Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Energy Future and Counter Productive Thinking

For every positive view of an energy option there is at least one negative view of that same option. Depending on the last report read, the opinion of the general public sways. Is our energy future about politics?

Pretty much. Warm and fuzzy ideas like corn to ethanol and compact fluorescent light bulbs are embraced while better efforts are ignored by most but the faithful. Hydrogen technologies take a political beating while battery technology makes the headlines. So what is a hydrogen fuel cell fan to do? Just keep the faith and continue the research.

While it is far from a perfect analogy, look at your cell phone. Lithium Ion batteries are the cat's ass of battery technology. When brand new your phone holds a charge that amazes. Within a year that phone is old tech to be discarded in favor of a new high tech phone to wow your friends. That is about the time that that amazing lithium Ion battery starts lasting about half as long as it did when you first got your new old phone. If you happen to fall in love with your old phone because it doesn't butt call your friends, or you haven't bought a SIM reader to back up your stock of phone numbers, you have to start looking for a replacement or spare battery to keep it operating the way it once did.

The cost of a new battery for your cell phone is a minor PITA compared replacing the batteries in your one to two year old electric vehicle (EV). So we should write off electric vehicles because the battery technology sucks? I don't think so, you plan for the obvious.

That is what make Hydrogen so attractive, it has all the options to go with the energy consumption flow. Ballard Power has a niche industry they use to test fuel cells at at profit. Industrial material moving or fork lifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Ballard make a fuel cell module that replaces the standard lead acid batteries of electric fork lifts. So the EV affectionado has the fuel cell option to keep his/her pet EV running. EV's are short range vehicles for the most part. Converting an EV to low pressure hydrogen fuel is a near term reality. All the components are available and home generation of lower pressure hydrogen dropping in price. Demand is the key in all matters energy.

Long range alternative fuel technology vehicles require an infrastructure that meets their needs. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fans point out that there is already a CGN infrastructure. They are right, but you really have to look around to find it on the interstate. In areas with natural gas piped to homes for cooking and heating, for a fee, CNG owners can install a compressor to refuel their vehicles. Sweet! There is the compact fluorescent equivalent idea for personal transportation. Drop a couple of grand to convert your Internal Combustion Engine to CNG, throw another couple grand at a home compressor and off you go. Oh, but that demand thing pops up again. The existing natural gas pipelines are fine for current demand, normally, but additional demand would require more money thrown at upgrading the infrastructure. So blow off CNG? I don't think so. CNG vehicle run fine on hydrogen or hydrogen enriched natural gas. CNG fuel cells are also an option for the fuel cell gang that would prefer a hydrogen infrastructure but can make do with CNG.

Current hydrogen production is based on converting fossil fuels to hydrogen. So, can the hydrogen because it currently is not as "clean" as you fill in the blank. I don't think so because hydrogen has options, electrolysis and thermoloysis of water to hydrogen.

It is all about the options. Hydrogen is not an alternate energy, it is an option to use alternate energy with existing and future energy conversion technologies. Hydrogen is in our energy future.

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