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Climate Change and Driving the Hydrogen Highway

Jim Baird's picture
Owner, Thermodynamic Geoengineering

inventor,Method and apparatus for load balancing trapped solar energy Ocean thermal energy conversion counter-current heat transfer system Global warming mitigation method Nuclear Assisted...

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  • Jun 9, 2013

U.S. Department of Transportation, “The Interstate System has been called the Greatest Public Works Project in History.  From the day President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the Interstate System has been a part of our culture—as construction projects, as transportation in our daily lives, and as an integral part of the American way of life.  Every citizen has been touched by it, if not directly as motorists, then indirectly because every item we buy has been on the Interstate System at some point.  President Eisenhower considered it one of the most important achievements of his two terms in office, and historians agree.” 

A year later, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite which triggered the Space Race and heated up the Cold War. The Advanced Research Projects Agency, which became the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA in 1972 was formed as was NASA, and U.S. government spending on scientific research and education was increased. It was also determined that the clearance of overpasses and bridges on the Interstate System  had to be raised to 17 feet to allow for the movement of Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles, that could not be transported by rail. 

The success of the Interstate System has however engendered current security issues such as the addiction to oil identified by every U.S. President since Nixon (Eisenhower’s Vice President) and climate change.

The 1991 estimated cost of the Interstate System (35 years worth of construction) was $128.9 billion of which the Federal share was $114.3 billion. By 1996, the final year of construction the Federal share had risen to $119 billion or about the same as the total U.S. economic losses in 2012 due to climate related storms and drought.

If last year wasn’t a climate change Sputnik moment, then hopefully one will soon come which won’t be too catastrophic.   

The Hydrogen Economy is a proposed system of delivering energy using hydrogen. Often overlooked however, is the fact hydrogen is also a way of delivering water, which is even more vital than energy.

The environmental benefit of producing energy in a hydrogen fuel cell, burning it in a hydrogen-fired gas turbine or Pulse Detonation Engine is water is the only byproduct of the energy produced.

You can power your home while providing the water you and it need from the same source.  

According to the Energy Information Administration, transportation (gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc.) accounts for about 2/3 of the oil used in the United States.

The Hydrogen Highway would supplant this usage.

One of the first jet engines was powered by hydrogen in 1937 and 50 years later the Russian manufacturer Tupolev built a prototype hydrogen-powered version of the Tu-154 airliner.

William Ford Jr. has stated that infrastructure is one of three factors (including costs and manufacturability in high volumes) that is holding back the marketability of fuel cell vehicles.

Seimens, Shell and others, are working to resolve these problems. The quickest way to address the distribution problem would be for every vendor of fuel cell vehicles to become a distributor of hydrogen as well.

British Columbia proposed a Hydrogen Highway to link Vancouver to Whistler as part of its 2010 Winter Olympic effort.  Even Prime Minister Harper, not noted for his environmental bona fides, announced $200 million in funding in 2007 for environmental projects in B.C. including the Hydrogen Highway.

B.C.  is also a major cluster for fuel cell research. As a consequence of that effort, Klaus Berger, vice president of Daimler AG’s Fuel Cell Division in Burnaby, B.C., says he expects that by 2017 the cost to produce a fuel cell power plant for vehicles will be comparable to a diesel-electric hybrid.

The question then arises, where do we get the hydrogen that does not exist freely in Nature.

The answer is it is ubiquitous. It can be produced by the electrolysis of water, steam reformation of hydrocarbons, fermentation, photoelectric water splitting, high temperature disassociation of water and other means.

From a climate perspective the best way to produce hydrogen is by electrolysis using renewable energy and from an economic perspective the greatest return on renewable investment is hydropower.

Here too British Columbia is well endowed. The proposed Site C dam on the Peace River could produce an additional 1100 megawatts of power to add to BC Hydro’s current 11,000 megawatts capacity, which pales by comparison to the 55,000 megawatts that could be provided by diverting Alaska and British Columbia waters southward by the North American Water and Power Authority as proposed in 1964 by the Ralph M. Parsons Company.

Those Canadians opposed to bulk water exports might be more amenable to exporting hydrogen, which in turn could be converted to water, but the sensible thing would be to produce and export all three, hydro, water and hydrogen.

Paul Wright has a patent application for the transporting of hydrogen dissolved in water.

Transportation is cited as one of the major obstacle to the implementation of the Hydrogen Economy. This is not an insurmountable obstacle though because more than 2,950 kms of hydrogen pipelines and 12 hydrogen networks already exist in Europe and the United States and new solutions may be on the horizon.


