A Hydrogen-Powered Boondoggle
Jude Wanniski
January 10, 2005


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Motorists
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Detroit and Those Darned Arabs

One of the easiest ways to get some money out of Uncle Sam is to cook up another idea on how to reduce “dependence on Arab oil.” The environmentalists have used this many a time to shake down the taxpayers. Most of the folks in Washington know Global Warming is a hoax, but still every year the President asks for and Congress ponies up megabucks to “study the problem.” This means wooing scientists and engineers away from their productive work with fancy stipends to take temperatures and run them through computers, a process that never ends. When he was running for President last year, Howard Dean screamed about how we had to ratify the Kyoto Treaty, which would shut down parts of the economy, because “it will reduce the dependence on Arab oil.” The NYTimes is forever plugging away for a $1 per gallon tax on gasoline, to reduce dependence on Arab oil, and to also stop the earth from warming.

Now we are making great strides along those lines, it seems, because the Big Guys in Detroit are “on a fast track” to put hydrogen in our autos, which is what I learned by reading the Washington Post on Sunday. Greg Schneider reported that General Motors over the weekend unveiled the “Sequel,” an experimental hydrogen-powered auto at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The car that not only reduces dependence on those dratted fossil fuels, but also only emits water vapor. Holy smokes! I should say, “Holy Water!”

There are still a few wrinkles to be worked out, says Schneider: “Hydrogen is still years away from reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil. No one has yet figured out how to generate large amounts of hydrogen without causing as much pollution as internal-combustion engines now create, or how to pay for a nationwide distribution network. And the vehicles are prohibitively expensive; if GM's Sequel were for sale, it would cost as much as a warehouse full of Corvettes.”

You can read the whole story at Boondoggle. You will also learn where the moolah is coming from: “The Bush administration has pledged $1.2 billion over five years to sustain a government-industry research partnership on hydrogen power, with many auto and energy companies cooperating to develop the technology.”

But before you do that, our old friend Gordon Prather was on to this boondoggle two years ago, when he wrote it up in his weekend column at worldnetdaily, March 22, 2003:

Last year, to placate the eco-wackos, President Bush launched FreedomCAR, a $1.2 billion partnership to produce practical, affordable hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as soon as possible. Now he has launched a companion $720 million Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to develop, over the next five years, the technologies and infrastructure needed to produce, store and distribute hydrogen for use in those fuel-cell vehicles.

Why hydrogen? Well, according to the eco-wackos, hydrogen is the "ultimate fuel." When you "burn" it, you get water vapor, but no carbon-dioxide.

But hydrogen is not really a fuel at all. There aren't any underground reservoirs of hydrogen you can tap into. You have to produce it, spending more energy producing it than you get back when you burn it. Worse, the cheapest way to produce hydrogen is to steam-reform methane, and that produces lots of carbon-dioxide.

The high cost of producing hydrogen is just the beginning of your problems. How are you going to store it on board your vehicle? As a solid? As a liquid? As a gas? Hydrogen gas is dangerous stuff. Remember the Hindenburg? Safely storing hydrogen, yet still having it available on demand, is a big, big problem.

And where are you going to find a "filling station" when your tank of hydrogen runs dry? Cape Canaveral?

You can see Dr. Prather doesn’t think much of the Sequel, but if you read the rest of his column you will see that he has a simple solution, which would mean forgotten all about hydrogen power and going to an inexhaustible source of car power, i.e., methanol. Alas, the dirty little secret is that if the general public knew how it was being screwed by the corn farmers in those Red States, it would understand why methanol isn’t going anywhere. The farmers have federal subsidies coming out the gazoo, but they aren’t going to give up on their ethanol boondoggle, which we all know reduces our dependence on Arab oil.