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October 08, 2004

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Margot

Table 3. Costs of Secondary Energy Supplies

Cost of Secondary Energy $/gigajoule

Electricity from Nuclear Power 10-12
Electricity from Coal-Fired Generation 15-18

Cost of Producing Hydrogen
$/gigajoule
Hydrogen from coal/gas/oil ~5
Hydrogen from coal/gas/oil minus CO2 8-13
Hydrogen from biomass 12-18
Hydrogen using nuclear power 15-18
Hydrogen using wind power 15-30
Hydrogen using solar power 25-50

Cost of Conventional Motor Fuel
Gasoline, Diesel 4-6

Summary of the Pros and Cons of Hydrogen as a Portable Fuel
We see that the dramatic proposal to use hydrogen as a transportation fuel entails certain benefits, hazards and costs. A short summary of the benefits is as follows.

- Hydrogen can be made from water using electricity.
- Hydrogen, unlike electricity, can be stored in large quantities.
- Energy contained in hydrogen can be transported via pipelines more efficiently than the energy contained in electricity via long distance transmission lines.
- Hydrogen does not form GHGs when used to make power.

Hydrogen is therefore a natural partner of electricity in the distribution and use of energy in a modern world. However, the hazards are also significant.

- Hydrogen must be stored under high pressure (>3500 psi) or at very low temperatures (< - 400ºF).
- Hydrogen leaks more easily than other gases through containers, valves and fittings used in storage and transportation.
- Hydrogen is explosive with air over a very wide range of concentrations, 4% to 72% at 1 atm. pressure.
- The combustion of hydrogen in fuel cells will produce water, with unknown consequences on local microclimate and driving conditions.
- The release of vast amounts of pure oxygen at the electrolysis plants will have unknown but potentially damaging consequences.

There are other problems, but the greatest of all is that a massive infrastructure for the generation, storage, distribution and use of hydrogen as an energy source needs to be put in place. This will be expensive and will take a long time. We will have to weather this lengthy transition and arrive at a very different energy supply configuration to do it. It will even take a major change in our mindset. This is where the question of how to double US electrical power generation using non-polluting technologies comes to the fore.
Source: The Game Must Go On, B.W. Wojciechowski, AuthorHouse, 2004.

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