The U.S. needs to grow its hydrogen infrastructure to the point that all 75,932 kilometers of the Interstate System can be serviced.

In hydrogen there is European/North American potential to benefit the world.

I K's picture
I K on Jun 8, 2013

Over time hydrogen dissolves into steel making it brittle and crack so its harder to transport via pipelines and to store in tanks from what I’ve read.

Bob Brinkoetter's picture
Bob Brinkoetter on Jun 10, 2013

Yes, Hydrogen is fast becoming the answer we desperately need.

By using Hydrogen, we can gain multiple benefits …

         Clean energy

         Environmental protection

         Economic freedom from oil / fossil fuel dependence

         New jobs creation

By using Hydrogen we eliminate all these non-productive and wasteful costs …

Exploration Costs

Land/Offshore License Costs

Oil/Mineral Rights Costs

Geological Research Costs

Political Jusisdiction Costs

Well Drilling Costs

Failed Well Costs

Waste Gas Flares

Environmental Costs

Pollution Control Costs

Site Restoration Costs

Fuel Reforming Costs

Waste Byproduct Costs


Let’s proceed with Hydrogen as soon as humanly possible.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Jun 9, 2013

Jim, before we more aggressively pursue hydrogen as a viable alternative to petroleum we need to make sure the economics are reasonable compared to other existing alternatives.  Yes, electrolytic hydrogen is potentially a candidate to displace petroleum, but its primary challenge is of course cost.  Today 90%+ of all hydrogen is produced from natural gas at a cost of 10%-20% of electrolytic hydrogen, and electric vehicle (EV) technologies costs are also a small fraction of hydrogen fuels cells and other vehicle drive train options.  Once the current costs of electrolytic hydrogen (via new catalysts and/or electrode development R&D) have been reduced to similar cost levels of natural gas shift reactors, and fuel cells or alternative vehicle power systems become competitive to EV’s, only then should we aggressively pursue a hydrogen based transportation system.


Electric vehicles also have another advantage, the primary power line transport & distribution infrastructure already exists.  Only the charging stations need to be added.  The same is generally true for natural gas.  Hydrogen must also compete with the natural gas carbon capture and sequester options.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Jun 9, 2013

IK, hydrogen embrittlement of steel pipe is a function of the type of steel alloy used and the pressure of the hydrogen transport system operation/design.  Your comment is accurate for cheaper carbon steel, but not for higher grades of steel’s commonly used in natural gas steam reforming production facilities and storage tanks.


Another issue with hydrogen is its flammability/explosive range physical properties.  Unlike most hydrocarbons which have relatively narrow flammability/explosive limits, hydrogen is much more hazardous.  Petroleum fuels and natural gas lower/upper flammability limits are typically 1%-8% and 4%-17% in air mixtures respectively, where hydrogen’s flammability limits are 4%-75% in air mixtures.  In other words hydrogen leaks are far more hazardous due to an extremely wide flammability/explosive range, and, the fact that hydrogen flames are almost invisible to the human eye; a potentially severe flame-burn hazard for those exposed to any hydrogen-equipment leak.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Jun 9, 2013

Agreed, hydropower is a very viable source of the power needed for generating electrolytic hydrogen based on current technologies and possible future innovations.  However, most new and existing hydropower is under attack by numerous environmentalists due to reservoir and downstream impact issues.  While on a carbon only basis, hydrogen is superior to natural gas since CCS of vehicle exhausts is not feasible, on a overall cost basis it still has a huge barrier to overcome; production/generation & vehicle technologies costs vs. EV alternatives.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 9, 2013

For many motorists, battery electric cars (BEVs) are a better solution than hydrogen fuel-cell cars.  For garage-kept vehicles, home recharging is more convenient.  The energy cost for BEVs is lower.

The market segments that are poorly served by BEVs are those which require low purchase price (including those w/ low anual mileage) or rapid refueling (e.g. non-garage-kept).  Hydrogen helps with the latter, but not the former.

Furthermore, hydrogen rollout is impeded by the need for pipeline infrastructure, so starting small doesn’t work well.

On the other hand, ammonia fueled ICE vehicles would complement BEVs quite well.  ICE vehicles have the lowest purchase price and fast refueling.  Unlike hydrogen, ammonia can be carried effectively by truck; the first refueling station in an area need not wait on pipeline deployment.

Ammonia can be made from gaseous hydrogen for the same or less energy cost than liquefying the H2 or compressing it and pumping it through a 1000 km pipeline.

