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Hydrogen Economy: Some reservations

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Warren Brusse, author of the Second Great Depression, has visited GEI and by personal email, given some interesting comments concerning the Hydrogen Economy/ Fuel Cells. He think these technologies may be slow to deliver on their promised energy efficiencies.


Here's an excerpt:

"A hydrogen society along with fuel cells is way, way down the road.

I would not be investing my money in anything related to this. That doesn't mean that it won't happen someday, but there are far more practical solutions to energy that can be applied much more quickly. Solar and wind power are suddenly taking off (especially wind power). However, the thing that makes them extremely attractive for the immediate future are the apparent breakthroughs that are happening both in batteries (Lithium Ion) and large capacitors. These two areas will give practical energy storage which will make both wind and solar far more practical as a primary power source. These breakthroughs also make plug-in hybrids a real option, with equivalent 100 mpg cars a reality."


...MORE: http://www.greenenergyinvestors.com/index.php?showtopic=5 ((see: post#12))

= = =


WHAT do others think?

Are all the Fuel Cell companies providing a false promise?

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Some intresting reading on


[Electric Vehicles UK


albeit a little biased. Among the points, they site the world shortage of platinum needed for fuels cells.


I remember in the late 80s that vehicle pollution was a big issue. There were two solutions, the lean-burn engine and the catalytic convertor. A decision was made to equip all new cars with catalytic convertors instead of going down the lean-burn option. For fuels cells / hydrogen to work then I think the whole world would need to sit round a table and decide to do it. I don't know if the free market can do it alone.

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WHAT do others think?

Are all the Fuel Cell companies providing a false promise?

My tuppence worth - false promise? No.

But this will take decades.

My personal belief is that we have 5-7 years before the sheer scale of the oil crisis hits on a "civilization" level.

Between now and then life will be imcrementally more difficult, but it will also present huge opportunities.


Unless drastic action is taken regarding energy use and efficiency immediately in the industrial world then a catastrophe cannot be avoided in the medium term.


Hydrogen may alievate some of the problems but not on a large enough scale or a short enough time to prevent this.

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Guest Levy Process

Any discussion of the idea of using fuel cells or batteries to power transport on a mass scale (i.e. with the goal of a large percentage of all vehicles using this) has to go hand in hand with the question of where the energy to provide the energy stored in the cells or batteries is going to come from.


Cells and batteries allow a better smoothing out of energy use, and hence a more efficient use of any produced, if they can be charged "in the background".


But the issue of transport driven by fuel cells or batteries still begs the question as to where the new electricity generation necessary for this will come from.


Fuel cells are an answer to the problem of using any energy source to power transport (via the intermediate conversion into electricity). They are not an answer to an energy problem in themselves. Since a large fraction of all the energy we use at present, for transport directly and for domestic and industrial electricity generation comes from oil or "converted" oil (i.e. petrol), we still have a large hole in the energy budget to fill when oil becomes expensive.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Global Public Media did an interview about hydrogen with a very skeptical Dr Joseph Romm.


Its a while since I listened to the interview but I remember him saying that he thought the brightest future for fuel cells lay in stationary applications. Very efficient high temperaure things running on natural gas, if I am remembering correctly.



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I think that’s also part of the UK renewable energy “roadmap” – developing fuel cell technology is expensive, so best to start with displacing inefficient centralised generation by local CHP running on natural gas as the infrastructure is already present, then when things have got going move across to the heavy duty mobile power applications.

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  • 4 weeks later...

2003 March 04 Tuesday

Hydrogen Economy Cost Calculations

Harry Braun, Chairman of the Hydrogen Political Action Committee, has written article laying out some costs and arguing for the use of windpower to generate hydrogen for a hydrogen economy.


With state-of-the-art electrolyzers, about 55 kWh will be needed to manufacture the energy content of a gallon of gasoline in the form of gaseous hydrogen. Assuming electricity costs of 3 cents/kWh, the electricity costs alone would be $14.00/mBtu, which is equivalent to gasoline costing $1.60 per gallon. The cost and maintenance of the electrolyzer and related hydrogen storage and pumping system also needs to be factored in to the equation.


One problem that Braun brings up about liquid hydrogen as a transportation fuel source is that while a gallon of gasoline has 115,000 Btus of energy a gallon of liquid hydrogen has only 30,000 Btus. Therefore liquid hydrogen tanks would need to be much larger and at the same time stronger and insulted in order to hold the extremely cold liquid hydrogen. Not exactly an appealing prospect. Also, liquifying the hydrogen itself takes energy that boosts the costs by nearly a quarter.


Even if we accept his assumptions for how far down windpower costs could drop if mass produced his calculations take little account of the infrastructure costs for hydrogen for the huge transition that he envisions. Also, windpower seems a worse choice than photovoltaics for the United States in the long term in part because the wind farms have to be built where the wind is. Whereas with the move of people in the US toward the Southern parts of the country people have been moving toward where there is more solar power to be tapped. Eventually, (eventually? how long is eventually? er, I don't know) thin film photovoltaics will allow electric power to be generated much closer to where it is used.


