The Hydrogen Dream

Last week I went to Longwy's university campus, the Institut Universitaire de Technologie (part of the University of Lorraine), for a conference on renewable energies and energy efficiency. It was an event integrated in an InterReg project for innovation, called Tigre, gathering institutions from Lorraine, Saarland, Luxembourg, and Wallonie. It kicked off with a session on tri-generation, and went on with parallel sessions on waste biomass, and on hydrogen and fuel cells. I opted for the latter, feeling really curious about the present state of research on this field.

Cesare Marchetti proposed hydrogen (H2) as a large-scale energy vector almost fifty years ago. The main concern then was to find a simple way to feed transport systems with what seemed to be a fountain of energy about to come from the expanding nuclear park. The nuclear dream is largely gone, but hydrogen lives on. Is this dream about to come true as a piece in the transition puzzle to a post-fossil fuel world? That's what I was expecting to find out.

Home concept

Today the hydrogen dream is very different from Marchetti's. It starts with a home, self-reliant and grid-disconnected, housing a micro-generation system, mostly solar and wind, that primarily feeds the electrical system. Then surplus energy is converted into hydrogen and stored in a container in a special division of the house. This hydrogen can later be used to generate electricity through a fuel cell when the micro-systems do not match the instantaneous power needs; the waste heat generated by the fuel cell can also be used to heat the house. Finally, this hydrogen can be used to feed one or more vehicles powered by fuel cells. A general presentation along these lines opened the session by Sophie Didierjean from the University of Lorraine.

There is an obvious philosophical dimension to this dream that I won't explore here because tje technical aspects are enough to question it. This dream is, in a way, an attempt to save suburbia in the US, that has been successfully exported to Europe. It happens that suburbia here is the exception rather than the norm, as European suburbs are synonymous with cheap vertical housing, where most folk park their vehicles in the streets and commute by mass transit.

There is then another important issue - financing. For a new house, this technology pipeline can easily increase costs by 50% on a rough estimate, added to which is the increased cost of vehicles. These cost increases translate themselves into higher debt levels, that combined with present-day interest rates can be a killer. For grid connected solutions we have feed-in tariffs that anticipate financial returns and offload investor risk, but for disconnected solutions, this isn't the case. The case can be posed for directed subsidies for the acquisition of disconnected technologies, but it misses the social contract that feed-in tariffs force, guaranteeing that micro-producers are the most effective possible, favouring higher net energy; this is something much harder to accomplish with disconnected solutions. Once again this can easily become a philosophical discussion - should society finance a system that translates into detachment from it?


Going straight to the crux of the matter, I'll jump to Volker Loos, from the Fachhochschule of Trier, who gave a general presentation on the possibilities of H2 as an energy vector. I'll have to start from the finish, since it was during the Q&A session of this talk that the critical question came from the audience regarding the efficiency of hydrolysis today. At best this figure can approach 80% for a water temperature between 70 ºC and 80 ºC. Not bad, but the problem is that the process of H2 usage has just begun; after that comes compression, storage in a container, decompression and electrochemical processing through a fuel cell or by combustion. In all these steps there are mass and energy losses that further cut efficiency; the end result is far from mature electrical storage technologies like back pumping in dams or magnetic flywheels, and also far from other emerging technologies like large scale compressed air storage.

Another thing worth retaining from this presentation is the idea of injecting H2 generated at renewable energy parks into the natural gas supply grid. If there is a way I can see H2 working out, it is that there are only two conversion steps in the process, hydrolysis and combustion. Apart from that it is also important that most of the infrastructure is already in place. The idea is quite simple: using the natural gas grid as a large buffer when demand isn't there for the electricity generated by renewables. The obstacles I see to this scheme are that in the first place, the suitability of the grid, designed to transport a considerably heavier molecule (methane) thus perhaps permeable to H2, thus raising security and efficiency questions. And finally, the entire efficiency of the process: assuming a best case 80% for hydrolysis, no mass losses and 60% for a combined cycle combustion, the end result is below 50%.

Finally, Volker Loos mentioned that several automakers have plans to introduce fuel cell powered cars in the following years: Mercedes in 2014, Toyota and General Motors in 2015, and Volkswagen in 2020. The price of these cars is at this time estimated to be 20% over that of present day hybrids. It remains to be seen what the impact of the increased demand for platinum will be on these estimates.


And then to talk about platinum was Nathalie Job from the Universiy of Liège, an institution presently researching synthetic carbons to produce electron conductors for fuel cells. These conductors should both reduce the rate of platinum used per fuel cell and increase the life time. The details of this work can easily go into electrochemical aspects that are well outside my realm of knowledge. A read of this article may help you get a better idea of what this research is about.

Nevertheless, one can have an idea how important this issue is by using basic algebra. Platinum is one of a handful of metals known to man that are denser than gold, found in the crust in about the same abundance as the latter. But platinum is much harder to find and mine, thus its annual production is about 10% of that of gold, in the order of 200 tonnes. Every year close to 60 million cars are produced in the world - if all of them required the usage of platinum, those 200 tonnes would translate into little over 3 grams (about 0.15 cm3) per car; fuels cells require in the order of 0.5 grams of platinum per W of power output. Any massification of fuel cells shall require totally platinum-free technology.

Chemical storage

Then, on the chemical side of things was Yaroslav Filinchuk from the Catholic University of Louvain. He came to present a theoretical concept for the storage of H2 using borohydrides, an highly reactive, porous material that can store light gases. The basic idea is to use the hollow spaces that the molecular structures of these materials create to “lock” inside smaller molecules. The main advantage is the possibility of storing H2 at ambient temperatures, thus avoiding energy losses in compression/decompression or liquefaction/gasification processes. They may also reduce mass losses during storage, but once again my knowledge is thin on the field, so I recommend again a closer reading of a recent article on the subject.

Continuous electrical generation

Ending the session was a host speaker, Angel Scipioni from the IUT, presenting the energy mix of France. This was mostly a generalist address with lots of interesting numbers cast here and there, clearly showing that the largest state of the EU has lagged somewhat behind on the build-up of renewable infrastructure, because it has a huge nuclear park. What struck me was a direct reference to Peak Oil, but in the past tense, as an additional reason for a transition to renewables and H2. Even though acknowledging it, Angel Scipioni seemed not give much importance to it, stating that France had so far coped well with higher petrol and diesel prices. I wonder how widespread this sort of view is; in any case it is a reminder of how far the awareness raising process still has to go.

Angel Scipioni finished his talk quickly, explaining a research project presently in place at the IUT. The idea is to combine different renewable energy technologies with H2 generation and storage to build a system capable of continuous electrical generation. The concept uses, for instance, technologies that generate electricity from low-speed winds. One day I'd like to see an net energy assessment of such system.


So the hydrogen dream lives on. Where will these research projects lead? Are all of them in vain? Perhaps not, but hydrogen continuously appears somewhat behind alternative technologies; for a massification of it to use as an energy carrier, nothing short of a revolution will do. In many regards, huge steps forward will have to be made in order to bring efficiency into a comfortable zone. With several other technologies closing in on maturity, there doesn't seem to be much time left. And finally, whenever I reflect upon hydrogen, I'm always somewhat baffled as to why molecules like ammonia (heavier) or methanol (heavier and less hazardous) aren't preferred as energy carriers.

Hydrogen - bound to other things and used a fuel cell may work out.

By Hydrogen - as H2? - Don Lancaster (the electronics guy, not the save water guy) gives a whole bunch of reasons as to why not.

For those of you with MP3 players
If you want to read the transcript it is also at that link. Short version: Dr. Ulf Bossel who is the organizer of the European Fuel Cell Forum in Lucerne and they came to a decision to NOT spend any more time talking about or backing pure H2 cells as a going concern.

And if the leadership still has access to the users of TOD's profiles - mine had a link back to a discussion last time about the amount of material needed for a Hydrogen gas Storage tank. Short version - the Iron scrap metal value of the container exceeded the 'economic value' of the Hydrogen one could buy and stick in it. (backing a point of Mr. Lancaster about the economics of making H2 as needed VS storage)

Under navel gazing - say there was a 100% H2 energy economy. What would be the rate of O2 increase in the atmosphere, the rate of H2 combining with O3 in the upper atmosphere, the increase of corrosion at the level where Humans are, and how much water would 'disappear' from the biosphere?

Plenty of reasons to dislike H2 gas as an 'energy source'. But like the pro-nukers, do feel free to point out how Mr. Lancaster is wrong, how a leading researcher into fuel cells and their merry band made the wrong call, the effects of widescale use on the biosphere, and how the idea is even worth trying in widespread deployment.

