by Darshan Goswami
Innovative technologies such as hydrogen, renewable energy, and energy efficiency can eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. A Hydrogen “Manhattan Project” for Energy is needed to accelerate the transition to a Hydrogen Economy and ensure that this vision becomes a reality within the next 10 years.
There is no need to wait 20 to 40 years to achieve the Hydrogen Economy vision and eliminate America’s addiction to oil.
Can America‘s addiction to oil be eliminated?
Several innovative renewable energy technologies and greater implementation of energy efficiency can eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. Hydrogen and fuel cells represent one of the most promising and innovative technologies of our era to meet our future energy needs.
Switching from a “Hydrocarbon Economy” to a “Hydrogen Economy” has the potential to reduce consumption of hydrocarbon fuels, lower oil and coal-related harmful pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, create thousands of new jobs, and revolutionize the world economies.
Some of the issues related to a Hydrogen Economy and Fuel Cells have already been addressed in my previous two papers: “Fuel Cells -- To Revolutionize Electric Power Generation” and “Hydrogen Economy -- A Revolutionary Vision For The Future of Energy”, which are available on www.energypulse.net.
In this article, I will focus on eliminating America’s addiction to oil. I firmly believe America’s growing energy needs can be met by accelerating the transition to a Hydrogen Economy, by utilizing other renewable energy sources in greater amounts, and by enhancing energy efficiency.
Global energy use is expected to increase exponentially in the next decades, driven by rising standards of living in developing countries like India and China and a growing population worldwide. Energy has become a defining issue of this century because the era of cheap and abundant oil is already behind us.
Rising energy prices and strong evidence of global warming due to oil and coal energy use threatens economic growth worldwide. We must act responsibly to focus on developing renewable energy resources now! Breaking America’s economic reliance on foreign oil will also relieve a serious national security concern and promote world political stability.
So what needs to be done?
We need to bring a real radical change in our energy strategy by developing and enacting long-term comprehensive energy policies that use advanced renewable energy initiatives to keep America’s economy growing. That means building the related infrastructure, providing incentives and adequate funding for leading-edge technology, and promoting renewable resources. Policies for implementing these advance renewable energy initiatives to meet consumer’s energy needs are urgently needed to keep us competitive. Inaction is not an option for America.
Hydrogen (hydrogen is an energy carrier not an energy source) will play a significant role for meeting our future energy needs. The transition to a “Hydrogen Economy” has already begun and the world is already moving toward acceptance of hydrogen as a viable alternative source of energy.
We must consider phasing in a renewable energy infrastructure based on hydrogen.
Renewable resources should be used in meeting our future energy demands because of their abundant availability. The energy industry and politicians are increasingly excited about the future revolution that a Hydrogen Economy promises to bring.
Hydrogen Economy Vision
The Hydrogen Economy is the term used to mark the shift from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to hydrogen. Today we have a “Hydrocarbon Economy.” In the near future we will have weaned ourselves from total dependence on carbon and live in a “Hydrogen Economy”.
This new era will be powered by hydrogen energy from renewable resources such as wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal, and ethanol that can provide reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. In fact, consumers will have access to hydrogen energy as readily as they now access petroleum, natural gas, and electric power.
What makes hydrogen so attractive?
Hydrogen is the most abundant, clean, and sustainable form of energy in the universe. It is found in the water that envelops 70 percent of the earth. Hydrogen is flexible, affordable, safe, can be domestically produced resource, and is the key to unlocking pollution-free power. Hydrogen Fuel Cells can generate power for homes, office buildings, hospitals, factories, as well as portable electronic devices.
Hydrogen has the potential to become one of the world’s most widely available and flexible fuels. Hydrogen can be utilized as a combustion fuel in the same manner as gasoline or natural gas. The benefit of using hydrogen combustion over fossil fuel combustion is that it releases fewer emissions -- water is the only major byproduct.
