The Hydrogen Economy and its Limitations

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Inexhaustible and non-polluting, hydrogen is described by many as the fuel to our future energy needs. Being involved in some way in the so-called "Hydrogen Economy" seems these days to be quite obligatory for governments and any large energy-related company, automobile manufacturers and other industries. The idea sounds rather simple: take hydrogen, one of the most plentiful elements on Earth and in the cosmos, and use it as a clean-burning fuel or in fuel cells to power cars, heat houses and offices, generate electricity, etc. It produces only water as a byproduct and none of the CO2 and other pollutants obtained by burning fossil fuels as in the current carbon (fossil fuel)-based economy. As some 60% of our oil consumption is used in transportation, numerous programs have been launched around the globe for the development of hydrogen-based fuel cell-powered cars. In 2003, President George W. Bush announced a five-year, $1.2 billion budget for hydrogen research to commercialize hydrogen-powered cars by 2020. The European Union launched a €2.8 billion public-private partnership over a 10-year period to develop hydrogen fuel cells. In the past year, the Japanese governmental budget for fuel cell research was almost doubled to $270 million, and other nations such as China and Canada are also increasing their efforts in this field. Most automobile manufacturers have already invested large amounts of money in the development of hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars, and major energy and oil companies are testing ways to provide and refuel these new vehicles with hydrogen. Despite all these efforts, however, the challenges that lie in the way to the hydrogen economy are enormous. Fundamental problems will have to be solved if hydrogen gas is ever to become a practical, everyday fuel that can be filled into the tanks of our motor cars or delivered to our homes as easily and safely as gasoline or natural gas are today.

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