Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thank GM

TGIW - Thank GM It's ThursdayToday's green energy episode explains the hope and hype of the universe's lightest element. On the surface it seems like a wonderful idea to use hydrogen as a fuel as the only resulting emission is water. Hydrogen has been sold as a carbon free fuel. The problem is that hydrogen is mistaken as a fuel, when it is really only an energy carrier like electricity. It takes other fuels or electricity to produce hydrogen and typically these other fuels or the electricity entail the combustion of some carbon containing fuel. Therefore hydrogen has a carbon footprint. If the electricity to produce the hydrogen is generated in a coal fired station, the resulting hydrogen has a carbon footprint the size of Sasquatch. Approximately half of the electricity in the USA is generated using coal as the fuel. Some may argue that the hydrogen should be produced with hydroelectric, wind, or nuclear generated electricity. However this means that the coal based energy would serve other power demand loads, and had the hydrogen not been manufactured then indeed the coal fired stations could have been shut.

Is there a Cinderella rather than a Bigfoot story in hydrogen manufacture where the carbon footprint indeed fits the tiny glass slipper? Producing the hydrogen by steam natural gas reforming does have a smaller carbon footprint but the conversion of natural gas (methane) to hydrogen yields only 75% of the energy and the steam methane reforming plant has carbon emissions. The methane could have been compressed and used to fuel a vehicle such as the one marketed by Honda that runs on compressed natural gas. As natural gas has more than three times the energy per unit volume than hydrogen, the compressed natural gas vehicle will have three times the range of hydrogen if the engines are equally efficient. The next trick the hydrogen lobby played on us was that fuel cells are much more efficient than internal combustion engines. Yes this is indeed the case but producing and liquefying hydrogen eliminates the efficiency advantage of the fuel cell over the internal combustion engine.

The fuel cell is expensive and presently costs about half a million dollars to equip a single Honda Civic. Additionally, the fuel cell in the Honda Civic needs approximately two and a half ounces of platinum to function. Each year a total of two and a half million ounces of platinum are mined worldwide so if all of the platinum was diverted to fuel cells we could equip about one million cars per year. Over 60 million cars are sold worldwide each year so GM the fool who sells fuel cells will never capture more than a small fraction of the market. Try saying this fast “GM the fool who sells fuel cells on the free floor”.

Others are trying to produce hydrogen from cellulose and organic waste. Their efforts have yielded some technical success but these sources of hydrogen are miniscule compared to the enormity of the amount of transportation fuel the world requires. Steam methane reforming will remain the pre-eminent method to produce hydrogen and hydrogen will be used as a wonderful chemical to upgrade and refine high sulphur oil, synthesize fertilizers, and sadly to hydrogenate oils to produce margarine that clog your arteries.

The word of the day is paean or a joyous song of praise. The hydrogen economy hoax won’t be playing this song instead we will be just paean more taxes to fund more foolish energy policy

paean \PEE-uhn\, noun:1. A joyous song of praise, triumph, or thanksgiving.2. An expression of praise or joy.


  1. good to see one person is telling the truth about hydrogen

  2. green machine you nailed GM but this means they are nailed twice over Toyota nailed them first