In vehicle applications, ammonia has over triple the energy density of 5000 psi hydrogen, and double that of 10,000 psi H2.  So ammonia does not require the efficiency of a fuel cell to provide adequate driving range (but it will provide higher mileage per unit energy than gasoline, since it can be burned at higher compression ratios, like diesel fuel; and certain types of fuel cells can use ammonia).

Unlike hydrogen, ammonia can be stored in large unpressurized tanks (requiring only refrigeration to -33C, not -253C like H2).  So it is the only practical & scalable way to provide seasonal energy storage for variable renewables.

Ammonia is made today from fossil fuels (using CC&S at some plants) for a price that is competitive per unit energy with gasoline, and is the lowest cost practical fuel that can be made from solar, wind, OTEC, or nuclear power.

Ammonia has the added advantage that when made from sustainable sources, it will be cheapest in developing nations with low labor costs, i.e. it is a technology that targets nations like China and India whose CO2 will soon dwarf those of the developed world.

Here’s a good intro to ammonia fuel: 


see also:  

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 9, 2013

Jim, a switch to hydrogen-powered transportation makes little sense for several reasons:

  • It adds a wasteful, unnecessary extra step to converting energy to motion. Electric cars will have sufficient range within 5 years to address nearly all Americans’ needs, and be 50% more efficient (GREET simulation).
  • As John correctly points out, hydrogen is problematic (and energy-intensive) to move, store, and dispense.
  • Proton-exchange membrane (PEM) technology continues to have durability issues.
  • An infrastructure will cost something on the order of $500 billion (Romm).
  • Hydrogen will likely be the result of methane-powered reforming, which with efficiency losses likely will create a worse carbon emissions problem than we have right now.
  • Renewables-powered electrolysis would provide a minute fraction of the energy necessary to power America’s transportation.

I understand that the American Petroleum Institute is anxious to find a use for their 50,000 service stations which, like their fuel, are going the way of the dodo. Shell has dipped their toe into the alt nuclear pool; if other oil companies have any vision beyond the next decade they’d be wise to do the same.

Bob Brinkoetter's picture
Bob Brinkoetter on Jun 10, 2013

Seems there is another way to look at this safety issue.

The Autoignition Temperature – or the minimum temperature required to ignite 

a gas or vapor in air WITHOUT a spark or flame being present:


Fuel or Chemical              (C)   (F)

————————              ———-

Gasoline, Petrol              280   536 

Kerosene                        295   563 

Ethyl Alcohol, Ethanol     365  689 

Hydrogen                         500  932

Methane (Natural Gas)    580  1076 

In other words, Hydrogen is LESS LIKELY to explode than the gas in your tank,

and only slightly more likely than the gas stove in your kitchen, unless a spark is present.


Referenced Data Source: Engineering Tool Box

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 10, 2013

That’s great if you live in Hawaii or other near-equatorial deep-water locations, which could be served with pipelines.

For the rest of us, we need a fuel with decent energy density for transportability on ships, rail, and trucks, which H2 lacks and NH3 has.  As I mentioned, converting H2 to NH3 is more energy efficient than liqufying it.  

I K's picture
I K on Jun 10, 2013

It makes zero sense to turn high grade electricity into lower grade hydrogen. If you are thinking of using hydrogen for heating just use a resistive heater or perhaps a heat pump

With regards to transport you are probably considerably better off drawing electricity directly from the grid as some trains do (and as buses did about a hubdred years ago).

It may sound absurd electrifying the motorways of the rich nations but its probably less absurd than building a multi trillion dollar eletricity to hydrogen to interbal hydrogen engine or fuel cell industry.  Not only would electrification be consoderably cheaper it would be at least twice as efficient bypassing hydrogen producroon and recombustion. Also the embedded energy of the ‘draw electricity directly’ vehicles would be lower too. The performance qould also be out of this word tiny low weight eletric motors can give tremendous torque and power and without a 200kg battery to carry about. 


But even this is unlikely vs computer cara reducing energy demand by 80 percwnt plus. After that we wont care too much about the snall amounts of oil used in transport

Bob Brinkoetter's picture
Bob Brinkoetter on Jun 10, 2013

I was just reading a news release put out by our U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab. The Saudi’s are comitted to expanding their reach toward renewable energy. Here is a quote from the article …

“Saudi Arabia is determined to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons,” said Wail Bamhair, the project manager for the Saudi team that visited NREL. “Renewable energy isn’t just an option, but absolutely necessary. We have the means to build renewable energy, and we need to do it.”

Here’s the link to the full article …

Let me repeat. What are we in the U.S. waiting for ?

