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The Hype About Hydrogen

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About the Author

JOSEPH J. ROMM is the Executive Director of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a Principal with the Capital E Group, and the author of Cool Companies (Island Press, 1999).


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. (Mar. 11) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Vital, very readable guidance for investors, environmentalists, and interested bystanders looking toward a future without fossil fuels." -BOOKLIST "It's hard to argue with the relentless logic..." -E/THE ENVIRONMENTAL MAGAZINE "Readers looking to separate facts from hype about cars running on hydrogen and large-scale fuel cell systems will find a useful primer here." -PUBLISHERS WEEKLY"

Romm, a former administrator in the U.S. Department of Energy under President Clinton and the author of Cool Companies: How the Best Businesses Boost Profits and Productivity by Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions, presents his views on a future hydrogen economy. Projecting a more conservative timetable than Peter Hoffman's Tomorrow's Energy and Jeremy Rifkin's The Hydrogen Economy, he makes a strong argument that global warming will be the driving force behind U.S. energy policy and private-sector energy-related investment. However, Romm doesn't expect to see a complete switch to emission-free hydrogen power before 2050. Stationary fuel cells for providing power to buildings and factories may be common after 2010, but the real difficulties lie in the transition to a hydrogen-based transportation system, owing to high costs, storage and safety issues, and our current fueling infrastructure. Much progress has been made in renewable technologies such as hybrid automobiles, especially in relation to their costs and fueling convenience, but Romm cautions that success with pure hydrogen may be more difficult to achieve in the near future. Using extensive research studies, the author makes a thoughtful and balanced case for this highly debated energy source that will interest informed readers in public and academic libraries.-Eva Lautemann, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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