The wicked battle over hydrogen

Fossil fuel companies hope that the substitution of hydrogen for fossil fuels might offer them a path for the survival of their business in a zero carbon economy. Accordingly, they are lobbying governments for subsidies for developing and commercialising hydrogen fuel technology. In doing so they ignore, wittingly or unwittingly, the fact that hydrogen cannot provide a solution for meeting most of humankind’s energy demands. Investment in a hydrogen fuel infrastructure is a diversion of money from the development of effective carbon free energy sources.

Hydrogen is a clean fuel in as much that burning hydrogen it, that is, letting it react with oxygen, releases a lot of energy (heat) and leaves behind only water. Despite hydrogen being the most abundant element in the universe, on earth, hydrogen gas ready for burning is scarce. On earth, hydrogen is bound in molecules with other atoms. That means, before we can use hydrogen gas as a 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. Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source!

For hydrogen to truly 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. When using hydrogen to produce electricity only about a quarter of the energy expended in producing hydrogen can be recovered as electrical energy. Because of the low density, extremely low boiling point and the ease of combustion of hydrogen, large amounts of hydrogen are lost in the transport, storage and the conversion to electric energy.

Therefore: If we have clean electric energy from solar photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric power plants and nuclear fission reactors, why should we waste it on producing hydrogen?

If you want to form your own opinion on the matter then look out for my forthcoming book: “Global Warming :– Facts, Myths and Remedies”.


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