The Case For A Hydrogen Powered Civilization






Hydrogen fuel can be used as a renewable energy medium with immense potential.  It is the energy carrier most likely to replace fossil fuels. Hydrogen Fuels Technology (HFT) will transform our largely fossil fuel economy to a new hydrogen powered economy.  This transformation will ensure a sustainable and environmentally sane energy future throughout the 21st century, and beyond, for as long as the sun continues to shine.

Is it possible for hydrogen to compete with oil in a global market?  The answer is that as fossil fuel reserves dwindle to extinction, the human race must migrate to a new energy regime with similar energy output as a prerequisite to maintaining a contemporary, high standard of living.  The alternative is to regress to a pre-industrial civilization, and that of course will be unacceptable.

Let’s examine all aspects involved in making the transition a reality, including political, economic, environmental, and safety issues, taking in to account what’s already been accomplished with the technology, and what’s in the works.

When these aspects have been fully comprehended it will be clear that hydrogen fuels technology is the only viable replacement for the combustion of fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants.


When most people think of hydrogen, they think of the first atom on the periodic table, the Hindenburg, and perhaps the hydrogen bomb. On earth, the hydrogen atom contains a single proton, around which orbits a single electron. It is also the lightest element, the most abundant, and most explosive.   Each second, our sun converts 500 million metric tons of hydrogen to helium. It’s through this thermonuclear reaction that we on planet Earth receive the life supporting energy that maintains our atmospheric temperature within a range that supports a “zone of life”.  Solar energy powers the process of photosynthesis.  Decomposing plants and animals have over millions of years accumulated into the huge reserves of hydrocarbon deposits, reserves that the human race has exploited and consumed in an astonishingly fast fashion.

Hydrogen is an energy storage medium which can be produced quite simply. The most efficient and environmentally sane method of producing hydrogen is to crack the water molecule with electricity produced from alternative energy systems- wind power, photovoltaic panels (solar cells), and photoelectrolysis, which is a one stage production of hydrogen from water.  At present, fossil fuels are combusted to generate the electricity needed to crack the water molecule.  In our near future, only environmentally friendly and renewable energy sources will be used to create electricity.  The US currently produces 100 billion cubic feet per year of hydrogen for industry, and the space program.

Hydrogen is the heart of all hydro-carbon fuels (fossil fuels)   When we combust fossil fuels, it’s the hydrogen we’re after in the hydro-carbon.   When we combust hydro-carbon, the carbon combines with free oxygen to make carbon dioxide (CO2).  Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which contributes to atmospheric absorption and retention of solar heat radiation. Hydrogen can power virtually every application where other fuels are used today. Hydrogen can be directly combusted in internal combustion engines or used in a fuel cell power plant both in vehicles and new generation electric power plants.

Unlike many schemes for replacing fossil fuels, hydrogen remains the only viable alternative to fossil fuels.  Hydrogen fuel is not “alternative energy” any more than fossil fuels were alternative energy sources during our civilization’s transition from a wood burning economy to a fossil fuel economy.  It’s important to note that absolutely critical in the formula for creating a hydrogen powered economy, alternative, renewable forms of energy will be used to generate the electricity needed to produce hydrogen.  In discussing energy issues, this distinction must be made to appreciate the hierarchy of energy production in a hydrogen economy.

The Perfect Fuel:

Hydrogen cars have been touted in magazines like “Popular Mechanics”.  The technologies involved are mature or nearing maturity, but it will take a collaboration of the public and private sector to bring hydrogen to the fuel station.  Energy companies such as Exxon, Mobil, Texaco, BP and Shell have been investing in hydrogen fuel technologies for decades anticipating the point in our near future where fossil fuel use becomes prohibitively expensive. “We believe in hydrogen as one of the world's principal energy resources far into the future” says Don Huberts, Chief Executive Officer of Shell Hydrogen. 

Auto manufacturers Daimler-Chrysler, Honda, Ford, GM, Toyota and BMW have developed mature prototypes of hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles as well as running stock internal combustion models on hydrogen. “Hydrogen powered cars feel and drive just like a like a gas powered car.  And so the feeling for our customers will be, they have a high powered car, a normal car with clean emissions”, comments Klaus Pehr, head of concept cars for BMW. Countless others are all trying to get in on the action. The new BMW 750hL sedan hydrogen/gasoline, hybrid works runs on both hydrogen and gasoline.  It has two gas caps, when a hydrogen fueling station isn’t available you just flip the switch and run on gasoline.

