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H2, Oh? The Electric Car May Yet Be Fueled by Hydrogen
Joel Makower, 17 Sep 06

It's been a pretty tough week in Detroit, with the major auto companies reeling from layoffs and setbacks. On Saturday, two front-page stories captured the mood. The New York Times ("Detroit Flails in Latest Effort to Reinvent Itself") noted that "Detroit is running low on optimism," while the Wall Street Journal ("Ford and Chrysler Show Dark Outlook For U.S. Car Makers") dubbed the previous day "Black Friday" after both Ford and Chrysler "acknowledged that their strategies for outracing high gas prices, fickle consumer tastes, and relentless global competition had hit the wall." Both stories also noted General Motor's ongoing downsizings and plant closings.

But amid it all, I managed to find a small beacon of hope.

Earlier in the week, I spent two days in Southern California with a group of journalists, activists, and others, listening to GM executives unveil its plans for a hydrogen-powered future. Specifically, the company announced a small roll-out of the Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell vehicle next year, and allowed us to test drive the Chevy Sequel, its next-gen hydrogen-powered car. (I attended this event in two roles: As a journalist and blogger, and as senior consultant at GreenOrder, the sustainability strategy firm of which GM is a client.)

Over the past year or so, as the hype about hybrids, flex-fuel vehicles, and electric cars has reached cruising speed, talk of the once-ballyhooed hydrogen highway seems to have slowed to a crawl. The long time horizons, the enormous costs of developing a hydrogen fueling infrastructure, and a lack of certainty about the optimal technology for making hydrogen in the first place -- all seemed to have relegated fuel cells to a "maybe someday" status. (Joe Romm's book, The Hype About Hydrogen, offers the best articulation of this perspective.)

But don't tell that to GM. They've got plans -- and cars -- that they say we'll be driving in the next few years.

GM will begin placing "more than 100" Equinoxes -- a "crossover" vehicle that is somewhere between a passenger car and an SUV -- with customers next fall as part of a deployment plan dubbed "Project Driveway." The goal is to gain real-world understanding of the customer experience through what GM calls "the first meaningful market test of fuel-cell vehicles anywhere." A variety of individuals representing a range of driving styles and operating environments will drive these vehicles and refuel them with hydrogen in three geographic areas: Southern California, metropolitan New York City, and Washington D.C.

To be sure, 100 fuel cell cars on American roads is barely a blip, but GM clearly gets that it's going to take a massive effort to positively affect climate change, oil shortages, and other environmental challenges. "We're only going to solve these world problems if people buy these in the millions and tens of millions," Byron McCormick, Executive Director of GM's Fuel Cell Activities, told us, adding, "This has moved from a science project to something pretty real."

Right behind the Equinox is the aptly named Sequel (pictured above), which represents GM's fourth-generation hydrogen vehicle. It goes from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds, accelerates to 90 miles an hour, and can travel 300 miles between fuelings. As GM described it, the Sequel is

the first vehicle in the world to successfully integrate a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system with a broad menu of advanced technologies such as steer- and brake-by-wire controls, wheel hub motors, lithium-ion batteries, and a lightweight aluminum structure.

We were allowed to drive the Sequel along a 25-mile course at Camp Pendleton, about 80 miles south of Los Angeles. (The poignant irony of driving a hydrogen-powered car on an active U.S. Marine base the day after the 9/11 anniversary, with helicopters performing training maneuvers overhead, was not lost on some of us.) What was most remarkable about the car was that it wasn't particularly remarkable -- it drove nicely, accelerated well, and handled smoothly, much like a "normal" car.

Where will the Sequel and Equinox get their fuel? Phil Baxley, a VP at Shell Hydrogen, which launched a partnership with GM in 2003 to "make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a commercially viable reality," told us that Shell is rolling out a small network of stations in coordination with vehicle manufacturers and local governments. Baxley envisions a larger rollout of stations in the 2015-2025 time frame, though market drivers and world events could accelerate that. It didn't sound simple, and it won't be.

