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Hydrogen cars

Forget fuel cells, what we need is cars which run on hydrogen, made from water using renewable energy sources.
Fuel Cell Today
August 11, 2004
 link to www.fuelcelltoday.com

I have enormous respect for the analytical ability of Daniel Sperling and Joan Ogden, who have set forth a strong rationale for their long-term "Hope for Hydrogen" (Issues, Spring 2004). My problem is that their conclusion is even more apt for the short term. The public interests of America in reducing our dependence on oil from nations that hate us and abating global warming can't afford to wait for a fuel-cell car, which has been 15 years away for the past 15 years.

The assumption that hydrogen is or must be decades away is the false premise of both the academic proponents of hydrogen and the self-appointed protectors of the environment, who assume that this nation is incapable of mounting a "Moon-shot"-type initiative for renewable hydrogen. They both fall for the automobile/oil industry's "educational" effort that has made hydrogen and the fuel cell linked at the hip. They are not!

The internal combustion engine, with relatively minor adjustments, can run quite well on hydrogen. In fact, an internal combustion engine, when converted to hydrogen, is 20 to 25 percent per more efficient. A hydrogen hybrid vehicle is not a distant dream (as is the fuel cell) but a present reality if the public and political leaders were really educated on this subject. For example, the Ford Motor Company unveiled their Model U, a hydrogen-hybrid SUV with a range of some 300 miles per fill-up, more than a year ago.

A key question is where the hydrogen originates. If it's from domestic fossil fuels, as Sperling and Ogden as well as the critics of hydrogen assume, it's not useful for carbon reduction but does reduce oil imports. But if the hydrogen originates in water, it is super-plentiful; and if solar, wind, geothermal, or biomass is used to generate the electricity to split the water, a carbon-free sustainable energy source exists.

Let me explain why I believe that the real-world facts of life (and death) make a compelling case for starting the hydrogen revolution at once. The issues that could be alleviated by substituting renewable hydrogen for oil in the transportation sector are the following:

Reducing our dependence on imported oil. No one really doubts that we are at war in significant part because of oil. Petrodollars have funded the terrorists. America must look the other way at Saudi Arabia because of our dependence on their ability to raise or lower the price of oil with their spare capacity. The national security threat of oil dependence is a clear and present danger. More efficient cars are necessary but insufficient. Until we start building cars without oil, the increasing populations here (and in China and India) will control our destiny.

Global warming. The issue is a well-known serious threat to all humankind. A renewable hydrogen economy would be carbon-free. But "Hope for Hydrogen" says that hydrogen is not competitive and would deliver fewer benefits than "advanced gasoline and diesel vehicles." This statement ignores the benefits of zero-oil vehicles to reduce oil imports, and it assumes that hydrogen must come from fossil fuels. The answer-renewable hydrogen-is assumed to be decades away. And it will be unless we recognize that the renewable resources and the technology to harness them are much closer to commercial reality than the fuel cell. What is lacking is a sense of necessity and the leadership to mount a "can-do" initiative.

Local air pollution. Gasoline and diesel continue to be serious sources of local air pollution. Burning hydrogen creates water vapor and nitrogen oxide that can be controlled to near zero levels. There are no particles. It's a clear benefit.

The hope for hydrogen is not a distant dream. It could be a reality in this decade. We need to take the discussion out of the hands of people who see only the problems-and they are real-but don't see the vital need and opportunity to overcome them in 5 to 10 years, not decades. There is a legitimate fear that we may drift into fossil/hydrogen energy. The best way to avoid it is to promote renewable hydrogen. A solar/hydrogen initiative of Moon-shot intensity is the answer. No one can say for sure it can't be done, starting now, unless we try.



Hydrogen Car Company

Los Angeles, California  dfreeman@h2carco.com

S. David Freeman is former chief executive of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the New York Power Authority.

Cars Suck 12.Aug.2004 17:21


Cars that run on magic will still eat up massive amounts of land, cause sprawl, kill people and wildlife, isolate people in cages, contribute to obesity, and the manufacturing will still create lots of crap.

