Thursday, May 22, 2008

Let's "H-Bomb" OPEC

If you listen to the Presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama and, even, John McCain, you will hear a lot about "green" jobs. In that vein, they are always mentioning wind and solar power as the savior of the planet from global warming and the "new" direction we should be moving into to divorce ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil. But, are wind and solar the real answer to our future fuel problems? I don't think so. While they are technologies that are somewhat available today, I don't quite see a Boeing 747 flying around the world or even your family car powering you to the grocery store thanks to wind power or solar cells. Both those technologies are involved with "electricity" production and their primary effect on our society would be to replace the current energy producing fuels such as natural gas and coal. Neither would actually make a dent in the replacement of petroleum-based fuels. Besides being expensive, wind and solar require massive expanses of space to produce electricity. There is no way that even a two story apartment building, through using solar cells, could replace its complete energy needs.

The future in energy for this country and the world, just as it was in the past with petroleum, coal, and natural gas, lies in the availability of "a" combustible and portable type of fuel. Something you can really use to fly that 747 around the world. Also, one that doesn't pollute so that Al Gore and all his buddies can sleep at night.

To many scientists as well as auto and energy experts around the world, the future is in hydrogen gas and liquid. Hydrogen is the "most prevalent" element on this earth (Number 1 on the Periodic Table). Fossil fuels get their wallop from hydrogen. That's why they are generally known as "hydro-carbons." But, it is the carbon part of those fuels that is the downside when talking about the "greenhouse" effect and global warming. When hydrogen is used for energy (either by burning, for explosive combustion, or when consumed by a fuel cell for electricity), the resulting "exhaust" is simply water. In comparison to gasoline's power rating of 87 octane, Hydrogen has an equivalent octane rating of 130; nearly twice as powerful.

Today, most hydrogen is produced by extracting it from natural gas (by steam reforming). This is the most economical method available. The downside of that process is the release of CO2 (its major byproduct) into the atmosphere. As a result, the benefit of hydrogen over gasoline becomes nil as far as Al Gore is concerned. Also, this method is also quite expensive as compared to gasoline. There are promising techniques for the production of hydrogen from plain water. One is a gallium-aluminum process that was discovered (quite by accident) at Purdue University. At $3 a gallon for gasoline, this process becomes rather competitive (See Full Story). Other techniques (still quite expensive) might include the electrolysis of hydrogen and oxygen from water using the electricity that is developed for solar cells in our deserts or from nuclear power.

During World War II, this country focused its scientific and financial resources to develop an atomic bomb and bring an end to that dreaded war. In the 1960's and 1970's, we created NASA and went on to send men to the moon. Again, that fact was due to the great scientific and financial depth that exists in the bountiful country we live in. But, in both cases, we did those things because our government (and our President) mandated the end results. I think it is time, again, that this country mobilize itself to defeat our dependence on oil and defeat the control that OPEC has over our society. All indications are that hydrogen is the way of the future. For that reason, we should figuratively "H-Bomb" OPEC and get off foreign oil and begin to fuel our cars and planes with hydrogen. It will take a strong President and a truly focused Congress to mandate a program that is equal to our past successes of developing the atomic bomb and sending men to the moon.

All we need is the commitment!

Image by Cranky George

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