Speaker: Ulf Bossel

Click to access a PDF of Dr. Bossell's Powerpoint presentation.


THE BREN SCHOOL OF Environmental Science & Management
at the University of California, Santa Barbara


Ulf Bossel, PhD

Fuel Cell Consultant

European Fuel Cell Forum


Friday, Oct. 31, 2008
12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Bren Hall 1424


"Building a Sustainable Energy Future
Based on Physics, not Fantasies"


Hosted by Ernst von Weizsäcker



Sustainability is defined as responsible interaction between man and nature. Never take more goods from nature than nature can replenish, and never release more waste into nature than nature can absorb.

Fossil fuels and nuclear sources cannot be sustainable. Fortunately, all energy needs can be met by sustainably harvested energy from renewable sources like sun, wind, biomass, running waters, ocean waves, etc. However, use of energy from sustainable sources must be combined with highest energy efficiency.

With the exception of biomass, renewable energy is of a physical nature; some is harvested as heat, but most as electricity. Consequently, electricity will become the lead energy and replace chemical energy from fossil fuels. If needed, chemical energy carriers will have to be made from biomass or electricity. Hydrogen will be synthesized by water electrolysis, while liquid fuels can be made from biomass.

Consequently, hydrogen always has to compete with electricity, its own energy source. Bythe laws of physics, this will be difficult. After electrolysis, compression, liquefaction, transport, storage, transfer, and re-conversion into electricity, only 25% of the original electricity can be recovered for end use, while up to 90% reaches the consumer by wire and electrons. Therefore, hydrogen electricity will be much more expensive than power from the grid. These simple facts of physics indicate that a hydrogen economy may never be established and that decision-making processes related to a hydrogen economy are based on fantasies, not physics.

In his talk, Dr. Bossel will analyze the energy balance of favored options like carbon sequestration, farmed biomass, fuel-cell cars, and nuclear fusion. The results show that the best sustainable energy solution is the direct use of renewable energy in its original form (mostly electricity) without converting it to chemical energy. Therefore, a sustainable energy future demands a switch from chemical to physical energy and, as a consequence, increased use of electricity for transportation, rather than as an extension of the chemical-energy era by synthetic hydrogen. We have to accept this change of energy base from chemical to physical and prepare for an "electron economy." By the fundamental laws of physics, a hydrogen economy has no past, no present, and no future.


Ulf Bossel was born in Germany in 1936. He studied mechanical engineering in Darmstadt and at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, earning his undergraduate degreee in 1961, with an emphasis on thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and nuclear engineering. He received his PhD in aeronautical science from UC Berkeley in 1968. He spent two years as an assistant professor at Syracuse University before returning to Germany as head of the free molecular flow research group at the DLR in Göttingen. He moved into the solar energy field in 1976 as founder and first president of the German Solar Energy Society, then started his own R&D consulting firm for renewable-energy technologies in 1979. He joined the New Technology Group at Brown Boveri & Cie in Switzerland in 1986, and since 1987, has been involved in fuel cells and served as manager of ABB's fuel-cell development efforts worldwide. He became a freelance fuel cell consultant in 1990, with clients in Europe, Japan and the United States. He has many patents related to fuel cells, and he created and continues to head the highly recognized annual fuel-cell conference series of the European Fuel Cell Forum in Lucerne.



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