Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Hydrogen Economy

Hydrogen is all the rage as the ultimate clean fuel. But, as one would suspect, there are a few problems the greenies love to skip over:

Yes, the only exhaust gas from a hydrogen engine is water vapor. The problem is that there are no hydrogen wells. The most common source of hydrogen today is stripping it from fossil fuels like natural gas, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. So, like ethanol derived from food crops, when you consider the total carbon footprint, burning hydrogen is no better, and likely much worse, than burning fossil fuel directly.

Hydrogen is dangerous. Don't tell my parents, but I nearly lost a foot to a hydrogen explosion in my high school chemistry class. Hydrogen makes propane or natural gas look like a pussy; why do you think NASA uses it to launch the shuttle?

Hydrogen WANTS OUT very badly. Any piping, coupling, or fixture that works for propane or natural gas will leak hydrogen like a sieve.

Keeping hydrogen in a liquid state requires enormous pressures and very cold temps. Those temperatures are maintained in part by constantly allowing liquid hydrogen to evaporate (that's the steam you see pouring out of the shuttle just prior to launch). NASA keeps pumping fuel into the vehicle right up to the point is starts moving to compensate. Not sure how all that translates into the family car. Maybe I just lack imagination. Or maybe that's why a state-of-the-art hydrogen vehicle only has a 100-mile range, weighs 4,500 pounds, and costs six figures.

And last, but not least, the focus of the linked article: infrastructure. Or, more accurately, the complete lack thereof. Even the most pessimistic cost estimates are probably grossly optimistic.

No comments: