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Hydrogen Won't Save Our Economy 723

Posted by kdawson
from the tell-us-something-we-don't-know dept.
anaesthetica writes "Physorg.com is featuring a story asserting that hydrogen is economically infeasible as a replacement for our current energy sources. The premise is that isolating and converting hydrogen into a usable energy source takes up a great deal of energy to begin with, and that subsequently converting that hydrogen fuel into usable energy results in an overall efficiency of only about 25%. Apparently, the increasing scarcity of water is going to make hydrogen too costly and just as politicized as oil." From the article: "[Fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel's] overall energy analysis of a hydrogen economy demonstrates that high energy losses inevitably resulting from the laws of physics mean that a hydrogen economy will never make sense. The advantages of hydrogen praised by journalists (non-toxic, burns to water, abundance of hydrogen in the Universe, etc.) are misleading, because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today."
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Hydrogen Won't Save Our Economy

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  • umm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:26AM (#17220528)
    we're going to have to keep the rising water levels in the oceans down somehow right? ;)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by haraldm (643017)
      .. sure not by re-burning hydrogen and oxygen.

      Hydrogen requires a complete redesign of the sales channel. Alcohol doesn't.
      Hydrogen requires a large amount of electricity to generate. Alcohol doesn't.
      Hydrogen requires a large amount of electricity for cooling during transport. Alcohol doesn't.

      Just look at the real technical values of the BMW showcase. You'll see that hydrogen makes little sense as a means of energy transport and storage.
      • FRAUD Alert? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Futurepower(R) (558542) <MJennings.USA@NOT_any_of_THISgmail.com> on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @09:26AM (#17221756) Homepage
        Agreed, of course, but there is something fishy about the article.

        FRAUD??? It's true that making hydrogen is not an efficient way to store energy for use later. However, this quote is partly nonsense: "... the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare..." Water is not rare, and is could never be a problem with the production of hydrogen. I doubt that a reputable publication would print nonsense like that.

        Not only is something very wrong with the article, but something is not right with the article's source, Physorg.org. Here are some Google ads at the site that seem full of fraud: "Sponsored Links (Ads by Google) -- The Next Oil Boom - See who's pumping cash by making oil for $13.21. And selling for $59. And another: Free Top Energy Profits - 5 Triple-Digit Investment Gains in Today's Alternative Energy Boom." An honest organization would never allow advertising like that, I think.

        This article on the same web site seems like the beginning of fraud to me: A Printer that Delivers 1,000 Pages a Minute? [physorg.com]. There is NO printer. There is only a poorly edited article in the online (not peer-reviewed, apparently) edition of Applied Physics Letters. The idea is called JeTrix (Jet Tricks) by the supposed developers. The idea is that a printhead that covers the whole sheet of paper can print faster than one that is small.

        Recently, Slashdot has been carrying discussions of "scientific breakthroughs" that are in actuality attempts to get money from investors. The Slashdot articles are, in reality, press releases for extremely poor investment "opportunities". Is a Slashdot editor taking money to run these?
        • Re:FRAUD Alert? (Score:5, Informative)

          by nelsonal (549144) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @10:00AM (#17222128) Journal
          Clean potable water is surprisingly hard to access in quantities outside the developed world (and becoming far more scarce daily). Aquifers in the US are sinking (some with alarming speed). You generally can't just stick probes in the ocean and create industrial levels of hydrogen.
          • Re:FRAUD Alert? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Cyno (85911) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @11:19AM (#17223052) Journal
            Yes, but I can still extract Hydrogen from mud, so what's your point? Why are you commenting on the lack of clean water for hydrating animals as if its relates to energy economics? Its a completely different problem altogether. Once the energy problem is fixed, then I think getting clean water everywhere will be a lot easier by truck than by foot, don't you?

            So by your logic its too hard to distribute clean water and too hard to extract "industrtial levels" of hydrogen from probes in the middle of the ocean, so what, just die when the oil runs out? Gee thanks, brilliant. Got any other ideas?
        • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @10:28AM (#17222444) Journal
          Here are some Google ads at the site that seem full of fraud: "Sponsored Links (Ads by Google) -- The Next Oil Boom ... Free Top Energy Profits ..." An honest organization would never allow advertising like that, I think.

          If they are using Google to sell ads they don't control the ads. Their site relates to energy issues, so ads for energy-related scams will match in the placement algorithms.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Vitriol+Angst (458300)
          Fresh water may be getting Rarer -- but I don't remember ever canoing down a river of Oil, do you?
          The amount of Fresh water needed is a lot less for energy than for drinking.
          So even if it is inefficient, I seriously doubt that we don't have enough Volume -- this is pretty silly on its face. Can't you even use Salt Water?

          I'll admit that I already think that a Hyrdogen fuel system is NOT where we should be going right now -- it's many years away and sort of a Red Herring.

          And I don't think that Electrolysis is
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mattintosh (758112)
        1) Hydrogen requires a long-overdue redesign of the sales channel.
        2) Hydrogen requires a large amount of nearly-free electricity to generate.
        3) Hydrogen requires no transport, and no cooling during storage.

