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Hydrogen Powered Cars Will Never Work

One of the most important issues for a commodity fuel for vehicles is that it be convenient and safe to transport. For quite a while LP Gas has been available as a cheaper car fuel. Even with increasing petrol prices it’s acceptance is well below 100% due to extra expense in storing the fuel (high pressure and more insulation are required), the more expensive technology in the engine to heat the fuel before injecting it into the engine, and the extreme difficulty in creating something as convenient as a Jerry Can for transporting LPG.

LPG is mostly comprised of Propane and Butane. Propane has the lower boiling point of -42.09C. Hydrogen however has a boiling point of -252.87C and therefore is much more difficult to store and transport.

The next problem with hydrogen as a fuel is that it has a very low density. The energy density per volume of liquid hydrogen is 10.1MJ/L while the energy density of petrol/gasoline is 34.6MJ/L. Not only is liquid hydrogen difficult to transport but the vessels you transport it in need to be 3.4 times the size! Having a 3.4x larger fuel tank in a car may not be a huge obstacle, but then there is the issue of trucks used to transport it to fuel stations which are already at maximum size so the truck fleet will need to be 3.4x larger with more people driving them etc.

Once these problems are solved there are a variety of safety issues. Hydrogen burns with an almost invisible flame, sustains a fire when at a concentration of between 4% and 75% of the air and ignites at a low temperature. For an explosion you need a concentration of between 18.3% and 59%. I won’t risk promoting foolish behaviour by describing details, but when younger I have performed experiments with ethanol and witnessed experiments with petrol that demonstrate that they are both far less dangerous. Page 22 of this document by the US Bureau of Transportation and Statistics gives more information about the fire risks posed by hydrogen fuel. Page 35 of the same document describes fuel cells as being 45% efficient and an internal combustion engine for methane gas as being 30% efficient thus giving overall efficiencies of 33% and 29.5% respectively. Of course using an Atkinson Cycle engine will give a significant efficiency benefit over an Otto Cycle engine and outweigh this. Also it should be noted that fuel cells tend to require expensive materials such as Platinum in their manufacture.

Hydrogen is promoted by clean-coal advocates (not that any form of coal power is clean) and the nuclear industry (electrolysis is one way of using a huge amount of electricity). But there are many better options for powering cars that are available right now at minimal cost, these include bio-Diesel, ethanol, and plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles.

82 comments to Hydrogen Powered Cars Will Never Work

  • […] post by etbe and software by Elliott […]

  • Hydrogen cars are not a solution right now, but they will be. Twenty years ago people said hybrid cars were not worth persuing. Even last year GM’s CEO said hybrids were a passing fancy. Now look at hybrids. The same will one day be said of hydrogen cars as well.

  • etbe

    Cool Cars: The fact that GM’s CEO is out of touch with reality has no relation to the rest of the world. Eventually the US government will run out of money to fund inefficient corporations and they will have to deliver what the market desires.

    The laws of physics are not going to change. Hydrogen will continue having a lower ratio of energy to volume than all other fuels and will continue to be difficult and expensive to store and transport.

    Finally there is no real benefit to hydrogen.

  • A few years ago I worked briefly in a lab developing new storage mechanisms for hydrogen. There we were working on storage in solid form using metal hydrides, which has the potential to eliminate the problems that liquid hydrogen storage has. I’m not sure how viable it is, or how far the technology has come, but I just wanted to point out that there are alternatives.

    Oh, and just for the record (I’m sure everybody knows this, but nobody seems to say it), hydrogen is not an energy source. You don’t say that it is, but comparing it with bio-Diesel, ethanol and gasoline makes it seem like they’re more similar than they are. In my opinion, the biggest problem with consumers switching to hydrogen en masse would be the need to produce the hydrogen (probably from electricity).

  • etbe

    Cameron: I had read about some of those ideas. The problem is that creating such unstable hydrides requires energy – more energy than can be obtained from burning the hydrogen in the engine. Also the hydrides will weigh significantly more than the hydrogen fuel. A benefit of hydrogen is that the the ratio of energy to mass is significantly greater than any other non-nuclear fuel, storing hydrogen as metal hydrides would have to decrease that by a factor of at least 20 (or more if you use water in the extraction process).

    You are correct to note that hydrogen is not an energy source, however neither is petrol or any variety of Diesel fuel. The only real energy sources in the universe (AFAIK) are gravity and nuclear fusion, everything else is just storing energy produced elsewhere. Diesel fuel is a way of storing energy extracted by plants recently (or millions of years ago for non-bio-Diesel) from sunlight.

  • John Allen

    In a world that is changing so repidly, saying “never” is risky. See http://www.switch2hydrogen.com for a Corvette reputedly running on H2 generated by solar power, stored in special tanks in the car. Also look at the advances in storage of H2 in hydrides, and even nanotechnology that can store enough H2 to go 5000km (see Nelly Rodriguez at a university in Boston, currently patenting a system that is highly efficient at storing H2). Ford already runs shuttle buses at Orlando airport and elswhere purely on H2, being used in “conventional” internal combustion engines. The interim way may be personal solar/wind units at home filling up special in car storage tanks for daily use. I have an LPG tank in my house for cooking, and it seems not too difficult to also generate H2 on a small scale also.I am already accumulating lots of intellectual material to convert an existing LPG vehicle to H2, and all I need now is a cost effective storage system. It will come soon, surely.

  • etbe

    John: I don’t believe that it’s risky to analyse the science and demonstrate that other options are better in all ways.

    The “gallery” section of the site you reference shows an 80W solar panel. The smallest engines in current cars are about 70KW. Even with 100% efficiency at converting electrical energy to hydrogen, compressing the hydrogen, and then converting the hydrogen to propulsion you would need many solar panels to fuel a car.