GM's wasn't the only major fuel-cell vehicle announcement last week. BMW announced the Hydrogen 7, "the world's first hydrogen-drive luxury performance automobile," which it says "will be built in a limited series in Europe and driven in the US and other countries by selected users in 2007." The car is equipped with an internal combustion engine capable of running either on hydrogen or on gasoline and based on the BMW 7 Series. BMW -- who's latest green tagline is "Sustainability. It can be done." -- claims that switching the car from one fuel to the other is simple.

The driver is able to switch from hydrogen to gasoline mode manually by pressing a button on the multifunction steering wheel. Because engine power and torque remain exactly the same regardless of the mode of operation, switching from one mode to another has no effect on the driving behavior and performance of the BMW Hydrogen 7.

So, is hydrogen ready for prime time? Hardly. Both BMW and GM have long roads to travel. GM in particular must reinvent itself as a leaner, greener car company, pushing not just hydrogen, but a full spectrum of technologies: hybrids, plug-ins, electrics, flex-fuels, and more efficient gas-powered engines. And -- oh, yeah -- make cars that people want to buy and love to drive.

I'll admit to having imbibed some of the Kool-Aid this past week. The Hydrogen Economy isn't upon us, by any means, but it's not as far off as I'd thought. And I'm more than a tad skeptical that the U.S. auto industry can revive itself and regain its footing, let alone be a green leader.

But in my continual see-saw battle between cynicism and hopefulness, the balanced tipped, if only fleetingly: Last week, hope won out.

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Comments

It's a good article, and well prepped by the GM spokespeople. Look, a car that drives 300 miles and only emits water vapor.. that's truly buck rogers type Science Fiction stuff.

But the fact of the matter is, that's exactly what it is, Science Fiction, note fiction is NOT TRUTH, it is a falsehood.

To quote from the aforementioned Hype about Hydrogen, who is also featured in our film, Who Killed the Electric Car, Here are the 5 myths about hydrogen:

1. Hydrogen is not an alternate energy source - it's a mechanism for storing and transferring energy from a source to where it's needed. While hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe, it's not just hanging around - it's all tied up in other matter.

2. Separating it out so it can be used as a fuel takes a lot of energy, much more than is used to run our cars and trucks now:

* If we produce hydrogen from natural gas, there goes our energy independence. (This also costs about $4 a gallon, double that if you add the same state and federal taxes and transportation charges we have on gasoline.)
* If we use electricity to get hydrogen from water, that electricity is mostly produced using natural gas so ditto. (This costs three times as much as using natural gas as the feedstock. )
* If we shift over to coal to generate the electricity to produce the hydrogen, that includes a bonus of sulfur, acid rain, filling in of streams and rivers and other consequences.
* Our increased demand for energy will clash with China's increasing energy demands as they continue their rapid growth in manufacturing, producing rapidly escalating prices.

3. All hydrogen extraction methods generate huge, make that horrendous, amounts of carbon dioxide, far more than we're generating now, so there goes global warming.

4. And once you've got the hydrogen, you have a storage problem: it's explosive, reactive and leaks through containments at a rate of several per cent a day (a tank a month just vanishing into thin air).

5. Even assuming you can solve all those problems, changing the infrastructure to handle a hydrogen transportation economy would cost about $5,000 per car, with filling stations running $250,000 to $500,000 each...

There would have to be quite a few vehicles on the road to create enough demaand to cause gas station owners to switch.

Lastly, the existing technology, the hybrid vehicles and then the plug-in hybrid (not to mention all electric vehicles like the Tesla or the Zap) would have to not improve at all for the next 10 years, in terms of cost of ownership and energy efficiency to allow time for Hydrogen cars to reach the market. If those technologies instead, as we expect, improve a reasonable amount, say HALF as much as they have in the last 10 years, their total efficiency will quadruple and their cost of ownership will decrease by 80-90 % - making them much cheaper than any hydrogen technolgy.

