Wayne Nash speculates on the the future of fuel consumption.

Are hydrogen fuels a thing of the future? A man fills a hydrogen fuel-cell bus.
It's been a strange year here in the Southeast. It started out innocently enough - plenty of drilling, the business expanding the same way it has for several years - then hurricane season showed up. We didn't get any direct hits here in Brunswick, Ga., but we sure got some close calls and glancing blows. It seemed like each storm required about a week of preparation, waiting and then getting back up to speed. With four major storms in the area, that's a whole month of nonproductive flailing around. Add to that the fact that people building houses put a lot of their plans on hold, and that my irrigation customers were more interested in getting rid of water than producing it, and it is leading to one of the slowest years in recent memory for me. Fortunately, my manufacturing has been running along - slowly, but it's at least running. We are about to roll out a new mud system and put it in the field, so that's a good thing. Steel prices and fuel prices haven't helped but they seem to be stabilizing.

As I write this, we are in the final throes of the quadrennial convulsion known as the presidential election. By the time you read this, it will be over - I hope. Let's all hope that no matter who wins, we don't have to endure another long, drawn out battle of the ne'er-do-well lawyers, like last time. A lot of these guys seem like the type that got notes sent home by their kindergarten teachers that read: “Doesn't play well with others.” So they got a law degree to capitalize on it. Makes a fella want to see how many cement blocks they can swim with! Hopefully, everybody who is eligible to vote will, and everybody who isn't, won't. That'll save a lot of hot air and confusion.

And how 'bout the people who don't know how to vote? Maybe this time they will take a few minutes to acquaint themselves with such esoteric concepts as touching a screen in the right place, or successfully punching a hole in a card. I can hear the TV interviews now: “I wanted to vote for ol' what's-his-name, but I forgot to take my medicine and it was sooooo confusing.” And now some bur-eaucrat has to figure out what they intended - without a clue on either side.

With energy prices at near all-time highs, there has been a lot of discussion about various alternative sources. Our local talk show has spent a lot of time discussing hydrogen as the fuel of the future. This got me wondering, and I did a little research on the efficiencies of hydrogen as a motor fuel. What the proponents of hydrogen tell me is: It's made out of water. We've got almost unlimited water. Therefore hydrogen must be almost free. These are the same people that tell me that oil should be free because it's just sitting there under the ground, free for the taking - or about the 300-mpg carburetor that the evil oil companies bought up to protect their obscene profits.

A few facts: The hydrogen proponents say that we can use electric power to produce hydrogen from water. The most efficient electrolysis methods produce hydrogen at no better that 70 percent of input power. What is the source of this power? If we use a coal-fired generator, which only produces power at about 40 percent efficiency, we have produced hydrogen at a net efficiency of 28 percent. In order to be used as a motor fuel, compression to about 4,000 psi is necessary. Subtract another 10 percent for compression costs and you're down to 18 percent efficiency. Then we react it in a super-efficient fuel cell at about 70 percent efficiency. Net conversion of a Btu of coal to energy at the wheel is 12.6 percent or less. Doesn't sound very efficient to me. My brother Willard's mule can convert oats to fertilizer much more efficiently than that! 'Course we could raise the efficiency of this whole process by using nuclear power, but that doesn't seem too likely. There are too many people that figure that anything they don't understand must be bad, so the only truly efficient source of energy is out the window.

Hydrogen fuel? I don't think so. It works just fine in very limited applications like the space shuttle, but I don't think I can afford to run my rig on it. Looks like the energy solutions, for now at least, is to let the drillers drill!