Trains, bikes are better.


Agreed, but.... 12.Aug.2004 18:00

George Bender

The cars aren't going away. We need some way to make them less destructive.

Unfortunately, Hydrogen is not a fuel source 12.Aug.2004 20:48

hydrogen skeptic

Hydrogen is a kind of battery. It is a way to store and transport energy. It is not a way to produce energy.

I'd be happy for somebody to prove me wrong on this, but...

Hydrogen is not really a fuel source on this planet. If we were in a spaceship, perhaps we could scoop up some free standing hydrogen and burn it as a fuel. But, hydrogen is not found here in a usable form. It must be extracted from other sources. And that extraction costs energy. For example, to extract hydrogen from water requires electricity. If the amount of energy required to produce the electricity is more than the amound of energy that can be extracted from the hydrogen, there is no net gain and no fuel source.

Maybe, hydrogen is a better way to store and transport energy than electricity. But, I don't see how hydrogen can save us from peak oil or environmental destruction. All the talk about hydrogen as a fuel source seems like some kind of fuzzy headed liberal illusion to me.

David, if you are real, please justify your claim that hydrogen is an energy source. Can you provide a source that shows that the energy cost of hydrogen generation is less than the energy extracted from the hydrogen generated?

Nuclear pellet cars 13.Aug.2004 14:26


When I was a kid in the 50's they used to show movies at school about how someday (now) cars would be fueled by a micro nuclear reactor. The present hydrogen dreams are a bit like that. They dodge the root issues that Americans are energy PIGS and that the ONLY thing that we are going to have to do is learn to do with less. This is not a problem unless you refuse to face it and deal with it. The rest of the world does quite well with much less energy consumption.

There also is another issue of sustainable energy sources - solar, wind, hydro, tidal, etc. This is related, but a different issue. If we don't address this as a major problem, and begin to work out the solutions (hydrogen is not a solution), it is going to kick our dumb asses back to the middle ages.

it could be done if there were popular support and the will to do so 13.Aug.2004 19:33

greg snyder

we love to drive. every car manufacturer now has a prototype car that runs on hydrogen. hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. it's one of the 2 elements that make up water. it is obtainable by a simple process that does require energy to separate hydrogen from oxygen. the energy used to obtain hydrogen can be obtained from any source including solar, wind, hydroelectric, hydrogen itself, or conventional polluting energy sources such as gas, oil, or coal. but why would we want to use polluting energy sources when we could get it for free and not pollute? the technology to separate hydrogen is simple and straightforward and commercially available. the first successful engine to run on hydrogen was in a plane. so, yes, planes can and have already been flown using hydrogen as their energy source. when cars were first manufactured in the united states they were called horseless carriages and their popularity grew rapidly as hundreds of small, entrepreneur mechanic/car manufacturers put out many models. bill harrah, the ex-owner of harrah's casino before he died used to have an incredible collection of hundreds of types of early cars that were hand made by hundreds of car makers. and that collection was glorious to see until bill died and his ditzy wife sold everything to the first bidder and, of course, the collection was sold off by the new owner. but i digress. i think it would be absolutely wonderful if mechanics all over the world started building hydrogen cars, or simply converting the cars that already exist to cars that use hydrogen as their fuel. people could obtain hydrogen through local public utility districts that are set up to produce hydrogen from water using solar or wind power. all of this could be put into place and become reality and it could happen very soon. and, if this were so, it would free us from our dependence on oil, we would no longer be creating millions and millions of tons of pollution and contributing to global warming. we would no longer be at the mercy of saudi arabia's or iraq's or iran's output of oil. it's up to us. and this is not fantasy. but it would take some organizing and work. and we can't depend on government or business to do any of this for us. it has to be an initiative that is generated by and for the people, otherwise it won't work and it will never be done. the alternative is to continue driving our vast fleets of suvs and consume all the gas that is left in the world in the next few years and then what??? if we don't do something now, we won't be able to do anything about it later.
ps, when he was trying to muster support for his war in iraq, george bush said even before sending troops to iraq that "this is not about oil."
is living the way we do with people like him as our "leader" worth what we risk?
pps, any machine can be made to run using hydrogen as it's energy source.
one more thing to chew on: hydrogen doesn't create any pollution, it's free, and it's potentially available if we make it so.

yes they are 13.Aug.2004 21:58


Cars certainly ARE going away, baby. Gas prices are going up, and this time they're not gonna come down again. The Petroleum Age is past its midpoint.

