I have long been of the belief that we need to switch from a hydrocarbon based economy to one based on hydrogen. The hydrogen could be generated by electrolysis of seawater, and distributed through the existing natural gas pipeline. The power to do this would be generated by green sources, primarily nuclear but also geothermal, wind and solar. This would solve the greenhouse gas problem and save hydrocarbons for use in making plastics and other necessary uses. Cars equipped with fuel cells would eliminate another serious pollution problem.
The only barrier to doing this is people's irrational fear of the Hindenberg.
Lewis, thanks for telling us where that efficiency number came from. I think that magazine got it wrong in an attempt to pump up how good the fuel cell technology looks. When I quoted the GE efficiency figure I noticed the verbs were future tense but decided to cite the source and let the chips fall where they may. I really thought we were better than 50% for current CCGT units, but I will defer to Jbrunr's better knowledge of that.
About hydrogen economy, the good news is you are idealistic. The bad news is you sound utopian to me, as would any plan to 100% replace existing power sources. People evolve by increments rather than revolution, but eventually they get around to adopting the advanced ideas. Maybe given enough time the world will resemble your ideal.
It is very impressive the auto makers are behind fuel cell development. Unless that fizzles, we will see some fantastic machines in the future, and with auto-industry economies of scale we might afterward find many novel applications besides vehicle propulsion. But do not forget the needs of vehicle propulsion are distinctly different from stationary power generation.
>>The only barrier to doing this is people's irrational fear of the Hindenberg
That statement tells me you don't avoid hyperbole in pursuit of your ideal technology. However if one says "I'm from Missouri", they will observe that NO ONE has solid figures for economics, and the hydrogen infrastructure exists only as a laboratory demonstration. Hydrogen is not easy to store and transport, sad to say.
I would broaden my goals to include liquid fuels such as alcohols -- while they have a bad reputation for corrosion, a chemical engineer I know insists the problems are minor and very solvable. And deriving alcohols from whatever source is cheap, including fossil fuels, would encourage worldwide adoption.
One should never forget that for every world-changing technology, there are ten that claim to be. I will remain an admirer of the hydrogen economy, but an advocate of proven methods for most of the world and most of the time.