Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

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Thread: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

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    Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Once leader now is an also-ran, but new technologies are promising

    By Arthur Max

    updated 1:41 p.m. MT, Sun., April 18, 2010
    BERLIN - Hydrogen, one of Earth's most abundant elements, once was seen as green energy's answer to the petroleum-driven car: easy to produce, available everywhere and nonpolluting when burned.

    Hydrogen energy was defeated by a mountain of obstacles — the fear of explosion by the highly flammable gas, the difficulty of carrying the fuel in large, heavy tanks in the vehicle, and the lack of a refueling network. Automakers turned to biofuels, electricity or the gas-electric hybrid.

    But hydrogen, it turns out, never was completely out of the race. Now Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs claim to have brought hydrogen energy a step closer by putting it in much smaller, lighter containers.

    continued
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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    This sounds very promising.....I think we are at the beginning of a long, exciting learning curve about practical generation and use of hydrogen in many ways.
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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    the volt should be an "easy" conversion to H2 / fuel cell

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Quote Originally Posted by richmond2000 View Post
    the volt should be an "easy" conversion to H2 / fuel cell
    Agreed. And that is my hope.
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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    If I remember correctly the "Voltec" propulsion system was designed with gas, diesel, and fuelcell use from the beginning.
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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes' and 'possibes' in that article...

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    One thing I never uderstood is why is fuel cell development for vehicles only. Could the world not set up hydrogen/fuel cell hydro generation facilities to power the grids of the world? ....but no...lets keep burning coal and oil to make electricity.

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Quote Originally Posted by JuMPy View Post
    One thing I never uderstood is why is fuel cell development for vehicles only. Could the world not set up hydrogen/fuel cell hydro generation facilities to power the grids of the world? ....but no...lets keep burning coal and oil to make electricity.

    First of all – virtually no oil is burned to generate electricity for the grid. The vast majority of oil is consumed in transportation. You may be referring to natural gas - which is used to generate about 23% of our electricity. You are right about coal – as it accounts for about 45%.

    There are some very basic problems that non-technical supporters of Hydrogen fuel cells seem unwilling to acknowledge.

    Number 1: Elemental Hydrogen is virtually nonexistent on Earth in nature. The small amounts of elemental hydrogen that do exist are extremely likely to rapidly bond with another molecule or, due to its density, literally float away. If you were thinking that hydrogen was Earth's “most abundant element”, as the article at the start of this thread claims, you are not alone. It is a very common misconception. However, it is simply not true. In fact, hydrogen is most often tightly bound in other molecules and requires significant amounts of input energy to separate it.

    So where does this idea of abundant hydrogen energy come from? Well, there is a lot of hydrogen tightly locked up in water and natural gas. In fact, most hydrogen used in hydrogen fuel cells today comes from the reformation of natural gas - because the energy needed to rip the hydrogen atoms from water is so prohibitively high. Unfortunately, natural gas is a fossil fuel, the same stuff we are trying to get away from, and reforming it into the desired hydrogen leaves behind the same pollutants that we are also trying to reduce. So the first obstacle is – where do you get massive amounts of hydrogen efficiently? Some, even some GM representatives, have suggested that we build massive nuclear power plants to generate electricity to split hydrogen from water and thus "hide" the inefficiency of the solution by dedicating a nuclear power plant to its production. While it is true that nuclear power plants do not consume or burn traditional fossil fuels - they leave behind their own unique form of pollution and cost tens of billions of dollars and take about a decade to construct. And, as you will see below - this would simply wast more than 50% of the energy......

    Problem 2: Today's hydrogen fuel cells are only approximately 50% efficient. So by definition, after you spend the significant energy needed to reform the natural gas, or even more energy to split the water molecules (independent of the source of this input energy) you will only get about 50% of the energy, contained in the resultant hydrogen, back when it is consumed in the fuel cell.

    Of course, the actual net energy is 50% minus the energy needed to obtain the hydrogen in the first place and any energy needed to, for example, compress the hydrogen to 10,000 psi for storage in a tank (just think about how much energy it would take to compress a gas to 10,000 psi) if you are not planning to include a natural gas reformer in your design or if you intend to use it for a mobile application.

    So – for a stationary application, like generating electricity for the wide area grid – hydrogen fuel cells are simply too inefficient to make sense. The other unknowns are the durability of the fuel cells themselves (and the cost to replace them) as well as the uncertainty about the cost of the source of hydrogen (in this case natural gas). From a strictly energy and physics point of view – it makes much more sense to simply burn the natural gas and generate steam to produce electricity for the Grid. As mentioned above, some 23% of the US electricity is generated in this way already and the economics of doing so is well understood. Or, alternatively, if you were going to use a nuclear power plant to generate electricity to make hydrogen - you could get more than twice as much energy to the grid by simply directing the energy from the nuclear power plant to the grid.

