Regarding the fact that the article appears to be announcing a possibility for a cheaper system for extracting hydrogen from water, I agree that is likely to be a good thing if it proves out. Regardless, it won’t help with large scale power. Hydrogen is a complicated system that addresses the need filled by batteries. Batteries are simple. Batteries will win in almost all circumstances. Hydrogen will never be significant in transportation nor in grid-level power systems.

Hydrogen is not a fuel. It is an intermediary like a battery. Hydrogen does not exist. Specifically, the burnable form of H-H doesn’t exist on its own where we can collect it for burning. Petroleum and carbon containing gases do exist where we can get them, and we already know how to cost-effectively refine and use them.

As to the Hindenburg, JJ’s response above is noteworthy (, but sure, it is harder to make hydrogen explode than people tend to think. However, see this: It is far from certain that the fabric doping had anything to do with the tragedy. The fact remains, hydrogen is dangerous and potentially explosive. This link poo-poos the notion the skin had anything to do with the fire. It probably was impossible to ignite aluminum powder in the skin. The fire should have never been hot enough, at least not until it was much too late.The organic components would surely have burned, but I suspect all of the aluminum power remained unoxidized. I don’t understand why iron oxide would have been mentioned. (It is already burned,duh.) The assertion seems to be that iron oxide can supply oxygen and act as an oxidizer. Well, under the right conditions, sure, but overall iron likes its oxygen too much to give it up easily. The oxygen in the air provided all the oxygen the fire needed. For me, I’ll stick with uncertain and say it is foolish to assert the skin was the root of the problem. Hydrogen has high energy potential. It can make a very large kaboom, as often demonstrated in lab classes or science shows with a flame touched to a hydrogen filled party balloon.

I’m not finding a reference, but as I recall success against tethered hydrogen observation balloons was poor until aircraft machine guns were loaded with a special explosive incendiary bullet alternated with a special round that was designed to break apart and make large holes in the balloon. It is hard to get, by accident, a mixture of the hydrogen and air that is within the explosive limits. Further, hydrogen does not spontaneously ignite or explode. Blowing up a party balloon with your breath and with hydrogen will give the exact same result if the balloons are poked with a needle. The results will be dramatically different if a flame is set to each.

So, my point here is that while hydrogen is relatively safe, how many explosions will be tolerated? Does anyone remember the Ford Pinto?

The assertions about making electrical energy cheaply enough to warrant making hydrogen from water are shortsighted in my opinion. Batteries are likely to always provide a better means of storing energy. Hydrogen is simply hard to work with, no matter how cheaply we can make it.

Assertions about using plentiful, cheap electricity for producing liquid fuel from water and air are more pie-in-the-sky. Sure, if the conditions are met, it would make some sense, but there are likely to be better alternatives for most applications. It’s like making electricity from methane.

We collect the methane and pipe it to where we need to use it for direct heat. Very efficient. When I turn on the burner under my tea kettle, 100% of the methane is being used to heat my water. Of course, there are inefficiencies. I cannot hope 100% of the energy from burning will go into my water, but the same applies when I’m using an electric heat source. Approximately the same amount of heat is applied to the bottom of my kettle, and expended from the burner, whether the source is burning methane or applying electrical energy for heat. The difference is in getting the energy to the burner. None of the methane’s energy was lost before it reached the flame under the kettle. Over two-thirds of the methane’s energy is lost before it gets to the electric burner if the methane was used to fire a turbine that generated the electricity for the electric heater, perhaps more loses depending on system inefficiencies at the power generation station and in the electrical distribution grid.

Generating electricity from natural gas is a sad state of affairs when we have such better and more efficient options for its use.

Watts Up With That?

From Stanford University something familiar to most anyone who has taken science – electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Stanford scientists develop a water splitter that runs on an ordinary AAA battery

Stanford scientists have developed a low-cost device that uses an ordinary AAA battery to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas. Gas bubbles are produced from electrodes made of inexpensive nickel and iron. Credit: Mark Shwartz/Stanford Precourt Institut for Energy

In 2015, American consumers will finally be able to purchase fuel cell cars from Toyota and other manufacturers. Although touted as zero-emissions vehicles, most of the cars will run on hydrogen made from natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming.

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