I read with interest the Letter to the Editor by Nigel Bunce, “Hydrogen is an energy currency, not an energy source,” in the Sept-Oct issue of the Canadian Chemical News (ACCN). The letter pointed out the oft-repeated misunderstandings about molecular hydrogen and its role in a so-called hydrogen economy. However, the situation may not be as clear as is portrayed.
Firstly, denying hydrogen the right to be called an energy source or a fuel, because energy is required to access it, may be an oversimplification. After all, every fuel, indeed every energy source with the exception, perhaps, of direct sunlight, requires energy of some type and quantity to access it or make it widely available. In some cases, more energy may be required to produce the fuel than it delivers, though this does not necessarily render the process unacceptable.
Secondly, our choice of terminology related to energy may be confusing and counterproductive. Of all the terms used in the energy sector, the terms “energy currency” and “energy carrier” that are frequently used to describe hydrogen are probably the least understood by one of the energy sector’s major stakeholders — the general public. If hydrogen is to play a major role in a future energy mix, I believe that public acceptance will be vital. Clarity and understanding will be required to ensure that hydrogen does not follow the path of nuclear energy, where perceived rather than actual risk has often shaped public opinion. Without the proper education and understanding, a major hydrogen explosion could easily rekindle memories of the 1937 Hindenberg airship explosion, which killed 36 people, and other disasters and change the benign “energy carrier” into an unacceptable commodity.
The hydrogen economy is years ahead. The time to develop a clear, concise and consistent explanation of hydrogen’s role is now.