Solar Hydrogen

2003-4-14 13:34:00

Paul writes:
Without having time to look at the site you mentioned above (but I will later). Let me amend my mention of hydrogen fuel cells with that it was actually solar hydrogen I was thinking of. As implied this uses solar energy to split the water molecules and produce hydrogen. This would require advances in solar panel technology to provide a nations worth of solar hydrogen, but it does have potential.

I did some research on sites promoting the idea of solar hydrogen power. They universally promote the advantages of hydrogen power, but they also universally ignore the fact that it would cost much more to produce a unit of hydrogen from solar power than from coal or oil. They also avoid the limitations of solar power.

One site tells us that it would only require land the size of North Dakota to produce enough solar power to create hydrogen for the United States.

North Dakota???

Do they not realize that they are talking about over 70,000 square miles and how much it would cost to build and maintain solar panels covering such an area? Do they not realize the great disturbance to the environment this alone would do?

Then what do we do when our need for energy doubles in forty years? Will South Dakota disappear also with maybe my state of Idaho being next on the agenda?

There is a simple solution using current technology and others I am sure will surface soon.

Below is an excerpt from my treatise presenting a solution found at:   "Ten Deceptions Of Nuclear Energy".

Solar Power. As far as being a clean energy, solar power is a definite improvement over oil or coal. Some see it as free energy and completely pollution free, but this is not quite so.

Producing the materials (vast quantities of steel, glass, and concrete) for deployment of a solar hardware requires about 3% as much coal burning as producing the same amount of electricity by direct coal burning.

In addition to this, solar panels often use cadmium compounds which are very poisonous and must be replaced and disposed of periodically.

The greatest pollution problem is space and this item alone will prevent standard solar energy from ever supplying more than a couple percent of our energy needs.

Consider this. If we could convert 100% of the sun's energy into electricity, a square foot of land at the equator would supply enough energy to light a 125 watt light bulb. But then if we take the night time the variable weather into consideration we would only have enough for a 22 watt bulb. The big problem is that we can only convert about 10% of this into energy so this reduces the power to 2.2 watts. Finally, if we move our solar collector to a more probable location in the United States the power is reduced to less than one watt.

To build a solar energy plant equal to the power of a typical coal burning one of a billion watt capacity then would occupy a space of 50 square miles.

To even come close to supplying our energy needs we would need about 500 plants which would require (figuring maintenance roads and access) 25,000 square miles of ground which is equal to the surface area of Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and New Jersey combined. (Figures taken from The Environmental Case for Nuclear Power by Robert C. Morris)

(NOTE: This source was a few years old. It is interesting that the current estimate I noted earlier was 70,000 Square miles)

On this ground there could be no farming, no fishing, no hunting, no camping etc. and would be a great eyesore on the environment.

It is true, we may have a breakthrough in energy conversion, but even if solar efficiency doubled from 10% to 20% it would remain impractical as a large scale energy source.

Another problem is that in large population centers (New York, Boston, Chicago) where the greatest amount of energy is needed the amount of sun available is much less and transporting electricity from solar power over long distances is impractical and involves large energy loss.

And Great Britain and other northern nations are out of the question. It would take about half of the surface area of that country to supply power through solar means. If you ever lived there you would understand.

The main reason there is not greater proliferation of solar power is the cost. Each watt created by solar power just costs more than those produced by coal, oil, nuclear or natural gas. Believe me if it was cheap, the power companies would be taking it seriously.

Solar enthusiasts believe that all we have to do is increase solar efficiency, but achieving 100% efficiency with any energy source is near impossible. We are likely to make small improvements in solar power but a large leap using solar panels is not likely, and depending on such requires a leap of faith indeed.

Also here is an excerpt on hydrogen power: The Hydrogen Engine. The second innovation not on the market yet, but expected within five years by Ford Motor Company is an engine that uses hydrogen fuel cells. Mazda is also working on one that uses their rotary engine.

As you know water is two parts hydrogen so the potential supply is as unlimited as the ocean. A hydrogen engine burns no petroleum at all and pollutes much less. The greenhouse gas of carbon monoxide is not released. Even so there is some pollution. Because it burns at a high temperature, it causes the nitrogen in the air to chemically react with oxygen to form nitrogen monoxide which further reacts to form nitrogen dioxide which is a pollutant.

At present most hydrogen is produced from natural gas so we are largely trading one clean fuel for another in its production. Extracting hydrogen from water takes large quantities of electricity which requires the burning of substantial quantities of coal which of course pollutes the air.

Another problem is that for some time to come the burning of hydrogen would cost over 50% more than gasoline. This is largely because it takes more energy to create a unit of hydrogen fuel than the fuel releases.