Dependence on fossil fuels has been heating up the planet for decades and causing marine melting. The consensus is unanimous: something must be done. But is it possible to decarbonize our world or is it too late?
The conception of a society of the future electrified around hydrogen contains a story about what could be and was not, a surprise inside another, like the matrioshkas or Russian dolls. In October 1842, William Robert Grove, Welsh judge and scientist, sent a short letter to the famous physicist Michael Faraday, of the Royal Institution in London, about a new battery he had invented. Although sophisticated in construction, its simplicity was extraordinary. It mixed hydrogen on one side and oxygen on the other to produce water … and electricity.
During the following decades, Victorian visionaries imagined a future full of wonders thanks to electricity: it served to stimulate harvests and end hunger, win wars, construct electric trainings without horses, boats with electric motors and even flying devices. Unfortunately, Grove invented the hydrogen battery too early. And it was like an occurrence inside a drawer. «Apart from the telegraph, electricity was an exotic curiosity at the time,» says Iwan Rhys Morus, a historian at the University of Aberystwyth in the United Kingdom. No one could imagine then that, with the invention of electric generators in the early 1870s, electricity would begin to be seen as a source of energy on an industrial scale. But hydrogen was forgotten, giving way to steam engines, coal and oil. «Most Victorians thought coal was cheap and abundant, and although they realized it was not inexhaustible, they did not bother looking for alternatives. Grove himself believed that worrying about the energy needs of future generations was a waste of time. «