David Noble on the corporate P...,
| Main |
Before there were 'enhanced i...,
the new rustbelt economy:
I was reading through - somebody was expounding the glories of the future hydrogen economy to me again and it came up -
Alternative Energy Corp.'s
press release announcements regarding a process by which
"We can produce hydrogen gas without any emission whatsoever ... involv[ing] a chemical reaction that does not require the input of outside energy."
and had to stop and think about what the fuck they were talking about. Do they mean they've discovered rust?
Another article says "The process is pH sensitive", suggesting this to be the case,
The theory of how this is accomplished is not yet fully developed. "The polar positioning of the metals somehow results in the changing of the properties of the metal," said Seigel. The alloy apparently "creates a magnetic field" that is involved in catalyzing the splitting of the hydrogen from the two oxygen molecules of water.
I guess that might be one way of describing oxidization, except for that whole thing about the theory not being fully developed yet.
It's no wonder their patent applications haven't seemed to result in anything worth announcing to stock holders. The discovery in 1967 that "liquid alloys of aluminum and gallium spontaneously produce hydrogen if mixed with water" has been the basis for similar research at Purdue,
in which an AlGa alloy helps along the rusting of aluminum by creating higher surface area exposure to free ions in water.
How do you produce aluminum? Or any metal? By smelting the metal oxides you pull out of the earth or your perpetual energy producing AEC provision-patented fishtank: the "reaction occurs in Hall-Heroult reduction cells (called pots) where the bound oxygen in the alumina reacts with carbon electrodes to form carbon-dioxide gas and aluminum. Each ton of aluminum requires 0.4-.05 tons of carbon anodes.".
"Does not require any outside energy".
The problem is that these folks fail to explain that it costs a lot of outside energy to produce the metals they're rusting in their fishtank to produce hydrogen.
They make it sound like the unrealized promise of perpetual motion. Wikipedia
files the very similar sounding Genesis World Energy scam under the history of perpetual motion machines, so I'm not the
first one to have the thought. John Licktenstein, at Free Hydrogen blog, flat out describes it that way:
"A booming segment of the Perpetual Motion Machine industry is capitalizing on the hype over the 'Hydrogen Economy' with claims
to produce Hydrogen for impossibly low cost." That sounds about right. Well, maybe not booming. If you want to invest in a scam
on the outside chance somebody has access to fantastic alien technologies the price couldn't get much cheaper,
though that first announcement back in 2003 sure had a lot of people fooled.
Free Hydrogen's comments section, by the way, is absolutely hysterical.
There was a great piece by Joseph Romm in Issues in Science and Technology that I read recently on
The Hype about Hydrogen. It covered all the bases about how far off we
are in exploiting hydrogen fuel cells in any remotely efficient manner. What I think he forgot to point out was the thermodynamic
impossibility of producing hydrogen as an energy source in any renewable context: it just fundamentally takes more energy to break the bonds
in water than to create them. Theoretically it could be efficient energy storage, but to talk about it as a source of energy
is non-sensical without some vast, naturally occurring, non-emitting source.
In this sense the only useful context for discussing hydrogen fuel cell tech is as competition for traditional batteries.
You might as well pull up to a fuel station and swap out your car batteries at the recharging stand as refill the fishtank
with rapid rust ACME pods, except the latter has a long way to go to compete on efficiency and upfront costs. That the one
shuffles lithium ions around and the other hydrogen doesn't change that.
Howstuffworks.com puts the hypothetical peak efficiency of transport fuel cells running on pure hydrogen
at 64 percent while battery efficiencies are hitting
around 72 percent. For some reason they see fit to add that this "is not the whole story.
The electricity used to power the car had to be generated somewhere" without equivocating on the same point regarding hydrogen.
With a battery the stages in the process are Produce Electricity -> Recharge Battery -> Drive. With a hydrogen fuel cell it's
Produce Electricity -> Produce Hydrogen -> Store Hydrogen -> Transport Hydrogen -> Store It Again -> Recharge Tank -> Drive. The more
steps in the process the more efficiency you lose to the cycle.
If you could get sufficient generation on the consumer level, at least, by oxidizing metals
or hydrides or some other means of chemical storage, that would
cut out a lot of the impossibly problematic transport issues of hydrogen itself.
But you still have to produce electricity to produce the chemical precursors and worry yourself with the lower
efficiency of the fuel cell itself. The technology would only ever be economically desirable - once it's fully developed - when
fast refueling becomes worth more than the cost of battery recharge downtimes.