I wrote a short article about hydrogen that was published in Skeptic magazine -- it cites Bossel and others about all the many obstacles to hydrogen from compression to delivery to the customer. It's so obvious that the EROEI is negative and that the hydrogen is going to escape or explode somewhere along the way:

I attended a lecture April 16, 2005 at the University of California, Berkeley entitled:

"Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions with Nuclear Hydrogen: Learn about new technologies for producing hydrogen using nuclear energy, to substitute for natural gas and oil in industry and transportation" by Professor Per Peterson, chairman of the department of Nuclear Engineering.

The hydrogen from the "next generation of nuclear reactors" will be created with extremely high heat from nuclear power plants, which is more efficient than using electrolysis.

The hydrogen created will be used to process heavy crude, tar sands, get rid of benzene, and add additional energy to the petroleum. Entergy Corporation is interested in using nuclear power to help refine heavy oil in its Louisiana refineries.

The title is misleading – hydrogen won't be the fuel, it will be used to augment existing fossil fuels.

If hydrogen is produced from water then oxygen liberated can enter the atmosphere to be re-used in combustion of hydrogen back to water. A closed cycle. The use of fossil fuels on the other hand...


A closed cycle

But it is not a closed cycle.

H2 is almost the same weight as Helium. Helium drifts off into space - Gravity on Earth isn't enough to hold it.

And that H2 doesn't usually react with O2 unless there is a catalyst or heat added to the mix.

Some H2 will escape the biosphere - therefore not a closed system.

Some H2 will escape the biosphere - therefore not a closed system.

eric blair, it seems like it would be a concern if significant numbers of people were using hydrogen fueled cars.

O2 molecules, N2 molecules, H20 molecules and whatever else is gaseous sitting around above the turbopause reach escape velocity as a matter of course. Granted an H2 molecule is much more likely to reach escape velocity than heavier ones, but more would probably be lost in H20 molecules escaping than from hydrogen leakages. Also, hydrogen is very reactive, if free oxygen is laying around, most would be H20 long before it reached the turbopause.

Not that I'm arguing for a hydrogen economy.

And how many things have started as being OK due to only a few of whatever and became a problem as the number of things grew?

The energy negativity of Hydrogen as 'fuel' is a far bigger show stopper than the potential damage to the environment. But "we" should give the damage due consideration rather than go "pfft! it becomes water and who has a problem with that?"

H2 reacting with O2 in the upper atmosphere and adding to the water content there could have an effect far beyond 'more rain'. I don't know - but modelling of the effects should be done. So far, I've not seen reports on any modelling.

True but I did intend it to mean that the cycle is theoretically closed not accounting for leakage unlike the FF one which is one way. At least the oxygen is left behind to replace that which FFs have consumed :) Thinking about it, we probably are losing hydrogen anyway as water vapour.


Hydrogen, like many of the post peak oil energy storage options, will probably never be more than a small scale niche solution. The physics and the math do not add up if one expects it to support anything approaching BAU. But I think most people here already knew that. As for rest of the sleep walking sheeple, let them 'Dream On! Methinks sooner rather than later they will have a rather rude awakening...

Hydrogen's not even viable in small scale niche applications. Batteries are far, far more established. And with the JODI data, it looks like peak oil really is here (who do we believe -- EIA and IEA or JODI??). If that's the case, we don't really have time to wait for hydrogen as an energy storage mechanism. We've got to run with what we have.

As for JODI -- TOD did a great article on the JODI EIA/IEA divergence back in May and it looks like that divergence is growing. Is there any more literature on this subject among peak oilers? If so, what is going on here? And will TOD do an update on this issue?

What concerns me is that the powers that be may be fudging the data to keep everyone quiet and happy (er). But for what purpose? Massive concentration of wealth on the back of depleting oil and commodity profits? If so, things are much, much darker than I'd have thought at first blush.

Cheers and best wishes to all.


Here is the TOD thread: The JODI-EIA Divergence

The article actually did not compare the IEA data. Also the article stated that the divergence was both OPEC and non-OPEC. I did a comparison and found that actually both agreed on non-OPEC pretty closely. The divergence was almost all OPEC.

JODI OPEC and EIA OPEC Crude + Condensate in thousands of barrels per day. The last JODI data point is November 2011 and the last EIA data point is October 2011.


Ron P.

Thanks Ron! Did you notice that all liquids for JODI 2010 is 3.8 million barrels per day less than JODI 2008?

No, I did not notice that. I am confused, the site I use only had C+C, no all liquids.

Beyone 20/20 WDS Reports

I know their home page says:

The database consists of:
Seven product categories: Crude Oil, LPG, Gasoline, Kerosene, Diesel Oil, Fuel Oil and Total Oil,...

But for the life of me I cannot locate their "all liquids" database. Could you post that link?

Thanks, Ron P.

[Edited for clarity & correctness]

Bring up the table.

Directly above the table is a line that starts "Other:" and then selectors for "Unit", "Product" and "Balance". Click on the arrows on the far side of "Product" to change; choices include "Crude Oil" (which, according to the manual, available here, includes lease condensate) LPG, and Total Products.

Now when you download, you get what you selected for viewing.

According to the aforementioned Manual, Total Oil [Products]

includes all oil products: the five main product groups described above (LPG,
Gasoline, Kerosene, Gas/diesel Oil and Heavy Fuel Oil) but also all the products which
were not identified separately : refinery gas, ethane, naphtha, gasoline type jet fuel,
petroleum coke, white spirit & SBP, paraffin waxes, bitumen, lubricants and other

That is, it is not the same as "all liquids" (it does not include either crude oil or any sort of non-petroleum fuel, i.e. biofuels).

Thanks for the effort Kode but when I click on your link I get:

No report was specified.

Technical support information:

If this error persists, please contact the site administrator and provide the following error number: 8fad4736-eef7-40e8-9687-5bb851eb910b

No problem, I thought. I will just go to their home page and click on "Table". But alas, I found no such link there.

Anyway thanks for the effort. But if you can tell me how to bring up the "table" please post it. Better yet, just give me a road map of how to get there from their home page. JODI Home

Thanks again,

Ron P.

I'll try...

From JODI home, click on "Access Online Database" (at the very top, near the middle)

That takes me to a page that looks like a common file browser. There is only one tab, called Reports. The main area (bottom right) contains a list of available reports. Click on "Joint Organizations Data Initiative Oil (all data)". This opens up two new tabs, "Table" and "Chart", and focus is moved to the "Table" tab.

That should be it... you may need to wait a while for it to load, though.

[Add] No, the link I gave above doesn't work... my error. As the error message says, it doesn't specify a report.
This, however, does.

Thanks, I got it. I had been to that table many times before because that is where you click on "Microsoft Excel Format (*.xls)". I do that all the time. But crude oil is the default and I never looked for "all products".

Anyway the JODI database is unless one goes through it and fills in all the "zero" spaces. If JODI does not get a reply from a particular country in any given month, they just place a zero for production for that month. I go through the data, for crude oil, and put a number in that space, usually an average between the previous month and the next month. Or an average in the several spaces if there are several spaces with zeros.

Also there are several countries that don't report to JODI. I use the EIA data in these instances.

Thanks for the info,

Ron P.

I know, I've been reading your posts here for years...! I appreciate your hard work 8-)

However, I do think the JODI numbers are useful even without filling out the gaps: I expect the total to be understated by a more or less fixed amount. But of course filling out the gaps reduces noise and improves accuracy.

Anyway, I see that I was wrong in stating that the Total Products category doesn't include biofuels:

Furthermore if additives and oxygenates (e.g. ethanol or bio-fuels) are included with
gasoline (APEC, Eurostat/IEA and OLADE) then these products do not have to be added
again to the Total Oil Products category.

(from the JODI manual, linked above)

So I guess it may be quite like the "All Liquids" category after all, albeit computed in a different way.

Just checked back. Thanks for the help and for pointing Ron in the right direction, Kode.

Yes, the data is there. You just have to muck around with it to tease it out. And, at first blush, it does seem a bit more gritty and gappy than the IEA and EIA data. But I still wonder about the rather large discrepancies between it and IEA, EIA. At the very least, I think it deserves a strong analysis to figure out what's going on here.

Best to all!

What concerns me is that the powers that be may be fudging the data to keep everyone quiet and happy (er).

May be? Given the past of data as a triple fudge sundae - why should this group be assumed to be above reproach?

But for what purpose?

