The Hunt for Alternative Energy
Today’s world is controlled by people of power – not political power, but the power that fuels homes, communities, and countries. Most commonly, these people control petroleum and coal. For centuries, they have called all the shots and reaped profits that would make King Midas envious, all at the expense of the common person.
Who hasn’t been annoyed whenever a “traveling holiday” approaches and the price of gasoline spikes? What about the personal tragedy when a coal mine caves in, injuring or killing miners? Finally, consider the damage to the environment and geological bedrock through extractive processes like fracking.
Why do prices continue to rise? The simple answer is shortages. When more people travel, less fuel is available per capita. When a refinery goes down, less fuel gets to filling stations. As the seasons change, refineries switch from one product to another (such as from gasoline to heating oil). But another reason prices rise is simple greed. Energy companies are not charitable institutions. The two things they are experts at creating are energy and profits.
Is there a way to break this stranglehold? Yes, but it will take a strong political will and clear scientific focus to get there. And what could possibly take the place of these extractive fuels? Gas, oil, and coal – although they pollute the environment and accelerate global warming – are still relatively cheap and efficient. Is there anything better? Yes, there is.
Hydrogen can significantly ease energy woes. Conceivably, it could be the fuel of major power plants. [Think of the sun. It is a giant hydrogen furnace.] But hydrogen can also be used on a smaller, but more widespread scale. For example, it can generate electricity in fuel cells for homes and automobiles. Small hydrogen-powered fuel cells have even been demonstrated for wrist watches.
Hydrogen’s two best qualities are these: It is clean and plentiful. When it is consumed, the only by-product is water vapor. Think of the benefit to the environment: less air pollution and a major reduction in global warming gasses. Furthermore, hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. It is inconceivable that energy suppliers could raise prices by citing a hydrogen “shortage.” The subsequent price stability would marginalize companies and countries that hold the world hostage for their product and would free the average consumer from the vagaries of the marketplace.
The major obstacle to widespread adoption of hydrogen – aside from the political will to break away from extractive fuels and an upheaval of the geopolitical energy network – is the difficulty to economically produce enough hydrogen to meet consumers’ needs. But there are many ways to do so. Four common methods are reduction of biomass, electrolysis, dark fermentation, and recombination from methane. Other, more efficient ways are on the horizon.
Energy independence is possible. Wind power, solar energy, and natural gas are all parts of a comprehensive energy policy. But hydrogen is the fuel with the greatest potential to put unlimited, economical power at your fingertips.