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The Fossil Fuel Crisis – Hydrogen as an Alternative.

Hydrogen’s star has waned a little in the current environment as it requires lots of energy to produce a useable hydrogen fuel. That energy in turn needs to be produced in an environmentally sympathetic manner.

Thirty years ago, hydrogen fuel appeared to have a massive future as a direct replacement for petrol/diesel. In those days the main threat was the expiry of fossil fuel reserves. More modern times bring us other concerns, with global warming currently topping most agendas.

Hydrogen’s star has waned a little in the current environment as it requires lots of energy to produce a useable hydrogen fuel. That energy in turn needs to be produced in an environmentally sympathetic manner.

We also have to bear in mind that the nations who hold the current fossil fuel reserves are dependant on the sale of their oil/coal field produce to maintain internal development.

We appear to have reached a stage where, instead of standing back in horror, uttering the words - “…there are only fossil fuel reserves for two more generations…” we can now stand back and say – “…okay, we have two generations before fossil fuels are gone, that’s time enough to develop the alternatives…”

The big concern is, of course, managing fuel production in such a fashion that environmental damage is held or, better yet, reduced.

Hydrogen can be produced from natural gas or from water. The extraction of hydrogen from water requires the use of an electrolytic process. This requires an electricity consumption of around 50kw hours per 1kg of hydrogen produced. Global scale hydrogen production would require vast amounts of electricity and that in its turn would need to be generated.

Taken to the logical conclusion, this would require the electricity production to be nuclear based as, currently, that is the only means available to produce the bulk required in an environmentally neutral fashion.

To commit fully to hydrogen would also mean committing irrevocably to a nuclear power society complete with all its waste management problems. 

This scenario would only apply for so long as the hydrogen fuel cell remains a better means of energy transportation than the battery. As the years go by it is certain that battery technology will also undergo a few major developments.


While it looks unlikely that the world will stop for want of fuel or power, do we wish to continue down the spiral path of consume (and waste) because the resource is cheap? This always leads to an increase in production and supply simply to satisfy demand.

We need a strategy of gradually increasing the cost of power to the consumer, while slowly bringing on line alternative power production methods. Nuclear, hydrogen, bio-mass, bio-diesel, wind, and water power will all be exploited, but non will be the ’silver bullet’. Placing restrictions on the ways in which currently available fuels are burned will certainly increase the price of power and make the alternatives gradually more attractive.

Of course, we also have to keep in mind that increasing affluence in countries with emerging economies will play a major role. More comfortable home environments, more cars, more manufacture, more transportation will all carry a priceFree Web Content, but nothing affects a market like cost and the only way to get the consumer to care about power wastage is to make energy more expensive.

If we can eventually attain a culture of less waste we may yet achieve a sustainable existence.

 © Copyright 2007

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Chris A Watkins is an engineer with many years experience in vehicle fleet management. In recent years he has been more active in IT and writing and has a keen interest in environmental issues.

Chris A Watkins

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