I think hydrogen fuel cells have entered the public consciousness to the extent that they are now being generally treated as a viable “alternative fuel” mechanism.
I would hazard a guess, however, that the average person thinks:
- Hydrogen is everywhere, so it’s a “free,” readily available fuel.
- Hydrogen fuel cells “burn” hydrogen in a fashion similar to the way that gasoline engines burn gasoline.
Neither is strictly correct.
In the book Fuelling the Future, Dr. Geoffrey Ballard, ” the father of the fuel cell industry,” cleary outlines the following points:
- Hydrogen to be used in fuel cells must be manufactured.
- Fuel cells, which create electricity through a chemical reaction, aren’t an efficient method for creating electricity, but they are an efficient method for storing electricity. They are, basically, batteries.
- From his perspective, the most viable way to create the hydrogen needed to power fuel cells is nuclear power.
This came as a shock to me: I’d been operating under the mistaken, uneducated assumption (mostly fueled by General Motors ads) that hydrogen fell into the same class a solar and wind power; quite clearly it doesn’t.
I’m not revealing anything profound here, but it seems to me that Ballard’s model implies a rebirth of the nuclear power industry, an industry I think many of us thought was effectively dead after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
If that’s honestly what’s required, then it’s time to start the public debate about that part of the the fuel cell equation.