Hydrogen fuel may disturb ozone layer or: environmentalists need to bitch to survive.

From cnn.com

And how might this happen?

What? 20 percent? The 20% of the natural gas I use at my house that leaks away shore is expansive.

And can we make up our minds please? Is it:


Why in the hell would environmentalists be opposed to an energy source with only water as a byproduct?

Oh. Ok.

:throws up hands and slaps thighs:
This is actually a rant against the Caltech professors who authored this nonsense and their ilk who write fanciful “reports” that use words like “might” and “could” alot. Not people who drive high MPG vehicles, conservationalists, well . . . people who actually do something meaningful to help out.

Crap, bullshit, and tommyrot.

Fifty years ago, there were no known problems with atmospheric CO[sub]2[/sub].

This is an extremely preliminary report, asking questions instead of delivering answers, seeking to root out all possible problems a hydrogen economy would present before they become problems.

It’s one monkeyfucker of an improvement over the way we’ve done things in the past–“it works, so fuck the big picture.”
Christ in a sidecar, if you want to bitch about liberals or environmentalists or whatever, you can find real reasons to do so. This isn’t one of them.

Well, some environmentalists are starting to fight the Bush-proposed hydrogen power plan for very good reasons that have very little to do with the use of the hydrogen, but rather are related to the way that the hydrogen is produced.

Put very simply, hydrogen power works thus: hydrogen is recombined with oxygen in fuel cells. During the recombination prcess, electrons are released, and these can be used to drive an electric motor (for example, in a car).

Now, the process of extracting hydrogen from water can be done cleanly and efficiently using electricity generated by solar panels and wind turbines, according to an article by Barry C. Lynn in the June 2003 edition of Mother Jones magazine (“Hydrogen’s Dirty Secret,” Mother Jones, June 2003, pp. 15-17). When Bush announced his plans for a hydrogen car in the State of the Union address, many environmentalists were cautiously optimistic, seeing this as a step forward from a President who was generally seen to be a slave to entrenched energy interests.

But a few things didn’t make it into the State of the Union address, including the fact that the administration’s plan calls for hydrogen to be extracted from fossil fuels, rather than from water.

In this article, Lynn cites solar energy experts and environmental scientists who sat in on the Department of Energy sessions to formulate the government Roadmap last year (what’s with the sudden obsession with the term “roadmap,” anyway?). According to these scientists, it soon became obvious that the main emphasis of the sessions was

The plan that came out of the various committees at the session (many of which were chaired by executives from companies like ChevronTexaco)

In 2004, the government will give $22 million dollars for research on getting hydrogen from coal, nuclear power and natural gas, while it will give only $17 million for research on renewable resources.

The Bush administration’s plan essentially provides a government guarantee that

The article also talks about the way that large fossil fuel concerns like Shell and ChevronTexaco have effectively taken over the National Hydrogen Association, which was initially a small, obscure group of scientists and small companies engaged in hydrogen research.

Since the energy industry takeover, the NHA has become little more than a lobby group for big power companies.

The article finishes with a quote by John Heywood, director of MIT’s Sloan Automotive Lab:

A quick check of motherjones.com confirms my suspicions that it is a very liberal organization. Therefore, any quotes from one of its articles should be taken with a grain of salt. But I was quoting from cnn.com so I suppose that makes me the pot and you the kettle :slight_smile:

Here’s my beef. For years (probably back to the 70s?) all we hear is burning fossil fuels is destroying the environment, we need to find alternative fuels. Ok, somebody takes the ball and run with it. Oops, it’s an administration some don’t agree with. Never mind then, that will screw up the environment and just make the BIG ENERGY COMPANIES richer.

IANA chemist Off to google. . .

Ah. Here we go. First hit.

From http://www.ees.lanl.gov/pdfs/ziock.pdf

Sounds good to me!

I am a theoretical physicist, and here are things you need to know to understand this study:

  1. When modeling systems, it is very important to understand the unrealistic extreme cases, in order to have a sense of the scale of problems. Even if the release of large amounts of hydrogen are unrealistic, it is important to understand the effect if that were to in fact happen.

  2. Any scientific study that is reported in the media is invariably misrepresented or oversold. You simply can’t condense a complex calculation down to a headline without losing information. “‘Hydrogen may be bad!’, scientists say” is an article people will read. “Atmospheric models, starting from assumptions X, Y, and Z, show that a possible outcome is A, taking into account factors B, C, and D, although outcome E or F might also take place, under differing conditions” is not.

Don’t view everything through the partisan glasses. Shitty science reporting is nothing new, and getting worse.

A couple of things:

A bad comparison that only proves you know absolutely jack shit about basic chemistry. H[sub]2[/sub] is a good deal smaller than the CH[sub]4[/sub] that makes up most of your natural gas. It’s gonna leak. You ever have one of those helium filled mylar balloons? You know how they shrink after awhile and lose their buoyancy? It’s because the He atoms actually leak out from between the mylar molecules. H[sub]2[/sub] is a hair bigger than monatomic He, but not by much. Like the helium in that balloon, hydrogen is gonna leak out of just about anything you could put it in.

