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The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate Paperback Edition Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1559637039
ISBN-10: 155963703X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; Paperback Edition edition (March 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155963703X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559637039
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,139,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Having read Jeremy Rifkin's interesting, but rose-colored and somewhat tangential take on the future of the hydrogen fuel cell: The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the World-Wide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth (2002), I was pleased to read something from a full-time energy professional.
Joseph Romm, author of this sobering volume, worked in the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration and has been involved intimately with hydrogen research and development for many years. His main point is that we must eventually have a hydrogen economy based on the hydrogen fuel cell, but that we must not expect this to happen without some major technological breakthroughs. His book is a warning that the global warming clock is ticking and ticking, and that we need to do something now if we hope to avoid a possible catastrophe.
The really scary thing about global warming is that we may pass over the point of no return without knowing it. Furthermore, a full-blown, runaway greenhouse effect would make nuclear winter look like a walk in the park. Look what happened to Venus, where on any spring day (or winter day for that matter) the surface is hot enough to melt lead. Could that happen here? The real and direct answer to that question is: we don't know.
Romm is not painting any such dire scenarios in this book, but he does state most clearly that "the primary reason why we should pursue fuel cells and a hydrogen economy is to help respond to global warming." (p. 188) He adds, "global warming is the most intractable and potentially catastrophic environmental problem facing...the planet this century." (p. 152) Romm identifies carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere as the primary cause of global warming.
What to do and how to do it?
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Format: Hardcover
This book does read like a series of lectures which sometimes verge on contradicting one another. It is also easy, by disagreeing with some of his theses, to dismiss the entire book. But at the core are some sound premises:

- Hydrogen is not an energy source like oil, it is an energy carrier. One must expend considerable energy in making hydrogen suitable for use, then expend more energy to transport it.

- A hydrogen automobile is the last place to begin because of conversion efficiency and infrastructure issues. Instead the author advocates near-term development of proven solutions like hybrid cars. Note: Toyota, with hybrids now and fuel cells in development, made their own study of total efficiency. It shows that a fuel cell vehicle is less efficient than the current Prius and a fuel cell hybrid would only be equal. See a summary by going to [...] The study is near the end of the article.

- The best place to start with hydrogen is with on-site industrial power generation with cogenereated heat. The author makes a good case for this, primarily that industrial fuel cells are much more efficient than the types being developed for automobiles and that the efficiency is quite good when the waste heat is consumed as well. As well the infrastructure issues are much easier to solve. He does a nice analysis of the market conditions which have slowed the development of this application.

Unfortunately not dissected in the book is the role of the all-electric vehicle. It has been written elsewhere that generating electricity to charge an autombile battery is much more efficient than generating electricity to separate out hydrogen to transport it to fill a car to make electricity in a fuel cell.
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Format: Hardcover
Hydrogen's major disadvantage as transportation fuel is it's low energy density. Compressed hydrogen requires heavy storage vessels and significant energy for compression. Liquid hydrogen suffers from evaporation losses and unacceptably high liquefaction energy. Hydrate storage of hydrogen is a long way from being practical for motor vehicles.
Fuel cells have been touted as the next big thing in transportation. However, fuel cells are extremely expensive and not durable. Especially discouraging is that automotive variety fuel cells will not be significantly more efficient than internal combustion engines.
Alternative hydrogen infrastructure systems are: 1) pipelines to fueling stations and 2) on site reforming of liquids such as methanol, ethanol of other hydrocarbons. All alternatives would require massive capital investment. Local reforming of alcohols or hydrocarbons would be inefficient (and wouldn't make sense because it would be more efficient to use them directly as fuel in internal combustion engines).
A strength of the book is that is deals with overall process efficiencies and carbon dioxide byproducts of various processes. Processes are briefly described for producing hydrogen from coal, natural gas and water + electricity, all of which are well known and energy intensive.
Electrical generation processes briefly discussed include nuclear, geothermal, combined cycle and combined heat and power. Wind and photovoltaic are mentioned but not given much coverage.
Romm makes a convincing case that hybrid diesel electric vehicles will be the logical successors to today's autos.
The concluding chapters deal with the carbon dioxide issue, which Romm finds extremely threatening.
The book is well written and easily readable. Although an engineering or scientific background is not necessary to understand it, not much is provided in the way of background.
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