NewScientist has a story about the "hydrogen economy" that has been resting on the horizon for a decade or more. Despite a great deal of enthusiasm for and research into hydrogen-based power systems, the technology seems just as far away from everyday use as it's always been. A British startup, ITM Power, has recently claimed a breakthrough in lowering production costs by using a nickel catalyst (rather than platinum) with a membrane small enough for home use. But, even if their method is proven and adopted, it still wouldn't address huge energy efficiency problems in the process. "The point was made forcefully by Gary Kendall of the conservation group WWF in a recent report called Plugged In (PDF, pgs. 135-149). Kendall, a chemist who previously spent almost a decade working for ExxonMobil, highlights how the energy losses in the fuel chain - from electrolysis to compression of the hydrogen for use to inefficiencies in the fuel cell itself — mean that only 24 per cent of the energy used to make the fuel does any useful work on the road."
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