Man has been moving to carbon enriched with hydrogen for a couple of centuries now. One could say we’re decarbonizing, because since the dawn of the fire until the discovery of coal we burned primarily wood. Wood has a carbon to hydrogen (C:H) ratio of 10 to 1 or wood has 10 carbon atoms for each hydrogen atom. Coal boosted the C:H ratio way up to 2 to 1. Even that isn’t really enough and coal has failed to gain market share because oil is more superior – running at 1 to 2 for a C:H. When we look at natural gas or methane the ratio gain is 1 to 4 C:H. We been moving to a hydrogen enriched economy for a long time.

Pure hydrogen is the optimal choice for many as the ratio is 0:1. However, when you get there you get a volatile low-density fuel source. Hydrogen just bedevils all attempts to handle it over time and to store it. It is truly destined to be freed for use and used quickly in close proximity to the source.

Hooking hydrogen to carbon and recycling the combustion products is the short and medium term answer for portable high-density fuels. Another alternative is to hook the hydrogen to nitrogen in the form of ammonia. Both cases make clear that hydrogen alone is the least practical concept for portability and storage. The opportunities and advantages to having hydrogen in a hydrocarbon or NH combination are just too practical to ignore.

For many the science and practical aspects have been precondemned by the CO2 war as practiced by the global warming crowd led by Al Gore. This is extremely dangerous to everyone’s future. While the CO2 issue needs to be understood the effort is pre guided to ending the emissions as opposed to simply becoming good stewards and optimizing man’s role in the ecosystem’s carbon cycle. Consider this an appeal to discuss the facts and explore the possibilities. If you are one who is willing, you are one of the few.

That makes the facts a set that could be easily understood by most everyone. The hysteria about CO2 has simply lost sight of who to hate – that as taken at their word includes all the animal kingdom exhaling CO2 and mother nature’s cleansing of prairies and forests by fire, etc. It just doesn’t make any sense, the global warming crowd has over reached and discredited the science they rely on. They are selling the end of nature, the end of the carbon cycle and most worrisome of all, destroying humanity’s effort to increase the amount of work it can do. We have yet to start looking for the optimal CO2 portion in a healthy atmosphere!

Humanity has three obligations in working to a future powered with energy. They are morality, technology and the shear scale of the global energy demand.

Of the more than 6 billion humans on earth only 1.6 billion have electrified homes, barely a quarter of us. I find that appalling, as the most efficient means to spread wealth and assist people to have moderated lives with lower birth rates, better health and higher productivity is electrified living. More than 2.5 billion people are still burning wood, dung and other biomass from which millions die from the pollution from indoor heating and cooking. The IEAs Chief Economist Fatih Birol says in part, “We cannot simply sit back and wait for the world’s poorest regions to become sufficiently rich to afford modern energy services. … Access to energy is a prerequisite to human development.” He’s right, they are just like us, they want reliable electricity and useful fuels like propane gasoline and diesel. If only because we want peace on earth, the developed world owes itself and the energy poor cheap and reliable sources of energy.

The technology issue is where the answers lie. Right off, we can understand the value of efficiency, the importance of doing more with less. A vehicle that would be 80% efficient would reduce the fuel needs by more than 3/4s. In the U.S. that would mean 2/3rds of the imported oil wouldn’t be needed. But let’s not assume that would solve the needs, the Jevons Paradox would likely come into play meaning that even as efficiency increases, the amount of work that can be done with the saved energy will increase too. This can be seen in the U.S. as the work per energy unit has doubled since 1950 while the total energy use has tripled. Economic growth needs in the very first instance, more efficient tools.

Its apparent if not proven the future will require even larger supplies of energy and fuel. Technology can answer in two main areas, the raw production of electrical potential and greatly increased sources of fuel products. The goal for people and for policymakers needs to be – keep an eye on the targets. We have only four energy sources, solar both current incoming of radiation and its results in wind and biomass production, geologically saved solar in carbon based sources, the geothermal heat beneath us, atomic fission and nuclear fusion. The primary technological targets and development needs to take place in those areas, which can result in large quantities of electrical potential. Electrical potential can then be used to recycle carbon and process biomass to make fuels. These sources have one more attribute that needs attention, more and better ways to store electrical potential.

