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Vakarian 11-19-2014 04:57 AM

Remember the hydrogen car?
A Road Test of Alternative Fuel Visions
Hydrogen Cars Join Electric Models in Showrooms

A decade ago, President George W. Bush espoused the environmental promise of cars running on hydrogen, the universe’s most abundant element. “The first car driven by a child born today,” he said in his 2003 State of the Union speech, “could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.”

That changed under Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was President Obama’s first Secretary of Energy. “We asked ourselves, ‘Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen-car economy?’” Dr. Chu said then. “The answer, we felt, was ‘no.’ ” The administration slashed funding for hydrogen fuel cell research.

Attention shifted to battery electric vehicles, particularly those made by the headline-grabbing Tesla Motors.

The hydrogen car, it appeared, had died. And many did not mourn its passing, particularly those who regarded the auto companies’ interest in hydrogen technology as a stunt to signal that they cared about the environment while selling millions of highly profitable gas guzzlers.

Except the companies, including General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Daimler and Hyundai, persisted.

After many years and billions of dollars of research and development, hydrogen cars are headed to the showrooms.

Hyundai has been leasing the hydrogen-powered Tucson sport utility, which it describes as the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell car, since June, for a $2,999 down payment, and $499 a month. (That includes the hydrogen. A lease on a gas-powered Tucson is about half as much.) This week, Toyota is introducing a sedan called Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese.

“It’s a no-brainer that I think the next evolution is to go to fuel-cell based technologies,” said Nihar Patel, the vice president for North American business strategy at Toyota, at a conference here last week.

The Mirai will go on sale in California this year for $57,500 — cheaper than the Tesla Model S.

California is spending millions of dollars to build hydrogen fueling stations, aiming to increase the network from nine today to 50 by the end of next year, mostly around Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Japan and Germany, two other early markets for hydrogen cars, are building a similar number of stations.
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RedDevil 11-19-2014 05:32 AM

Dr Chu pointed out that there are severe problems in producing and storing hydrogen efficiently; and if you want to get the most out of it through electrolysis rather than just burning it, you have the problem that fuel cells are quite large for their power output.
See an interview with Dr. Chu here; Challenging Chu on Hydrogen Fuel Cells | MIT Technology Review and Q & A: Steven Chu - Page 2 | MIT Technology Review.


TR: It used to be thought, five to eight years ago, that hydrogen was the great answer for the future of transportation. The mood has shifted. What have we learned from this?

SC: I think, well, among some people it hasn’t really shifted [laughs]. I think there was great enthusiasm in some quarters, but I always was somewhat skeptical of it because, right now, the way we get hydrogen primarily is from reforming [natural] gas. That’s not an ideal source of hydrogen. You’re giving away some of the energy content of natural gas, which is a very valuable fuel. So that’s one problem. The other problem is, if it’s for transportation, we don’t have a good storage mechanism yet. Compressed hydrogen is the best mechanism [but it requires] a large volume. We haven’t figured out how to store it with high density. What else? The fuel cells aren’t there yet, and the distribution infrastructure isn’t there yet. So you have four things that have to happen all at once. And so it always looked like it was going to be [a technology for] the distant future. In order to get significant deployment, you need four significant technological breakthroughs. That makes it unlikely.
As for now, mile per dollar, hydrogen is much more expensive to produce than gasoline (if you can tank it at comparable price that is because it is sold at a big loss) while electricity is cheaper.
So although the new fuel cell cars are expected to be somewhat cheaper than the Tesla model S, they will lose out quickly on cost to operate.
They don't outrange the Tesla and you cannot fill them up at home.
I'd prefer the Tesla even if hydrogen filling stations were abundant.

Baltothewolf 11-19-2014 08:03 AM

I think also, the power it takes to create HHO is what's setting the entire thing back. However, with solar technology advancing, eventually it should be easy to just use solar power to make enough HHO to run hydrogen cars, no? Aren't solar panels like 25% efficient or something?

RedDevil 11-19-2014 08:19 AM

Hydrogen (gas) is H2 not HHO...
HHO is the fringe science name for oxyhydrogen, a mixture of 2 molecules of hydrogen (H2) per molecule of oxygen (O2) that occurs from the electrolysis of water.

For several reasons it is not doable to store oxyhydrogen in large quantities.
Applications that do burn hydrogen and oxygen store them in separate tanks. Preferably you only store the hydrogen and derive the oxygen from the air.
A full tank of hydrogen for a car would weigh just a few kilos.
(the contents that is; the tank itself would weigh much more!)
The oxygen needed to burn the hydrogen weighs 8 times as much.

solarguy 11-19-2014 12:48 PM

I have always found the following factoid fascinating:

There is more hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline, than there is in a gallon of highly compressed hydrogen (like 800 bar, or 800 atmospheres, or 12,000 psi).

If you look at where the hydrogen -must- come from, it quickly becomes apparent that the so-called hydrogen economy will never take off.

If we eventually build enough wind and solar pv to make almost free electricity/hydrogen from electrolysis, it would still be more efficient to use batteries to store and use the electricity, rather than hydrogen.

It is just enormously difficult to store hydrogen at even decent energy densities.

jamesqf 11-19-2014 01:18 PM

The other thing that's always puzzled me: Sure, fuel cells are a good idea, but why hydrogen fuel cells? There are fuel cells that run off alcohol, sugar, and many other things, most of which don't involve fossil fuel extraction. But instead, the powers that be try to sell us on something that's extremely difficult to produce, store, and transport.

Sven7 11-19-2014 01:37 PM

Since when are expensive, leased hydrogen cars news?

RustyLugNut 11-19-2014 01:43 PM

I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Originally Posted by jamesqf (Post 456073)
The other thing that's always puzzled me: Sure, fuel cells are a good idea, but why hydrogen fuel cells? There are fuel cells that run off alcohol, sugar, and many other things, most of which don't involve fossil fuel extraction. But instead, the powers that be try to sell us on something that's extremely difficult to produce, store, and transport.

The drive for fuel cell research was focused on those that ingested pure H2. There are many technologies that do not have this limitation. I made reference to a link from the University of Utah that outlined the use of an enzymatic fuel cell that could utilize hydrocarbons such as JP-8. It was also tolerant of sulfur. This is just one example of a fuel cell that can use fossil fuels now and can transition to bio-fuels later.

Solid oxide fuel cells are already in use in fixed power generation applications such as the natural gas fueled system that powers the Google facilities in California. Continued research into catalyst improvements show a path to lower temperature operation.

The use of fuels cells versus batteries is not an either-or situation. It is more of a balance of both as well as the continued application of internal combustion. Advancing battery technology will make cars such as the Leaf ubiquitous for use in the majority of households and businesses. This will spill over to low temperature fuel cells that leverage the wide distribution of hydrocarbons to fuel long haul trucks, planes and trains. And in the future, when thorium nuclear power plants become common, the electricity and synthetic hydrocarbons will be available to provide the foundation for our growing modern societies without the pollution burden of the last industrial revolution.

The next step is fusion power and the stars.

RedDevil 11-19-2014 01:54 PM


Originally Posted by Sven7 (Post 456081)
Since when are expensive, leased hydrogen cars news?

Thanks for bringing some Clarity ;)
At least that looks nice, but if I were in the street looking up from that perspective the only car I'd like to see is an ambulance. :eek:

oil pan 4 11-19-2014 03:51 PM


Originally Posted by Baltothewolf (Post 456015)
Aren't solar panels like 25% efficient or something?

They are 16% to 17% efficient for 4 or 5 hours a day.
Using solar to make hydrogen is one of the worst ideas in the history of ideas.

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