You know, both sides miss the point when disscussing using hydrogen as fuel. We already knew it would take fossil fuels to produce hydrogen. Whether you get it by the electrolysis of water (where do you think the electricity to do that comes from?) or by stripping it off the alkanes directly is beside the point. Even if all you are doing is burning gasolione to produce the electricity that electrolyzes the water (a rather dirty and innefficient method), you are doing it in a single location, rather than millions of motor vehicles. This would produce a definate reduction in the ground level ozone and smog that currently curses our cities. The health improvements alone could justify fuel cells based cars.

Lastly, getting the hydrogen directly from fossil fuels is a great idea. I can’t think of a better one. Think about it, you could do it without combustion. There would probably be some mean byproducts to the chemical reduction - but zero air pollution, which means zero greenhouse gasses.

No, it ain’t perfect, but Heywood and some others forget that we are stuck with fossil fuels for now. We don’t have an alternative. At all. None. He shouldn’t argue against what could be a cleaner use of those fuels because they are still non-renewable when we haven’t a clue how to harness renewable energy sources in quantities close enough to make a dent. Hoover dam is great, but we can’t build those everywhere, solar pannels covering the roof don’t generate enough energy to power the house they cover, windmills are laughable, fusion is still a considerable ways off, and so called “vacuum energy” is science fiction.

I like my way of putting it better. Thanks for the information anyway, it does make sense.

Well, if you read my post you would see that a key argument is that no-one in the administration is even bothering to examine the potential for alternative electricity sources for electrolysis. They are putting more money into R&D for existing fossil fuel systems than for alternative energy sources–alternatives that many scientists believe could be feasible sources of electricity if the willpower were there to exploit them.

I got the impression that even the strongest critics of the government concede that some use will have to be made of fossil fuels. What they are opposed to is the continued refusal to fund the search for alternatives, especially while government shows itself so willing to kowtow to the immediate needs of the hydrocarbon energy industry. You say later on in your post that we currently have no alternatives to fossil fuels; well, if the current head-in-the-sand attitude persists, we will still have no alternative when those fossil fuels eventually run out.

If hydrogen can indeed be extracted from fossil fuels with a significant reducation in emissions, then i see no reason not to do it. But this should not forestall research into alternative ways to produce hydrogen. I really see no justification for the government spending more R&D money on fossil fuel use than on alternative energy sources.

IA (or was, at any rate) AChemist, and I have to ask…
2H[sub]2[/sub] + O[sub]2[/sub] -> 2H[sub]2[/sub]O.
so where are these extra electrons that are supposed to generate electricity, mhendo?

Are you an awful chemist?

Or just one that has no idea of how a fuel cell works?

I never used the term “extra electrrons,” and my simplistic explanation of the fuel cell wasn’t meant to be anything more. I figured that non-chemists wouldn’t be too interested in the largely irrelevant details, and that real chemists would know how the thing worked anyway. Perhaps you are the exception.

In case your question was not simply ironic or obtuse, the basic reactions are outlined below:

Anode side of the fuel cell:

2H[sub]2[/sub] => 4H[sup]+[/sup] + 4e[sup]-[/sup]

Cathode side of the fuel cell:

O[sub]2[/sub] + 4H[sup]+[/sup] + 4e[sup]-[/sup] => 2H[sub]2[/sub]O

Net reaction:

2H[sub]2[/sub] + O[sub]2[/sub] => 2H[sub]2[/sub]O
The electrons from the anode side go through an external circuit on their way to the cathode side, and it is in this external circuit that they provide the power generated by the fuel cell.

I humbly apologize to all those who, after reading my initial post, might have been misled into questioning the eternal truth that

2H[sub]2[/sub] + O[sub]2[/sub] => 2H[sub]2[/sub]O

No one? I for one receive funding from the current “administration” to do just that.

One of the reasons they put more money into these existing fossil systems is that there is a great potential for efficiency improvement, which can yield substantial improvements in emissions and reductions in energy consumption. I do not feel that this level of funding should be decreased any, but do feel that research into renewables should be increased substantially.

There is no “refusal to fund” alternatives. There is quite a lot of funding, just not enough, perhaps. I think this is what you really intend to say, yes? I’m sorry if I seem like I’m nitpicking, but when I’m receiving money to do renewables studies right here today at my desk, I feel I have to nitpick a little.

Is there some need to be insulting when someone asks for edification, or does it just come naturally to you? For your future education, I am now a physicist because I decided I didn’t particularly enjoy chemistry (note: I did say that I was a chemist, after all).

That said, I do understand the concept of a redox reaction, believe it or not. All I wanted to have clarified was whether one used the electron transfer to generate a current, as I’d been under the impression, apparently incorrectly, that the most important product was heat.