Every day the masses are 'quiet and happy' is another day without bloodshed. Most of TOD is OK with no bloodshed.

Last I heard the Honda FCV needed to be priced around $0.5m. Despite problems the methanol fuel cell may be the way to go. Methanol fuel tanks could be sealed to prevent vapour escape and a car could travel hundreds of kilometres on a fill-up, due to transmission efficiency rather than fuel density. Skunk odour could be added to the slight but toxic peppermint fragrance. The problem I understand is not the need for platinum but the red hot operating temperature and fragility of ceramic fuel cells.

A completely different approach is not to burn so much methane in gas fired power stations but hand that job to nukes. Instead blend natural, synthetic and biogas in the gas grid. Use that to power piston engine vehicles. I note the Audi car company claims to be able to make synthetic methane via water split hydrogen from windpower that would otherwise be curtailed

Yes, this is probably a much more decent path that trying to use fuel. And indeed, this does work now with existing technologies.

Last summer here in the UK some Scottish wind turbines that were producing electricity flat out had to be feathered because their output was overloading the local grid (to the hilarity of the anti wind turbine lobby!). This will become more and more of an issue with all renewables as they become a bigger part of the energy mix.

The approach being taken by Audi to generate synthetic methane via electrolysis of seawater is a method of keeping the turbines working flat out by using H2/CH4 as a buffer.

Their approach is described here:

They point out that the existing gas storage system has about 217 TWh of storage capacity, in contrast to the electrical grid’s storage capacity of 0.04 TWh.

Last I heard the Honda FCV needed to be priced around $0.5m.

That was a while back. Things have improved greatly . . . they've been able to build fuel cells that operate with much less platinum. However, only the insiders know the real extent of how close they are to being practical. This TOD article suggest 20% more than current hybrids . . . I seriously doubt they have them that cheap.

FCVs provide the advantage over pure electrics of longer range and relatively fast re-fill time. But if you really need those features, I think the PHEVs (like the Volt) provide that solution much cheaper and available today. So I don't see how the FCVs get anything more than a niche market.

Hydrogen keeps popping up every now and then as "the fuel of the future". It is, and always will be. Hydrogen from methane is much less efficient than using the methane itself as a fuel. And of course it is just another fossil fuel which will not last forever. Hydrogen from water is the only way it can last. But it energy to generate hydrogen from water. Then the hydrogen must be compressed. Then the hydrogen must be shipped and then stored at the filling stations. Then the hydrogen fuel cell itself is not very efficient. I have seen estimates that the energy delivered to the axle motor is only about one fifth the energy required for all steps required to get it there.

Why a hydrogen economy doesn't make sense

Another headache is storage. When storing liquid hydrogen, some gas must be allowed to evaporate for safety reasons—meaning that after two weeks, a car would lose half of its fuel, even when not being driven. Also, Bossel found that the output-input efficiency cannot be much above 30%, while advanced batteries have a cycle efficiency of above 80%. In every situation, Bossel found, the energy input outweighs the energy delivered by a factor of three to four.

And Who Killed the Hydrogen-Powered Car? (Bold mine)

Last month, the Department of Energy (DOE) finally conceded that hydrogen won't be a part of the near-term solution to global warming, the peak oil crisis, or anything else you can think of. They're cutting back funding dramatically on hydrogen research. This is a triumph of physics over policy. In the long run, physics will always win, but we have way too many policy wonks in Washington without a clue about how the physical world works.

But here is absolutely the best article ever written on hydrogen as a fuel: The Hydrogen Hoax

Ron P.

I tend to agree with you. We have heard this before.

What few understand is how difficult hydrogen is to store. At high pressures you need fancy metals and this molecule is so small it will find any leak.

1 kg of hydrogen is about 200 MJ or about 4.5 kg gasoline equivalent. To get 10 Kg of hydrogen into a tank at 200 bar you are going to need a tank of 110 ltr volume. That will be seriously thick walled, seriously heavy, and expensive.

Hydrogen has a property known as hydrogen blistering which means that it
migrates into the grain boundaries of simple steels.

A potential energy source it maybe. But realistically I am not so sure.

A potential energy source it maybe. But realistically I am not so sure.

Actually hydrogen is not likely to *ever* be an energy source, unless we can devise a cost effective way to bring back huge quantities of the stuff from Jupiter or Saturn. It's an energy *carrier*, and as many have pointed out, it does not exist free in molecular form on the Earth --you have to use even more energy to break up other compounds (like water) in order to collect it.

Yes, "The Hydrogen Hoax" effectively debunks the concept of hydrogen as a viable alternative fuel source. Unfortunately, the author then concludes by advocating alcohol fuels as the preferred long-term fossil-fuel alternative. We all have our blind spots, I guess.

alcohol fuels as the preferred long-term fossil-fuel alternative.

Alcohol and oils (like biodiesel) will be the alternative.

Just not at the levels humanity now enjoys.

Hey, what?

But here is absolutely the best article ever written on hydrogen as a fuel: The Hydrogen Hoax

Maybe this dude understands the deficiencies of hydrogen, but good grief, what hopeless biofuel alternatives he proposes at the end.

What are we thinking? Do you realize, that we are here in the 21st century, and our conscious energy-aware peers still get excited about burning liquids to move things around?! Burning anything is inherently inefficient.

Edison was ahead of the curve 100 years ago.

Oh, no! We burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property.

It's time to stop burning things and start using natural fluxes to move things around.

natural fluxes such as annual solar harvest: oxen, slaves

daily fluxes such as wind for sailing. we should all start planting trees... as the quote goes "forests precede civilization, deserts follow"

Breakthrough for hydrogen fuel

After winning a contract to install its HFuel hydrogen generation, storage and dispensing equipment at Nottingham University, ITM has gone on to secure the CE mark for its equipment, allowing the system to be used anywhere in the European Union. The company has also become part of UKH2Mobility, a joint Government and industry initiative to make hydrogen powered travel in the UK a reality.

UKH2Mobility brings together the Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills, Transport and Energy and Climate Change with the utilities, gas, infrastructure and global car manufacturing sectors to evaluate hydrogen’s potential as a fuel for ultra low carbon vehicles.

If the results are positive the plan is to promote hydrogen as a fuel to consumers in two to three years time

From your link:

The firm, based on Sheffield’s Brightside Lane, develops equipment that passes an electric current through water to generate hydrogen, which can then be used to fuel cars, generators and other equipment.

Wow! What a breakthrough, passing electricity through water to generate hydrogen. Now why didn't someone else come up with that idea earlier?

Ron P.

I've booked in to a Peak Oil Committee meeting at the UK House of Commons next month when a Prof. Kevin Kendall
from Birmingham University School of Chemical Engineering will present :-

Hydrogen as a Transport Fuel: The Key to Reducing UK Oil Dependence?

This article and discussion gives me lots of ammunition to shoot him down if he thinks hydrogen powered vehicles are a sensible option for mainstream use.

Personally I don't want to be near anything powered by hydrogen - just like nuclear, the failure modes tend to be devastating to say the least!

see you there

Please wear Led Zeppelin t-shirts to get your message regarding H2 fuels across to the MP's ....

Funny isn't Ron, to think that Faraday was too stupid to even think about it.

Like I said elsewhere, even if all the great new things that people just have to sign up to tell us were true, all they really show is just how desperate we're becoming. The easy stuff is gone and we're going after what's left at much higher prices and levels of difficulty.


we're going after what's left at much higher prices and levels of difficulty.

That's true if you stay with the old paradigm. Abandon the artifacts of the fossil fuel era, and it starts to get a whole lot easier. We didn't speed up transport by feeding kerosene to horses. We won't get beyond oil by finding new fuels to feed our ancient gas-guzzlers.

Beyond oil includes going beyond the artifacts of oil (e.g., the automobile which isn't auto-anything).

"...should society finance a system that translates into detachment from it?"

What an odd philosophical question. It seems to assume that a grid connection is an umbilical that connects folks to society. While television and the internet may be far more 'distancing', most off-grid folks will tell you that their source of electricity has little to do with their connection to society. What they're not connected to is nuclear waste, a reliance on CO2 emissions and coal sludge ponds. While "we're all in this together" in many ways, I consider the transportation system and the single-occupant car to be a greater threat to society than choosing to not be connected to a highly complex, expensive, intrusive and filthy power source. It's a small point, I know.

Regarding the proposed hydrogen economy, while my first science project as a kid involved electrolysis and blowing things up, I've generally viewed the idea as yet another case of folks grabbing at straws as we begin the big slide down to the reality that there will be fewer humans using much less of everything. Simplified expectations would solve so many of our problems.

