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Tomorrow's Energy

Tomorrow's Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet

Peter Hoffmann
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Tomorrow's Energy
    Book Description:

    Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. An invisible, tasteless, colorless gas, it can be converted to nonpolluting, zero-emission, renewable energy. When burned in an internal combustion engine, hydrogen produces mostly harmless water vapor. It performs even better in fuel cells, which can be 2.5 times as efficient as internal-combustion engines. Zero-emission hydrogen does not contribute to CO2-caused global warming. Abundant and renewable, it is unlikely to be subject to geopolitical pressures or scarcity concerns. In this new edition of his pioneering book Tomorrow's Energy, Peter Hoffmann makes the case for hydrogen as the cornerstone of a new energy economy. Hoffmann covers the major aspects of hydrogen production, storage, transportation, fuel use, and safety. He explains that hydrogen is not an energy source but a carrier, like electricity, and introduces the concept of "hydricity," the essential interchangeability of electricity and hydrogen. He brings the hydrogen story up to date, reporting on the latest developments, including new hydrogen and fuel-cell cars from GM, Daimler, BMW, Honda, and Toyota. He describes recent political controversies, including Obama administration Energy Secretary (and Nobel laureate in Physics) Steven Chu's inexplicable dismissal of hydrogen--which puts him at odds with major automakers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and others. Our current energy system is a complex infrastructure, and phasing in hydrogen will take effort and money. But if we consider the real costs of fossil fuels--pollution and its effects, international tensions over gas and oil supplies, and climate change--we would be wise to promote its development.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30127-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Physics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Senator Byron L. Dorgan

    While policymakers in the United States struggle with the question of how to become less dependent on foreign oil and at the same time how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Peter Hoffmann once again reminds us about a solution that is all around us. It is hydrogen.

    In 2001, Hoffmann wrote a book,Tomorrow’s Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet, making the case for the obvious advantages of hydrogen and fuel cells.

    Hydrogen is our most abundant carrier of energy, analogous to and interchangeable with electricity. The use of hydrogen and fuel cells to power...

  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Why Hydrogen? The Grand Picture
    (pp. 1-18)

    These quotations give some idea as to what this book is all about: hydrogen as a nonpolluting, renewable form of energy. Hydrogen—an invisible, tasteless, colorless gas—is the most abundant element in the universe. It is the fuel of stars and galaxies. Highly reactive, it is essential in innumerable chemical and biological processes. It is an energetic yet (by definition) nonpolluting fuel.⁸

    Even before Buckminster Fuller’s observations, many people had been calling for the use of nature’s “current energy account” (solar power in its various manifestations) as an alternative to robbing the world’s energy “savings account” (coal, oil, gas)....

  6. 2 Hydrogen’s Discovery: Phlogiston and Inflammable Air
    (pp. 19-26)

    Water is everything. So taught Thales of Miletos (a settlement on the western coast of Asia Minor). Thales, who lived from about 624 b.c. to 545 b.c., was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, reputedly the founder of the Milesian school of philosophy. Although he apparently never wrote anything, he was regarded as one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece in his time. The first Western philosopher of record, he is said to have introduced astronomy to ancient Greece. Before Thales, the universe was explained mostly in mythological terms. For Thales, however, water was the primordial material and the essence of...

  7. 3 A History of Hydrogen Energy: The Reverend Cecil, Jules Verne, and the Redoubtable Mr. Erren
    (pp. 27-64)

    On November 27, 1820, the dons of Cambridge University assembled to hear a clergyman’s proposal. It is recorded in theTransactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Societythat Rev. W. Cecil, fellow of Magdalen College and the society, read a lengthy treatise, “On the Application of Hydrogen Gas to Produce Moving Power in Machinery,” describing an engine operated by the “Pressure of the Atmosphere upon a Vacuum Caused by Explosions of Hydrogen Gas and Atmospheric Air.” Cecil first dwelled on the disadvantages of water-driven engines (which could be used only “where water is abundant”) and steam engines (which were slow in...

  8. 4 Producing Hydrogen from Water, Natural Gas, and Green Plants
    (pp. 65-88)

    It was not an auspicious beginning for America’s first operational solar hydrogen plant, and it certainly was not a big deal in usually sunny southern California. The morning sky over El Segundo on September 26, 1995, was overcast. A light drizzle fell on the 150-plus people—engineers, environmentalists, government officials, Xerox corporate executives, curious locals—who had gathered on a half-acre site wedged between the buildings of a corporate office park a couple of miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. They were there to witness the official start of the first operational solar hydrogen facility in the United States,...

  9. 5 Primary Energy: Using Solar and Other Power to Make Hydrogen
    (pp. 89-116)

    The biggest eco-electricity initiative of all times.”

