Tomorrow's Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet

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9780262082952: Tomorrow's Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet
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Hydrogen is the quintessential eco-fuel. This invisible, tasteless gas is the most abundant element in the universe. It is the basic building block and fuel of stars and an essential raw material in innumerable biological and chemical processes. As a completely nonpolluting fuel, it may hold the answer to growing environmental concerns about atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide and the resultant Greenhouse Effect. In this book Peter Hoffmann describes current research toward a hydrogen-based economy. He presents the history of hydrogen energy and discusses the environmental dangers of continued dependence on fossil fuels.

Hydrogen is not an energy source but a carrier that, like electricity, must be manufactured. Today hydrogen is manufactured by "decarbonizing" fossil fuels. In the future it will be derived from water and solar energy and perhaps from "cleaner" versions of nuclear energy. Because it can be made by a variety of methods, Hoffmann argues, it can be easily adapted by different countries and economies. Hoffmann acknowledges the social, political, and economic difficulties in replacing current energy systems with an entirely new one. Although the process of converting to a hydrogen-based economy would be complex, he demonstrates that the environmental and health benefits would far outweigh the costs.

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The word hydrogen conjures images of devastating bombs and burning zeppelins (the Hindenburg) for most of us, but it inspires visionaries like Peter Hoffmann to picture clear skies and safer roads. Hoffmann's book Tomorrow's Energy traces the history of the volatile gas and explores options for its use as fuel. Though the author can't avoid using some technical language, his writing should still appeal well beyond the community of automotive and power-plant engineers. His coverage, though fairly balanced, tends toward the positive efforts made by government, corporations, environmentalists, and scientists to promote hydrogen as a clean, relatively safe, and potentially cheap alternative to carbon-heavy fuels.

Party-line Greens may gasp at some of the suggested schemes, which include using limited nuclear power to generate hydrogen from water. But Hoffmann convincingly assures the reader that ultimately, the planet will be better off this way. Many will be surprised at how far hydrogen has advanced since serious research restarted during the 1970s fuel crisis: the range of cars, planes, and power networks using the gas for power storage is impressive and underreported.

Though he makes his case for hydrogen as a means of powering our lives, Hoffmann also shows off its uses in medicine, agriculture, metallurgy, and other fields. Using economic data, he shows that we can expect to live in a hydrogen economy sometime midcentury; if so, we can all breathe a collective, CO2-laden sigh of relief. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Peter Hoffmann is editor and publisher of The Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Letter. He is a former Washington correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News and the author of The Forever Fuel: The Story of Hydrogen.

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9780262582216: Tomorrow's Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet

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Publisher: The MIT Press, 2002
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