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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hydrogen is cheaper than Gasoline and Diesel

There is a general opinion that Hydrogen is currently very expensive compared to Gasoline and Diesel. It depends on how you generate Hydrogen. We have been using Gasoline and Diesel for several decades and actual cost of crude oil is much lower than what we are paying for Gasoline and Diesel at the service stations. Crude oil is formed naturally and all the costs involved are for pumping, transportation and refining. The cost of energy spent on transportation and refining is also comparatively low. It is the geopolitical situation in the world, supply demand gap, Government taxes and levies, inventory levels, financial market and distributors play a key role in fixing the price of these fuels. Hydrogen can be generated from tap water without involving fossil fuels at all. But Governments are spending on research and development of Hydrogen generation using fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. It is understandable that these sources are suitable for bulk production of Hydrogen on an industrial scale. We will also be able to use existing fossil fuel infrastructure to the maximum extent. But the flip side of this approach is Hydrogen generated by this route is still not pure enough to meet Fuel cell requirements. This Hydrogen may be suitable for Hydrogen combustion engines. Why they are not suitable? For example, Hydrogen is generated from natural gas by steam reforming,Syngas is generated as an intermediary product which is a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon monoxide; but also other impurities present in natural gas such Sulfur,Phosphrous and Mercaptans etc.Natural gas has to be purified to remove all these impurities before it can be subject to steam reformation. In spite of an elaborate purification methods adopted, Fuel cell suppliers are reluctant to guarantee the life of their Fuelcell.The Fuel cell uses expensive Platinum as a catalyst which can be readily poisoned by the presence of impurities in Hydrogen, produced from natural gas. This is one of the main reasons why Hydrogen becomes expensive by this route. Industries can pay high cost for this Hydrogen, but ordinary citizens cannot afford to pay. Hydrogen can be generated directly from tap water by simply electrolyzing it using a Direct current such as solar and wind. If we use grid power, it requires about 68kwhrs of electricity, costing about $3.40 per Kg of Hydrogen. Assuming Hydrogen will cost about $5 per kg after compression and storage, it is still worth the cost. This Hydrogen will give a mileage of 73.4 miles/kg using Fuel cell car. This is equivalent to 3.67 Gallons of Gasoline costing approximately $13.76 at the rate of $3.75 per gallon. It is very clear that Hydrogen is cheaper than Gasoline or Diesel. At the current price,Gasoline costs 275% more than Hydrogen gas. By converting existing coal and oil based power plants into IGCC, Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle plants, Government can reduce the current emission levels of greenhouse gases, and at the same time supply electricity at the prevailing rates. We do not have to import oil or gas. Government should fund conversion of coal and oil fired power plants into IGCC plants and create Hydrogen infrastructure, by producing more Hydrogen Fuel cell cars and Hydrogen service stations. By adopting this policy, US Government can bring down the prices of crude oil in the international market which will help reduce the prices of all other petrochemical products like fertilizers, plastics, drugs and cosmetics. The crux of the issue is to divert petroleum products from fuel use to other uses. At the same time Governments can reduce their greenhouse emissions to the level demanded by scientists. By reducing the cost of solar panels to less than $1.00 per watt, Renewable Hydrogen will become a commercial reality and that will be the end of fossil fuels.