compare the generation of hydrogen from a wind turbine or solar panels and stored and transported for use to the generation of toxic metals, acids, etc, for battery production, let alone the inefficiency of hauling all that weight around.

    Of course, the best solution is not an either/or solution. it is to take advantage of ALL available technologies for those applications where they are best suited and their advantages are best exploited. Should we rely on batteries (with renewable generation)? Should we rely on solar panels? Should we rely on hydrogen? Geothermal? etc, etc, etc??? the answer to them all is YES.

    One of the main problems we are in such a fix currently is that we have placed all our eggs into the one petroleum basket, rendering ourselves vulnerable to the danger of too much power consolidated in the hands of those who control that one basket.

    The answer to our current dilemma is: a diversity of energy options, locally produced, generated, dispersed, possibly stored in a common medium for intercompatibility that is easily transported and cleanly consumed. (Hey wait a minute…. Sounds a lot like Hydrogen after all!)

    1. While I agree with your main point, that the future solution to the energy problem is a basket of methods, I don't agree that the problems associated with Hydrogen are likely to be surmounted for transportation uses. There are simply too many better alternatives. As I wrote in another comment response, Hydrogen does have it's uses in other applications, such as green building, I just don't see it making a dent for transportation.

    2. Rob,

      I have to admit that my comment, “The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology”, does not fully encapsulate what I intended to communicate.

      As you have probably gathered, I usually cannot spend the amount of time on these blog posts to get them to the level of sophistication that I would like. Unfortunately, I do not have the time nor resources, nor is it my function, to spend 40 hours a weeks writing feature-length-and-quality articles.

      The purposes of this type of blog, and this type of blog post, is to highlight current events relevant to our subject matter, and to comment on them as best we can.

      I will say that my true intent has been made clear in my response to the various comments.

      I have to admit that you do make some valid points, and as I mentioned, hydrogen will have its place. It simply will not be a major player.

      Once again, you point out the reason quite elegantly: “Clean water is not a technical problem at all. It is an energy and wealth problem.”

      The bottom line: the era of cheap energy is quickly coming to a close. Even the oil companies freely admit to that! That being the case, it simply makes no sense to loose energy by converting it from natural gas into hydrogen. It makes even less sense to waste energy to convert salt water into clean water into hydrogen FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF ENERGY STORAGE!

      Clean water made from salt water will be much more valuable for drinking than for energy storage, and this is one case where the price and energy cost doesn't really matter: people will die without water. money is no object. People will get along just fine if they use something other than hydrogen to store their energy.

      BOTTOM LINE: As far as I know, it takes more energy to “produce” hydrogen than you ultimately get out of the process. In a era of diminishing returns from fossil fuels, it doesn't pay to waste energy in this manner, for most purposes.

      (ps–The new fuel cell technology is certainly a potential game-changer, but only if it doesn't run on hydrogen, IMO.)

      1. We'll just have to agree to disagree. It actually makes very good sense to “waste energy to convert salt water into clean water into hydrogen” for the purpose of energy storage, IF you have excess, but intermittent energy that you can't put in the vehicle. As we have heard for a few decades, the sun doesn't shine all the time (but it does) and the wind doesn't blow all the time (and it does also). What will “last mile” trucking use for energy (if we even ever get to the point where we make smarter longhaul choices). It would take an exponential leap in battery technology to move a 40,000lb load from Denver up to Vail.

        You are right of course that it takes more energy to split water than you get recombining it. 2nd law or something like that. Maybe the reason we see it differently has to do with our current methodology of energy production. Where I live, I see numerous large PV installations and small and large wind generators everyday. I appreciate how unusual that is. But it's easy to see, that as fast as Boulder County is moving to the new power economy, in a short time, 5-10 years or less, there will be a plethora of excess, but intermittent energy. What will we do when we have excess intermittent energy? Turn off the wind generators? I don't think so, I think we'll find ways to store the energy.

        Now if you make some reasonable assumptions about fuel cell and electric motor efficiency gains as several others have noted, and onboard HP storage technology, I think it looks very different.

        One other point is that carbon neutral really isn't a good enough goal to prevent a bleak future. Maybe if we ALL could go neutral right away but there will always be CO2 producing activities. Methane, at 8-20 times the greenhouse effect is another very difficult to deal with problem. o some of us have to get to carbon negative asap. Biofuels recycle it at best. An offshore wind generator producing H2 is neutral and I bet there's some interesting chemistry that could be applied to move it even farther towards negative.

