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Harry Braun
Author-businessman Harry Braun thinks we can shift from fossil fuels to hydrogen economy in just five years time if we launched the equivalent of a Manhattan Project today.

Harry Braun on Hydrogen

Interview with the author of The Phoenix Project.

By Bill Moore

Phoenix, Arizona businessman Harry Braun doesn't think we can afford to wait twenty years for affordable fuel cells and nanotube hydrogen storage. He thinks we already have the technology to start the transition now from our petroleum-based transportation system to one powered by clean, abundant, renewable hydrogen. [The Phoenix Project]

"Hydrogen is the only energy alternative that exists that displace oil, natural gas and nuclear on a global scale, permanently. It is the only energy option that has zero carbon emissions when you use it as a fuel," Braun told EV World.

What Braun, and many others like about hydrogen is its universality. It can replace natural gas, propane, gasoline, coal, even jet fuel. "You can use it for a Coleman stove on a mountain top to cook your dinner. Or Coleman now makes a fuel cell so you can make electricity. Or you can use it for rocket fuel to get to the Moon or Mars or wherever NASA is going. "

"Every engine in every car, truck, airplane can all use hydrogen fuel, and the engine will be clean; there will be no carbon deposits, no organic acids. The hydrogen economy is like the Ĺ’City on the Hill.' It's almost too good to be true."

Of course, technically, hydrogen isn't a "fuel", per se. It is, by definition, an energy carrier. On earth, hydrogen is tightly bound with other atoms and molecules and you have to use some form of energy to separate it out. Most hydrogen today is stripped from natural gas using a process called steam reformation. Hydrogen can also be separated from water (H20) by applying an electrical charge, a process called electrolysis. According to Braun, it is a portion of the energy used to isolate the hydrogen that is carried by the lightest of all gases.

This is an important distinction to Braun because he sees hydrogen as the means why which we can "store" intermittent renewable energy like electricity generated by wind or photovoltaic arrays.

In his quest to create a viable hydrogen economy today, Braun has focused his attention - - and business interests - - on developing various wind energy projects. He sees wind power as the most economical way to generate hydrogen.

"You can predict with a great deal of accuracy how much energy a wind machine will generate every year, otherwise bankers wouldn't finance them. It's a very hard science based on good instrumentation at sites."

Braun - - who is the president of Sustainable Partners, Inc - - calculates that instead of wind energy providing less than 1% of America's energy needs it could provide all of the nation's energy needs and then some.

"I say more than because in the United States we have land resource areas that they don't have in Japan, they don't have Germany, they don't have in Great Britain or Denmark. We have vast stretches of land in the Midwest owned by mostly small farmers who can make more money wind farming than they do with crops and cattle."

What Braun envisions is a national effort on the scale of the World War Two Manhattan Project. He explained that America currently uses some 95 Quad - - one quad is equivalent to 1 quadrillion BTU or a one followed by 15 zeros. He estimates that we could generate 100 Quad if we deployed anywhere from 3-10 million wind machines, depending on the size of the machines used. The electricity produced by these machines would be converted to hydrogen, which in turn can be stored and shipped via pipeline, tanker or cryogenic bulk carrier.

Manufacturing this many wind machines doesn't phase Braun. He pointed out that every component found inside a modern wind turbine is found under the hood of every modern automobile. He thinks Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler could easily build all the wind turbines we need and do it in just two years time.

If this sounds a bit farfetched, he observed that America spends $1 billion a week on oil imports, giving much of that money to people who despise the United States.

"We could give that money instead to the farmers in the Midwest and, frankly, have a big boom in our economy."

The Spoiling of Montana
Braun digressed briefly to talk about how natural gas - - currently the leading source of hydrogen - - exploration and extraction has ruined once pristine tracks of ranch land and wilderness in Montana.

"Each one of these natural gas wells pumps out about 12,000 gallons a day of a very salty, poison-type water that kills their crops, poisons cows. These ranchers now see the unfortunate reality of what happens with natural gas exploration and drilling. It's a very dirty business. It ruins people's land, and it ruins it for all practical purposes forever. You don't get that stuff back in the ground."

"You don't get any of that with a wind machine," he noted, also pointing out that the largest natural gas reserve in Montana would only be enough to meet America's natural gas needs for one year.

Get Off Oil at War Time Speed
Braun speaks with a clear sense of urgency. He told EV World that the world is consuming 4 barrels of oil for every one we discover. This is a situation that cannot long be sustained, he contends.

"You will not win this game. We need to get off of oil with war time speed and not wait until the price of oil goes to $100 a barrel before we start building the wind machines."

Liquid Hydrogen the Way To Go
Braun firmly believes that cryogenic or liquid hydrogen is the best way to get the necessary BTUs in order to do useful amounts of work. He noted that NASA uses it as its main rocket fuel because it contains more BTUs by weight than any other fuel.

While some may object to using liquid hydrogen as a common fuel because of its extremely cold temperature Braun responded that scientists at Los Alamos Laboratories in New Mexico ran a modified car on liquid hydrogen as early as the 1970s. BMW has also experimented with liquid hydrogen and created a fleet of 12 700 series sedans that run on either gasoline or hydrogen.

"BMW has been working on this for 25 years now. Their liquid hydrogen fueled cars are so sophisticated that you, the driver, can't tell one car from another except you have two fuel caps; one for hydrogen, one for gasoline."

"The BMW engineers have shown that liquid hydrogen can be used just like gasoline with very comparable fill-up times of about three and a half minutes. It gives the vehicle a 200-250 mile range and you get zero emissions to the planet.

Of course, it takes energy to extract the hydrogen and more energy to compress it, so the question becomes is there a net energy gain. Braun contends that it takes about 75% of the original energy used to create liquid hydrogen. This translates into an energy efficiency of about 25%. He argues that in monetary terms this translates into $11-13 per million BTUs in total costs or what is roughly equivalent to $1.50 per gallon of gasoline . . . before state and federal taxes.

He admitted that by the time road taxes are added, the total price would be about $2.25 per gallon equivalent, which some people would object to, saying they'd never pay that much. But he pointed out that we are paying that much and more already when you consider the cost of pollution and the need to maintain a large military presence on land and at sea to protect the flow of oil.

"You don't pay those medical bills at the gas pump. You pay those out of the heatlh[care] part of your budget."

"The point is there isn't enough oil on the planet to carry us into the future with any kind of prosperity. There are going to be more and more people competing for fewer and fewer resources. It's a gloomy picture if that's all you've got to look at. Shifting to hydrogen is prosperity without pollution."

He believes that people will be able to drive their big SUVs without worrying about the amount of environmental damage they do. He contends people won't need to drive small, fuel efficient cars because you don't need to conserve hydrogen.

"You can't use it up," he stated. "You just need the wind or sun to drive the water apart. . ."

PART TWO CONTINUED NEXT WEEK. . .

Times Article Viewed: 6321
Published: 10-Mar-2002

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