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World is busy developing alternative to Fossil fuel to cut anthropic Greenhouse gas  to avoid global warming. In fact all forms of alternative energy sources except nuclear energy are ‘solar energy’ from the sun, in one form or another. Sun has supplied energy from the time earth was born. It has conducted   ‘photosynthesis’ by supplying light energy and converting atmospheric carbon dioxide and water into glucose for plants, animals and human beings. The excess carbon from the ‘Carbon cycle’ has become fossil fuels under the earth over a time. The fossil fuel is the result of sun’s energy or solar energy. We unearthed fossil fuels and burnt them to extract energy to run our power plants or run our cars. In fact fossil fuel is also a form of  ‘Biofuel’ and technically there is no difference between them except fossil fuel formation takes millions of years.Fossil fuel is nothing but a source of Hydrogen with carbon backbone.

All forms of alternative energy sources we are currently trying to develop such as PV solar, solar concentrators, solar thermal, geothermal energy, wind energy and bioenergy etc, originate from solar energy. The word alternative energy is a misnomer because all these energy are fundamentally solar energy in one form or another.

Solar energy is a radiation of Nuclear fusion  of Hydrogen taking place in the sun. Two Isotopes of Hydrogen called Deuterium (with one proton and one neutron) combine to form a Helium 3 atom and Neutron with release of large energy. Deuterium is non-radioactive and can be extracted from seawater. But this process could not be duplicated commercially for Electricity generation. It is the safest and cleanest form of energy.

In other words, all forms of energy including solar energy come from Hydrogen. That is why Hydrogen has become a potential fuel source in the future. However, developing a commercial technology for the production and usage of hydrogen at a rate cheaper than fossil fuels with zero greenhouse emission has been elusive so far. Generation of Hydrogen from water by Photo electrolysis using a direct sunlight using a Photo catalyst is a promising technology. But duplicating Nature to generate large amount of energy using tiny amount of Hydrogen atom seems to be a distance dream. Nature knows the best. We human beings can use small energy generation technologies such as solar and wind to meet our small energy needs. “There is enough to meets everybody’s need but not everybody’s greed”,Gandhi said.

Exponential growth of population and industries has forced us to look for large power generation and fuel usage at the cost of serious environmental degradation and future generations. Only smarter and cleaner technologies will help sustain the future. Politicians and policy makers  should understand various technologies and their implications than advocating short-sighted and popular energy policies.

We have been using fossil fuels like diesel, petrol and natural gas for power generation and transportation from the time of industrial revolution. The basic fuel and the combustion technology are practically the same with efficiencies less than 40%. In fact we have become very complacent with both the fuel and the combustion technology and there were no major research and development on both the above issues. In fact we became completely dependent on these two issues and there was no real breakthrough either in substituting the fossil fuel or in the combustion technology. The basic reason behind this situation can be attributed to the discovery of electromagnetism, which opened the way for electricity generation as well as transportation. In both these industries, the key part is the motor which provided a rotary motion. This rotary motion generates electricity in turbines and such motion is created by combustion of a fuel, which is invariably a fossil fuel. We have carried on this for few decades before the emission of greenhouse started rising abnormally and became an issue.

We are now at cross roads wondering what the future holds for the world. Is it possible to carry on the business as usual or look for an alternative source of energy? We started looking at various sources of energy as an alternative. Any alternative energy source should meet two critical parameters namely the lower or no carbon emission and sustainability. Low carbon can be achieved by few methods. The immediate option is to maximize the energy efficiency of existing systems so that for the given input of fuel the output is much higher than what we have achieved all these years. But this increase in efficiency should be real to achieve the emission levels of greenhouse suggested by the UN panel on climate change.

The second option will be to switch over to different fuels with less carbon emission e.g., coal-fired power plants switching over to gas-fired power plants using combined cycle. Retrofitting organic Rankin cycle as a bottoming for steam turbines to squeeze out some extra energy. Decentralizing the power plants in a phased manner in favor of distributed energy systems where gas, instead of electricity, can be supplied to each industry, to generate their own power using CHP process. All these measures can help reduce the emission level but our dependency on fossil fuel will still continue.

