†( This is the conclusion of Alice†Friedemann's Report.)
At some point along the chain of making, putting energy in, storing, and delivering the hydrogen, youíve used more energy than you get back, and this doesnít count the energy used to make fuel cells, storage tanks, delivery systems, and vehicles (17).
The laws of physics mean the hydrogen economy will always be an energy sink. Hydrogenís properties require you to spend more energy to do the following than you get out of it later: overcome watersí hydrogen-oxygen bond, to move heavy cars, to prevent leaks and brittle metals, to transport hydrogen to the destination. It doesnít matter if all of the problems are solved, or how much money is spent. You will use more energy to create, store, and transport hydrogen than you will ever get out of it.
The price of oil and natural gas will go up relentlessly due to geological depletion and political crises in extracting countries. Since the hydrogen infrastructure will be built using the existing oil-based infrastructure (i.e. internal combustion engine vehicles, power plants and factories, plastics, etc), the price of hydrogen will go up as well -- it will never be cheaper than fossil fuels. As depletion continues, factories will be driven out of business by high fuel costs (20, 21, 22) and the parts necessary to build the extremely complex storage tanks and fuel cells might become unavailable. In a society thatís looking more and more like Terry Gilliamís ďBrazilĒ, hydrogen will be too leaky and explosive to handle.
Any diversion of declining fossil fuels to a hydrogen economy subtracts that energy from other possible uses, such as planting, harvesting, delivering, and cooking food, heating homes, and other essential activities. According to Joseph Romm ďThe energy and environmental problems facing the nation and the world, especially global warming, are far too serious to risk making major policy mistakes that misallocate scarce resources." (3)
When fusion can make cheap hydrogen, and when reliable long-lasting nanotube fuel cells exist, and when light-weight leak-proof carbon-fiber polymer-lined storage tanks/pipelines can be made inexpensively, then letís consider building the hydrogen economy infrastructure. Until then, itís vaporware. All of the technical obstacles must be overcome for any of this to happen (18). Meanwhile, we should stop the FreedomCAR and start setting higher CAFE standards (19).
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Alice Friedemann has completed her new report on biofuels, and it will be in Culture Change soon. The report is based on her 6 years of studying biofuels and 3 years studying soil sciences. In seven parts, it has among its highlights (1) a muckraking section on why soil scientists aren't speaking out on the harm done to soil by harvesting crop residues for cellulosic ethanol; (2) a fresh way of looking at the EROEI (energy efficiency) of ethanol, and (3) it covers challenges with cellulosic ethanol from farm to fuel tank, reported nowhere else. - JL, March 26, 2007
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"Technofix bubbles of hydrogen and biofuels at Pentagonís Energy Conversation" by Jan Lundberg, Culture Change Letter #130 - May 24, 2006: