Hydrogen – Hope or Hype?

From time to time we get articles from people around the world. Many of them we publish, as you can see in our articles listing. But we can’t publish everything we’re sent, because our credibility is important to us. There are a lot of environmentalists who tout hydrogen as the future of energy. But have they really analysed the practicality of hydrogen? Here then, is my response to the author of yet another story that touted hydrogen as the solution to all our worldwide energy challenges:

“Thank you for your email. I’m considering publishing this but have some concerns. Having also studied hydrogen, I don’t see in your analysis a treatment of some of the problems with hydrogen. For example, how will hydrogen be stored in a safe and cost-effective manner? Don’t bother with liquified hydrogen, or hydrogen pressurized to 5,000-10,000 PSI, because those methods are NOT practical today, and may never be. And they are very expensive. As for fuel cells, I’ve been in that industry and I don’t think they’re anywhere near ready for mass production. They are still incredibly expensive and they are fragile. The catalysts (which use expensive materials) degrade quickly. Electrolysis units have similar problems.

Why not explore other ways to store electricity? I fully agree with your comments regarding wind and photovoltaic power, I think they are viable now and will only get more viable in the future. But can wind power and PV power be harnessed through load balancing and storage means other than hydrogen? Because if you don’t believe it is easy to store and distribute hydrogen (I don’t) and if you don’t think electrolysers and fuel cells are going to be viable any time soon (I don’t), then what are your alternatives? For example, batteries on-board commuter cars seems like a far more cost-effective way to store electricity. Why doesn’t the electric car get more interest and support? What other methods are available to store electricity?

Your article also mentions things that are not necessarily truisms; I’m not convinced carbon dioxide is the cause of global warming and I haven’t heard a convincing scientific explanation for why it is. I have a phd chemist doing a story currently on global warming and I’ve asked him to debunk author Michael Crichton’s claim that going from 300 to 600 ppm of Co2 will not cause global warming, and he can’t. There isn’t a shred of evidence we’ve found – not one scientific explanation for why going from 300 to 600 ppm of atmospheric Co2 will cause global warming. Find that, and I’ll publish it. In your analysis you also make claims regarding nuclear power which I don’t totally agree with; I don’t have a strong position for or against nuclear power – I think it is much safer today than it was 30 years ago and I’m not sure we should ignore it. I’m not at all convinced nuclear power is not economically viable. Also you mention the sterling motor as a source of energy. We’ve covered this for several years, and have never seen a sterling engine prototype that could deliver meaningful amounts of energy.

What would be really interesting would be a story about ways to store electricity that don’t rely on hydrogen nor are far fetched (such as “ultra-capacitors”); where is the future of the common battery, for example? And where is a good scientific explanation for why Co2 causes global warming? I would think methane, or even water vapor, are far bigger culprits. Sometimes I think the whole hydrogen cause is encouraged by vested interests in the oil industry because they know giving hydrogen lip service distracts activists from trying to get better fuel-efficiency standards enacted or trying to get battery-powered commuter cars back on the road.

Please rest assured I have no axe to grind. My website is so left of right and so right of left that nobody sponsors me. But the readers love it.”

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