Is Energy Secretary Chu Reconsidering Hydrogen?

By · May 23, 2012

Stephen Chu

Almost exactly three years ago, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu proposed slashing more than $100 million from the Energy Department's hydrogen program. When he proposed the cut, he said that he holds little hope for fuel cell cars in the coming decades. “We asked ourselves, is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will covert to a hydrogen car economy?” he said in a press briefing. “The answer, we felt, was no.”

Shortly afterwards, Secretary Steven Chu told The MIT Technology Review that fuel cells were still too far off to be an immediate priority for funding.

“Right now, the way we get hydrogen primarily is from reforming gas. That's not an ideal source of hydrogen...The other problem is, if it's for transportation, we don't have a good storage mechanism yet. What else? The fuel cells aren't there yet, and the distribution infrastructure isn't there yet. In order to get significant deployment, you need four significant technological breakthroughs. If you need four miracles, that's unlikely. Saints only need three miracles.”

The House Appropriations Committee voted to restore $40 million in fuel cell funding that the Department of Energy had stripped from its budget proposal. Nonetheless, Secretary Chu’s position was firm that hydrogen research was out, and most of the government’s resources should be focused on better batteries for electric cars.

If new reports from Slate are true, Secretary Chu is changing his mind. Slate said that a “sluggish start” for electric vehicles contributed to the flip-flop. According to the publication, “John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell USA and the incoming chairman of the Energy Department's technical advisory committee on fuel cell vehicles, said Chu made supportive remarks about the potential for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles while speaking at a recent, closed event.” Slate said that Industry and Department of Energy officials confirm that Chu has softened his early rejection of hydrogen fuel cells.

HydrogenFuelNews.com, a pro-hydrogen publication, made a post yesterday that the Department of Energy “once held disdain for hydrogen,” but now “considers the alternative energy to be a viable replacement for fossil-fuels in certain applications.”

It’s too early to know how a change in policy toward hydrogen might affect battery-powered cars, but the prospect is troubling for those who see EVs as a practical technology for today—while hydrogen fuel cars as perhaps decades away (if that) from being a realistic option for mainstream motorists.

As recently as January of this year, Secretary Chu estimated that plug-in vehicle battery costs will drop by 70 percent between 2008 and 2015, and will fall another 58 percent between 2015 and 2020. This could be the key to narrowing the price premium for plug-in cars relative to conventional vehicles, and putting millions of Americans behind the wheel of a zero-emissions car.

Comments

· · 2 years ago

I got bad news for Mr. Chu: the "sluggish start" for EVs is in large part due to industry dragging its ass and not really pushing for it. Even if we assume the technology was perfected tomorrow, hydrogen vehicles will face the same industry-centered apathy (and outright opposition) that BEVs currently face. Except we can add a decade or two to the hydrogen vehicle's technology development.

I'm of the opinion that we should continue to focus on what we can do right now to improve our situation. Much of the technology that goes toward improving electric vehicles can be applied to hydrogen vehicles, and it's never too early to start weaning the public off of petroleum. If fuel cells replace batteries 20 years down the road that's just fine by me; the point is we shouldn't have to been burning fossil fuels the whole while.

· Steven (not verified) · 2 years ago

What possible justification could a Nobel prize-winning physicist have come up with for suggesting we again attempt to violate the laws of physics?? Sometimes when you are right, you just have to hang in there even if it isn't politically expedient.

· · 2 years ago

A gas executive's weak statement that someone says something "supportive" hardly sounds like an indication of any kind of change of mind.
Brad,
I think you're grasping for controversy here.
I'm sure there is pressure on the administration to support H2 but that doesn't mean anyone is caving.

· · 2 years ago

Ex - The title of the post is written as a question. We don't know yet. Hopefully, you're right that there's no backtracking.

· · 2 years ago

As with most here, I think the whole hydrogen thing is a big distraction. It's laudable in a sort of gee-whiz-someday-maybe science kind of way, but batteries are what's really going to get us beyond petroleum.

On a lighter note, those are some serious sunglasses, Mr. Chu!

· Yep (not verified) · 2 years ago

We are far from having a clean hydrogen production, we are far from having a cheap hydrogen storage solution, we are far from having a cheap hydrogen fuel cell, we are far from having a distribution infrastructure. The four miracles are still there and infrastructure costs a lot, a lot of money.