The era of cheap oil is almost over.   It is estimated that hydrogen could theoretically be cost competitive at seventy-five cents per gallon, equivalent of gasoline. This estimate is if solar dish gensets (Distributed Generator Systems) were used as the electricity source for hydrogen production. Solar gensets hold the world’s record for converting solar energy to electricity. Using this method, a relatively small area of land could manufacture enough Solar-Hydrogen to supply the entire energy requirements for the United States. According to a study funded by Saudi Arabia, even if less efficient photovoltaic cells were used, a relatively small area of land could displace all their oil exports (Phoenix Project). It costs 45 kilowatt hours to produce 1 gallon of gasoline equivalent hydrogen. The fact remains, no matter what the alternative method utilized for the production of hydrogen, hydrogen power is the key to a sane a sustainable energy future, replacing petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

Current Uses of Hydrogen

NASA has used it as a rocket fuel since the 1940’s. Most people don’t notice it, but if you watch a shuttle lift off you can see that the three main onboard rockets burn with a light blue almost clear flame.  This is the on-board hydrogen propulsion system. NASA spacecraft also uses hydrogen for its primary fuel in orbit, and for making drinking water. One pound of hydrogen when combined with oxygen will make nine pounds of pure distilled drinking water. Through the process, it will also generate a significant amount of usable electricity as a byproduct. The Navy has been using electrolyzers for their submarines to make oxygen for long missions turning sea water into hydrogen and oxygen.  The American Hydrogen Association has one of the original electrolyzers from a submarine. It is still fully functional, and has over one hundred million life support hours to its credit since 1955 as an oxygen generator for submarines and NATO.

When most people think of alternative renewable energy they think of the electric car. You charge it for three hours and only get a fifty mile range. It's slow, small, uncomfortable, and batteries need replacement every twelve months. With hydrogen you don’t have to give up any of your luxury. In fact, hydrogen is more powerful than gasoline. Liquid Hydrogen has a BTU (British Thermal Unit) of 60,000 per pound where as gasoline has a BTU of 18,000 per pound. This means that hydrogen is lighter and more powerful; it can go further for its weight. When hydrogen is used in a fuel cell powered vehicle to create electricity, it’s much more efficient, powerful and light-weight than gas powered internal combustion engine vehicle

Hydrogen fuels will fulfill virtually all fuel requirement now serviced by the use of gasoline and natural gas.  Existing internal combustion engines can be modified to run on liquid or gaseous hydrogen.  Fuel cell vehicle technology is optimized for the use of hydrogen fuels and may be the dominant power plant for vehicles in a hydrogen economy. 

Hydrogen can be used as a cooking fuel, to heat your home, drive your car, and mow your lawn. Hydrogen can run an electric generator and supply electricity for your home through the use of an in-house fuel cell power pack.  It’s quite probable that a significant portion of private residences and commercial buildings will generate all of their electrical needs from hydrogen powered fuel cells resulting in a major decentralization of national electrical production grid

 Hydrogen power is a democratic fuel.  Any country can produce it for its domestic needs.  As a consequence, a hydrogen powered civilization will never have to compete for an energy source that is localized to a handful of countries but rather will be fully distributed in production by its very nature.


Political & Economic Implications:

Oil is critical for a vast range of industrial, agricultural, and medicinal applications, but once burned its forever lost. Remaining oil reserves are being consumed primarily for transportation and heating and cooling needs at an ever increasing annual rate on a global scale due to increasing population and per capita consumption.  Between 2010 and 2020, world production of oil will peak and then start to decline at 3% per year, year over year.  This decline will occur during the time that huge numbers of people in China, Indochina, India and elsewhere will enter the middle class, all demanding the benefits of increased purchasing power including the acquisition of personal transportation vehicles.

The US will be competing with the rest of the world at an ever more intense level for remaining oil production.  The net result will be accelerating fossil fuel energy costs and all the negative consequences that arise from diversion of national wealth into supporting an ever more expensive energy regime.



The United States consumes approximately two point two billion plus barrels of oil per year. Supplementing with hydrogen now could reduce the trade deficit by sixty billion dollars.  Factor in the expenditure of taxpayer dollars the United States spends maintaining the military or, “protecting our investments” in the Middle East. And you will get a more accurate cost of a gallon of gas. “People who are willing to give up freedom for the sake of short term security deserve neither freedom nor security.” Benjamin Franklin once said.

