Decision '09
Blog Index


Debate #3
Elusive Water Vapor:
High Altitude Hydrogen Jets, and the Delicate Stratosphere


Debate #2
Green Energy
in the American Southeast

Topics featured in this debate:

Offshore Wind

Concentrated Solar

Hydrogen from Solar Electrolysis

Expert Commentary:

Robert Leitner
South Carolina's Institute for Energy Studies

Nate Blair
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Jeffrey Nelson Sandia National Laboratories

Fred Humes Education, Training and Research Center at ARC: Hydrogen

Todd Stone
3TIER, Global Renewable Energy Assessment and Forecasting

Erika Hartwig Myers
South Carolina Energy Office

Chris Daetwyler
SC Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance


Debate #1
Biomass from
Poplar Trees


Energy Links:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

National Renewable Energy Lab

Wind Logics

Garrad Hassan


American Solar Energy Society

United States Council on Green Building (LEED)

National Association of Home Builders

Associated Builders and Contractors

Associated General Contractors

The California Institute of Earth
Art & Architecture

Green Building Funding Opportunities

Database of Incentives

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

South Carolina Energy Office

SC Hydrogen

Nuclear Energy Institute

World Resources Institute

International Renewable Energy Alliance

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership

International Network for Sustainable Energy

World Council for Renewable Energy

International Renewable Energy Agency

Apollo Alliance

Rocky Mountain Institute

Sierra Club

National Association of Electrical Distributors

Edison Electric Institute

Electronic Industries Alliance

Int'l Council on Mining and Metals

Mineral Information Institute

American Institute of Architects

Pellet Fuels Institute

Link to
Government Sites:

White House

Supreme Court

State Dept.

WH Office on Management and Budget

WH Council of Economic Advisers



Dept. of Agriculture



National Solar Thermal Test Facility

Sandia National Laboratories

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility



Links to Science Organizations:

Union of Concerned Scientists

Federation of American Scientists

The Planetary Society

US Maritime Alliance

Standards Engineering Society

National Fisheries Institute

Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology

American Chemical Society

Chemical & Engineering News

International Congress of Radiology

American Society for Cell Biology

Institution of Engineering and Technology

Science Initiative Group

California Council on Science and Technology

American Polar Society

Links to Governmental and Business Groups:

World Planners Congress

Int'l Intellectual Property Alliance

US Chamber of Commerce

Environmental Working Group

Foreign Policy Group

Southern United States Trade Association

Washington Research Group (Guggenheim Partners)

Nat'l Conf.
of State Legislators

Nat'l Association of Government Contractors

Investment Company Institute

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

American National Standards Institute

Urban Land Institute

Independent Business Alliance

American Independent Business Alliance

Link to Media Sites:

National Geographic

Mother Earth News

Solar Today Magazine

Farming Magazine

1 Sky

Charlie Rose

Nightly News with Brian Williams

Washington Post

Meet the Press

Jim Lehrer NewsHour

60 Minutes





"The adoption of a holistic worldview globally may represent humanity's greatest chance for a promising future to be shared by all." yasha husain












By Yasha Husain, posted May 14, 2009

Debate #2: Green Energy in the American Southeast

Hydrogen compressed solar panel

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) solar-powered hydrogen vehicle fueling station opened on April 1, 2008
Photo Courtesy of Keith Wipke/National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Hydrogen Fueled Forklift in Airport Service
Hydrogen fuel cell forklift in airport service
Photo Courtesy of Hydrogenics/National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Chris Daetwyler, Staff Specialist, South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance

When people think hydrogen, "it’s popular to think in terms of the automotive sector because a lot of people are concerned about powering their cars," Chris Daetwyler of the South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance told me when we spoke on April 28th.

"But another place you’ll see hydrogen look attractive," he said, "is in remote locations, because it can be produced completely carbon free."

"We were on the line with our board members yesterday, and Fred Humes (the Director of the Education, Training and Research Laboratory at ARC: Hydrogen) is one of the board members, and he said the solar electrolysis is online and working.

"So when you’re out in the wilderness in a cabin in the Rockies, and you’re far from being connected, you can install the solar and wind piece and use that power as your prime power when you need it, and when you need extra stored energy you can use the hydrogen fuel cells and then reverse. It doesn’t waste anything, because the excess solar would be used to create hydrogen, and that’s being done at the research center at ARC-Hydrogen.

"When integrating renewables into the power grid they’re not reliable, Daetwyler went on to say, "because as soon as those sources go down, there is volatility on the grid. If we're going to hit the 20-30 percent renewables goal that has been set out there it adds an even more disturbing piece to the folks that have to handle that response."

