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If Successful, Hydrogen Could Stir Up a ‘Green’ Arms Race

A little competition never hurt anyone.

by
Becky Graebner

Bio

June 6, 2013 - 1:31 pm
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Aston-Martin-Hybrid-Hydrogen-Rapide-S-2013-Nurburgring-24-Hours-630x419

Battery, Battery, Battery. Hybrid, Hybrid, Hybrid. Hydrogen.

Well, that’s a word we haven’t heard in a while! Of course, hydrogen has always been around, but the alternative to the “usual suspects” of the alternative energy clique (electric and hybrid-electric cars) has been modest with its time in the spotlight. That’s about to change. Aston Martin showed us that hydrogen could run on the infamous Nurburgring. Now new whispers hint that mass-market hydrogen cars could be hitting the road in the near future. Their entrance is going to stir up some healthy competition in the alternative energy sector. Good.

Hydrogen power has a big advantage over battery-powered cars: the storage tanks can be refilled very quickly. This would take care of the waiting game problem that currently plagues electric cars at charging stations. However, despite this benefit, hydrogen power still faces a major roadblock: in-car storage for the fuel cells is still an unanswered question. It was this problem of “storage” that pushed the alternative energy industry towards batteries in the first place. It seems we have come full circle — due to limits on battery range and their high cost, more and more people are giving hydrogen a second chance — and a bigger chunk of the R&D budget.

It’s been a long process, but BMW has created a 7-Series that burns hydrogen in a modified combustion engine. This allows the driver to switch the car to gasoline when the car runs out of hydrogen in its storage tanks. Essentially, BMW created a gasoline-hydrogen hybrid.

Audi is looking to go the electric-hydrogen route. They are prepping an A7 to run off of an electric motor that is powered by a fuel-cell system. The A7’s “exhaust gas” would be 100% water vapor.

The German government already seems to be on board with BMW and Audi’s hydrogen plans — they have already approved a plan to set up a national network of hydrogen “refill” stations (you can also recharge your battery). In short, Germany is banking on hydrogen’s success.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
The first sign of a scam is if it requires government subsidy and policy manipulation. Ethanol, check. Solar, check. Wind, check. Hydrogen, check.

44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am an engineer and have taken many classes on hydrogen. Hydrogen economy is the immaculate scam. What can save us is the supercapacitor, and I'm working on it.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
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Not an engineer, but...

One of the reasons automobiles are so inefficient is the numerous conversions energy has to go through before you get motion. Combustion becomes lateral motion, which is converted to rotational motion, then reduced through several gear sets in the transmission and differential before finally reaching the wheels. If you were able to cut out most of the conversions, energy loss through noise, vibration, bearing friction and air friction as well as conversion to hydraulic energy (power steering) electrical energy (alternator) and pneumatic energy (air pump), you'd have a much more efficient beast.

So all other things being equal, the fuel cell mated to an electric motor (perhaps with your supercapacitor) would be the most efficient drivetrain around, with the added benefit that electric motors can be more torquey than IC engines.

So, all we need to do is develop supercapacitors and a clean, cheap, safe way to produce massive amounts of hydrogen and we'll have a much more efficient, zero emissions car with performance that outstrips what we've got, with lower cost and with higher reliability.

[SARCASM ON] It's just THAT simple. Call Al Gore. He invented the internet, he can invent the rest over a weekend if properly motivated. [SARCASM OFF]

In other words, hydrogen could be the savior of mankind. And I want a pony.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
The first sign of a scam is if it requires government subsidy and policy manipulation. Ethanol, check. Solar, check. Wind, check. Hydrogen, check.

44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
H2 for transportation uses is just another green pipe dream since there is no way to produce, transport or store it without huge losses. The more I read stuff like this the more I am convinced that it is promoted by people that want to see our whole economic system collapse from wastefull spending.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The question isn't whether there are losses. There are losses in every energy production system. Unlike oil spills, hydrogen spills just end up combining with oxygen to make water. The relevant metric is the comparative cost of a kg of hydrogen to a gallon of gas (which are roughly equivalent). Today, hydrogen is uneconomic but it's not as bad as it was a decade ago. A decade from now, hydrogen is likely to be a better deal than today.

The relevant question is when will the price points swap places? When traveling a mile via hydrogen is cheaper than gas, the hydrogen economy will have arrived in the transportation sector.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
These guys completely forget that hydrogen is the smallest atom, hence very expensive to contain. This is one mode of failure of hydrogen zeppelins. Even very costly spacecraft account for some 15% loss of hydrogen during travel, due to evaporation right across the bulk metal alloy. Then there is hydrogen embrittlement that these guys have absolutely never heard of. Miracles of science.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
A very interesting fact. I am not a big fan of corn fuel for the simple reason that alcohols are naturally very corrosive fuels. They are more so in the high temperatures of the engines. This problem can be overcome at some cost.