And you can have fuel cell without any hydrogen. Nat gas is so cheap right now that producing electricity from it with fuel cell is becoming economically viable.

'Fuel cell' is as vague as 'alternative energy' since the context has to be put into perspective to understand what kind of technology is favored.

But the real point about hydrogen car is never really explicitly expressed : hydrogen cars are inefficient. An electric car consumes around 5 to 20 Wh/km but a hydrogen car consumes between 200-300 Wh/km !

It's far less efficient than a ICE and the worst idea we can have right now to move people around.

This is pure physics and Steven Chu knows some things about it.

· Lindsay (not verified) · 2 years ago

"...viable replacement for fossil-fuels in certain applications.”

· · 2 years ago

Hydrogen cars are essentially EV's with hydrogen powered range extenders. Fuel cells are incredibly expensive and don't last very long. Producing and distributing hydrogen is very hard to do.

Why?

Neil

· John Bailo (not verified) · 2 years ago

We went from having an 8 year head start under Bush to falling behind every advanced nation on earth!

Norway is importing PRODUCTION READY fuel cell cars from Hyundai...now. It's happening. They recently completed a journey across Europe...south to north...using EXISTING hydrogen filling stations.

The US blogs are full of anti-hydrogen trolls and misinformation about this or that part not being ready.

It's being used in Europe RIGHT NOW. Asia is building them.

We have been dragged backward, not forward, by the current leadership!

Go Hydrogen!

· · 2 years ago

I think a lot of us gave hydrogen an honest and fair look around 10 years ago, John. It was touted highly in an issue of Scientific American at around that time and that article converted a lot of people, including me. I had a lot of intelligent debates with people thereafter and, ultimately, was swayed in their (opposite) direction.

This web article, which seems to get posted on a fairly regular basis here, is worth reading to get the opposing (anti) view on hydrogen . . .

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-hydrogen-hoax

Please pick it apart in a specific fashion, John. I think you'll get an honest hearing here. But it needs to be a more nuanced point-counterpoint than a simple "Go hydrogen!" mantra. Do you have links documenting all these European and Asian success stories?

I do know that Iceland has had some success with hydrogen, but I think it's largely because their unique geological situation finds them - unique among the rest of the world - where the gas is virtually leaking out of the tundra. Don't know, as I haven't been paying much attention to the Iceland hydrogen thing lately, as lithium battery development - which isn't imaginary at all and very much a world wide phenomenon - has been what most of us have been watching more closely.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Lobbyist for fuel cells says that in a private meeting, someone in government said something vaguely positive about fuel cells.

Is that news? Really? Sounds like unconfirmed biased hearsay.

· · 2 years ago

There are indeed 3 places where I would support hydrogen:

- in a hypersonic scramjet because there is no faster reacting fuel
- in river boats applications to avoid the pollution associated with diesel leaks in the water
- in new safe Ex-D technology blimps for point to point container delivery also over land, mountains, pirate ridden seas, pay toll canals and at a five times faster speed.

But this has nothing to do with cars.

· · 2 years ago

@Priusmaniac,
Hydrogen's low energy density (Wh/liter) makes it a difficult fuel for aircraft. While it's specific energy (Wh/kg) is very good (~3X that of gasoline), it is hard to carry a lot of it because of the space it takes up and the subsequent drag that that space causes in an aircraft. Even liquified H2 (the most one can compress H2) has worse energy density than gasoline or diesel.

· · 2 years ago

I said many time to do a strike on new car buyings till they begin fuelcell hydrogen car commercialisation. Postpone any new car expenditure till they start commercialisation.
They will go bankrupt in 3 months approx,LOL. They just deserve that all of them, toyota, mazda, gm, ford, chrysler, fial, mercedes, audi, aston-martin, ferrari, formula one, nascar, gt lemans racers, subaru, prokonov, tata, honda, bmw, renauld, fiat, citroen, volvo, caterpillar, freightliner, porsche, etc. All these dynosaurus species to the trash can in less then 3 to 4 months. It will clean the air. We can run with used cars for the next 20 years.