W can look at a completely different fuel source and new technology for power generation and transportation. If we look at carefully there are not many alternative fuel sources except Hydrogen that could meet these limits. We are also trying to develop bio fuels. But biofuels are also organic chemicals with carbon backbone which will generate greenhouse emission. Moreover bio fuel sources such as palm oil, corn are also food sources. There is an indiscriminate deforestation and plantation of palm trees in tropical countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG. The focus is now shifting to carbon based organic compounds like biofuel and biogas. This will create a situation where food crops will be substituted with energy crops creating food shortage.But the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere may not be reduced drastically by these methods.

We need to develop an energy source which does not emit any carbon emission and at the same time we should be able to use existing technology to the possible extent. Only Hydrogen can meet these requirements. In the current situation it is impossible to substitute fossil fuels in a short span of time. We can cut fossil fuels by blending with Hydrogen to the most extent possible so that we can meet two goals. We can cut the carbon emission and at the same time we can deploy Hydrogen as a blended fuel with fossil fuel and not, pure Hydrogen. Since Hydrogen is a very light gas and readily forms an explosive mixture with oxygen, this opens up a new opportunity to develop Hydrogen assisted combustion process in power generation as well as in transportation. It will be easier to handle a mixture of natural gas and Hydrogen for combustion in Gas turbine, or spark ignited reciprocating engines, as well as, gasoline combustion engines in cars. This will also gives us an opportunity to develop advanced and competitive systems like Fuel cell as an alternative technology for combustion process in due course of time.

The hydrogen assisted combustion technology is much easier, faster and economical and at the same time cut the greenhouse emission to an accepted level. But the source of such Hydrogen cannot be natural gas but only renewable sources. The renewable technologies such as solar, wind, geothermal, OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) should generate renewable Hydrogen. This is the key for sustainability as well as for greenhouse gas mitigation. These two benefits are too attractive to ignore and it is time we move from total fossil fuel to Hydrogen blended fossil fuel. The blended fuel along with the energy efficiency measures suggested above should go hand in hand, so that we may get over this turbulent period of financial crisis and global warming.

It is also possible that Hydrogen assisted combustion be adopted for coal-fired power plants by simply firing coal slurry, finely powdered coal blended with water and conveyed pneumatically for firing boilers and also for gasification process to generate syngas for IGCC (Integrated gasification and combined cycle) applications. Syngas production will be critical in the near future for a smoother transition from fossil economy to Hydrogen economy irrespective of the route we adopt.

Renewable energy is one of the fastest growing energy sources of our times. But still there are many obstacles to overcome, before it can substitute current methods of electricity generation using fossil fuels, or substitute petrol in cars. The main obstacle is, the intermittent and unpredictable nature of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Wind blows only certain seasons of the year and then wind velocity fluctuates widely in a day. Similarly sun shines only certain hours in a day and the intensity of radiation varies widely in a day. The wind velocity and sun’s radiation intensity are critical components in designing a reliable energy system. It is an anomalous situation, when we need power, there is no sun or wind; when sun shines or wind blows, we may not need any power. How to overcome this anomaly? That is the key, in successfully deploying renewable energy technologies.

Currently we are using batteries to store the energy. When there is a wind with reasonable velocity or sunshine with reasonable radiation intensity, we can generate power and store them in batteries. The wind velocity should be above certain threshold limit, say such as, a least wind velocity of 3mts/sec for amount of hours, while designing a wind based energy system. The same principle applies to solar energy and we need certain minimum solar   intensity and several hours. But in reality, we don’t get these minimum operating parameters, which make the design of a renewable system more complicated.