Now back to the story. Corn was off the charts for a long time, on arguments of cost. Eventually it was made into something economically meaningful. Can you guess who became the best enemy of corn fuel? Its own most ardent proposers. On what argument? It causes world hunger. The point being, it doesn't.

Apparently these guys chose corn as a non-viable scam. Once it showed some promise, so, by mistake, these same guys undermined further development and returned to more reliable scams like hydrogen economy. There's plenty of government grants and Malthusian sadism to go with it.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Eventually it was made into something economically meaningful".

Oh, no doubt it is lining the pockets of a few due to the government mandate that it be used in gasoline, but ethanol production from corn does not make any economic sense. David Pimental pointed that out 20 years ago and still the beast continues to grow.



44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was under the impression that hydrogen cannot be economically made. What we do have a veritable bonanza of, is natural gas. Thanks to horizontal drilling, and also the discovery of another fuel, methyl clathrates, we should be awash in cheap, abundant fuel. If we would allow the markets to function freely, we would see a lot more vehicles powered by LPG, rather than only a few city buses and fork lifts.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hydrogen cannot be economically made because of the low price of its major competitor. As more people in the third world enter the global middle class and demand a higher energy lifestyle, oil products will get more expensive until the point where the first substitute good for gasoline powered cars becomes economic. If that substitute good is hydrogen powered transportation, so be it. Hydrogen production will become economic even if we progress no further in lowering the cost of producing a kg of hydrogen. But we _are_ lowering the cost of manufacturing hydrogen so we're likely to hit the substitute point sooner rather than later.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
With the increase in production of natural gas and shale oil, the rise in price of petroleum is unlikely in the near future. But I agree with you on the rest of your point.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
No stimulus?
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can think of other problems but I worked in a refinery that made 200 million SCF per day of hydrogen...and in the process produced an incredible amount of carbon dioxide. So what to do with that. Politicians are so quick to remind us that hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. True. But try to get it without making it. Or maybe we can send some politicians on a fact-finding mission to the sun.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hydrogen cannot be produced efficiently nor can it be stored nor distributed efficiently.

Read instead about recent developments of battery storage such sulfur-lithium batteries.

BTW. Al Gore is heavily invested in hydrogen. That alone should tell you something.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sulfur's common enough but go look at the supply chain for lithium and you will see some troubling supply security issues for the US.

Hydrogen has the advantage that everybody has access to it. It also has an advantage that production is relatively easy and you don't have to store it much. Just in time on site manufacture is a more likely future than huge storage tanks with highly sophisticated hydrogen containment technology.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's a gas.

Good luck with those super-capacitors, the real problem with them being the unfortunate failure modes, but who knows, with the right nanoo-technology anything might be possible.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually that's where I'm at. Graphene holds some good promise with storage. That, as you know, would unify the energy market, if wildly successful. That one would be a real change.

For hydrogen, this appears clear to everybody except to this conservative genius Becky Graebner. Hydrogen nowadays is produced from natural gas, and that already entails huge costs and plenty of carbon dioxide. Then it entails intrinsic enormous storage costs. What do the non-engineers care? Miracles of science. Sooner or later science will make hydrogen work. How much easier it is to make natural gas work: it already works.

BTW, I have nothing against carbon dioxide, but just while at it. Carbon dioxide is food, not poison. Ever since the increase of carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere, the world is becoming spontaneously greener and nobody talks about this. Remind somebody that CO2 is 0.039% of the atmosphere, and in different geological eras has been even more than 5%, which is 128 times as much as today. And they were abuzz with life and good climate.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hydrogen from natural gas is actually the cheapest current production method of hydrogen. If you would attach dollar figures, it would become clearer whether the costs are truly huge. I just filled up at $4.09 for a gallon of gas. Last I checked, hydrogen from steam reformation was under that for an equivalent amount (gge).

If you don't have anything against CO2 than it's not proper to ding hydrogen for being produced by a process that releases CO2. Be fair.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Carbon dioxide is a valuable industrial commodity. CO2 can be broken down into CO which then is the precursor of lots of products.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am an engineer and have taken many classes on hydrogen. Hydrogen economy is the immaculate scam. What can save us is the supercapacitor, and I'm working on it.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Supercapacitors or ultracapacitors currently have only about 1/10,000th the
volumetric energy density of gasoline.

That's a long row to hoe and I wish you the best of luck.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are wrong on the 1/10,000 ratio, but are otherwise right. Thank you for the wishes, I take them. I will need all the luck that I can summon. The graphene supercapacitor should be my second PhD thesis, that I start in September 2014.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, it has been several years since I checked on the volumetric energy density of super/ultra capacitors vs gasoline.

What would be the current figure?
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
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