We need to stop smoking the hydrogen pipe dream and get real with our addiction to oil.. we need a real energy policy, lower carbon footprint and frankly to reduce or eliminate wasteful consumption of fossil fuels, the most obvious, and simplest, (though it's not the only way) is the reduce, restrict and limit our use of gasoine in automobiles. Sell the SUV and buy a prius, or better yet, resurect the EV1.

Best Regards -

Richard D. Titus
Executive Producer
Who Killed the Electric Car? (http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com)


Posted by: R. Titus on 17 Sep 06

R. Titus, thank you very much for your articulation. Many Engineers and Engineer Students(like me) have already done the math and have come to this conclusion a long time ago. Point is, no one is listening and most of my friends and family are still convinced that H2 is the future because "It only emits water." More people need to know and I hope your message spreads far and wide. It just makes the most sense for a road transport economy.

Air Travel however, I can see Hydrogen having a bright future. Hybrid Solar Electric/H2 Fuel Cell Zeppelines to replace large Cargo vessiles and transport trucks. The H2 will be created on-demand for when the Sun isn't shining.


Posted by: Chris on 17 Sep 06

"wheel hub motors"

would that cause a problem with unsprung weight?


Posted by: Michael G. Richard on 17 Sep 06

Hi,

I can't believe that Richard Titus is smarter than all the scientists who are working on fuel cell projects. He probably knows less than my 10 year old brother.

Al


Posted by: Al Ray on 17 Sep 06

I've done all the math as well. You guys clearly have problems with basic addition.

Gasoline is just an energy carrier as well...no one drills for gasoline. They drill for oil and then in an incredably energy intensive and CO2 intensive and environmentally destructive process they make gasoline. Worse yet, as we run shorter and shorter on light sweet crude supplies, we have to rely more and more on heavier crudes. This turns more and more refiners each year into mass hydrogen net importers. Massive quanities of hydrogen are required just to produce gasoline.

In fact, the amount of hydrogen produced already today (of which around half is used in refining oil) is sufficient to fuel 250 million fuel cell vehicles.

You can find that fact right here at the Air Products H2 FAQ...

http://www.airproducts.com/Products/LiquidBulkGases/HydrogenEnergyFuelCells/FrequentlyAskedQuestions.htm?wbc_purpose=basic%23other%23other%23equipment%23other%23equipment%23top

As the largest producer of H2 in the world, I think Air Products knows a bit more about hydrogen than some non-fact checking 2-bit silly little movie producer.


Posted by: Rick on 17 Sep 06

Whoa folks, can we have a civilized conversation? Why don't we admit that not one of us knows how to create a long-term, viable alternative to our present transportation infrastructure? Why don't we agree that doing so is necessary, and that many ideas should be up for discussion?

Or is this one of those situations where we're more invested in "being right" than in solving the problem?


Posted by: David Foley on 17 Sep 06

Thank you David. I'm glad Titus stopped by to provide us with a different viewpoint. Hydrogen's been out of the spotlight for a little while, so it was good to get a reminder (from both Titus and Makower) of how far along the H2 curve we've advanced and some of the pros and cons about continuing along that path.

Knowing scientists and engineers, I'm sure there are more than a few smart ones out there who are unconcerned with Titus's arguments. He could have a great case and the people who get paid to develop this stuff will keep working on it for the fun/livelihood of it. Then next thing you know some business or marketing type ignores the data and presses forward. Happens all the time. I don't mean that as an attack on anyone -- just pointing out that we need a full spectrum of people and backgrounds to figure out if this is a good decision, because just relying on the people creating the stuff and the people who stand to profit from it won't do.


