There is continuing debate concerning fossil fuels, particularly crude oil, and their continued availability in the coming decades. Some oil experts predict imminent shortages, while others hypothesize that oil-producing companies simply haven’t exploited nearly all the resources that they have because they want to keep prices artificially high on what seems to be a scarce resource. Whether we’re living in its twilight age or not, however, the fact remains that burning petroleum in such quantities as we have has wreaked damage on the natural world and initiated changes that could evolve into even larger catastrophes down the road. What’s more, fossil-fuel consumption has put the United States (because it has relatively small domestic resources) in dangerous situations abroad and made its people vulnerable to threats of terrorism at home. Alternatives to fossil fuels should be found, so America can cultivate true self-sufficiency and also make less of a negative impact on the environment than it does now.
There were various reasons why electric cars never took off. They were heavy, had slow battery recharge time, and there was no convenient way of disposing of their batteries. Mostly, though, they failed because they were dependent upon the same overall power grid as any other cars – merely once-removed, one could say. Hybrid cars, as well, are still dependent on petroleum in the end. Of all the alternative sources of motor vehicle fuel explored, hydrogen fuel cell technology has proved the most promising.
Proponents of hydrogen fuel cells contend that they are the most efficient consumers of fuel because nothing is burned. The by-products of the process, water and heat, are reusable. For these reasons, fuel cells are almost nonpolluting. Hydrogen is an abundant substance on earth, and when fuel cells are made from water than the energy source is renewable.
Opponents of fuel cell technology point to the great expense involved in implementing it. The refinement, distribution, and storage of hydrogen are tricky issues that, as yet, have no solution. While few people deny the viability of creating power by converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity (and water exhaust), many have pointed out that the possibility of such fuel being in widespread use, at a reasonable price, lies far in the future. Our level of hydrogen technology is currently very limited. What’s more, large amounts of fossil fuels can be necessary to harvest its power, which discounts its status as a true “alternative” energy for the time being.
For the time being, the world of commerce is hesitant to take the next step in trying to implement this technology. The auto industry doesn’t want to set up mass production for fuel cell cars when there are no fueling stations, and no one’s building fueling stations because there are, as yet, few cars. But if the pessimistic forecasts for oil’s future prove true, then when it’s prices drive up even higher (due to scarcity) then fuel cells will become competitive and then, shortly after, even cheaper. If the infrastructure is built now, America will be ready to embrace such an eventuality and achieve not only a much less poluting energy source than the one it now relies on, but also greater energy independence.