Hydrogen or Biofuels?

Two experts go head-to-head on the future of energy

| September / October 2004

In our January-February 2004 issue, we reprinted from Alternet an essay by local-economy advocate David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in which he takes aim at the advocates of a hydrogen-based economy, asserting, among other things, that because large energy interests are poised to dominate the process of generating hydrogen from substances like gas, oil, and coal, the push to hydrogen will actually be a setback for renewable energy from wind power, biomass, and other sources. Energy analyst Amory B. Lovins, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, and a prominent advocate of hydrogen fuel cell technology, responds.


In voicing skepticism about the role of hydrogen in our energy future, my valued friend David Morris makes several points:

He is understandably frustrated that hydrogen will initially be made mainly from natural gas, as 96 percent of U.S. hydrogen is now. But he wrongly thinks this will waste energy and increase carbon dioxide emissions. Because fuel cells are two to three times more efficient than gasoline engines, CO2 per mile will actually drop by 40 to 67 percent compared with today's gasoline cars -- and much more with efficient car designs.

He's irritated that nuclear advocates claim they'll be the hydrogen producers. But they won't be -- their option costs far too much.

He's worried that hydrogen might come from coal. This is a real possibility later, but by then we will have good ways to keep the carbon out of the air.