        A hydrogen fuel station could be built with various electric generation systems on-site to generate hydrogen for fuel, oxygen for medical purposes, and even feed unneeded electricity back into the grid. Most gas stations in the USA (I don't know about other parts of the world, but I assume they're similar
  • sun and wind (Score:5, Insightful)

    by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:26AM (#17220530) Journal
    sun and wind power are, IMHO, the alternative to oil and coal. hydrogen should be used just as storage/transport of energy.

    but even this will be useless if we don't put serious brain power into improving the eficiency of our gadgets/cars/homes/etc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      sun and wind power are, IMHO, the alternative to oil and coal

      Wind won't work outside of a very few areas that have the kinds of sustained winds to make it workable. In general, it just takes up too much physical space for the energy it generates.

      Solar is potential workable, but not with single-crystal silicon wafers. Those actually require quite a bit of energy to create, and take (I believe) over a year to "pay back" that energy. Recent research into nanocrystalline materials has more potential there

      • Re:sun and wind (Score:4, Insightful)

        by salec (791463) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @08:04AM (#17221110)
        Wind won't work outside of a very few areas that have the kinds of sustained winds to make it workable.

        Why impose additional constraints on new solutions to old problems? Hydroelectric power also won't work outside a very few areas where there is enough water and elevation difference, coal thermoelectric plants are impractical outside areas where you can strip mine coal, nuclear fission power plant is not feasible where you don't have uranium available (or water for cooling for that matter, or where it is IMBY). All this "downsides" didn't stop us from building and using each one of them. Why should we now suddenly make such an exception for wind power plants only?

        Ever heard of Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant and Nikola Tesla? Back then, the guy demonstrated that energy can be harvested in remote locations, then conducted to areas of deployment.

        Unrelated to that, but similar in paradigmatic sense, note that petroleum is used throughout the world, even though it is obtained only from handful of regions of the planet.

        So, the only thing that actually matters for whichever energy production is: is it doable anywhere?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dun Malg (230075)

          Why impose additional constraints on new solutions to old problems? Hydroelectric power also won't work outside a very few areas where there is enough water and elevation difference, coal thermoelectric plants are impractical outside areas where you can strip mine coal, nuclear fission power plant is not feasible where you don't have uranium available (or water for cooling for that matter, or where it is IMBY). All this "downsides" didn't stop us from building and using each one of them. Why should we now suddenly make such an exception for wind power plants only?

          It's not simply pessimism, it's basic freakin' physics. 12 million cubic feet of water falling from 170 feet is a concentrated energy source. Coal, at 24 megajoules per kilogram, is a concentrated energy source. Uranium, at 560 gigajoules per kilogram, is a very concentrated energy source. Wind isn't even in the same class. It's not transportable, and it's highly dilute. There is no super-efficient windmill design waiting in the wings for some visionary designer that will revolutionize wind power generatio

      • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @08:21AM (#17221218)
        Wind won't work outside of a very few areas that have the kinds of sustained winds to make it workable. In general, it just takes up too much physical space for the energy it generates.

        Solar is potential workable, but not with single-crystal silicon wafers. Those actually require quite a bit of energy to create, and take (I believe) over a year to "pay back" that energy. Recent research into nanocrystalline materials has more potential there, as they require less energy to create.


        Actually both are space hogs, especially if you are talking about actual wind or solar 'powerplants'. However each has the potential to produce say... very rough guess here... up to 10% of the energy needs. In Europe wind is extensively used, farmers often set up wind generators on their fields and sell the electricity they don't need to the energy companies for extra income. If you drive through Denmark, Holland, or N-Germany you will see wind generators by the dozen in the wheat fields you drive through. I don't think either wind nor solar will replace coal and oil for all sorts of reasons of which the physical space they take up is only one reason, they will remain important supplementary energy sources. Large solar power plants are not all that common here in Europe but people have begun to combine improved insulation of their houses/apartments with measures like mounting solar cells on the roof to reduce the amount of energy they have to draw off the electric network for heating/cooling or lighting in their houses. Basically I think we can get far by encouraging the use of wind and solar and combining those with measures aimed at increasing the efficient use of energy but even all those measures together will never enable us to replace oil and coal. Unless somebody finds miraculous new energy source and invents room temperature super-conductors in the near future, conventional Nuclear power may prove the only viable way to phase out fossil fuel use in power plants. Nuclear leaves nasty waste products that will be hard to deal with but at least it doesn't cause a rise in sea levels and climate change. The choice we have at the moment is:
        • Nuclear power plants, which if they fail render the portion of the planet where they are located and any territory down wind them un-inhabitable for several thousand years.
        • Coal and oil plants who have the potential to render even larger portions of the planet un-inhabitable than Nuclear accidents will because of sea-level rise and the rest of it ill-inhabitable because of climate change.

        It's a choice between bad and worse.

      • In Ohio... (Score:3, Informative)

        by gerf (532474)

        There are new windmills going up in the flat countryside. They're barely making the payments on the initial costs, but they're relatively affordable. It doesn't take huge amounts of wind to make decent amounts of electricity, it's just not as affordable for the companies trying to make a profit. Here's a helpful website, I am not affiliated with http://www.greenenergyohio.org/page.cfm?pageID=10 8 [greenenergyohio.org]

      • Use farmland (Score:4, Informative)

        by Kadin2048 (468275) <.slashdot.kadin. .at. .xoxy.net.> on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @09:49AM (#17222002) Homepage Journal
        Actually, I was watching a program last night on the History Channel -- not exactly peer reviewed scientific literature, I realize, but IMO on par with TFA -- which was talking about the viability of wind power in the United States as a renewable energy source.

