According to report in the May 8 New York Times, reporter M. Wald indicates that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has claimed hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles will not be given federal funding, being too far down the road—obviously very far down the road without that funding.
Further Wald reports that Secretary Chu has swallowed the “clean coal” fraud and will push money into that totally useless concept that has as many, if not more, problems than nuclear energy. The recently reported ash spillout in Tennessee points out a forever waste problem with coal almost as bad as the one with radioactive wastes from nuclear plants. The clean-up costs are now being estimated at close to a billion dollars with questions remaining concerning possible health effects to humans and the environment from the toxic metals in the ash now spread over several square miles and in a stream. Will the people living on the land or even near the land have toxic dust getting blown into their homes? Will cattle grazing or crops grown on the ash coated land develop unacceptable levels in food of one or more metals?
To go with this, Dr. Chu appears unaware of several recent papers warning that we have an energy overload due to releasing the energy from trapped sources, namely fossil fuels and the atom. These papers warn that we need to be getting to recycling energy via windmills, solar energy collecting and, I add, hydrogen generated using sunlight by one of seven catalysts reported over the last two years. Getting the best catalyst for generating hydrogen is where federal money ought to go and not to the clean coal fraud, and Dr. Chu ought to check a report in the April 3 Science magazine, indicating a much improved non-precious metal catalyst for fuel cells.
Dr. Chu seems unaware that the clean coal program will require much of the energy gotten from the coal be used to remove and then bury the carbon dioxide greatly increasing costs to consumers. The real problem is that many tons of quite toxic and very flammable trapping chemicals have to be used and recycled so that an escape may be disastrous. A large escape of compressed carbon dioxide can cause death by suffocation or freezing. And of course environmental spoiling and health hazards from mining will continue.
If instead of clean coal that goes nowhere in controlling global warming or recycling energy, we need to develop hydrogen that will give us clean energy without ash waste problems, without releasing trapped energy, without environmental despoiling of land and water by mining, without mining health risks or fatalities, and without risks of escapes of toxic and flammable chemicals in complicated processes. If Dr. Chu does not recognize the shortcomings of clean coal, he has failed the public and ought to resign.
James Singmaster III is a retired environmental toxicologist.