Hydrogen – adding fuel to the fire?

There’s been a lot of investment into hydrogen technology over the last decade as hydrogen is seen to be a possible solution to our reliance on fossil fuels – a  panacea for our transportation challenges.

Hydrogen as a fuel for cars isn’t exactly new. The GM 1966 Electrovan was the first car to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell; but it’s taken a convergence of crises – oil reserves on the wane coupled with global warming to see some very serious cash poured into the industry decades later.

The proponents of hydrogen say the technology will allow us to drive like we’re accustomed to at economical prices. The big selling point of hydrogen is that the associated emissions are just oxygen and water vapor. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

I started thinking about places I’ve lived in with high humidity – it always felt far hotter than the equal temperature in dry areas. I also wondered – would the water vapor emitted by hundreds of millions of vehicles help to trap heat and actually contribute to global warming?

I don’t have the smarts to answer this question definitively (I really shouldn’t have dropped out of high school before the age of 15); but articles such as this one I came across recently on National Geographic certainly point to this possibility. Some scientists have concluded that 70 percent of the recent increase in temperatures in central Europe is attributable to water vapor, with the remaining 30 percent is due to other greenhouse gases. Simply put – water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas.

That finding was rather unsettling considering a hydrogen economy has by no means kicked in yet; we’re not even close. If hydrogen became the leading fuel, would we simply be accelerating climate change?

Now, if I was a paranoid/conspiracist type of guy, I might think that the potential of hydrogen as a fuel has been overly-hyped as it’s a fuel that would be difficult for us to generate at home – unlike solar and wind power. We’d still be pretty much totally reliant upon service stations to refuel instead of just plugging in our cars at home as would be the case if the pure-play electric car were to become the major mode of transportation.

I’d hate to imagine how much money has been sunk into gas station infrastructure globally. If the majority of people were able to recharge their cars from home, where does that leave those establishments? Sure, there would still be some need for them in the form of quick-charge stations, but so many? Governments also know that a good way to maintain power over a population is to retain control over energy sources; either directly or indirectly. And really, who does run governments? Big business.

Luckily I’m not a paranoid/conspiracist type of guy :).

Hydrogen obviously has its place, but the more I read about using food as fuel and other fuel alternatives such as hydrogen, the more firmly I believe our energy future in relation to transportation lies in utilizing the power of the sun – solar power and wind energy (which is generated by the sun).

Equally important is that all of us need to come to terms with the fact that we just can’t consume as much energy as we’ve been used to, whether it’s in our homes, places of business or getting from A to B – unless of course we’re all happy to participate in a major cull of our own species to get our numbers down. I guess we’ve already started doing that in a way simply through continuing our rabid consumption habits. It doesn’t have to be this way.