How to Eliminate America's Addiction to Oil
8.28.06 Darshan Goswami, Chief, Load Forecasting and Renewable
Energy, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
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Innovative technologies such as hydrogen, renewable energy, and energy
efficiency can eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. A Hydrogen
"Manhattan Project" for Energy is needed to accelerate the
transition to a Hydrogen Economy and ensure that this vision becomes a
reality within the next 10 years. There is no need to wait 20 to 40
years to achieve the Hydrogen Economy vision and eliminate America's
addiction to oil.
Can America's addiction to oil be eliminated? Several innovative
renewable energy technologies and greater implementation of energy
efficiency can eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. Hydrogen and fuel
cells represent one of the most promising and innovative technologies
of our era to meet our future energy needs. Switching from a
"Hydrocarbon Economy" to a "Hydrogen Economy" has the potential
to reduce consumption of hydrocarbon fuels, lower oil and coal-related
harmful pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, create thousands of new
jobs, and revolutionize the world economies. Some of the issues related
to a Hydrogen Economy and Fuel Cells have already been addressed in my
previous two papers: "Fuel Cells - To Revolutionize Electric Power
Generation" and "Hydrogen Economy - A Revolutionary Vision For
The Future of Energy", which are available on www.energypulse.net. In
this article, I will focus on eliminating America's addiction to oil.
I firmly believe America's growing energy needs can be met by
accelerating the transition to a Hydrogen Economy, by utilizing other
renewable energy sources in greater amounts, and by enhancing energy
Global energy use is expected to increase exponentially in the next
decades, driven by rising standards of living in developing countries
like India and China and a growing population worldwide. Energy has
become a defining issue of this century because the era of cheap and
abundant oil is already behind us. Rising energy prices and strong
evidence of global warming due to oil and coal energy use threatens
economic growth worldwide. We must act responsibly to focus on
developing renewable energy resources now! Breaking America's
economic reliance on foreign oil will also relieve a serious national
security concern and promote world political stability.
So what needs to be done? We need to bring a real radical change in our
energy strategy by developing and enacting long-term comprehensive
energy policies that use advanced renewable energy initiatives to keep
America's economy growing. That means building the related
infrastructure, providing incentives and adequate funding for
leading-edge technology, and promoting renewable resources. Policies
for implementing these advance renewable energy initiatives to meet
consumer's energy needs are urgently needed to keep us competitive.
Inaction is not an option for America.
Hydrogen (hydrogen is an energy carrier not an energy source) will play
a significant role for meeting our future energy needs. The transition
to a "Hydrogen Economy" has already begun and the world is already
moving toward acceptance of hydrogen as a viable alternative source of
energy. We must consider phasing in a renewable energy infrastructure
based on hydrogen. Renewable resources should be used in meeting our
future energy demands because of their abundant availability. The
energy industry and politicians are increasingly excited about the
future revolution that a Hydrogen Economy promises to bring.
HYDROGEN ECONOMY VISION
The Hydrogen Economy is the term used to mark the shift from fossil
fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to hydrogen. Today we have a
"Hydrocarbon Economy." In the near future we will have weaned
ourselves from total dependence on carbon and live in a "Hydrogen
Economy". This new era will be powered by hydrogen energy from
renewable resources such as wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal,
and ethanol that can provide reliable supplies of affordable,
environmentally responsible energy. In fact, consumers will have access
to hydrogen energy as readily as they now access petroleum, natural
gas, and electric power.21
What makes hydrogen so attractive? Hydrogen is the most abundant,
clean, and sustainable form of energy in the universe. It is found in
the water that envelops 70% of the earth. Hydrogen is flexible,
affordable, safe, can be domestically produced resource, and is the key
to unlocking pollution-free power.20 Hydrogen Fuel Cells can generate
power for homes, office buildings, hospitals, factories, as well as
portable electronic devices. Hydrogen has the potential to become one
of the world's most widely available and flexible fuels.21 Hydrogen
can be utilized as a combustion fuel in the same manner as gasoline or
natural gas. The benefit of using hydrogen combustion over fossil fuel
combustion is that it releases fewer emissions-water is the only
In fact, hydrogen may be the answer to America's future
transportation needs, including providing fuel for the automobiles.
However, the automobile industry will not start mass-producing hydrogen
vehicles until it is convinced that hydrogen will be available when
customers drive up to the pump. Instead of waiting to build a hydrogen
infrastructure from scratch, America can start building the hydrogen
fuel economy immediately by piggybacking on existing petroleum-based
industries. By 2016, half of all new cars sold could be
hydrogen-powered, over 50 percent of the nation's gas stations could
also pump hydrogen, and the U.S. could get more than half its energy
from domestic sources, putting energy independence well within our
The Hydrogen Economy is a bright vision for the future of energy that
will revolutionize the world by opening the doors for fundamental
changes in economic, political, and social institutions, similar to the
impact of steam power at the beginning of the "Industrial Age."21
It is a vision in which fuel for transportation, home heating, cooking,
electricity, and production of goods and services comes directly from
the sun, the wind, biomass, biogas and other renewable resources.
