hypothetical technology

How Hydrogen Can Save America

I found this link to Wired Magazine about the pros and cons of moving to a hydrogen energy based society. I’ll summarize for those not wanting to read the article. The author believes that in order for hydrogen to be a viable solution the government has five major obstacles to deal with simultaneously:

  1. Solve the hydrogen fuel-tank problem.
  2. Encourage mass production of fuel cell vehicles.
  3. Convert the nation’s fuelling infrastructure to hydrogen.
  4. Ramp up hydrogen production.
  5. Mount a public campaign to sell the hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen Engines have been around for a while. Their biggest problem is carrying enough hydrogen for 400 miles of driving — the range consumers generally expect. What is the answer to problem number one? $15 Billion in government investing. (I’m not sure how he comes up with this figure).

Mass production of fuel-celled vehicles is the next problem. Again money is the solution. The author feels that the Bush administration should allocate $10 billion in incentive to automakers. Why $10 billion? Well it is a nice round number.

Converting the nation’s fueling infrastructure to hydrogen is another big problem with the same “easy” answer. Throw more money at it. The White House should ask for $5 billion to help gas stations convert to hydrogen stations, and the administration should also set aside $10 billion for interest free loans to oil companies in order to help them make the transition to producing mass amounts of hydrogen.

The next step is to ramp up the hydrogen production by looking at new sources of the element. Nuclear power has made huge leaps in efficiency and environmental friendliness. Using this as a source of electricity and then using the process of hydrolysis to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The last obstacle that needs to be addressed is just a simple matter of advertising their objective to the nation. If the people support it right away, then it will make the transition faster and actually save money in the long run. $25 billion in tax rebates for those using the new technology, and another $1 billion for advertisements. As the author notes, $1 billion is what Nike spends on advertising in a year.

Ok, now for my personal take on the story. The author feels that with massive amounts of spending that a fuel-celled economy is possible within ten years. I think that would be great, if that were actually the case, but it seems to me that it most likely will not happen. I guess a good analogy is the US switching to the metric system. If they had done it when they had the chance, they might have pulled it off, but now they’ve waited too long and every day it just gets harder and harder to switch. A country like China that has an enormous population but not a lot of gasoline based infrastructure (relative to its population) is in a much better position to implement the new technology. If the US doesn’t act, they may end up behind in technology to China — so maybe if they felt the pressure of losing the “hydrogen race” ten years would be possible.

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