Hydrogen, he suggested, can play a role as the energy storage piece. Like wind and solar, it could be off-the-grid, or an energy storage piece.

There are two hydrogen markets that are being focused on most exclusively, Daetwyler said. And prior to Obama's announcement on May 8th that 60 percent of R&D funding for fuel cells for "vehicles" was proposed to be cut, Daetwyler assuredly added how both of those markets are "cost-competitive."

One is replacing batteries with hydrogen fuel cells for fork lifts, at airports, warehouses or shipping companies like FedEx. "The benefits there," he said, "are you have no need to recharge batteries and you don’t have to have a large part of the show room dedicated to batteries." Battery rooms in industry are frequently chaotic, cramped places with little ventilation where batteries continually need changing and recharging.

Daetwyler described the way batteries have been changed in the past as "an exhaustive process with liabilities that come along with it. Whereas, if you put a fuel cell into a fork lift, you take out the battery room and the person working the room, and you have quick fill and continuous run time for these devises. That is one of the markets." In 2008, Bridgestone Firestone in Aiken County began the transition toward using only hydrogen fuel cells to power forklifts; by the end of 2009 it planned to have an all fuel cell powered fleet.

The second market is telecommunications back-up power.

"If there’s an outage, by law, telecommunications sites have to have a certain amount of backup power, traditionally it would be from a diesel generator set or battery bank, but they’ve identified hydrogen fuel cells as a source for backup power," Daetwyler commented.

"The thing about fuel cells," he added, "is that they can be scaled to any size you want. If you want to use them for a cell phone, you only need one or two of them. Anything that requires electricity to operate can run off of a fuel cell."

But when I asked him whether it was realistic to think hydrogen could become mainstream in the next few years, he said the following:

"There’s a lot of politics out there. There’s a lot of technologies, too, and there’s no way to tell which horse is going to win so you’ve got to fund all of them. It would be nice if you could pick one horse and say this one is going to win, but there’s no way they can make that gamble.

"The industry knows they can continue to make money off of fossil fuels, they’ve been doing it for decades. It doesn’t make sense from a business perspective to (switch to renewables or hydrogen).

According to Daetwyler, "it would make a lot of sense to adopt emissions program’s like California’s that provide a push for these types of technologies to succeed. Slowly push for different pieces to be adopted at the state level. One that we’ve just recently pushed is to reorganize the permitting process for the hydrogen fuel cells so that we have one central permitting authority and we only have one that we have to educate. Because the technology is moving so quickly the codes keep being upgrading making this more important.

"We try not to make hard assumptions and predictions as to when we see this technology used on a large scale. We assume it will be in the next several decades. Until we get a sufficient infrastructure into place it will be hard to get people to drive five, 10, or 30 minutes, to fill up their car. So there will be a lot of transitional fuels, i.e. biofuels that will get us to hydrogen being on a large-scale adoption.

"There are plenty of people who want to use it (hydrogen), but there’s not a lot of means of doing it yet. We have two fueling stations in SC, but it takes a lot of money, millions of dollars to build the fuel stations.

"It’s the chicken and the egg. You’ve got the energy companies who are reluctant to create the stations or the infrastructure because it’s several decades out before they’ll see a profit from those. So those that are being built are either 100 percent government or local stakeholders, like the South Carolina Research Authority or Center for Hydrogen Research, with many other partners involved. They have a vested interest in hydrogen but are not energy companies."

One place where you’ll see energy companies coming into the fold, Daetwyler said, is southern California, because there companies like Honda have said we want to put these on the road but we need the infrastructure. And companies like Shell have built fueling stations in response. While not always exclusively for hydrogen, the stations will include a hydrogen refueling stop. In southern California, there are agreements between the energy companies and the car producers on how fuel will be used or provided.

The California Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Program provides pressure. If those types of standards existed all over the country you have to assume there would be more fueling stations built, he concluded.

But this was all said during our talk on April 28th, before the unexpected Obama announcement. The reason for the $100 million proposed cut in DOE allocations for research of hydrogen technologies for vehicles is in large part because of the high costs entailed in building a hydrogen infrastructure. That money would instead be directed towards solutions with more immediate promise like plug-in hybrid and electric cars.

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu did not propose cutting the funding for research and development of stationary fuel cells, however, used as auxiliary power sources and batteries.

A hydrogen fuel cell, Daetwyler said, as we shifted our talk to safety issues, is basically "an electrochemical reaction, like a battery. However, it’s not toxic, disposability is much easier. Batteries and fuel cells are identical, but the hydrogen fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and the byproducts produced are heat and water."

