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The Hydrogen Economy Paperback – August 25, 2003

3.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"One of the leading big-picture thinkers of our day, [Rifkin] offers hope that we might end up in a better, more democratic world where energy is cheap and clean."

"Now the hydrogen movement has a marquee spokesman."

From the Back Cover

In The Hydrogen Economy, best-selling author Jeremy Rifkin takes us on an eye-opening journey into the next great commercial era in history. He envisions the dawn of a new economy powered by hydrogen that will fundamentally change the nature of our market, political and social institutions, just as coal and steam power did at the beginning of the industrial age.

Rifkin observes that we are fast approaching a critical watershed for the fossil-fuel era, with potentially dire consequences for industrial civilization. Experts had been saying that we had another forty or so years of cheap available crude oil left. Now, however, some of the world’s leading petroleum geologists are suggesting that global oil production could peak and begin a steep decline much sooner, as early as the end of this decade, sending oil prices through the roof.

While the fossil fuel era is entering its sunset years, a new energy regime is being born that has the potential to remake civilization. Hydrogen is the most basic and ubiquitous element in the universe. It is the stuff of the stars and of our sun and, when properly harnessed, it is the “forever fuel.” It never runs out and produces no harmful CO2 emissions. Commercial fuel-cells powered by hydrogen are just now being introduced into the market for home, office and industrial use. The major automakers have spent more than two billion dollars developing hydrogen cars, buses, and trucks, and the first mass-produced vehicles are expected to be on the road in just a few years.

In the new era, says Rifkin, every human being could become the producer as well as the consumer of his or her own energy – so called “distributed generation.” When millions of end-users connect their fuel-cells into local, regional, and national hydrogen energy webs (HEWs), using the same design principles and smart technologies that made possible the World Wide Web, they can begin to share energy – peer-to-peer – creating a new decentralized form of energy use.

Hydrogen has the potential to end the world’s reliance on imported oil and help diffuse the dangerous geopolitical game being played out between Muslim militants and Western nations. It will dramatically cut down on carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming. And because hydrogen is so plentiful and exists everywhere on earth, every human being could be “empowered,” making it the first truly democratic energy regime in history.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: TarcherPerigee; 1 edition (August 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585422541
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585422548
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mario Baldassarrini on January 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
Jeremiah Rifkin's book "The Hydrogen Economy" does not give what its title promises.
Most of the book is devoted to historical, political, social considerations, most of which I find well written and even convincing, but which have nothing to do with hydrogen.
However, to me as an engineer, his recourse to thermodynamics to explain the fall of past civilizations appears ludicrous and unnecessary - there is no need to appeal to thermodynamics to make us understand that our world will collapse if it will run short of reasonably cheap energy.
Whether the production of liquid fuels and natural gas will peak within the time frames advocated by Rifkin, or at some other time, there is no doubt in my mind that it will peak, and that well before that time the world must start to convert to renewable energies (assuming that energy from nuclear fusion is still far away from being harnessed).
However Rifkin sees everything easy and cheap. In his chapter on Reglobalization from the Bottom up he advocates the installation of fuel cells in every household or neighbourhood or community, but he seems to forget that "upstream" of each fuel cell there must be a power generator (wind turbine or photo-voltaic cell), electrolytic cells to produce hydrogen and a hydrogen storage facility. Scale economies will certainly reduce the cost of these commodities, but in my mind it is difficult to think that with their combined cost, and the energy losses that will be incurred at each step (electricity to hydrogen gas, hydrogen gas to stored hydrogen, hydrogen to electricity) electricity generation will be cheaper than present day cost from fuel or gas fired power plants.
Also the numbers are staggering.
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Format: Paperback
I thought this book was excellent and that everyone should read it. I found Rifkin�s arguments about the role of energy in the rise and fall of civilizations and the thermodynamics of Rome to be extremely interesting and thought provoking. Also, anyone interested in a very readable yet detailed overview of the whole fossil fuel picture � its history, future potential, and global impact on politics, humanity, and the environment � would find this book enjoyable. These parts alone make the book worth buying. However, his eventual discussion about the hydrogen economy seems like it was written late at night after a few beers. In comparison with the very analytical earlier sections, he provides only a �warm and fuzzy� vision of a hydrogen future. Three specific criticisms I had were: 1) Although he uses words like �hydrogen� and �fuel cell� a lot, Rifkin�s vision really depends on the use of renewable energy technologies. And since most people don�t live near a thermal vent or can easily dam a river, the fundamental question is whether solar and wind power can provide enough power to meet the high energy demands of 10 billion people. This issue was not addressed. 2) Although he makes a compelling and analytical argument against oil alternatives such as natural gas, coal, and tar sand, the potential role of nuclear power seems to have slipped his mind completely. This is a rather large omission, considering several European countries get more than two-thirds of their electricity form nuclear sources. This should have been a chapter, but was instead not discussed at all. 3) It is not clear that the costs and technical expertise required to build and maintain a distributed energy production network would be more efficient than having several elite companies manage mega-fuel cell facilities.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This book does a great job of defining the energy dilemma especially the upcoming "Peak Oil" issues. It also does a great job of providing a historical context of our energy usage patterns, showing how energy use is intimately tied to material progress.
The uses of hydrogen as a fuel and its effectiveness is defined well.
So what is wrong?
Well, most people who have even taken high school chemistry have a passing acquaintance wiht hydrogen, its cleanliness and its simplicity. So, this is not a great strength in my opinion.
The real problem is Rifkin does not define how hydrogen can be produced or distributed efficiently, and without that, there is no real hydrogen vision at all. He uses a scant 8 pages to define alternatives for generation of hydrogen for instance. Yet, this is the essential mystery, and he does not resolve it! If hydrogen just becomes an energy transfer medium, like electricity, then it does nothing to resolve the scarcity or environmental problems of fossil fuels. I also found Rifkin's uses of some units of measurement showed him to be an amateur. Several times he mixed up units of work with power, a common enough error, but a dead giveaway against someone who purports to be an energy expert.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book based mainly on the title and the brief description of the book on the cover. It's a good book, but I think it would be more accurate to name the book "The History of the Oil Industry, and some stuff at the end about hydrogen". I guess I should have browsed through it more before I bought it, but the book doesn't really begin to focus on hydrogen (as opposed to oil) until the last two chapters.
My other complaint about the book is that it tries to explain very complex world issues/events in very simple cause/effect terms. While I agree that future of the oil industry will be closely intertwined with the various religions and cultures of the Middle East, it's a bit of a stretch for a book that is supposed to be about hydrogen to start *explaining* world religions and Middle Eastern social structures.
It also basically concludes that Rome fell because it couldn't support its energy needs. OK, that could have been one of the causes, but it's a lot trickier than that.
It seems to be a well-researched book, but if you're just looking for information about "The Hydrogen Economy", skip to the last two chapters.
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