Regular readers will know that I've got little tolerance for nonsense. For instance, I think it is absurd to take a bunch of natural gas, turn it into ammonia and then nitrate, add a bunch of petroleum as diesel fuel and chemicals, use it all to grow maize, ferment and then add more natural gas (or coal) to yield perhaps 30% more as ethanol.
It appears that others have reached the limits of their tolerance as well. Hydrogen is one of my sore points, and the European Fuel Cell Forum has finally given up on it (hat tips to Entropy Production and TheWatt):
It is highly uncertain that synthetic hydrogen can ever be established as a universal energy carries. Electricity from renewable sources will be the source energy in a sustainably organized future. The direct distribution of electricity to the consumer is three to four times more efficient than its conversion to hydrogen by electrolysis of water, packaging and transport of synthetic energy carrier to the consumer and its conversion back to electricity with efficient fuel cells. By laws of physics, hydrogen economy can never compete with an "electron economy".
But the laws of physics cannot be changed with further research, investments or political decisions. A sustainable future energy harvested from renewable sources (nuclear energy is not sustainable!) must be distributed and used with the highest efficiency. A wasteful hydrogen economy does not meet the criteria of sustainability. As a result, a viable free-market hydrogen infrastructure will never be established and fuel cells for hydrogen may not be needed. For all applications electricity from hydrogen fuel cells have to compete with the source electricity used to make hydrogen.
The European Fuel Cell Forum is committed to the establishment of a safe energy future. Therefore, it will continue to promote fuel cells for sustainable fuels, but discontinue supporting the development of fuel cells for hypothetical fuel supplies. Time has come for decisions. Keeping all options open is not an adequate response to mounting energy problems.
Therefore, the schedule of the European SOFC Forum will be continued in 2008 with an extended conference every second year. Beginning 2007 (July 2 to 6) sustainable energy topics will be emphasized in odd years. Despite earlier announcements the European PEFC Forum series will not be continued.
(I tried, but I was unable to find a direct link to the above text at the EFCF site. However, given the tone of the papers hosted by the EFCF, I strongly doubt that it's fabricated.)
Ulf Bossel's highly negative analysis precedes my analysis and position statement by years. I was not aware of the EFCF until just recently, but I am gratified to see that we both reached the same conclusion for the same reasons.
For those interested in technical issues and policy implications, the EFCF reports look like a treasure trove of analysis (I have only scanned a couple and cannot vouch for all the papers). This should be good wonk-ish reading for quite a while.
It's been my suspicion that US (and foreign?) oil interests have been using hydrogen cars as a means of diverting news coverage and research funds from MCFC's, SOFC's, zinc-air fuel cells and various types of batteries. The end of PEM FC coverage beneath the ECFC umbrella indicates that this tactic may have come to the end of its usefulness. The political and economic cost of remaining dependent upon oil (and OPEC) is becoming undeniable as well. Does this mean that we might finally get research actually aimed at making product and changing the status quo? Only time will tell.
One way you can help: write your congresscritter. Demand the end of hydrogen-car programs and the re-allocation of the money to fuels we really have or can make efficiently with biomass.
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