Hydrogen: Cutting Through the Mental Smog
An Overview: Where we stand with hydrogen fuel now
1. We need to get off polluting fossil fuels asap. This is obvious to just about everyone now.
2. Biofuels are better than fossil fuels – lower emissions for example – but with the possible
exception of celulosic bio-ethanol, they amount to the burning of food for the morally
questionable purpose of hauling our asses around in 2 tons of steel and glass. Unless
celulosic bio-ethanol makes major advances, biofuels are a very poor answer. Presently,
biofuels are biocidal: they amount to mass starvation if implemented widely. Biofuel may
be better than fossil fuel, but not by much.
3. Both hydrogen and electric vehicles offer zero emissions from the tail pipe (with H2 ICEs –
internal combustion engines – there is a tiny amount of NOXs, but practically zero when
compared to dino-juice burners). These two technologies are presently available, but only
on micro-scale: mass implementation is urgently needed.
4. Hydrogen and electric vehicles are demonstrated and proven viable. However, we cannot
wait for mass production of electric or hydrogen vehicles. The auto industry is too slow, and
besides, there are over 1 billion fossil fuel-burning vehicles on the planet now, with a median
life expectancy of 17 years. We cannot wait to retire and replace these vehicles. We must
begin converting all existing vehicles to green energy systems now, and as quickly as possible.
5. Hydrogen or electric? Electric cars are better than fossil fuel burners, but the power grid is
heavily polluting and heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Electric cars are only clean if they are
re-charged with an off-grid clean, renewable energy system. The same is true for the
sourcing of energy for hydrogen vehicles: hydrogen from fossil fuels is not a smart
answer – unless you’re an oil and gas company. Hydrogen only makes true environmental
sense when it is derived from clean, renewable wind or solar power, using waste (methane
from sewage, landfills or compost) or water – via reformation or electrolysis. In either case,
a distributed, decentralized green energy supply is what is needed, along with immediate
There are passionate supporters of both green-tech camps, but the fact is, both are viable
and ready to go now, and either would be clean, renewable, and infinitely preferable to fossil
fuels, so long as they are implemented intelligently.
Re: Hydrogen generation through electrolysis requires more energy input than you get out.
(A reply to comments on Autoblog)
If we erroneously view hydrogen as an energy source, then this is an insurmountable problem: an energy source is not an energy source if it consumes more energy than it produces – obviously. There may be ways to harness hydrogen energy aside from electrolysis that are net energy producing processes, however, the point here is that hydrogen produced by electrolysis is not an energy source, but an energy carrier – like a battery. You don’t say, well, batteries are only energy carriers, not an energy source, therefore electric cars are non-feasible. You don’t say batteries defy the second law of thermodynamics because they require more energy than they produce – of course, because they do not produce energy; they merely store it.
Hydrogen produced by electrolysis likewise is a means to store energy – in hydrogen – for a hydrogen vehicle for example, just as a battery stores energy in an electric vehicle. In either case, the battery or the hydrogen is simply an energy storage medium, and either requires a primary energy source – ideally, solar or wind. Is this not clear enough? It is amazing how intelligent people can miss the obvious.
We don’t need to resort to physics principles to figure this out; we need merely to think it through. Hydrogen vehicles, using electrolysis generation systems which are powered by solar or wind power, are a viable and proven, clean, renewable and sustainable technology, right now. We should stop the non-sense and start implementing solar-hydrogen systems immediately. The energy may cost more than gas and oil, but gas and oil are costing us our future on this planet. The transition must begin.
Re: Big oil and energy companies control energy distribution networks
In the future – or now – households, businesses and communities can produce their own clean, green, sustainable energy – yes. And that being the case, they can also generate their own hydrogen fuel for transportation using solar and wind powered electrolysis. Big oil, big coal, and the corporate energy companies in general – including the giant contractor/construction firms that build the nuke plants – can all go the way of the dodo. Hydrogen is not antithetical to such a distributed, decentralized, locally-controlled non-fossil fuel clean energy infrastructure, but instead a vital component.
Fury and Fanfare Over Brad Pitt’s BMW Hydrogen 7
Reply to comments on Autoblog Green
I’m glad to see such a passionate and intelligent discussion about the relative advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen vehicles as compared with electric vehicles, even if it is a bit over-zealous at times. (The perfection of a given alternative may end up having less of an ecological impact than the speed of implementation of alternatives to fossil fuels, imperfect as those alternatives may be: perfectionism x micro-scale = minimal effect; whereas, a step forward that is widely adopted = major positive impact.)
A couple of points of clarification:
1. Hydrogen does not have to be produced from fossil fuels. The oil and gas companies want this, naturally, so that they will be the ones to control the hydrogen infrastructure for the coming decades, but such a solution is ridiculous, as was pointed out above. Hydrogen only makes sense when it is produced using non-fossil fuel green energy, such as solar or wind, utilizing electrolysis of water or reformation of methane from sewage or landfill waste. If done in this way, hydrogen is a clean, renewable fuel.
2. Electric vehicles require a primary source of power, just as hydrogen vehicles do: with electric vehicles, the primary source of power at present is the power grid, which is heavily polluting due to its heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels.
Electric vehicles are not green unless their power source is solar or wind: exactly as with hydrogen vehicles.
Let’s stop the tribal warfare. You’d think the hydrogen and electric vehicle advocates were the Hatfields and McCoys.
If we were to compare the best application of hydrogen (distributed green energy generation) with the worst application of electric vehicles (plug into the largely coal-fired power grid), we could come to an equally one-sided view in abhorrence of the latter in favour of the former. Let’s try to be fair-minded and clear-headed here.
3. There are 1 billion fossil fuel ICEs on the planet now, with a median life expectancy of 17 years. There is no way we can wait until these vehicles are retired and replaced. We need to switch to some combination of hydrogen and electric vehicles right now – or stop driving.
4. We do not have to wait – nor can we wait – for mass production of either electric vehicles or hydrogen FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) or ICEs: any existing ICE can be converted to either hydrogen or electric now. Take your choice, but one of these – or a combination of both – must be done asap.
5. Locally-based, distributed green energy generation, in combination with hydrogen and/or electric vehicle conversion, is what we urgently need. The rest is pretty much academic.
(P.S.: Hydrogen is safer than gasoline. Research it for yourself if you have any doubt. The public has been misinformed on that point. I had assumed in writing this post that the audience already had such basic understanding.)
J. Todd Ring,
June 26, 2007
Search this blog: “green cars”……there’s tons more info here.