Raymond Williams called it "mobile privatization."

Alas, simple expectations aren't compatible with corporate capitalism, which is addicted to stupendous waste.

"Finally, Volker Loos mentioned that several automakers have plans to introduce fuel cell powered cars in the following years: Mercedes in 2014, Toyota and General Motors in 2015, and Volkswagen in 2020."

Does anyone here really think that the above projects will ever make any economic sense for the companies involved? They are wasting millions upon millions of shareholder monies just to become politically correct. Governmental and social pressures make companies do stupid things.

Lets face it, these projects are a massive waste of our financial, energy and labor resources. The western world does not have the natural and financial wealth that it once had and had better start determining which projects are cost effective and which are not if we are to survive.

My take is that these efforts are actually cost-effective, in that they generate a halo effect for the whole corporation. Without that, public scrutiny of cars-first transportation might arrive, and that would be anathema in the boardroom.

Since water is readily available on the planet ... using hydrogen as an energy storage mechanism is a good idea. It's 'clean energy' with one significant note ... in any mechanical engine or fuel cell device one would have to be careful not to leak any hydrogen into the atmosphere as the hydrogen ( which didn't combine with oxygen ) might float into outerspace. Mother nature wouldn't care if a thousand such devices were in operation ... but on a large scale of hundreds of millions of such hydrogen devices ... it has ecological ramifications, just like a hydrocarbon engine.

Hydrolysis is the way to go ... but one needs a ready source of energy to seperate water into hydrogen and oxygen. So where to get the energy?

I'd look to the Sun and use a solar device ... a parabowl ( sounds like parable ) to produce a 'major heat source' which can then be transformed into electricity. If one reads the bible carefully one would note Christ built such a polished, highly reflective paraboloid of revolution and a mechanism to keep it constantly pointed at the Sun. Specifically it's mentioned in bible verses ... Matthew 5:15, Mark 4:21, Luke 8:16, Luke 3:17, Matthew 3:11, and Galatians 6:11.

In Galatians, Paul is nearly blind as he got a shot of concentrated Sunlight from a parabowl when he was Saul. Saul was also Pontius Pilate ... and in history is also known as Vespasian. I'm sure many will dispute such a claim.

Christ wasn't the first to use such a device ... Archimedes of Syracuse used such a device to set Roman ships on fire. Christ used it in an attempt to help those in 1st century Judea who had no firewood to keep warm in winter ... because all the trees had been cut down due to overpopulation.

Throughout history many have known what I have mentioned above, most notably Bonaventura Francesco Cavalieri, a 17th century priest. But such a conclusion has been repressed by those who would rather 'dig in the ground' for energy, including the popes who were alive during the times of Cavalieri. Maybe the petroleum industry will finally throw in the towel this century.

using hydrogen as an energy storage mechanism is a good idea.

Please go to the 1st post, read what Lancaster has to say and address his concerns.

Lancaster is known as an electronics circuit guru ... but he's really not a 'physics/chemistry guy.' I have his book on analog electronic filters, considered by many to be a bible on the subject. The book also contains a math error in regards to biquad filters. So much for bibles being perfect.

Like I said, hydrogen storage is a big problem ... but as water is available I believe it's worth the effort to make the investment in 'hydrogen/oxygen' storage containers. As others have noted, at high pressure ... given enough time ... hydrogen tends to permeate any manmade container. Hydrogen also combines with sulpher producing an unpleasant odor ... this could be used as an 'early detection mechanism' for a deficient hydrogen container. Moving hydrogen through existing pipeline infrastructure would NOT be a good idea due to leakage, but storing hydrogen underground would be a good idea ... as leaking hydrogen may combine with molecules in soil more readily than in the air.

It may be possible to build an engine that both combines hydrogen and oxygen to move a piston ... and then uses an external energy source to seperate water into hydrogen and oxygen. As such, this 'engine' would be a closed system until metal/plastic/carbon/polymer container fatigue occurred. The engine could be weighed on a regular basis to ensure no leakage is occurring. It should also be noted leaking oxygen into the atmosphere on a massive scale would have just as many ecological ramifications as leaking hydrogen.

Part of the cost in such a proposed system would be a tax. This tax would go into researching/producing devices that could create hydrogen from protons and electrons. Note, the electrons are easy to produce with today's technology ... the protons are not. If yesterday's hydrocarbon technology would have been taxed properly the external costs associated with pumping huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere would have prohibited much of the waste in today's society, but the price of gasoline never reflected the true costs to mankind and the degradation of the environment. But I'm sure my great uncle, when he bought a Model T on credit ... assumed Tesla would have a flying saucer machine that ran off air ... to purchase five years later ... the day he'd payed off the loan on the Model T.

Lancaster is known as an electronics circuit guru ... but he's really not a 'physics/chemistry guy.' I have his book on analog electronic filters, considered by many to be a bible on the subject. The book also contains a math error in regards to biquad filters. So much for bibles being perfect.

So you don't address his math or arguments, you point out that his 'bible' has errors?

Not really a rebuttal of his points is that?

Note, the electrons are easy to produce with today's technology ... the protons are not.

Let me see if I understand this correctly - are you claiming that electrons are able to be CREATED?

The comment was written, "Let me see if I understand this correctly - are you claiming that electrons are able to be CREATED?"

No, I'm not. What I'm saying is it does not take much energy or effort to remove an electron from an atom. On the other hand, an attempt to remove a proton from an atom ... takes alot of 'hard work.' And when protons are isolated ... any nearby available electon quickly forms a hydrogen atom.

My point is ... something has to be done to create a system so that any lost hydrogen due to imcomplete burning ( combining with oxygen ) ... there is a way to recreate the hydrogen. Otherwise, water will be depleted on Earth just like light sweet crude.

"Christ used it in an attempt to help those in 1st century Judea who had no firewood to keep warm in winter ... because all the trees had been cut down due to overpopulation."

We certainly have a lot of folks praying for miracles these days. I think we're going to have to figure these things out for ourselves, work for it and consume humble amounts of what God provides. Maybe that's why Jesus didn't just find a stick and turn it into tons of firewood the same way he fed the masses. We don't handle abundance very well; leads to wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony, not to mention too many humans.

It seems that perfect solutions exist only in our hearts and minds. I'm sure there's a reason for that.

Since water is readily available on the planet ... using hydrogen as an energy storage mechanism is a good idea.

An even better way to use water to store energy is to pump it uphill into a storage reservoir, and then run it downhill through a water turbine recover the energy. It is simple, cheap, and efficient, none of which hydrogen is.

one would have to be careful not to leak any hydrogen into the atmosphere as the hydrogen ( which didn't combine with oxygen ) might float into outerspace.

Where it would join the zillions of cubic light years of hydrogen already out there. Hydrogen constitutes 74% of the matter in universe by mass, and 92% by mole-fraction, you know. Elemental hydrogen is much rarer here on Earth.

If one reads the bible carefully one would note Christ built such a polished, highly reflective paraboloid of revolution...

It would help considerably if you would skip the bible readings and cite the physics textbooks.

It would help considerably if you would skip the bible readings

That made me wince. Given a choice between deniers and bible-quoters, I'll take bible-quoters. I have known people of deep religious faith who simply could not frame any issue in other terms than the bible.

I could envision such a person, newly peak oil aware, groping for guidance. They of course will consult their bible first. When they start looking further, given TOD's prominence in the field, there's a good chance they end up here. The enemy of my enemy is my friend...? Politics makes strange bedfellows...?

I must say it's the first time I've seen specific quotes of the bible used to specifically support renewables. (As opposed to just a general 'shepherd of the earth' meme.)

Sure, physics textbooks are better, but not everyone can go there.

And your post made me wince VictorianTech. This is an energy list, not a religious list. If you must engage in Bible Babble then take it to a Bible Babble Blog.

Why you may ask? Because every time someone starts selling their religion on this list it starts a squabble over religion just as you see here. We can do without that.

Ron Patterson

That being said, Ron, we deal with faith based 'thinking' here all the time. Cornucopianism, techucopianism, infinite growth, economics; all magically endowed attempts to explain things, predict the future; all world view anchors. God help us if we begin to insist that Peak Oil is the one true religion ;-)

Ghung, I do hope you are not claiming that faith and religion are the same thing. True, religion is based on faith but there is much more faith outside religion than there is inside religion. From, bold mine.

faith noun
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.

