Read more reader reponses to DN Editor-in-Chief John
Energized about Energy" column in the August 11 issue as well as Design
News' exhaustive hydrogen
fuel cell vehicle and fueling infrastructure package.
re: your article in Design News (08.11.08) "Get Energized About Energy", there are a few key issues in particular that were largely missing from your page yet seem to be key to making this whole thing work.
It seems that putting 'hydrogen cars' and 'energy independence' together as you did makes them seem to be the same issue. In fact, I think they are very different issues, which unfortunately tend to complicate each other. If not for this, it would be easy!
Hydrogen used as fuel for cars is probably the best overall solution to our transportation needs. It would work for all surface machines (in fuel cells and/or turbines) and for aviation (for turbines only). This would be much better than battery power (i.e. plug-in-power) in that it would work not only for local commutes and fleet use, but for long haul and other more demanding transportation needs. And of course, it generates zero pollution at the point if use...so far, so good. The technology is well understood and fairly mature, and we could have it as soon as the infrastructure could be ramped up to supply hydrogen at every street corner.
Energy independence, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. It is partly just that oil and coal are non-renewable and the end of their feasible supply is in sight. It is also partly that so much of the supply of oil in particular comes from unstable places, and the fact that we currently need so much of the stuff has caused the world to ignore or condone fanatical and unfriendly goverments, overlooking their bad behavior and abuse of their citizens and sometimes their support of violence. This one is harder to solve than fueling transportation. Not only do we need to wean ourselves from oil/coal/natural gas for generating our current electrical power needs, but we have to take into account the doubling or tripling (or more) of electrical energy demands that would face us if we stopped powering cars and planes with fossil fuels. Whether vehicles are plugged into a grid to charge batteries, or if they are fueled with hydrogen, great gobs of electrical energy will be required beyond the current needs for electrical generation. Hydrogen is easy to make, but takes more energy to make than can be extracted from it either in a fuel cell or by simple combustion. So, if we are having problems now with fossil fuels and the related pollution and energy independence issues, imagine how bad those problems will get when we also ramp up to run our electric and/or hydrogen vehicles (via generation of that element) off the grid.
Unfortunately, energy experts have made it clear that things like solar power, wind powers, etc; can only provide maybe 20% or our CURRENT electrical energy needs, at least without really stupendous things like giant orbiting mirrors beaming concentrated sunlight down to massive heat exchangers (which may never be practical and are certainly a long way off at best). If that is so, then how can we get long term, viable energy independence that not only provides for current electrical needs but also for the huge ramp-up necessitated by weaning vehicles away from fossil fuels? The answer seems to be nuclear in the foreseeable future. It seems likely that previous issues like disposal will seem less important as energy costs and pollution and foreign issues become more apparent. However, there is also a limited supply of fissionable material on the planet in easy to access locations, so even if nuclear were otherwise perfect, it would still not be long term. It would be nice if fusion worked outside of the sun and bombs....
A philosophy professor once suggested to my class that the reason why the Earth was 'created' millions of years before mankind appeared was so that the planet would have time to convert massive amounts of sunlight into easily accessible fossil fuels, allowing mankind to power his initial civilization for hundreds of years while seeking a more permanent energy source. Whether this is part of a grand plan or not, it seems like we have not done a very good job to date and are now scrambling....