In fact, hydrogen may be the answer to America’s future transportation needs, including providing fuel for the automobiles. However, the automobile industry will not start mass-producing hydrogen vehicles until it is convinced that hydrogen will be available when customers drive up to the pump. Instead of waiting to build a hydrogen infrastructure from scratch, America can start building the hydrogen fuel economy immediately by piggybacking on existing petroleum-based industries.
By 2016, half of all new cars sold could be hydrogen-powered, over 50 percent of the nation‘s gas stations could also pump hydrogen, and the U.S. could get more than half its energy from domestic sources, putting energy independence well within our reach.
The Hydrogen Economy is a bright vision for the future of energy that will revolutionize the world by opening the doors for fundamental changes in economic, political, and social institutions, similar to the impact of steam power at the beginning of the “Industrial Age.”
It is a vision in which fuel for transportation, home heating, cooking, electricity, and production of goods and services comes directly from the sun, the wind, biomass, biogas and other renewable resources. Looking into the future, a full-fledged Hydrogen Economy can power everything from laptop computers to cars.
Fuel cells supplying homes, businesses, hospitals, airports, industrial facilities, and government installations could be linked to a national power grid allowing surplus power at one location to be transferred to areas experiencing power shortages. Ultimately, Hydrogen will compete economically with the existing power transmission infrastructure and may change our energy consumption behavior forever.
The Hydrogen Economy is not a dream. Hydrogen fuel cells on board the space shuttle already generate electricity to power life support systems, computers, and produce drinkable water as a byproduct. In addition, military and government agencies are already developing hydrogen-fueled air, sea, and land vehicles. Hydrogen powered cars, buses, vans, and scooters are already running on the streets of major U.S., Canadian, and European cities.
Hydrogen holds the promise of an ultra-clean and secure energy option for America’s future. It is an ultimate energy solution to eliminate our addiction to foreign oil.
The promise of Hydrogen is very exciting, although reaching commercial viability will require radical and bold new initiatives from the Government for a long-term strategic plan. The following strategies should be considered to develop and implement a Hydrogen Economy:
1. Initiate a Hydrogen “Manhattan Project” for energy to accelerate the transition to a Hydrogen Economy and to ensure that this vision becomes a reality within the next 10 years (instead of 20 to 40 years). Provide multiyear funding of approximately $100 billion over the next 10 years to accelerate the transition to the Hydrogen Economy, advance the necessary technologies, and develop a hydrogen infrastructure.
2. Federal and State governments should fast track the development and implementation of favorable policies to make hydrogen a top priority.
3. Provide funding and tax incentives to support development of a hydrogen refueling/distribution infrastructure nationwide.
4. Pursue aggressive research in regard to the safe production, storage, transportation, and applications of hydrogen and establish standards to overcome technical challenges.
5. Mandate the use of hydrogen by all government agencies in order to assist in the development of hydrogen-related businesses and shift all federal vehicle fleets to fuel cells within 5 to 7 years.
6. Require electric utilities to expand generation of electric power from renewable resources.
7. Develop diverse sources of hydrogen production to bring the cost of hydrogen production down quickly and make energy costs comparable to energy supplied from the power grid and gasoline.
8. Establish new partnership programs with the private sector, states and communities, national laboratories, colleges and universities, nongovernmental organizations, and foreign allies to develop and bring to market new technologies that advance hydrogen, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
9. Form an international partnership on policy development to accelerate hydrogen refueling infrastructure and fuel cell programs.
10. Develop economical and environment friendly methods to extract hydrogen from renewable resources.
11. Collaborate with industry to develop fuel-cell power technologies for multiple applications such as transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial.
12. Dramatically lower the cost of fuel cell vehicles through mass production.
13. Enhance awareness of hydrogen as an energy alternative by mounting a campaign to educate the public and news media about the Hydrogen Economy.
14. Develop public education programs for schools and colleges to empower the younger generation with the knowledge of hydrogen and fuel cells technologies.