So Ghung, just as all pigs are animals all animals are not pigs, all religion is based on faith but all faith is not religion. It is possible to have faith that has absolutely nothing to do with religion.

Peak oil is not only not the one true religion it has nothing to do with religion. Religion requires belief in a supernatural deity.

Sorry for the rant Ghung but that is a sore spot with me. Some people are forever claiming that atheism is a religion. It is not because it employs no supernatural deity, and neither does peak oil.

Ron P.

Hi All -

We've been observing this thread and have left it open so far due to free speech concerns, but it's straying farther and farther off-topic.

This type of general exchange should continue only in current Drumbeat thread.


Sure, physics textbooks are better, but not everyone can go there.

And that is a huge problem, because there are an awful lot of people who are ignorant of even the most basic principles of physics. You can't even have a reasonable discussion with them about, for instance, perpetual motion machines, because they have no idea what you are talking about.

These are the people who invest in perpetual motion machine scams. As someone said, "there's a fool born every minute", and he could have added that most of them never learn any physics.

I'm going to call Poe's Law on this.

Exactly what problems would result if some hydrogen gas "floated into outer space" (other than the loss of the hydrogen gas)? Please don't say that you're worried about 'polluting' outer space with hydrogen gas? Not only will mother nature not care, most likely she will not even notice.

Jesus used parables (stories with a message) not parabowls to produce electricity (to power what?).

"Exactly what problems would result if some hydrogen gas "floated into outer space""

Long term, you run out of water.

Yes, we are talking about a really long term, but given most people on this board are convinced Man can mangle anything, the fact that the Earth's hydrogen will be intentionally lost to space at an even faster rate should be accounted for. Greenpeace will certainly hyperventilate, and demand that no hydrogen should be separated from anything ever again.

I tried and failed to find a picture of the Earth seen from space surrounded by the bright glow of excited hydrogen. It was a cool picture.

No, I'm not worried about outer space ... as I don't live there. I live on this planet ... and as such ... I'm concerned about my home, Mother Earth. If all the water on this planet floats into outerspace ( due to careless burning of hydrogen ) how are you going to drink water to survive?

As for a parable or parabowl ... they sound alot the same ... and don't forget the Son of Man ... sounds alot like the Sun of Man ... or Sun produced by man.

Why the difference in meaning?

The bible has been translated hundreds of times ... every time a new meaning is attached to the original interpretation. More than likely, you are reading a varient of the King James bible which was translated from the 4th century Latin Vulgate bible. The Vulgate was scribed by St. Jerome about four hundred years after the death of Christ ... from not only Greek and Hebrew written sources, but also from Jewish ( the Catholic church at the time was still considered by all to be a sect of the Jewish faith )verbal sources who had handed down 'knowledge only by the tongue' from generation to generation.

More than likely, neither St. Jerome nor any of the Jewish faithful had access to Euclid's book on geometry ... the Elements. In fact, during the times of Christ ( and even during the time of Constantine the Great ) very few of the population had the ability to read the written word. Some four hundred years later the knowledge had 'changed' and was 'lost.'

You could say that would be the Holy Spirit at work ... which is a feminine version of God. But make no doubt ... Christ was a historical figure, and the Bible is history which is a version of history ... sometimes at conflict with the works of Tacitus, Joseph ben Matityahu, and Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus ... and other times in agreement. The purpose of the Bible is simple ... it's to get converts who had practiced Pagan rituals ... to change to Jewish/Christian rituals ... most notably to follow the 10 Commandments.

If you study all the above documents carefully ... you might reach the conclusion ... Christ in the Bible was Drusus Julius Caesar. Sejanus was St. Matthew. St. Peter was Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. King Herod was in fact the same person as Caesar Augustus. Salome who witnessed the Crucification of Christ in the Bible was also Mary Magdalene ... which was also the same person in history as Boudica and Aggripina the Younger. The woman Christ saves from being stoned in the bible for committing adulery is, in fact, Boudica.

St. James the Less, St. James the Greater and St. James the Just ... are all the same person ... who in the Bible is also known as Barabbus ... is also known in history as Eleazar ben Ya'ir who died at Masada.

Titus mentioned in the Bible was in fact, St. John, who was also the same person as Aristobulus of Britannia. He's also John of Gischala and was also the same person who become Emperor after Vespasian. Vespasian was St. Paul who was also Saul and Pontius Pilate who was also the brother of Andrew. Andrew was the same person as St. Peter.

Tacitus mentions Drusus was poisoned ( but not crucified ), but if you read the Bible ... Christ was poisoned before he died on the cross ... which is why he cursed the fig tree ( the leaves are poisonous but look like onions when prepared by a follower of Medusa which rhymes with Boudica.)

Keep in mind, when you read Tacitus ... no one is following the Laws of Moses or obeying the concept of marriage as known today. As such, almost all male offspring during the times of Christ has not a clue as to who his biological father really was, and so the 'son of' listing given by all the documents is really 'unknown except to God.'

As for me, I'm Catholic ... and I thank Drusus Jesus Christ for his works ... because if he hadn't done what he did ... this world we know today wouldn't even be reading the Bible or any Hebrew written work as it was going to be destroyed in fire by the followers of Boudica.

Last note, Timothy in the Bible is also the same person as Demetrius who was also the Emperor Domitian.

Exactly what problems would result if some hydrogen gas "floated into outer space"

I've already pointed out some of the potential issues. It was in the 1st post on this topic.

If your native language is not English I could try to communicate that post in your native tongue so that you can achieve understanding.

I do not speak Latin, old Hebrew or Aramaic so if those are your native language communications will be stymied.

"Using the Natural Gas Grid as a buffer" that is just plain crazy.

Several years ago I had a problem with a gas pipeline. Surplus gas from my refinery was exported, by pipeline to a Steelworks, about 10 miles away. There was an ongoing dispute because the Steelworks claimed that they were recieving around 20% less gas than than we were exporting.

I had the flowmeters at both ends of the pipeline removed and calibrated. --- No Change --- still 20% less gas. Then I had and idea, I had the gas analaysed. The refinery gas had just over 20% Hydrogen and the gas coming out of the pipe had close to zero Hydrogen.

If you want to loose Hydrogen, just put in into a pipeline that is not designed to contain Hydrogen.


Yes, that's an important point that people miss. If you are transporting hydrogen, you need to use specially designed pipelines. If you put it into a normal natural gas pipeline it will leak out of it - the molecules are much smaller.

It's also much more dangerous to transport than natural gas. You only have to look at the newsreels of the Hindenburg Zeppelin fire to see what a hydrogen fire is like. Hydrogen ignites very easily and burns very, very hot.

It is a suitable fuel for spaceships, but less practical here on Earth. That's why the upper stages of space-bound rockets are often fueled with hydrogen, but the lower stages are fueled with kerosene or something similarly cheap and easy to handle.

you need to use specially designed pipelines

Pipes are made out of "metal".

Hydrogen (H2) is an "acid".

If you remember your first chemistry lab class where you mixed an acid with a metal, a reaction took place.

A metal hydride was formed.
Think for example of mixing lead (Pb) with sulfuric acid (H2SO4).

Metal pipes do not do too well when mixed with acid.

Of course, "they", the technocrats will figure something out and overcome the laws of Nature. /sarcasm

One of my degrees is in chemistry.

Hydrogen is an element rather than an acid or a base. However, hydrogen reacts with a large number of different metals to form hydrides, and a similarly large number of metals absorb hydrogen, leading to hydrogen embrittlement. They have to build pipelines out of a metal that doesn't react with hydrogen or absorb it.

Hydrogen also leaks out of the tiniest cracks in pipelines because of its very low molecular size.

Unfortunately, hydrogen is the most flammable of all substances and has the widest ignition mix range with air of all the gases except acetylene. A very tiny leak can support combustion. By contrast, natural gas doesn't leak nearly as easily and has a very narrow combustion range. If the gas/air ratio is too high or too low the natural gas from a leak will not ignite even if there is an ignition source.

It was a bit disconcerting to see workers in a gas plant welding on pipelines full of natural gas, but it was perfectly safe as long as there was no air in the line. I don't think it would be safe to weld on a pipeline full of hydrogen.

What RockyMtnGuy said.

I work at a chemical plant that uses hydrogen (source, methane reformer). Carbon steel is used for most of the low temperature (but not cryogenic) hydrogen pipelines. Hydrogen blistering/cracking occurs in carbon steel above 800 F, so you have to (as in required by ASME code) use a chrome-moly steel or austenitic stainless above that.

