The Environmental Panacea of the Hydrogen Economy Recedes Further


Both presidential candidates offer lip service to the environmental panacea of the 21st century: the hydrogen economy. "My plan calls for a hydrogen-based energy economy by 2020," said John Kerry in a speech to the League of Conservation Voters. In his 2003 State of the Union speech, even failed Texas oilman, President George W. Bush promised, "Tonight I'm proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles."

However, British economist Andrew Oswald shows just how much of a mirage the hydrogen economy is. Oswald calculates that it would take at least 1 million windmills covering an area half the size of California or 1000 new nuclear power plants to produce the hydrogen needed just to run our vehicles. Since one-third of the energy we use is for transport that means that it would take 3 million windmills covering about 240,000 square miles or 3000 nuclear power plants to produce all the hydrogen we need to fuel our economy. (For comparison, all of the solid structures,including highways, buildings, parking lots, in the lower 48 states today cover just 43,480 square miles.)

But why waste energy making hydrogen anyway? My bet is that by mid-century, humanity will be well on the way to the nuclear and solar power-electric battery economy thanks to nanotechnology.