Posted by: Stephen A. Fuqua on 17 Sep 06

The push for hydrogen has nothing to do with efficiency but has everything to do with corporate branding. Electricity cannot be branded in the way petrol and hydrogen can. For the large oil companies the important thing is that today you pull into a petrol station and buy say BP petrol and whatever else at the BP store. Tomorrow they want you to pull into the BP hydrogen filling station for BP brand hydrogen and buy things from the BP store. Home charging with electricity threatens this and this is why battery electric cars are discouraged and the less efficient hydrogen economy is encouraged.

There is also a pay-off for the car companies. Battery electric cars have only one major moving part (the motor) and are extremely reliable and have almost no items for maintenance. Right now a vast industry exists for oil changes and servicing of IC cars. This is also at risk from BEVs and their basic simplicity. The hydrogen fuel cell vehicle with its fuel cell, with pumps and heaters, the high pressure tanks etc offer a much larger potential for breakdown and repair.

Finally it does not take a scientist to work out that this energy diagram for hydrogen:

energy source -> electricity -> generate hydrogen (lose 50%) -> transport/store hydrogen (lose 20%)- fill car with HP hydrogen (lose 20%) -> generate electricity with fuel cell (lose 50%) -> drive electric motor (lose 10%) -> drive car

Is vastly less efficient than this energy diagram for battery cars:

energy source -> electricity -> distribute electricty (lose 10%) -> charge batteries (lose 15%) -> drive electric motor (lose 10%) -> drive car

Why put all that hydrogen infrastructure ahead of simply using electricty to drive a car just to save large corporations? Do they really deserve this kind of welfare? This is especially true when you consider that the infrastructure is already in place for battery electric cars and nothing further than a beef up is required.

Finally if battery electric cars do take off in a big way they can be used for storage to enable a much larger penetration of renewable power by providing an enormous battery for electricity to be stored for when renewable power is not available. This is called vehicle to grid or V2G.

BEVs and PHEVs offer so many advantages and they are ready to go TODAY. With a concerted effort BEVS could be rolled out starting now as all the technology is ready and nothing new is needed. Roadworthy fuel cell cars are at least 10 years and 2 breakthroughs away not to mention the time taken to roll out the hydrogen filling stations.

What are we waiting for?


Posted by: Ender on 17 Sep 06

I would like to mention that the Vehicle-to-grid idea seems entirely unworkable. The same high-tech batteries that run the cars could also be installed on the power grid, making this totally unnecessary. In addition, with home-charging, people would want to start their morning with a full charge, and the vehicle-to-grid would eliminate that guarantee.


Posted by: Brian Schend on 17 Sep 06

Widespread personal transportation - whether powered by electricity, gasoline, hydrogen or ethanol - seems to me an example of what permaculturalists call a Class One Error.

That is -- once you make the error, you are stuck fixing the multitudes of sub-problems created by the initial decision. In the case of automobiles:

1. Tremendous energy required to move bodies + chassis + motor (as compared, for example, to the food energy required to power a human body).
2. Inefficiencies in every step of the process of harvesting, transforming and transporting the energy to the actual work of moving the vehicle.
3. The waste of energy and materials in the creation of vehicles and the associated infrastructure.
4. Growing demand for personal transport, as nations such as India and China become wealthy.
5. Growing number of miles travelled/person. More efficient vehicles only encourages greater demand (the Jeavons Paradox aka Rebound Effect).
6. Pollution generated in all stages of the system.

It seems a form of collective madness to me. Engineers and scientists are not exempt.


Posted by: Bart Anderson on 17 Sep 06

Brian - "I would like to mention that the Vehicle-to-grid idea seems entirely unworkable. The same high-tech batteries that run the cars could also be installed on the power grid, making this totally unnecessary. In addition, with home-charging, people would want to start their morning with a full charge, and the vehicle-to-grid would eliminate that guarantee."

The high-tech batteries are much better employed driving people about rather than sitting around doing not much. This avoids have 2 sets of batteries consuming more resources - you just need one set to do both jobs. However there will also be stationary batteries but they will almost certainly be vanandium redox flow batteries and flywheels.

