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The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

A book by Darryl McMahon

Last updated 2009.03.17

JPEG version of the review

Review in the Greenlife Ottawa Magazine Spring 2009 edition


Title: The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy
Author: Darryl McMahon
Price: Approximately $30 - price varies at different stores
Available: Several Ottawa stores listed on
Pages: 294 Published: November 2006

Invest in technology that already works


(Picture caption: Darryl McMahon's Green14, a Porsche that has been converted to electric battery power, is proof that the technology works. The author is promoting electric-power cars and discouraging investment in the hydrogen fuel cell.)

Darryl McMahon puts his money where his mouth is, which lends credibility to the passionate argument he present ins his book, The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy.

His essential argument is the energy loss in converting hydrogen into a state ready to use for a motor vehicle is os much as to make the technology unworkable. Instead, McMahon recommends investing in improving a technology which already works: electric battery-powered vehicles.

"The technology works - it's been around a long time," McMahon says.

With losses during electrolysis, liquefaction, transport, bulk storage, vehicle storage, fuel cell conversion, and a super-capacitor battery to even out demand, McMahon calculates the energy efficiency of the hydrogen cycle between four and 16 per cent (p. 72). The same energy used to charge a lead-acid battery would be 83 per cent efficient, according to McMahon's book.

The temptation of hydrogen - that it could be "filled up" like a gasoline car and the exhaust is water - has led to heavy investment from governments around the world.

"There's too much conversion and too many losses," McMahon says. "It uses too much energy to get to a useful form."

Hydrogen also presents difficulties to store and maintain it in a usable form. Current research is considering either keeping it very cold or highly pressurized, either one of which presents dangers to drivers wishing to re-fill their vehicle.

McMahon thinks the money invested in hydrogen technology research would be better spent on sustainable energy production such as wind, hydro and solar, which would be necessary to power the hydrogen to electricity process in any case and can also be used to charge the existing continuum of hybrid gasoline-electric battery to pure electric battery vehicles.

McMahon says average commute for Canadians is 8 km, which an electric vehicle can easily manage.

"The perception is that people need to be able to drive 800 kilometres with no planning and they need a vehicle that can do that," McMahon says, but the reality is that people generally plan trips of that length in advance, which means they could also plan alternative transportation for that trip. "There should be different modes for different jobs - not one vehicle to do everything."

The book also includes plenty of advice on reducing overall energy use and water consumption, as well as lifestyle changes away from the gasoline-powered car. McMahon provides examples from his own lifestyle, including electric vehicles and sustainable energy production in his own backyard.

"There's no silver bullet - it's lots of little things culminating to make a big difference," McMahon says.

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