    Hydrides are a less weight-efficent way of storing hydrogen. Current cars have between 4% and 5% of their unladen mass comprised of fuel. Hydrogen has three times the energy to mass ratio of petrol. Even if you could store Lithium Hydride with a 1:1 ratio of hydrogen to lithium atoms you would still decrease the energy to mass ratio by a factor of 7 (making it half as concentrated as petrol). To make it worse the metal that is used for the hydride will always be in the vehicle, so even when the fuel cannister is almost empty the majority of it’s mass would remain. I’m guessing that the mass of vehicles would increase by at least 5% if metal-hydride technology was used to store hydrogen fuel, and probably more like 10% to 15%. So much for fuel efficiency.

    Liquid hydrogen fuel takes 3.4* the volume of petrol for the same amount of energy. To drive my VW Passat 5000Km on petrol takes 640L, to do it with liquid hydrogen fuel I would need 2176L of fuel. A Prius with liquid hydrogen fuel would need a mere 850L of fuel to drive 5000Km. Of course storing 850L or 2176L of fuel would require a very heavy containment vessel (either high-pressure cryogenic or a huge mass of metal for hydride). That would of course significantly decrease the fuel efficiency.

    But I guess if you just want demonstration vehicles then it might be possible to construct a vehicle that does 5000Km on one tank, it just wouldn’t be anything you would ever want to use for driving to work.

    If you want to use solar power at home to charge a car then electric cars have been around for years and getting one to run for 200Km is not a challenge. A friend of a friend built himself an electric car by ripping the engine out of an old car and installing an electric motor and a bunch of old lead-acid batteries. I’ll try and get a picture of it for my blog.

  • PatrickS

    If the naysayers to hydrogen and author could get their heads out of their physics books and remember the classes you took on actually applying science, you’ll quickly realize that many of your arguments are completely irrelevant.

    “the truck fleet will need to be 3.4x larger”
    WRONG. Actually you don’t need trucks at all to move the hydrogen around. You can use them, sure, and some people will where it makes sense. But you can also make the hydrogen right on site easily from water or natural gas. A lot of the hydrogen fueling stations in operation today produce hydrogen on-site this way today.

    “the vessels you transport it in need to be 3.4 times the size”
    WRONG IN PRACTICE. Sure the energy density per volume is true, but you don’t need the same amount of hydrogen. Fuel cells are 2-3 times more energy efficient than petrol engines, so you actually need much less in terms of energy content to get the same range out of the vehicle. When hydrogen vehicles are for sale, they will have a comparable range to today’s vehicles while carrying around less fuel, possibly at even a lower weight.

    “Finally there is no real benefit to hydrogen.”
    WAY WRONG. How about the ability to drive around with 50-100% fewer emissions? How about the ability to reduce our oil imports and use domestic resources to meet the country’s energy needs. Oh yeah, and then there’s economic growth related to new jobs and technology innovation as fuel cells in many applications replace batteries of many sizes.

    You probably know already that when you produce hydrogen from water using renewable energy and use it in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle no emissions are emitted. Even when the hydrogen is produced from natural gas, there is a 50% reduction in emissions overall compared to petrol vehicles and 10-40% emissions reduction compared to hybrid vehicles.

    There are MANY benefits to using hydrogen

  • lockers

    Ethanol and Biodiesel are not the solution either. You simply can’t make enough of the stuff for moving cars around. No matter how you slice it, we are going to have to ween ourselves off personal transportation. Most power in the US is used to push us from A to B in the least efficient way possible.

    The problem is trying to take away peoples favorite possession. It is the symbol of our freedom and status. I doubt we will give up this unsustainable technology until it consumes more than the middle classes discretionary spending.

    As far as getting of off oil, it will happen as soon as a legitimate alternative exists.

  • Stephen Thorne

    That switch2hydrogen site is a scam for venture capital as I understand it. There’s very little in the way of real hydrogen powered vehicles around. BMW and Mazda are the only two manufacturers I’m aware of that have real cars that run on hydrogen combustion that aren’t either fictional or toys.

  • John Allen

    etbe thanks for your comment. I would love to see the home made electric car.
    You clearly have much more scientific knowledge than me, I am just a “handyman” philosopher looking to do my bit to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources (H2 being so abundant that it appears to be almost equivalent to renewable for human use) and reduce environmental degradation from a human perpective.
    In New Zealand we have a history of making things work (because of our distance from the rest of the world and our colonial history) when more advanced countries just buy a new one…and throw the old one away. We are adept at doing backyard adaptions that work (e.g. my late father-in-law and his fellow airmen used discarded US military gear in the Soloman Islands in WWII to make washing machines etc to “sell” back to the Marines….probably for alcohol)
    What I want to do is convert existing internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen if possible. That is not hard,there are some technical issues that can be fixed, but the storage problem that you highlight is still to be overcome…I think it will be solved soon, and even the problems of bulk and weight that you highlight may be solved using graphite nanofibres ,see http://www.northeastern.edu/magazine/9711/nfuel.html