Given the drawbacks of hydrogen as a power source it still seems possible that a big advance in battery technology could make batteries a viable alternative to hydrogen fuel cells.


An EE Times article from 2001 surveyed the field of battery development and experts think batteries viable as automotive power sources are still years away.


Similar efforts are in progress at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where researchers have developed a competing lithium-polymer battery that could ultimately achieve energy densities of 300 W-hr/kg, according to its developers. The technology, which uses a multiple-layer configuration of polymer and metal resembling a potato chip bag, is funded by the Office of Naval Research and is said to be 5 to 10 years from commercialization.


That article does a good job of describing how far a battery technology would have to advance in order for it to become competitive for automotive applications. The MIT effort, if successful, would create batteries that would have about 4 times more power density than the nickel-metal hydride batteries found in the most expensive uncompetitive electric vehicles (whose market prices are way below manufacturing costs btw). That would make the batteries dense enough. The cost is a question though.


In a more recent article Donald Sadoway and John Heywood (director of MIT's Sloan Automotive Lab) are noticeably lacking in enthusiasm for hydrogen as an automotive power source.


“Their state of development is oversold,” said Heywood. Sadoway put it another way: “In the context of portable power, fuel cells are not a technology, they’re a laboratory curiosity.”


Among other things, fuel cells are now far too expensive for use in mainstream applications like cars. That’s because they’re made partly of platinum, the same metal used in expensive jewelry. And an alternative to platinum will be difficult to discover, said Sadoway; “that’s Nobel Prize-winning work.”


Another key challenge: “How are we going to produce, distribute and store the hydrogen” for fuel cells, asked Heywood. He pointed out that the production of hydrogen itself involves generating various greenhouse gases. “So when people argue that the fuel cell produces only water vapor, that’s deceptive in the context of a complete transportation system,” he said.


Battery technology is appealing from an infrastructure standpoint because batteries could be recharged at night when existing electric power plants run well below maximum capacity. Then when photovoltaics become cost effective vehicles could be recharged during the day.


Stationary applications for alternative power sources are not as hard. There are lots of future possibilities for better ways to get energy for stationary uses. Some NASA researchers think thin film batteries and thin film photovoltaic cells could be integrated into roof tiles that would collect and store electrical energy.


There are also numerous applications that could exploit integrated power devices. Examples of these include: battery and solar cell devices integrated into a roof tile to provide a total power system for homes, or solar-rechargeable power systems for the military, for recreational vehicles, for cell phones or for other consumer products designed to be used in remote locations. In summary, the same considerations that provide performance edges for space applications make these power technologies applicable for terrestrial needs both individually or used in tandem.


@: http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/2003_03.html

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  • 5 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

I share the Sloan Automotive School's coolness about hydrogen as a transportation fuel. Those who propose this appear to have very little understanding of how difficult it is to handle explosive gases safely. It can be done, but not cheaply. The idea that your average car is going to have an H2 tank, and yer average Joe is going to fill up with hydrogen miraculously distributed from the magical H2 well is just laughable.


What will actually happen is that the energy crisis will happen and it will force consumer expectations down. The peepill will discover the joys of using trains for long distance travel and renting local electric vehicles at the other end, much like air travel today. The vast majority (c.80%) of car trips are less than 10 miles and they are regular journeys. Electric cars can do this today. Electric cars could be far cheaper and safer than the cars we now use if we could overcome the insane idea that road safety requires we drive ever larger and more dangerous vehicles


Even in Britain, the safest vehicle on the roads is the bicycle. Why? Because although riders face higher risks than drivers, they don't kill others. An hour of cycling is less likely to cause a road death than an hour of driving. In other countries like France, where cyclists' safety is a lot better, there is no contest. This exemplifies how smaller, slower vehicles would make the roads much safer in fact and feel much safer too, and the energy used in transport would be much reduced.


However, to bring about the required paradigm shift will require a serious crisis.


A nice example of how anarchic indulgence as a political credo has to go out the window if we are to deal with the coming energy crunch.

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Hydrogen is just a Euphamism for Nuclear.


youve heard about the hydrogen bomb - now buy the hydrogen car.


60 years after making the Bomb, and we still ain't got it properly sorted out.... conspiracy ?


ironic that with the energy in your last cr4p you could probably power a lightbulb for the rest of your life.

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Guest Randall Herbert

Fuel cells are storage devices only. Very nice clean at the point of delivery energy.


Hydrogen is a very energy inefficient medium to store energy due to the huge overhead of turning your basic fossil or wind/wave medium into hydrogen. Its very costly in energy terms to create, compress, transport and store.


Hydrogen via electrolosis from grid energy is one to avoid as it is very very inefficient.


With the state of the current hydrogen creating technologies, creating hydrogen via 'known' means is simply concentrating your polution creation into fewer areas of the globe, but due to the conversion inefficiencies increasing the ouput of polution by a large amount for the same NET energy output.


Diesel is more efficient well to wheels as far as minimising environmental impact is concerned. It takes less refinery input than gasoline, is more efficiently converted and can be made to run as clean as gasoline. It's a crime we are not using diesel more as an interim stage as well as banning 90% of tungsten lightbulbs.

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