Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Hydrogen Hyped: BMW Does Pogue

Why are even the smartest journalists unable to get beyond the hype when it comes to automobiles and alternative fuels? David Pogue has a respected, weekly technology column in the NY Times. In addition, "David is an Emmy-winning correspondent for CBS News, a frequent contributor to NPR's "Morning Edition," creator of the Missing Manual series of computer books, and father of three." He's got cred.

On March 29, Pogue blogged about The Future of Hydrogen Cars. His blog only once before (in my quick search) discussed alternative fuels for cars. Automotive technology is clearly not his balliwick. But like most of us, he drives a car, knows petroleum isn't forever, and receives periodic wake-up calls. One altfuel epiphany Pogue blogged in May, 2006 came watching The Amazing Race 9 (CBS) in Brazil, where sugar cane-based ethanol has eliminated petroleum imports and reduced pollution. Why can't we do something like that, he wondered. We're richer and more technologically advanced than Brazil, aren't we? He concludes his blogpost:
Dudes–no matter what color your political flag, doesn’t everyone agree that pollution is bad, high fuel prices are bad, and that the oil reserves are going to run out eventually? In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush said that “Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.”

Man, I sure hope so.
Now in his recent blog entry he all but swallows whole BMW's solo voyage down the liquid hydrogen hypeway. BMW used the TED Conference, an annual convening of the technological glitterati, to make an "off-campus" presentation to these opinion makers.
On the second day of the show, attendees were invited to attend a lunch-hour presentation by Dr. Frank Ochmann, the head of BMW’s clean-energy development project, who had flown in from Munich for the event.
The investment paid off. A high brow plug for a corporate fantasy. The bamboozlement surrounding alternative fuels continues apace. The one energy infrastructure that rivals petroleum in its reach, the electric grid, is seemingly invisible for its ubiquitousness. Mr. Pogue, and the public at large, ought to be better informed.

As Pogue accurately concludes his post,
Meanwhile, the biggest obstacles are presented by people’s attitudes, not technology: “Oh, that’ll never work.”

Guess what? It’s going to have to work. Sooner or later, hydrogen, or something like it, is all we’ll have to work with.
That "something like it" is electricity. I invite Mr. Pogue to take a ride "back to the future" in my 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV.

The column continues to generate interesting comments, many from electric car advocates, and I hope he returns to the subject. All he needs to know about the difficulties and expense of creating a hydrogen infrastructure and the viability and desirability of plug-in cars is in the many astute comments of his readers.