    I like the “idea” of electrical cars, but have an instinctive reserve about the large use of non-renewable resources and the waste generated when batteries are used,so, whilst it (the use of electrical technology) may be directly reducing pollution, and the use of limited oil supplies, there are other more indirect problems such as electicity generation using oil, gas coal and nuclear, and even if renewable electrical sources are used, there is the huge use of resources for storage batteries etc (I have a boat, and lead acid batteries are something I have come to hate…heavy, expensive short life, dangerous if split or spilled, large and heavy to dispose of,and use up lots of resources in manufacture. Whereas by converting existing IC cars to H2 will in my opinion, be a viable alternative in the short term. I believe that in our country, once H2 storage is made viable, many people here will be quite capable of converting their cars to H2. We are a windy country, and small wind generators are now becoming popular along with solar, and local water generation and other renewable methods of power generation. Some people here are now energy independant, even feeding energy back into the national power grid. Taking this approach,(making H2 at home 24 hours a day using localised power sources) the overall use of non-renewable resources and the amount of pollution is much reduced.(assuming that the manufacture of wind generators etc is less wastful and polluting than existing motivation/energy generation systems…it may need an energy and resource audit to know for sure….) It seems that global warming may be the most pressing problem we face, and I may be doing my bit if I can convert my car to running on H2. I could of course convert my car to electrical, and may go that way if the H2 storage problem persists, but I am so resistant to the use of batteries…then also there is the matter of having to obtain electric motors,(made using non renewable energy and metals) rather than re-using the existing IC engine. Maybe I can recycle an existing electric motor?
    To give you an insight into the way I think…I have just rebuilt the big Cummins motor in my boat to better than new doing much of the work myself,renewing parts where possible rather than just buying replacements, and will get another 15 years use out of it, whereas I was repeatedly told “just get a new motor”. I have saved considerable money, and resources (energy/iron/transport etc etc), so I feel that I have done a little bit to assist with global resource/environmental problems.
    If I can do it, then so can anyone else, we don’t have to wait for politicians or large organistions to come up with the answers. I will let you know progress as it happens. As you can see I am more an optimistic philosopher than scientist!
    The biggest hurdle seems to be the HUGE volume of material available on the internet and how one is to distinguish between the factual info and the dreams and downright fraudulent…..

  • personal motorized transports days are numbered, resources are simply to scarce (hence expensive) to propel the worlds population. you could say in some ways its going the same way as ms windows :)

    bikes and trains on the other hand are very cheap and efficient and best of all the technology actually exists, which is a rather handy trait when you need to rapidly replace redundant infrastructure.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen

  • etbe

    PatrickS: I’ll write another post about the issues related to electrolysis and fuel cells. It’s not as easy as you make it sound. Also keep in mind that any car which can only be re-fueled at home will not be accepted.

    The benefits of reducing dependence on middle-eastern states with unstable political systems and of protecting the environment can be better obtained by better public transport, electric and plug-in hybrid cars, and bio fuels.

    Finally why would anyone want to convert natural gas to hydrogen for powering vehicles? Natural gas is a good fuel for cars!

    lockers: I agree totally, public transport needs to be improved in the US. Americans should try living in Europe, the standard of living is so much better. A good public transport system frees you from your car. The expense of running a car is significant and the hassle of finding parking etc is also a problem. Having lived in Amsterdam and London, and having spent a moderate amount of time living in hotels and staying with friends in the US I would choose the European style of living every time.

    Stephen Thorne: There are a few scams related to hydrogen power. Brown’s Gas is a classic that has been going around for a while. It’s often difficult to tell the difference between a true scam and a deluded inventor though.

    John Allen: There is no lack of carbon either. There are some minor problems with using carbon based energy related to carbon-monoxide and nitrogen oxides from internal combustion engines and mined carbon energy sources have higher levels of radioactivity than the atmosphere. But the only real problem is that more carbon based energy is being used than can be absorbed by the environment. Bio-fuels give the potential for producing carbon based fuel from atmospheric CO2 at the same rate that it is emitted from vehicle exhaust. Of course we can’t run the current number of cars with bio-fuel.

    The northeastern.edu link seems bogus. My VW Passat uses 12.8L or petrol every 100Km (on average), it would take 5000*1.609/100*12.8=1030L of petrol to drive 5000M. As liquid hydrogen takes 3.4* the volume for a given amount of energy that would take 1030*3.4=3502L of hydrogen. Even if fuel-cell/electric vehicles were 10* more efficient in their fuel use than my car (which seems unlikely unless you have a fuel-cell motorbike) you would still be dealing with 350L of hydrogen.

    Batteries are not inherently wasteful. The metals used in them can be recycled and I believe that Toyota buys-back the Prius batteries.

    For my car usage patterns I estimate that 95% of my fuel needs could be provided by electricity if I had a plug-in hybrid system and if my parents had the facility to charge my car (typically the longest journey I make is to visit my parents). That would mean that I would use less than one tank of petrol a year.

    Recycling electric motors is possible, I believe that the friend of a friend who made an electric car did so.

    fungi: You are correct.

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  • PatrickS

    Sorry etbe, you still have some more homework to do. I’m not talking about only fueling at home. I’m talking about making hydrogen at a regular sized fueling stations for however many cars will be coming through. My overall point then is that with hydrogen you have the flexibility to produce the hydrogen at large (like today) plants, small ones (enough for one car)and all sizes in between. This gives you enormous flexibility that you cannot achieve with other fuels. It also makes your statement that 3.4 times as many trucks will be needed, wrong.

    About the benefits of public transport and how this will wean us off of imported fuels: Your statement that public transport helps to reduce imports is fine. Public transport and bicycles are great. What I take issue with is the statement that there are no benefits to hydrogen. This statement is wrong. Among many benefits, hydrogen can help improve energy security, the environment and economic growth.

    Finally, why would you use the natural gas to make hydrogen? Four reasons:

    1. Hydrogen used in a fuel cell (no combustion) is so much more efficient than burning natural gas in an engine that it’s worth turning it into hydrogen on a well-to-wheels (lifecycle basis).

    2. Plus, natural gas has carbon in it (it’s 95+% methane, CH4). It is much easier to capture the carbon emissions at one point (where you produce the hydrogen), than at end of the millions of tailpipes that would burn the natural gas.

    Hydrogen produced from natural gas and used in a fuel cell vehicle on average reduces emissions by 50% compared to gasoline vehicles. If you add carbon capture which many people are trying to do, you can reduce that to almost zero emissions emitted overall. We will not have this option with natural gas vehicles.

