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Producing Hydrogen from Water Will Not Suck the Lakes Dry

This blog that I’m writing today is partly in reaction to a post that appeared in sustainablog titled, “Will Hydrogen Power Suck the Lakes Dry?” and partly because this is one of the most frequently asked questions I get. For some reason, people think that going to a hydrogen based economy will cause a water shortage.

According to the National Hydrogen Association, “Conversion of the current U.S. light-duty fleet (some 230 million vehicles) to fuel cell vehicles would require about 110 billion gallons of water / year to supply the needed hydrogen.

“For comparison, the U.S. uses about 300 billion gallons of water/year for the production of gasoline, about three times the amount needed for hydrogen. Domestic personal water use in the United States is about 4800 billion gallons/year.”

So, no, creating hydrogen for cars or using hydrogen in power plants will not suck the oceans, lakes and rivers dry. But, the estimates of water usage for hydrogen production could actually be lower than projected.

I’ve talked before about whether the steam emissions from hydrogen cars will contribute to greenhouse gases. In the same blog post I talked about how research was underway to recycle this steam back into the fuel cell.

There are also a number of patents such as this one that talks about water recycling in fuel cell systems. On a larger scale at hydrogen power plants, there are also patents for closed loop and semi closed loop systems for recycling water.

The U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) also lists four different methods for high temperature steam recycling at hydrogen power plants. If hydrogen were created at the pump through electrolysis and fuel cell cars captured and stored extra water from the fuel cell reaction, this could be dispensed right back at the hydrogen stations for recreation of compressed H2 gas.

As people learn more about hydrogen, naturally questions and especially fears arise. Fears of hydrogen cars blowing up like atomic bombs or fears of either running out of water or water emitted from fuel cells contributing to greenhouse gases are common. But as these fears are dispelled many people come to see that hydrogen is the clean, green fuel of the future that will solve many environmental problems along with our dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

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3 comments

  1. Michael C. Robinson

    Good point that hydrogen production that involves the use of water won’t dry up the lakes and rivers. If ocean water is used, of which there is probably more than enough, water consumption should not be a problem at all. In fact, fuel cell cars will be a source of potable water potentially.

    I’m more concerned about how the various water to hydrogen technologies are coming along. There is the algae approach, the aluminum and water approach,
    the direct solar thermal approach, water cracking via heat from a nuclear power plant, and other methods including electrolysis I’m sure. It looks like there is going to be a real need for compressed hydrogen gas 5 years from now if most car companies do in fact commercialize their fuel cell vehicles in 2015.

    I realize you focus on hydrogen cars, boats, and planes Kevin, but someone needs to talk about hydrogen production to dispel the myth that collecting hydrogen isn’t practical or environmentally friendly. For the hydrogen advocate,
    there seems to be political resistance at the highest levels and commercialization in 2015 is still a ways off. Commercialization is far enough away that saying it will happen in 2015 is still just a prediction, although it is a very plausible one.

    Disspelling the the lakes will be dried up myth is a good start, but more needs to be said to convince die hard BEV and PHEV advocates that hydrogen needs to be part of the transportation system going forward.

    What do you think of producing hydrogen using wind power? How about solar thermal in Death Valley? Do we have the technology now to produce enough hydrogen renewably to dramatically change the face of transportation?

  2. admin

    Yes, I’ve written many times about using solar and wind energy to create hydrogen. I think for the small amount of cars we have on the road there is definitely enough renewable energy to handle that and as solar and wind production scales up, so will renewable hydrogen. I see solar / hydrogen and wind / hydrogen working in parallel. The 2015 date will be a small scale rollout I believe to people living around the most hydrogen fueling stations at that time or if by that time a viable home hydrogen fueling station is also commercially available this will help expand the scope of the rollout.

  3. It concerns me very much that we rely so much on oil today,the technology is there to produce hydrogen vehicles.
    oil prices are soaring and cheap fuel is required to run a strong economy as well as environment factors.we are already hearing that the rain forests are not coping with green house gasses,yet goverments and manufacturers are reluctant to make clear decisions in this matter.what if environment conditions deterioate dramatically over the next few years with emerging economies using more fossil fuels.
    it may be to late then.action is needed now.

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