· · 2 years ago

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, gorr, "You know the price of everything, but the value of nothing."

· Max Reid (not verified) · 2 years ago

While the EV / Plugin makers are rolling out theirs cars 1 by 1 (Leaf, Volt, Prius PIP, Coda, Miev, Tesla S) and so on, the companies that make Fuel Cell Vehicles like Honda, Toyota, Benz are holding on to the technology, thats why Hydrogen is not moving forward.

Its possible to produce Hydrogen from Nuclear and Solar Thermal Heat/Electricity combined. Hope the automakers will soon launch their Fuel Cell Vehicles.

Even then, those FCEVs will have 20-50 mile battery range with the rest coming from Fuel Cell stack.

· · 2 years ago

@ ex-EV1 driver

I was rather referring to a short duration scramjet use for a space launch instead of a use in a normal aircraft. Back in 2000 I worked on the R-3 SSTM which was using a combination of engines but also an optimized combination of fuels. The flight started on gasoline, then on liquid ethylene and only the last part was on slush hydrogen (a slightly denser form of liquid hydrogen). The vehicle was proposed to Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and later for the SLI and the RLV, but its estimated 15 billion price tag and, after 2001, the foreign origin of the concept became major problems. In the mean time it had showed the gap that was existing between what was possible (reusable Single Stage To Moon) and what the others where proposing (single use Multistage Throw Away Rocket systems). Eventually the Orion was cancelled and the R-3 SSTM didn’t past the concept level and stranded.
In the end, the Shuttles came to an end and Space X got in the vacuum left over by all the cancellations. I still believe it was a mistake off course, especially now with the results shown from the latest scramjets on hydrogen and cracked fuel.

· · 2 years ago

Obama has been pushing electric cars, and ditched all other technologies. Why? Because like just about every other liberal, they want to ration energy to consumers, and it is easier to ration electricity that goes to your house with steeply tiered rate penalties, than ration it when people get their gasoline, hydrogen or other fuel from private suppliers. The very people who claim to be environmentalists (notice I use the word "claim"), are the very people killing electric cars. The public gets reminded every month when they open their electric bill with rates set by big government, that they want nothing to do with plug-in cars.

I've seen it here in my town with water. The politicians pretend to work on behalf of the public, but when a government water supplier jacks up their rates, the politicians rubber stamp the increase, and pass it on to the consumer. Then the politicians claim there is a water shortage, and we all need to save water, so they take our flat rate structure, and turn it into steeply tier rates. Then when the water supplier says "the shortage is over" in their council meeting and "we have years of supplies", they vote to keep the tiered penalty rates anyway. Who wants to risk not being able to drive their car because, on a whim, overnight politicians can make it too expensive?

It's no coincidence that Obama is requiring smart meters nationwide. They are costing jobs, 800 for So Cal Edison (so much for the green jobs initiative). They are a flawed technology, that actually costs more than manually read meters over the long term (it should have gone back to the drawing board). They spew out 400 times more RF than a WiFi router, and there is no data on the long health consequences of this. The goal is simple, to ration electric energy by time of day, and everything else be damned.

What about people with night jobs, who would need to charge their electric car during the day? People don't want these penalties and restrictions on their mobility.

Is it fixable? Yes. Will it? Probably a snowball's chance in h*ll.

· · 2 years ago

It's obvious that the HFCV folks are now exclaiming conspiracy theory in regards to lack of federal funding. What isn't mentioned is that these fuel cells have an amazing short life and are exorbitantly expensive. The hydrogen fuel, likewise, is amazingly difficult to refine (more expense) and very difficult to distribute, handle and dispense. Oh yeah . . . It's also an extremely poor energy carrier.

Why is Toyota, Honda and Mercedes Benz sitting on their fuel cell projects? Maybe it's because they can't get them to work and at a price that would have them make sense.

I don't even know where to begun to start debunking the above "Faux News" anti-Obama tirade, other than to say that many of us don't think he has gone far enough in regards to electric cars and alternative energy. Anything proposed by the Republicans, however, has been so frighteningly retrograde, medieval and hostile to common sense that Obama gets the environmental and alternative energy vote by default.