'Bout fuckin' time too.

hoo boy 13.Aug.2004 22:07

good luck y'all

The tricky part is not making the engines burn hydrogen.

That part's probably easy, as people said above.

The tricky part is CONTAINING the hydrogen until it's time to burn it.

Hydrogen molecules are TINY. They're the smallest molecules possible. They're way smaller than anything else. They squeeze through little openings that would be too small for any other substance to leak through. And hydrogen stays gaseous -- and thus pressurized -- even at really really really low temperatures.

All this means it takes really THICK, HEAVY, HIGHLY PRESSURIZED TANKS to keep hydrogen in.

The shortcomings of installing thick, heavy, highly pressurized tanks in an automobile, in terms of efficiency, construction costs, fuel mileage, etc., should be obvious.

This is not an insoluble problem, but it's probably the biggest engineering obstacle to "the hydrogen car."

Oh, and another thing -- hydrogen is explosive. Drive carefully :-)

Holy Shit, Man! 13.Aug.2004 22:43

explosive fuel?

Are you saying hydrogen is explosive? Holy shit! I can't believe anyone would be dumb enough to try and design a car that explosive fuel! That would be, like, internal combustion! I mean, think of cars with gallons and gallons of explosive gas inside them!
You people are stupid.

i found this 14.Aug.2004 21:58


Shattering the Myths of Fuel Cells and Hydrogen

By Amory Lovins

Many diverse authors have criticized hydrogen as a fuel lately. Some call it a smokescreen to hide White House opposition to raising car efficiency using conventional technology or fear that working on hydrogen would divert effort from renewable energy deployment rather than complement it. Most arguments reflect errors meriting a tutorial on basic hydrogen facts.

Myth #1. Making hydrogen uses more energy than it yields, making it impractical.
It would violate the laws of physics to convert any kind of energy into a larger amount of another kind of energy. Converting gasoline from crude oil is generally 75-90% efficient from wellhead to retail pump, and electricity from fossil fuel is only about 30-35% efficient from coal to retail meter. Hydrogen is typically converted at efficiencies of 72-85%.

But hydrogen's greater end-use efficiency can more than offset its conversion loss. From wellhead to car tank, oil is typically 88% efficient, with the lost energy mainly fueling refining and distribution. From car tank to wheels, gasoline is typically 16% efficient. Therefore, the average contemporary vehicle is about 14% efficient well-to-wheels. An advanced fuel-cell car's 70% natural-gas-well-to-hydrogen-in-the-car-tank efficiency, times 60% tank-to-wheels efficiency, yields 42% -- three times higher than the normal gasoline car. The energy lost in making hydrogen is more than made up by its extremely efficient use, saving both fuel and money.

Myth #2. We don't have practical ways to use hydrogen to run cars, so we must use liquid fuels.
Wrong. Turning wheels with electric motors has well known advantages of torque, ruggedness, reliability, simplicity, controllability, quietness, and low cost. With an efficiency of 50-70% from hydrogen to direct-current electricity, fuel cells offer the most efficient, clean, and reliable way to make fuel into electricity. Already, many manufacturers have tens of fuel-cell buses and over 100 fuel-cell cars on the road. A German website reports 156 different kinds of fuel-cell concept cars and 68 demonstration hydrogen filling stations, and Fedex and UPS reportedly plan to introduce fuel-cell trucks by 2008.

