Hydrogen Power a Step forward But Not `Non-polluting'

Opinion piece by John Krist discusses environmental issues of hydrogen as a fuel.

Published: 18-Feb-2003

Many Americans probably remember witnessing this simple experiment, or something like it, during their school days. The instructor takes two wires, attaches one end of each to an electrical power supply, places the other ends into a bowl of water and turns on the current. As if by magic, gas bubbles begin rising from the submerged wires.

The process is called electrolysis, and it uses electrical current to split water into its constituent elements: oxygen and hydrogen. And that simple demonstration is probably what flashed through many Americans' minds when they learned that President Bush had proposed significant investment in automotive fuel-cell technology, calling in his State of the Union for ``$1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles.''

As proponents of the technology delight in pointing out, fuel cells derive energy from the most abundant element in the universe -- hydrogen, present in every drop of water -- and generate no harmful byproducts. A clean fuel source that can be ``mined'' from the nearest lake? What could be better? Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are not science fiction, nor even futuristic.

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