Uncovering Energy Elephants in the Room? Hydrogen, Nuclear, Clean Coal

Coal train photo: Mike Quick

Here's one which has already elicited some heated discussion over at Renewable Energy World which is really worth considering, even if we all won't agree on some of the points the author makes. Thomas Blakeslee believes that some severe groupthink has hobbled honest discussions about the viability of some US Department of Energy projects, asserting that "more than half of our US$ 4 billion DOE science budget is being spent to keep alive failed programs."

Many of these are projects which grace the TreeHugger archive—sometimes in support of them, often times not—but, in Blakeslee's words, why are they so bad?
The Hydrogen Initiative ($246 million 2009 budget)

Honda now has a few beautiful, finished-looking, FCX hydrogen cars on the road. But wait! How do we produce and distribute the hydrogen that runs them? The tanker trucks that replenish gasoline stations can carry about 300 fill-ups. However, hydrogen takes up much more space and requires high-pressure cylinders that weigh 65 times as much as the hydrogen they contain! One giant 13 ton hydrogen delivery truck can carry only about 10 fill-ups! By ignoring this fatal flaw in the hydrogen economy idea we have created the illusion of success that is grossly inefficient compared to electric cars. Well-to-wheel efficiency analysis of the Honda FCX shows that the Tesla pure electric car is 3X more efficient and produces 1/3 the CO2 emissions!

Nuclear Power ($1.4 billion 2009 budget)
Here Blakeslee goes on to describe geothermal power as a "safe way to harness nuclear power", but says this about what most people think of as nuclear:
The heavily subsidized nuclear industry died in 1979 when the Three-mile island and Chernobyl accidents made it painfully clear that the radioactive substances used were just too dangerous to be spread all over the map. Both accidents could have been much worse had a real meltdown occurred.

Denial has become easier today as memories fade it is much easier to pretend there is no problem and get on board the "nuclear renaissance." It's very similar to the recent housing bubble (renaissance), which was only possible because memories of the previous housing bubble that burst in 1990 had faded. The federal government bailout from our housing bubble may cost a trillion dollars before we are through. Amazingly, the "nuclear renaissance" is built on the promise of a similar bailout included in the 2005 energy bill: Nuclear accidents will have a maximum liability to the builder of only US $10.9 billion. If there is a meltdown, taxpayers have been generously volunteered to pay for any excess damages! Sandia estimated that damages could reach US $600 billion but we are optimistic because our memories have faded since the last disaster.

Clean Coal ($754 million 2009 budget)
We've said it many times, that there's no such thing as clean coal, and Blakeslee heartily agrees:
The problem is that "clean coal" will never be economical because when we burn coal each carbon atom joins with two oxygen atoms so every ton of coal we burn produces 3.7 tons of CO2! That currently amounts to nearly 10 billion tons of CO2 per year! One of the research projects budgeted for 2009 will try to sequester one million tons of CO2 per year. That's a mere fraction of the amount we need to hide! It's only 5% of what a single large power plant can produce.

Denial allows us to ignore this as a minor detail that can be worked out later. In reality the whole idea is clearly flawed and not economical. The "clean coal" initiative is a crash program to rescue a powerful industry, not a credible attempt to solve our energy problems. If we spent even a fraction of the money wasted on this boondoggle to develop advanced geothermal drilling technology we could quickly solve our energy problems and put a stop to the terrible environmental destruction being wreaked by coal.

So what do people think? By continuing to fund projects like this so heavily at the federal level are we really just avoiding having some hard discussions? Are we just under the hypnotic sway of the coal and nuclear industry?

via :: Renewable Energy World
Hydrogen, Clean Coal, Nuclear Power
There Is No Such Thing As Clean Coal
Hydrogen Made From Ethanol With 90% Efficiency Using Inexpensive Catalyst
Production of Honda FCX Clarity Hydrogen Car Begins
New Generation of Nuclear Power Plants More Expensive Than Expected
New Seismic Fault Discovered One Mile From Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Tags: Clean Coal | Fuel Cells | Geothermal Power | Nuclear Power | United States

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