· · 2 years ago

I said to do a strike on any new car till they start to offer for sale hydrogen fuelcell cars. Actually big oil, goverments and car manufacturers are lauphing at us with stupid bev that i never ordered thru blogging, so don't buy them. Stop buying right now any car that work with gasoline sold by ALL manufacturers. It's me that is doing the buying bids and now is the time of almost free, non-polluting, endless quantity available hydrogen for cars, tractor-trailer trucks, trucks, suvs, airplanes and boats and ships. No pollution forever and forget the brainwash done here and in other blogging sites by paid bloggers from big oil and actual car compagnies. They even invented 2 car compagnies like tesla and fisker-karma to impede new hydrogen fuelcell car compagnies financing and marketing. It is not necessarilly gm, toyota or volkwagen that can begin hydrogen fuelcell car commercialisation. What these car compagnies are doing are researchs on hydrogen to make patents on it to impede any ones to use it thereafter. They are not interrested to begin commercialising that breakthru but they are very interrested to receive subsidies to make patents and impede any new compagnies to use it. So actual car manufacturers are just puppets from big oil and they just proteck petrol trading for eternity for thier boss , big dirty oil.
Actually they are eating canadian bioshere in alberta, the oil sands and that is plainly useless except that their is no hydrogen cars and truck so we still need that polluting mud called oil sands. Every drivers are unfortunatelly guilty of consuming petrol except if like me they are ordering hydrogen. STOP immediatelly any new car and suv buying and let go gm, ford, toyota, etc, immediatelly forever and just drive used car and truck for the next 20 years if necessary. Go to toyota and gm dealerships and ask for hydrogen fuelcell, if they don't have some then say that you will come later if ever they start selling them.

· · 2 years ago

But where are you going to get the hydrogen from, gorr? It takes more energy (oil, etc.) to produce hydrogen than you get back from it in energy. That's the most fundamental flaw in the whole Hydrogen Economy scenario. All who have come to the defense of hydrogen on this thread in recent days have conveniently sidestepped that one.

I actually agree with you in regards to the folly of pillaging the Canadian tar sands for oil and the idea that driving an existing car - even if it's an ICE - for it's fullest life span is more efficient than buying new cars every few years. But you completely lose me with the extraordinary claim that Tesla and Fisker were somehow "invented" by Big Oil to distract us. Have you stopped to consider who, exactly, is promoting hydrogen? It is very much a creature of the big oil companies themselves.

Conspiracy theories and politics aside, let's please start - you or anyone in the pro-hydrogen camp - by telling us how we are going to refine hydrogen on an industrial scale, transport it and store it. Before we even get to the subject of fuel cells in cars, you need to get past this one first . . . and it's a big one.

· · 2 years ago

Well, I'm sold (or should I say resold) yet, but I did find these recent hydrogen auto articles interesting . . .

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/03/hydrogen/?utm_source=Contextly&utm_...

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2012/05/hydrogen-powered-hyundai-crosses-eu...

· · 2 years ago

Typo in above post: NOT resold yet, but found articles interesting.

· · 2 years ago

More info.

http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1076181_mercedes-benz-has-two-hydroge...

Mercedes is going to be leasing their F-Cell. See video ride along.

http://cleantechnica.com/2012/05/12/driving-a-hydrogen-fuel-cell-mercede...

From Mercedes website, "Lease a B-Class F-Cell vehicle

Be one of the first to lease a B-Class F-Cell vehicle - the first Zero Emission Mercedes-Benz available. A limited number of these vehicles are available for customers in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. "

Lease will be $849 per month, but it does include all fuel, maintenance, and collision insurance. They plan to SELL them by 2015.

Range: 240 miles
Refueling time: 3 minutes

When they get these in NY, this would be a good car for Tom Moloughney since he puts on 50,000 miles a year and all the fuel and maintenance is included. :-)

Honda's concept fuel cell car to go into production next year.

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/auto-news/hondas-hydrogen-f...

· · 2 years ago

This is all very interesting, Michael. One of the great surprises I found from reading all these links was that the range issue seems to be solved. I know that hydrogen cars of a decade ago or less were averaging around 80 miles between refills.

The concerns I have about the production of the hydrogen gas, though, are still with me. Hydrogen is intrinsically tied to non-renewable resources, such as natural gas. While this is plentiful, it also involves hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - to extract from the Earth's interior. This is a very water and energy intensive process with serious ecological concerns that haven't been completely addressed.