    The basic issue has to do with thermodynamics. Every time you convert energy from one form to another, you have to loose some. It turns out that converting natural gas into heat and generating electricity is generally more efficient than converting natural gas into hydrogen and consuming the hydrogen in a 50% efficient fuel cell. The exact economics depend on the price of natural gas that day....

    For local generation, it is possible that the cost of natural gas (plus the cost of the fuel cell and its maintenance – still relatively unknown variables) could fall low enough that it made economic sense to reform natural gas into hydrogen and then consume it in a fuel cell. However, this is simply a form of arbitrage and the economics of this are tied to the cost of fossil fuels. Not to mention that it still results in significant pollution. So while it seems to be a long shot - stationary generation using natural gas is far more likely to be viable than hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles.

    Now some on this board will tell you that the Wright Brothers were once doubted and eventually proved to be right – but that simply does not make everything else as likely or possible. The same people will tell you that "tens of thousands of scientists are working on fuel cells" (a number that I highly doubt) and that this alone somehow makes it a viable endeavor. I am still waiting for this member to produce a single scientist to debate the issue with facts rather than rhetoric - as it pertains to the use of fuel cells in automobiles. Don’t hold your breath.

    I hope this helped.
    Last edited by edsuski; 04-25-2010 at 01:47 PM.

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Call me when someone is interested in making a BIG ENGINE for BIG VEHICLES more fuel efficient. Otherwise, put a sock in it already. (To the autobuilders, not the OP).
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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Quote Originally Posted by OLDSCHOOLGMFAN View Post
    Call me when someone is interested in making a BIG ENGINE for BIG VEHICLES more fuel efficient. Otherwise, put a sock in it already. (To the autobuilders, not the OP).
    Well my friend - the solution to this may be at hand - depending on how far you need to commute. Because electric motors have 100% torque at 0 RPM - they can deliver 700+ (even more) lb ft of torque right off the line. In the next five to ten years - electric vehicles will be the highest performance vehicles on the road. If you are one of those guys who needs this level of performance for a 200 mile daily commute - well, you are going to have to wait for battery and/or capacitor technology to advance but, if you are like 78% of us and drive on average 40 miles or less each day - I think you will be pleasantly surprised in a few years.

    Maybe you could encourage manufacturers to include a sports mode that uses the range extender whenever “normal” performance was needed and spare the battery for when you want to smoke some young kid in a hopped up Camaro. One way or another - electric cars will be the performance champions for any size car in the coming years.

    As for efficiency - it cost 80 cents to drive 40 miles in a Volt for most of the country. At forty miles per gallon - that would equate to $0.80 per gallon. Let’s assume you like really big cars and want to accelerate really fast - that might bump you up to $2.40 per gallon (equivalent). Still a bargain at today's prices. Especially for 700+ lb ft of torque .
    Last edited by edsuski; 04-25-2010 at 01:49 PM.

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Quote Originally Posted by edsuski View Post
    First of all – virtually no oil is burned to generate electricity for the grid. The vast majority of oil is consumed in transportation. You may be referring to natural gas - which is used to generate about 23% of our electricity. You are right about coal – as it accounts for about 45%.

    There are some very basic problems that non-technical supporters of Hydrogen fuel cells seem unwilling to acknowledge.

    Number 1: Elemental Hydrogen is virtually nonexistent on Earth in nature. The small amounts of elemental hydrogen that do exist are extremely likely to rapidly bond with another molecule or, due to its density, literally float away. If you were thinking that hydrogen was Earth's “most abundant element”, as the article at the start of this thread claims, you are not alone. It is a very common misconception. However, it is simply not true. In fact, hydrogen is most often tightly bound in other molecules and requires significant amounts of input energy to separate it.

    So where does this idea of abundant hydrogen energy come from? Well, there is a lot of hydrogen tightly locked up in water and natural gas. In fact, most hydrogen used in hydrogen fuel cells today comes from the reformation of natural gas - because the energy needed to rip the hydrogen atoms from water is so prohibitively high. Unfortunately, natural gas is a fossil fuel, the same stuff we are trying to get away from, and reforming it into the desired hydrogen leaves behind the same pollutants that we are also trying to reduce. So the first obstacle is – where do you get massive amounts of hydrogen efficiently? Some, even some GM representatives, have suggested that we build massive nuclear power plants to generate electricity to split hydrogen from water and thus "hide" the inefficiency of the solution by dedicating a nuclear power plant to its production. While it is true that nuclear power plants do not consume or burn traditional fossil fuels - they leave behind their own unique form of pollution and cost tens of billions of dollars and take about a decade to construct. And, as you will see below - this would simply wast more than 50% of the energy......

