How Economical is the Energy of Hydrogen?

I have heard that the economics of using hydrogen fuel cells in the automotive industry just isn’t feasible as more energy is needed to isolate H2 from natural compounds than can be recovered from its use. Is this true? –Pete L., Wilmington, DE

Pete, there are lots of good websites for getting hydrogen facts, and in this case I used the FAQ section at the National Hydrogen Association website (see link below), which says: “While it may take more energy to produce and deliver hydrogen than it takes to produce and deliver gasoline or natural gas, the hydrogen fuel is used more efficiently in hydrogen vehicles. Most hydrogen internal combustion engines (ICEs) are about 25% more efficient than their gasoline counterparts and fuel cells are 100-200% (2-3 times) more efficient. In many cases, the overall “well-to-wheels” energy usage can be much lower for hydrogen vehicles than for gasoline or natural gas vehicles using a conventional internal combustion engine.” But I also look at resource economics and political risk as a more important factor. For instance, if I have solar and wind systems producing electricity when this electricity is not fully needed, wouldn’t I want to make hydrogen from water for use in transportation fuels? Or if I am ‘flaring” methane for safety reasons from mines and water treatment plants, wouldn’t it be preferable to extract the hydrogen for fuel than either flaring or venting – i.e., wasting the energy content or allowing a potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere? While energy inputs and outputs are important, they are not the deciding factor. The energy costs of wars in the Middle East, protecting sea lanes, drilling for the oil resource in obscure areas is not small, but the political risks are enormous. Best regards, Scott Sklar
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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