Hydrogen doesn't travel well in pipelines and has to be trucked, while under pressure or in frozen, liquefied form . . . more energy expended just to get it to the places it will be needed. That's a big one.

That said, I'm impressed with the concept of Honda's solar-powered micro roadside electrolysis refinery and filling station . . .

http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/autopia/2011/03/honda-solar-hydrogen-s...

. . . but it remains to be seen if such a system works under real world circumstances.

Critics of EVs contend that they're basically coal powered cars, because they're tied to the existing grid. The good news, through - as every EV supporter will remind - is that the grid is completely capable of getting much cleaner, thanks to renewable sources. This, of course, decentralizes the production of energy, which empowers the homeowner with PV panels on the rooftop, an EV being charged in the car port and a backwards-running meter.

Cost is another big issue. People complain about government funding of reinventing the grid or establishing a Level 3 EV charging infrastructure. But establishing a comprehensive hydrogen auto one is going to be magnitudes more expensive.

It's further along than I had thought, but it's still got a very long way to go.

· · 2 years ago

@Michael,
I can run an EV off of gasoline just as well as I can off of electricity from the grid. All it takes is a simple Gasoline generator. I can also use natural gas to run a generator. I don't do these except in emergencies but, should the rates go too crazy, I can.
What I really do to get past the draconian tiered or Time-Of-Use rates is to generate my own electricity using solar PV. These are a whole lot easier to maintain and cheaper to fuel than a generator. Solar energy generation conveniently peaks at about the same time as Time-Of-Use rates peak!
EVs actually can give you independence.
I do agree with you that no good will come from Smart Meters though. They're just a poorly thought-out idea that will waste $billions.
I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to believe your statement about smart meters putting out 400 times as much RF as a WiFi router though. As a wireless communications systems engineer, I'm going to take a lot of convincing.

· · 2 years ago

@Benjamin Nead,

While the articles you linked to are interesting, there is information in there which supports your original conviction - that generating hydrogen for HFCVs is wildly inefficient.

From the first link:
"Honda, meanwhile, is exploring home fueling. The Solar Hydrogen Station uses a 6-kilowatt solar array to power an electrolyzer. It produces 0.5 kilograms of hydrogen in eight hours, enough to go 30 miles."

6kW of solar to generate 30 miles in 8 hours of sun? Holy cow! 8 hours of sunlight in LA will produce over 20kWh from a 6kWh array. That's enough to charge a Leaf from 0-100%, and it will travel twice as far on that charge. I will bet the farm that Honda's own Fit EV will travel farther than 30 miles on 20kWh. Hydrogen can be generated through a number of means (natural gas, electrolysis, etc), but no matter the source, we have yet to find one that's more efficient that using the original energy source directly.

· · 2 years ago

I didn't think the numbers added up on that mini PV electrolysis rig, Brian, but I was waiting for someone who's less math challenged than I to run the figures and confirm my suspicions. Yup . . . as Owl in Winnie the Pooh would say, "On a scale of one to ten, it's not good."

:-)

I provided links here on the latest hydrogen car news simply for all of us to see if something substantial was possibly brewing. Some who posted earlier on this thread were declaring that blogs like this one are populated only by those not willing to hear from the other side. So, it was worth seeing what's been going on and I'm glad that Michael added a couple more links to join mine. I don't think any of us here want to be declared ignorant of what else is going on out there in the pursuit of a zero pollution vehicle.

The one thing I learned from all of this was that the range issue of the auto fuel cells looks to be the only real triumph that can be touted by hydrogen advocates in recent years. Little else - if anything - has changed.

Hydrogen production, delivery and storage issues, as well as exorbitant vehicle and fueling infrastructure costs, all remain at the core of the problem. If Hydrogen is to be mostly produced from natural gas, then why go through all the extra steps, energy and expense to turn it into hydrogen? Natural gas has it's fair share of extraction issues (fracking) and isn't a clean panacea in it's own right. At the end of the day, we're back to batteries and making incremental improvements on that technology.