Let’s move immediately toward a Hydrogen economy.
I’m positive we have the resources (water, solar, hydro, etc). Let’s ROLL
Bob Brinkoetter's picture
Bob Brinkoetter on Jun 11, 2013

Speaking of producing hydrogen at ocean depth …

I submitted a system concept to Shell Oil’s Game Changer program on that very subject.

The concept is to use sea based solar power panels to drive electrolysis, and compresses the Hydrogen (at depth) for liquefication and transfer to an LNG type tanker.

Here’s the link to a pictorial illustration of the idea …

Some might say this is going off the deep end !

What do you think ?


Bob Brinkoetter's picture
Bob Brinkoetter on Jun 15, 2013

Alex, as you explain, nuclear and solar may be our best energy sources from the standpoint of physics.

We should definitely exploit the nuclear power resource insofar as possible. Yes, the safety and disposable issues are all manageable.

Also, there is no question in my mind that EV is the superior transportation solution.

Here’s where Hydrogen comes into play:     

O + H + FC = E; and E + V = EV. 

Explanation of terms:

O = Atmospheric Oxygen

H = Hydrogen

FC = Fuel Cell

E = Electrical Energy

V = Vehicle

EV = Electric Vehicle

(This oversimplified linear equation is from a computer scientists mind)

But, as you may see, Hydrogen provides an essential factor in the equation.

Since we have all the other ingredients in the recipe, except Hydrogen,

could this be the driver/driving force behind the Hydrogen movement ?

My apologies to the mathemeticians/physicists.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 16, 2013

I’m a liuttle confused. Are we talking about separating elements or separating Isotopes, not the same thing!


Anyway I think the Waste issue is not  sufficient to cause avoidance of Nuclear power, because we should all know that the so called waste is caused because of an extremely inefficient design, and the waste can be reprocessed or fed into an MSR for lunch.

Proliferation too is not a good reason to avoid nuclear power if the right MSR is used. Honestly, very smart and determined people will find a way to build Nukes one way or the other…that could be the Russians, or their own ground up systems. If we sold DMSRs to the world, proliferation would not be an issue.

The way I see it there is room for OTEC in geographically appropriate areas, but the OTEC has to step up and prove itself. At least we don’t have a bunch of fanatical environmentalists trying to shut OTEC down.

I do have a huge beef with so-called environmentalists whose fear mongering has helped to ensure that nuclear designs which obviate or eliminate their stated concerns are kept from being built, while they scream Nuclear is not safe, they themselves are hindering the safety of nuclear power.


Thing is that there are just way too many parts of the world where Otec won’t be feasible, and an OTEC with Thousands of miles of power lines, feeding Multiple destinations will be humonguos and difficult to do.

Jim, I seriously think that removing heat from the Earth would be a bad reason for OTEC. It would remove some heat, but not enough to actually cool the Earth. What it would do is cool the surface of the Ocean by transerring surface heat to the depths. This wont actually cool the Earth itself. If our environmental goal is served just by  cool the surface, we could just set up windmills to power water pumps and do that. Those self-same windmills  would be way too unreliable  (IMO) for use in an actual OTEC. As for poower generation using OTEC, is it efficient enough to be worth the costs. In My opinion, OTEC science has to answer these questions.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 16, 2013

Jim Thanks for your answers to my questions below. Sorry the thread went away from the original intent.

I K's picture
I K on Jun 16, 2013

Electric cars powered by overhead lines.  95 percent electrical efficiency

Hydrogen or ammonia car. Lesss than 20 percent electrical efficency (combusting the hydrogen or ammonia is 40 percent and you first need to make the hydrogen at what 50 percent loss)

So why on earth would we spent trillion and trillions and take 50 years to ramp up a hydrogen or ammonia transport system when it uses 5x as much energy as directly using electricity via overhead lines?



Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 16, 2013


Overhead powerlines would be a safety nightmare, buried inductive plates would be safer. And maybe it’s my vision of the implementation that’s off?

Yet again, these seem like solutions better suited for small compact industrialized countries. It would hardly work for the USA, or for Nigeria. Both are big and spreadout, one is rich, the other is poor and technologically backward (sorry Nigerians..LOL)

If I had to choose a solution, I’d go for a battery. Unfortunately theadvanced Li-on/Zinc-air batteries are not quite here yet and they’ll cost ungodly sums. Now defunct Israeli Better Place had the idea for quick swapp fully charged battery stations, I guess this could work with a whole lot of backing from the gov’t. The batteries would also need to be very high density.