  8. I think present day reality has overcome these rather ill-informed objections. Fuel cells using hydrogen compete against batteries today in forklifts, backup power systems and other specialty markets. We know how to make hydrogen from renewable fuels.and in fact are doing so. But the article's big point — that hydrogen must be extracted from a fuel — must also be said of electrons. So the issue becomes one of the efficiency of the system from extraction of fuel throough the work done by the energy. Hydrogen fuel cell systems compete very favorably on this basis. Increasingly hydrogen is not the fuel of the future, but the fuel of today, and will become a partner with electrons in meeting the world's energy needs.

  9. You miss a key feature of hydrogen – CLEANER AIR. Wouldn't it be nice to eliminate all the pollution associated with most of the fuels we use now? The smoke, the fumes, the toxic storage issues, the poisoning, the illness, the “dirty jobs.” Not to mention the cost of all those catalytic converters. Most of the pollution associated with hydrogen would likely occur in it's production, which could be done by an endless variety of means. All we need to do to get “cleaner” would be to continually seek cleaner production methods, not change an entire infrastructure, as with emissions control on cars and gas stations, etc.

    Before passing judgement, let's make sure we add up ALL the costs and benefits to our energy options, including health, clean air, our natural capital and yes, national security.

    1. I completely agree that Hydrogen has many positives. There are definitely some uses for Hydrogen that make sense, such as in large fuel cells for commercial buildings. However, the energy density just doesn't cut it for use in automobile transportation.

      You are simply much better off using another type of battery technology, going completely electric or plug-in hybrid, and getting your electricity from renewable sources.

  10. In 1976 I was selling solar hot air panels for a company in Great Falls, Montana. The owner/inventor of the business had an old Ford pickup parked by the back door. That truck had no gasoline fuel tank. It was set up as a dual fuel propane/gasoline vehicle. A few yards away were two parabolic solar collectors mounted on a sun following support frame. The collectors were flashing water to steam continually as long as the system was “on”. Attached to the steam outlet was a very efficient steam turbine, attached to the turbine was a micro generator, the electricity from the generator was then being used to hydrolyse water into its component parts-hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen was routed to a dual stage compressor also being powered by the steam turbine. (Here, because this was a test unit, there was the ability to take power from the grid on cloudy days to power the compressor.) From the compressor, the Hydrogen was routed through a dryer (which the inventor was working to improve) since, in Montana, it has been known to be below freezing in the winter and water in the fuel lines would sort of muck things up. From that point the hydrogen was piped directly to the propane tank on the pickup! Pressure switches determined when the tank was at capacity or at maximum system pressure and would simply shut down the system.
    STEAM. Get it. Free hydrogen at low pressure made on site with no human interference necessary. The left over water in the steam system was recyled and reused.
    When anyone wanted to use the truck you just unhooked the hydrogen line which would also shut down the system. This isn't rocket science–well, maybe it is. The real problem is the inability of the public to get beyond the Hindenberg and the inability of the system to tax the production of the hydrogen on site. There are propane storage tanks all over every city, on every barbeque and at every fueling source with delivery vehicles hauling thousands of gallons in all directions and nobody cares. It is being taxed and as far as the public is concerned it is invisible. Put a solar steam fueling station in place of every large propane tank and the NIMBYs will go nuts incited by the media. There is a lot more to this story about what happened to the inventor and his application for a development loan from the Dept. of Energy. If you would like to hear/read “The Rest of the Story!” let me know. Free energy terrifies every taxing authority.

    1. In this case you are burning hydrogen instead of propane when it would be more efficient to simply use propane. Even though the hydrogen came from renewable resources (a good thing), you still have to use water to make it. That water will be lost on a road somewhere. Water is a very scarce and valuable resource, and pretty soon it won't make any sense to use it to make fuel for a car.

      1. Steve–water is not a scarce or valuable resource. It has become so in the developed nations because there isn't enough pressure from the public to provide off stream storage for the necessary amounts to have a year around supply available during drought periods. The ocean is not going to run dry but maybe we can keep it from flooding the coastlines around the world if we cut back on the emissions boosting global warming? For free- (after the cost of the fueling facility is completely offset).

        1. I'm sorry, Don, but your statements are patently false. While we may not be running out of salt water any time soon, fresh water is in short supply, even in the U.S. California has been in a drought for many years now, Georgia and the Southeast are facing some very serious water shortages, and aquifers across the nation are depleted and are filling up with salt water (in some cases), rendering them useless.

