Lotsa sunshine but no stun grenades today.

Oil topped $60 a barrel the other day. On some of the various boards I frequent theres a panic about “What will you do when gas is $10 a gallon?!”. I’ll tell you exactly what I’ll do – nothing. Wanna know why? Because if gas gets to $10 a gallon youre gonna see a huge quantum leap in non-gasoline energy/motive production. If the worlds supply of oil mysteriously disappeared overnight you know what would happen? We’d spend ten years in utter chaos and the years after that we wouldnt miss it at all because in those ten years we’d develop engines that run on water and lubricants made out something else. So, long before gas hits $10 a gallon we won’t even be using it anymore.

I remember in 6th grade my science teacher showing what was, I believe, called a Hoffman apparatus. Run some electricity through this thing and its seperated water into its two constituent components – oxygen, which we all know and love, and hydrogen which is going to be the fuel of the future. From water. Using electricity. For some reason, despite my terrible memoery and general disdain of school, Ive always remembered that.

Now, Im not one of these people that thinks solar power is the answer to the energy problem ( it is, however, certainly a contributing factor to it). After all, it gets dark at times and clouds do show up from time to time. But if you can get electrical power from the sun, crack water for hydrogen, and store the hydrogen (since you cant store sunlight) it seems youve gone a heck of a long way to removing the need for as much petrofuel as you need now.

Of course, I was 11 in sixth grade so Im probably greatly oversimplifying things. In the perfect world that I never seem to inhabit I’d have my happy little bunkerhome running on propane and mini-hydro with some solar and wind thrown in for good measure. Lotta DC in that place.

15 thoughts on “

  1. electrolysis is one of the primary ideas behind hyrogen sythesis. Unfortunately, I can’t remember just how “expensive” it is, energy wise, to run.

    Another idea is to run our cars on ethanol (aka grain alcohol). Brazil has a massive subsidary for this, and a lot of their cars run on it. It’s also somewhat eassy to make. If you can brew beer, you can make ethanol.

  2. Not to mention that as the price of oil increases, oil reserves also increase, because fields that were previously uneconomical suddenly become worth exploiting. At a given point, it’ll make financial sense to start using oil shales, which will limit prices for a while.

  3. electrolysis is one of the primary ideas behind hyrogen sythesis. Unfortunately, I can’t remember just how “expensive” it is, energy wise, to run.

    Very. It takes 237 kilojoules of electrical energy to generate a single mole of hydrogen.

    And if you’re burning fossil fuels to generate that electrical energy, you’re not really helping matters. Hydrogen is *not* a fuel, it is a means of energy storage, like a battery, and you need to burn fuel to make it, whether you’re doing that to generate electricity for electrolysis or whether you’re steam-reforming hydrocarbons. Electrolysis is not feasible for the mass-production of hydrogen unless you have a ready supply of cheap electricity in the first place, like a massive investment in nuclear power generation.

    Ethanol’s also a dead-end. To make ethanol, you need feedstock for the year. To get feedstock, you grow vegetable matter. To farm vegetable matter, you burn oil. *Something’s* gotta power all those plows and tractors and harvestors and trucks. This turns out to be a net loss; you’re better off burning gas to grow vegetables that people will eat than you are burning gas to grow vegetables that yeast will eat so they can turn them into gas.

  4. Yeah to echo Phanatic, I’m given to understand that Canada’s sitting on as much oil as the Middle East, but right now it’s not feasable to get it. I think, essentially, we’ll never run out of oil, we’ll just stop using it once it becomes too expensive.

  5. dont let the enviromentalists hear you say that, remember if we keep burning fossil fuels we’ll rost the planet i mean we’ll go into an ice age. no i mean we’ll cook the planet. ok well the climate may change from season to season.

  6. But in this particular context, we’r enot talking about burning fuel to create electricity for this process. Rather, Im talking about the relatively ‘free’ electricity from a solar collection system. While it may take large amounts of electricity, the electricity generated, regardless of quantity, costs the same – the cost of the system itself.

  7. The point is that…

    solar electricity -> electrolysis -> hydrogen -> fuel cell -> electricity

    …is a much less efficient path than…

    solar electricity -> chemical battery -> electricity

    The cost is not just the cost of the system – although that’s more expensive too – it’s the cost of all the energy you lose along the way. You lose a lot on that detour through hydrogen.

