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November 2013 Policy Study, Number 13-7


America Needs America's Energy


A Future Hydrogen Economy?



At the International Energy Policy Conference during the awards dinner held at the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Woodrow Clark, one of the co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, presented his views about the future hydrogen economy.


Hydrogen can be extracted from the ocean by running an electric current through the water, but this process — known as electrolysis — requires enormous quantities of electricity. More importantly, hydrogen can be produced from natural gas (CH4). According to the Hydrogen Energy Center, four realities suggest that the current energy economy is not sustainable:


1) The demand for energy is growing and the raw materials for the fossil fuel economy are diminishing. Oil, coal, and natural gas supplies are not replenished as they are consumed so an alternative must be found.
2) Most of the people who consume fossil fuels don’t live where fuels are extracted.
3) Emissions from fossil fuel usage significantly degrade air quality all over the world.
4) Third-world countries are especially susceptible when developing energy systems needed to improve their economies.


Hydrogen has three basic benefits that address these concerns:


1) The use of hydrogen greatly reduces pollution. When hydrogen is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, energy in the form of electricity is produced. This electricity can be used to power vehicles, or as a heat source, or applied to other uses.
2) Hydrogen can be produced locally from numerous sources. Hydrogen can be produced either centrally and then distributed or onsite where it will be used. Hydrogen gas can be produced from methane (natural gas), gasoline, biomass, coal, or water.
3) If hydrogen is produced from water, we have a sustainable production system. Electrolysis is the method of separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. Renewable energy can be used to power electrolysis to produce the hydrogen from water. Some of the renewable sources used to power electrolysis are wind, hydro, solar, and tidal energy.


It is also critical to realize that natural gas equals CH4 (methane), which means natural gas will be an important factor when we enter the hydrogen economy.


The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized more than $2 billion for a hydrogen fuel cell program by 2020, along with loan guarantees for nuclear power plants, clean coal technology, and wind energy. Interesting to note is that hydrogen today is used to power commercial buses, and hydrogen is used in many commercial applications from welding metal, to dying fabrics, to making electronic plastics and fertilizers.


Hydrogen Pros:
1) Hydrogen burns cleanly.
2) Hydrogen can be quickly refueled.
3) Hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet.
4) Hydrogen is twice as efficient as gasoline.


Hydrogen Cons:
1) A large quantity of energy is required to produce hydrogen for energy.
2) There is no hydrogen infrastructure.
3) Few refueling stations for hydrogen-powered cars exist.


How fast we will move towards the hydrogen economy is yet to be seen. As Dr. Woodrow Clark states about my book, America Needs America’s Energy: “The time has come for all of us, the people, to take control of our energy future here in America. He and I have discussed the importance of moving inevitably toward a hydrogen economy. I believe, after reviewing all the energy options presented in his book, it should move us closer to achieving that possibility. The future is now for us and our children. We cannot wait any longer.”




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