The pernicious battle over hydrogen

Fossil fuel companies see in the adoption of hydrogen, as a fuel , the opportunity for the survival their business in a zero carbon economy. Accordingly, they are lobbying governments for subsidies for developing and commercialising hydrogen fuel technology. However, the fact is that hydrogen is not a good solution for meeting most of humankind’s energy demands. Money could be better spent elsewhere.

Hydrogen is a clean fuel in as much that burning hydrogen, that is, letting it react with oxygen, releases a lot of energy (heat) and leaves behind only water. While hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, on earth, hydrogen gas ready for burning is scarce . Hydrogen on earth is only abundant when bound in molecules with other atoms. That means, before we can use hydrogen gas as fuel we have to break out the hydrogen from other substances such as water or hydrocarbon molecules. This requires energy, which is the main hurdle to the widespread use of hydrogen as a fuel.

For hydrogen to be a clean fuel it needs to be produced with clean energy. Where clean energy means energy that it is produced without emission of carbon dioxide . Using hydrogen as a fuel involves spending energy to produce the hydrogen in the first place. Then transport and storage of hydrogen is quite complicated because of its low density and ease of combustion. More energy has to be spent in transportation and storage before the energy invested in the hydrogen can be recovered. The question is then if we have clean energy why not use right away instead of wasting some of it in the production of hydrogen?

There are more details on the Hydrogen Economy in my forthcoming book: Global Warming – Facts, Myths and Remedies.






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