        They pointed out that although wind does take up space, it's not as if the space it "takes up" can't be used for other things. They had some interesting shots of farmland out in the midwest where there were wind generators standing in the middle of the fields. The actual footprint of the generator on the ground is pretty small. Though I suppose its shadow might reduce crop yields in the surrounding acres slightly, one assumes the electricity generated must be enough to make up for this cost to the farmer. Probably the biggest drawback of having them all over your field is that it becomes harder to spray your crops using aircraft, but that doesn't seem like a total deal-breaker.

        There's a whole lot of farmland out in the middle part of the country which also has pretty steady winds, and is already being used for what basically amounts to an "industrial" purpose (large scale high-yield farming). If you can show the owners of that land that they can increase their financial yield per acre by adding wind turbines to their fields -- basically giving them another cash crop besides food -- you probably wouldn't have as much of the NIMBYism that plagues wind projects in more residential or coastal areas. (Although I think eventually, those people are just going to have to suck it up and learn to enjoy looking at turbines; 100 years ago, people probably bitched about having a lighthouse mucking up their view, but now they're considered a beautiful addition to the landscape. Surely generators could be the same way in time.)

        Although I think in the short term, nuclear (fission, obviously) plants are probably our best bet towards cutting carbon emissions and reducing our dependency on foreign energy sources, wind turbines seem close to being practical. Most of the objections to them seem to be aesthetic, and when it comes down to having your lights go out, or having some sort of power plant in your backyard, wind turbines seem a whole lot nicer than a coal-burner or nuclear facility (or being flooded out for a hydro project).
    • Re:sun and wind (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blahplusplus (757119) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @07:30AM (#17220906)
      "but even this will be useless if we don't put serious brain power into improving the eficiency of our gadgets/cars/homes/etc."

      How about putting some serious brainpower to changing cultural values? How much fucking space, heat, energy, electricity is wasted every year because each family/individual has a house/apartments much bigger then they need yet no people populate the extra empty rooms during the year, etc? Society in their desire for privacy / personal space creates a huge tonne of fucking waste simply through their animal prejudices and "preferences" (read programmed evolutionary emotional responses), we could save a TONNE of money and resources of we did something to develop superior cultural values. How much money would be saved on social programs if governments gave tax breaks to people that took the disabled, homeless, etc into the free space in their homes rent free, etc? How much good could come if people simply weren't dogs infected with the backward behavioural baggage of evolution.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JackHoffman (1033824)
        waste simply through their animal prejudices and "preferences"

        You cannot fight against evolution and win. If your solution includes telling people to go against their most basic desires and needs, it is certain failure.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by blahplusplus (757119)
          "You cannot fight against evolution and win. If your solution includes telling people to go against their most basic desires and needs, it is certain failure."

          Of couse that's only a half-truth, if you had courses on training in self-mastery you could do it. You're totally copping out, trying to sound scientific and all. "Evolution" is to the modern person as "God's will" was to the christian in ages past everything is viewed in terms of some narrow concept and that concept is somehow the arbiter and absol
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by radtea (464814)
            What evolutionary reason was there to free people from slavery from example? It sure makes a lot of sense evolutionarily speaking to keep slaves.

            Slavery is an artefact of agriculture. It was created by agriculture and it was destroyed by industrialization. It is alien to human society and human nature--we are evolved by nature to be more-or-less sympathetic to our fellow-beings, and while we have a lot of flexibility in this regard, societies that do not get enormous economic gain out of violating our ten
      • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @08:17AM (#17221186)
        http://www.whynot.net/ideas/2195 [whynot.net]

        No changes to human behaviour required.

         
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by zeux (129034)
          It's kinda like what happened in Europe with gas prices in fact... Here, we have very high taxes on gas and this forced people to buy very efficient cars (and in return forced the car makers to invest a lot in r&d toward efficiency).

          My car does 60 mpg, and it's an average french car. When I was in the US I had a very inefficient car and the funny thing was that despite gas prices being much lover in the US I was spending as much on gas a month than I'm doing now in France for approximately the same comm
      • Re:sun and wind (Score:4, Insightful)

        by visionsofmcskill (556169) <vision.getmp@com> on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @10:24AM (#17222380) Homepage Journal
        You sir, are crazy

        Maybe we should all live in a hive, possibly with a monarch as a king?

        How about we sleep only in standing closets, or pull out rolling beds?

        Maybe we could all live life in a gigantic bunk house with public showers?

        Why not get rid of cars and bus's and airplanes and boats entirely? Heck, weve got internet now, everyone can telecommute right?

        in fact, why not just jack everyone into a grid ... lets call it... a matrix. And allow them to interact in a virtual world that resembles our own? Maybe a second life... nah .. i like matrix.

        And maybe we could tweak that virtual world to remain always near perfect, but not quite perfect.

        Humanity like most life is designed to consume resources as much as it can, the gambit is wether or not we can find a way to maintain our growth through such consumption. Compression and self-lessness are only positive if they are natural or necesary. Compelling our current society to live in pods would be foolish, detremental, and likely a catastrophe. While condensed living is a requirment in most major population centers, youd be surprised at just how comfy people who live in rural or semi-rural europe/asia/America/Africa are in terms of space.

        This planet is BIG... REALLY BIG... on a magnitude thats hard to describe. You could suggest we all go underground too, with equally disasterous results. But te key to our "evolution" is to be the first bit of life to succesfully get off this rock in a self sustainable manner.

        Which is exactly why population density not being a preffered condition is a good thing, it forces us to open up new frontiers and search for more space... you know... doing that "life" thing.

        We keep growing like this and we might die.... We stop growing, and we will die for sure.
    • Re:sun and wind (Score:5, Informative)

      by starwed (735423) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @08:46AM (#17221412)
      hydrogen should be used just as storage/transport of energy.

      This is the only thing hydrogen can do. We store energy by producing hydrogen, and then release it when we want to use it. It's never been proposed that hydrogen will magically solve the energy problem, just that it might be a good way to store/transport what energy we do produce.

      The study's claim is that this is not a good idea, since the two step chemical process is simply too inefficient.

      • Re:sun and wind (Score:4, Insightful)

        by radtea (464814) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @10:28AM (#17222438)
        It's never been proposed that hydrogen will magically solve the energy problem, just that it might be a good way to store/transport what energy we do produce.

        And the author of this study makes a trivially false claim in this regard: "We have to solve an energy problem not an energy carrier problem."

        No, we have an energy carrier problem. We have all kinds of sources of energy. Wind, wave and most of all solar are more than abundant enough to supply the world's energy needs if we could just package and transport that energy with reasonably high volumetric and gravimetric density. If those sources are not enough then nuclear, for all its problems, is perfectly capable of filling the gap. But all of these sources most easily produce electricity, which has limited utility as a carrier of energy, particularly for transportation. The energy density of batteries, to say nothing of the conversion efficiency at anything like full discharge, is far worse than hydrogen.

        Beyond that, the author makes a strong claim about the economic feasibility of the hydrogen economy. We all know what an exact science economics is, and how economists routinely make accurate and empirically validated predictions of the future of technological trends. So the author is arguing about the wrong problem and reaching an implausibly strong conclusion.

  • Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tttonyyy (726776) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:27AM (#17220534) Homepage Journal

    the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare
    Eh? What about that huge nuclear furnace in the sky? And the ones we'll be building on Earth? What about two thirds of the planet's surface? That's not runny cheese you know!
  • Re-use (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SigILL (6475) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:27AM (#17220538) Homepage
    It doesn't really matter if water is scarce or not, since contrary to gas/oil it can be re-used; it's only an energy carrier. Also, 3/4ths of our planet is covered in the stuff.
  • by astonishedelf (845821) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:28AM (#17220542)
    It seems unlikely that some magic bullet will come and solve all our problems. The largest part of any solution has got to be a dramatic downward trend in energy consumption regardless of the source.
    • by node 3 (115640)
      Why? If energy can be cheaply and cleanly created, transported and consumed, what reason is there at all to decrease its use?

      What we actually need to do, at present, is reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, because it's the burning of carbon-based fuels that is the source of all the drawbacks of energy usage.

      If you had a battery that never depleted and produced no pollution whatsoever, what would be the benefit of not using it?
      • by aadvancedGIR (959466) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @07:36AM (#17220950)
        There is no such thing as cheap and clean energy, all we will ever have will be energy that is relatively cheap and clean corresponding to our technology level.
        -Oil looks cheap because we are using in a few centuries the production of millions of years.
        -Wind or solar energy comes free, but to use them, you need devides that need to be built, maintained and trashed, and due to their power source, they can have significant downtimes. Solar pannels also contains a lot of dangerous materials (As, Ge, Ga...) and their production causes some nasty pollution.
        -Nuclear power is probably the best we can have today for fixed power generation: we have largely enough uranium to wait for the fusion reactors and the generated pollution doesn't go into the atmosphere and therefore can be processed, but there will always be a risk with that.
        And of course, for the portable energy
        -Batteries are neither cheap or clean: they contain lots of toxic chemicals, have a limited life time, and due to Ohm law, can only give back only half of the energy that was put into them.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by TheSeer2 (949925)
          Time to repeal the law then I guess.
        • by sharp_blue (769985) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @09:17AM (#17221666)
          -Batteries are neither cheap or clean: they contain lots of toxic chemicals, have a limited life time, and due to Ohm law, can only give back only half of the energy that was put into them.
          I'm afraid this is incorrect.
          I've been charging batteries with efficiency of around 85%. High-efficient switched mode chargers can reach even higher numbers.
          And if the target load is much smaller than the internal battery impedance, you get near 100% efficiency using the stored energy, at least at battery's terminals.
          Battery is not a waveguide. You don't match its impedance to the load (and lose half of the energy if doing that)!
        • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @11:27AM (#17223158) Journal
          Batteries are neither cheap or clean: they contain lots of toxic chemicals, have a limited life time, and due to Ohm law, can only give back only half of the energy that was put into them.

          You're confusing two issues: Maximum POWER versus maximum ENERGY when pulling power from a voltage source through a fixed resistance.

          If you want the maximum amount of POWER (rate of energy delivery) and the resistance is fixed, you get it when half the power is delivered to your load and half wasted in the series resistance. Efficiency is 50%. (This assumes ideal fixed voltage source and resistance - a bad assumption when loading a battery with a near-short.)

