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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More AlternaFuel Hokum

What's a poor consumer to do? First, I thought we could achieve energy independence through ethanol. Well, it turns out that ethanol consumes more fuel being brought to market than it conserves in our vehicles. Bummer. Well, what about hydrogen vehicles? We can save money driving Mini-Hindenburgs, right? Wrong, says The New Atlantis.

The idea of hydrogen as the fuel of the future dates back to Jules Verne, and by the 1930s was a staple of science fiction. With the advent of nuclear energy after World War II, technologists expected that atomic power would provide electricity “too cheap to meter”—electricity that could be used to produce pure hydrogen at low cost, which could then be used as a fuel. By the 1970s, however, it was apparent that nuclear energy, while potentially competitive with conventional power, did not usher in a new golden age of cheap electricity. Still, researchers devoted to the idea of the “hydrogen economy” soldiered on, and with increased public concern about carbon dioxide emissions in the 1990s and about America’s dependence on foreign oil after 9/11, the pro-hydrogen crowd seized a new opportunity to make their pitch. Incredibly, the Bush administration swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker. As a result, over the past six years, billions of dollars have been dished out to national labs, auto companies, fuel-cell firms, and other beneficiaries of government largesse on hydrogen show projects that have no practical application.

Now, me and Sam Cooke have the same trouble. We don't know much about science. And I made a promise to myself sometime in 1994 that I would never be left alone with chemical equations again. Fortunately for me and Sam, Robert Zubrin makes this plenty of easy to understand, even as he tosses around terminology like kilojoules. Like a good episode of Mr. Wizard, for policy wonks.

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