I'm really surprised that Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are all confident enough to declare they're going to have production hydrogen vehicles with real world price tags for sale in showrooms by 2015. I'll be storing those links in a browser "favorites" folder titled "check back in three years" and comparing the current internet headlines against them then. I only wish I had done this back in 2008, when so many auto manufacturers (excluding Nissan, Mitsubishi or Tesla) were promising pure EVs in the showrooms by 2011 and have yet to deliver.

I think hydrogen advocates have their heart in the right place (ie: desiring a pollution-free vehicle) but are going about it in a rather extravagant and roundabout way. Yes, hydrogen is the fuel of the future - and, I'm afraid, always will be!

· · 2 years ago

Now don't get me wrong. I am not an EV purist. There are other ways, possibly better ways, to acheive the same goals. One of my personal favorite concepts is new urbanism - better use of land so as to reduce the miles we travel in the first place. This model of suburban sprawl and hours of commuting is unsustainable at best. At worst, it's slowly killing our planet. But if you think that EVs require sacrifice and large entities of power (e.g. government) engaged in social planning...forget new urbanism. People don't want to be told how to live (myself included), and EVs allow us to keep our mobility and freedoms we enjoy...at least until we just can't anymore...

As for fuel cells, I used to be a believer. Now I am more realistic. There is a better way to extract far more energy from hydrogen, by the way. If you fuse two hydrogen atoms, you get one helium atom and a whole lot of energy. Now all we need is a small miracle to get that to happen at a reasonable temperature and under our control....

· AlanDee (not verified) · 2 years ago

Here's the deal with hydrogen - for it to work, it needs to be home based - hydrogen needs to be produced using solar power. The current plugins using ICE's are not the way of the future. A combination of electric-hydrogen hybrid is where we should be heading. If i could have an electric car, that used an extended range hydrogen engine - and I don't care if its a turbine, hydrogen ICE or fuel cell. Expecting batteries to do all the work is expecting too much. We need convergence, not division and divergence.

BTW, the Honda Clarity is a hydrogen-electric hybrid - has battery and fuel cell power - its just not a practical design.

· · 2 years ago

@AlanDee,
Maybe you didn't understand or read Brian Schwerdt's explanation of the reality.
A 6 kW solar array ($30K at $5/Watt) will get you 60 miles with a Fit EV but only 30 miles with a FCEV.
Do you really want to only be able to go half as far with your solar investment?

· · 2 years ago

@ Benjamin,

No need to worry about be solely dependent on reforming natural gas. There are already fueling stations producing hydrogen through electrolysis from electricity generated from solar and wind.

http://cafcp.org/site-electrolysis

Hydrogen can also be produced from biogas,

http://cafcp.org/biogas

Press release on Hyundai Tucson ix fuel cell vehicle with a range of 403 miles!

http://www.hyundaiusa.com/about-hyundai/news/Corporate_Tucson_ix_FCEV_Re...

· · 2 years ago

Thanks for these links, Michael. I find it all very interesting but, as Brian and ex-EV1 pointed out yesterday, the whole question of how to best to utilize solar PV is brought into question here. A given sized PV panel array charging present generation batteries is capable propelling an EV more efficiently than if that same solar array was used to perform electrolysis on water to produce hydrogen.

I'm also glad that work is being done to sequester agricultural and landfill methane. But, here again, the extra steps involved in converting it to hydrogen calls in to question if this is the most efficient way to utilize this recycled energy source.

There are fuel cells, after all, that run directly off of methane gas . . .

http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/business/article/FuelCell-converts-metha...

. . . but I think most of these - solid oxide variety, if I'm not mistaken - are rather large and give off a fair amount of heat, making them impractical for on board auto use, alas. I think the highly touted Bloom Energy Box is solid oxide fuel cell that occupies the same sized space that one would associate with a small refrigerator.

Note the above linked one utilizes chicken poop. With three yard birds here, I'm certainly in a position to be able to donate some fuel. Nice to have those fresh eggs every day but, yeah, those chicken droppings are murder!

· AlanDee (not verified) · 2 years ago

ex-EV1-driver, I fully understand Brian's comments, and I think you miss my point.

So lets say I had a hydrogen station at home that could get me 300+miles, even if it meant I could get the equivalent of 600 miles on batteries - there is no way my car could carry that much.