          If you want the maximum ENERGY from your battery you pull much more slowly. Efficiency would approach 100% as discharge time approaches "forever" (though a real battery has leakage and a real load usually requires more than a trickle, so you waste a few percent to do things at practical rates and power levels).

          Same is true for the power grid. The system of generators, transmission lines, transformers, and miscelaney has overall efficiency far above 50%. You don't put so little copper in your wires that you're loading it at the peak of the power curve and half is wasted heating (and melting!) the system. You put in a BUNCH MORE and never draw power anywhere near the maximum you could draw.

          Example: My neighborhood has something like 50 houses served by a "bank" of three paralleled "pole pig" transformers on one edge of a primary delta - call it 12 KV. Rule of thumb for homes is they draw about a KW each, so call it 50 KW and a tad over 4 amps in the primary wiring. It's fed with bare #10 copper, which would easily carry 30A embedded in insulation in a wall without noticable warming.

          A couple years ago a goose flew into the primary wiring. The current melted the #20 in two places in less than a second and draped the primary wires all over the street. That means the goose was getting FAR over 30A. Let's be conservative and say it was 300A and dragged the voltage across the goose (and the arc to it) down to zero, which would put the half-power point at 150A and 4 KV - 600 KW. Normal load current would be about 2.7% of that, and resistive losses in the grid (as a percentage of power delivered) would be about 1.3%.
  • Battery (Score:4, Informative)

    by Perseid (660451) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:29AM (#17220544)
    I read somewhere that some consider hydrogen to be sort of a liquid battery. It costs energy to make it so it's really just a transference mechanism between the source of the energy and your car. The benefit is this, though: That source does not have to be oil. It can be anything. Wind, nuclear, squirrels in hamster wheels, anything. It will not solve our long-term energy problems, but it could help relieve our dependence on foreign oil.
    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:42AM (#17220630)
      You didn't read the article. Hydrogen is just a 25% efficient battery. We already have much better batteries.
       
      • by node 3 (115640)
        Who cares how efficient it is? It's far cleaner than any other presently available energy store. If we use solar, wind and tidal energy to charge the hydrogen batteries, what difference does energy efficiency make, so long as current and future energy needs can be met?
        • If we use solar, wind and tidal energy to charge the hydrogen batteries, what difference does energy efficiency make, so long as current and future energy needs can be met?

          Well, you take your energy as hydrogen, I'll take it as electricity at 1/4 of the price...

          And it gets worse. Assume we're not going to use 100% *cough* renewable electricity. Assume your energy comes from a local coal power station. They're about 35% efficient, so your 25% efficient battery actually gives you an overall efficiency of 8.8%. You're taking your scarce energy resource, burning it and making use of less than 10% of the energy in that resource.

          Until we are using 100% renewable or magical *cough*

        • If we use solar, wind and tidal energy to charge the hydrogen batteries, what difference does energy efficiency make, so long as current and future energy needs can be met?

          Well, you take your energy as hydrogen, I'll take it as electricity at 1/4 of the price...

          And it gets worse. Assume we're not going to use 100% *cough* renewable electricity. Assume your energy comes from a local coal power station. They're about 35% efficient, so your 25% efficient battery actually gives you an overall efficiency of 8.8%. You're taking your scarce energy resource, burning it and making use of less than 10% of the energy in that resource. Exactly how clean do you think that strategy is?

          Unt

      • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:59AM (#17220722) Homepage
        You must be new here, Mr UID 2679. If the "editors" don't bother to read articles before submitting them, I don't see why we should bother reading them before commenting.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by KingNaught (718536)
        The trouble with using accuall batteries in electric cars is the time it takes for a recharge cycle. If your driving from new New York to Detroit and you have to stop to refuel you don't want to have to wait 6 hours at the "gas" station for your car to recharge. While with a hydrogen fuel cell it would only take about as long to refuel as it does now.
  • From the article (Score:4, Insightful)

    by api_syurga (443557) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:30AM (#17220546)
    "We have to solve an energy problem not an energy carrier problem."

    There. nuff said.

  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:31AM (#17220558) Journal
    Just because it takes alot of energy to create the fuel, doesn't mean the fuel isn't usable on cars. You don't see a whole lot of space shuttles running on coal.
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:31AM (#17220562)
    Hydrogen will be the energy source that should suffice for a couple of centuries once we figure out how to extract energy from artificial fusion. (Note that this might include "Never", but I hope that's not the case).

    Before that, hydrogen is a cumbersome, impractical, lossy way to transport energy. We might as well look into synthesizing hydrocarbons from CO2 and H2O instead of just splitting water into H2 and O2. Any hydrocarbon is less troublesome to handle than hydrogen. If we make the chains long enough, we might even end up with stuff that's pretty much identical to oil-based gasoline.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rogerborg (306625)

      Why waste our time with producing something like "oil-based gasoline" when a diesel engine will run fine and dandy on the oil that we can just squeeze out of the end product of about half a billion years worth of plant evolution?

      Biologists and architects will get us over the hump, not physicists.