          While desalination may be one way to get fresh water, and perhaps even an unevitaable necessity, good luck getting a desalination plant approved in the U.S. any time soon. You'll have an even harder time getting your salt water to use for making hydrogen, because I can guarantee voters will approve a plant that produces drinking water before they approve one that produces hydrogen, and they ain't approvin' either one in the near future.

          The type of geo-engineering you propose may ultimately be necessary to save the coastal cities, but it will come at extremely high cost and plenty of unintended consequences, as all extreme-scale projects inevitable do.

        2. Water is a valuable resource but its scarcity is caused by improper management. Management issues can be overcome. Water scarcity will not be an insurmountable barrier to a hydrogen economy. If the water is needed it will be found through efficiency improvements and wastewater reuse.

          Phenomenal amounts of clean water is wasted in industrial applications and agriculture where recycled wastewater or brackish groundwater is more than adequate. Even in Australia where we take water conservation extremely seriously there is still huge potential for more savings.

          Using a decentralised exampe:
          The water used in the average home's gardens and toilets would far exceed that required for a hydrogen car. The water demand for these uses can be completely removed by utilising domestic greywater or rainwater that otherwise flows down the drain.

          The use of hydrogen as a fuel has so much potential when developed in unison with decentralised renewable energy and water systems. The synergy is uncanny. A fuel based on two of the earths most fundamental resources. Sunlight and Water.

          What could be more sustainable?

  11. I agree with some of what you said. Getting H2 from the sources you listed is just plain stupid since it comsumes more energy that is yielded. Of course, no energy generation processes are 100% efficient (especially coal extraction and combustion). H2 is not an energy source it is a storage unit. Plants convert sunlight, CO2 and water, to chemical energy stored in C-H bonds. There are labs working on this principle now and will soon have a way of using plant biochemistry to extracting hydrogen from water. This H2 can then be used to preferable drive fuel cells but could be burned cleanly to release the stored energy. Hydrogen may not be the “fuel” for today, but it will play an important role in our clean energy of the future.

  12. We all have a choice to make each and everyday. We are either positive people or we are negative people. As a child I was told that if I had nothing good to say, then to say nothing at all. I think this is a lesson to be learned by lots of people. I will say this now: In 25 years, America will be a Hydrogen economy and all these nay-saying nabobs of negativity will be denying that they ever said anything against it. When I read this article, all I could see was the paycheck this writer received from the carbon industries to do this piece for them. That's cool, America is a free country. You have the right to drag your black clouds with you wherever you go . . . Smile! Spring is coming, and with it, tons of sunshine.

    1. Even though I know I am not supposed to “feed the trolls”, I have to respond to this.

      First of all, you are implying that everyone should accept everything that is written or said, and never disagree, even if the facts say otherwise. By your logic, the Declaration of Independence was a really bad idea, because those founding fathers were some seriously negative dudes, from King George's perspective! So, perhaps your parents' “golden rule” should apply only to personal interactions, and not to business, science, or political discussions.

      (By the way….if you think I am a naysaying nabob of negativity, you should read my other articles, in which I optimistically gush about every cool-yet-practical clean technology you can think of!)

      Second, if you have any proof of this “hydrogen economy in 25 years”, I would love to see it.

      Thirdly, about my paycheck: I will receive a whopping $20 for my efforts, which is pretty standard in the blogging world. I don't do this for the money, genius. I do this because I care, and people need to separate truth from fiction, so that they don't waste their limited time and resources.

      I'm also sure that it makes a lot of sense for the “carbon industries” to pay me “to do this piece for them”, because of, you know, my millions of readers, and my god-like abilities to sway public opinion. I'm a regular Walter Cronkite.

      Good night and good luck.

  13. Engineers always knew this. Its too bad enviro-geeks didn't figure it out before the Federal government spent billions of dollars of taxpayer funds on motors to use this costly, nonexistent, and impractical fuel.

  14. “…it came from the sun, the only real energy source we have.”

    Not true. Nuclear fission and geothermal are energy sources that don't trace their source back to the sun.

    1. Technically, your statement is correct. I should probably change that.

      I wish nuclear was a more viable option, and even though I am a supporter of nuclear, the problems seem to relegate it to a minor player for the foreseeable future. The world has a very limited supply of nuclear fuel, in any case, and the costs of nuclear plants are extremely high. The problem of nuclear waste is PR nightmare, and make it less than ideal, even if, in reality, you can solve that problem adequately.

