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Hydrogen Power

Hydrogen Economies use renewable energy sources (hydroelectric power, geothermal power, wind power, and solar energy) to manufacture hydrogen fuels from water. The hydrogen fuel is then used in fuel-cells to generate large amounts of electricity on demand for cars, trucks, busses, boats and for small and large electric generation plants.

Hydrogen fuels, when used in fuel cells, discharge only moderate heat and pure water, both of which can easily be applied to other needs. In stand-alone generating systems, both the heat and the water can be recycled to improve efficiency.

No toxic fumes, no pollution of the atmosphere with CO2, no reliance on expensive imported petroleum products, hydrogen economies offer the Pacific islands, and the world, a new kind of energy freedom.

Hydrogen has been an important industrial gas for nearly a century. It is manufactured by electrolyzing water into its component hydrogen and oxygen gasses. Any kind of electrical generator - hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal - provides the electricity to split the gasses.

Hydrogen is also manufactured using other methods and raw materials. The carbon and hydrogen can be split apart quite easily and quickly from methane CH4.

Experts have known that hydrogen was a likely fuel, and that it could be the answer to energy storage for renewable energy systems like solar cells (that stop producing electricity at night) and wind power (that quits making electricity when the wind dies). All hydrogen needed to be a winner was an efficient and inexpensive means of turning hydrogen back into electrical energy and a good way to store and transport it.

In the late 1990's, Ballard Power Systems revolutionized the energy and automotive industry with the development of highly efficient, low weight, totally nonpolluting fuel cells. The Ballard fuel cell operates by streaming oxygen and hydrogen through plastic chambers - a membrane covered with a platinum catalyst separates the gases from each other.

Hydrogen is made of one electron and one proton. The protons move through the membrane but the electrons must reach the oxygen chamber through an electric circuit - creating electricity. The waste products of the process are heat and pure water.

The fuel cell has no moving parts and the pure gas passing through the system causes no wear. Nobody knows how long a fuel cell will go on operating. Perhaps more than 100 years, perhaps longer.

The fuel cell will replace the internal combustion engine. Ford and Daimler Chrysler invested more than US$1 billion in Ballard's new factory that will turn out 300,000 automotive fuel cells a year. a May 2000 study by Allied Business Intelligence shows that automotive fuel cells can, by 2010, rise as high as 1,215,000 fuel cell vehicles, which will represent 7.6% of the total US Automotive Market. By 2003, tens of thousands of vehicles will be powered by fuel cells. Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells will command 80% of all automotive fuel cells by 2010.

Atakan Ozbek, the author of the ABI report, says, "Fuel cell technology is so appealing that it will have an enormous impact across all energy markets. Besides PEM fuel cells, which have received billions of dollars in research and development funding, niche technologies will gain 5% to 10% market share of this multibillion dollar market. We will see dramatic changes sooner than most people think, and that will lead to early mass commercialization."

By the end of the decade, mass production will make fuel cells fully price-competitive with internal combustion engines.

Meanwhile, in 2000, Ballard Power Systems finished the testing phase of their stand-alone 250KW fuel cell power generators and these will go into full commercial production in 2001.

Ballard's hydrogen fueled bus fleets are already operational in Chicago, California, and Canada.

While big compressed hydrogen gas tanks are acceptable for stationary installations, buses or ships, they are not acceptable for stylish cars or yachts. The answer to hydrogen storage was methanol, manufactured either from methane and water or from hydrogen and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Methanol is already used in normal internal combustion engines in Europe and the United States and has far fewer toxic emissions than gasoline or diesel. New tax incentives have made methanol more economical than gasoline in the United States, and it is replacing gasoline in many areas. Methanol will either used directly in a liquid fuel cell or the hydrogen will be striped from the methanol and fed into the fuel cell (as in the Ballard fuel cells).

These technological advancements emerged in the midst of a continuing escalation of the costs of fossil fuels. In 1999, the price of crude oil surged beyond US$30 a barrel, environmental and safety legislation forced oil companies into expensive modifications to their shipping and manufacturing operations, and fines from inevitable accidents now cost the oil industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Environmental legislation, especially in Europe and the United States mandated the introduction of fuel-cell vehicles. For example California law requires that 10% of the vehicles on their roads be zero emission by 2004.

Lastly, the world governments are growing more sensitive to the military costs of securing Middle East oil sources (an estimated US$100 billion a year cost to the United States).


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