    Problem 2: Today's hydrogen fuel cells are only approximately 50% efficient. So by definition, after you spend the significant energy needed to reform the natural gas, or even more energy to split the water molecules (independent of the source of this input energy) you will only get about 50% of the energy, contained in the resultant hydrogen, back when it is consumed in the fuel cell.

    Of course, the actual net energy is 50% minus the energy needed to obtain the hydrogen in the first place and any energy needed to, for example, compress the hydrogen to 10,000 psi for storage in a tank (just think about how much energy it would take to compress a gas to 10,000 psi) if you are not planning to include a natural gas reformer in your design or if you intend to use it for a mobile application.

    So – for a stationary application, like generating electricity for the wide area grid – hydrogen fuel cells are simply too inefficient to make sense. The other unknowns are the durability of the fuel cells themselves (and the cost to replace them) as well as the uncertainty about the cost of the source of hydrogen (in this case natural gas). From a strictly energy and physics point of view – it makes much more sense to simply burn the natural gas and generate steam to produce electricity for the Grid. As mentioned above, some 23% of the US electricity is generated in this way already and the economics of doing so is well understood. Or, alternatively, if you were going to use a nuclear power plant to generate electricity to make hydrogen - you could get more than twice as much energy to the grid by simply directing the energy from the nuclear power plant to the grid.

    The basic issue has to do with thermodynamics. Every time you convert energy from one form to another, you have to loose some. It turns out that converting natural gas into heat and generating electricity is generally more efficient than converting natural gas into hydrogen and consuming the hydrogen in a 50% efficient fuel cell. The exact economics depend on the price of natural gas that day....

    For local generation, it is possible that the cost of natural gas (plus the cost of the fuel cell and its maintenance – still relatively unknown variables) could fall low enough that it made economic sense to reform natural gas into hydrogen and then consume it in a fuel cell. However, this is simply a form of arbitrage and the economics of this are tied to the cost of fossil fuels. Not to mention that it still results in significant pollution. So while it seems to be a long shot - stationary generation using natural gas is far more likely to be viable than hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles.

    Now some on this board will tell you that the Wright Brothers were once doubted and eventually proved to be right – but that simply does not make everything else as likely or possible. The same people will tell you that "tens of thousands of scientists are working on fuel cells" (a number that I highly doubt) and that this alone somehow makes it a viable endeavor. I am still waiting for this member to produce a single scientist to debate the issue with facts rather than rhetoric - as it pertains to the use of fuel cells in automobiles. Don’t hold your breath.

    I hope this helped.
    There are power stations in Guangdong province China that are diesel powered.

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Quote Originally Posted by chinamonty View Post
    There are power stations in Guangdong province China that are diesel powered.
    My comments were on the US market only.

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Good bad or otherwise seems many models are likely to be rolled in the next 5 years:

    http://editorial.autos.msn.com/artic...mentid=1143520

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Quote Originally Posted by G8tor View Post
    Good bad or otherwise seems many models are likely to be rolled in the next 5 years:

    http://editorial.autos.msn.com/artic...mentid=1143520
    It's never really been about "can it be done" but rather - "does it make sense to do it"? After all - we could power cars with tiny nuclear power plants but that would not make sense either. Fuel cells are still only 50% efficient and the needed infrastructure to refuel them is non-existent. The same amount of energy put into a battery will take you twice as far and the flex fuel range extender will do the rest on the rare occasion 80% of us need more range than even the first generation plug-in electric hybrids will offer. Should get interesting in 2011.

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    Re: Hydrogen tries to catch up in green car race

    Quote Originally Posted by johnstarnes View Post
    This sounds very promising.....I think we are at the beginning of a long, exciting learning curve about practical generation and use of hydrogen in many ways.
    I would disagree - and converting the VOLT to a fuel cell vehicle would eliminate the economic benefit.

    The power of the VOLT is that it uses the expensive technology (the battery) in a limited quantity that meets most drivers needs. Then, it pairs that with an inexpensive technology to meet the infrequent need.

    It's an economic optimization sort of thing...setup for the average driver after exhaustive research - and it makes perfect sense as is.

    Quote Originally Posted by edsuski
    It's never really been about "can it be done" but rather - "does it make sense to do it"? After all - we could power cars with tiny nuclear power plants but that would not make sense either. Fuel cells are still only 50% efficient and the needed infrastructure to refuel them is non-existent. The same amount of energy put into a battery will take you twice as far and the flex fuel range extender will do the rest on the rare occasion 80% of us need more range than even the first generation plug-in electric hybrids will offer. Should get interesting in 2011.
    Ed calls it right again....

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