Looking into the future, a full-fledged Hydrogen Economy can power
everything from laptop computers to cars. Fuel cells supplying homes,
businesses, hospitals, airports, industrial facilities, and government
installations could be linked to a national power grid allowing surplus
power at one location to be transferred to areas experiencing power
shortages.22 Ultimately, Hydrogen will compete economically with the
existing power transmission infrastructure and may change our energy
consumption behavior forever.
The Hydrogen Economy is not a dream. Hydrogen fuel cells on board the
space shuttle already generate electricity to power life support
systems, computers, and produce drinkable water as a by-product. In
addition, military and government agencies are already developing
hydrogen-fueled air, sea, and land vehicles. Hydrogen powered cars,
buses, vans, and scooters are already running on the streets of major
U.S., Canadian, and European cities. Hydrogen holds the promise of an
ultra-clean and secure energy option for America's future. It is an
ultimate energy solution to eliminate our addiction to foreign oil.
The promise of Hydrogen is very exciting, although reaching commercial
viability will require radical and bold new initiatives from the
Government for a long-term strategic plan. The following strategies
should be considered to develop and implement a Hydrogen Economy:
1. Initiate a Hydrogen "Manhattan Project" for energy to accelerate
the transition to a Hydrogen Economy and to ensure that this vision
becomes a reality within the next 10 years (instead of 20 to 40 years).
Provide multiyear funding of approximately $00 billion over the next
10 years to accelerate the transition to the Hydrogen Economy, advance
the necessary technologies, and develop a hydrogen infrastructure.
2. Federal and State governments should fast track the development and
implementation of favorable policies to make hydrogen a top priority.
3. Provide funding and tax incentives to support development of a
hydrogen refueling/distribution infrastructure nationwide.
4. Pursue aggressive research in regard to the safe production,
storage, transportation, and applications of hydrogen and establish
standards to overcome technical challenges.
5. Mandate the use of hydrogen by all government agencies in order to
assist in the development of hydrogen-related businesses and shift all
federal vehicle fleets to fuel cells within 5 to 7 years.
6. Require electric utilities to expand generation of electric power
from renewable resources.
7. Develop diverse sources of hydrogen production to bring the cost of
hydrogen production down quickly and make energy costs comparable to
energy supplied from the power grid and gasoline.
8. Establish new partnership programs with the private sector, states
and communities, national laboratories, colleges and universities,
nongovernmental organizations, and foreign allies to develop and bring
to market new technologies that advance hydrogen, energy efficiency,
and renewable energy.
9. Form an international partnership on policy development to
accelerate hydrogen refueling infrastructure and fuel cell programs.
10. Develop economical and environment friendly methods to extract
hydrogen from renewable resources.
11. Collaborate with industry to develop fuel-cell power technologies
for multiple applications such as transportation, residential,
commercial, and industrial.
12. Dramatically lower the cost of fuel cell vehicles through mass
13. Enhance awareness of hydrogen as an energy alternative by mounting
a campaign to educate the public and news media about the Hydrogen
14. Develop public education programs for schools and colleges to
empower the younger generation with the knowledge of hydrogen and fuel
MAKING THE TRANSITION
The presently proposed $.72 billion over the next 5 years to develop
hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure is not adequate to bring major
technical breakthroughs in hydrogen technologies. To achieve the
commercialization of hydrogen technologies, the Federal Government
should consider launching a multifaceted bold new strategic plan for
the short, mid, and long-term horizon. The approaches should include
carefully directed changes to government policy, strategic planning,
and private and public investment to make this innovation become part
of our everyday lives in few years.
The energy industry will not invest billions of dollars for hydrogen
infrastructure because there are only a handful of fuel cell vehicles
on the road. Similarly, carmakers will not spend billions to make fuel
cell vehicles when there is no hydrogen infrastructure. And neither
industry is likely to make the necessary investments solely to achieve
societal objectives of reduced dependence on foreign oil and cleaner
air. Government support is urgently needed to jump-start the fuel cell
future on behalf of all citizens with the understanding that hydrogen
and fuel cells must eventually be economical without any government
How much money do we need? It is estimated $00 billion in today's
dollars (about the amount spent to put a man on the moon) could easily
shift the balance of power from foreign oil producers to U.S. energy
consumers within a decade. Only a massive program similar to an
"Apollo Project" or "Manhattan Project" can replace
hydrocarbons with hydrogen and accelerate the transition to Hydrogen
Economy.23 We put a man on the moon in a decade, we can also achieve
energy independence just as fast.23
ADVANTAGES OF THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY
The present fossil fuel economy has contributed to significant
environmental and political problems worldwide. A Hydrogen Economy
promises to eliminate many of the problems that the hydrocarbon
technology has created. The advantages of the Hydrogen Economy
The elimination of pollution caused by fossil fuels - When hydrogen is
used in a fuel cell to create power, it is a completely clean
technology. The only byproduct is water. There are also no
environmental dangers like oil spills to worry about with hydrogen.
