[extropy-chat] Hydrogen a "bad Idea"

Robert Bradbury robert.bradbury at gmail.com
Sat Apr 14 16:56:20 UTC 2007

On 4/12/07, Thomas <Thomas at thomasoliver.net> wrote:
> Keith Henson wrote:
> I ran this by Paul Torgerson of Worldwide Energy, an emerging hydrogen
> fuel cell/electrolyzer company.  He had this to say:

We cannot claim that a hydrogen fuel cell/electolyzer company is an
"unbiased" source.  Nor is the DOE, since it is generally operating under
presidential mandate to "go hydrogen" (This may be promoted by Bush but I
think Clinton initiated it).

Solar panels are by far the most expensive means of energy production
> around. To power just US housing would take an estimated area the size of
> Arizona, and we build about 15 million new homes a year.   The sun only
> shines part time.  Puttting a solar panel on your roof is not enough to
> solve
> the energy crisis.

Statements by about the land area requirements are completely useless unless
the type of solar panel is specified (since efficiencies vary by at least a
factor of 4).  The problem isn't that we lack the land area the problem is
that we lack the production capacity to do this in any reasonable time.

The hydrogen economy has already been implemented.

Quick, show me where -- I want to go visit those big hydrogen storage tanks,
those shiny new LH2 transport trucks or those cryogenic pipelines just so I
can touch them and ooh and ahhh.

Very high temperature nuclear electrolysis looks like the cheapest means of
> hydrogen production.  This will use electricity and heat to crack water
> molecules.  The new GEN IV light water reactors being developed by DOE won't
> be ready until 2030.

So *where* might I ask is the electricity going to come from?  2030 is 23
years from *now*.

[Paul clarified with the following:)
> Current US annual hydrogen production is the equivalent of 71.8 Gigawatts
> Thermal ("GWth") of nuclear or fossil power. This equates to 118 nuclear
> (or
> fossil) plants to supply the hydrogen using the projected system
> configuration of 600 Megawatts Thermal ("MWth") nuclear to 50 MWth for
> Hydrogen Production.  More than 500 nuclear reactors (or fossil plants,
> with
> carbon sequestration, will be needed by 2050 to achieve the DOE's goal of
> substituting 25% of liquid transportation fuel with hydrogen.

And how is this going to solve the problem?  There are less than 10 nuclear
reactors on the drawing boards in the U.S. currently (maybe less than 5).
And you are going to multiply that by a factor of 50 to 100???

If the Company captures five to ten percent market share of this potential
> market, Worldwide's metal-tubular solid oxide electrolyzer cell ("MTSOEC")
> stack production would grow to thousands of WET multi-megawatt MTSOEC
> stacks containing from 468,750 to 937,000 linear feet of WET produced
> electrodes,  from commissioning of the first commercial reactor (in 2025)
> through 2050 .

And where is the infrastructure to build this and how does it compare with
the infrastructure required to build the solar cells?  (Solution A: build
solar cell factories and install them; Solution B: build lots of nuclear
reactors, lots of MTSOEC factory capacity, lots of hydrogen production
capacity, lots of hydrogen transport capacity, ...)  Hmmm... what is wrong
with this picture?

Try getting that much energy from bacteria or plants.

I did.  My calculations suggested that even without significant improvements
in photosynthetic efficiency something like half of the *grazing* land area
in the SW U.S. states would need to be converted to solar ponds.  More
importantly the solar ponds don't require fancy new technology and building
lots of new factories.  Perhaps most importantly harvesting biofuels from
them would be *more* profitable than raising cattle on the land so it could
probably be done without the need for massive government subsidies, loans,

Nuclear hydrogen has an estimated cost of $2/gal of gas equivalent
> (GGE).  Plus nuclear electrolysis doesn't produce CO2.

I assume he means nuclear electrolysis of water.

Burning methane produces CO2, so does burning ethanol.

Burning methane or ethanol or biodiesel doesn't produce any net CO2 *if* the
carbon that goes into producing them comes from the atmosphere (i.e. through

People riding the bio fuels wagon think a bunch of ethanol plants can
> suddenly solve the world's energy needs. In fact, ethanol costs more to make
> than its worth.

This point is sharply disputed.  So long as gas prices remain above
$2.00/gal I believe ethanol would be profitable even without subsidies.  (I
believe this is from Vinod Khosla whom is a reasonably reputable source.)

It creates the next big problem of having to use our food supply to make it
> in volume.

Gee, you mean we might stop subsidizing U.S. farmers and allow Brazil to
sell us ethanol they are more than happy to produce and sell at U.S. market

The DOE is spending big bucks working on carbon sequestration.  One of
> the most novel uses I've seen is pumping it down dry oil wells.  It
> actually
> fills the voids and makes the wells produce more oil.

Bad bad bad.  The oil in the ground *should* stay there.  Its taking the
carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere that is the
fundamental problem.

There are no easy answers to the worlds energy crisis.  We'll never have
> the magic power to crack enough water into hydrogen with solar energy
> to produce 138 billion GGEs a year.

It would appear Paul doesn't understand the concepts of nanotechnology,
nanofactories, self-replicating systems and the transition from pre KT-I to
KT-II level civilizations.

DOE is investing billions in the future, but the ideas below don't merit the
> energy spent to send the message.

 Just because our government is spending money doesn't mean it is being
spent well.

Small scale ideas look foolish when we confront the big picture and become
> better informed people.

Small scale ideas are what will solve these problems.  A human being is a
100W machine.  So it requires less than a square meter of  sunshine a day to
sustain a person *if* you could make the energy conversion efficient
enough.  The problem isn't that we lack the energy.  The problem is that we
currently lack the technology to convert it from sustainable sources (wind,
sunlight, tides, etc.) rather than unsustainable sources (such as oil, coal
and uranium).

I would argue that anyone working on, or promoting, technologies which do
not provide long term sustainable solutions is going in the wrong direction.

I would also cite Eugen's recent arguments that uranium based nuclear
reactors are not a sustainable low cost solution -- witness the change in
the price of pitchblende over the last couple of years.  Paul's numbers fall
apart unless one has a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle -- so in his long term
projections he is either assuming (a) breeder reactors; (b) a thorium based
fuel cycle (as Eugen has discussed), or (c) that we will make nuclear fusion
work cost effectively sometime in our lifetime (I'm not holding my breath).

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