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Climate Change and Driving the Hydrogen Highway

U.S. Department of Transportation, “The Interstate System has been called the Greatest Public Works Project in History.  From the day President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the Interstate System has been a part of our culture—as construction projects, as transportation in our daily lives, and as an integral part of the American way of life.  Every citizen has been touched by it, if not directly as motorists, then indirectly because every item we buy has been on the Interstate System at some point.  President Eisenhower considered it one of the most important achievements of his two terms in office, and historians agree.” 

A year later, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite which triggered the Space Race and heated up the Cold War. The Advanced Research Projects Agency, which became the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA in 1972 was formed as was NASA, and U.S. government spending on scientific research and education was increased. It was also determined that the clearance of overpasses and bridges on the Interstate System  had to be raised to 17 feet to allow for the movement of Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles, that could not be transported by rail. 

The success of the Interstate System has however engendered current security issues such as the addiction to oil identified by every U.S. President since Nixon (Eisenhower’s Vice President) and climate change.

The 1991 estimated cost of the Interstate System (35 years worth of construction) was $128.9 billion of which the Federal share was $114.3 billion. By 1996, the final year of construction the Federal share had risen to $119 billion or about the same as the total U.S. economic losses in 2012 due to climate related storms and drought.

If last year wasn’t a climate change Sputnik moment, then hopefully one will soon come which won’t be too catastrophic.   

The Hydrogen Economy is a proposed system of delivering energy using hydrogen. Often overlooked however, is the fact hydrogen is also a way of delivering water, which is even more vital than energy.

The environmental benefit of producing energy in a hydrogen fuel cell, burning it in a hydrogen-fired gas turbine or Pulse Detonation Engine is water is the only byproduct of the energy produced.

You can power your home while providing the water you and it need from the same source.  

According to the Energy Information Administration, transportation (gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc.) accounts for about 2/3 of the oil used in the United States.

The Hydrogen Highway would supplant this usage.

One of the first jet engines was powered by hydrogen in 1937 and 50 years later the Russian manufacturer Tupolev built a prototype hydrogen-powered version of the Tu-154 airliner.

William Ford Jr. has stated that infrastructure is one of three factors (including costs and manufacturability in high volumes) that is holding back the marketability of fuel cell vehicles.

Seimens, Shell and others, are working to resolve these problems. The quickest way to address the distribution problem would be for every vendor of fuel cell vehicles to become a distributor of hydrogen as well.

British Columbia proposed a Hydrogen Highway to link Vancouver to Whistler as part of its 2010 Winter Olympic effort.  Even Prime Minister Harper, not noted for his environmental bona fides, announced $200 million in funding in 2007 for environmental projects in B.C. including the Hydrogen Highway.

B.C.  is also a major cluster for fuel cell research. As a consequence of that effort, Klaus Berger, vice president of Daimler AG’s Fuel Cell Division in Burnaby, B.C., says he expects that by 2017 the cost to produce a fuel cell power plant for vehicles will be comparable to a diesel-electric hybrid.

The question then arises, where do we get the hydrogen that does not exist freely in Nature.

The answer is it is ubiquitous. It can be produced by the electrolysis of water, steam reformation of hydrocarbons, fermentation, photoelectric water splitting, high temperature disassociation of water and other means.

From a climate perspective the best way to produce hydrogen is by electrolysis using renewable energy and from an economic perspective the greatest return on renewable investment is hydropower.

Here too British Columbia is well endowed. The proposed Site C dam on the Peace River could produce an additional 1100 megawatts of power to add to BC Hydro’s current 11,000 megawatts capacity, which pales by comparison to the 55,000 megawatts that could be provided by diverting Alaska and British Columbia waters southward by the North American Water and Power Authority as proposed in 1964 by the Ralph M. Parsons Company.

Those Canadians opposed to bulk water exports might be more amenable to exporting hydrogen, which in turn could be converted to water, but the sensible thing would be to produce and export all three, hydro, water and hydrogen.

Paul Wright has a patent application for the transporting of hydrogen dissolved in water.

Transportation is cited as one of the major obstacle to the implementation of the Hydrogen Economy. This is not an insurmountable obstacle though because more than 2,950 kms of hydrogen pipelines and 12 hydrogen networks already exist in Europe and the United States and new solutions may be on the horizon.


The U.S. needs to grow its hydrogen infrastructure to the point that all 75,932 kilometers of the Interstate System can be serviced.

In hydrogen there is European/North American potential to benefit the world.

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