As to the second objection do you really think that a smart grid would be that dumb to leave the vehicle discharged when it is needed the most? The benfits of V2G lie in the very large amounts of cars and the small amount that is needed from each individual car. Also you would sign up to a aggregator company with your own personal profile. With this you could ensure that every morning your car was fully charged except say on Wednesdays when you do not work etc. It could be customised any way you desired to fit your driving habits. You could also set the minimum charge that has to be left in the car at all times and so on.

With a suitable application of intelligent management the V2G concept can work quite well.


Posted by: Ender on 17 Sep 06

For those wishing a more technical evaluation of different transportation infrastructure options in terms of their net efficiency and an introduction to alternative forms of energy storage besides hydrogen, I highly suggest taking a look at the comments attached to the following article on Ars Technica:

http://arstechnica.com/journals/science.ars/2006/9/8/5232


Posted by: jp on 17 Sep 06

Hmmmm....now where have I heard that before? It can never be done....this is all hype....we should stick with what we have today, it's really better, no really it is....I'm not an engineer but am very concerned about the environment and know people pretty well and there is something a little too contrived about the protestations here.... Is there something wrong with GM, Toyota, BMW, Daimler Chrysler and a half-dozen other autos trying to work on this technology? Tell me again how exactly it is hurting people?


Posted by: Johnson on 18 Sep 06

These hydrogen cars would make a great base to hack. Replace all those fuel cells, pressure tanks & plumbing -- with batteries--, The heavy lifting for an EV conversion would be half done right out of the factory.


Posted by: Streetcar Eddie on 18 Sep 06

Car companies and governments are promoting hydroden (and ethanol and biodiesel) to fuel the myth of the sustainable car, allowing them to continue with the status quo of inneficient oil powered transport. This strategy has already been extremely successful. In forums where there has been a "highways vs public transit" debate, I have seen, more than once, something similar to the following exchange:

PT Advocate: We should build public transit because of the threat of peak oil and the environmental damage caused by cars.
Highway Advocate: No, we'll soon be driving clean hydrogen/ethanol/biodiesel powered cars, so we should build more freeways.

This same argument is used whenever there is a debate on peak oil, SUVs, climate change, smog, vehicle mileage, or rising gas prices. It is used on radio talk shows and even on television commercials by certain car companies. Here are some actual quotes:

Thread: Transport in 2100
Quote: We'll still use cars, but they will be running on hydrogen-derived fuel.
Forum Post

Thread: Should SUVs be regulated
Quote: Personally i dont believe the doomsday scenarios about peak oil either. As fuel prices go up, we'll just see alternative fuels like hydrogen or corn diesel become more economical than oil and replace our gas and diesel fuels.
Forum Post

The promise of the hydrogen car was also key in the successful campaign by auto-makers to scrap the Californian requirement for a significant percentage of cars sold to be zero-emmission vehicles (electric).

This PR campaign has been so successful, that they even have WorldChanging promoting the "sustainable car".

The bad news is, that even if cars could be cleanly powered, they are not sustainable. Consider sprawl, large proportions of cities covered in car infrastructure, congestion and the 30,000+ people killed by cars each year in the US alone. The good news is that we have two successful sustainable transport options that have been in use for over one hundred years. They are known as "electric powered public transport" and "human powered transport". Motorised personal transport will continue to be powered by oil for the foreseeable future.

I think, if we are to see cars using alternative energy sources, it will be electric vehicles being mass-produced in China (or India), putting an end to the hydrogen silliness and probably a couple of American car companies.


Posted by: Tom on 18 Sep 06

And still, the question remains: How will we get the hydrogen?

