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"Inflammatory" - NY Observer
Depleted uranium, deadly vaccines, 9/11 conspiracies, and the truth about Cynthia McKinney.
My pic isn't Santa Claus, it's.....Sadhu Claus. He brings presents to
all the good Nepali boys and girls. (Not really. He's a Sadhu, a holy man.
I used this pic for my christmas cards this year.)
currently listening to:
The Search For Terrestrial Intelligence (or, Memoirs of A Cynical Astrobiologist)
B04276 Thu, 24 Feb 2005 20:07:31 -0600
So if you’ve been following the mutterings of car executives and politicians lately, you’ll have heard plenty about the “hydrogen economy”. It’s a great idea on paper: clean fuel! Only exhaust is water! Can be used for fuel cells! The economy of the future! Will cure hemmorhoids, Altzheimers, the common cold, and erectile dysfunction! (Ok, I’m kidding on that last one, but I expect to hear it soon.) But the idea basically sucks, and will suck until some major hurdles are crossed. The hydrogen economy is a pipe dream, and those who peddle the idea are either misguided, hopelessly optimistic, or lying in the service of an agenda.
Why, you ask? Well, here are a few reasons why.
1. Hydrogen is not a fuel. Yeah, you can burn it. But it’s not an energy source. It’s an energy transportation medium. You can’t just go out and get hydrogen; you have to split water apart to do it, which requires energy coming from some other source. Creating hydrogen on the scale required to satisfy current energy demands is fairly unrealistic- maybe nuclear power could do it, fusion certainly could. However, nukes are unsafe and unreliable, and they have this issue of waste disposal that makes them at best a last-ditch effort. Fusion has been twenty years away for the last sixty years. I have no faith in it. Solar panels and wind are cute, but you couldn’t reliably get enough energy to replace petroleum from it, and on that scale it would be prohibitively expensive. Yeah, you could probably make it work, sometime in the future.
2. Hydrogen is hard to transport. It’s a little bitty molecule. You have to keep it incredibly cold to make it a liquid, and that requires energy (to refrigerate it). You can’t put it through a pipeline, because a leak a micron across would spew hydrogen like a firehose. As a gas, its density is too low- a tractor-trailer full would be enough for one car at most. With a lot of ingenuity, maybe you could solve these problems, but they’re significant and would require vast infrastructure changes. It would cost roughly 176 billion to replace gas pumps with hydrogen.
3. Hydrogen isn’t that safe. Besides the Hindenburg factor, what happens when you get rear-ended by a dump truck and one of the hydrogen tanks ruptures? 10,000 psi isn’t a joke. It would rupture, explosively. And flammably. It’d be like the pinto from hell, and it’s not possible to protect a large hydrogen tank against all possible ruptures. Maybe you could get it to an acceptable minumum, but then you’ve got a car that weighs four tons because you had to beef up the structure so much.
4. Infrastructure is nonexistent. Hydrogen filling stations are few and far between, costly, and use entirely new equipment. For reasons stated above, it’s hard to transport, and hard to keep contained. You’d need to rip out every gas station and replace it with entirely new stuff. This would involve some coin.
So, for these and other reasons, hydrogen isn’t the answer. Biodiesel is. It’s renewable. It’s less flammable than gas, even. It can be created easily and cheaply from algae. It is possible to grow enough to satisfy our fuel usage- just make a bunch of shallow algae ponds all over the country. You can put it in a regular tank and pump it through a regular gas pump. It doesn’t require a special tank. It exists RIGHT NOW. It can be burned in any modern diesel engine. It allows better economy than gas or hydrogen. Combined with hybrid technology, you could get awesome performance and great economy. It could be used to create any of the things we use oil for now. It can be created from trash, using thermal depolymerization technology. It can be transported in any tanker truck or railroad car. The technology is so simple I can make it in my backyard shed. It’s nontoxic- you could drink it. It even smells like McDonalds fries.
BIODIESEL IS THE ANSWER. It uses modern technology, modern materials, and has none of the pitfalls of other alternative fuels. It, along with natural gas and ethanol, can fuel any car made now. It can fuel power stations. It requires no special technology. It is a more intelligent solution by far, one that can be implemented with a minumum of fuss and hassle.
All this hype about hydrogen is completely misplaced because there’s just no possibility that it will be mature enough to really be useful for another 50-75 years. As batteries, yeah, sure. But H2 supply, technology, and infrastructure will take a while. When petroleum ends, we are going to need an alternative RIGHT NOW. Not in a few years, not when the wrinkles get beat out of it, not when it becomes cost effective, rightnowdammit. Within a few years, a decade or so at most, the supply of petroleum will be outstripped by demand, and while demand will rise, petroleum supplies will shrink. That will have a number of predictable economic aftershocks. I can’t imagine that, during the peak oil crisis, the economy’s going to be in the kind of shape to effect a very quick transition to hydrogen. Therefore, having something waiting in the wings that will require far less overhaul of existing hardware would be a good idea. No matter how you slice it, there are far fewer barriers to widespread biodiesel usage than there are to widespread hydrogen usage.
So when are people gonna shut up about hydrogen and start working on the solution that has a chance right now?