Bullish or Bearish on Hydrogen
Several colleagues have suggested that I've become awfully pessimistic about the potential of the "Hydrogen Economy", especially for someone who had been such an optimist a couple of years ago. After reflecting on a talk I gave yesterday, I realized that I sound pessimistic even to myself. But I need to draw an important distinction: if we are talking about the grand vision of a world of transport and stationary energy fueled by hydrogen that is generated by some clean source, then I am truly less sanguine now that this will arrive soon. However, I am not at all pessimistic about things like this.
I'd lay odds that, long before the average person owns a hydrogen car or lives in a fuel cell-powered home, small fuel cells running on hydrogen or methanol will routinely power our personal electronics. After all, a fuel cell is really just a fancy battery with an open loop, meaning that you can keep adding the ingredients for the electrochemical reaction that produces power. And because chemicals such as methanol store more energy per gram than current batteries, you'll be able to run your iPod or PDA/phone a lot longer unplugged than with even the best lithium ion battery.
Granted this is not what most people think of when they imagine the Hydrogen Economy, but the essence of that is using hydrogen as an energy carrier without combustion, and that's what these tiny fuel cells do. There's nothing wrong with starting small.