Most of the so-called sources of alternative energy are, at best, transitional in nature. By “transitional,” I mean that they can carry us from the hydrocarbon era into something entirely new.
By “entirely new” I mean such things as zero-point energy. (I know an esteemed aerospace engineer who attests to having seen one of these operating steadily for two weeks on a tabletop in a black ops project), cold fusion (I know a US Naval Research Laboratory physicist who’s catalogued evidence that it’s real), hot fusion (I own stock in a company that’s achieved 1 billion degrees Celsius), a Tesla-based technology that uses the ionosphere as a capacitor and others.
Meanwhile, what of transitional technologies?
Superior ways to sequester the harmful byproducts of coal-fired plants can extend the life of this hydrocarbon fuel for another century or more – though few of the new plants under construction are planning to use such technologies.
Solar-wind hybrid plants such as the novel “tower of power” now planned for the Australian Outback are another promising possibility, as are solar power satellites: essentially, huge panels of solar cells positioned in space, beaming power to Earth via lasers or microwaves.
Improved ground-based solar cells are another promising transitional technology, with efficiencies of as much as 30% and the potential to be sprayed on like paint.
One much ballyhooed technology that makes little sense is the so-called hydrogen economy. Why? Consider what is required to produce hydrogen as fuel.
It must be extracted from something, usually by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. How is this done? You guessed it: An alternative energy source is consumed to generate the power required for splitting. That fuel source will almost always be coal, oil or natural gas. So what’s the point?
It’s true that hydrogen burns clean wherever it is burned. But you’ve got to burn a lot of dirty fuel to make this “clean” fuel. Therein lies the rub. Instead of truly reducing global pollution, hydrogen shifts it from populated areas to less populated ones. While this benefit may help to reduce urban smog, it does nothing on balance to reduce the toxic emissions spewing into the earth’s atmosphere.
It merely shifts the problems.
A new analysis published on the prestigious Physorg.com shows why hydrogen doesn’t now make sense and will not in the future, at least compared with other alternative energy sources.
Ulf Bossel, author of the study, summarized his findings: “More energy is needed to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds than can ever be recovered from its use. Therefore, making the new chemical energy carrier [hydrogen] from natural gas would not make sense, as it would increase the gas consumption and the emission of CO2. Instead, the dwindling fossil fuel reserves must be replaced by energy from renewable sources.”
Essentially, his analysis of a hydrogen economy demonstrates that high energy losses are unavoidable, due to the laws of physics. On balance, these mean that a hydrogen economy will never be a viable replacement for fossil fuels.
He states, “The advantages of hydrogen praised by journalists (nontoxic, burns to water, abundance of in the universe, etc.) are misleading, because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today.”
He blames the “Presidential [hydrogen] Initiative” for substituting politics for science, and argues that a lot of the research now being done is essentially scientists prostituting themselves for directed research grants.
Essentially, the core problem lies in the fact that turning something such as water, biomass or natural gas into hydrogen and then finding a way to transport that hydrogen that’s safe (i.e., nonflammable), such as in the form of metal-hydrogen hydrides, consumes more energy than would be used to simply generate electricity in the first place. Both trucks and pipelines are far less efficient means of transporting hydrogen than is the case for natural gas or oil; they are only half as efficient.
Storage is similarly problematic. Hydrogen must be bled off from storage containers to avoid risks of explosions. This means that after two weeks, a car would lose half of its fuel, regardless of whether it’s being driven.
Bossel consistently found that the energy input required for extraction, preparation, transportation and execution exceeds the output of alternative energy sources by a factor of three or more. Essentially, this means that at least three times the hydrogen would have to enter the pipeline to do the work of oil with comparable BTU potential.
Regrettably, this is not amenable to technological improvement but is due to the properties of hydrogen itself – specifically its low density and extremely low boiling point, which raises the energy cost of compression or liquefaction and the investment costs of storage.
Can hydrogen be salvaged as a fuel source? I wouldn’t bet on it, not unless a transformational breakthrough develops something such as algae that converts biomass directly into hydrogen, and does so in small, easily managed batches near the point of consumption.
Meanwhile, many promising and exciting new alternative energy technologies are moving from the drawing board to early- stage development.