So I thank you for enlightening me, but not for the unnecessary condescension.

Abnybody remember this one? There was a very credible proposal years ago, to tap the energy in the deep-sea currents (like the Gulf Stream). The idea would be to place gigantic turbines in the path of the North atalntic Drift-a huge amount of ebnergy could be extracted! The eviros didn’t want it! Claimed that would slow down the earth’s rotation!

I just wanted to highlight that piece of garbage. I’m afraid that solar panels, in sufficient quantities to produce sufficient hydrogen would blanket the motherloving land, and still be too inefficient to power the US. Ignoring rainy and cloudy days, ignoring nighttime alone, it’s what, a quarter of a horsepower per square yard?

Secondly, Wind Turbines are environmental hazards. Sure, they sound nice, but there aren’t that many places that have steady and strong enough wind to use them, and it looks like a flock of thirty or forty windmills. You don’t want to know what they do to birds, or to the land around them.

Yeah. Nothing’s simple. Me, I’m still voting for the nuclear power plants. At least they’ll be less radioactive than some coal plants Anth has seen.

I agree with others that many people are missing the big picture, and wanted to add a thought. If the big oil companies can be induced to sign on to a plan that will result in a hydrogen-using energy framework, they will simply lose their grip on the market no matter what. After all, hydrogen is hydrogen, no matter where you get it from. Once we have the energy framework, I envision mini hydrogen-production facilities cropping up all oer the place. The ease with which hydrogen can be generated will be a thorn in the flesh of current natural resource companies the way UNIX is to Microsoft. Any University that maintains a research-level nuclear reactor, any farm where it is kind of windy or sunny, will be setting up facilities to generate its own power. the reliance of the populace on private concerns for energy may well be broken, or at least weakened greatly.
So I say, if working with them like this is the only way we’ll get the new infrastructure built, then full speed ahead! Once that infrastructure exists, they will have no means of controlling how it is used. What we are contemplating is the obsolesence of an entire industry.

Please allow me to be the first to extend a claim of bullshit.


My apologies.

I thought i detected in your question the sort of condescension that sometimes comes from the expert (i.e. a chemist in your case) in the presence of amateurs.

I assumed that you already knew the answer, and were just trying to expose me as an ignoramus. Mea culpa.


How efficient is the process of hydrogen extraction from fossil fuels through to actual transport, compared to the efficiency of internal combustion?

That is which has greater mpg of fossil fuel imported, direct use cars, or extraction and use as hydrogen fuel?

This is a significant bit of information to have when arguing that fuel cells fail to wean us off of foreign oil; if the process gives more mpg of imported oil then it is a big plus. In addition to the beneficial environmental effects. Besides gasoline reformulation is mostly considered for practicality’s sake: it allows use of current distribution facilities. It does not rule out a transition to other means as time goes on.

I for one am happy that critical eyes are looking at fuel cells with clear lenses. Play out possible harmful effects now, and plan accordingly.

mhendo, no worries, and thanks again for fighting some of my ignorance. :slight_smile: Looking at it, the tone of my first post could have been… well, somewhat better.

Damn good question, bear with me.

Internal combustion engines typically operate at about 25% thermal efficiency. That is, 75% of the possible energy in gasoline is lost to heat or incomplete combustion (carbon monoxide instead of carbon dioxide). Fuel cells run much cooler and typically operate at about 60% efficiency.

However, that 60 % is based on a hydrogen fuel source, rather than gasoline. Here’s where it gets tricky. Hydrogen would probably be chiefly produced by the steam reforming of methane. This process typically reaches efficiencies of 70 - 90% (call it 80 %). So, Natural Gas (methane) to hydrogen fuel cell output would be 48 % efficient (0.8 x 0.6). Now, this is using natural gas rather than gasoline, so the comparison is a little faulty. The octane (C[sub]8[/sub]H[sub]18[/sub]) in gasoline has a much lower hydrogen ratio than the methane (CH[sub]4[/sub]) in natural gas. GM claims it has a gasoline processor that also reaches 80% efficiency, but I’m a wee bit skeptical of it reaching that efficiency if mass produced. I’d expect (but I am by no means a chemical engineer) that the lower ratio of hydrogen in octane would mean an efficiency of about 60 %, leading to a gasoline to fuel cell output of 36% (.6 x .6) - still a good deal better than the 25 % efficiency of internal combustion engines we see currently. I’m not even going to attempt trying to figure out what it would be if you got the hydrogen from coal. Let’s just say that if you took a weighted average of all fossil fuels you’d get about 40%

So … what all this means, by adding up all my educated wild ass guesses, is that a hydrogen based system of fossil fuel use would be about 70% more efficient than the current internal combustion based system ((40%- 25%) / 25%)

On a side note, Ford currently has a fuel cell hybrid car that gets 40 mpg city.