Batteries can accumulate these small energy generations by intermittent sources of wind and sun, and store them. But these batteries have certain life between 3-5 years and requires regular maintenance, replacements.They also have certain charging and discharging cycles and limitations. At the end of its life, it has to be disposed carefully because these batteries are made of lead and acid, which are toxic materials. Many companies are trying to introduce better technologies such as ‘flow batteries’. But experience shows that such batteries are confined to only smaller capacities. Large scale storage is expensive and sometimes it is not economically feasible. Lithium-ion batteries are more efficient than Lead-acid batteries, but they are more expensive so the renewable energy projects become expensive and cannot compete with conventional fossil fuels, in spite of higher tariffs offered by Government as incentives. Moreover the demand for Lithium-ion batteries will increase substantially in the future, as more and more Electric cars are produced. But lithium sources are limited and it is not sustainable.

The best option to develop renewable energy systems is to generate Hydrogen using renewable energy and store them, instead of storing them in batteries. We can use stored Hydrogen to generate power, or use as fuel for the car, as and when we need. There are no maintenance or disposal problems with Hydrogen storage, when comparing with batteries. Hydrogen generators (electrolyzers) can generate Hydrogen when the intermittent power flows from wind or sun. They can run from a range of capacities from 5 to 100% of rated capacity and they are more suitable for renewable energy sources. But there will be a loss of energy, because the amount of power required to generate Hydrogen, is more than the power generated from the resulting Hydrogen by a Fuelcell.The initial cost will be higher, but it will give operational flexibility with least maintenance, and even adoptable to remote sites. Technology is improving to cut the cost of fuel cells and electrolyzers so that Hydrogen based renewable energy will become a sustainable source of energy in the future. Hydrogen is the only solution that can solve both power generation and transportation problems the world is currently facing.

There is a myth that electric cars will eliminate Greenhouse gas emission and reduce the global warming. Electric car will not reduce the greenhouse emission because; you still need electricity to charge your batteries. Companies promoting electric cars are now planning to set up their own battery charging stations because, customers have to charge batteries of these electric cars every now and then. Otherwise, they will not be able to drive their electric cars continuously.  There is no battery currently in the market that can last more than 28 hours between the charges, though many companies are trying to develop superior batteries. One company claims a Battery(electricity) of 300whr/kg, for their LLithium-ion polymer battery, much superior than other batteries, which can run 600kms, with 6 minutes charging. Though, new batteries such as semi solid Lithium-ion battery, based on the principle of ‘flow batteries’, are promising, it is still, a long way to commercialization. President Obama  has set a set a target of 1 million electric cars in US roads, by 2012.It is estimated that US has to produce about 40 billion dollars worth of domestically produced batteries. A lithium-ion battery which weighs less and stores more energy is the promising technology. But Lithium resources are limited. Battery is the heart of an electric car. These electric cars do not emit smoke, or make noise like petrol cars. But, these two factors alone are not sufficient to substitute traditional fossil fuel powered international combustion engines.

It is also true, that electric cars can cut green house emission to an extent, where fossil fuel consumed cars are replaced with electric cars. To that extend, the fossil fuel consumption by these cars are reduced. But the power to charge the batteries will still have to come from the common grid. Unless the power generation technology using fossil fuels is changed, there will be no dramatic greenhouse gas emission reduction by introducing electric cars. Alternatively, if cars are built on Hydrogen based fuel either using a conventional Internal combustion engine, or by using Fuel cell, then a substantial amount of greenhouse emission can be eliminated. However Hydrogen generation should be based on Renewable energy source only. Whichever way one looks at it, renewable energy is the key. Those Governments and companies who do not invest in renewable energy technologies and systems, now, will have to pay a heavy price, in the future. But even those companies investing on renewable energy technologies, should look beyond current technologies and systems. The best starting point for these industries will be to substitute ‘storage batteries’ with ‘stored Hydrogen’.