So, what I am saying, is that I can live with that inefficiency/loss if my hydrogen production was free and came from renewable sources.

So my ideal car would be an ev-hybrid, which got me 30-60 miles on a charge, and a further 300 miles on hydrogen. I'm thinking a Fisker Karma, or Volt with a hydrogen engine to backup the batteries for extended range. (I'd even go for natural gas if I had to)

I do not see the two technologies as mutually exclusive.

· · 2 years ago

Benjamin,

I think it is a bit premature for people to declare battery charging more efficient that H2 electrolysis based on Honda's prototypes. We've had battery propelled cars in use for over a century, and fuel cell cars are just now about to be released to the public. If you look at the Hyundai link, you will see that they increased the gasoline equivalent mileage from 63 to 72 mpg in just one development generation! They are just starting.

Even if electrolysis did end up being less efficient than battery charging, the tradeoff will may well be worth it, in terms of being able to go 400+ miles on a fillup, and being able to fill up in a few minutes at a station. I don't think it will end up being that far apart.

Honda, and I am sure, others, are continuing to refine hydrogen production. They have already figured out how to eliminate the compressor. Their second generator electrolyzer is 25% more efficient, and smaller.

http://www.gizmag.com/honda-solar-hydrogen-fuel-cell-refueller-electric-...

· · 2 years ago

@AlanDee,
I agree with your suggestion about a dual-fuel hybrid. I don't, however, think that Hydrogen is necessarily the right backup fuel and I'm very sure that a Fuel Cell isn't the solution. I've worked with Fuel Cells a little in the past and can assure you that, compared with an Internal Combustion Engine, they are hopelessly complicated and expensive to maintain. Platinum membranes are quite expensive and Carbon ones need a lot of maintenance.
I would recommend using a simple ICE, probably a diesel as the backup. I would then lean toward using petro-diesel or bio-diesel as the backup fuel source. Perhaps, if more efficient than just growing plants, some-day a synthetic liquid fuel could be developed binding Carbon with electrolyzed hydrogen as a synthetic diesel fuel.
One could conceivably fuel your ICE from a gaseous fuel such as Hydrogen or Natural Gas but I suspect that liquid fuels will be a lot easier in the near term and probably the long term.
I disagree with your statement that " there is no way my car could carry [600 miles of batteries] . Tesla's Model S carries 300 miles of batteries and could easily carry twice as much if there were a reason to do so. I don't see a need to do so, however, since a person can't sit in a car for 600 miles (8 hours at 75 mph) without stopping for a while to deal with some biological requirements. The trick there would be to be able to recharge the car in the same timeframe. The amount of times that this really is needed or done is quite small. I have done some long drives in the past but think that for a lot less money, I'll be happy to spend 45 minutes charging every 4 hours as you'll be able to do with Tesla's Model S. Battery-swapping would be another alternative that is a lot cheaper than Hydrogen.

· · 2 years ago

@ex-EV1, Remember the Tesla Model S is rated at 300 miles at a steady 55 mph, not 75 mph. Based on their pricing structure, extending the 55 mph range from 300 to 600 miles would cost a whopping $40,000, nearly the price of another base Model S.

· · 2 years ago

@ex-EV1, How long ago did you work on fuel cells? Things have changed considerably over just the past one to two years. In a study done by the Alameda Contra-Costa Transit District, their latest 3rd generation fuel cell buses were MORE reliable than the diesel control sample, with a higher percentage of availability (84.4% vs. 77%), and higher miles between roadside calls.

http://www.ballard.com/files/PDF/Bus/Webinar_Presenation_May_17.pdf

· · 2 years ago

@Michael,
Agreed. I did say ". . . if there were a reason to do so . . .". I suspect it could still be cheaper than an FCHEV with similar range and performance but still unnecessary extra cost.

· · 2 years ago

The hydrogen infrastructure (fuel/vehicles) is currently very expensive, but it stands to reason that the price will come down in time. There are a lot of technical issues with hydrogen proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) that need to be addressed (durability, etc.) but, obviously, there's a lot of people working on it and progress is being made. Range has been greatly improved in recent years and this was a big surprise to me.