  8. Somehow I think the stored hydrogen is going to last longer than stored electricity..,.unless youve got a set of Duracells that somehow can sit for years without any degradation.

  9. Who needs power stored for years when you’re just getting it from the big battery in the sky?

    Your storage just has to be dense enough to fit in a vehicle, and deep enough to get you through night time and cloudy seasons. A couple of months, at the outside.

  10. I think the stored hydrogen is going to last longer than stored electricity

    Actually, storing hydrogen long-term is one of the sticking points of any hydrogen economy. The molecule is so damned small that is diffuses right through containment, which means it leaks out of storage vessels and also attacks them, rendering them brittle. Couple that with the fact that its volumetric energy density is piss-poor, and you have a serious problem set to deal with if you want to store appreciable quantities of it long term.

  11. There is no one “answer” for replacing oil. Just as we presently use multiple non-renewable fuels – coal and the various forms of dino juice and the like – we’re going to use multiple kinds of renewable energy when we need to fully replace non-renewables. Each one is suited to various areas of energy usage. Biofuels and hydrogen for vehicles; solar, wind, and hydro for general electricity; etc.

    Hydrogen can be safely stored in standard steel cylinders and can be piped through the same steel stubing presently used for natural gas. Questions have been raised about storing hydrogen long term, but I think that’s a non issue. Hydrogen is now and will continue to be treated like gasoline and diesel in that special steps must be taken to store it more than a few weeks. We usually just don’t bother – we use what we need and then get more.

  12. Hydrogen can be safely stored in standard steel cylinders

    Sure, if you replace the cylinders every so often because the hydrogen turns them brittle, and so long as you don’t mind the constant small leakage out the valve. And, of course, there’s the fact that its volumetric energy density is small compared to natural gas.

    Questions have been raised about storing hydrogen long term, but I think that’s a non issue.

    No, they’re very significant issues. Ones without very good answers at the present time.

  13. I hang out with a guy who works at Sandia nation labs on hydrogen fuel cells, you’d think this would be an apostle for the grand ‘hydrogen economy of the future’, right? Wrong, “hydrogen’s energy density is twenty times lower than gasoline, meaning the range on your car would suck.” “Unless a quantum leap occurs in hydrogen storage, it will only be used for super small applications, with the balance of energy coming from a mixture of conventional and alternate energy sources.”

    And last time I checked, unless you can grow solar cells, the process for making them is so energy intensive (silicon wafer fabs, etc) that it takes a LONG time for the cells to even break even in net power production.


  14. Storing hydrogen long term really is a big problem. To give you some idea, during a radio interview (on an unrelated topic) I learned that the USAF & USN have to recharge the deuterium (hydrogen w/an extra neutron) in their nuclear warheads about every six-months, because so much of it has escaped.

    It’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, but I think the answer to future energy sources is MUCH higher energy prices. Part of it will be because alternative energy sources (e.g. shale oil, biodiesel, solar, etc.) will become cost competitive, but part of it will be that we will learn to get by on less (e.g. private vehicles made out of lighter materials w/ diesel-electric hybrid engines, LED-arrays becoming the norm for home lighting, airlines flying fewer, but larger jets — they use more fuel in absolute terms, but on a per-passenger basis they are cheaper, etc.). The adjustment will not be easy, but I think it is what’s coming.

  15. I fail to understand why it’s a big problem. As I originally stated, from a storage standpoint, we have and will continue to treat hydrogen the same way we do gasoline. No one complains that we need to solve the gasoline storage problem, because there isn’t one. We use what we need, then we get more. There just isn’t much of a NEED to store it long term. This has always been the case with gasoline and other petro fuels, yet somehow we manage.

    Refiners and distributors certainly won’t want to sit on an unsold stockpile of hydrogen, and end users by and large won’t have the desire to keep spare hydrogen on hand. If they have a hydrogen powered car, they’ll fuel up at a fueling station like they currently do, and those fueling stations will have their supply replenished every week or so like they currently do.

    I agree with you on higher energy prices. People are also going to have to learn to conserve. Using less will cost you less, which is a point a lot of people seem to miss, especially when it comes to current gas prices. They whine about gasoline being so expensive, yet it never occurs to them that they can save money by driving less and doing simple things like combining errand runs. Bad sheep.

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