Proponents of the postwar status quo insist that hydrogen will be the new gasoline and that we'll all be driving clean, efficient, guilt-free hydrogen cars from our suburban homes to our jobs by mid-century.
There's just one problem: hydrogen isn't exactly sitting in the ground waiting to be dug up.
It's a way to store energy, not a source of energy. In fact, since no energy exchange is ever 100 percent efficient, the simple act of producing hydrogen is a net energy loss.
Natural gas is the most likely candidate to fuel a 'hydrogen economy' (Solar or "renewable" hydrolysis just can't produce the sheer volume that would be required). The problem is that natural gas already has a lot of demands heaped on it.
A March 2004 report () from Simmons & Company International, an energy investment bank, is instructive:
Every electric power plant built in the past two decades has been natural gas fired. In 2000, the National Petroleum Council projected that natural gas would produce 113,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity by 2010, but natural gas was already producing 220,000 MW by 2004.
Natural gas now heats two thirds of North American homes and commercial properties. In extreme cold weather, natural gas consumption for heating can spike dramatically.
You may have heard that Canada now officially has the world's largest oil reserves. Unfortunately, the Alberta oil sands require massive inputs of natural gas to extract the oil.
U.S. conventional natural gas peaked in 1973, and has since been augmented by offshore drilling and imports from Canada. Unfortunately, Canadian conventional natural gas peaked in 2002. Mexico may have large reserves, but it's too early to tell.
Large reserves in the Caspian Sea region and elsewhere are appealing, but it is very expensive to liquify natural gas for shipping, and the specialized infrastructure - specially equipped ports, natural gas tankers, etc. - simply doesn't exist today. Building that infrastructure will cost billions upon billions of dollars.
The problem with energy is that it's an absolute barrier. All economic activity requires energy, and if there's not enough energy to meet demand, certain activities will simply cease.
At the same time, no one will voluntarily freeze. People will pay to heat their homes whether it costs $100 or $500 a month to do so, so price has only a limited short-term direct effect on demand. (Indirectly, it will crowd out spending on other areas by swallowing more family income and raising the price of other products.)
So it looks like natural gas may not even be able to sustain the roles it serves today as the main supply of electric power and heating. The prospect of taking automotive transit on its shoulders as well is laughable.
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