Hydrogen Is Not An Alternative Fuel



I am writing in response to Rev. Maurice Simons, D.Min letter "Why the government won't fund alternative fuel research."

I think that perhaps there is a common misunderstanding about hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen is not alternative fuel. To produce hydrogen we must expend more energy than stored in the hydrogen. We cannot mine hydrogen. Hydrogen does not exist in a free state. Hydrogen acts as a store of energy much like a common electrical battery.

I like all the advantages of using hydrogen. However, in reality as it is now, the wide scale use of hydrogen does not make sense. While hydrogen can be used directly in modified internal combustion engines, it is more efficient in fuel cells that are used to generate electric power.

To produce enough hydrogen equivalent in energy of one gallon of gas requires more than one gallon of gas to generate the hydrogen, so it is a losing proposition. Solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power sources can all be used to produce hydrogen. However, it is more efficient to bypass hydrogen and just produce electric power for direct use and for storage of energy in high efficiency batteries. If the above power sources are not used and coal or oil is used to produce hydrogen, then the whole purpose has been defeated and we are better off as we are now.

One possibility that does exist that would make hydrogen a good deal is the use of nuclear power. Nuclear power is clean and efficient and can produce hydrogen economically. The downside is so many people appear to be paranoid over nuclear power. There just is not enough solar, wind or hydro power available to make a significant difference. Many of the objections to nuclear power can be avoided by using light water reactors that burn the radioactive waste from the current heavy water reactors. These are much more efficient and can produce less expensive and essentially unlimited power. Other nations that are not paranoid about nuclear power have jumped way ahead of the United States in the energy field.

The July issue of "Scientific American" has an interesting article on a superconducting power grid. The current electrical power grid in the United States is close to its limit. A more efficient type of power grid uses underground superconductor circuits. These require the conductor be cooled close to absolute zero. The interesting point of the article is that liquid hydrogen would be used to cool the semiconductor. That would result in a massive distribution network of liquid hydrogen in addition to the electric power. This could provide a big boost for hydrogen use. However, to create sufficient energy to produce hydrogen on the required scale nuclear power is the only answer.

Jeff Hopkins, Phoenix

Commenting has been disabled for this item.