Making The Transition
The presently proposed $1.72 billion over the next 5 years to develop hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure is not adequate to bring major technical breakthroughs in hydrogen technologies.
To achieve the commercialization of hydrogen technologies, the Federal Government should consider launching a multifaceted bold new strategic plan for the short, mid, and long-term horizon. The approaches should include carefully directed changes to government policy, strategic planning, and private and public investment to make this innovation become part of our everyday lives in few years.
The energy industry will not invest billions of dollars for hydrogen infrastructure because there are only a handful of fuel cell vehicles on the road. Similarly, carmakers will not spend billions to make fuel cell vehicles when there is no hydrogen infrastructure. And neither industry is likely to make the necessary investments solely to achieve societal objectives of reduced dependence on foreign oil and cleaner air. Government support is urgently needed to jump-start the fuel cell future on behalf of all citizens with the understanding that hydrogen and fuel cells must eventually be economical without any government subsidy.
How much money do we need?
It is estimated $100 billion in today‘s dollars (about the amount spent to put a man on the moon) could easily shift the balance of power from foreign oil producers to U.S. energy consumers within a decade. Only a massive program similar to an “Apollo Project” or “Manhattan Project” can replace hydrocarbons with hydrogen and accelerate the transition to Hydrogen Economy. We put a man on the moon in a decade, we can also achieve energy independence just as fast.
Advantages Of The Hydrogen Economy
The present fossil fuel economy has contributed to significant environmental and political problems worldwide. A Hydrogen Economy promises to eliminate many of the problems that the hydrocarbon technology has created. The advantages of the Hydrogen Economy include:
- The elimination of pollution caused by fossil fuels - When hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to create power, it is a completely clean technology. The only byproduct is water. There are also no environmental dangers like oil spills to worry about with hydrogen.
- The elimination of greenhouse gases - If the hydrogen comes from the electrolysis of water, then hydrogen adds no greenhouse gases to the environment. There is a perfect cycle -- electrolysis produces hydrogen from water, and the hydrogen recombines with oxygen to create water and power in a fuel cell.
- The elimination of economic dependence - The elimination of oil means no dependence on the Middle East and its oil reserves.
- Distributed production - Hydrogen can be produced anywhere that you have electricity and water. People can even produce it in their homes with relatively simple technology.
- Generate new employment - This new Hydrogen Economy will create a very positive impact on the world economy.
The Hydrogen Economy may be more beneficial to developing countries because it will generate economic opportunities, reduce poverty, and offer a dramatically cleaner renewable resource to bypass at least part of the expense of building a fossil fuel infrastructure.
The Hydrogen Economy could produce total decentralization of the global energy market controlled by giant oil companies and utilities (electric and gas) and result in vast redistribution of wealth and power. In the new age of hydrogen, every human being could become the producer as well as the consumer of energy.
For example, millions of fuel cell units in homes and cars could be connected to a national power grid (as long as the grid exists), just like the Internet, sharing their excess energy with others. The next decade will present tremendous opportunities for “Distributed Generation” to become a major alternative source of supply for the electric power grid.
Overcoming The Challenges
The Hydrogen Economy is a clear visionary strategy for America’s future energy security needs. However, we must overcome significant scientific and technical challenges associated with the development of hydrogen infrastructure on a large scale including the lack of domestic and international regulations and standards for hydrogen production, distribution, storage, fueling, transportation, and public acceptance before the hydrogen economy can become a reality. The greatest challenge is to bring the cost down to compete with the energy presently supplied from the power grid.
To move forward the transition to a Hydrogen Economy, the next big challenge is to develop the correct business models that enable distributed generators to deliver real value to end-users. Investments in fuel cell and hydrogen research today will enable America to lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
For fuel cells to become competitive with gasoline engines, we need a nationwide hydrogen production, delivery, and storage network similar to our existing gasoline infrastructure. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are already being produced. However, virtually no nationwide fueling infrastructure exists to serve fuel cell vehicles.