There are those who believe that involvement in the Middle East, taking on the role of, “world police” may be jeopardizing our national security. Energy self-sufficiency will take the politics out of energy policy.

 The estimated remaining petroleum reserves are about one trillion barrels of oil.  Human civilization consumes twenty five billion barrels per year, incrementally increasing each year at 3% to 5%.  Current calculations of the rate of consumption to exhaustion of reserves demonstrate that there is thirty to fifty year supply left, depending on what expert authority one uses to calculate remaining reserves and other variables such as disruption due to war.  It’s clear, according to a Shell Oil executive, that “shifting to hydrogen is not a question of whether but when”.

One proposal for change would be a fair accounting act, which will factor in environmental and other external energy costs. “Bringing market prices in line with energy’s hidden burdens will be one of the challenges of the coming decades,” said Harold M. Hubbard of Scientific American Magazine.

 These “hidden” costs include: the maintaining of a military in the Middle East, corrosion of buildings from acid rain, crop loses, billions of dollars of environmental damage, as well as aggravated healthcare costs due to pollution. If these hidden costs were all factored into fossil fuel production, hydrogen would clearly be revealed to be the less costly of the two energy regimes.

The present Republican administration has given lukewarm support for hydrogen fuels technology with an initiative that will produce hydrogen using electricity generated from fossil fuel combustion. While the project does demonstrate that hydrogen can be produced in meaningful quantity for public consumption, the use of fossil fuel is counter to both the spirit and pragmatic necessity to use alternative renewable, non-polluting means to generate the electrical power

Hydrogen fuel technology will quickly evolve under one of three conditions. 

Condition One:  There is an economic meltdown due to war in the Mideast whereby petroleum exports from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries are disrupted.  Under this condition, the US as well as the rest of the industrialized world will be forced to migrate to hydrogen fuels, but not before an economic depression similar to that of the American great depression is played out.

 Condition Two:  As previously stated, somewhere between 2010 and 2020 world production of petroleum will peak and then decline at 3% per year, year over year.  Energy costs will skyrocket and the American public will demand from our government that something be done about it. Most average people will not demand or support change until gas prices begin to skyrocket.  Once prices accelerate to say, five to ten dollars per gallon a speedy move towards a hydrogen economy will occur.  But not before an economic meltdown as severe as that of the great depression occurs.

 Condition three:  The US, with the strategic proactive collaboration between the private and public sectors, migrates to a hydrogen powered economy before an economic meltdown occurs. With the transition to hydrogen comes the “hydrogen economy,” a whole new industry and infrastructure will be put into place creating new jobs for both the blue and white collar workers; thousands of permanent scientific and industrial jobs. Building plants, manufacturing parts, selling equipment, and developing technology, not just in the US, but the rest of the world as well.  Transitioning to a hydrogen powered civilization will have a similar revolutionary economic effect on the world economy as did the transition from a wood powered civilization to a fossil fuel powered civilization.

Environmental Impact:

Hydrogen fuels technology is the permanent solution in resolving a number of our most pressing environmental issues; atmospheric particulate pollution, waste greenhouse gas production, oil spill and groundwater contamination, elevated levels of respiratory illness and other health risks.

 The exhaust (water vapor) from an internal combustion engine vehicle running on hydrogen is cleaner than the air it mixes with.  This is the concept of “minus emissions”. Engine oil remains clean for an extended period of time because there are no sulfur or carbon compounds to degrade the oil. Engines using hydrogen will last much longer and start faster in any weather. Existing cars could be converted to run on hydrogen.  In fact, introducing 2% to 5% hydrogen into internal combustion engines that currently run on gasoline, diesel, or natural gas increases the efficiency, improves gas mileage, and reduces pollutants quite remarkably.

“I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen will constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light . . .” - Jules Verne, Mysterious Island.

More oil is dumped into the ocean by routine oil tankers every year, then from an oil spill. This is because ocean seawater is used to clean out the ships gigantic tanks before refilling. In order to insure a “fresh batch,” or so to speak. (Phoenix Project)

Hydrogen can be produced form water, sewage, garbage, landfills, agricultural biomass, paper product waste and many methods. Hydrogen is naturally produced by plants and is colorless, odorless tasteless and nontoxic.

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next several generations.” - The great law of the Iroquois Nation.


