02 March, 2005

More Bunk

Okay, I know that everyone has ranted adequately about how hydrogen isn't really an energy source, it's a vector, and you still need an energy source to produce it, blah blah blah. But, there's an obvious value in developing this technology, which is this:

Energy sources are pretty well partitioned based on usage. Natural gas gets used for home heating, oil gets used for transportation, and coal gets used for electricity generation. There's some cross-over in all of these areas, of course, but this is a good enough approximation for my hand-waving argument.

Oil is obviously the best suited for being a transportation fuel: all you need to do is boil it for a while, and you've got gasoline. Meanwhile, no one has, to date, created a coal-burning car, and don't hold your breath (unless someone actually DOES create a coal-burning car, in which case you absolutely SHOULD hold your breath). And so once we run out of oil, we're not going to be able to drive to Wal-Mart to buy that super-cheap salad-spinner (and even if we DID drive there, the store would be fucking empty, because the goddamn boat never brought the salad-spinners over from China, and have you ever had a Chinese salad? No, because they don't eat salad in China, and they don't need salad spinners, and we've got the makings of a real tragedy here), because there's no liquid fuel besides gasoline. Unless, that is, we develop hydrogen as an energy vector and burn it in our cars. Q.E.D.

Of course, since oil and gas are on the outs, hydrogen is only ever going to be as "clean" as the energy source behind it. (I'm finally getting to the point, here! Exciting, isn't it?) And what have we got more of than we know what to do with?* Coal. We've got upwards of 200 years of Coal, which should be more than enough time for the Vogons to get their shit together and vaporize our planet.

But coal is NOT clean, and it never has been. In fact, it's way, way more polluting than oil and gas per unit of energy, and hydrogen fuel will probably not end up being as efficient a fuel source as gasoline (improbable as that sounds). Which is why the U.S. government is POURING money, tons and tons of money, into developing "clean coal technologies".

You've heard George Bush talk about it on more than one occassion. That other guy (the one with a jaw like a Tiki god) also stressed how important it was to develop "clean coal technologies". But both of these men are fuckwits.

"Clean coal" seems like a bad idea on all levels. Coal mining is, by itself, one of the worst polluting processes we've come up with. And coal burning has always been a rather nasty business, responsible for modern blessings like sulfuric acid rain. Not to mention all that CO2 it produces. So how can we make it "good"? Well, we can pour billions upon billions of dollars into researching "CCS" - carbon capture and sequestration. What's that? Why, it's removing CO2 from a stack, compressing it into a liquid or solid, and fucking burying it in the ground. That's right, kids. Your government is spending BILLIONS of dollars researching technology that will probably be viable in, oh, 20 or 30 years to make coal slightly less polluting by BURYING CARBON DIOXIDE IN THE GROUND!

This is a good time to do a happy dance.

* Besides lawyers, obviously, which won't make a good fuel source because they are a net energy sink - it takes far more energy to create a lawyer than we would produce by burning one.

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