Print 22 comment(s) - last by CleanBurning.. on Jul 23 at 1:06 PM

The BMW Hydrogen 7 features a bi-fuel motor which can burn either liquid hydrogen or gasoline. The hydrogen pump is slightly more daunting.  (Source: BMW)
The U.S. really could have the hydrogen economy, it just might take 50 years.

If there's one thing many Americans agree on, it's that the nation is far too dependent on foreign resources. If you can't get behind that, there's also the environmentalist angle: burning fossils fuels makes us icky. Both ideas are becoming very motivational, but maybe not as much so as the constant flux and steady rise of gasoline prices. You hit our pocketbooks; we start to think about what's going wrong.

Between the various camps, just about everyone has started to realize that it's time to figure out a new way to derive power – especially for vehicles. Non-commercial vehicles account for 44 percent of the oil used in the United States yearly. They also contribute 20 percent or more of the carbon dioxide pollution produced nationally. Alternative energy sources for transportation alone could put a huge dent in national oil consumption.

The government has even jumped into the pool now, having mandated an investigation by the National Research Council on how we can get out of this seemingly endless black hole of oil dependence and price gouging. The NRC's conclusion? Hydrogen could do it for us. Only it may take half a lifetime to accomplish – not something environmentalists and economists want to hear.

There are several problems with building a hydrogen economy. First, there is the lack of infrastructure. How does the hydrogen get to consumers? Second, hydrogen isn't exactly inexpensive to produce as needed for hydrogen fuel cells. And since it involves using some amount of energy from some process, it's likely being made by using “dirty” power somewhere. Third, the general technology involved in hydrogen production and vehicles is not yet comparable to gasoline and internal combustion vehicles as far as cost versus performance is concerned.

On the subject of the latter, the NRC report states that though with continued development the total hydrogen fleet might reach two million vehicles, nationally, by 2020, it wouldn't be until approximately 2023 that the technologies could compete on equal footing, economically. The government would need to invest approximately $55 billion over the next 15 years, expecting private investments of approximately $145 billion in the same time frame, to push the evolving technology to that level. While those seem like big numbers, they estimated that the yearly subsidy for ethanol fuels could reach as much as $15 billion per year in that time. Two minutes with a pencil and paper can tell you which of these will cost less in the long run.

After the new H vehicles become cost efficient, the NRC says, their population would likely explode. By 2050 there could be as many as 200 million, replacing a large portion of ICE-powered jalopies, thus cutting a noticeable swathe through oil dependency and pollution rates.

Unfortunately, the report, titled “Transition to Alternative Transportation Technologies: A Focus on Hydrogen,” is a best-case scenario. They also include that the best way to go about making the H economy a reality is not simply by snubbing oil and its dark miasma, but by encouraging other forms of alternative energy and a continued push for gasoline fuel efficiency while hydrogen technologies advance.

Overall, the future of hydrogen looks bright. Though the infrastructure will be costly to implement, it seems to suffer less of a poor reputation than other alternative fuels like biodiesel, which is being blamed for various economical woes like the rising price of meats, grains and dairy products. Every other day a new advance in fuel cell construction or efficiency surfaces and the media is thick with hoopla about fuel cell vehicles from various manufacturers. The only real problem the U.S. might really have if it were to make a concentrated effort to convert to the cleaner economy is a lack of patience.

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RE: we still need energy
By FITCamaro on 7/21/2008 5:54:44 AM , Rating: 2
The environmentalists will still complain then because we're still burning something. They want fossil fuels gone. Period.

RE: we still need energy
By krwhite on 7/21/2008 10:41:34 AM , Rating: 2
They'll complain, but at the end of the day, the free markets will create many options for consumers. [Period.]

RE: we still need energy
By andrinoaa on 7/22/2008 4:11:36 AM , Rating: 2
Have you seen the news from Beijing lately? The air ain't all clean. And the major contributor is...... car exhausts.
Free market at its ugliest. I certainly don't want that, do you?
keep burning.......

RE: we still need energy
By Etsp on 7/22/2008 3:48:11 PM , Rating: 2
wait wait wait wait... free market... in china? I don't know what you're burning, and then filtering with your lungs, but...keep burning it.

RE: we still need energy
By OldProgrammer on 7/21/2008 3:36:26 PM , Rating: 2
The environmentalists will still complain then because we're still burning something. They want fossil fuels gone. Period.

You know nothing about what Environmentalists want.

Fuel made from plant cellulose could be ideal since the carbon released when the fuel is burned was originally taken out of the air by the growing plant. So it would be carbon neutral, no net increase in the carbon in the atmosphere.

It depends on how much energy is needed to turn the cellulose into fuel. This is why ethanol from corn is not a solution. Distilling the ethanol from the corn requires more energy going into the process than comes out in the form of ethanol. So using ethanol actually wastes energy, and is not carbon neutral.

RE: we still need energy
By ineedaname on 7/23/2008 6:08:04 AM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen is made up of hydrogen. There's no carbon in hydrogen. So if you burn it, it doesn't become CO2 which is fine by "environmentalists". It is a clean burn that produces water when hydrogen + oxygen combine.

Hydrogen is not a fossil fuel because it can turn water back into hydrogen an unlimited number of times.

RE: we still need energy
By ineedaname on 7/23/2008 6:09:24 AM , Rating: 2
er replace the last "it" with "you"

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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