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The Hydrogen Option

October 22, 2009
Chris Mintzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC

The most often named solutions, electrical storage and large-scale pumped water basins, are hugely expensive and are encumbered by potential environmental problems.

But hydrogen, which can be produced by electrolysis, can be stored and converted back into electricity through fuel cells, and can also be used as a motor fuel.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for using hydrogen in the last years, and the State of Hawai‘i has even allocated a fund for it. But excitement waned as it became clear that conversion inefficiencies add up to over 60 percent.

Article Photos

Clean Energy for Maui
Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy for Maui LLC

Now a different concept has emerged that decentralizes hydrogen use and promises cheaper and more stable energy. It involves no central power station. Each house gets fueled by an underground gas pipeline and uses the hydrogen to provide warm water and electricity through a small fuel cell. Almost 100 percent of the energy contained in hydrogen can be used this way.

Hydrogen can also be produced from biomass of all kinds, including sugarcane, wood or algae. The steam-reforming process reaches an efficiency of almost 80 percent. This spells great profits for farmers. Dry biomass could be sold for as high as $100 per ton, and the energy would still be cheaper than oil even at $35 per barrel.

A combination of wind and biomass hydrogen could power our island and the entire world at much lower energy prices than today. Locally produced energy keeps farmers happy and governments in charge. The investments needed for the generators and the pipeline are highly profitable and generate jobs, and global climate change would become a non-issue.

Hydrogen could be much more than a pipe dream.



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