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By the close of the first decade of the twentyfirst century, the hydrogen dream might have seemed dead to any casual observer that happened to pass its rotting corpse on the side of the street. The financial foundations upon which the hydrogen economy stood had been reduced to a shadow. Numerous governments had slashed, yanked, and all but completely eliminated hydrogen funding. Corporations that hastily filled their pockets bringing hydrogen fuel cells to market eventually witnessed their balance sheets tumbling in flames just as quickly. Finally, after the crash and burn of the hydrogen economy, credit crises and financial upheavals swept away the smoldering ashes left behind. But soon after the fatality, something curious started to occur. Citizens beheld the New York Times dedicating a full-spread feature to the hydrogen economy and witnessed cbs News claiming that General Motors ’ new hydrogen fuel-cell car was “a terrific drive with almost no environmental impact.”1 5. The Hydrogen Zombie Ignorance is the undead’s strongest ally, knowledge their deadliest enemy. –Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide  Seductive Futures Long after the practical infrastructure for the hydrogen economy died, the hollow shell of the dream pressed on—a technological zombie. Characterizing hydrogen as a zombie technology might seem a bit harsh for those enchanted by the idea of a hydrogen economy , but in fact, it has been called much worse by others—a pipedream, a hoax, or even a conspiracy. Nevertheless, these concepts are too blunt to carve out an intricate appreciation for the rise and fall of the hydrogen dream. A more nuanced rendering offers a peek into how diverse groups can coalesce around a technological ideal to offer it not only a life it would never have achieved otherwise but an enigmatic afterlife as well.2 The Hydrogen Economy in Sixty Seconds or Less The idea of a hydrogen economy is based on two central components , hydrogen (the gas) and fuel cells (the contraptions that combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity). At the outset , it is important to correct the common misconception that hydrogen is an energy resource. Hydrogen is simply a carrier mechanism, like electricity, which energy firms must produce. Unlike sunlight, tides, wind, and fossil fuels, hydrogen gas does not exist freely on earth in any significant quantity. Processors must forcibly separate hydrogen from other molecules and then tightly contain the gas before distributing it for use. They most commonly derive hydrogen from natural gas (through steam hydrocarbon reforming) or less frequently from water (through electrolysis). Both processes are energy intensive; it always takes more energy to create hydrogen than can be retrieved from it later on. Hydrogen firms presumably won’t be able to change this restriction without first changing the laws of thermodynamics and conservation of energy. Historians generally credit Sir William Grove for devising the first fuel cell in 1839, although it was another fifty years before  The Hydrogen Zombie chemists Ludwig Mond and Charles Langer made them practical . The internal combustion engine revolution overshadowed early fuel cell research but proponents slowly coaxed the technology along. Eventually nasa and General Electric unveiled the first modern platinum fuel cell for the Gemini Space Project . In the 1970s the U.S. government, scrambling to respond to oil embargos, began working more closely with industry to advance fuel cell research. In the1980s car manufacturers joined in. The Early Years By the early years of the twenty-first century, almost every automotive company had initiated a fuel cell program. At the 2006 Los Angeles Autoshow, then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stood on a stage to christen fuel cell vehicles as “the cars of the future.” Shortly after, bmw ceo Dr. Michael Ganal took to the podium and declared: “The day will come when we will generate hydrogen out of regenerative energies, and the day will come when we will power our cars by hydrogen. This means no exploitation of natural resources anymore; this means no pollution anymore. We know there is a far way to go, and the new bmw Hydrogen 7 is a big step towards the future.”3 bmw’s Hydrogen 7, along with its numerous American counterparts , such as the Chevrolet Equinox and Jeep Treo, might never have been built if not for one of George W. Bush’s earliest projects, the National Energy Policy Development Group, headed by Dick Cheney and charged with identifying future energy markets. The group immediately locked in on hydrogen. It identified the elemental gas as the “future,” dubiously...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803243361
Related ISBN
9780803237759
MARC Record
OCLC
808337203
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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