      I love geothermal, and I hope it becomes more widely used. Right now, it is an extremely small player, and, for some reason, doesn't seem to attract the attention it probably deserves.

      In any case, both nuclear and geothermal should be a part of a basket of electricity-producing solutions that can replace fossil fuels.

  15. Hydrogen is not an energy source in the near future, but should replace batteries eventually. There may not be enough raw materials to make the quantity of batteries that will be needed to replace carbon powered vehicles and the problem of handling the used batteries will become critical. It is true that hydrogen as a portable fuel is energy intensive to make, but that will change in the near future and there may be no alternative as a replacement for liquid fuels.

  16. Myth? I think not. My guess is that the people who are using hydrogen systems today to save money and increase efficiency in their businesses are rolling their eyes at the hyperbole and inappropriateness in this article. Efficient and sensible use of hydrogen to meet energy needs is certainly no myth.

    Let's take one example, Wegmans food stores:
    “a fleet of 50 hydrogen fuel cell-powered pallet trucks will be mobilized in the produce facility at Wegmans Retail Service Center. . .Wegmans hopes to convert its entire lift truck fleet at the Pottsville facility to hydrogen fuel cells over the next few years. . .'Our folks tested the equipment early last year, and could immediately see what it would mean to equipment performance and productivity.' . . . In addition to greater productivity and lower operating costs, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced.”

    This is the evidence of progress.

    1. Patrick, please note the clarification that I made on the article. I do not dispute that hydrogen is not useful, for certain applications, it is simply not practical on any large scale, and especially not for automobiles.

      The forklift is a perfect example of an appropriate use: forklifts do not have to go very far, can be refueled on-site, and, therefore, do not need to store a large supply of hydrogen.

      Another appropriate use is a fuel cell for a large building. In this case, the building would have the storage capacity to make hydrogen feasible.

      However, when most people think of hydrogen as a fuel, they think of its use to power cars, since so many high-profile people have latched on to that. However, though it may capture the imagination, it is simply not a good idea.

  17. What about hydrogen airships? (for lift, not for propulsion) Could they be a viable alternative for heavy cargo transport? It would save a huge amount of fuel vs airplanes or traditional ships.

    1. Wouldn't they just use helium for that? Why bother with the extra safety measures needed to use hydrogen as a lift medium? I'm thinking Hindenburg…

      1. That's the problem that happens every time it comes up. Hydrogen is 2x as light as Helium, therefore vastly better for airships. The Hindenberg burned because its skin was flamable, and other reasons, but the image is so engrained in people's minds they refuse to consider hydrogen.

  18. Steve is right, hydrogen is not the panacea that ignorant renewable energy nuts would like everyone to believe. It can be put to better use though. I recently posted a blog on a residential natural gas fuel cell. The unit takes in natural gas, but only uses the hydrogen portion of the natural gas in the fuel cell (natural gas is basically methane, which is CH4). But I point out while this isnt renewable energy, it is cleaner than relying on the mostly coal powered electric grid.

  19. I believe the use of Algae to make BioDiesel is the future. We can use Algae that is feed from Sunlight, waste water from waste treatment systems and bubble C02 from the air (or a coal power plant). Then at a later time extract BioDiesel, Ethanol and the solids can be used for animal feed.

  20. “The only way that hydrogen can become truly worthwhile is if someone comes up with a way to create it from renewable energy sources, i.e. wind/solar, and store it is a form compact enough that it is comparable to current battery technology.” YOU SAID IT RIGHT THERE!!!!! ZERO EMISSIONS……. GO FOR IT AND ATTAIN IT……. JUST LIKE THE MOON SHOT IN THE SIXTIES.

    This is achievable is it not?

    What other alternatives do we have in the longterm?

