A final juicy tidbit today is this New York Times article on hydrogen.:
Widespread hydrogen use has been enthusiastically embraced by major corporations and environmentalists alike as a panacea for global warming and the depletion of fossil fuels, and is a particular favorite of the Bush administration. But skeptics, and even some hydrogen advocates, say that use of hydrogen could instead make the air dirtier and the globe warmer.
The article then goes on to state, accurately (and to the consternation of many hydrogen evangelists), that hydrogen is merely a way to store energy, and that because hydrogen does not exist here in isolation we must use a fuel such as natural gas to generate it. Regular readers of Knowledge Problem know that natural gas prices are high relative to historic averages, and that because of both demand and supply pressures they are unlikely to decline substantially in the near future. Thus the experts quoted in the article can compare hydrogen fuel cell costs and internal combustion costs:
For now, fuel cells are about 100 times as expensive, per unit of power, as internal combustion engines.
That cost also reflects the fact that using hydrogen requires an expensive catalyst, like platinum.
The article then goes on to discuss using coal to generate hydrogen, the role that hybrid vehicles play in the evolution of low-emission technologies, and the tradeoffs that we confront as these old and new technologies evolve. I particularly think the conclusion is something we should bear in mind:
But some parts of the portfolio are more environmentally beneficial than others. Dan W. Reicher, a former assistant secretary of energy for conservation and renewables, who now manages a fund that invests in companies that produce energy from renewable sources, put it this way: “Not all hydrogen is created equal.”
For those interested in more on hydrogen, I wrote a 5-part series on hydrogen in March 2003.