I K's picture
I K on Jun 16, 2013

Yes I can imagine it would be more unsafe that current ICEs but I don’t think it will be unreasonably unsafe.

If reducing energy is the aim then drawing electricity is the best way.  As noted hydrogen or ammonia will use some 5x as much energy. Drawing energy directly would even be some 20 percent more efficient than batteries.  Also the world may one day need 3 billion cars with 250 million built and scrapped yearly. I can not see how building 250 million big battery packs a year is a good idea.

Do note that you don’t need to electrify every road. The cars can have small battery packs that can do say 10 miles ‘off grid’

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 17, 2013

Alex Cannara, there is no “thermodynamics” in human metabolism (unless you contrive some entropy concepts nobody can prove or disprove). And most all bioenergy is based on oxidation-reduction potentials of hydrogen.

Certainly, combustion of H2 isn’t the best idea. But Hydrogen/proton quantum physics is a serious science.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 17, 2013

Believe Me I really want electrical cars to become the norm, they afterall  are superior for many reasons. What I’d like to see is for maybe Zinc Air batteries. From what I’ve read, Zinc airs can be very cheap due to the abundance of Zinc and it being cheap indeed.


I alsowould like Better Places idea brought back and perfected. A Zinc air “Power Pack” should perhaps look like this:-



And should take you 50miles at least (100 miles are better) depending on the size of the car.

They should be available everywhere and customers should be”Renting only, paying a fee for the power on board, the wear and tear, and decommisioning/recycling cost. When combined with Inductance recharging embbeded under the the road ways, they might just work. 

I K's picture
I K on Jun 17, 2013

Nothing comes close to drawing electricity directly

You need only 0.5kwhe per mile. So a single 2GW CCGT can produce the energy for almost 100 million miles per day. 

The implementation need not be ugly. You only need two strips of aluminium maybe only 30cm wide.  One on the ground as earth and another above as the live conductor.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 17, 2013

Alex, I did my Biophysical Chemistry Ph.D. work on proton exchange kinetics in proteins at over 100,000 psi, doubling the record in a machine I designed and built. I did a “proton tunneling” model and frequency and amplitude distribution model based on combining solid state physics with biochemistry. It yielded the concept of dynamically addressable states that was applied to fiber optic internet addressing (as opposed to wires everywhere) by a supercomputer company. At the time the Governor of Minnesota couldn’t find anybody competent in Minnesota or Wisconsin to combine solid state physics with biochemistry, but today some might call the science “nanotechnology.” Go try sell “thermodynamics” to a pharmaceutical company and they’ll send you to the boiler room.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 18, 2013

Alex, I think one way to generate low entropy energy (electricity) from high entropy energy (fire) is an optical filter and PV. Fuel cells and proton chemistry can be very different than conventional wisdom is my only point. The proton is a fundamental particle of physics and I get frustrated seeing its possibilities never properly considered.

Bob Brinkoetter's picture
Bob Brinkoetter on Jun 19, 2013

Yes, Hydrogen is alive and well.

From Sacramento, CA Business Journal

Jun 13, 2013, 2:58 pm PDT 

Headline: State grants $18.7M for hydrogen fueling stations

Excerpt from article …

The California Energy Commission has approved $18.7 million in grants to expand the state’s infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The new money for fueling stations, allocated on Wednesday, was made through the commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program,  created by Assembly Bill 118.


From Los Angeles Times

June 7, 2013, 7:30 am PDT

Headline: U.S. trails in building fueling stations for hydrogen-powered cars

Excerpt from article …

Europe already has a solid network of hydrogen fueling stations running from the boot of Italy northwest across the continent, through Germany and Belgium. 

More stations are sprinkled across Scandinavia. Dozens more are planned throughout the continent.


Japan is moving ahead on Hydrogen as well. I just took a look at the 2013 Honda FCX Clarity. It is currently advertised at 60 miles per kg.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, many European countries and Eastern countries are way ahead of the U.S. in Hydrogen production, distribution, and introduction of H2 / FCEV vehicles.

I wonder why that is. Could it be our ignorance, vested interests in other technologies, does someone have us over a barrel (oil), what ?

I believe California has seen the light, as has the rest of the modern world.

Bob Brinkoetter's picture
Bob Brinkoetter on Jun 23, 2013

Let me qualify that statement I made about nuclear energy. I am referring only to nuclear FUSION as being an energy source that I would support, but not nuclear fission. Although fusion is not here yet, I definitely am opposed to continuing our use of our current technologies in fusion. Sorry for my original ambiguity.

Jim Baird's picture
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