    That’s how Germany’s ZDF TV channel described the kickoff of a truly gigantic solar thermal electricity project in the summer of 2009 that aims at harvesting enough solar energy in North Africa’s Sahara Desert to supply Germany, in addition to the rest of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa with electricity, shipped across the Mediterranean Sea with high-voltage undersea transmission lines. Desertec ( started in 2007 as a concept linking the sunbelt of the Middle East and North Africa regions with the techbelt of Europe to fight climate change “in a way that...

  10. 6 Terra Transport: Hydrogen for Cars, Buses, Bikes, and Boats
    (pp. 117-170)

    “Basically, we can mass produce these now. We are waiting for the infrastructure to catch up.”

    That’s what Kazuaki Umezu, the head of Honda’s New Model Center, told reporters who in mid-2008 had come to cover a momentous event in the annals of hydrogen and fuel cell technology: the launch of the Japanese carmaker’s—and the world’s—first dedicated fuel cell car assembly plant in Takanezawa, a small town of some 30,000 residents about 80 miles north of Tokyo (figure 6.1).

    Automotive assembly plants typically churn out hundreds of thousands or millions of cars, so the new plant is a...

  11. 7 Fuel Cells: Mr. Grove’s Lovely Technology
    (pp. 171-200)

    It looked like a garden-variety, standard U.S. diesel-electric railroad freight locomotive, the kind that can be seen chugging and pulling mile-long freight trains across the country (figure 7.1). But the orange-and-black BNSF railyard switcher locomotive that was paraded in January 2010 before California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the railroad’s East Los Angeles–area rail facility in Commerce was anything but that. An offshoot of transit bus fuel cell technology, the fuel cell–powered 127 ton railway switch locomotive is the biggest, most powerful land-based fuel cell hybrid vehicle yet. It was initially unveiled in August 2009 in Topeka, Kansas, in...

  12. 8 Clean Contrails: The Orient Express, Phantom Eye, and LAPCAT
    (pp. 201-230)

    It did not set any speed, distance, or altitude records, but it was an aviation landmark nonetheless: the world’s first flight of a hydrogen fuel cell–powered airplane. The two-seater Austrian-built Dimona motor glider, converted to fuel cell power by Boeing’s Madrid-based Research and Technology Europe group, climbed to a mere 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) and flew for about twenty minutes at a leisurely 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in one of three test flights in February and March 2008. That was enough to set a new landmark. Boeing’s researchers and engineers “have demonstrated the potential of...

  13. 9 Hydrogen as Utility Gas: Hydricity, and the Invisible Flame
    (pp. 231-252)

    Launched in 2005, Tokyo’s Fuel Cell Expo has rapidly evolved into the world’s biggest showcase for fuel cell technology. The 2010 expo was no exception: some 2,300 professionals from sixty-six countries—from Argentina to Vietnam—showed up for the technical conference, close to 400 companies exhibited products and services, and more than 80,000 visitors jostled for three days at the beginning of March through the crowded aisles and exhibitors’ booths. For a seasoned American operative like Robert Rose, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Fuel Cell Council and the conference’s lead-off speaker, there was no question that commercialization...

  14. 10 Nonenergy Uses of Hydrogen: Metallic H2, Biodegradable Plastics, and H2 Tofu
    (pp. 253-278)

    “Dry water.”

    It sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not. It’s the pithy headline on a press release put out by the American Chemical Society at its 240th meeting in Boston in summer 2010 that described a presentation by a British researcher, Ben Carter, on work at the University of Liverpool. Dry water could be commercially useful, said Carter; it resembles powdered sugar and absorbs more than three times as much carbon dioxide as ordinary water and silica as a hydrate, Carter, a member of a research team at that university, explained that the substance became known as “dry...

  15. 11 Safety: The Hindenburg Syndrome, or “Don’t Paint Your Dirigible with Rocket Fuel”
    (pp. 279-290)

    If you plan to park your future hydrogen car inside your garage, it might be prudent to keep other stuff, such as bikes, shelves, old furniture and file boxes, that rusty ice box stashed in a corner—anything that changes the shape of the garage’s interior space—outside.

    Just in case.

    This was one of several conclusions and suggested precautions consumers should be aware of, according to a report by SRI International, the independent, nonprofit research institute based in Menlo Park, California. In a paper, “Experimental Study of Hydrogen Release Accidents in a Vehicle Garage,” presented at an international hydrogen...

  16. 12 The Next Fifty Years
    (pp. 291-310)

    “As president, I will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming—an 80 percent reduction by 2050.”

    That was the key sentence in a 4,195-word campaign speech that presidential candidate Barack Obama gave before some seventy-five local environmentalists and activists on October 8, 2007, at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, public library. In what was billed as a major policy address, Obama explained that if elected president, he would address environment and energy issues. He declared, “To ensure this isn’t just talk, I will also commit to interim...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 311-330)
  18. Index
    (pp. 331-368)