    3. Third, in the long term, with a natural gas vehicle-based economy, we will not have the option that we do with hydrogen to produce the fuel from water using renewable and other emission-free technologies. This ability to produce hydrogen from many resources is a huge benefit to hydrogen and theoretically allows virtually any country to produce their own fuel without imports.

    4. Natural gas is still imported as well and natural gas is a fossil fuel. Those developing the hydrogen economy see natural gas as a transitional resource used to produce hydrogen in the near term and then transitioning to more hydrogen production from water using renewables and other emission-free technologies like nuclear energy. Right now, natural gas is cheap and can reduce emissions right away, but we are moving to using even cleaner resources to make the hydrogen in the longer term. A natural gas vehicle based fleet will not afford us that opportunity.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like natural gas vehicles. We need ALL alternatives, including NGVs, but in the long term, hydrogen technologies are superior and put our society in a better position to meet growing energy and fuel needs. In the end, there will always be a mix of technologies, but hydrogen deserves the opportunity to shine and realize the benefits it can offer all of us. Your words appear to be trying to shut out that opportunity, and that’s not something any of us need right now.

  • etbe

    http://www.calcars.org/vehicles.html
    PatrickS: For fuelling cars at home the best option is a plug-in hybrid (see the above URL). A car that can be recharged with electricity alone can be charged anywhere (home, work, hotel) while a car that needs hydrogen will need an electrolysis kit.

    http://etbe.coker.com.au/2007/03/15/worse-than-fossil-fuel/
    My calculations in the above blog post suggest that in the UK at least 8% of fuel could be supplied from recycled oil if there were more plug-in hybrid cars and better public transport. Importing bio fuels at the currently planned rate would take care of another 40% of the fuel requirements for the UK in such a situation.

    1. The document I cited (by a pro-hydrogen project) claims that hydrogen is 10% more efficient overall than burning methane.
    2. Carbon sequestration is a bad idea. I’ll write some posts about it soon.
    3. Gas can be produced biologically, recently there have been some projects to capture it from sewage treatment plans and rubbish dumps. It would not be any more difficult to produce gas biologically than alcohol or Diesel fuel.
    4. Methane from bacteria and methane from oil wells burn equally well.

    The purpose of the hydrogen car development is to shut out other technologies. That’s why hydrogen vehicles have been under development for decades while electric cars and hybrid vehicles are both proven technologies that have succeeded in all technical measures for over 10 years.

  • PatrickS

    Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ARE electric vehicles. The same electric drive technologies are used and in fact most of the hydrogen vehicles out on the roads today are hybrids as well (with battery storage). Toyota, for example, uses the same hybrid system in their hydrogen “Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle” as they do in the Prius. The main difference: the hydrogen vehicle doesn’t have a gasoline engine.

    It is sad that anyone might think that the purpose of hydrogen car development is to shut out other technologies. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Hydrogen vehicles use a marriage of several alternative technologies, so most of the non-hydrogen technologies you say you support are actually a part of hydrogen vehicles.

    We need to support all alternative technologies, including hydrogen. Anyone who’s trying to create competition between the different options is only slowing down progress towards reducing our oil use.

  • Hey PatrickS,

    I wrote about the hydrogen energy cycle in a blog post a while back here: http://jason.mindsocket.com.au/pages/blog/entry.html?id=400

    You talk about the benefits of hydrogen cars but you need to weigh these against hydrogen alternatives (excluding oil based):

    Energy security – the other options could offer the same thing so this is really a moot point.

    Environmental benefits – when you have to scale this sort of thing up, choosing hydrogen at a net energy loss of around 75% over the original energy versus just using batteries at a net energy loss of 30-50% then that’s just a stupid decision. Batteries will continue to get better though, where as the losses in the hydrogen cycle are known and pretty fixed. In other words, on this point alone, hydrogen _should_ be a dead-end.

    Economic benefits is laughable, care to explain how economic benefits of a hydrogen economy would somehow be better than other alternatives here?

    I’m still waiting to hear of any argument for hydrogen apart from it’s reasonable to investigate different technologies.

    It’s unfortunate so much money is going into this tech versus something that would be usable today, i.e. plug-in hybrids, diesel electric would be even better.

    As for any complaints about plugging into a coal powered electrical grid then stop complaining and sign up for 100% green power until the government forces some changes to increase the green mix for everyone.

    I agree with Russell that much more money should be poured into public transport plus making cities much more bike and pedestrian friendly (well you didn’t say that explicitly but Europe is generally a lot better than here or the US).

  • etbe

    PatrickS: The difference between Toyota and the US car companies is that Toyota is working on hydrogen power in addition to mass production of commercially successful hybrid vehicles. The US companies are always talking about what they will do in future if they can get hydrogen working which relies on yet more tax money.

    Jason makes some really good points.

  • PatrickS

    I’m sorry you got duped into using Ulf Bossel’s numbers on efficiency. He has a notorious reputation in the hydrogen industry for twisting numbers and exaggerating to make his point. Fortunately, in reality, fuel cell vehicles overall are MUCH more efficient than Jason or Bossel claims (on a lifecycle basis, including the production of the hydrogen).

    Dr. Bossel writes from an extremely one-sided point of view. Look at the assumptions he makes: Fuel cell efficiency 40%, all hydrogen liquified, then delivered.

    In fact, fuel cell vehicles are over 60% efficient tank to wheels (Honda, GM, Daimler, all showing high efficiency numbers), in the early stages of work. This is documented by EPA, DOE, NREL, and others around the world. Don’t let Dr. Bossel fool you.

