Skip to main content

The Hydrogen Revolution - Marco Alverà ***

The idea of using hydrogen to aid our move to green energy is gathering pace. At one point it was described primarily as a replacement for petrol in fuelling cars - though Marco Alverà does mention this still as a possibility for some vehicles, the far bigger picture is for hydrogen's role as a potential replacement for natural gas and as a means to store energy to enable to it to be transported from solar-rich locations, or to hold energy for use at time when renewables aren't delivering, such as in winter in many European locations.

Despite portraying the seriousness of climate change's impact, Alverà is relentlessly upbeat about the capability of hydrogen in sorting out our problems. It ought to be said upfront (and perhaps isn't explored enough in the book) that Alverà is CEO of an energy pipeline company that is moving into hydrogen in a big way, so to say that he has a potential conflict of interest is, if anything, understating things.

This doesn't mean that some of Alverà's thoughts and suggestions aren't interesting, but it does mean that the way he brushes over the pitfalls and potential barriers is perhaps a little unbalanced. For instance, reading this, you would think that the US and China were doing great things on the climate front, rather than failing to deal with the situation. You would also think that the EU is a paragon of climate change action, when, for example, Germany's disastrous action on nuclear has resulted in a heavy use of coal.

Similarly, while it probably is a good idea in an ideal world to generate solar energy cheaply in the Sahara, say, and transport that energy as hydrogen rather than high voltage DC, Alverà underplays the concerns about putting Europe's energy future in the hands of potentially unstable countries and doesn't even mention threats from terrorism etc. In fact you'd think mostly hydrogen was a harmless substance without a track record of explosions - there's even a suggestion we might return to using hydrogen airships. That went well last time.

Alverà makes good technical points about the comparison of battery and hydrogen technology for long distances and heavy goods vehicles, though the comparison is very much dependent on today's battery technology and doesn't give any allowance for the speed at which this is developing. There is also some remarkable political naivety in a comment on the speed of China's development of hydrogen fuel cell capability saying 'One of the reasons why China is so good at making things happen is its economy is centrally planned...' - neither the Soviet Union nor China historically have shown that central planning is exactly a great way forward.

I don't want to be too hard on this book. It has genuinely made me more positive about hydrogen for some applications, notably energy storage to level out peaks and troughs in renewable supplies, though I'm still pretty certain I wouldn't like to travel in a vehicle sitting on a big hydrogen tank. It's also good to discover a climate change book that isn't all doom and gloom. But anyone reading the book does need to be aware this is a written from the perspective of someone whose company needs hydrogen to succeed and is perhaps talking it up beyond what may be realistic.

Hardback: 
Bookshop.org

  

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

On the Fringe - Michael Gordin *****

This little book is a pleasant surprise. That word 'little', by the way, is not intended as an insult, but a compliment. Kudos to OUP for realising that a book doesn't have to be three inches thick to be interesting. It's just 101 pages before you get to the notes - and that's plenty. The topic is fringe science or pseudoscience: it could be heavy going in a condensed form, but in fact Michael Gordin keeps the tone light and readable. In some ways, the most interesting bit is when Gordin plunges into just what pseudoscience actually is. As he points out, there are elements of subjectivity to this. For example, some would say that string theory is pseudoscience, even though many real scientists have dedicated their careers to it. Gordin also points out that, outside of denial (more on this a moment), many supporters of what most of us label pseudoscience do use the scientific method and see themselves as doing actual science. Gordin breaks pseudoscience down into a n

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under