In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush seized the nation's attention with his advocacy of a "hydrogen economy," with fuel cells that produce energy and water taking the place of fossil fuels in cars that produce greenhouse gases. As Romm (Cool Companies), a former Department of Energy official in the Clinton administration, points out, however, hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source (at least until we tame nuclear fusion). Hydrogen can be extracted from biomass or seawater, but the primary source today is natural gas—which produces greenhouse gases as a byproduct. Romm expresses extreme pessimism about the potential for hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles, even as car manufacturers jump on the fuel cell bandwagon. Romm maintains that it will take decades to solve the infrastructure demands presented by a hydrogen-powered car, such as hydrogen's propensity to embrittle metal. There are also safety issues: an electrical storm several miles away can ignite hydrogen, as can a slight charge from a cell phone. Romm believes that stationary fuel cell systems to provide power to companies and homes hold much more potential (and he works with companies promoting this technology). His central chapter lays out the case for global warming and the potential for catastrophic climate change in the next few decades. Readers looking to separate facts from hype about cars running on hydrogen and large-scale fuel cell systems will find a useful primer here.
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The utopian quest for a pollution-free energy source has been knocking around since, at the very least, the advent of urban smog alerts and acid rain in the 1960s. With President Bush's 2003 pledge to earmark a billion-plus dollars for developing fuel-cell vehicles, the holy grail of clean energy has been looking more and more like hydrogen, a substance whose only waste product is water vapor. Yet Romm, a Department of Energy advisor during the Clinton administration, makes a compelling case for believing that widespread use of hydrogen is still four to five decades away. To begin with, hydrogen entrepreneurs face the chicken-or-egg dilemma of making fuel-cell vehicles marketable before the hydrogen infrastructure necessary for people to abandon gasoline engines is in place. Romm also warns that overenthusiasm for a still embryonic technology could delay its full flowering even further. Vital, very readable guidance for investors, environmentalists, and interested bystanders looking toward a future without fossil fuels.
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"Vital, very readable guidance for investors, environmentalists, and interested bystanders looking toward a future without fossil fuels."
About the Author
"It's hard to argue with the relentless logic...."
-E/THE ENVIRONMENTAL MAGAZINE
"Readers looking to separate facts from hype about cars running on hydrogen and large-scale fuel cell systems will find a useful primer here."
JOSEPH J. ROMM served in various positions in the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration. Currently the Executive Director of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, and a Principal with the Capital E Group, he is the author of Cool Companies: How the Best Businesses Boost Profits and Productivity By Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Island Press, 1999).