The link to AirProducts that Rick provides is interesting, but note that the vast majority of all hydrogen used today is from fossil fuels. What is the process through which the hydrogen is extracted? What pollutants, etc. result? It seems to me that switching to an infrastructure that still relies on fossil fuels leaves us with the same problem we have now--though it may delay things for an extra decade or two depending on the efficiencies of extracting hydrogen vs. creating gasoline from heavy crude or tar sands.

I'm willing to believe that a hydrogen infrastructure is possible, but it will need to be coupled with renewable energy sources to top off the fuel cells. We'll probably arrive at a solution that will see the continuation of personal mobility via cars, etc., but in a very reduced form--weekend joyrides will be a thing of the past.

And is there any good argument for choosing hydrogen over Li-ion batteries? If GM's car goes 300 miles and reaches speeds of 90 miles/hour... well, that's about the same performance as most EVs that are being developed right now.


Posted by: Bolo on 18 Sep 06

Its interesting to note that the former head of ABB fuel cell research and the european fuel cell forum has stated that hydrogen fuel cells are a no go. They are just not sustainable and pure EV or plug-in's are a better bet. Take a read of the following

http://www.efcf.com/reports/E17.pdf


Posted by: paul on 18 Sep 06

I haven't seen R Titus' movie [even though I like the independents]...

I've heard ENDERs speech before [an oil company executive got drunk with a friend of mine and told the whole thing]...

I'm not very smart and I'm not concerned about the environment [too late]...

I DO know that somewhere, someone is driving a Fetish, Tesla, or T-Zero RIGHT NOW...

...and the Fetish [like the name implies] is PURE SEX.


Posted by: zakoz on 18 Sep 06

johnson - "Is there something wrong with GM, Toyota, BMW, Daimler Chrysler and a half-dozen other autos trying to work on this technology? Tell me again how exactly it is hurting people?"

Yes there is. The problem with this is that the solution is available now - right now - not 10 or 20 years away. The problem is that the solution, PHEVS and BEVS, are not acceptable to corporate models however they are entirely satisfactory for a sustainable transport model that includes renewable power.

In short we are waiting until the oil companies have squeezed every last cent they can out of oil before they are ready to switch when they want to and in a way that maximises their profits and ensures their continued existence. The hydrogen car is perfect as it is at least 10 years away and governments can be milked for billions of dollars in the meantime to realise this corporate dream.

This is when a far simpler solution, using far less resources, exists now and is ready to go. Electric cars will not be as user friendly as IC cars or fuel cell cars. Part of a sustainable transport model will be a huge cutback in personal tranportation in favour of more bikes, public transport and livable cities with more walking distance amenities.

The really good thing about BEVS is that they are not direct, drop in replacements for IC cars that cost the Earth so much. They do have limitations and to get around them we will have to travel less and use public transport much more.


Posted by: Ender on 18 Sep 06

Bolo - "And is there any good argument for choosing hydrogen over Li-ion batteries? If GM's car goes 300 miles and reaches speeds of 90 miles/hour... well, that's about the same performance as most EVs that are being developed right now."

Yes there is. Li-Ion battery cars use a lot less resources and have a smaller, cheaper energy chain. Also you can today buy a Li-Ion car however the GM car is a concept car only and is not a practical rad car for consumers. Finally you can charge your Tesla at home with in place infrastructure something you cannot do with the GM car.


Posted by: Ender on 18 Sep 06

Oh i see...it really is the oil companies in cahoots with the auto companies that is causing false hope about hydrogen which will never pan out and in the meantime is causing everyone to miss the answser here today in electric vehicles and which is only serving to allow the oil companies more time to squeeze yet more profits out of auto drivers which promotes our addiction to oil and weakens our position in the world....I hear you, its just that the logic has so many red flags that pop up so as to be completely unconvincing.


Posted by: johnson on 19 Sep 06

johnson - "I hear you, its just that the logic has so many red flags that pop up so as to be completely unconvincing"

So where are the logic red flags? If you were an oil company wouldn't you do all you can to protect your own existence? Corporations have no loyalty to any country. If the USA disappeared tomorrow all the large 'US'corporations would jump ship without shedding a tear as most of them are multi national already.

