Reading Material – The Journey to Clean Hydrogen


“Tomorrow’s Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet” by Peter Hoffmann, with a Foreword by Senator Byron L. Dorgan (The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, London, England, 2012) is a “revised and expanded edition” of Hoffmann’s classic published in 2002 with a foreword by clean hydrogen supporter Senator Tom Harkin (who unfortunately recently announced his retirement from the Senate). 

The vision of replacing fossil fuels with clean hydrogen has advanced, though unevenly, in the 10 years elapsed between editions despite unfortunate Federal funding cuts and pressure from ever-cheaper natural gas. Whether progress or missteps, Hoffmann covers it all.

Many readers of CryoGas International will either know Hoffmann or know of him as the editor and publisher of The Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Letter (H&FC) as well as the author of “The Forever Fuel: The Story of Hydrogen.” He will often be found at hydrogen and fuel cell conferences, offering sage advice when asked but mostly doing his “due diligence” by culling the latest best information on the progress, or sometimes lack thereof, toward the vision of “clean hydrogen”—hydrogen produced without carbon emission and with renewable resources. That he is a tireless and passionate champion of this vision, rather than blinding him to hyperbole and over-promise, instead drives an investigative style, recognizing that realization requires hard work and honest evaluation of all aspects of hydrogen, from the economics and efficiencies of every promising new technology to critical review of government regulatory and funding policy. Hoffmann featured Nanoptek’s solar hydrogen technology in H&FC in early 2008, just after we announced receipt of venture capital funding. I still remember his phone interviews for the article, with his polite but insistent prodding on all aspects of our work. We were in stealth mode at the time, but he still managed to get more information out of me than I probably should have revealed.

Hoffmann’s book is comprehensive across and within many categories: economics, ecology, technology, government policy, people, projects, companies, countries, organizations, and time. On the last, Hoffmann’s history of hydrogen in Chapters 2 and 3, includes a helpful timeline on page 49, while Chapter 12 discusses its future. In too many texts, recital of history and future possibilities becomes “boilerplate,” deserving no more than a quick scan, but Hoffmann brings fresh perspective and information to both. Additionally, he continually weaves history throughout the book, particularly Chapters 5-9, with fascinating recounting of hydrogen projects around the globe for various applications, from mobility to energy storage. Some are still operational, while others have faded away, almost always for reasons of economics. There are valuable lessons to be learned in Hoffmann’s examples.

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