The heat byproduct has not traditionally been a component used, but fuel cells are now being upgraded to harness the heat energy, as in a combined heat and power (CHP) system, to heat your water, he added.

"Hydrogen is flammable, but when compared on a comparison basis between hydrogen and gasoline hydrogen is more safe on almost all regards than gasoline. Gasoline is heavier than air and does not dissipate very quickly. Hydrogen is 14 times lighter than air and rather than going to the ground it goes straight up and so in less than a minute it would release and escape into the atmosphere.

"If you are using it inside the codes that are created at the international level for states and countries to adopt, (the codes) generally require for there to be adequate ventilation for using a base level of hydrogen indoors. Because if it is released indoors it could pull into the indoors environment and not out of the building. The only risks of it being contained indoors is if it is not adequately vented out, (in which case) it could catch fire or cause explosion. Or, if there was absolutely no way for the hydrogen to escape from the room, if it were a completely sealed room, (it’s going to float, it’s going to go to the ceiling), (people inside) could suffocate, because effectively the hydrogen would force the oxygen out. If you have limited ventilation and the hydrogen was allowed to pool or collect for a brief period of time your chances increase that it could be ignited, but you would have to have a very tightly sealed facility.

"Outdoors is extremely safe. There have been case studies created in side-by-side comparisons. Steamed methane reformation, using natural gas, is likely more volatile than electrolysis. Yet, the electrolysis is still much more expensive.

"The fuel cell can exist without any hydrogen in it at all. You feed it into it when you’re ready for the electrochemical process to begin. You have a tank, it’s literally for hydrogen, the gas (it’s not a liquid). The gas must be contained in a container that is a pressure vessel that can not leak. It is pressed in at 5,000-10,000 PSI (pound-force per square inch). The tanks are carbon fiber wrapped storage containers that can withstand punctures and bullet holes and can be dropped from high levels to stimulate the car impact."

Upon my further questioning about that last bit about tanks being dropped from high places to stimulate a car's impact, Daetwyler told me he only knew the tanks have passed the necessary tests that the government sets and reassuringly said "you’re not going to see the technology applied to anything in the community without the proper codes applied to it."

The key though, he said, are the backup and auxiliary systems that are likely to be developed first, as well as critical power for IT (information technology) systems. The higher the volume as the backup systems increase, the more the price will come down.

"Residential applications providing backup, and prime or auxiliary power for facilities, are more mainstream. And will probably mature before the automotive sector does."

As Staff Specialist at the SC Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance Daetwyler has seemingly grown very familiar with the Alliance's 4 pillars of activity. They are 1. Policy 2. Infrastructure development 3. Technology transfer and 4. Communications, education and outreach.

"We act as a distribution mechanism to get the information out in the form of newsletters and web pages, while at ARC: Hydrogen, the scientists are the ones doing a lot of the projects," he said.

The recent news from the Obama Administration is likely disconcerting to folks working on fuel cells whose ultimate goal may simply be efficient and safe fuel cell technology for automobiles. But there's nonetheless still much to build on in hydrogen research, in South Carolina, the country, and the world.


DOE Scientific and Technical Information, Information Bridge. 23 Apr. 2009. Hydrogen and Our Energy Future. 01 Mar. 2009. <

DOE Scientific and Technical Information, Information Bridge. 23 Mar. 2009. HYDROGEN TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH AT THE SAVANNAH RIVER NATIONAL LABORATORY 02 Mar. 2009. <


Robert Leitner, Director of South Carolina's Institute for Energy Studies at Clemson University

Nate Blair, Senior Analyst/Group Manager at National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado

Jeffrey Nelson, Manager, Concentrating Solar Power Systems, Sandia National Laboratories

Fred Humes, Director of the Education, Training and Research Center at ARC: Hydrogen in Aiken, South Carolina

Todd Stone, Director of Marketing, 3TIER, Global Renewable Energy Assessment and Forecasting

Erika Hartwig Myers, Renewable Energy Coordinator for the South Carolina Energy Office


Topics featured in this debate:

Offshore Wind

Concentrated Solar

Hydrogen from Solar Electrolysis


Debate #2: Comments

Received May 17, 2009 9:10 p.m.

James Hansen, "Hydrogen is not an energy source -- and not an effective energy carrier -- don't bet anything on it."

Hansen is Director: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Hansen's comments were the first to be posted for Debate #2; to view more comments, please link to the page, Debate #2: Comments



If in response to Decision '09, The Science Debates you would like to have your comments posted, please submit them to

(Debate #2 Home)