Myth #3. Hydrogen is too expensive to compete with gasoline.
Wrong. Using fuel-cell cars 2.2 times as efficient as gasoline cars, onsite miniature reformers, which make hydrogen from another fuel, made in quantities of hundreds with each supporting at least a few hundred fuel-cell vehicles and using natural gas at $5.69 per gigajoule or $6 per million British thermal units could deliver hydrogen into cars at well below $2 per kilogram. That's as cheap per mile as U.S. untaxed wholesale gasoline at $0.90 per U.S. gallon or $0.24 per liter.

Myth #4. Since renewables are currently too costly, hydrogen would have to be made from fossil fuels or nuclear energy.
Hydrogen would indeed be made in the short run, as it is now, mainly from natural gas. The fear of many environmentalists that a hydrogen economy would require the construction of many new nuclear power stations is unfounded. New nuclear plants would deliver electricity at about 23 times the cost of new wind power and 510 times that of new gas-fired cogeneration in industry and buildings, so they won't be built with private capital, with or without a hydrogen transition. Remember that long-term, large-scale choices for making hydrogen are not limited to costly
renewables-or-nuclear-electrolysis versus carbon-releasing natural-gas reforming. Reformers can use a wide range of biomass feedstocks which, if sustainably grown, don't harm the climate.

Myth #5. Hydrogen is too volatile and explosive to use as a fuel.
Wrong. Although all fuels are hazardous, hydrogen's hazards are different from and generally more easily managed than those of hydrocarbon fuels. It's 14.4 times lighter than air, four times more diffusive than natural gas, and 12 times more diffusive than gasoline, so leaking hydrogen rapidly rises away from its source. Also, it needs at least four times the concentration of gasoline fumes to ignite, it burns with a nonluminous flame that can't scorch you at a distance, and its burning emits no choking smoke or fumes, only water.

Myth #6. We lack a safe and affordable way to store hydrogen in cars.
Wrong. Such firms as Quantum (partly owned by GM) and Dynetek now sell filament-wound carbon-fiber tanks lined with an aluminized polyester bladder. Extremely rugged and safe, they have come through unscathed in crashes that flatten steel cars and shred gasoline tanks. The car doesn't drive around with highly pressurized pipes, either, because the hydrogen is throttled to the fuel cell's low pressure before it leaves the tank.

Myth #7. Compressing hydrogen for automotive storage tanks takes too much energy.
Wrong. Filling tanks to a pressure of 345 bar takes electricity equivalent to about 912 percent of the hydrogen's energy content. However, most of that energy can then be recovered aboard the car by reducing the pressure back to what the fuel cell needs (~0.33 bar) through a turbo expander.

Myth #8. We'd need to lace the country with hydrogen production, distribution, and delivery infrastructure before we could sell the first hydrogen car, but that's impractical and far too costly.
Wrong. Extensive analysis by the main analyst for Ford Motor Company's hydrogen program indicates that a hydrogen fueling infrastructure based on miniature natural gas reformers, including sustaining their natural gas supply, will cost about $600 per car less than sustaining the existing gasoline fueling infrastructure, saving about $1 trillion worldwide over the next forty years.

Myth #9. Making hydrogen from natural gas would quickly deplete our gas reserves.
Making enough hydrogen to run an entire U.S. fleet of quintupled-efficiency light vehicles would take only about one-fifth of current U.S. gas production. But gas use wouldn't actually increase by nearly that much, if at all. In fact, a well-designed hydrogen transition may even decrease net U.S. consumption of natural gas by saving more gas in displaced power plants, furnaces, boilers, and refinery hydrogen production than is made into hydrogen.

Amory Lovins is co-founder and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org) in Snowmass, Colorado, a research organization focusing on energy policy and resource issues. This ran in a newsletter published by Sustainable Business.com (www.sustainablebusiness.com) as a condensed version of Twenty Hydrogen Myths written by Lovins.

excellent resource 17.Aug.2004 19:05

greg snyder

Thank you, Clamydia, for citing such an excellent source which speaks to the common sense approach to transitioning into a hydrogen economy. Amory Lovins is a great thinker. Again, thanks.