    • by node 3 (115640) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @07:05AM (#17220764)
      Before that, hydrogen is a cumbersome, impractical, lossy way to transport energy. We might as well look into synthesizing hydrocarbons from CO2 and H2O instead of just splitting water into H2 and O2. Any hydrocarbon is less troublesome to handle than hydrogen. If we make the chains long enough, we might even end up with stuff that's pretty much identical to oil-based gasoline.
      That makes no sense. The problem with hydrogen as an energy carrier is that you have to first put the energy into it to separate it from H2O. By creating energy from CO2 and H2O suffers from the same problem. You first have to put the energy into it that you plan to get out of it (different end-products than CO2 and H2O will affect the ratio of energy in to energy out, but the fundamental issue still applies).

      The only reason fossil fuels are efficient is that they already exist. Essentially, they are pre-charged batteries.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ihlosi (895663)
        That makes no sense. The problem with hydrogen as an energy carrier is that you have to first put the energy into it to separate it from H2O. By creating energy from CO2 and H2O suffers from the same problem.

        Which I wasn't going to contest. My point was that handling anything that has carbon in it is much, much easier than hydrogen, which has some fairly nasty properties like diffusing through almost anything.

        A practical energy carrier should be at least as convenient as natural gas. Bonus points are aw

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:32AM (#17220566)
    The hydrogen economy was an idea dreamed up by those with a vested interest to divert attention and money away from more promising and immediate technologies which compete with their own investments. Still, the government got to spend lots of money.

     
    • by node 3 (115640)

      The hydrogen economy was an idea dreamed up by those with a vested interest to divert attention and money away from more promising and immediate technologies
      Such as?
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:34AM (#17220574) Homepage Journal
    You don't need clean drinking water for electrolysis.
    • Call me crazy (or just lazy because I don't feel like looking it up), but doesn't electrolysis happen more readily in salt water?

      I seem to recall needing to add salt to the mix whenever we did electrolysis experiments in junior high science classes...
  • ...because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today

    So you need to put your hydrogen plants where you have both water nearby (ocean, desalinate?) and energy (sun?). California maybe? Sounds like a big enough market.
  • No surprise here. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Noryungi (70322) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:42AM (#17220628) Homepage Journal
    And it underlines a point that I'd like to see raised more often: a lot of people are looking for a "magic bullet", meaning some sort of drop-in replacement for oil, whether it's bio-fuels, or hydrogen or something else. They want something that would solve all of our energy problems in one fell swoop. And that's just not going to happen.

    Think about the early 19th century, for instance: oil was just one energy possibility among many others. Most people used wind power to process cereals into flour, or mechanical water power. They used coal or wood to warm themselves and candles or whale oil to light themselves. They also used solar power, for instance in salt flats. Then came steam engines -- again wood or coal -- and so on and so forth.

    Of course, the 21st century is a much more advanced society, but the energy possibilities are also much more numerous: from bio-fuels to nuclear, with solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wind power, bio-mass, natural gas, tide power, etc... etc... Our technology level has progressed by leaps and bounds and may well end up covering most our needs, IF we also improve efficiency and energy savings (= no more gas guzzler for you, sorry). But the key idea here is this: the 20th century, from and energy point of view, was an historical abberation: a time when we solved most of our energy needs on one solution. The 21st century may well see us come back to a more diversified picture, and something more in line with the previous centuries.
  • Water shortage? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nemosoft Unv. (16776) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:44AM (#17220642)

    Considering that 3/4 of the planet is covered with oceans, at some points kilometers deep, I fail to see a "water shortage". There may be a shortage on fresh water, yes, but salt water elctrolyzes just as well (even better, since it contains ions). To boot, you end up with sodium, chloride and some other chemical elements that can be sold as by-product.

    The real problem with hydrogen is that it's an inefficient way to store energy. Plus, storage is difficult since it's a very tiny atom (one proton only...) so it tends to seep out of every container; it's highly flammable, and to store it effectively you need either very high pressure, or very cold temperatures (20K). Gasoline really isn't that bad for a fuel...

    No, the real boon would be to either store electricity very efficiently, or somehow convert the CO2 in the atmosphere directly into fuel again, using some form of renewable energy like the sun.

    • The real problem with hydrogen is that it's an inefficient way to store energy

      But Methane (CH4) is a fantastic way to store and transport energy. We already have pipelines and ships to transport it and busses which run on the stuff. All you need to do is burn the hydrogen down to Methane, taking carbon out of the atmosphere in the process.

  • it's one of the laws of thermodynamics, along with "it takes money to make money". Though the thermo laws dont strictly apply in this case the principal is similar.

    To get energy out of hydrogen you have to get the hydrogen out of water, which itself takes energy, lots of energy. This indirectly makes the process similar creating a hydrogen based battery. You put the energy in in the seawater processing plant, and get it back out to drive your automobile, if the voltameters at the plant are solar powered you
  • what we should do is make a giant ram scoop that orbits the earth and funnel the space hydrogen back to earth to use as fuel.

    nasa has got nothing better to do at the moment.
  • Not Hydrogen Alone (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vivin (671928) <vivin.paliath@nospAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @06:56AM (#17220710) Homepage Journal
    We need to stop relying on one single solution.