  21. After my report of the steam/solar production of hydrogen being used to operate a Ford pickup in 1976 there have been a lot of comments. One from Mr. Puma said that my comment about there being a surplus of water from which to hydrolyse hydrogen rather than a scarcity of water was “PATENTLY UNTRUE. If I am to take that in its purest form I believe he is calling me a liar, As an agriculturist of some 70 years experience in counting every raindrop that managed to be brought to me by clouds carrying water which evaporated from the surface of the ocean (leaving behind its salt) and managed to finally fall on my grain fields in northern Montana, I think I can rightfully say that more fresh water runs off from snow melt and thunder storms and major fronts carrying moisture from the gulf and other weather phenomena and finally pours down the Missouri and Mississippi river drainages every spring and summer in just one season than could be hydrolysed in 20 years. It is the lack of off stream storage which creates an appearance of shortage. Yes-there are major aquifers that have been drained of fresh water but that won't happen if the pumps are pumping stored water or recycled water instead of well water. It is possible to store water in those same aquifers that need refilling by using pumps driven by internal combustion engines burning hydrogen produced on site and returning recombinant water as a plus factor to boot!
    I say again using solar steam in low tech production of hydrogen at low pressure and compressed to whatever level one may need is still one short term way to use hydrogen. The fuel cell is an expensive way of providing electrical energy and is fine if needed– but there are millions of vehicles, including your Chevvy or Ford V8 that will run just fine without more than a dual fuel setup for millions of miles of commuting of less than a hundred miles a day. Gasoline is an explosive chemical substance that pollutes and comes form a non renewable source. Parabolic solar panels producing steam, which drives a turbine, which drives a generator, which can provide any amount of electricity the system needs when sized to fit, provides in a few weeks all the fuel a commuter or a small business or farm can use in a year. But— don't kid yourself–anyone who provides free energy which cannot be taxed or is not controlled by the petroleum industry is in mortal danger.

  22. Pingback: ThePumaBlog » Blog Archive » GreenMonk Energy and Sustainability Podcast Mentions my TriplePundit Article
  23. ddragon4u, i fully agree with u. Do u have more details on the 1976 solar steam hydrogen system. Would like to know the rest of the story.

  24. Hydrogen contains one electron. It is an energy source. If the electron can be liberated with less energy than it provides, then it's an energy source. Every plant on earth proves this…as the Nocera process exploits the idea.

  25. Please we can disagree how important this is but I hope your not going to tell me oil will be the only prouduct we will drive with.We Know how clean HydroH2 is along with battery.

  26. Even if it proves somewhat portable, I'm a skeptic. The first question for any energy resource is: can you get more energy from it than it took to produce it and liberate its energy content? For fossil fuels, the answer is yes: the energy output (put there by Mother Nature eons ago) far exceeds the energy required to extract it, refine it, transport it and (in your vehicle) ignite it. The renewables like solar/wind/water pass this test as well, because –after an initial outlay for manufacturing the system (and possibly for transport)–they produce energy forever from a limitless supply.

    So what about hydrogen? The energy it takes to liberate the hydrogen from its molecular form –H2O, primarily–is exactly the same amount of energy it will yield when ignited, in combination with oxygen, to provide power. On top of that, you need to store it (no mean feat), transport it and supply it. This energy equation makes it very different from fossil fuels, which have a much better “ROI” in this regard.

    The only thing that would make it worth doing, in terms of net energy benefit (or even green benefit, in consideration of the energy used to produce it) is a process that, as you suggest, liberated the hydrogen by using a renewable source. Some form of solar/wind/water could certainly do this, since for H2O you just need a direct current source, as used to power that desktop kit. By extension, perhaps wind power could be used to drive compressors for the containment system as well. But that begs the question as to whether or not the extraction of hydrogen is truly a more widely usable energy source than the types used to power the extraction. Since hydrogen is mostly talked about for propulsion–and as a substitute for fossil fuels–perhaps it would be easier to focus on improving rechargeable batteries (which could also be replenished off a green power grid). Batteries are an established technology; we know how to use them in cars; they produce zero emissions (though we'd need to account for end-of-life handling). Unless there's a niche market I'm missing, where batteries fear to tread, I think your analysis holds, at least as a way to power vehicles.

  27. By dipping ordinary paper or fabric in a special ink infused with nanoparticles, Stanford engineer Yi Cui has found a way to cheaply and efficiently manufacture lightweight paper batteries and supercapacitors (which, like batteries, store energy, but by electrostatic rather than chemical means), as well as stretchable, conductive textiles known as “eTextiles” – capable of storing energy while retaining the mechanical properties of ordinary paper or fabric.
    With a little help from new science, the batteries of the future may not look anything like the bulky metal units we've grown accustomed to. Nanotechnology is favored as a remedy both for its economic appeal and its capability to improve energy performance in devices that integrate it. Replacing the carbon (graphite) anodes found in lithium ion batteries with anodes of silicon nanowires, for example, has the potential to increase their storage capacity by 10 times, according to experiments conducted by Cui's team.
    The findings hold promise for the development of rechargeable lithium batteries offering a longer life cycle and higher energy capacity than their contemporaries. Silicon nanowire technology may one day find a home in electric cars, portable electronic devices and implantable medical appliances.

  28. Wow. People are getting really offtopic on the comments. And some people here need to read the article again. And again.

    Hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is not an energy source.

    It is a medium. It is most analogous to electricity.

    As a medium Hydrogen has some serious storage and distribution issues. In my personal opinion, the reason it gets so much publicity is that moving to this economy would allow existing petrol distributors to maintain control over the distribution. While it currently has some advantages over electricity for long-distance transport, it seems insane to build an entire new storage and distribution system for it when we already have an electricity distribution system. You may have seen it, but here's a super critical look at the “Hydrogen Hoax” http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-

    One thing I would contend with in the article, is that I think it confuses the point to state that neither natural gas nor hydrogen are energy sources. The comments on this page support that we do not need to create a link in people's mind that oil (or any fossil fuel) is at all like hydrogen.

  29. jsmbythebay: Thanks for commenting. Excellent points, all. I would also agree with your critisism of my point that natural gas and hydrogen are both not energy sources. It really does confuse the issue.

    While, according to my definition, natural gas may only be a store of energy, it is more of a matter of semantics, because, in reality, natural gas does occur on this planet as a “source” of quite a bit of energy, even if it is a limited source. I stand corrected.

  30. I would love to know more about programming and technology related things. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

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  31. So here’s the thing; you’re right in saying neither are a SOURCE of energy, merely storage. You’re wrong when you say fossil fuels are ready to go from the ground. These in fact go through energy intensive “cleaning” so they don’t gum up the works, so to speak. You also miss the transportation energy and the energy at the pump. To get fossil fuels, we use more fossil fuels. You can, however, crack water with solar cells and store the resulting hydrogen for use at night, or to power your vehicle. Using the sun as the energy source is like . . . getting it from the source.

  32. have any of u guys taken into account that a car running on hydrogen would explode if it were to be hit by another car? this is coz there would be loads of pressure in the car’s tank (or wherever the hydrogen would be stored – soz not a car expert)
    soz if my comment seems dumb compared to the rest of ur smart comments but i am only in year 8 and im studying this topic in science.
    btw (by the way) can someone plz answer this question – if i wanna be a physiotherapist when im older do u think i should take triple science GCSEs?

  33. this is a message to steve puma – u r 1 smart guy! u have a answer 4 evrything any1 has said on this blog! did u like take a GCSE and an A level and get a degree (if thts not the same as A level)?

  34. So using H in car right now won’t lower your emissions, and improve your fuel economy? I guess the vehicle with the h cell we have at school shouldn’t be working then? If we have something that cuts emissions now, but won’t be the best fuel in the future(but is better then current) according to current science, Should we not even use it?

  35. Companies like Ecotality have already done this. They can produce it at 1.60 a gallon. Hydrogen on demand with water and magnesium and recycle the spent fuel. The issue is getting stations built all over america and Big oil doesn’t want this. Using the existing power grid makes electric cars for the moment more feasable and less costly. However, Hydrogen on demand is a much cleaner zero emission system.

  36. The only practical way to mass produce it as a vehicular fuel is via nuclear power. It is a net loss reaction and so it is feckless at best to consider it. You cannot expend energy to get energy back unless your more interested in feeling good… Since nuclear is a bad word, it is a pipe dream.


  37. My experience is that we can produce sufficient HHO gas “on demand” using electrolysis to run vehicles. No gas stations, No storage, No fuel transport issues, No exploding fuel tanks after an accident.

    Many articles like this one use outdated information on the process of electrolysis. The use of the laws of thermodynamics to refute the direct evidence of driving a vehicle down the highway on 100% HHO generated within the vehicle does not wash with me!

    In Australia, some friends of mine are running a large fleet (200 units) of high horsepower(500HP+) trucks pulling multiple trailers.
    Some are pulling triple trailers in the outback and the company uses close on $1M AUD in diesel a week.
    I know some trucks are using HHO hybrid diesel technology and saving in excess of 10% on their fuel bill.

    I am not a mathematician but if you spread that across the whole fleet then to me that comes up to around $100,000 per week and I think that is a significant saving in anyones bank account.

    It wont be long now and we will be running our trucks on 100% HHO! Meanwhile the skeptics will be still putting together their complex arguments as to why it wont work!

    How can one who has really investigated the current technologies say that :
    Hydrogen is Not The Miracle Fuel of the Future?

  38. Hey, To anyone poking around on this post in this day and age, I am doing a school project on whether or not hydrogen (specifically the separation of water via electrolysis) is powerful enough to be an oil of the future, Leave your opinion below!

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