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The Light Party

ON ENERGY

"All The Power That Ever Was Or Will Be Is Here Now"

While not of much concern to politicians (who tend to focus on poll results predicting over trends over the next two or four years), others of less noble calling may be interested to know that in fifty to sixty years there will be NO gasoline, NO oil, and NO natural gas to be found anywhere on the planet. This estimate includes all the predicted deposits that hopefully will be discovered. In fact, the estimate is based on consumption figures for the current world population. With the present exponential rate of population growth, the depletion of known and expected oil/gas reserves could actually occur in as few as thirty years.

In the process of running out of fuel and oil, the law of supply and demand means that energy prices must steadily increase. For home use, heating and cooking fuel should increase almost 30% just over the next six years. Cost increases for the industrial sector should vary from 5% for coal to nearly 50% for petroleum products over the same period of time. For electric utilities, the price increase will amount to 20% - 30%, and transportation fuel cost increases may reach over 30%. And remember, that's just in the next six years...it will only get worse.

Now this is where it gets really interesting. It's unlikely that we would run out of gas without also experiencing some kind of cataclysmic military struggle for control of dwindling oil reserves. The most likely alternative, though, is the use of coal to make gas and oil.

Since the earth's coal reserves are about five times larger than gas and oil, it'll take longer to finish them off. Of course, it might take three times as much coal to produce the gas and oil, and that means we could finish it off much more quickly. Also, gas and oil produced from coal is bound to rise in cost dramatically...and if you think you saw some bad pollution in America's major cities in the 70's, just wait until this stuff hits the streets.

The Chilling Alternative

Of course, there's always friendly nuclear energy. It's so safe and clean. It adds that warm glow-in- the-dark feeling to everything it touches. More than a few government agencies are hoping that, as gas and oil reserves run out and prices go beyond the budget of even the wealthiest few, the pro-nuclear energy hype will make the dangers of nuclear radiation acceptable to the mass of consumers.

You're probably thinking that I'm talking about some inconvenience here. Actually it would be a bit more than just "inconvenient." Cars, buses, trains, planes and ships would go very quiet and still. Apart from those homes and businesses connected to hydro-generating plants, it would be very dark at night...and cold in the winter. The more you think about it, the more preposterous it seems...almost all of modern day life revolves around the use of gas and oil fuels. It seems impossible that it could ever end.

An Ending, Or A Beginning...

Well, it certainly will come to an end. But it doesn't have to be a bad ending at all. According to the International Association for Hydrogen Energy, life could actually become much better. We could learn to use pollution-free, alternative, renewable sources of energy.

All energy on the planet, apart from nuclear, comes from one primary source: the sun. That's because all the fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas really just represent stored energy put into plants and animals by the sun hundreds of millions of years ago.

Which brings us to solar power. We could use solar energy directly, but it doesn't work all that well. It is intermittent, and very hard to store or transport as an energy source. It's also not practical for use as a fuel in vehicle transportation.

The Perfect Alternative?

Hydrogen, on the other hand, could be the perfect energy medium. It's found in vast amounts, and it is readily available from water. Hydrogen could replace every application of fossil fuel. It can be produced from water using solar energy, and used as an energy carrier rather than an immediate energy source. Its only byproduct in combustion is water. It is relatively inexpensive to produce and can be converted to other forms of energy more efficiently than fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the production of hydrogen from renewable energy resources is still more costly than it is to use fossil fuels. Of course, as fossil fuel costs increase, even today's hydrogen technology will be come economically attractive. T. Nejat Veziroglu, Ph.D. (London) and Frano Barbir, Ph.D. (Miami) point out in their work: "Solar-Hydrogen Energy Systems - The Choice of the Future," that "the comparison between competing fuels should be based on the effective costs of the services which these fuels provide."

In other words, not only the actual costs in providing the fuel, but also the cost compared to its efficiency and the costs associated with its consumption, must be considered. Consumption costs include medical care costs, the cost to life and the environment from pollution damage, the costs of government programs to ease pollution, and the costs of maintaining huge military expenditures to protect or secure oil supplies - not to mention the cost of the damages and destruction from the inevitable oil war.

How To Use Hydrogen

Hydrogen can be exchanged directly with fuels which are currently burned with a flame, such as those used in space-heating, water-heating, cooking, steam generation and direct heat in industrial processes. Since hydrogen has different burning properties than methane gas, some changes would be necessary in existing burners.

However, hydrogen has a special property that allows it to combine with oxygen in the presence of a catalyst - such as platinum or palladium - in a reaction that gives off heat without flame or fire (called an exothermic reaction). This type of energy production is much more efficient than any others which use flame combustion. For instance, use of this catalytic reaction for space heating is 99% efficient and there are no exhaust gases. This type of reaction can even be used in kitchen ranges.

Stem has many uses, both in chemical processes and as a source of energy for locomotion. When hydrogen burns with oxygen it can produce pure steam at high temperatures. By adding water, the temperature can be reduced. This is done in an H2/O2 steam-generator, which is simple, compact and extremely efficient (up to 99%).

Hydrogen can also be converted directly to electricity in fuel cells, with efficiencies from 50% to 70%. compare that to 35% - 38% from using fossil fuels. Hydrogen efficiencies are constantly being increased in fuel cell electricity production (85% in some cases), but more importantly, the electrochemical process of combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water - with no other by-products - is its most attractive quality. Hydrogen fuel cell/electric motor combinations could give more than twice the efficiency of today's gasoline engine, and produce no pollution.

Even using the combustion engine process with hydrogen fuel is more efficient and, again, leave no pollution...22% more efficient than a gasoline engine and 19% more efficient if liquid hydrogen were used in jet engines (38% more efficient in supersonic aircraft), according to Veziroglu and Barbir's paper.

The Hydrogen Cartel

So who are these hydrogen-sheiks that are set to be the billionaires of the next millennia? Well, actually that's another good thing about hydrogen...nobody has a monopoly on it. Nobody can create one either. Hydrogen is abundant in the oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. It's abundant in the ice caps and in icebergs. And most importantly, it is replenished naturally and continuously.

Instead, technology will be the power broker in a future where everything works on hydrogen energy. competition in research and development, high-tech metals, ceramics and composite plastics production...these can replace events such as the Gulf War. The nations which prosper and lead in such a world will be those which invest in education and innovation, rather than those who continue to throw away their wealth developing nuclear energy and fossil fuel.

(Reprint, Healthy & Natural Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1)

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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