Few in the developed world can grasp the enormous energy and fuel needs that are coming. On one hand, there is huge potential and incredible possibilities for growth, jobs, profit and improving life. On the other hand, there are some steep and tall redoubts to climb to make energy and fuel available enough and cheap enough to stage a renaissance of world wide economic growth. When one considers the populations of China, India, Brazil, Pakistan and Indonesia, who outnumber Americans by 10 to 1, it is no small problem to consider that the U.S. uses more energy than the other five combined. To achieve a standard of living in those countries similar to the developed western countries forms a huge challenge. These countries are growing fast and their energy budgets grow at least as fast or faster. While the U.S. may continue to grow and stay flat or reduce the energy demand through efficiency gains, the 3 billion new consumers could double their use in as little as 10 to 15 years.

That leaves us with a choice, blunder about talking up this or that, or get on with securing the cheapest ways to seize energy and make fuels. It looks like recycling carbon has a high potential. Fission can be handled much more efficiently from an investing point of view if government can choose to put “everyone” ahead of the special interests. Fusion may be practical in a few months. Geothermal is available many places and needs support for research to make the locating and building installations more economical. There are so many solar-based choices, they defy accurately measuring the progress. Storage is the big challenge and opportunity.

Hydrogen and carbon are for decades to come the combination that makes sense in fuel production. Whether thinking about methane to displace natural gas or synthesized fuels to displace gasoline, diesel and propane, we would be misleading ourselves to point to a pure hydrogen economy. Hydrogen combined with carbon offers humanity a sure path to the future, requires us to think sensibly and responsibly about how we can participate in the carbon cycle and create economic opportunity and growth worldwide. The Los Alamos National Lab announcement from last week posted here yesterday certainly needs funded and a strong effort to drive to lower costs and higher efficiency. This caliber of creativity and others that are sure to follow are steps in an understandable path that can be beneficial to everyone.

The tricks are going to be efficiently getting the energy releases from hydrogen-carbon fuels and recombining them cheaply and efficiently. The technology isn’t unknown. What’s missing is popular understanding, so much so that pandering by reporters, writers, politicians and others about diversions still gets lots of play. Pass the word, the energy crises isn’t about energy and fuel production – its about politics, special interests and the self interested getting attention rather than focusing on a few problems.


6 Comments so far

  1. technology » Blog Archive » Why the Pure Hydrogen Economy Is Dying on February 19, 2008 8:13 AM

    […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  2. Al Fin on February 20, 2008 8:58 AM

    Good points. You may not become particularly popular for telling the truth, but you will be working toward a solution.

    In addition to … its about politics, special interests and the self interested getting attention rather than focusing on a few problems, you could add that it’s about manpower.

    Even if politicians, special interests, and the oblivious self-interested public were to wake up and line up behind a workable approach to meeting future energy needs, the necessary manpower to assemble, maintain, and operate the future infrastructure will take time to build.

  3. People Power Granny on February 24, 2008 10:20 PM

    Thomas Friedman thinks that green technology will be the solution to problem of global warming, and it will be good for capitalism to boot. Do you agree? I write about this at You can vote in my poll on this, as well.

  4. John Bailo on April 1, 2008 11:12 AM


    This is the greatest and most perceptive article on contemporary energy issues that I have read.

    I feel as if someone is shining a light and others need to see it.

  5. Synthstuff - music, photography and more... on April 12, 2008 4:48 PM

    Hydrogen is not a fuel…

    A great essay on why Hydrogen is an absolutely wrong choice for the environment: Why the Pure Hydrogen Economy Is DyingMan has been moving to carbon enriched with hydrogen for a couple of centuries now. One could say we’re decarbonizing,……

  6. paradox of fatih on July 3, 2008 6:03 AM

    […] until the discovery of coal we burned primarily wood. Wood has a carbon to hydrogen (C:H) ratio of…a problem only a ‘paradox’ could solveVia Robert Bryce we learn of "the Jevons Paradox", […]

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