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The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

A book by Darryl McMahon

Last updated 2007.08.09


BOOK REVIEW (June/July 2007 Current EVents magazine)

The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

Published by iUniverse, Inc., Sept. 29, 2006

Reviewed by Warren Winovich

As the title suggests, the Emperor (government) fails to recognize he's naked - the proposed hydrogen economy has no merit. As Darryl states in his preface: ". . . the hydrogen economy is a really, really bad idea."

Darryl is a pioneer in the "green ecology" movement. He is one of the founders of the EAA of Canada in the 1970s. He has a fleet of electric vehicles that includes a Porsche 914, an electric motorcycle and bicycle, a solar-electric boat, and an electric garden tractor.

Darryl is a Canadian citizen residing in Ottawa, Canada, Ontario Province, just about 60 miles north of the U.S. border in New York. This affects his concern over U.S. policy. His career has centered around ecology with an emphasis on the effects governments as well as individuals have on the environment. This book is directed to the U.S. population in that they represent the major consumers of the world's resources.

This book is a recent publication issued in 2006. The event that triggered Darryl to write this book was President Bush's State of the Union address of January, 2003. President Bush stated: "Tonight I'm proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles." The press - ignorant of the technologies involved - eagerly endorsed the proposal to the extent that many states used tax revenue supporting hydrogen for fuel-cell and IC-powered cars. The hydrogen economy is currently hailed as the panacea to America's gasoline crisis and the carbon dioxide greenhouse effects.

Darryl's book attacks the hydrogen proposal on several fronts. First, he points out that "there are no hydrogen wells." Hydrogen must be produced from natural sources such as the hydrolysis of water. This, as he states, is an energy intensive process; it is not cheap at all! Today hydrogen in large quantities costs from $7-$10 per gallon; three to five times the cost of refined gasoline at the wholesale price. Continuing, he points out that the benefits from a reduction in carbon dioxide for hydrogen reactions are more than offset by pollutants from energy sources required to produce the hydrogen.

In addition to being a very expensive fuel, there is virtually no infrastructure for distribution and storage of hydrogen. Hydrogen could be delivered via pipelines or tankers. Storage is either high-pressure containment up to 5000 psi or in cryogenic Dewar tanks at a temperature of -423°F (absolute zero: -460°F) which requires 30 to 40 percent of the stored energy for pressurization or liquefaction. The hydrogen at the point of use is in the gaseous, low-pressure state; and building codes for the piping require double-walled piping with the inner pipe of nickel-based stainless steel to avoid hydrogen combination with carbon used in the conventional steels that induces strength. In view of the costs and technical problems that are associated with hydrogen use, Darryl comes to the conclusion that the hydrogen economy is completely unacceptable.

Darryl's book is 265 pages in length and it is an easy read. Ideas developed are presented in an orderly, logical sequence. This book is a fine source of hydrogen properties as well as it's inherent problems. The discussion of the shortcomings of the the hydrogen economy are confined to the first half of the book - 112 pages. The remainder is devoted to conservation issues that individuals should practice for energy reduction purposes. These include solar water heating and the installation of solar photovoltaic arrays for households. An issue that is not adequately addressed is that of the hazards associated with hydrogen usage. It will burn and detonate over concentration extremes of 5% to 95% by volume. The smallest concentration is a hazard if a leak develops. It ignites with ease and burns with an invisible flame. Hydrogen installations in buildings require special leak detectors. When a detonation occurs, pressures developed can blow the roof off the building. It is unrealistic to consider storing a hydrogen car in your garage.

Darryl's message regarding the "really, really bad idea" of a hydrogen economy should be heeded by all - particularly government institutions that currently are promoting hydrogen as an energy source.

Note: The book is available at Amazon.com

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