Chemical Equipment Chemical Equipment

August 19, 2005

Driving The Hydrogen Economy

By  Michael D. Shaw

With gasoline prices on the wrong side of $2.50/gallon, and never-ending political unrest in the Middle East, many voices are clamoring about the hydrogen economy. In its purest form, the hydrogen economy would have us completely off those bad old fossil fuels, and onto clean, plentiful hydrogen.

To be sure, hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet, but it is generally not present as H2. Rather, it has to be produced by the electrolysis of water, or by reforming fossil fuels. Either way, energy is required, but electrolysis can be done anywhere (use your home tap water for H2 to fill your car) and is not based on hydrocarbon feedstock.

Sounds good, but where should the needed electricity come from? Some estimates claim that electricity production must double to forge the hydrogen economy. Logic and consistency would rule out coal, oil, and gas, since these are the very sources we are trying to abandon. That leaves nuclear, hydro, biomass (wood, waste, and alcohol), solar and “other renewables.”

Hydro is nice, but how many more dams can we build? Even though biomass is renewable, how rapidly could it be expanded? Besides, it still puts CO2 back into the atmosphere. Some day, solar, etc. might be economical, but we don’t have the luxury of time.

Many people hate nukes for their waste, and, security is surely an issue. But, nukes don’t produce greenhouse gases, and the technology is available right now. Think about this, and I bet you’ll agree with energy guru Dr. Larry Gestaut, of Giner, Inc., who says that, “The road to the hydrogen economy goes through the core of a nuclear reactor.”