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A Promising Grandson Of The H-Bomb

File image of a Hydrogen-fueled bus.
by Tatyana Sinitsyna
RIA Novosti commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 29, 2008
One hundred hydrogen-fueled buses have arrived in China for the Olympics. Some people may be scared by association with the hydrogen bomb. After all, a hydrogen car could be considered an offspring of the H-bomb.

Hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles are rare, nevertheless, a hundred hydrogen-fueled buses are impressive. Daimler-Chrysler has found an excellent excuse to promote clean technologies. Hydrogen buses are emission-free, noiseless and have an efficiency factor of 70% (compared to 30% for internal combustion engines). These vehicles are important test beds for a world community which has declared war on anthropogenic emissions.

Surprisingly hydrogen technologies are not new. A plane with a hydrogen engine was developed in Russia in the 1980s. However, interest in hydrogen power declined for various reasons, possibly because the 1986 Chernobyl disaster discredited the nuclear power altogether.

Other countries have displayed more foresight. Having learned a priceless lesson from the negative Chernobyl experience, they moved on. France has progressed more than others. Its nuclear power plants generate 87% of its electricity, and it has eco-friendly hydrogen cars and buses.

Germany, Norway, the United States, Japan, and China are also increasingly leaning on emission-free transportation vehicles, but not Russia which was the first to master hydrogen technologies.

Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolai Ponomaryov-Stepnoi told RIA Novosti that scientists from the Kurchatov Nuclear Energy Institute understood the promise of hydrogen as an eco-friendly energy source in the middle of the past century.

He said bitterly: "In the 1960s-1970s, we conducted large-scale laboratory research in hydrogen production. We tried to produce it with nuclear reactors, through water electrolysis and different thermo-chemical processes. As a result, we developed powerful hydrogen rocketry. Our rockets were the best. We could heat hydrogen up to 3,000 degrees. American could not do it. We could have flown to Mars."

The military industry lost interest in hydrogen with the end of the arms race, and conversion failed. Although hydrogen engines were used in the space program, and remain unsurpassed, for now hydrogen technologies are experimental only and cannot compete with traditional energy sources, such as gas, fuel oil, and coal.

The academician explained that hydrogen boom is impeded by two major problems: how to use hydrogen, and how to produce it in the most rational way. Hydrogen production has been developed. The world produces from 40 million to 50 million tons of hydrogen per year. But it is still being produced through expensive methane conversion. It makes no sense to get it from precious organic fuel.

The most rational way is to produce hydrogen from water. If you can reduce water to oxygen and hydrogen, you've made it! However, no effective technology has yet been developed.

Ponomaryov-Stepnoi recalled: "A high-temperature nuclear reactor with a gel coolant will do the job. This idea was voiced in the Kurchatov Institute in 1974. It was then that the term 'atomic-hydrogen energy industry' was introduced. But the program was not pursued. Now we are trying to make use of what we learned then."

High-temperature gel reactors operated in different countries, such as Germany, Britain, and the United States. China and Japan are also using them. Russia has not built this type of reactor, although it had pursued this approach. This is the only type of reactor which can produce hydrogen economically.

Gasoline distribution is common, but a hydrogen distribution infrastructure will raise security issues. Scientists have successful codes (similar to the ones in the nuclear industry) which will help predict, and, hence, prevent mishaps.

The auto industry holds the greatest promise for hydrogen technology. Many countries have concentrated on the hydrogen perspective. Giants like Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford are investing huge sums in the development of hydrogen based power engines.

The hydrogen car consumer market is expected to develop in ten years, but commercial production of hydrogen will be possible only if it is commercially feasible.

Russia is lagging behind in the development of hydrogen cars. Two companies were jointly involved in their production and testing in the recent past - AvtoVAZ and the Energiya space corporation. A hydrogen car could run from 300 km to 400 km (180 miles and 240 miles, respectively) with one refueling (three kilograms or 6.6 pounds of hydrogen per engine, or several dozen liters of gas).

However, hydrogen is still an expensive fuel, and researchers continue working on reducing the cost of its production.

Russia has revived its interest in the hydrogen power industry, and given it a new lease of life. It will be developed if it is treated as a priority, if it receives the status of a federal program with financial and other state support. However, rich natural resources are a big stumbling block.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Source: RIA Novosti

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