Where's my hydrogen?

New Scientist takes a look at the state of the "Hydrogen Economy". We comment. You should read.

Carey Russ
2 min read

When I was in elementary school back in the early 1960s, nuclear energy was going to be the Greatest Thing Ever. Electricity was going to be so inexpensive that electric meters would be a thing of the past. Nuclear-powered cars would run for a year on a pellet of fuel the size of a vitamin pill. Nuclear energy would power ships, aircraft, and just about everything.

Right...With the exception of military ships--submarines and aircraft carriers--nuclear transportation has been a complete washout. Since the Three Mile Island disaster 30 years ago, nuclear power has been a bad word in the U.S., although that may change, and may have to change, in the future. Nuclear hype could be seen as one of the earliest recorded instances of vaporware.

But now we have hydrogen. The most common element in the universe. Hydrogen promises limitless clean energy. No more dependence on foreign oil. Maybe I'm an old cynic, but the hype is starting to sound familiar.

I found this article while perusing the Net earlier today.

It's an excellent article, and has many good points. Where is the hydrogen fuel coming from? Hydrogen may be the most common element in the universe, but here on planet Earth, it's locked up in, mostly, hydrocarbons--you know, like oil and natural gas. Why spend energy refining it out of natural gas when we could run cars on natural gas? Hydrogen is also a component of water, but so far, it takes more energy to liberate it from water than can be obtained from that hydrogen. Fuel cells, as currently developed, require platinum. There is a reason that platinum is expensive--there isn't much of it, at least readily available. And there is little, if any, platinum here in the U.S. Are we merely trading foreign oil for foreign platinum? (and this argument also works for the lithium for lithium ion batteries.)

High energy-density, fast-recharge batteries may be more viable than hydrogen. The necessary electric infrastructure is already mostly in place; the same can't be said of any hydrogen infrastructure--which wouldn't necessarily be analogous to the current petroleum infrastructure. Small, powerful, quickly-rechargeable batteries would be good for more than transportation. How many battery-powered devices do you have?