To weld it has to be double blocked and purged with nitrogen. All piping and equipment is checked with a helium leak test after repair. It's the only thing as leak-happy as hydrogen. All welds are x-rayed. Compressors tend to be long stroke slow speed piston machines, or howling banshee rotary compressors. 1750 HP can really crank on the noise. Double ear protection (plugs and muffs) if you have to go near one while it's running.

Nomex coveralls or equivalent are required for any entry into a hydrogen containing unit. Entry is defined as you are leaving the road that circles the unit. Yes the ground level counts as in-the-unit.

Most of the process is outside for obvious reasons.

Imagine telling soccer Mom that she will have to dress up in Nomex, put on a face-shield and hard hat and gloves to refuel the h2-suburban. And all the kids will have to relocate to the explosion-resisting blockhouse for the duration. And since leaks are inevitable, it would be illegal to park indoors. Ever. You would probably need an LEL meter built into the car, and it would refuse to let you in if the reading was over 2% H2. With Onstar, a bomb squad could be called automatically so they could safely blow up the car while minimizing other property damage. Maybe you could put a non-sparking plug (4" should do) in the roof, and they could send a robot to remove it and let the car vent out.

Now that I think about it, it would be easier to just set the car to lower the windows when you turn the engine off.

And you are going to sell soccer-mom this? You are one hell of a salesman.

The hydrogen-economy might work if you use methanol as the carrier together with a methanol fuel cell. Otherwise, nyet, non, nein, no way; you get the idea.

*clap* *clap*

Well said.

H2 is not something to be handled by "consumers"

The hydrogen-economy might work if you use methanol as the carrier together with a methanol fuel cell.

Agreed but...

It doesn't have to be a methanol fuel cell. ICE's run perfectly well on methanol, and it can actually achieve higher fuel efficiency in a diesel engine than diesel does.


Though i do think methanol fuel cells are cool tech toys, they don;t seem to be up to powering vehicles yet

"ICE's run perfectly well on methanol"

But they would need bigger tanks to make up the lower energy content of the fuel. The efficiency of the fuel cell would offset that.

But ICE do worth well on methanol. The tractor pull unlimited class machines use methanol. They get about 20 ft to the gallon according tot he TV show on the past-time. They develop about 5000 Hp.

It's also much more dangerous to transport than natural gas. You only have to look at the newsreels of the Hindenburg

I think *different* is more accurate, not *more* dangerous:

Yes H2 energy of detonation is 14x less than natural gas, but
H2 detonation requires 4x to 3x higher concentration than gasoline vapor.
H2 14x lighter than air
H2 4x more diffusive than natural gas, 12x more than gasoline fumes
H2 combustion emits 1/10 the radiant heat of a hydrocarbon fire and burns 7% cooler than gasoline, emits no CO, CO2, or smoke. H2 flame temperature is only slightly higher than methane's, unless combustion is in pure O2.
H2 explosive power 22x weaker per STP unit volume vs gasoline fumes.
Generally then, H2 ignites easier but it much harder to concentrate to the point of detonation.

So pick your poison.

And there's been a study suggesting that the Hindenburg fire was mostly from a coating on the surface, not the H2 itself which very likely dissipated rapidly up and away before ignition.

The problem with H2 is not so much its flammability, but in the materials and pressure (10000PSI) required to contain and transport it, as discussed above.

I'm sorry, Falstaff, but you're doing an apples-and-oranges comparison. Gasoline is not the same as natural gas.

Gasoline has its own safety hazards, which are often underestimated, but at least it is a liquid and can be stored in nonpressurized containers and tanks.

The comparison I made was between hydrogen and natural gas, and of the two, hydrogen is much more flammable, much more prone to leakages, and can damage pipes and fittings if they are made of the wrong materials.

There is a detailed discussion of the problems further down, including some comments from PVguy, who actually has to work with hydrogen at a chemical plant.

Don't be sorry, just be accurate and don't conflate issues, namely materials required for safe storage (difficult) and danger from combustion. Yes piping H2 around is difficult, requires special materials and a standard natural gas line is no even close to sufficient. No gasoline is never just a 'liquid', the vapor always comes along for the ride as gasoline vapor pressure is roughly 10X that of water. Yes H2 has a low ignition energy compared to natural gas, but because of its high diffusivity H2 is much harder to concentrate to an air-H2 mix that will detonate than is natural gas, and should it detonate the same amount of natural gas by volume will have ~20X the explosive force. No it does not burn appreciably hotter in air than natural gas, no it does not produce CO (and smoke) when it burns which kills many every year when that generator exhaust finds it way back in the house.

With regards to soccer moms and H2 cars, there are already several dozen H2 fill up stations around the US for soccer moms driving H2 fuel cell prototypes and a couple fleet vehicles. All those stations are built on the public dime, and none of it is economical or salable because there is no H2 transport infrastructure nor will there be, but neither does H2 warrant appeals to emotion.

Look mom, no nomex:

Oh, sigh... This is so tedious... You are a victim of some common fallacies. See, The hydrogen economy, fuel cells, and electric cars for details.

Yes H2 has a low ignition energy compared to natural gas, but because of its high diffusivity H2 is much harder to concentrate to an air-H2 mix that will detonate than is natural gas

Fallacy C: H2 is safe. It diffuses faster into the air than it can ignite. The Hindenburg disaster was not caused by hydrogen

It is true that H2 did not self-ignite to cause the burning of the Hindenburg,and that some of what burned was the aircraft fuel aboard and the cabin and skin of the dirigible. It is also true that some of the hydrogen may have burned without exploding and sent heat mainly upwards. But if the Hindenburg had been filled with helium,nothing so rapid or serious would have occurred.

The flammability or explosion limits of H2 are much wider than for any other fuel,and the minimum energy required for ignition or explosions is by a magnitude lower than for methane.

H2 is much harder to concentrate to an air-H2 mix that will detonate than is natural gas

H2 cars can be easily modified to become an undetectable bomb for a suicide bomber. All one has to do is to equip the hydrogen tank with a release valve and a delayed detonator. If 10% of the cars were H2 cars, less than five cars exploding at the same time in rush hour in a confined space,such as the Lincoln Tunnel in New York,might kill more people than on September 11,and make the tunnel unusable for a year.

No it does not burn appreciably hotter in air than natural gas,

Despite what you say, hydrogen DOES burn much hotter than natural gas in air.

no it does not produce CO (and smoke) when it burns which kills many every year when that generator exhaust finds it way back in the house.

I don't think you actually read the article you cited - the idiot family were operating a gasoline generator and a charcoal briquette barbeque indoors - pretty stupid things to do, especially at the same time. Natural gas had nothing to do with it.

Natural gas does not produce any CO when burned properly. It's perfectly safe to burn natural gas in indoor appliances. You don't have to vent natural gas burner tops and ovens outside. All you get from burning natural gas are carbon dioxide and water, both of which you also exhale when you breath.

I keep getting the feeling your are conflating natural gas with gasoline. They are two quite different fuels.

Diesel is a safer fuel than gasoline,whi ch is safer than natural gas, which is safer than propane, which is safer than H2, notwithstanding some assertions to the contrary. All of these,especially natural gas and propane, have caused explosions, some catastrophic. Because of the hazard,we strongly limit the size of propane tanks and also their transportation. One is not allowed to transport even a reasonably small propane cylinder for a camping stove through a tunnel despite the fact that the maximum explosive force of a propane cylinder for a camping stove is between 40 to 100 lb of TNT. By comparison, the explosive force of a H2 container as proposed by the car companies is 220 lb of TNT (equal to five suicide bombers). Furthermore,the probability of a fuel tank for a hydrogen car to explode is an order of magnitude larger than that of a propane tank.

Please don't attribute to me that H2 is absolutely 'safe'. Again, I'm stating there are dangers to H2, natural gas, and other hydrocarbons, but they are different.

Despite what you say, hydrogen DOES burn much hotter than natural gas in air.

13% hotter. Is that 'much'?
Hydrogen in air: 2210degC
Methane in air: 1950degC
And again, H2 fires emit very little radiant heat compared to hydrocarbons (yes including methane).

Natural gas does not produce any CO when burned properly. It's perfectly safe to burn natural gas in indoor appliances. You don't have to vent natural gas burner tops and ovens outside. All you get from burning natural gas are carbon dioxide and water, both of which you also exhale when you breath.

All hydrocarbons, including methane, directly produce CO as an intermediate product of combustion. In complete combustion CO is immediately oxidized to CO2. But since air is only partly O2 and natural gas is not all methane, we don't always see complete combustion. So especially if, say, a natural gas furnace is not operating properly or someone is attempting to heat their house from the stove we see CO poisoning, yes from methane too, all the time.