    In the future (if there is one once we get our act together soon enough), the "solution" has to be a combination of solutions. Wind, Geothermal, Tidal, Nuclear (yes, Nuclear - although it's gotten a bad rap, it's actually a pretty good source), and perhaps Fusion, in addition to Hydrogen. The Earth's Oceans are a huge source of Deuterium, which can be used for Fusion (if we have it figured out), and possibly we could even use it as fuel (burning it). But I'm not sure of the effects of having slightly radioactive water vapor. Maybe it's not a good thing.

    I know there's a lot of IFs, but the sooner we start...

    Discovery had a good show today, outlining doomsday scenarios because of our overdependence on fossil fuels. It seems the Pentagon is actually seriously considering the implications to National Security from Global Warming and the rising cost of Oil, especially when it can involve droughts, and lots of war.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by init100 (915886)

      Oceans are a huge source of Deuterium, which can be used for Fusion (if we have it figured out), and possibly we could even use it as fuel (burning it).

      Burning deuterium? That would really be a waste of money. Why not use ordinary hydrogen is you want to burn it chemically?

      But I'm not sure of the effects of having slightly radioactive water vapor. Maybe it's not a good thing.

      Radioactive? Deuterium is not radioactive.

  • Someone needs to remind this guy that drinking water is not needed to make Hydrogen. We have a whole sea of suitable materials.
  • Hydrogen is out... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @07:01AM (#17220738)

    C2H5OH with [H2SO4] as a catalyst -----> C2H4 + H2O

          and with that cute little double bond, I can make any hydrocarbon you want. Where do we get the ethanol? There's plenty of arable land left for now - so much so that certain governments pay their farmers NOT to plant crops. Instead of making energy to create H2, perhaps we should use the sun's energy to work for us, as we have been doing anyway for the past few billion years...
  • The cheapest way to make hydrogen would be to develop a bacteria which lives in water and converts water into hydrogen and oxygen. IIRC someone developed a bacteria just like this that needed just a small bit of electricity to do its thing. (Which is a good thing, since it allows us to control the process.)

    Pour some of these into the sea in some sort of screened-off area and the only technical issue is to separate the hydrogen gas from the oxygen and transport them. A plant like this would require next to n
  • An unfair comparison (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ogemaniac (841129) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @07:30AM (#17220912)
    There is no "electric car with regenerative breaking". There may be a few golf-cart sized vehicles with or small cars with limited ranges, but a practical, mid-sized sedan with acceptable range on electricity only is far from a reality. Also, he seems to forgete that the batteries have to carry themselves, lowering their efficiency. Of course this is true of liquid fuels as well, but their energy density is much higher, so this issue is much less of a concern.

    It seems that the title of this article should be "hydrogen infererior to magic batteries".

    Whoopdie doo...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Salsaman (141471)
      a practical, mid-sized sedan with acceptable range on electricity only is far from a reality

      No it isn't. [wikipedia.org] I would call 250 miles on a single charge more than acceptable.

  • by CrankyOldBastard (945508) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @08:10AM (#17221134)
    The article seems to have a basic flaw:

    "In the market place, hydrogen would have to compete with its own source of energy, i.e. with ("green") electricity from the grid," he says. "For this reason, creating a new energy carrier is a no-win solution. We have to solve an energy problem not an energy carrier problem."

    Why do we have to use electricity from the grid to generate hydrogen? Why can't we use floating arrays of photovoltaic cells to crack the water on the ocean? Or we could use large banks of mirrors to power an array of Stirling engines to generate the power to crack the water? It's not as if you need a large voltage to do the job, I think there are many ways of getting the power other than off the grid.

    I have to admit I'm rather partial ton the idea of using arrays of mirrors to power a series of stirling engines - apart from possible loss of heat transfer fluid, and wear and tear (which is minimised by the typically low RPM of stirling engines) it should be very cheap power once you amortise the cost of setting up the thing. There are several places in the world (in the USA, South America, Africa and Australia at least) where you have ubiquitous sunshine at beaches where desert (or otherwise low-productivity land) comes down to the beach. The real problems to be solved for Hydrogen as a stored energy source are purely matters of storage and shipping. There are several technologies for renewable energy that could power the cracking with relatively low research costs to get them to a point where they would be usable.
  • by FridayBob (619244) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @08:56AM (#17221484) Homepage
    Has anybody seen that documentary movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" In it, they look into hydrogen vehicles and the auto industry's support for it, but get a technician involved to admit that these machines are nowhere near being available to the public. This idea, along with Bush's much vaunted "hydrogen economy", is nothing more than a white elephant -- a strategy for getting the public think that the industry is doing its best, while in actual fact hydrogen powered vehicles are a dead end. They pay lip service to the idea by investing few million a year into their hydrogen research projects, while in the mean time moving along with business as usual.

    As the movie points out, electric cars are the real answer: they're simple, cheap, fast, efficient, convenient and low maintenance, so there's absolutely no need for hydrogen to enter the equation. Hydrogen just makes these cars more complicated and less efficient. The only thing holding back the electric car is the will of the industry. For instance, Chevron holds the patents for one of the most promising battery technologies, but they specifically forbid the current manufacturer to sell them for use in private vehicles (only public transport).

