Stirling Energy Systems

Burning the Future: Why We Need to Create a Hydrogen Energy Economy

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Courtesy of Stirling Energy Systems

In the name of energy we suffer the indignities of rising prices and shortages. We warm the climate, deplete the ozone layer, pollute our air, poison our environment with acid rain, dump tons of mercury into our oceans each year and wage wars. As Americans we also cultivate a dangerous dependency on foreign sources of fossil fuels that weakens our national security.

Where does the world get its energy? According to the Energy Information Administration, worldwide consumption comes from Petroleum (39%), Coal (25%), Natural Gas (22%), Renewables, (primarily hydroelectric, 8%) and Nuclear (6%). By 2020 the world will be burning 120 million barrels of oil a day. Natural gas consumption will shoot up from 90 trillion feet in 2001 to 176 trillion cubic feet in 2025. By 2020 we¹ll be pumping 9.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide ­ the primary culprit in global warming ­ into what remains of our atmosphere.

How long will the party last? At current rates of consumption, our oil reserves will last 45 years, natural gas 70 years and coal ­ the world¹s most abundant and polluting fossil fuel ­ somewhere around 200 years.

America¹s appetite for energy is voracious. Every day ­ according to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan ­ we spend the energy equivalent of 3 gallons of oil, 20 pounds of coal and 221 cubic feet of natural gas for every man, woman and child in America. In the year 2000 we spent $703 billion on energy.

Put another way, with less than 5% of the world¹s population we consume 24% of the world¹s energy. By comparison, China¹s population, 20% of humanity, consumes 10% of the world¹s energy.

Yet all the while ­ as we acquire, defend and use up the finite supply of fossil fuels, while we burn it up and deny it to future generations ­ we steadfastly turn a blind eye to an unlimited fuel supply, oceans of it, the same fuel that powers the sun.

That fuel is hydrogen. Hydrogen, bound with oxygen makes water. Hydrogen does not exist naturally on earth and is found only in compound forms such as water, methane, coal and petroleum.

Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel and can be made from water, but it takes energy. So the question becomes: is there a way to make hydrogen without burning fossil fuels and continuing down this relentless path of depletion and pollution?

There¹s a furnace 93 million miles away that keeps us alive on this planet. A very small portion of the energy radiated by the sun ­ one part in two billion ­ strikes the earth. Just one day of that solar energy is enough to supply all of the US energy needs for one and a half years. We have the technology to capture and use it to produce electricity and clean-burning hydrogen ­ but we¹re shortsighted, deferring to the convenience of fossil fuels and ignoring the problems they entail. Once these fuels are gone, burned up in the short space of a few hundred years, they are gone forever.

Hydrogen is in use today. Prototype cars and busses using fuel cells, run on liquid hydrogen are on the streets today. Fuel cells using hydrogen for heating systems are sold in Europe.

Hopefully, a transformation will come about when enough of us raise our voices and urge our government representatives to move toward a clean energy economy based upon renewable fuels.

A good first step is to contact your public officials. Governors, Senators, Congressional representatives and clean air agencies are listed in the Yellow Pages of the phone book and all are available on the Internet. For immediate action, you may voice your opinion by filling out a form on the Natural Resources Defense Council web site. It will be forwarded for you. That web site is Click on Energy Debate Gets Serious.

About the Contributor

David Slawson is CEO of Stirling Energy Systems based in Phoenix, Arizona,

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