I read an article on a prototype hydrogen-powered car developed by BMW. It used a modified diesel engine to run on hydrogen produced by passing an electric current through seawater. The electric current was created by a solar photovoltaic panel, and it broke the H2O molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen was burned in the engine, it recombined with oxygen in the air to produce steam – the only emission. What a marvellous breakthrough in technology, a portable fuel that is entirely clean and renewable!
This particular article appeared in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, about twenty years ago now. There were technical issues around storing and refuelling the hydrogen, but why were they never solved? What happened to this amazing prototype?
Also in the same journal, around the same time, appeared a cartoon. It depicted a meeting of large, wealthy-looking gentlemen, in Arab dress, although nowadays they would probably be Russian. They were saying, ‘We have lots of oil, oil is good. Gas? We control the gas, gas is good. What about nuclear? We control the uranium supply, nuclear energy is an excellent idea. Solar power? We control … it’ll never work!’
And there we have it in a nutshell. Instead of developing hydrogen power, we have stuck with petrol and diesel. Instead of being offered clean solar, wind and hydro power, we are having a ‘dash for gas’, nuclear and fracking pushed onto us.
Fracking is a particularly good example of how the fixation of those in power with fossil fuels produces bizarre ‘solutions’ to the energy problem. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has come about because remaining gas reserves are in ever smaller pockets rather than in the huge reservoirs of old, or in rocks that are not porous enough for gas to flow through them and accumulate.
Fracking involves injecting a fluid, a slurry of water and chemical additives, at very high pressure, into cracks in the rock to extend them and open them up to release gas, along with sand or something similar to hold the cracks open. Despite the usual condescending assurances from the industry that it is ‘quite safe’ and that experts are fully in control, fracking has a couple of major problems that make it an unpredictable process. The first is that the chemical fracking fluid can escape along cracks – sometimes a very large proportion of it has been lost, with little control or prediction on where it will go. It can end up in the groundwater, and pollute drinking water far into the future. It may contain salt, hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, disinfectant, isopropanol or other chemicals, or even radioactive elements flushed out of the rock. The second problem is that the liberation of the gas cannot be entirely controlled either, and it may escape, not along the intended cracks, but in an unpredictable way, causing air pollution and explosion risk. Fracking has also caused small earthquakes in the USA.
While fracking has mostly been carried out in the USA, applications are beginning to be made here, including one in the Mendips (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-13748284), and the fossil fuel lobby is applying pressure to the government. What makes it a really crazy idea is that methane could be produced far more efficiently using waste or specifically grown crops, using anaerobic digestion. If we want the government to adopt sensible, long-term policies concerning energy, we are going to have to make our voices heard. Fracking is not some distant threat, but coming soon to an area near you, so be prepared to protest!
To speak out against fracking – read Paul’s recent blog post about the Fracking Opposition Meeting which is TOMORROW on Tuesday 15th January from 7.00pm in Dorchester https://www.letsgetenergized.co.uk/archives/2013/01/03/speak-out-against-fracking-dorchester-meeting-15th-january-2013.
For more information on fracking visit the ‘Dangers of Fracking’ website on http://dangersoffracking.com which clearly and visually explains what goes in and out of Hydraulic Fracturing (also known as ‘fracking’).