    As for hydrogen transport, the vast majority of hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles is today and will be transported in gaseous form, not liquid. Some folks are using liquid, but the vast majority are using compressed hydrogen, so that comparison is more realistic. Why does Dr. Bossel include liquid in his efficiency chain? Because it makes hydrogen look bad. I could do the same thing to electricity by saying that all electricity comes from a 1920’s coal fired powerplant with 15% efficiency and no pollution controls. Is it possible? Yes. Is it correct? No.

    Instead of going on and on with debunking Bossel’s claims which are grossly inaccurate, let me instead just point you in the direction of some better, scientifically based information. You’ll notice that these findings from Argonne National Laboratory are referenced all over various scientific journals and Bossel’s are not.

    http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/TA/260.pdf
    http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/review05/anp_7_wang.pdf

    In the end, you’ll see that although it is less efficient to produce the hydrogen (using some methods) compared to producing gasoline for regular or hybrid vehicles, the huge efficiency gain from fuel cell vehicles when the fuel is used (2-3 times more efficient) compared to the awful efficiency of engines (fueled by gasoline, diesel, biofuels, whatever) grossly outweighs the small efficiency loss during production and gives a very favorable energy balance for hydrogen vehicles overall.

  • etbe

    PatrickS: It’s a pity that the PDFs you reference appear to be PowerPoint style presentations not papers. The paper from the BTS that I cited in my post (which admittedly is from 1997 – I have not been able to find a more recent document from an authoritative source that clearly explains it’s findings) states that there is only a small benefit to hydrogen over conventional engines in terms of end to end efficiency in the fuel process. They don’t consider the efficiency of electric vehicles or the efficiency benefits of hybrid petrol/electric vehicles (which put them ahead of hydrogen vehicles).

    Transporting pressurised gas instead of a liquid removes the need to supply the latent heat of fusion when extracting the gas for combustion. But I believe that the BTS paper takes that into account (is 25MPa enough to liquify hydrogen?).

    Regardless of whether hydrogen is transported in liquid or compressed gas form I still don’t think that a Jerry-Can is viable. Without a Jerry-Can you are forced to only consider internal combustion engines. Note that external battery packs are an option for electric vehicles.

  • PatrickS

    Alright, this is getting silly. If you want to shut your eyes to the benefits hydrogen has to offer, that’s your choice.

    Those links I gave above are the publicly available powerpoints given by Michael Wang who published his findings in issue 112 of the Journal of Power Sources. If you had actually clicked on the first link and looked at slide 7, you would know that. Have a pleasant, close-minded life.

  • etbe

    PatrickS: It’s a pity that you are unable to cite publicly available data to support your case. You might want to consider supporting the Open Access initiative: http://epsilon.media.mit.edu/openaccess/

    Research that is paid for by tax-payers (as is apparently the case with the documents hosted on the .gov sites you referr to) should be freely available to the tax-payers.

    I am not closing my eyes to any benefits, I could have “unapproved” your comments at any stage in this discussion if I wanted to do so. The problem is that you have not provided sufficient evidence to support your case, and a web site demanding that I pay money to Elsevier is not suitable for this!

    Also I did click on the links you suggested which is how I recognised them to be PowerPoint type presentations. But did you seriously expect me to find a side-note located in small font in the middle of page 7 as an indication of where to look for more data?

    Also please tell me about the organisation that you work for. Does your work relate to hydrogen power?

    For the record I am a paid-up member of the Australian Green party and my interest is in reducing climate change. My only interest is in making sure that the problems get solved and that my tax money does not get wasted in the process.

    All the evidence I have seen suggests that hydrogen power is a way of getting more money given to the car and coal industries (who already receive billions of dollars a year in government subsidies).

  • etbe

    http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2007_08_26_fosblogarchive.html#1516332344232010593

    The above URL has some more information on Open Access that may interest people.

  • john smith

    yeah its the gas compainies there trying to say that the hydrogen powered cars dont work, Its not true there aliens and they have come to brainwash as. Run the aliens r here

  • Paul Stine

    We have a system that works on the hydrogen on demand principal. No hydrogen is stored, it is used as produced. We have the ability to shut the unit down if the car has a problem. It can easily be monitored and turned off. Lets see how easy you can tell if your fuel is leaking out of most vehicles today. It does not take expensive metals or expensive units to make this happen. We are getting ready to finish testing on commercial vehicles and will go into full production soon. Hydrogen can work for cars in a lot of different ways. The only real issue is do you know how to do it. Ha. Ha. See you in the news. Oh yes I did not check this for spelling or grammar. So if my sentence structure is bad, talk to my chemistry teacher. Ha. Ha. Thank You.

  • etbe

    Paul, even if your system actually works (unlike most such systems which turn out to be essentially perpetual-motion machines) then it still needs to produce hydrogen from stored chemical energy. This creates further inefficiency and makes hydrogen less viable as a fuel source.

  • etbe

    Matt: I am one of many people who has a reasonable understanding of science and the political process. I have noticed that hydrogen fuel has been researched (at tax-payer expense) for decades with little result. While alternatives such as ethanol (widely used in Brazil), recycled vegetable oil (using waste from restaurants that fry food) and petrol-electric hybrids (EG the Prius) have all been demonstrated to work with little or no government money.

    The fact that the other technologies can all succeed in the market (to varying degrees) without government support while hydrogen fails even with billions of dollars of tax-payer money. The influence of the coal lobby is well known, the claim that CO2 sequestration allows coal to produce clean hydrogen fuel is just another attempt to extend the life of the industry.

    PatrickS has refused to identify himself when I enquired. It will be interesting to know whether he chooses to identify himself to you.

