Fuel Cell Today
August 11, 2004
link to www.fuelcelltoday.com
I have enormous respect for the analytical ability of Daniel Sperling and Joan Ogden, who have set forth a strong rationale for their long-term "Hope for Hydrogen" (Issues, Spring 2004). My problem is that their conclusion is even more apt for the short term. The public interests of America in reducing our dependence on oil from nations that hate us and abating global warming can't afford to wait for a fuel-cell car, which has been 15 years away for the past 15 years.
The assumption that hydrogen is or must be decades away is the false premise of both the academic proponents of hydrogen and the self-appointed protectors of the environment, who assume that this nation is incapable of mounting a "Moon-shot"-type initiative for renewable hydrogen. They both fall for the automobile/oil industry's "educational" effort that has made hydrogen and the fuel cell linked at the hip. They are not!
The internal combustion engine, with relatively minor adjustments, can run quite well on hydrogen. In fact, an internal combustion engine, when converted to hydrogen, is 20 to 25 percent per more efficient. A hydrogen hybrid vehicle is not a distant dream (as is the fuel cell) but a present reality if the public and political leaders were really educated on this subject. For example, the Ford Motor Company unveiled their Model U, a hydrogen-hybrid SUV with a range of some 300 miles per fill-up, more than a year ago.
A key question is where the hydrogen originates. If it's from domestic fossil fuels, as Sperling and Ogden as well as the critics of hydrogen assume, it's not useful for carbon reduction but does reduce oil imports. But if the hydrogen originates in water, it is super-plentiful; and if solar, wind, geothermal, or biomass is used to generate the electricity to split the water, a carbon-free sustainable energy source exists.
Let me explain why I believe that the real-world facts of life (and death) make a compelling case for starting the hydrogen revolution at once. The issues that could be alleviated by substituting renewable hydrogen for oil in the transportation sector are the following:
Reducing our dependence on imported oil. No one really doubts that we are at war in significant part because of oil. Petrodollars have funded the terrorists. America must look the other way at Saudi Arabia because of our dependence on their ability to raise or lower the price of oil with their spare capacity. The national security threat of oil dependence is a clear and present danger. More efficient cars are necessary but insufficient. Until we start building cars without oil, the increasing populations here (and in China and India) will control our destiny.
Global warming. The issue is a well-known serious threat to all humankind. A renewable hydrogen economy would be carbon-free. But "Hope for Hydrogen" says that hydrogen is not competitive and would deliver fewer benefits than "advanced gasoline and diesel vehicles." This statement ignores the benefits of zero-oil vehicles to reduce oil imports, and it assumes that hydrogen must come from fossil fuels. The answer-renewable hydrogen-is assumed to be decades away. And it will be unless we recognize that the renewable resources and the technology to harness them are much closer to commercial reality than the fuel cell. What is lacking is a sense of necessity and the leadership to mount a "can-do" initiative.
Local air pollution. Gasoline and diesel continue to be serious sources of local air pollution. Burning hydrogen creates water vapor and nitrogen oxide that can be controlled to near zero levels. There are no particles. It's a clear benefit.
The hope for hydrogen is not a distant dream. It could be a reality in this decade. We need to take the discussion out of the hands of people who see only the problems-and they are real-but don't see the vital need and opportunity to overcome them in 5 to 10 years, not decades. There is a legitimate fear that we may drift into fossil/hydrogen energy. The best way to avoid it is to promote renewable hydrogen. A solar/hydrogen initiative of Moon-shot intensity is the answer. No one can say for sure it can't be done, starting now, unless we try.
S. DAVID FREEMAN
Hydrogen Car Company
Los Angeles, California email@example.com
S. David Freeman is former chief executive of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the New York Power Authority.