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Naperville considers hydrogen technology

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City Council members Bob Fieseler (who comments on the Potluck forum as Councilman Bob) and Grant Wehrli want Naperville to partner with Argonne National Laboratory and Packer Engineering to develop alternative energy technologies such as hydrogen in citywide departments.

The initiative could also involve partnerships with public and private organizations to invite auto makers of hydrogen-powered cars to work in Naperville because of its technical talent base and the city's emphasis on clean energy sources.

We're talking not only the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles by, for example, the public works department, but possibly a hydrogen plant that would generate electricity.

Should Naperville pursue consideration of these ideas? How well is the city embracing alternative energy solutions--far more than other communities, well enough, so-so, or not nearly well enough? What level of taxpayer-funded commitment do you think the city of Naperville should make to renewable energy solutions?

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6 Comments

It is misleading to classify hydrogen as a clean energy technology. Cleaner possibly, but not just clean. Solar and wind are truly clean energy technologies. Some advocates of nuclear claim the same though others disagree considering the long term danger of nuclear waste.

The vast majority of hydrogen is still manufactured from fossil fuels so we will still need to purchase enormous quantities of it just like we have done in the past. Plus let's not forget that there are air emissions, waste, and other by products generated from the manufacturing of hydrogen.

Big oil is primarily behind the effort to shift to toward or to a hydrogen economy. Their marketing is misleading and does not tell the entire truth while selling the image of hydrogen as a pristine, clean fuel that is a cure for everything. In fact, economists have calculated that hydrogen is the least efficient and most expensive possible replacement for petroleum fuels in terms of reducing greenhouse gasses. Everyone would be well advised to learn more about the hydrogen economy and what it really means in terms of infrastructure, cost, investment, return, and continued dependence upon natural resources.

The infrastructure investments that are needed just to create the first filling station before the city can purchase the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle currently will cost city of Naperville taxpayers several million dollars. I'm not sure why the City of Naperville or the taxpayers of Naperville would be interested in performing R&D for the big oil companies at our expense?

I'm behind anything that gets us away from fossil fuels... with a big BUT!

BUT, the problem is now no one really knows what we're all going to end up with the main fuel source for the next trend in vehicles once we get away from gasoline. I really don't think that gas stations are going to convert to gas, hydrogen, biodiesel, electrical, and natural gas stations. There needs to be a push for electric cars, instead of wasting time on all these middle-man technologies.

Electricity can be generated from countless sources from peddling on a bike, to turning a crank, to harnessing the wind, to burning clean coal, to burning natural gas. True energy independence will come from being able to use ANY energy source to fuel our cars, trucks, and other machines to guarantee that we'll never be in another situation where the primary fuel source suddenly rises in price, or becomes hard to get/process.

If we're using clean coal as the primary method of generating electricity to charge our cars and all the sudden coal jumps in price like we're experiencing with oil, all that is involved in getting energy from a cheaper source is building a new power plant instead of replacing the entire country's fleet of cars. The same thing worries me about natural gas. We need to learn from our mistakes of becoming so dependent on gasoline and diesel and not become addicted to another specific fuel type.

Hydrogen sounds good, but there's a significant energy loss in converting electricity to hydrogen and then more wasted energy in burning hydrogen. I suppose it's a good stepping stone because hydrogen can be generated from electricity, and then be used to fuel a zero emissions vehicle much like a battery would... but hydrogen is by no means the solution.

Oh, another benefit to electric cars, assuming battery technology gets to where it needs to be in order to be viable to your average consumer... the electrical distribution network largely already exists! No need for special trucks to deliver fuel x, no special tanks and station retrofitting to store fuel x, etc.

But in the meantime, hydrogen will do. Just something to think about. ;)

Bubo - My interest in clean energy, especially for vehicles, stems from my work as a patent lawyer for many companies in this field over the past 20 years. I represent a company in Vancouver, Westport Innovations Inc., that is making natural gas engines in a joint venture with Cummins. Westport also makes cryogenic fuel storage tanks for carrying liquid natural gas on board vehicles. Check out their website www.westport.com. While natural gas is a viable, cleaner fuel for vehicles, it still produces carbon emissions, and therefore represents an intermediate solution until hydrogen (zero emission) technology matures. Our Naperville initiative is not limited to hydrogen; fuels like compressed or liquid natural gas will also have applications in our city fleet. But ultimately, I'm convinced that hydrogen is the fuel that will create the most opportunities for developing new businesses and providing high-tech jobs, and Naperville can, with proper city government leadership, position itself to become a magnet community for hydrogen and other clean energy technologies. ~Councilman Bob.

At present commercial hydrogen is primarily manufactured one of three ways... from fossil fuels which is the most economical form of production, by electrolysis of water which is fairly expensive, and less commonly from coal. Biological production of hydrogen (biohydrogen) from algae is mostly experimental at this time as is high temperature electrolysis, thermochemical production, and a few other lesser known methods that show some promise in the laboratory.

For now the primary source of hydrogen is from fossil fuels. The energy needed to drive the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels can be obtained from a variety of sources including: nuclear, renewable,
fossil, etc.

Only if hydrogen production is from nuclear or renewable energy sources is the "carbon footprint" truly reduced.

The economics of using fossil fuels to convert fossil fuels to hydrogen and to then use the hydrogen as a fuel source to power electrical generation has not yet been proven.

Keep buying shares of Shell and Mobil. One thing is for sure the big oil companies are intent on keeping a stranglehold on every energy source they are able. Hydrogen is an easy one for big oil. They already control the production of fossil fuel from the well to the pump. You can bet they will use their existing distribution systems and retail outlets to sell hydrogen should it ever become commercially viable. And don't expect the cost to be any less than the current price of gasoline; in fact, expect hydrogen to cost more on an equivalent basis.

Should the city consider alternative fuels? Yes

Is Hydrogen the answer? Maybe, but not in the short run.

Should the city cooperate with National Labs? Yes.

Is CNG available and deployable today? Yes

Does T-Boon have a good idea to bridge us to the next fuel? Looks that way.

While it's far too soon to know if Hydrogen will be our ultimate savior, I applaud Councilmen Fieseler and Wherli for advancing the ball towards adopting new energy sources.

We mostly forget that in the automobiles infancy there were steam operated and electric cars, competing with the internal combustion engine. 100 years later, will we end up with electric powered vehicles rather than Hydrogen? Will have both perhaps? No one knows but, we will find a solution ultimately to replace gasoline powered vehicles, and this country needs to find that replacement sooner than later.

Will this cost us all some extra bucks? Yup.

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