Friday, November 03, 2006


Reality Check: Hydrogen Is Not an Energy Source

Let me repeat that to make sure you do not misunderstand: hydrogen is not an energy source.

This morning I opened the newspaper to the letters column, and there was a letter from a high school student who’s no doubt been fed a line of BS from his teachers about the wonderful hydrogen future awaiting us. Hydrogen is the energy source of the future, he says.

Sorry to disappoint all you hydrogen buffs out there, but hydrogen is not an energy source. It is in fact the exact opposite: an energy sink, which means that it uses more energy than it provides.

Think of hydrogen as a battery, because essentially that’s what it is: a means of storing energy. When you charge a battery, you put a certain amount of energy into it, but you don’t get it all back out because 100% efficiency is impossible. Same with hydrogen. You use a certain amount of energy to produce hydrogen (by fuel reforming, electrolysis, or whatever), and get maybe half of that back when consuming the hydrogen as fuel.

Sure, new and more efficient ways of producing hydrogen will likely be found, but until someone builds a perpetual motion machine, you are always going to get less energy out than you put in.

Therefore hydrogen is not an energy source because its energy return is negative.

So next time you hear some energy guru talking enthusiastically about hydrogen as an “energy source,” you’ll know he’s talking through his hat.

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