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In nature hydrogen is always found combined with other elements, which means it has to be manually made by passing an electric current through water to form hydrogen and oxygen. There is a tremendous amount of energy involved in splitting the molecules to free the hydrogen from its captor. The current method of producing hydrogen from water is through the use of oil and coal. Oil and coal are the two main resources the world is trying to cut back on. The main purpose of using hydrogen is lost when considering the actual manufacturing process of hydrogen contributes a significant amount of carbon dioxide. When the big coal and oil companies start investing their profits in hydrogen, something has gone awry. Each company sees its future limited and wants to ensure their survival. Since they have the most money they will be the main producer of hydrogen. The hydrogen economy will benefit the mining and oil industry at the cost of the clean-energy dream.
Hydrogen will prove to be a difficult energy to sell in the short term. Even though vehicles are still in the development stages, the current hydrogen prototype costs are in the million dollar range. Hydrogen is the smallest element in the universe; to get enough useful energy to power the vehicle, hydrogen has to be compressed to an extremely high-pressure.
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While it's good to see many different types of energies being researched, each alternate energy source has its pros and cons. Hydrogen requires energy input just to produce free molecules of hydrogen; once the free hydrogen is produced, distributed, and stored the conversion process is still not over. Hydrogen fuel cells are designed that when hydrogen is combined with oxygen the result is electricity and water. The electricity is used to power the vehicle and water is the harmless by-product. There is a great loss in efficiency when hydrogen is undergoing all these conversion processes. The battery driven electric vehicle is one alternative that has a minimal conversion process. Batteries can be recharged anywhere and vehicles are often build with electrical regeneration technology. Electric vehicles can also minimize efficiency loss and save distribution since electricity is already a pre-existing infrastructure.
There are a many reasons why hydrogen vehicles look so appealing. The appeal is hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and it's a clean burning form of energy since the vehicles produces only water as its emission. However, to achieve a true clean vehicle the hydrogen must also be created by a clean form of electrolysis, as Berger points out "this electricity could be generated using renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geo- and hydrothermal power." Many people believe it can reduce the dependence of foreign oil and cut down on carbon dioxide emissions.
While the arguments for a pro-hydrogen economy may look appealing there is more research that needs to be done. Just because hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe doesn't mean it's an easy, clean, or cheap energy to use. It's true that hydrogen vehicles' only emission is water but often times the process to get the hydrogen into the vehicle is dirtier than its gas-powered counterpart. According to Heywood "if the hydrogen does not come from renewable sources, then it is simply not worth doing, environmentally or economically" (qtd. in Barry, 2003).
In the world of alternative energy research there is too much politics, oversight, and libel that can interfere with a perfectly viable form of energy. The researchers need to establish standards and work together towards a common goal. There is no perfect energy but researchers and developers need to understand that when efficiency is low and the cost is high the technology being developed doesn't make sense. For each pro hydrogen point made Farrell argues "there is something else you could do that would probably work better, work faster and be cheaper," (qtd. in Sanders, 2003). It's hard to say "no" to an energy that doesn't make economic sense especially when there is free money handed out to develop this technology. If there is not more push for better alternatives, Americans will be forced to depend on foreign oil for decades to come.
Barry, Lynn. "Hydrogen's Dirty Secret." June 2003. 27 Feb 2008
Berger, Michael "Nanotechnology could clean up the hydrogen car's dirty little secret"
19 July 2007. 09 March 2008
Sanders, Robert. "Hydrogen-fueled cars not the best way to cut pollution, greenhouse
gases and oil dependency, says expert." University of California, Berkeley
17 July 2003. 27 Feb 2008