15 April 2007

Time to explode the hydrogen myth

The hydrogen bandwagon continues to roll. Only rarely does someone point out that this really is a case of the emperor with no clothes. So we must be thankful to Russell Seitz for chiming in with his piece At Last- A Genuine Hoax!.

Seitz hits the nail on the head with his observation that "hydrogen produced from H2O is a rare and precious commodity, costing a quarter its weight in silver because of the high price of American electrical power-- most of which comes from coal".

Hydrogen is just a carrier of energy. In this respect it resembles electricity. It is only a good idea if you need something to replace oil and gas in applications where you need a fluid that you can carry around.

In his attack on hydrogen from water Seitz misses reasons why hydrogen might have a role to play in a future energy system. Rather than turning coal into electricity to make hydrogen, why not get the carbon out of the coal and just use the hydrogen it contains? In that way you could tap the coal's energy without puffing CO2 into the atmosphere.

I leave it to others to calculate the thermodynamics of this idea. I raise it only because Lord Brown, the boss of BP, told me (links to a PDF file) that it is why the company is interested in hydrogen.

Another way to turn an "immobile" fuel into one that you can carry around is, of course, to use nuclear power as the source of energy for hydrogen creation. But once again the thermodynamics have to be right. And the sort of people who call for a hydrogen economy are almost certainly the last to contemplate the idea of building more nuclear power stations. They would rather see the lights go out all over the planet.

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