The Hydrogen Economy Future
The future looks bright for a Hydrogen Economy. Hydrogen has the potential to do for the energy revolution what the computer, telecommunications and the Internet have done for the information revolution.
Hydrogen and fuel cells will bring a total revolution in the energy sector and change the course of history. President Bush has referred to fuel cells as the “wave of the future” and called for a “focused effort to bring fuel cells to market.” The immediate result will be the emergence of quiet, decentralized electric plants sized according to need and small enough to power your car or house. Hydrogen, a renewable energy source, will provide us true energy independence and eliminate our security concerns.
If the price of energy keeps climbing, a global recession could bring America and the whole world to a point of crisis. There will be PANIC. Billions of dollars will be needed to develop new technologies for alternate energy resources. However, it will be too late to prevent the damage to America’s economy. The energy crisis has already arrived. We must invest in alternative energy resources now to save our future. America’s energy problems require solutions way beyond those that policymakers have approved in the 2005 Energy Bill. We need a Hydrogen “Manhattan Project" for Energy now to develop and implement a hydrogen infrastructure. In addition, we need renewable energy resources and energy efficiency to meet our future energy needs.
The Hydrogen Economy appears inevitable because it is an achievable vision. The only issue is whether we can bring it quickly or whether this technology will be stalled by vested interests.
I am very encouraged with President Bush’s initiatives on the Hydrogen Economy vision. I urge the present Administration and Congress to move America forward on hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell technologies by providing needed resources to accelerate the transition to the Hydrogen Economy.
Any strategic implementation plan must include a vision for commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell technology into the mainstream in the next 10 years. It is in our national interest to do so. Widespread use of hydrogen in transportation and power generation can also have a dramatic and positive impact on our environment.
Initially hydrogen can be extracted from diverse domestic sources including natural gas, solid fossil fuels, nuclear power or biomass, and renewable resources (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, bio-fuels, etc).
The ultimate goal should be to produce hydrogen from renewable resources.
Renewable energy can make significant contributions to our nation‘s energy future but only if we bring together the new technologies with the markets and policies necessary to accelerate their acceptance and use. The time is right, the opportunity is there -- efforts to achieve our energy goals need to begin now and continue with a sustained commitment over the next several years as outlined in Commercializing Strategies.
Just imagine, as soon as commodity market speculators realize that hydrogen is a competitive energy source, oil prices could drop to as low as $15-$25 per barrel.
It has been my dream to promote the development of hydrogen as an energy source. We must support President Bush’s Initiative on the development of hydrogen as a fuel source of the future. We must work together to help realize this dream and define a brighter future for our children by accelerating the development of Hydrogen Economy.
I am confident that innovative hydrogen-based technologies, increased use of renewable resources, and enhanced energy efficiency can significantly reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, eliminating environmental pollution and political instability. A Hydrogen Economy is a vision worth achieving.
Finally, hydrogen is the fuel of the future. The question is whether the future is now or in two or three decades. To implement a Hydrogen Economy in 10 years will require a concerted effort, coupled with a bold new strategic vision and shift in priorities of America’s energy policies. What matters now is how we choose to use these advantages in pursuit of a cleaner and more secure energy future.
We face a number of challenges in the transition to a hydrogen economy. This paper has outlined how these challenges can be addressed and how this transition can be used to America’s advantage. The conversion to a Hydrogen Economy is not a problem of limited technologies but of political priorities. The dangerous turmoil in the Middle East and growing concerns about national energy security requires immediate action.
The real question is whether we have the will power to overcome the oil, economic, and political interest. All that‘s needed is a national commitment to make the Hydrogen Economy happen now. The fate of America depends on it. Welcome to the world of the "Hydrogen Economy."
Darshan Goswami retired from U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, where he headed the Department of Load Forecasting and Renewable Energy, at the end of July, 2007. He was also a member of the Interagency Hydrogen Research & Development (R&D) Task Force in Washington, D.C.