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  • Ian Weniger

    I was listening to a CBC Radio “Ideas” doc/interview with David Sanborn Scott, a Canadian hydrogen advocate, who talked a good game, but only once indicated the abundant source of this new wonder fuel… the atmosphere! He appears to be sponsored by the nuclear industry, promoting their clean, safe record. I heard part 1 of a two-part interview, so I hope the interviewer will start throwing some hardball questions. On the other hand, the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, has begun to reflect the agenda of its political masters and has shifted programming to highlight government initiatives on climate change, such as supporting nuclear and hydrogen power as solutions to GHGE. Thanks for being here.

  • david

    etbe:

    /Both “private” and “goverment” research (at tax payer’s expense) have produced extraordinary results. Running cars purely on hydrogen and/or brown’s gas on demand is “fact”. The only “true” motive by the oil barons and the gov is to spend your “tax money” convincing people like you to buy “fuel celled” Fords at 40k a pop and laughing all the way to the bank. After all we never made it to the moon or sent probes to Mars! What a pathetic shame.

  • etbe

    david: Running cars on hydrogen is not interesting or exciting, any gas which can sustain combustion will work. Producing hydrogen on demand is not interesting either, a standard part of the high-school chemistry curriculum involves demonstrating the production of hydrogen by putting reactive metals (calcium, sodium, or potassium) in water.

    The real issue is doing this in an economical manner. There are efficiency benefits to fuel cells (when compared to an internal combustion engine) which are offset by the energy losses of producing hydrogen. For producing hydrogen from electricity you have to compare the efficiency of hydrogen production (which wastes energy as heat) and storage with batteries.

    I’m not sure what you are trying to say with the part of your comment starting with “The only true motive”. Please explain it more clearly and I’ll respond.

  • jeremy

    You knockers are all the same. Little idea and are probably working for the oil companys anyway to debunk serious attempts.
    Well ive got news for you clowns. Your time is up. After years of research and development i have a working, safe prototype hydrogen car that produces sufficient amount of gas on demand to power even a large petrol truck engine without having to store it in a gas cylinder.
    The future is here now. However no one will ever see it as long as the oil companys keep the threats to silence people.
    We need to stand up together and say enough is enough and that includes our goverments.
    One final note: Test results on my system are as follows. 23 days of continuous motor operation without one fault or failure. Stop start tests proved 95% efficient.
    Ha HA HA to the oil companys. as one day you will all be out of business.
    Jeri

  • etbe

    jeremy: Can you cite some patent numbers so I can review what you have invented?

  • John

    Jeri go for it1 I like your style, even though the authenticity of your claim cannot be checked. I intend to try making a vehicle run on hydrogen like yours, the only way to safely get the info out there is for individuals to secretly do it themselves, and put it on the internet anonomously. Can’t make money that way, but then wouldn’t you be just a small version of the big bad oil companies if you did?
    etbe are you seriously asking for patent numbers? Wouldn’t that make Jeri identifiable? If so he wouldn’t be around for long if the history of other alternative locomotion inventors is anything to go by…..
    I would like to see more promotion of biofuels, it is an example of short term reactionary thinking, but it benefits my country enormously….NZ is perhaps the biggest exporter of dairy goods in the world, it is our biggest export and the prices we are getting are at record levels because of the land being taken out of dairying in the US and other countries to make biofuel! Keep it going guys we are cashing in on the “oil” industry without producing oil!

  • etbe

    John: I doubt Jeremy’s claims. If he has patents then I’ll consider the possibility that he might be serious. On the net anyone can claim anything and I’m not inclined to believe any extraordinary claims without evidence.

    Giving me patent numbers would not reveal anything useful to the supposed bad people you claim are out there. There are people who have databases of all patents and search for claims that are relevant to their businesses, I’m sure that if you file a patent related to cars then all the major car companies will have their lawyers read it.

    If you believe that the oil industry would kill people who have alternate technologies (the only way that I can interpret your comment) then you’ll need to provide some good evidence if you want anyone to believe it. If I have misunderstood your comment then please clarify.

  • Brian

    My $0.02 worth.
    From my research, H-fuel cells will never be viable.
    The reasons are cost:
    H2 production costs
    Fuel Cell complexity.
    Distribution costs.
    If H2 was the only alternative we would continue with
    oil until it runs out.

    Battery technology continues to improve and is now at or
    is nearing viability. We will have viable BEV vehicles within
    1-5 years. People come out with some outlandish arguments against
    batteries:
    1. Range
    2. Fossil-fuel charged
    3. Battery cost
    4. Time to charge.

    Range : suitable for 90%+ of travel.
    Fossil-fuel charged : Not necessarily (solar). In any case
    still many times more efficient than the ICE.
    Battery cost: That is being addressed. The end result will
    most likely be Lithium based. Probably using
    nano technology.
    Time to charge. This is being addressed. In any event, overnight
    charging of a partially-discharged battery is fine
    for 90%+ of travel.

    When we look at alternatives to the ICE, we need to look at
    the world using the technology. The world cannot run on left-
    over vegetable oils etc.
    BrianOH

  • etbe

    Brian: Good points.

    http://etbe.coker.com.au/2007/03/15/worse-than-fossil-fuel/
    Regarding your point about left-over vegetable oils, please review my rough estimates in the above post. According to those estimates a combination of better public transport, using more waste oil than just frying oil, and better car technology (Prius etc) waste oil could provide 8% of the fuel needed for cars. If electricity can provide for 90% of journeys (as you suggest) then it seems that we would only need fuel for 2% of car journeys (which would be easy to provide with bio-Diesel).

    Of course we would still need fuel for airlines (AFAIK they have not worked out how to use bio-fuels at low temperatures), the electric grid used for trains would have to extend further (there are plans for how to solve this), and more fuel efficient ships would be required (they have already been designed).