Tulsa World
...So far this "heating season," which began Nov. 30, the ambulance agency has transported 16 people (ages 18 months through 56 years) to area hospitals for "suspected carbon monoxide poisoning." During the power outage aftermath of the great 2007 ice storm, EMSA transported 60 to 75 people for "suspected carbon monoxide poisoning," and most had been found "heating with gas-fired kitchen stoves," Stevens said. When the lines are down there is no electricity for furnace blowers, leading people to heat with gas ranges.<>

What's happening there, as it will with the combustion of any hydrocarbon, is that burning a large amount of fuel (e.g. furnace, generator, desperately heating the house w/ gas stove) gets ahead of the natural O2 ventilation. The reaction ceases being stoichiometric (i.e is burning 'rich'), combustion is incomplete, and CO becomes a significant byproduct. And not that I would recommend using H2 above, as H2 has different dangers, but CO poisoning at least is impossible.

Articles on the "Hydrogen Economy" - Scientific American, business publications etc. - dating back to 1971. As I recall the early 70's were a particularly exciting time for Hydrogen.

Yes, the 70s were an exciting time for hydrogen. I read about one of the more exciting moments in a book describing the work of Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, otherwise known known as the "Skunkworks".

In a chapter entitled "Blowing Up Burbank", they described how they were working on a secret hydrogen-fueled spy plane in a hanger in Burbank, California when they had a rupture in a hydrogen tank and filled the hanger with hydrogen.

Somebody foolishly called the fire department, so they had to keep the firemen out of the building (a lot of good they would do) without making them suspicious, while surreptitiously venting all the hydrogen out of the hanger. Fortunately they managed to disperse it all into the atmosphere without causing a spark, and without anybody finding out what they were doing. But they were really white-knuckling it for a while because it could have turned into the explosion that blew up Burbank, or a large part of it.

Can't you mix hydrogen with methane (natural gas) and pipe it through existing infrastructure at something up to 7% concentration? It won't make for a hydrogen economy but it'd be a decent way to store excess renewable energy and ship it through existing pipelines as (hydroxyl???) sorry I forgot the name.

Back in the days before natural gas was widely available, they used Town Gas which was made from heating coal in a retort. Town Gas has quite high levels of H2 around 40-50%. I am not sure what sort of piping they used, but the original Town Gas was run at lower pressure, with the Town Gas stored in large Gasometers.

As high pressure natural gas was progressively introduced in Australia the old piping was removed and replaced with new piping that could handle the higher pressure natural gas.

Apparently Hong Kong still operates a Town Gas network.

Gas Production

Note the comments on the Towngas ("greening up your life") web site:

Town gas, produced from naphtha and natural gas, is a clean, safe and reliable gaseous fuel. With about half the density of air, it rises and will dissipate in the air if leakages occur. A special odour has been added to town gas so that it can be detected easily.

And then they give the composition of the gas:

Chemical Composition
Carbon Dioxide 16.3% – 19.9%
Carbon Monoxide 1.0% – 3.1%
Methane 28.2% – 30.7%
Hydrogen 46.3% – 51.8%
Nitrogen and Oxygen 0% – 3.3%

In addition to being about 50% hydrogen, which is much more flammable than methane, and can damage pipes and fittings, it also contains 1 to 3% carbon monoxide, which is toxic in very low concentrations (100 ppm). See carbon monoxide poisoning. I hope they put lots of odorant in the gas.

That was the biggest problem with town gas - it was highly toxic. It killed a lot of people. The old movies showing people sticking their head in an oven to commit suicide only worked with town gas - it doesn't work with natural gas because it has no CO in it.

People still try it though. They extinguish the pilot light on the oven, turn on the gas, stick their head in the oven, and wait. And wait and wait. Eventually, one of the top burner pilots ignites the gas and the oven explodes.

Ambulance crews really hate that because they arrive to find a badly burned but very much alive patient who is screaming in pain and won't stop running around. They have to restrain him, shoot him full of painkillers and sedatives, and then put him into the ambulance. It really ruins their whole day - I've had some long conversations with them about it.

Yes I was surprised that they are actually still using Town Gas.
Most countries phased it out in the 1960s.

Natural Gas and Town Gas suppliers usually add mercaptan to give it that unpleasant rotten egg smell, so that leaks are detectable (Natural Gas is odourless).

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of the Town Gas process, its certainly not something you would come across *if* you were considering adding Hydrogen to Natural Gas (not that you would). Sadly these days the preferred method of carbon monoxide suicide is connecting a hose to the car exhaust pipe.

What is happening with Amory Lovins these days? He has been a persistent advocate of the 'Hydrogen Society' with his prototype car and so on. Surely he hasn't capitulated to the energy realities of using hydrogen as an energy vector (good term for this).

Amory frequently has more than one stick in the fire, in fact, it's part of his philosophy to be working on multiple fronts.

His Autos section right now does mention the Hypercar, but also Plugins, Hybrids and work on 'Lightweighting' vehicles..

Yeah, hydrogen is not our savior. (BTW, holy smokes at that Jesus post! LOL!)

I think hydrogen and fuel cells will serve for some niche applications, but I really don't see it becoming big & widespread. It has too many obstacles to overcome:
1) There are no hydrogen mines or wells . . . all hydrogen is manufactured using another energy source. Electrolysis is inefficient (that 80% figure started with pre-heated water . . . add in the cost of heating the water). The main source of hydrogen is steam-reforming natural gas . . . why not just use the natural gas directly?
2) Storing hydrogen is difficult. It is very lightweight gas with the smallest element in existence. You need to waste energy on compression to get a decent energy density. And since it is such a tiny molecule, it leaks out of almost anything you try to store it in.
3) Transporting it is difficult and we have no transport infrastructure. As others pointed out, the existing natural gas infrastructure is not build to handle hydrogen.
4) Fuel cell vehicles are still very expensive. I seriously doubt that 20% more than hybrid number listed above and I doubt those car makers actually make those ship dates. Honda has a fully working FCX fuel cell car. It works great. They just don't build & sell them because they are very expensive and cannot be sold at any reasonable price.

I think they should keep researching them and refining them. But they are just not ready for much real world use. Battery EVs are struggling to compete with gas vehicles . . . but they are close enough to being practical that they are now built and sold. They'll become very practical if battery prices drop a little bit and oil prices go up a bit more. So that is where the focus is.

ISTR a few comments about using ammonia instead of hydrogen as a fuel and use it in IFCEs. Can anyone point me to some information on the that doesn't get too technical. Would it be better for a hydrogen economy to use ammonia as a transport medium rather than pressure, liquidifying or adsorbing hydrogen?


using ammonia instead of hydrogen ... Would it be better for a hydrogen economy

If "we" are going to call any application where Hydrogen is bound to something else "The Hydrogen Economy" why not call the present use of rock oil a "Hydrogen Economy"?

You can call it what you like, Eric.

Isn't the point to find an effective medium that is storable and economic, clean and not too energy intense?

I hear both cheers and sneers around Ammonia.. don't know where it falls just yet.

I don't know either. Calling something "the Hydrogen Economy" gets you a winning square on buzzword bingo - and rather than say 'the fuel cell economy'. Batteries work because of Hydrogen mobility - why not call that the "Hydrogen" economy?

Can someone actually answer his question instead of wandering off into Semanticsland?

I am amazed..The majority of the posts ignore the real problem..(yes we can keep a little car/moped running on whatever even if it is a bicycle) I work on the roads. There will NEVER be solar powered Hydrogen powered equipment to maintain the roads. They are falling apart always and take massive machines to keep them operating just at this level we are struggling to keep them open, the cost now is going thru the roof BTW due to high oil prices. On road crew vehicles it takes many refills of petrol to keep the machinery working for some pieces of equipment to tear up more than 100 yards of one lane not to mention the amount of asphalt ,gravel,resealing and the list is long to keep a section of road operating year round.They are ALWAYS falling apart, Mother nature is tearing them apart almost as quickly as we build them..Every time it rains we have to repair the road where it leaks(it takes only one small tear in the road for water to do it's damage it then washes away the soil beneath the road causing a dimple which the first truck to hit breaks the roads surface and the damage grows by vehicle from there on) and causes pot-holes or worse..I am amazed by the waste every day of the roads we drive on. Cars are the easy part. You will never have roads without the big wasteful machines to build them.
GenghisKen the realist

A combine these days has a fuel capacity of 250 gallons and as much as 325. Gotta be a million of them, just guessing. A tractor the same, except some have 470 gallon capacities. A tractor/trailer to haul the grains will have 100 gallon capacities plus. You need power delivered to the drawbar or it is a no go. Diesel fuel powers it all. They're useless without diesel. Cutting torch time.

