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The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate [Paperback]

Joseph J. Romm
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 15 2005 1559637048 978-1559637046 1
"The Hype About Hydrogen" offers a hype-free explanation of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, takes a hard look at the practical difficulties of transitioning to a hydrogen economy, and reveals why, given increasingly strong evidence of the gravity of climate change, neither government policy nor business investment should be based on the belief that hydrogen cars will have meaningful commercial success in the near or medium term. Romm, who helped run the federal government's program on hydrogen and fuel cells during the Clinton administration, provides a provocative primer on the politics, business, and technology of hydrogen and climate protection.

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From Publishers Weekly

In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush seized the nation's attention with his advocacy of a "hydrogen economy," with fuel cells that produce energy and water taking the place of fossil fuels in cars that produce greenhouse gases. As Romm (Cool Companies), a former Department of Energy official in the Clinton administration, points out, however, hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source (at least until we tame nuclear fusion). Hydrogen can be extracted from biomass or seawater, but the primary source today is natural gas—which produces greenhouse gases as a byproduct. Romm expresses extreme pessimism about the potential for hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles, even as car manufacturers jump on the fuel cell bandwagon. Romm maintains that it will take decades to solve the infrastructure demands presented by a hydrogen-powered car, such as hydrogen's propensity to embrittle metal. There are also safety issues: an electrical storm several miles away can ignite hydrogen, as can a slight charge from a cell phone. Romm believes that stationary fuel cell systems to provide power to companies and homes hold much more potential (and he works with companies promoting this technology). His central chapter lays out the case for global warming and the potential for catastrophic climate change in the next few decades. Readers looking to separate facts from hype about cars running on hydrogen and large-scale fuel cell systems will find a useful primer here.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The utopian quest for a pollution-free energy source has been knocking around since, at the very least, the advent of urban smog alerts and acid rain in the 1960s. With President Bush's 2003 pledge to earmark a billion-plus dollars for developing fuel-cell vehicles, the holy grail of clean energy has been looking more and more like hydrogen, a substance whose only waste product is water vapor. Yet Romm, a Department of Energy advisor during the Clinton administration, makes a compelling case for believing that widespread use of hydrogen is still four to five decades away. To begin with, hydrogen entrepreneurs face the chicken-or-egg dilemma of making fuel-cell vehicles marketable before the hydrogen infrastructure necessary for people to abandon gasoline engines is in place. Romm also warns that overenthusiasm for a still embryonic technology could delay its full flowering even further. Vital, very readable guidance for investors, environmentalists, and interested bystanders looking toward a future without fossil fuels. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravo for Sound Science and Policy July 4 2004
Format:Hardcover
Joe Romm's marvelous new book, The Hype About Hydrogen, is "must read" for policy makers, environmentalists, researchers, activists, investors, and all citizens who want a sound and honest appraisal of the possibility of a future "hydrogen economy". Dr. Romm's broad expertise in energy-related R&D is evident throughout this long-overdue and objective look at the seriousness of its technical challenges. For several years, a handful of insightful scientists around the world have been trying to get their voices heard regarding the serious issues that seem likely to prevent a hydrogen economy from becoming a reality for at least 40 years. Sadly, even the professional scientific journals and institutions, apparently fearful that the truth might jeopardize funding of pet projects, have hesitated to give audience to the daunting scientific objections to a hydrogen economy.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a detailed study, The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs, early in 2004 that was the first step by a distinguished body toward an objective look at the hydrogen economy. On the heels of this study especially, it seems irresponsible for Energy Secretary Abraham to continue to actively promulgate the fantasy that hydrogen will solve our energy problems.
Joe's book, like the NAS study, points out in a clear, and scientifically sound manner why (1) hydrogen fuel cells are not likely to become cost competitive in vehicles, (2) hydrogen fuel will likely always be too expensive, (3) FC vehicles do not help reduce greenhouse gases, (4) the hydrogen infrastructure hurdle is immense, and (5) we must begin now taking meaningful steps to reduce CO2 emissions.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A Pretentious and Disingenuous Piece of Trash July 1 2004
Format:Hardcover
Romm, a skilled but disingenuous academic, makes hay with his has-been political credentials in an effort to sway public sentiment away from desperately needed government hydrogen funding and toward his dead end pet projects. Carefully ignoring important information counter to his argument, he builds a case against the clean air and energy security promise of hydrogen energy that has outraged the core of the hydrogen community.
In "Responses to Joe Romm's Seven Points on the Hydrogen Economy", C. E. "Sandy" Thomas, long time leader of high level studies on hydrogen safety and efficiency, and now President of H2Gen Innovations, tears apart Romm's thesis thread by thread. This freely distributed white paper can be found at the web sites of EV World and the International Clearinghouse for Hydrogen Based Commerce.
A few of Sandy's key observations:
"Joe says that it took PV and wind 20 years for a 10X drop in price, therefore the 100X drop that he portrays for FCVs would take many decades. He concludes that a major breakthrough in fuel cell technology is required. Christine Sloane of GM reports that they are within a factor of 10 now (if mass produced) in the range of a few hundred $/kW without any breakthrough."
"Hydrogen produced by the H2Gen's HGM natural gas reformer at the fueling station or fleet operator's garage would cost less per mile than taxed gasoline. We estimate that the life-cycle costs of owning and operating a hydrogen FCV would be $2,290 less than owning and operating a conventional gasoline car..."
"Joe Romm claims that a storage breakthrough is required before FCVs will be practical.
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Format:Hardcover
Having read Jeremy Rifkin's interesting, but rose-colored and somewhat tangential take on the future of the hydrogen fuel cell: The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the World-Wide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth (2002), I was pleased to read something from a full-time energy professional.
Joseph Romm, author of this sobering volume, worked in the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration and has been involved intimately with hydrogen research and development for many years. His main point is that we must eventually have a hydrogen economy based on the hydrogen fuel cell, but that we must not expect this to happen without some major technological breakthroughs. His book is a warning that the global warming clock is ticking and ticking, and that we need to do something now if we hope to avoid a possible catastrophe.
The really scary thing about global warming is that we may pass over the point of no return without knowing it. Furthermore, a full-blown, runaway greenhouse effect would make nuclear winter look like a walk in the park. Look what happened to Venus, where on any spring day (or winter day for that matter) the surface is hot enough to melt lead. Could that happen here? The real and direct answer to that question is: we don't know.
Romm is not painting any such dire scenarios in this book, but he does state most clearly that "the primary reason why we should pursue fuel cells and a hydrogen economy is to help respond to global warming." (p. 188) He adds, "global warming is the most intractable and potentially catastrophic environmental problem facing...the planet this century." (p. 152) Romm identifies carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere as the primary cause of global warming.
What to do and how to do it?
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