  • John

    Just some info about what is happening with the real market as against theory. The New Zealand government has purchased a new fleet of BMW cars for the politicians and they were offered hydrogen powered cars, that run 200km on hydrogen, and 500km on gasoline after that. They were keen to buy the hydrogen powered version, but in the end settled for straight gasoline cars, because NZ does not have hydrogen fueling stations yet. With abundant cheap hydro-electric power avaialble, they are now investigating the possibility of setting up hydrogen fueling stations.

  • PatrickS

    I’m sorry Brian, but the picture you paint about hydrogen fuel cells never being viable just simply isn’t true. I don’t want this to appear like an anti battery argument, because it’s not–we all need batteries and we all need fuel cells. Better yet, we need a combination. Together they will help each other–and did you know that nearly all hydrogen vehicles today have a battery-assisted hybrid system in them? This stuff is working together today.

    About fuel cells, you probably don’t know this, but in many applications, they are already viable.

    Power for cell phone towers: Sprint has already deployed 200 fuel cell systems for back up power because they provide more run time with a smaller footprint and don’t loose power over time like batteries do.
    Back-up: http://ecotality.com/life/2007/10/15/sprint-runs-toward-alt-energy-for-cell-network/

    Fuel Cells for forklifts in warehouses around the world. Walmart is already starting to use them and so are many others. In warehouses that run 24 hrs a day, fuel cells for back-up power provide a COST savings today..and that’s even at the relatively higher prices for hydrogen and fuel cells.
    More info: http://www.earthtoys.com/emagazine.php?issue_number=07.06.01&article=fork_lifts

    These applications and others are bringing the costs down even further.

    On hydrogen production, you may also be interested in knowing that industry already has the technology to produce hydrogen for the same (and in some cases less) than the cost of gasoline. Once demand increases enough, those lower costs will be realized.

    Distribution costs? You don’t need them. Unlike gasoline, ethanol and other fuels, you don’t need to produce hydrogen in a large centralized facility. You can produce it in small and medium quanitities on-site and therefore skip the distribution step or at least reduce it a lot.

    Batteries have more challenges than you admit as well, but let’s not get this into a batteries vs. fuel cells argument because that won’t get anyone anywhere. Just realize that’s there’s more happening out there that’s viable with fuel cells and there’s even more coming down the road.

  • etbe

    PatrickS: Mobile phone towers are an application where long periods of use are required AND large amounts of money can be lost through down-time.

    Warehouses have significant benefits in low emissions (the workers breathe everything that comes out of the exhaust pipe). Another technology that is being tried for fork-lifts is compressed air power.

    If hydrogen can be produced and distributed for the same financial cost without any additional environmental issues (CO2 geo-sequestration is not viable) then it could be viable.

    The current hydrogen powered vehicles have a range of ~200Km. The lower energy density of hydrogen means that even with improvements to efficiency (Prius technology and maybe fuel-cells) the range will be limited. For vehicles that travel >200Km in one day (which I suspect comprises the majority of petrol use) central production of fuel is required.

    For my 5000Km/year driving pattern I could produce electricity or hydrogen at home. For a taxi, bus, or courier, central distribution is required.

    The fact remains, the Prius has been in use in the field for almost 10 years now, saving huge amounts of fuel. During the same time period the big American car companies have been soaking up tax-payer money on hydrogen research and have nothing to show for it.

    Peak oil has passed, the need to do something about the fuel issue is becoming urgent. Prius technology combined with bio-Diesel seems to be the best option that is available.

  • Brian

    It is strange how people can try to sell an inefficient technology.
    H2 is a form of battery. It stores energy for later consumption.

    Where it differs is in 2 main ways :
    1. The cost to produce the H2 makes H2 2-3 times more expensive.
    2. It produces the H2 from fossil-fuel (natural gas or coal)
    3. The Fuel-Cell technology is way more complex. That HFC technology
    out there cost about 5-10 times the BEV technology.

    BEV’s on the other hand can obtain the source of their power from many sources:
    1. Off peak grid.
    2. Solar.
    3. Wind.
    4. Hydro.
    etc.
    Does that mean that BEVs will win? As an illustration, I’ll answer that
    with a question. Has the world spent 100 plus years running a transport
    system based on ICE that is only 15% efficient?

    Isn’t it strange that HFC research gets about 5 times more than HEV/BEV
    battery research (in USA).

    We have been conned by bigOil and bigIce for too long.
    We have been using inefficient technology.

    To those HFC proponents I say and paraphrase Groucho”
    “Who do I believe, you or my own eyes?”

    Brian

  • etbe

    Brian: H2 can be produced directly from sunlight or from electricity (produced by any means).

    One of many ideas that has been suggested for BEVs is to use the batteries to supplement the grid. Every car that is sitting in a garage could potentially be connected to the grid, storing energy when wind speed exceeds electricity demand and providing energy when the wind speed is below the demand for electricity.

  • Brian

    What can be done and what is economically feasible are two different things.
    H2 can also be produced from electrolysis of water. I note however than
    the small H2 production machines use natural gas. The reason for that is I
    presume that it is uneconomic to produce H2 from H2O.

    I would envision that when the battery technology evolves enough, stationary
    batteries will be tied into the grid. Togather with solar energy, that would
    furher reduce the FF consumption. That is not too far fetched, because it is
    already being done with pure solar. The Lithium Battery technology has to evolve
    and mature. It is only just getting to the stage where it is economically
    viable for HEVs and BEVs. Tying the BEVs themselves into the grid is probably not
    very feasible because they will primarily be available off-peak. That is when
    they need to be charged. I think that stationary batteries tied to the grid together
    with solar and wind are more feasible. That will probably be many years from now if ever.
    Batteries are improving and costs are coming down as we sit here. So too is H2
    technology but it is still far more expensive. There is little or no infrastructure for H2.
    Most of the infrastructure (the grid) for 90% of BEV use is already there. We don’t need to
    rely on the other 10% happening, but it probably will.

