Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Mystique of Hydrogen Fuel

We can all convert our cars so that they run on hydrogen fuel, and then the world would be a better place. Hydrogen fuel is produced from water, and when it is burned to power our cars it just turns back into water. Great!

There is one problem however. It takes more energy to produce hydrogen than the amount of energy that it returns when you burn it. This fact means that you can never use hydrogen fuel as an “alternative” energy source to solve the energy crisis. Using hydrogen fuel just exchanges one energy problem for another.

As long as we are revealing the problems with hydrogen fuel lets look at another. The internal combustion engine is very inefficient. For example, four units of energy are lost to heat and friction for every unit of energy that is used to push your car down the road. In other words, work-to-waste ratio is 1 to 4. Internal combustion engines are inefficient no matter which fuel you burn so hydrogen is no help. We must replace this inefficient technology with one that is more efficient. HINT: electric motors have a work-to-waste ratio of 9 to 1. An electric car uses nine units of energy to push your car down the road for every unit of waste.

Why are all of the energy companies spending tens of millions of dollars on propaganda every year? They are pushing coal, oil, natural gas, hydrogen fuel, atomic power plants, hydro-electric, and wind-farms because these are all centrally produced and distributed forms of energy. Central production and distribution of energy forces consumers to purchase expensive and limited forms of power from the energy companies at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars a year. In the third quarter of 2008 just one of the oil companies posted nearly twenty billion dollars of profit. Let me state that again; twenty billion dollars of PROFIT in just one quarter by just one oil company.

Big business loves centrally controlled energy distribution because it is a huge “cash cow”. They are scared to death that the consumers are going to wise-up and start investing in the only viable technology that is an alternative energy source. The energy from the sun that falls on the earth every 30 minutes is equivalent to all of the energy humans generate in a year. Solar electric panels can be mounted on virtually every home in America, and they can generate more than 100% of the energy that a home needs, including recharging the battery on your electric car. Energy will be abundant and virtually free once production of solar electric panels gets up to high levels and the new technologies come on line. Some communities have already installed FREE recharging stations for electric cars. Solar electric power can be the foundation of a distributed network of energy that is stable (no “brown-outs” or “black-outs”) and sustainable.

The future is going to be powered by free and abundant energy, but hydrogen fuel is virtually irrelevant in this future.


  1. Thank you for posting this blog in response to my comment! But I do have a couple more questions for you.

    I've read up a bit here and there on how hybrid cars work and the batteries themselves work. Everything I've seen regarding these batteries and the production of them points to the actual creation of the batteries being more harmful to the environment than even the use of fossil fuels (that is with how much impact and waste the creation of the batteries has on the environment, not to mention the disposal of them). I was wondering if these electric cars had similar batteries and if so, has anything changed recently regarding how harmful they are to take care of?

    I was also wondering if you had a couple of web links or articles regarding both of these topics. I am incredibly interested in both electric and hydrogen types of transportation and would love to learn more. Just hoping you could point me to some of the more credible sources out there that you have used.

  2. The thrust of this post is twofold. First, energy production that is based on fossil fuels was obsolete 30 years ago. Now we are deep into an energy crisis because we have failed to develop alternative energy sources.

    Second, the internal combustion engine is terribly inefficient. Thirty six units of energy are lost for every nine units of energy that moves your car. On the other hand, an electric car loses only one unit of energy for every nine units that move the car. The demand for cars will double in the next ten years due to the new middle class that is emerging in India and China. We should recommit to fossil fuels only if you like the idea of paying ten to twenty dollars for a gallon of gas. Hydrogen fuel is not an alternative energy source, and it is, and will continue to be, just as expensive as fossil fuels.

    Electric cars are a new and underdeveloped technology. They are not a perfect solution. Developing this technology and the solar electric technology to charge them will produce vast improvements. I hate pollution, but even more I hate killing tens of thousands of people and destroying the lives of tens of millions of families just so energy companies can make billions of dollars of profit selling us obsolete energy.

    I can’t point you to “key” sources because I don’t use any. My sources are vast and diverse. I use my skills as a critical thinker and my knowledge as a scientist to sift through the rhetoric to form my beliefs and opinions. I challenge you to do the same.

  3. I am not sure we are talking about the same hydrogen cars. The ones that I am talking about are hydrogen fuel cell cars.

    They not only eliminate the problem of the combustion enguine completely, but they also eleviate the problem of a battery, hence they create enough power to opperate themselves...

    They even have test markets. You should read up on these.

  4. You are right! We were not focused on exactly the same topic.

    Hydrogen fuel cells could be used to power electric cars (GM has been trying to develop one of these cars for several years - it is called the Volt). The problem is that hydrogen fuel cells suffer from the same problems as hydrogen powered internal combustion cars.
    1. Hydrogen does not represent an “alternative” energy source because it costs more energy to produce than you can get back from it. This problem could be alleviated by using solar electric power to produce the hydrogen, but is this really how we want to use our finite water supply?
    2. Hydrogen is stored and transferred under high pressure, which makes handling it a complicated and potentially dangerous activity.
    3. Hydrogen fuel cells are roughly as efficient as the internal combustion engine, which means that only one unit of energy is useful for every 4 units that are lost as waste.

    Hydrogen fuel cell technology could potentially be improved to overcome these deficiencies, and they could play a part in developing a new transportation model that utilizes electric cars. We will never know if we don’t push for the production of more electric cars.