February 1, 2023
Sorry folks. This is another one that is technical in nature. Why? I’ve just finished up a book (for John Wiley & Sons) titled Hydrogen Energy: Principles and Applications. Why did I write it? Because I was told it was a hot topic, and that it might sell. I say might because all my books have one thing in common: they simply don’t sell.
In the 1847 novel, The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne amazingly envisioned the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. “Yes, my friends, I believe that ordinary water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen, which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light.” Today, Verne’s dream is being taken seriously by many practicing engineers and applied scientists. Hydrogen has the necessary properties and can fulfill the role of an energy carrier that can be derived from either methane or water, but unfortunately, the economics are not there.
Increased stringent regulations and demand for zero-carbon and zero-sulfur fuels has dramatically increased interest in hydrogen as a source of energy. And, hydrogen may well emerge as a very important fuel toward the middle of this century, but your author doesn’t think so. Since hydrogen is not a basic energy resource (except in the sun), it must be supplied by using some other basic energy resource to separate hydrogen from water or other hydrogen-containing chemical compounds (like methane). Unlike carbon-based fuels, hydrogen used directly as a fuel produces only water and no carbon dioxide. Thus, hydrogen fuel is viewed by environmentalists and politicians as an ecologically friendly fuel.
Today, our nation’s energy requirements for producing electricity and heat are primarily derived from fossil fuels (natural gas, oil, and coal) which when burned, produce carbon dioxide, a supposed pollutant, that can impact the climate. This concern with carbon dioxide has created a free-for-all for the technical community in its quest to replace the traditional fossil fuels. Industry is recklessly (from a financial perspective) pouring money into not only research and development (R&D) but also advertising that this as an energy solution. But, ultimately, the basic laws of engineering and science are untouchable and non-negotiable.
Here’s the insanity with what is going on. Pure hydrogen does not occur naturally; it takes energy to manufacture it. Once manufactured, it is an energy carrier (i.e., a storer for energy first generated by other means). Energy is required to isolate the chemical bound hydrogen. If a fossil fuel is employed for this purpose, it would require depleting an irreplaceable natural resource and produce carbon dioxide. Thus, the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of a source of energy to assist the process. After the hydrogen is produced, there are companion costs associated with storage, transmission, and conversion, which is then followed by its use. If water (H2O) is employed as the source of hydrogen, a significant amount of energy must be employed to initially separate the hydrogen from the oxygen. High energy “losses” occur no matter what the source of hydrogen. Therefore, producing hydrogen by any means simply does not make sense. As I said in the title of this article – it’s INSANE!!
What about a solution to the energy problem? Your author is a believer in geothermal (preferably) and nuclear energy. Geothermal energy refers to the heat stored in the Earth’s crust, i.e., the Earth is hotter the deeper one drills below the surface…and, this energy is limitless. Nuclear energy – unfortunately, much maligned by the uneducated and environmentalists – is energy obtained from the nucleus of an atom where fission energy is liberated when an atom is split. This energy corresponds to the loss in mass that occurs because the fragments are less than the mass of the original form. Nuclear fusion occurs when two or more atoms are fused into one larger one without long-lived radioactive waste. Here’s more on fusion – Livermore Labs announced on December 12 that they produced a nuclear fusion reaction that resulted in a net energy gain … a monumental breakthrough that is certain to impact all other applications involving energy.
The present fossil fuel energy economy must be replaced. But it has to be done gradually over several decades, and hopefully, with one of the two above sources of energy.
In conclusion, the implementation of a hydrogen energy economy by the government would be an economic disaster and negatively impact capitalism. The many advantages of traditional and other forms of energy are not well understood by the general public, and mercilessly demeaned, particularly by those (politicians are at the top of the list) for their own agenda.
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