Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Hydrogen Economy: Point-counterpoint

This weekend I stumbled upon (thanks to Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Investor) an interesting debate being carried out in the editorial pages of the Vancouver Sun, discussing the overall potential of the "hydrogen economy."

On the one hand, Jon Hykawy (the Director of Technology Research at Fraser Mackenzie, a Canadian investment bank) argues that "hydrogen is too expensive to become a useful fuel in our modern world". He even goes so far as to make a strongly-implied suggestion that government funding for hydrogen-focused technologies be directed elsewhere.

This was followed a week later by a response from Dennis Campbell, the CEO of Ballard Power, who shoots back that "investing in hydrogen and fuel cell commercialization is a 'no brainer'..." (note: opens a PDF from the Ballard website).

For those interested in the ongoing debate about the hydrogen economy and hydrogen-fueled fuel cells, these two short opinion pieces are a great resource, simply and clearly laying out the arguments that both sides of the debate tend to use.

...It's also interesting to take note of a couple of sub-plots. First of all, as a research analyst with Fraser Mackenzie, Hykawy covers Ballard. Here's a pdf of one of his recent research reports. Ouch. Secondly, while assailing PEM fuel cells as having a long way to go before broad commercialization, and PEM-based companies like Ballard for not having strong financial returns (a criterion he cites for government funding), it's interesting to see that Hykawy seems to feel just as strongly -- but in this case, positively -- about solid oxide fuel cell companies (see here a pdf of one of his recent research reports on Fuel Cell Technologies... interested readers might want to dig into his economic analysis, it's enlightening).


Blogger odograph said...

I think the Hydrogen Highway is a significant and dangerous distraction.

The world is waking up to that, slowly, but it still damages our progress. We should be moving to cleaner, and less import-dependent energy sources right now. Unfortunately the general press and public have this idea that the Hydrogen Highway is right around the corner. That slows everyone down, and keeps them from thinking about the personal choices they will have to make. It is treated as a “get out of jail free” card.

To add just one other recent article, popular science says:

“…Yet the truth is that we aren’t much closer to a commercially viable hydrogen-powered car than we are to cold fusion or a cure for cancer. This hardly surprises engineers, fuel cell manufacturers and policymakers, who have known all along that the technology has been hyped, perhaps to its detriment, and that the public has been misled about what Howard Coffman, editor of, describes as the “undeniable realities of the hydrogen economy.” These experts are confident that the hydrogen economy will arrive—someday. But first, they say, we have to overcome daunting technological, financial and political roadblocks. Herewith, our checklist of misconceptions and doubts about hydrogen and the exalted fuel cell.”

11:53 AM  

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