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Tomorrow's Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet, (2nd Printing)
Peter Hoffmann
Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001
289 pp. $32.95 , hardcover

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Hydrogen Futures: Toward a Sustainable Energy System
Seth Dunn
Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, August 2001
90 pp., $5.00, paper

After reading Peter Hoffmann's book, Tomorrow's Energy: Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and the Prospects for a Cleaner Planet, the reader will have been on a grand tour of most of the milestones in hydrogen science and technology. The breadth of the coverage is remarkable and very international, and reflects Hoffmann's systematic pursuit of breaking news for his monthly newsletter Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Letter.

Only in the last chapter, entitled "The Next 100 Years," does Hoffmann provide any analysis of barriers to hydrogen's introduction. A reader seeking "the answer" to our environmental problems or the best route to the hydrogen economy may feel cheated that this reporter has withheld his opinion on what should be done. The value of the book, however, lies in the fact that the reader is now equipped to understand the complexities of the problem, and, thus, is better able to play a part in crafting the solution.

Being relatively devoid of commentary, this book does tend to be a dry compilation of facts. Moreover, in an apparent effort to group similar topics together, Hoffmann sometimes jumps around chronologically, making it hard to follow the historical flow of hydrogen's development. In particular, some of the research pursued by the militaries of the world is inserted awkwardly into the more well-known commercial development. However, the reader will gain a solid education in what has been considered and tried in hydrogen technology, and the many little-known episodes in hydrogen's history are interesting in their own right.

As might be expected from a Worldwatch paper, Hydrogen Futures: Toward a Sustainable Energy System, emphasizes the environmental benefits of hydrogen as a part of our energy system. However, far from being a polemic on the need to switch to hydrogen at any cost, this book attempts to show the reader that the switch is possible, and to present the policy debates currently ongoing about how to make the switch. Dunn also summarizes many of the economic analyses that were done in the 90's about life-cycle and well-to-wheels costs associated with various fossil fuel to hydrogen energy scenarios.

By reporting things like "the proposed basic hydrogen program budget is roughly one fifth that for clean coal technologies, and one tenth that for nuclear power," Dunn implicitly presents the uphill battle that hydrogen is facing. Occasionally, however, the bases for his assertions are less clear, as for example, when Dunn writes that compared to previous energy transitions this one "will be shaped to a much greater degree by environmental issues as well," for which claim he cites a paper in the fairly obscure periodical, The Industrial Physicist.

In the attempt to keep the book fairly short, the summaries of economic analyses are too brief to clarify all the issues, and therefore, are sometimes confusing. But they suggest that valid research exists to support the claims that policies should be put in place to encourage hydrogen as a fuel.

For the reader who can wade through it, Hoffmann's book will leave you feeling knowledgeable about hydrogen, and probably optimistic about its chances to improve the planet. For a quicker read, Dunn's book will provide the reader with the economic studies that show hydrogen is viable, and at least a cursory overview of recent science related to fuel cells, other fuels and issues such as global warming.

-- Gail Ryba

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"In 1990 five U.S. National Laboratories reported that either fair competition plus restored research priority, or a proper accounting of its environmental benefits, could enable renewable energy to supply three-fifths of today's total U.S. energy requirements at competitive prices. Renewables could even supply one-fifth more electricity that the United States now uses."

--Natural Capitalism, 1989
Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins



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