Is the Hydrogen Highway a Good Idea Again?

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on July 08, 2010
Is the Hydrogen Highway a Good Idea Again?

Remember the Hydrogen Highway that would run the length of California and provide the infrastructure for the Hydrogen Economy? California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger talked up the idea in his 2004 State of the State Address:

I am going to encourage the building of a hydrogen highway to take us to the environmental future...I intend to show the world that economic growth and the environment can coexist.

It might have been a good idea, but a bit premature in 2004. Now, after an exciting discovery at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), it’s a good idea whose time may have come around. Hemamala Karunadasa, Christopher Chang, and Jeffrey Long, who hold joint appointments at LBNL and UC Berkeley, discovered a cheap way to create hydrogen from water—even “dirty” water like seawater.

Hydrogen is normally created from natural gas, or some other fossil fuel; it can also be created using electricity, water, and a catalyst capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Once created from an energy source, hydrogen is used in fuel cells to create electricity, or it can be burned directly, for example, in a combustion engine.

If you use renewable energy, such as electricity produced from the sun or wind, to create hydrogen, it’s a clean and carbon free process that doesn’t add any greenhouse gases to the atmosphere or use up any fossil fuels—like the kind floating towards the Louisiana wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico. But it requires a catalyst; unfortunately, the most common and effective catalyst is platinum, which is a precious and expensive metal.

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