Friday, February 20, 2004

One Step Closer?

The Hydrogen economy is, an article in the journal Science says (as reported in The Monitor), one step closer to practicality. It seems that some scientists have found a way to create Hydrogen on the vehicle, from Vodka. (Well, actually a solution of 40% ethanol. But that is as good a definition of Vodka as any.) The ability to make the Hydrogen on board from a tank of relatively benign liquid, rather than having to store on board this almost impossible to store volatile gas, would be a great advance. It further is reported that all of our gasoline can be replaced by this fuel, with the only downside to this being, well, let the man speak:
One such hurdle:It would require at least 40 percent of the cropland in the US to produce enough ethanol to power the nation, according to the new NRC report
Tiny little problem like that. Nothing we can't handle. We would merely have to give up all of that useless wheat, soybean, and cattle grazing land and turn it to corn production.

I hate to always be the guy who points out the flaws in arguments, but the entire raison d'etre of Zero Base Thinking is to examine the facts without the influence of too much in the way of hopes, dreams, and expectations. Hydrogen is a good thing, and this idea is surely a great advance in the eventual realization of a sustainable energy source for humanity, but the entire debate will always redound to the cost of producing energy. Make no mistake - that cost is the only thing between where we are today and almost unlimited wealth for everyone on the planet. And Hydrogen is still only a means to store energy. That energy must be produced, or harnessed, first. What this new process accomplishes is merely to make the storage of hydrogen cheaper and easier.

There are a few other problems with using Ethanol as a fuel. First, the government must approve a new poison that can be added to the fuel that will not spoil the efficiency of the process. (Yes, believe it or not the government insists that all ethanol be poisoned before it can be sold for a non beverage - and non-taxed - use. I know that denatured alcohol, the presently available form of such ethanol, can not be used in many chemical processes that require Ethanol. So a new poison must be found. We can't expect scientists to pick up on a silly little detail like that, it's more of an economist's question.)

The left always complains that we don't do enough, or invest enough in alternative energy sources. Wrong on both accounts. We, both the government and the corporate world, are constantly working, spending, and looking for alternatives. Hydrogen is a promising technology that is being pursued. But there is no easy magic wand that will make our energy problems go away. As in:
The NRC said that while hydrogen could "fundamentally transform the US energy system ... the impacts on oil imports and carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be minor during the next 25 years," even with huge investments.
The truth of the matter is that we are definitely moving into the future, a future that will be there whether we have democrats or republicans in charge. Both sides want the same things: clean air and water, less crime and poverty, better education. The mindless charge that the republicans do not want any of these things is hysterical. We are moving toward a better world. It just takes a little more time than any of us would like. What I am reporting today is definitely good news. Have a great weekend.