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Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Energy of the Future

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Tuesday, September 05, 2006]
President George W Bush believes that hydrogen is the fuel of the future. In 2003 he announced an initiative worth $1.2 billion over a period of five years to fund research into the use of hydrogen fuel cells. The EU and Member States agree and are estimated to have supported activities in this field to the tune of 600 million euros for the 2002-2006 period.

The biggest driving force (no pun intended) behind the massive investment is the auto industry, which relies on oil-fuelled cars, but the electronics industry, which currently uses limited-life lithium ion batteries, is also making significant contributions....

Read full article at: Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Energy of the Future


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Auros said...

A lot of people are highly dubious about hydrogen's role in solving our energy problems. It is, fundamentally, an energy storage medium, not an energy source. There are not reserves of hydrogen waiting to be extracted and burned, you have to make the hydrogen, and to do that you have to expend energy.

Once you look at it that way, it turns out that electric vehicles beat the pants off hydrogen fuel cell vehicles -- it takes two to three times as much electricity to produce hydrogren to drive a fuel-cell vehicle a mile, as it takes to charge the battery of an EV for that same mile. So if you were planning to electrolyze water, would you rather build one power station (nuclear, solar, hydro, wind, whatever) and use EVs, or build three for your hydrogen? If you get the hydrogen from natural gas or other fossil fuel sources, you'd again get more total miles-driven by putting the gas into a big high-temperature fuel cell stack, and powering an EV off the grid.

By the time H2 fuel cells are an affordable technology for cars, it's very likely that the range issue for EVs will've been long since solved. So it really seems like gov't investment in fuel cells is kind of a waste.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

First it should be noted that hydrogen fuel cell powered cars ARE electric cars only they get their electric power from hydrogen fuel cells instead of chemical (e.g. lead acid) batteries.
Yes hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells are primarily a means of energy storage and not an alternative energy source in and of them selves; however they do have significant environmental advantages over traditional chemical batteries in that we don't have the hazardous materials concerns with hydrogen fuel cells that we do with traditional batteries.

Essentially hydrogen fuel cells allow us to store energy produced by non-portable sources (e.g. wind power, hydroelectric, solar, nuclear, etc.) and use it to power our vehicles. In fact in Iceland they use geothermic energy to break the chemical bonds of water to extract hydrogen which is then used to power their vehicles. Their goal is to become totally energy independent via the use of hydrogen fuel cells.

There are significant draw backs to the use of traditional chemical batteries to power cars including their weight, lifespan, hazardous chemicals involved, and power storage ability. Provided wise sources are used to extract hydrogen (e.g. not fossil fuels) hydrogen COULD be one long term alternative to the use of petroleum as a portable power source to power our vehicles.

Anonymous said...

Fuel cells that run on alternative fules, like ethanol, and other non petroleum based sources are the way of the future. Hydrogen fuel cells are a dead end. The hydrogen is primarily derived from stripping it off of natural gas and other non-renewable resources. In the process they generate about as much ancient CO2 as if we just burned the original source of energy, but al lower overall energy efficiency. To be truely environmentally freindly fuel cells must derive their energy from renewable sources at the highest efficiency of energy transfer possible. If from renewable sources, then there is no net change in the carbon footprint, its just recycling carbon already present in the current ecosystem, and not adding more from ancient sources. Lets keep this real.

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