The elimination of greenhouse gases - If the hydrogen comes from the
electrolysis of water, then hydrogen adds no greenhouse gases to the
environment. There is a perfect cycle -- electrolysis produces hydrogen
from water, and the hydrogen recombines with oxygen to create water and
power in a fuel cell.
The elimination of economic dependence - The elimination of oil means
no dependence on the Middle East and its oil reserves.
Distributed production - Hydrogen can be produced anywhere that you
have electricity and water. People can even produce it in their homes
with relatively simple technology.
Generate new employment - This new Hydrogen Economy will create a
very positive impact on the world economy.
The Hydrogen Economy may be more beneficial to developing countries
because it will generate economic opportunities, reduce poverty, and
offer a dramatically cleaner renewable resource to bypass at least part
of the expense of building a fossil fuel infrastructure.21
The Hydrogen Economy could produce total decentralization of the global
energy market controlled by giant oil companies and utilities (electric
and gas) and result in vast redistribution of wealth and power. In the
new age of hydrogen, every human being could become the producer as
well as the consumer of energy. For example, millions of fuel cell
units in homes and cars could be connected to a national power grid (as
long as the grid exists), just like the Internet, sharing their excess
energy with others.21 The next decade will present tremendous
opportunities for "Distributed Generation" to become a major
alternative source of supply for the electric power grid.
OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES
The Hydrogen Economy is a clear visionary strategy for America's
future energy security needs. However, we must overcome significant
scientific and technical challenges associated with the development of
hydrogen infrastructure on a large scale including the lack of domestic
and international regulations and standards for hydrogen production,
distribution, storage, fueling, transportation, and public acceptance
before the hydrogen economy can become a reality. The greatest
challenge is to bring the cost down to compete with the energy
presently supplied from the power grid.
To move forward the transition to a Hydrogen Economy, the next big
challenge is to develop the correct business models that enable
distributed generators to deliver real value to end-users. Investments
in fuel cell and hydrogen research today will enable America to lead
the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles that will
reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
For fuel cells to become competitive with gasoline engines, we need a
nationwide hydrogen production, delivery, and storage network similar
to our existing gasoline infrastructure. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are
already being produced. However, virtually no nationwide fueling
infrastructure exists to serve fuel cell vehicles.
THE HYDROGEN ECONOMY FUTURE
The future looks bright for a Hydrogen Economy. Hydrogen has the
potential to do for the energy revolution what the computer,
telecommunications and the Internet have done for the information
Hydrogen and fuel cells will bring a total revolution in the energy
sector and change the course of history. President Bush has referred to
fuel cells as the "wave of the future" and called for a "focused
effort to bring fuel cells to market." The immediate result will be
the emergence of quiet, decentralized electric plants sized according
to need and small enough to power your car or house. Hydrogen, a
renewable energy source, will provide us true energy independence and
eliminate our security concerns.
If the price of energy keeps climbing, a global recession could bring
America and the whole world to a point of crisis. There will be PANIC.
Billions of dollars will be needed to develop new technologies for
alternate energy resources. However, it will be too late to prevent the
damage to America's economy. The energy crisis has already arrived.
We must invest in alternative energy resources now to save our future.
America's energy problems require solutions way beyond those that
policymakers have approved in the 2005 Energy Bill. We need a Hydrogen
"Manhattan Project" for Energy now to develop and implement a
hydrogen infrastructure. In addition, we need renewable energy
resources and energy efficiency to meet our future energy needs.
The Hydrogen Economy appears inevitable because it is an achievable
vision. The only issue is whether we can bring it quickly or whether
this technology will be stalled by vested interests. I am very
encouraged with President Bush's initiatives on the Hydrogen Economy
vision. I urge the present Administration and Congress to move America
forward on hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell technologies by
providing needed resources to accelerate the transition to the Hydrogen
Economy. Any strategic implementation plan must include a vision for
commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell technology into the mainstream
in the next 10 years. It is in our national interest to do so.
Widespread use of hydrogen in transportation and power generation can
also have a dramatic and positive impact on our environment.