    I suppose you could argue that the auto manufacturers the oil companies are only acting in the best interests of their stock holders, and that's probably true, but at this rate they might as well be evil.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Temkin (112574)


      Electric car tech works. The problem not discussed in the movie is the amount of lithium reserves in the world. It's mostly produced from an oddball mineral called spodumene, and other pegmatite related minerals. There's enough lithium available to us to make about 500 million Toyota Priuses. These use much smaller battery packs than a true electric like the EV-1.

      We need to come up with battery tech that uses raw materials we actually have available. Li-ION is nice for laptops, but doesn't scale.

      Temkin
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TFloore (27278)
      As the movie points out, electric cars are the real answer: they're simple, cheap, fast, efficient, convenient and low maintenance

      Electric cars have 2 major problems.

      First, recharging takes hours. Electric cars are only useful for commuters. No long-distance driving. This can possibly be overcome by making recharging stations that swap battery packs instead of recharging in place. This requires a degree of standardization that I wouldn't expect to see in the American automotive industry, however.

      Second, the
  • by jimstapleton (999106) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @08:58AM (#17221498) Journal
    and yet, it still says idiotic things...

    As far as the hydrogen goes - it's a good point, it's not a fuel source, it's a transport mechanism, since we don't have a lot of easily collectable hydrogen around - we have to obtain it by expending energy. Hydrogen should be thought more in the lines of electricity than of gas, just that it has different uses.

    As for "water running out"? WTF? Clean water may be diminishing, but the amount of water on the earth probably hasn't fluctuated by even 1% over the past billion years. Seing as how we aren't /drinking/ the hydrogen... I don't see that as being a big issue.

    And anyway, take the hydrogen out of unclean water... Well, when that hydrogen mixes with oxygen, I gurantee you the water will be clean.
  • Misguided analysis (Score:4, Informative)

    by Goonie (8651) * <[gro.arbmaneb] [ta] [lekrem.trebor]> on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @10:02AM (#17222150) Homepage
    If you assume an energy efficiency of about 30%, you get roughly 11 kilowatt-hours of energy out of a US gallon of gasoline. To put 11 kilowatt-hours of energy into a battery using the electric motor and battery efficiencies indicated in the article, you need to purchase roughly 14-15 kilowatt-hours of electricity. What's that cost, retail? A hell of a lot less than buying the equivalent amount of gasoline.

    But, funnily enough, nobody wants to buy an electric car, despite the fact that they'd probably be cheaper to run. Why? Because the range and performance is unacceptable to most people. And it's the same with a fuel cell vehicle compared with a battery-powered electric car. Sure, the hydrogen might be more expensive than the equivalent power straight from the grid. But the car's range and performance will be much better than the battery car.

    Furthermore, he makes the strange assumption that the hydrogen will be coming from room-temperature electrolysis. That's highly unlikely. It's much more likely that hydrogen will be produced using chemical processes on fossil fuels (using geosequestration to dispose of the resulting CO2), by using a nonchemical source of heat (such as a nuclear reactor or solar furnace) in high temperature electrolysis [wikipedia.org], or through all manner of nifty renewable hydrogen sources that don't involve producing electricity and then doing electrolysis.

  • by scharkalvin (72228) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @10:05AM (#17222182) Homepage
    for special applications. In space, it's the ideal rocket fuel, and in fuel cells
    for generating both electrical power and drinking water. On earth, hydrogen fuel
    cells might make sense in places where batteries don't fit. For example, there is
    a company that is working on small hydrogen fuel cells to power lap top computers.
    The power density of these promises to be better than Li-Ion batteries (and maybe
    even safer given Li-Ion batteries often catch fire).

    We just need to keep in mind that hydrogen is NOT a power source. It is a fuel that
    needs to be manufactured, better yet, it is a battery that needs to be charged.
  • by rs232 (849320) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @11:28AM (#17223188)
    Since it produces more energy than it consumes it should be easy to produce a full working example. For example a device consisting of a generator that feeds it's output to an electric motor that powers the generator.

    "We have developed a technology that produces free [steorn.net], clean and constant energy."
  • by rthille (8526) <web-slashdot@@@rangat...org> on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @11:41AM (#17223386) Homepage Journal

    All other forms of 'power' are just storage mechanisms or transformations for nuclear power:
    Solar: Converting radiation from Nuclear @ Sol
    Wind: Nuclear @ Sol -> differential heating -> wind
    Hydro: Nuclear @ Sol -> evaporation -> water runs down hill
    Geothermal: Nuclear fission within the earth -> hot core -> heats water for geothermal
    Biomass: Nuclear @ Sol -> photosynthesis -> energy storage
    Fossil Fuels: As Biomass -> burried over long periods -> concentration of stored energy

    It's _all_ Nuclear at some point. Once we accept that and work toward building safe reactor designs we'll be able to get on with "progress" without destroying the environment.
  • Isn't water recycled (Score:3, Informative)

    by pseudorand (603231) on Wednesday December 13, 2006 @11:50AM (#17223536)
    It's true that we need water to produce Hydrogen, and that it's inefficient, and that using salty sea water may be even more inefficient, but if we have hundreds of thousands of cars spewing out steam instead of CO/CO2, wouldn't that help SOLVE the water scarcity problem? Isn't all that steam going to come down as rain. And since we've transorted it from the coast inland, isn't it more likely to come down over land? Someone will probably chime in with a scathing reply about it not being enought water to be to make a difference, but isn't that what we though about oil-based combustion products.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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