The only thing a corporation understands, despite perhaps good people running it, is maximum return to shareholders. This is not corporation bashing it is just simply stating that corporations will do whatever is necessary to continue.


Posted by: Ender on 19 Sep 06

Folks, don't listen to ENDER and his rampant "red flag" paranoia.

He's just mad because the extremely wealthy benefactors of the Old Age [the industrial one this time] seek to preserve their status, wealth and power at whatever cost to the masses.

It's people like him that let perfectly good slaves go to waste the last time... when extremely wealthy benefactors of the Old Age [agrarian] convinced the poor, ignorant and uneducated masses to preserve their rights by fighting a war for them amongst the states.

JOHNSON has served his Master well and should be rewarded for trolling these boards for references to his Masters interests. If his Master owes us an apology, has he not repeatedly given it to us?


Posted by: zakoz on 19 Sep 06

My problem with GM and the hydrogen hype is that, firstly, GM and the car companies are known for taking very small incremental steps in technological progress. Without exception. They develop and morph gradually. They do not revolutionize, they evolve. This is as much for economic reasons, institutional inertia, market expectations, research and expertise - many reasons. And we are to believe that GM, the least agile of all the car companies, is going to somehow change its stripes and pull off this complete sea change revolution, when they can't even seem to bring us a single mass market full-hybrid car ten years after the debut of the Prius? Okay.

There must be a roadmap for a car company to survive and sell cars in order to finance this complicated move away from the internal combustion engine. The car companies have to have mapped out a logical and achievable series of steps moving from combustion to clean electric power. The only viable and likely such roadmap so far is provided through the hybrid car. It is viable and marketable and already exists. It can be developed further to where the electric side improves gradually, which will go hand in hand with less reliance placed on its combustion engine. Better and larger and cheaper battery packs and more efficiency will mean that the pure battery car can quite logically evolve from the hybrid. The next step is a better hybrid with larger batteries; then the plug-in hybrid; eventually a hybrid where the combustion engine is almost a removable auxiliary unit and seldom used; finally, some cars will leave it out altogether. There, the pure electric car has evolved.

GM sure doesn't seem to be following this roadmap. Not that it's the only possible way forward. Problem is, the hydrogen fuel cell has no roadmap, it requires not just one quantum leap, but five: in fuel cell technology, fuel production, fuel infrastructure, car factories, and the market itself. If GM were successful and had super deep pockets and endless resources to invest for the next 15 years, that would be one thing. But they don't even have a plausible plan to survive long enough to finance even part of their revolution.


Posted by: E Peltzer on 19 Sep 06

Ok. There's a budding flame war here, and I'm hoping you all can put it on pause to answer a question for me:

There are many good arguments for electric here, yet I have not seen any good arguments for hydrogen (besides the appeal to authority or ad hominem fallacy).

So, Hydrogen Economy Advocates, what are the reasons we should look to Hydrogen rather than battery operated electric?


Posted by: Andrew on 19 Sep 06

Personally, I think hydrogen is a very unlikely proposition for transportation, but I'm not for stopping all research, at least yet. Solving the four big research riddles: Cheap creation, distribution, packaging, and fuel cell cost is about the same likelihood as nuclear fusion. Not impossible, but not bloody likely any time soon.

The negative aspect of hydrogen is that it is taking resources that can be better spent of battery technology, PHEV, cellulosic ethanol, etc. that is much more likely to have a huge impact. And note that we spend less than two percent of U.S. Gov. funded research on energy, which is a crying shame. Hydrogen is, in part, causing us to take our "eyes off the ball". It is important to note the following quote from Griff, "If there is anything worse than a huge problem with no solution, it's a huge problem with a solution that isn't a solution".