Initially hydrogen can be extracted from diverse domestic sources
including natural gas, solid fossil fuels, nuclear power or biomass,
and renewable resources (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, bio-fuels, etc). The
ultimate goal should be to produce hydrogen from renewable resources.
Renewable energy can make significant contributions to our nation's
energy future but only if we bring together the new technologies with
the markets and policies necessary to accelerate their acceptance and
use. The time is right, the opportunity is there24 - efforts to achieve
our energy goals need to begin now and continue with a sustained
commitment over the next several years as outlined in Commercializing
Strategies. Just imagine, as soon as commodity market speculators
realize that hydrogen is a competitive energy source, oil prices could
drop to as low as $5-$5 per barrel.
It has been my dream to promote the development of hydrogen as an
energy source. We must support President Bush's Initiative on the
development of hydrogen as a fuel source of the future. We must work
together to help realize this dream and define a brighter future for
our children by accelerating the development of Hydrogen Economy. I am
confident that innovative hydrogen-based technologies, increased use of
renewable resources, and enhanced energy efficiency can significantly
reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, eliminating
environmental pollution and political instability. A Hydrogen Economy
is a vision worth achieving.
Finally, hydrogen is the fuel of the future. The question is whether
the future is now or in two or three decades. To implement a Hydrogen
Economy in 10 years will require a concerted effort, coupled with a
bold new strategic vision and shift in priorities of America's energy
policies. What matters now is how we choose to use these advantages in
pursuit of a cleaner and more secure energy future. We face a number of
challenges in the transition to a hydrogen economy. This paper has
outlined how these challenges can be addressed and how this transition
can be used to America's advantage. The conversion to a Hydrogen
Economy is not a problem of limited technologies but of political
priorities. The dangerous turmoil in the Middle East and growing
concerns about national energy security requires immediate action. The
real question is weather we have the will power to overcome the oil,
economic, and political interest. All that's needed is a national
commitment to make the Hydrogen Economy happen now. The fate of America
depends on it. Welcome to the world of the "Hydrogen Economy."
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the writer and are not intended to represent the views or policies of
the United States Department of Agriculture. The author has a passion
and commitment to promote renewable energy and the Hydrogen Economy.
To probe further:
The following web sites can provide more information about fuel cell
developments, vendor sites, demonstration projects, articles, and
papers. Many sites are run by organizations such as the U.S. Department
of Energy and the Department of Defense.
1. Fuel Cells 2000 (www.fuelcells.org).
2. Department of Energy (www.doe.gov).
3. Department of Defense (www.dodfuelcell.com).
4. National Fuel Cell Research Center (www.nfcrc.uci.edu).
5. Hydrogen Now (www.hydrogennow.org).
6. Hydrogen Information Network (www.eren.doe.gov/hydrogen)
7. National Hydrogen Association (www.ttcorp.com/nha)
8. World Congress for a Hydrogen Economy (www.hydrogennow.org)
Periodicals, Journals, and Articles:
9. "Fuel Cells to Revolutionize Electric Power Generation," by
Darshan Goswami, International Conference on "Electric Power
Generation and Environmental Protection" in New Delhi, India,
February 4-7, 2000.
10. "Dramatic Changes Coming In The Future Of Energy," by Darshan
Goswami, March 1999, The Pittsburgh Patrika Magazine.
11. "A Hydrogen Economy -The Power to Change the World, "by Jeremy
12. "Building the Solar/Hydrogen Economy," In May of 2001, the Bush
White House project released a 20-year plan.
13. "Roadmap to the Hydrogen Economy," by Marc Wiseman Ricardo.
14. "Iceland....First Hydrogen Economy," (www.h2eco.org)
15. "Fuel Cells: Could Fuel Cells be the Ideal Energy Source of
Tomorrow?" R. Hubscher.
16. "National Hydrogen Vision Meeting," Washington, D.C., November
15 and 16, 2001 www.eren.doe.gov
17. "The Coming Hydrogen Economy" Fortune Magazine, November 12,
18. "Dawn of the Hydrogen Age" by Jacques Leslie.
19. "Electricity-Producing Vehicles" MIT magazine, Technology
Review, January 2003.
20. "A National Vision of America's Transition to a Hydrogen
Economy - to 2030 and Beyond."
21. "Hydrogen Economy - A Revolutionary Vision for the Future of
Energy," by Darshan Goswami, February, 2003, EnergyPulse.net.
22. "Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: Pathway to a Sustainable Energy
Future," C. E. Thomas.
23. "How Hydrogen Can Save America," By Peter Schwartz and Doug
24. "Renewable Electricity: Poised to Make a Difference" - Power
25. "How the Hydrogen Economy Works." By Marshall Brain.
26. "Strategic Planning For The Hydrogen Economy: Hydrogen