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“Tonight I am proposing 1.2 billion dollars in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen powered automobiles,” says president George W. Bush in the 2003 state of the union address. He later explains that a simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy and this entire process is “clean.” The chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen is clean, however the president failed to explain how he plans to carry out the process of gathering the hydrogen used for the reaction. Gathering hydrogen takes energy, and at the moment it is nearly impossible to produce energy “cleanly.” I believe that currently it is impossible for our country to adapt a completely “clean” hydrogen economy.

Obtaining hydrogen requires energy, hydrogen is not “free” as opposed to oxygen, which makes up 20% of our atmosphere. There are two known possible ways of obtaining hydrogen, the first is of course water, each water molecule contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The other option is Methane, from an economists point of view Methane is the way to go, however from an environmentalist you would hear the opposite. Because Methane consists of three hydrogen atoms and 1 carbon atom. Carbon is a greenhouse gas. If we were to use water we would need to split water molecules into their containing elements which requires electricity. After you have split the two elements you pump them to what is called a fuel cell. This fuel cell is in your hydrogen powered car, when you start your car, valves within the fuel cell open, allowing the hydrogen and oxygen to mix under a great deal of pressure. The byproduct of this reaction is electricity which is stored in a battery and used to run your car, and water which exits out of your exhaust pipe.

However, as a simple law of physics energy can neither be created nor destroyed. That means that when you mix the hydrogen with the oxygen in the fuel cell, your car gains the same amount of electricity that the power plant put in to split the elements. The major problem that the united states is having is how to create enough electricity “cleanly” (Nuclear power, Solar Power, Wind or Water Power) to run a hydrogen plant. Not only that but all of the “clean” ways of gathering energy has it’s problems. Nuclear power has a byproduct of nuclear waste, which is highly radioactive and takes thousands of years to decompose. Solar Power is extremely expensive and is not always accessible, if we were to store the energy we did not use we would need batteries that would have to be replaced and disposed of. Wind and water power is also unreliable, every “clean” energy source has just as many cons as pros.

What else could run on hydrogen besides cars? The answer is simple and straight forward, anything. However we do not want everything to run on hydrogen, because it’s unnecessary, the reason we want to run cars with hydrogen is not because it is not harmful to the environment, it is because hydrogen is a way to run a car without having to plug it into our house every night. Our houses run absolutely fine on electricity, it’s pointless to add that extra step of splitting hydrogen and oxygen with electricity and then putting them together at our houses. The

A Hydrogen Economy

problem of America’s economy is our leaders do not have the determination to spend billions of dollars on solar power or any other “clean” energy source, because all they would do is benefit the environment and get the same amount of power, they wouldn’t get any extra money, they would end up losing billions of dollars.

I believe that with the current plan of our government it is nearly impossible to find a good enough benefit for them to consider a completely clean economy. To reach a point where our emissions are acceptable our country would need to reduce our emissions by 80% and world wide by 50%. It appears that our current environmental strategy is the put the public into a state of fear to have them act, I think that this strategy only works for a short amount of time. I strongly believe that our strategy should be putting this problem into a positive aspect and showing the benefits of working towards a environmentally friendly economy.