Chapter III, Section C, Item 4. The Hydrogen Fallacy: an erroneous notion that hydrogen solves the energy crisis and is always green

Hydrogen IS NOT an energy resource.

That succinct correction of the hydrogen fallacy is worthy of its own paragraph, given the complete–and deliberate–disinformation to the contrary. Hydrogen is often touted as the most abundant element in the universe. This is true, but not in a chemical fuel form ready to be burned or used in a fuel cell. On Earth, most of this most-abundant element is bonded with oxygen in the form of water, and most of the rest is bonded to carbon as a hydrocarbon. The hydrogen fallacy, whether stated or implied, is that hydrogen, as some newly found energy resource, is a clean, carbon-neutral solution to the energy crisis. The fallacy was implied by Bush in the 2003 State of the Union address. Hydrogen was touted as a solution to both oil-dependency and “pollution” issues, used as a political smoke screen of the Administration’s neglect of both, as if a new “silver bullet” had been found. The distraction worked, and over 1 billion dollars was dumped into hydrogen and fuel cell research budgets. The ends may not justify the means, but the research and promotion of hydrogen was generally welcomed by both the environmental and energy communities. Hydrogen does have an important role to play in sustainability.

Hydrogen IS a clean energy carrier.

An energy carrier quite simply is a means of storing energy, a critical need for most renewable energy initiatives. Most “continuously sourced” [renewable] energies might better be called “continually sourced” energies. The bulwark argument against developing these resources has always been tied to the question of dependability: how to surmount the regular interruption of their sourcing. At least the resources that are ultimately derived from solar energy: What do you do when the sun doesn’t shine, the wind doesn’t blow, etc.? The answer is to “make hay [albeit not agricultural hay, see above] when the sun shines,” i.e. to store the energy. In that sense, hydrogen IS NOT an energy resource, it bears repeating, but it IS an energy carrier. Hydrogen’s use in a fuel cell is ultimately environmentally clean, unlike other possible energy storage options, such as other chemical energy carriers and batteries.

Hydrogen itself is not always “green.” In fact, of the two main occurences of hydrogen (hydrocarbons and water), hydrocarbons—i.e. fossil fuels—currently provide the most economically exploitable resource, specifically natural gas, from which hydrogen is produced by a steam-reforming process. Given these are the very same finite resources we seek to replace due to their ultimate scarcity, and given that hydrogen production from fossil fuels produces CO2 whenever the hydrogen leaves the carbon behind, in the long term, hydrogen will have to come from its primary resource, water. The electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen requires electricity, and the energy resource for that electricity is an open choice–petroleum, coal, natural gas, nuclear, or continuous sources. Hydrogen can be either “green” or “brown.”

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