  • PatrickS

    I’ll get back to the other questions raised recently, but do know that fuel cells and hydrogen for cell phone backup are here today. They are cost-effective, and provide many benefits over batteries. Also, the newest hydrogen vehicles have achieved 270-300+ miles on one tank–that is a barrier that has now been broken:
    GM: http://www.gm.com/explore/technology/news/2007/fuel_cells/sequel_051607.jsp
    Honda: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/automobiles/autoreviews/09HONDA.html

    Like I said before, we will need batteries and hydrogen fuel cells to work together. Batteries alone simply will not give free-range drivers the felixibliity they need. Plus, let’s look at other types of transportation–ships and planes–they’re not going to be running on batteries. And what if you live like millions of Americans: in a city with no driveway?

    Here’s one last thought: with all of India and China looking for personal vehicles and the waste disposal issue so great for batteries, do we really want, long-term, for millions and millions of the large or numberous batteries that would be needed to power a vehicle on it’s own to fill the landfills as they degrade and finally die?

  • etbe

    PatrickS: The design analysis page for the Honda doesn’t like my system (won’t display anything without flash) so I was unable to determine how much storage space is available in that car. 270 miles on one tank is good, but if there is no storage space for baggage then it’s going to be of limited use (keep in mind that couriers and taxis are the most important markets for fuel efficient cars).

    The second page of the nytimes article refers to a “tank behind the rear seat”, so I guess that baggage space is severely limited (merely being unable to fold down the rear seats for large baggage items is a significant limitation – acceptable for some large taxis in the case of LPG). There is no information on whether Honda believe that they can make a FCX that is price-competitive with a Lexus hybrid – let alone a Prius.

    The GM car seems even further from being practical.

    Really if you can get a car to work at all then getting 1000 miles or more from one tank of fuel shouldn’t be a technical challenge. It’s just a matter of whether that tank of fuel leaves enough space in the car for all the things that you want to put in it (5 people and luggage or 2 people and long luggage).

    I believe that Toyota has a recycling program for the old Prius batteries. Lead batteries are easy to recycle, and I’m not aware of any old batteries that can not be recycled if you want to do it. Landfill contaminated with old batteries is part of the same program as air contaminated with car exhaust – too many people want to save small amounts of money rather than help clean up the problem.

    Planes have severe space limitations, a fuel of such low energy density as hydrogen is not viable.

    Bio-Diesel is a good option for ships.

    What is a “city with no driveway”?

  • PatrickS

    I hope you’ll be able to see the Honda Clarity or Chevy Equinox soon so you’ll be able to see how normal they are.

    On air travel, if hydrogen’s such a poor fuel, then why do you think it’s the primary fuel for the space shuttle? Maybe the extremely light weight of hydrogen has some advantages.

    On ships, biodiesel’s fine for the short term, but using it, we will still be dependent on diesel fuel (which makes up part of biodiesel to keep bacteria from growing and the rest of the fuel from congealing in cold temperatures) as well as less efficient internal combustion engines.

    A city with no drivewayS…very few people in large cities have driveways or the ability to park in the same spot for charging a car overnight. It’s an obstacle for a technology that has to be plugged in every night.

  • etbe

    PatrickS: The space shuttle is entirely different from planes, for starters they need to carry the oxidising agent for all their fuel. Immediately after take-off the shuttle discards some booster rockets, and the main fuel tank is discarded before re-entry. Also note that the majority of the shuttle’s flight is spent in space with no air turbulence or friction to worry about.

    Planes have not only weight issues but size issues. A larger body means more friction and turbulence (wastes energy) and more difficulty in take-off and landing.

    A mix of bio-Diesel and methyl alcohol should not have bacteria problems and should be liquid at a reasonable temperature range. Note that Diesel engines are significantly more efficient than Otto Cycle engines (the engines used by the vast majority of cars on the road).

    There are already plans for public electricity refuelling points. You would plug your car in to a public socket, lock the plug in place, and when you remove the car you would pay for electricity used. This could be integrated with the current parking meters that make people pay for time spent parking.

  • Brian

    Well, all that has been posted is very interesting, but the real solution to the energy and emissions crisis in the world today is more complex than any of the solutions discussed thus far. In order to utilize Hydrogen as a viable fuel source for aviation and ground transportation, the electrolysis process has to come at a cheaper price; and not from other carbon emitting fuels. Nuclear power is the clear choice for efficient, zero emissions, and inexpensive electric power generation. The naysayers out there will criticize without knowing, but nuclear power is safe, and the U-235 is recyclable to plutonium which has a significant power factor increase as compared to the original fuel. Laws in this country that were set in place in 1977 prohibit the recycling of our own waste, as the process is similar to that of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter made his decision to sign the afforementioned bill into law, but this is not 1977 and the world is faced with a much larger task: Clean energy for the future. Two countries successfully recycle their waste and reutilize it in “breeder plants.” France and Japan are the industry leaders in clean energy. Outdated laws and ideals will prevent this country from making a clean step into the 21st century.

  • etbe

    Brian: The first obstacle to the use of hydrogen in aviation is the space requirement.

    U-235 can not be converted to Pu, it’s U-238 that can be converted.

    I was not aware of that Pu and U nuclei produced significantly different amounts of energy when split, could you please provide a reference for the amount of energy produced by splitting a Pu-239 nucleus.

    One factor that must be considered when debating nuclear power is the risk of terrorism. There are already terrorist groups who claim to have radiological weapons and arms dealers who claim to sell such weapons. Increasing the use of nuclear power will only make it easier for such weapons to be obtained on the black market.

    The most relevant issue however is that there is simply no need for nuclear power. There is no country which is unable to satisfy it’s energy requirements through renewable non-polluting means. Most countries could easily satisfy their energy requirements through wind power alone.