If the so-called Hydrogen Highway was allowed to unfold as originally envisioned a decade or so ago, I would have been concerned with a high reliance on needed wholesale natural gas extraction (fracking) and resulting distribution problems (inherent technical difficulty in moving this particular gas through pipelines and trucking it). Solar PV electrolysis gives me some optimism that there is another way to get hydrogen cleanly, in realistic quantities and at physical locations where one would want to refuel the vehicles.

Now, before anyone breaks out the smelling salts for all those people fainting in the aisles, please note that I'm still very much in the pure battery electric vehicle camp and, given my specific driving needs and long term economic outlook, a BEV will be the perfect choice for me when it's time for the next car. I think it is for a great many people, in fact. That said, I'm going to be paying a bit more attention to hydrogen - especially on-site PV electrolysis technology - than I have in recent years.

Those looking for long range vehicles today are currently well served by PHEVs, such as the Volt. I wish the ICE component on the vehicles was diesel (making biodiesel a realistic option,) but at least we have them.

In the future, though, the idea of fuel cells being paired with batteries doesn't seem all that outlandish. The output of a fuel cell is electricity, as is the output of a battery. Both a pure FCV and a pure BEV require an electric motor to make the wheels move. A FCHEV, unlike current gasoline electric hybrids, wouldn't require a a complex mechanical transmission to mesh two power plants together. As AlanDee said yesterday, the two technologies shouldn't be thought of as mutually exclusive.

· · 2 years ago

An ICE driving a generator has about the same or better efficiency as a fuel cell.
The best use of the PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) in the fuel cell is actually as an electrolyzer splitting the H2 (Hydrogen) from the O2 (Oxygen) in H2O (Water) to get H2 that can be a fuel in either a fuel cell or an ICE.
This electrolyzing process is about 50%, meaning that about 50% of the supply energy is lost due to the heat from the energy added to the split the H2O molecules. This inefficiency is pretty much basic thermodynamics.
Some of that heat may be recoverable but that gets expensive. I've looked into coupling a PV powered home hydrogen generator that used the waste energy from the hydrogen generation as a home water pre-heater or for home heating. It turns out it is a whole lot cheaper to simply take the lost heat from the PV (PhotoVoltaic) array (using Sundrum http://www.sundrumsolar.com/ for example) to generate that heat from the waste from the PV array. Even that, however, ends up being quite expensive.
I can easily run my battery EV from my PV without any of the additional steps necessary to make hydrogen generation sufficiently efficient to make my PV array work.

· · 2 years ago

@ex-EV!, "This electrolyzing process is about 50%, meaning that about 50% of the supply energy is lost due to the heat from the energy added to the split the H2O molecules. This inefficiency is pretty much basic thermodynamics."

Are you stating that electrolysis has a theoretical thermodynamic limit of 50% efficiency, and, if so, what thermodynamic law does that come under?

· · 2 years ago

@Michael,
H20 + deltaH = H2 + O2 That deltaH is energy that must be introduced and it is wasteful. It can be adjusted by adjusting the pressures and temperatures on both sides of the membrane but, since the catalyst in the membrane isn't perfect, there will be losses.
I'm not smart but I know a lot of smart folks who could explain it better. Here are a few references that may help:
http://www.princeton.edu/~humcomp/sophlab/ther_58.htm
policy.rutgers.edu/ceeep/hydrogen/.../ThermodynamicsFuelCells.pdf
and the source of all truth in the world ,-)
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell

· H2future (not verified) · 2 years ago

The infrastructure and cars are here now... Check out All Energy Scotland, Hyundai and ITM Power have sorted the ultimate clean fuel made from renewables refuelling FCEVs that are production ready. The electrolysis is v efficient 70% and utilises surplus wind generated electricity, that otherwise causes spikes on the grid which is a problem... The electrolyser providing demand side services. Hydrogen for energy storage enables energy storage for long periods of time because one separates power from energy. Energy storage enables more renewables to be deployed on the grid, fully utilising the asset, to make a clean fuel commodity as well as electricity. Decarbonising energy, transport and providing fuel security and clean air.

http://www.2020climategroup.org.uk/transportation/all-energy-2012/

· H2future (not verified) · 2 years ago

http://www.2020climategroup.org.uk/transportation/all-energy-2012/

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