One of the most significant global trends arriving in the near future is a shift away from fossil fuels and towards hydrogen. The term, "hydrogen economy" refers to a global economy powered by hydrogen, not oil.
The hydrogen economy is important for the advancement of humanity for several reasons. First off, the oil economy is fraught with problems:
Pollution: burning fossil fuels generates alarming levels of pollution that affect every living organism on the planet. We pollute our cities the worst, contributing to tens of millions of premature deaths each year due to the disease-causing effects of inhaled by-products from combustion engines, coal plants and other machines powered by fossil fuels. Fossil fuels also contribute to global pollution through oils spills, oil extraction, oil refining, and other processes.
Global warming: although this topic is aggressively debated, there is growing consensus that the burning of fossil fuels contributes strongly to global warming. The true impact of this warming is often lost on the general public, because it seems so remote from modern life. The natural consequences of global warming are quite severe: rising oceans, disappearing coastlines, mass extinction of ocean life, severe and unpredictable climate change, a sharp increase in natural disasters, and so on. Essentially, global warming makes the planet an unfriendly place in which to live.
Control of resources: this is perhaps one of the most damning aspects of our global dependence on oil. Because oil is so vital to the economies of nations, its control escalates to "national security" priority. Accordingly, the 20th century (and now, the beginning of the 21st century) witnessed unprecedented death and destruction in the form of military conquest primarily motivated by control of resources. World War II was largely fought over oil resources. (Japan's primary motivation for attacking Pearl Harbor, for example, was the U.S. oil blockade.) There is little doubt that today's military actions in the Middle East are largely motivated by oil interests, regardless of their advertised justifications. (If Iraq were nothing but sand, dirt and huts, do you honestly think anybody would bother fighting over it?) A shift away from the oil economy to a clean, renewable and widely available energy source would ease tensions that have historically surrounded the control of limited resources.
Limited supply: fossil fuels are, indeed, running out. There is a finite supply of oil to be found on the planet, and once that oil is consumed, it simply cannot be recreated without waiting hundreds of thousands of years for nature to create more. Estimates of the number of years remaining for the fossil fuel supply range from 20 to 200 years. Extraction technologies continue to improve each year, so there is little agreement on exactly how much oil we have left as a civilization. What is not in contention, however, is that the supply is finite.
Beyond the problems with the oil economy, there are additional reasons why a hydrogen economy offers unprecedented benefits to the quality of life of people everywhere:
Hydrogen is everywhere: Hydrogen is in water and can be easily extracted with solar power. Hydrogen is found in abundance at the bottom of the ocean in frozen gas hydrates (see below). Hydrogen is in natural gas, petroleum, and the byproducts of microbial activity. Hydrogen isn't limited to a few geographic regions of the planet, and that makes it a resource that automatically reduces geopolitical tension over the control of limited oil resources.
Hydrogen is clean: Through fuel cell technology, hydrogen can be converted to electricity with no harmful waste products. Hydrogen doesn't pollute cities, rivers, streams or oceans. Hydrogen doesn't cause global warming. Shifting to a hydrogen economy could save millions of lives each year in terms of human health effects alone, not to mention its effects on the health of the planet and its various forms of life.
Gas hydrates are abundant: At the bottom of the colder regions of the world's oceans, gas hydrates are plentiful. These are frozen ice-like crystals of frozen hydrogen. They're found off the coasts of Canada, Japan, Alaska, Russian, China, Iceland and the countries of Northern Europe. Technology now exists to harvest these gas hydrates, store them at liquid nitrogen temperature, and easily convert them into usable hydrogen gas by allowing them to melt at normal atmospheric pressure. The entire process is clean, energy efficient, and technically feasible. The available supply of gas hydrates is enormous, far exceeding the known supplies of all fossil fuels on the planet.
Hydrogen is renewable: Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen is renewable. Converting hydrogen gas to electricity in fuel cells doesn't "destroy" the hydrogen; it just alters the state of the hydrogen. As a result, hydrogen molecules can be used over and over again to store and release electrical potential. For example, solar panel electrodes immersed in water cause the water to give off hydrogen gas. When that hydrogen gas is fed into a fuel cell, the byproduct is water. No hydrogen is destroyed in the process, it is simply transformed. In this way, hydrogen operates like a battery that transforms energy from the sun into usable electricity. This is just one of many examples of a hydrogen energy cycle that produces usable electricity.
Hydrogen solves serious global problems
By shifting to a hydrogen economy, we will simultaneously solve a long list of problems tied to the oil economy (pollution, limited resources, global warming, etc.) while creating new opportunities with hydrogen (clean, renewable, plentiful energy).
Applications for hydrogen are widespread: automotive (hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles), industrial (hydrogen powered factories), municipal (powering cities with large-scale hydrogen power plants) and residential (home-based hydrogen power plants that convert natural gas to electricity).
Next: Part 3 - Augmented reality
This article has been adapted from, The Ten Most Important Emerging Technologies For Humanity, an ebook by futurist Mike Adams.
About the author: Mike Adams is an award-winning journalist and holistic nutritionist with a passion for teaching people how to improve their health He is a prolific writer and has published thousands of articles, interviews, reports and consumer guides, and he has created several downloadable courses on survival and preparedness, including his widely-downloaded course on personal safety and self-defense. Adams is a trusted, independent journalist who receives no money or promotional fees whatsoever to write about other companies' products. In 2010, Adams co-founded NaturalNews.com, a natural health video sharing site that has now grown in popularity. He's also the founder and CEO of a well known email mail merge software developer whose software, 'Email Marketing Director,' currently runs the NaturalNews email subscriptions. Adams volunteers his time to serve as the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and practices nature photography, Capoeira, martial arts and organic gardening. Known on the 'net as 'the Health Ranger,' Adams shares his ethics, mission statements and personal health statistics at www.HealthRanger.org
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