Hydrogen is not commonly thought of as a safe fuel, this is in part due to the wide spread belief/myth that hydrogen is to blame for the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, but there is new evidence to discredit that theory. Brian DiChristina, a scientist at Cape Canaveral has discovered the probable cause. “Neither the hydrogen in the hull nor a bomb was to blame, but a special fabric for the outer skin that, when ignited, burns like dry leaves”.

His suspicions of the Hindenburg fabric covering were raised when he learned that a cellulose nitrate (gun powder) dope with powdered aluminum (a fuel) might have been used on the Hindenburg. He was able to obtain a 60 year old piece of the fabric to test his hypothesis. Furthermore, a hydrogen flame is almost invisible in day light, it burns a light blue. We know from many eye witness accounts as well as actual photographs, that the flames were red and orange. This supports his theory that hydrogen was not the source of the flames.

He was able to prove his theory into fact, and the plaque in the Kennedy Space Center has been changed reading a more accurate portrayal of the history of the Hindenburg. It would appear that the Germans agree with his claim. German electrical engineer, Otto Beyersdorff, on 28 June 1937 wrote “The actual cause of the fire was the extreme easy flammability of the covering material brought about by discharges of an electrostatic nature”.

Cultural bias towards hydrogen as an explosive substance was formed in the aftermath of the Hindenburg disaster.  But in truth, hydrogen is no more explosive than gasoline under anticipated normal use.  Both gasoline and hydrogen fuels need to be handled with care.  Energy companies and auto manufacturers have spent decades working on the safety issues regarding production, transportation, distribution, and use of hydrogen fuels anticipating the day that our fossil fuel powered civilization migrates to hydrogen fuels.

BMW has done extensive crash testing to prove the safety of its test fleet of hydrogen powered vehicles.  Hydrogen fuel tanks were subjected to a series of accident simulations that included collisions, fire and tank ruptures. In all cases, the hydrogen cars fared better then conventional gasoline vehicles. This is due to the fact that when a hydrogen tank is ruptured the hydrogen typically harmlessly escapes into the atmosphere. Hydrogen also burns quickly, and must have the right ratio of oxygen to hydrogen in order to be flammable, (7 to 1).  Pure hydrogen is not flammable. Therefore, under normal anticipated use in a hydrogen powered vehicle, hydrogen is relatively safer than gasoline.


The burning of fossil fuels creates a host of particulate and gaseous pollutants which results in elevated levels of respiratory tract diseases. 

The health consequences of particulate matter, the solid or liquid particles found in the air can originate from a variety of mobile, stationary, and natural sources, including power plants, any engine that burns diesel

The chemical and physical composition of particulates varies widely. Most of the smallest particles result from burning fossil fuels. These small particles can remain aloft for days, even weeks, and can travel thousands of kilometers. For example, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's station at Mauna Loa Observatory have tracked carbon particulates to Hawaii from specific smokestacks in Beijing

Particulates pose a major hazard for human health. The adverse effects have been traced mainly to small particles with an aerodynamic diameter of 10 microns or less, which can reach deep into the lungs. Smaller particles can go even deeper into the lungs, where those that are still tinier can enter the blood stream. These particles can disturb the lungs physically and chemically. They can directly irritate the lungs, and they can carry toxic heavy metals and other pollutants.

The average person breathes several million liters of air a year. Children take in even more air relative to their body weight and size. Those who exercise heavily or work hard, of course, breathe even greater volumes of air. Breathing finely polluted air can produce slow and insidious effects or devastating and immediate ones. Over a lifetime, regular breathing of contaminated air can impede the ability of the lungs to breathe in oxygen and get rid of pollutants. Polluted air can cause immediate or acute effects ranging from asthma attacks to death in those whose lungs are already weakened.

 Complete conversion to the use of hydrogen fuels would eliminate the health risks


Hydrogen truly is the perfect fuel; the fuel which may save us from geopolitical catastrophe in the Mideast, the fuel that brought us to the moon, the fuel which can save our race from global ecological destruction and severe economic fallout from the effects of global warming.  By mid-century, the fossil fuel energy regime will have run its course. 

We The People of the United States now have a clear choice.  Make the transition to a hydrogen economy proactively now, and in so doing avoid an economic meltdown, or continue to exploit every last barrel of oil, every last ton of coal, and every last cubic foot of natural gas while magically wishing a hopeful future for our children, and our children’s children



Copyright© 2004

Coalition For Energy Self-Reliance
A 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation for a hydrogen economy