Build houses out of grounded airplanes. Lots of salvage projects available for those looking for something to do. A return of the windmill to pump water to save electricity. No more trips to Walmart.

However, micro mechanized computer controlled tillage equipment is the future of agriculture/industry, imo. Think agro-robotics.

Well designed wind towers well placed across the countryside to power the mini ag equipment will take care of power supplies. A couple of million square miles of solar all over the world for good measure.

After the oil is kaput, no more, there will still be coal. Not forever, but enough to fuel steam locomotives, if a return to steam power is necessary.

It is entirely possible you'll end up using work horses to farm and mules to haul coal for heat and cooking. Your future will be to become a farmer. You'll still have electricity, so it won't be too bad. With any luck, you will be using robots, smaller hydraulic systems, etc., anyway life will be better than wiling away the hours in the suburbia towers.

Rail lines will make a triumphant return.

A return of the steam locomotive, high tech versions to make it all worthwhile might be in the future. Coal gasification for fuel. Coal's future is brighter than oil's. It'll keep the steel industry alive, that's for sure.

Electricity's future is even brighter.

If you want to pick a stock, coal miners would be good, utilities would be good, steel would be good, all metals.

Oil companies better start buying utilities while they still have some dough.

There will NEVER be solar powered Hydrogen powered equipment to maintain the roads

To be fair, the rock oil now reacted with Oxygen is the result of photons (solar power) from years ago, along with the reaction of Hydrogen with Oxygen when the Hydrocarbons are oxidised for an energy release.

The energy investment in the roads will be an issue. While the lower class still feel they have utility from them, there will be political support. But once the lower classes believe they obtain no benefit what then?

While the hydrogen dream appears ephemeral, the way we pave our roads may need to change. The use of petrol to create asphalt will at some point be cost prohibitive. Might we return to making brick (very durable) for our streets? I'm assuming that the personal automobile will occupy a niche market even as mass availability declines.

As with asphalt, a brick road is only as durable as what you put under the bricks. They're just finishing layers.

what would you do with the asphalt? As I understand it every barrel of oil refined will produce some of it and that the production of asphalt doesn't compete with the production of the higher value distillates.

I am not an oil man or a refinery man but I understand that longer oil molecules can be cracked into shorter ones. That's what the "cracking tower" does, or so I was told.

Ron P.

Heavier fractions can be cracked into lighter fractions, but beyond a certain point it becomes uneconomic, so it is generally worthwhile for a refinery to produce some asphalt, particularly if it is processing heavy oil.

You don't have to pave roads with asphalt - concrete works perfectly well, too.

Beyond that you largely run out of alternatives, although you could go back to bricks and cobblestones if you had to. Modern suburban commuters would really hate it, though.

Cement has a huge carbon footprint.

True, although there are some proposed types that have small or even negative CO2 footprint. Asphalt is black, and that contributes to the urban heat island effect. It also gives off volatile comounds. But, pavement also collects a lot of toxic metals from brake linings.

Almost any of the choices have some form of Carbon footprint.

The bigger concern strikes me as the energy invested overall. If the roads are not made from thick oil, or the extraction of CO2 and grinding of rocks, or cutting rock into similar size hunks, or even just making the road level and transporting ton lots of similar sized rock from a quarry to the road level.

I don't see locals deciding "hey we need a road" then using one of these: but perhaps I underestimate the will of the locals to have a road.

We have a lot of cobblestone here. They are REALLY hard on bicycles - must seem if those new saddles have come in.


You can crack heavier fractions, but you get olefins (double-bonded hydrocarbons), aromatics (benzene, etc.), and other cyclic structures, some of which can can be put into motor fuels. If you try to keep doing it, though, and you're left with coke (extremely high molecular weight hydrocarbons). If you want to crack that and get useful products, guess what you need? That's right, Hydrogen! And we've come full circle.

Once the people realize that it is no longer in their interest
to try to maintain that which has no future.
What then?

One could also say that all solar power is derived from nuclear power (fusion). The sun is basically a massive, unshielded, un-contained (or self-contained) nuclear core. And geothermal power is originally nuclear energy (fission) since it's believed to be largely due to radioactive rocks within the earth - with lesser contributions from gravitational stress-induced and fault-related heating, and from what remains of the earth's original heat endowment (presumably bequeathed by the 'big bang').

BTW, what class of people do not have utility from roads? When gasoline reaches $20/gallon (USD), the lower classes may be the first group (and not as suggested, the last) to leave the roads (for mass transit, etc). And this will not be because they don't find roads useful, but because such automotive utility has finally been priced beyond their reach - when $200 doesn't quite fill up the tank of even a small car, and a large car/truck fill up costs close to $400! On the other hand, the least expensive type of mass transit in the USA is typically the diesel-powered bus (city and inter-city) and these most certainly require roads.

I think roads will be around for a long time yet irrespective of what powers the vehicles travelling on them

And I thought hydrogen was a dead idea. But then, I'm not trying to save the car, or the suburbs.

"With several other technologies closing in on maturity, there doesn't seem to be much time left"

Could someone summarize what these are? (I had the impression that the end of the fossil fuel age would result in energy being much more expensive.)

My appologies for not including a link to this. I believe the best place to start is prof. Ding's address at the last ASPO meeting.

It tells me to install Silverlight.

For some reason Silverlight doesn't run on FreeBSD.

And if FreeBSD runs TOD, why would I want to pick something else?

nobody has mentioned the broad explosive limits of Hydrogen. Piping must be SS. H2S is odorless, it's the impurites that stink, but a helpful property to warn of a leak. I think diesels running on coal dust, again.

I think the physics and economics are the main problems. But ironically, a nuclear power disaster may end up being another reason that hydrogen will not become popular.

Remember when George W. Bush pushed the "Hydrogen Economy"?

I remember thinking . . . I bet this is another boondoggle that will go no where. It is just an excuse for oil companies to have a new product to sell at their service stations and a way to use that natural gas. And sure enough it was true.

I had the same feeling back in 1980's when Reagan was pushing SDI (AKA "Star Wars"). As a young engineering student I thought "They'll never get that to work. It would require massive amounts of money and could be overwhelmed by decoys and cruise missiles." 30 years later and they still haven't got it to work except some highly controlled tests.

Politicians fall in love with the music and lyrics of their own self-bootstrapping songs, the ones by which they pull themselves ever higher without regard for gravity's forces.

The phenomenon is equally observed among Democrats as among Republicans. Only the lyrics change slightly.
One group chants "clean energy" and "independence from foreign oil".
The other sing songs about the wisdoms of the unseen hand and "the free markets".

In neither case does Mother Nature listen or give one hoot about the noises the monkeys non-harmoniously make amongst themselves.

Yes I wrote a paper in grad school saying the same thing about laser based SDI - it would never work as full proof defense, decoys, etc. Technically I was right. But in any way that mattered, I was wrong. SDI scared the heck out the Soviets. They didn't care about fool proof; they cared about it shifting a the nuclear balance at the margin so that in the event of real war the USSR would be destroyed and the US could survive.

I just don't get it! How can the Hydrogen Economy Vampire keep on living after so many stakes have been driven thru its heart.

Finally, Volker Loos mentioned that several automakers have plans to introduce fuel cell powered cars in the following years: Mercedes in 2014, Toyota and General Motors in 2015, and Volkswagen in 2020.

and I see

Mercedes-Benz, confident that it has overcome the technological hurdles to fielding a fuel-cell electric car, plans to advance the retail launch date for its hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle by a full one year

So they must believe the numbers stack up.

Such vehicles are not a total blind-alley, as large portions are common with Battery Hybrids (Electric motors and control electronics, plus Regen), and they must even retain some conventional battery capacity, for the Regen Braking features.

So, it becomes a relatively simple trade off, of Joules/kg & Joules/litre, and lifetimes, and the battery suppliers will have to compete.

I do not see the market needing to choose one OR the other, both can run in parallel for a few years, to see what shakes out.

I'll believe it when they ship some cars.

For a new house, this technology pipeline can easily increase costs by 50% on a rough estimate

Has anyone seen good numbers on the cost of large electrolyzers??

I'd love to get actual cost figures for, say, an installation that could produce 10,000 kg/day of H2.