For anyone interest, I am in a political contest in the 4th District of S.C., and my opponent has only one word to say when he hears the word energy, and that is Hydrogen. Our current crisis cannot be solved by Hydrogen whether or not the Hydrogen Economy is real or not. I am a life long researcher and research manager, and I must say that we cannot bet our energy future on slim probabilities. We must act now, for the sake of our economy and environment, and we must do so in the areas that produce rewards in the nearer term and with reasonable chances of success. And of course, at reasonable cost.

Would like to hear from any of you that are interested in talking about these issues on the phone, 864-244-6676.


Posted by: william I. Griffith, Ph.D. on 20 Sep 06

Boy that's some tough language and a tough accusation of being a dupe whose opinion is controlled by someone else. Neither is true but I understand your point and perhaps I was mistaken about the range of opinion that could co-exist here. I will willingly step out of the conversation. Forgive me for thinking the intent was otherwise.


Posted by: Johnson on 21 Sep 06

I would like to believe in the electric car (great movie, BTW, R.Titus), but my question is - where will the electricity come from? How will it be generated in quantities sufficient for the American fleet of vehicles? For the Chinese and Indians who are buying cars in the millions?

Nuclear and renewables are insufficient. Natural gas is limited. Coal we have in abundance, but sequestration is expensive, unproven and unlikely to be widely adopted soon.

I just don't see that the private automobile has a future, if one is concerned about climate change and energy supply.

The situation reminds me of the Maginot Line - great technical accomplishment but with inadequate thought given to overall strategy.

(The same comments apply to hydgroen of course)


Posted by: Bart Anderson on 22 Sep 06

I'm all for Li-on and advanced battery technologies, but ot play devil's advocate for a moment:

If the world's energy systems increasingly turn to Li-on for storage and distribution, won't this lead to an incredible upsurge in toxic waste?

Does the technology exist to actually recycle these waste products economically so that they don't end up in the world's oceans?


Posted by: jp on 22 Sep 06

If the world's energy systems increasingly turn to Li-on for storage and distribution, won't this lead to an incredible upsurge in toxic waste?

Does the technology exist to actually recycle these waste products economically so that they don't end up in the world's oceans?

One need not worry that the ocean will end up laden with 240 billion tonnes of lithium, for that is the state in which we find it. And yes, it's certainly expensive enough to recycle.

AC Propulsion has done impressive work loading a car with thousands of off-the-shelf Li-ion batteries, but there are other options. Per 300 kWh at the driveshaft,

Volume Mass Fuel
-----------------------------------
108 L 96 kg · Gasoline
448 L 516 kg · Hydrogen, -253°C liquid
972 L 1,222 kg · Hydrogen, 10-kpsi gas
666 L 1,533 kg · ZnO
245 L 331 kg · B2O3
208 L 323 kg · Al2O3
??? L 2,100 kg · Li-ion
W/C L 7,880 kg · GM EV1 NiMH battery pack
W/C L 52,000 kg · Paintball air tanks

I list ZnO, B2O3, and Al2O3 as fuels even though you can't burn them because, having produced them by burning, you must carry them around for a while; they therefore determine the system's fuel reservoir volume and its maximum mass, which is the mass shown for each above -- container and contents both.

The figures also take into account extra energy spent on enriching air oxygen using an efficiency for zeolite-based air separator that was typical several years ago. In retaining solid ashes, it helps if large flows of nitrogen aren't gushing through the system, and we aren't having to fight to get oxide dust out of the nitrogen before it leaves.


Posted by: G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan on 22 Sep 06

Heres my basic point:

Hydrogen Car: Electricity--->hydrogen---->compression into tank---->fuel cell---->electricity---->motor


Electric Car:
Electricity--->battery---->motor

Why are we looking towards hydrogen?


Posted by: Bocephus on 23 Sep 06

Btw, that Chevy Sequel is one ugly car, truly today's Edsel.


Posted by: Bocephus on 23 Sep 06



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