Can We Afford to Wait for Hydrogen Energy?
By Ignacio Avalos*
clean energy source is at the center of a new utopia, but it will
take decades before hydrogen is consolidated as a true energy alternative.
CARACAS - An oil crisis is just around the
corner, warn an ever-increasing number of experts. According to
British researcher Colin Campbell, member of the Oil Depletion Analysis
Center, the entire planet has been explored to the core and we should
be assured that there are no major oil fields to be discovered,
an assessment shared by many other specialized organizations, including
the U.S. Geological Survey.
Meanwhile, demand keeps growing (our civilization continues to be
addicted to fossil fuel consumption) to the degree that if China
and India, for example, expand their economies as they aim to, achieving
the same per capita energy consumption as South Korea, according
to Fortune magazine they would need 119 million barrels of oil a
day, that is, nearly 50 percent more than the world daily consumption
Hydrogen could appear as an alternative, say experts, given that
the forecasts related to natural gas are the same as they are for
petroleum. There are already important advances in hydrogen technology
(they say an equivalent to 10 percent of petroleum output is produced
this way), and possesses undoubted advantages over petroleum and
other energy sources.
It is a clean resource from the environmental point of view, because
it represents the final step in the process of "decarbonization"
(from wood to gas, passing through coal and petroleum), because
it is energy without carbon, the contaminating element par excellence.
Hydrogen is practically inexhaustible and is distributed equally
around the planet, which means its use could be more democratic,
unlike, say those in the know, the situation of petroleum concentration.
An economy based on hydrogen would produce deep changes in global
organization, according to forecasts, because it would make possible
a redistribution of power and greater equality worldwide.
Thus is announced the possibility of a new and improved society,
thanks to hydrogen. It is, once again, the social utopia from the
side of technological determinism, in other words, with disregard
for the social relations of dominance.
Hydrogen forms part of the U.S. argument against the 1997 Kyoto
Protocol, a treaty that aims to confront the serious consequences
of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions: the emergence of new
viruses and diseases, increased desertification, freshwater shortages,
rising sea levels. Needless to say, the production and consumption
of petroleum weigh heavily in this problem.
Eleven years after being proposed, the Protocol cannot be enacted
because of the reticence of the United States.
Not long after taking office, President George W. Bush said crassly
that the United States would not sign an agreement that conspired
against the growth of the country's gross domestic product. However,
his position is now more refined. On the one hand he plays down
the dangers inherent in global warming as well as the need to take
urgent measures. On the other he wields the alternative of an energy
source based on hydrogen. So why sign a treaty so damaging to U.S.
If the majority of the scientific community is correct about the
seriousness of the environmental imbalances and we are in a race
against time, it is worth wondering, given the 15 to 20 years it
will take to consolidate hydrogen as an energy option, what will
be the consequences of ignoring the matter and not signing the Kyoto
Protocol? Many fear they will be very severe and likely irreversible.
* Ignacio Avalos is a former minister of
science and technology of Venezuela.