It is much simpler to install PV solar panels or wind turbines, and to generate Hydrogen on site, from water. One can store Hydrogen in fuelling stations, and fuel the cars. Honda was the first entrant into this market, who was focusing on fuel cell technology, using compressed hydrogen gas. Alternatively such Hydrogen can be generated from ‘Biogas’ generated from biological wastes and waste treatment plants. All necessary technologies are currently available to make it happen. Governments can try to promote small townships with Hydrogen fuel stations, and show case such models to the rest of the country or other nations to follow. This will help nations to reduce their greenhouse emission and at the same time, they can become self-sufficient in their energy requirements. They no longer have to depend on polluting oil and gas, from few Middle East countries. Countries like India with impressive economic growth heavily depend on oil imports and any slight fluctuation in oil prices can easily upset such growth. It is time Governments around the world take a serious look at Hydrogen, as their alternative energy source. It is just not good enough to promote renewable energy technologies, but they have to develop generation, storage and distribution technologies for Hydrogen. What is needed at this hour is, ‘will, determination and leadership’ on the part of the Governments, like US, China and India, that can set an example for the rest of the world by investing in Hydrogen economy.

We know from the famous equation  of Albert Einstein , that a tiny amount of mass is a vast storehouse of energy. But even the molecular Hydrogen as a result of water decomposition, is a promising energy source of the future. However, the amount of energy we use to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen is higher compared to the amount of energy that Hydrogen can generate using Fuel celll. But we can mitigate this problem by using Renewable   energy such as PV solar, Solar (thermal), wind energy, geothermal energy, and Ocean thermal energy conversion. The cost of renewable energy is still expensive for two reasons;

  1. We are used to cheap energy from fossil fuels for decades, and we have already recovered most of these investments.

2. A complete switch over to renewable energy technologies will require massive new investment. Unlike the investments we made on fossil fuel infrastructures over several decades, we have to invest on renewable Energy development on a massive scale, and we have to deploy them in a shorter span of time, simultaneously all over the world. Currently there is no such infrastructure in renewable energy industry in existence.

Meanwhile the unabated emission of carbon dioxide by fossil fuels is causing global warming. There are many skeptics on the science on global warming. Such skepticism does not stem from the fact that they have a concrete proof but, ‘such skepticism’ serves their vested interest. Politicians who are in power do not want any increase in the cost of energy, which becomes unpopular among people may eventually, throw them out of power. They say they want to serve people with low cost energy but, neither politicians nor the common man understands the consequences of such measures.

It will be our future generations who will face the brunt of this skepticism, by facing fuel shortage or unaffordable cost of fuel, erratic climate change, and frequent natural catastrophies.It is time for the world to act decisively and swiftly and move towards renewable energy, by massive investment and creation of new skills and jobs on a very large scale.

The companies who have massively invested in fossil power plants, and the governments who depend on the support of such companies and who want to keep the energy cost low, because of its popularity, are the major list of scientists opposing main stream scientific assessment of global warming. The hidden cost of environmental challenges and its consequences is much higher than the savings, due to cheap fossil fuels. It requires a paradigm shift and a sense of social justice, in the minds of Governments and companies. It is not all that difficult to switch over to cleaner technologies. In fact most of the technologies are already available and it requires only a ‘will, bold decision and leadership’ by Governments.

Any clean energy solution should be sustainable in the long run. Hydrogen can meet not only the sustainability but even the transition from fossil fuel to Hydrogen will be smooth. To start with all existing fossil fuel infrastructures can be modified towards Hydrogen generation, and fuel cell based Electricity generation  infrastructures. Of course this will require large investment but compared to a complete shift to renewable energy, it will require only a relatively smaller investment. For example, all fuel stations can be converted into Hydrogen stations by simply installing steam reformers, including LNG based fuel stations. All gasoline based automobiles can be either fitted with Hydrogen IC engines, or converted to fuel cells cars similar to Honda FXL models. If the Governments all over the world can agree for such conversion and a complete shift to Hydrogen economy then, it can become a reality in the next decade. We have to focus on ‘Renewable Hydrogen’, which can come from seawater, a waste source of Hydrogen using renewable energy sources, and Biohydrogen  using from waste organic matters. The future generation will not only have a cleaner and affordable fuel but, a more sustainable future!

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