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T. Boone Pickens Picks Natural Gas Over Hydrogen

T. Boone Pickens is an oilman, a gas man and a wind man. After 60 years as an oil tycoon with a net worth estimated at $3 billion, T. Boone Pickens no longer wants to be an oilman, but one who is powered by gas and wind (insert your own joke here).

According to the newly unveiled Pickens Plan, T. Boone is choosing natural gas and wind power as the solution to the U. S. $700 billion per year imported oil habit. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the oil tycoon calls the U. S. wind corridor from Texas up to Canada, the “Saudi Arabia of the Wind”.

Pickens says the town of Sweetwater, TX was revived by a 2,000 MW wind farm and that he is building a 4,000 MW wind farm in Pampa, Texas, which will be the largest in the world of its kind (he saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas).

The basic theory behind the T. Boone Pickens energy plan is to use wind energy to replace natural gas powered electric plants that currently account for 22-percent of the energy in the U. S. nationwide (and higher in California). This “extra” domestically-produced natural gas can then be used to power cars such as the Honda Civic GX CNG vehicle.

Pickens says this plan will be a bridge for electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell cars in the next 20 to 30 years. Now, I have no problem with Pickens’ wind energy plan. I believe this nation should be going Gung Ho on wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and every other clean, renewable energy source we can get our hands upon.

The problem I have is with using intermittent wind energy to free up natural gas for CNG vehicles as a bandage for the next 10 to 30 years until hydrogen cars are ready to go. The fact is that hydrogen cars are just about ready to go now. The only thing holding back hydrogen cars is the infrastructure.

If the idea is to use the minimal natural gas fueling station infrastructure that exists now and build upon this nationwide to support millions of vehicles, then it makes sense to me that this would be the ideal time to go to hydrogen instead. Today, over 90-percent of the hydrogen created in this country is made by steam-reforming of natural gas. This “extra” natural gas that wind power will free up can be used to create hydrogen for fuel cell cars, which are more than twice as efficient as today’s gasoline-powered vehicles and more efficient than natural gas internal combustion engines as well.

In March 2008, I had talked about how the current CNG infrastructure for cars can be transitioned to be used for hydrogen fuel cell cars. I still believe this to be true.

I’m also not the only hydrogen advocate taking issue with the Pickens plan. In May 2008, Greg Blencoe of Hydrogen Discoveries was picking a bone with T. Boone Pickens over this issue and yesterday, Greg also made a post outlining the seven problems to the Pickens energy plan.

Now that I’ve railed on a bit, here is what I would like to see. First, since Pickens’ Mesa Power LP has decided to buy hundreds of wind turbines from General Electric for use in the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, I would like to see the extra energy delivered by these wind farms stored as hydrogen. This extra hydrogen can be both sold for use in cars and used in stationary fuel cells to supply energy back to the grid to smooth out the intermittent quality of this type of electrical generation.

Second, I would like to see that the natural gas that is freed up from using wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable resources be used to create hydrogen for fuel cell cars and not CNG vehicles. The time is now to make this leap in technology and not delay it with a vast series of growing pains over many decades. All in all, the Pickens plan does have merit. It just needs a little tweaking in the right direction and some political will to make hydrogen cars a reality now.

About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen car blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen cars, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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3 comments

  1. I applaud Boone Pickens for his bold move. I hope that his initiative at least stirs up a greater sense of urgency about the problem. I too am doubtful about his stated goal of freeing up NG, however. What would we do with all of the gas burning plants now in operation? Most of these plants are new and owners will not just shut them down and walk away from their investments.

  2. admin

    The what to do with the gas burning power plants issue is one part that has not been addressed by the Pickens Plan. This is especially true for California where more power is generated by natural gas than any other source including coal. Is there enough wind on the west coast to supplant these power plants? Or is there enough wind in the Midwest wind corridor to pipe electrical power to both coasts? The Pickens plan leaves many unanswered questions at this point. But, at least the discussion has begun and the details can start to be worked out as this story unfolds more fully.

  3. Pickens may get the wind power that he wants to see, but the gas burners simply won’t be shut down. Maybe we get lower prices (not likely), or retire older plants of whatever kind (probably coal), or by then demand will have grown to take up the extra, but either way, we have to move to renewables, and this is a good move in that direction.

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