Fuel cells get the dynamite treatment

Honda FCX

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From the University of Southern California  a parallel for Alfred Nobel’s design of a stable substrate for dynamite (which at the time used unstable nitro-glycerin). This solves the collision problem for automobile mounted fuel cells.

Breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cells

USC chemists develop way to safely store, extract hydrogen

A team of USC scientists has developed a robust, efficient method of using hydrogen as a fuel source.

Hydrogen makes a great fuel because of it can easily be converted to electricity in a fuel cell and because it is carbon free. The downside of hydrogen is that, because it is a gas, it can only be stored in high pressure or cryogenic tanks.

In a vehicle with a tank full of hydrogen, “if you got into a wreck, you’d have a problem,” said Travis Williams, assistant professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College.

A possible solution is to store hydrogen in a safe chemical form. Earlier this year, Williams and his team figured out a way to release hydrogen from an innocuous chemical material — a nitrogen-boron complex, ammonia borane — that can be stored as a stable solid.

Now the team has developed a catalyst system that releases enough hydrogen from its storage in ammonia borane to make it usable as a fuel source. Moreover, the system is air-stable and re-usable, unlike other systems for hydrogen storage on boron and metal hydrides.

The research was published this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Ours is the first game in town for reusable, air stabile ammonia borane dehydrogenation,” Williams said, adding that the USC Stevens Institute is in the process of patenting the system.

The system is sufficiently lightweight and efficient to have potential fuel applications ranging from motor-driven cycles to small aircraft, he said.

###

The research was funded by the Hydrocarbon Research Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

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112 thoughts on “Fuel cells get the dynamite treatment

  1. We still need to know what the energy storage density is (by both mass and volume), and how that compares to gasoline or diesel fuel. How does the cost of this storage and the fuel cells compare to battery storage?

    Then there is the issue of the method of producing the H2 gas to be stored. How do the economics of hydrolysis using electricity for this system compare to battery electric on a per-kWh basis? Or reformation of natural gas versus CNG engine cars?

  2. Thank God they will not need any electricity to produce that hydrogen. Hydrogen for nothing and your watts are free I guess. We will have a surplus of generation facilities when the EPA forces 8% (wsj figure) of our fleet offline because they can’t put the mandated scrubbers in place fast enough.

  3. Fuel cost? Didn’t see how much a block of ammonia borane goes for nowadays.

    I’ll be interested to see if this gets beyond the test tube stage.

  4. “Hydrogen makes a great fuel because of it can easily be converted to electricity in a fuel cell and because it is carbon free.”

    Is it?

    Most hydrogen is manufactured from natural gas (CH4 + H2O → CO + 3 H2).
    The ammonia used to create the salt is manufactured from hydrogen from the above reaction.
    The diborane used to create the salt is also manufactured using hydrogen from the above reaction (reaction between hydrogen and liquid sodium).

    Not so carbon free me think!

  5. The entire scheme is similar to how a Belgians replace a light bulb in a lamp.
    First they place a round table right under the lamp.
    One Belgian climbs on the table and holds the lamp.
    Four other Belgians turn the table.
    Do you get the picture?

    Next scheme…

  6. They need to heat the salt in order for the hydrogen to evolve. The efficiency of the system will certainly go down.

  7. We could also have hydrogen bound with carbon at the molecular level, for example:
    C8H18
    This compound would then react with O2 from the atmosphere, and the end result from combustion would be harmless CO2 and H2O.

    According to my calculations, this compound would be liquid at all human-safe temperature ranges, and thus it could be easily stored at fuel stations and in small tanks contained in the vehicle. Since it’s liquid, added safety for transport could be obtained by filling a sturdy metal container with a “foamed rubber” insert that would prevent all of the liquid from spilling out in the event of a tank rupture.

    Actually, think about it: safe, economical Hydrogen power, the holy grail of alternative fuel inventors. The magic key formula is C8H18, although in practical use it may be more advantageous to mix anywhere from C4-C12 with varying numbers of H atoms. Since it’s liquid, various other compounds could be blended in to alter the behavior of this liquid fuel to better suit warmer or colder conditions.

    I should patent this.

  8. I have a great idea, let’s burn petrolium. We have lots more of that than ammonia borane and all you need to do is distill and filter it!

  9. Had we not had a half dozen ‘breakthoughs’ in hydrogen storage already, this could be interesting. Issues of density, cost, life cycle, etc. still remain. Ivory tower scientists rarely look at the real world.

    Nuclear reactors can produce hydrogen, as the Japanese learned the hard way, but I don’t suppose we’ll have many of them in the future. Cheap hydrogen? Sure, like cheap ethanol, with massive taxpayer subsidy.

    As even the AGW fanatics at Popular Science noted a few isues back, there still is nothing that can compete with good old liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel on a practical basis.

  10. Of course isolating Hydrogen releases CO2 — using current technology. But if you believe that CO2 is a problem — and many people do rightly or wrongly — it is a lot easier to sequester CO2 from a fixed source than from an auto, boat, or aircraft engine. The waste product of hydrogen based power is water. And surely there is some possibility of making hydrogen with solar, fussion, fusion or geothermal power. Heck, maybe large numbers of windmills will be economically viable if they drive a hydrogen plant. (Wouldn’t be my bet, but it’s not impossible).

  11. At best, hydrogen as a fuel source is only a storage battery. The electricity required to get it from water by electrolysis still has to be produced by conventional means. Such as coal, natural gas, petroleum, or nuclear. So, unless someone can figure out a clean way to produce hydrogen that doesn’t use more energy to make it than you can get back by burning it as fuel, there is no net gain for the environment.

  12. Whatever happened to Billings’ technology for his hydrogen powered cars? As I recall it was something similar, using stable hydrogen pellets. That was years ago – late 70’s early 80’s?

  13. So someone explain to me how hydrogen is so much more dangerous that a gas tank full of gasoline or a CNG car’s tank full of methane?? I don’t get this solution to a non-problem. In a collision, all of these fuels need to be released from their tank, they need oxygen in the proper ratio (somewhere between the UEL and the LEL) and they need an ignition source. If those conditions are met, they are all extremely dangerous.

  14. Looks like a nice technolgy advance. However, it doesn’t make much difference for CO2. The bulk of H2 now is produced by steam reforming of natural gas, which, by my estimate (assuming natural gas is mostly methane) results in about 5.5 ton of CO2 for every ton of hydrogen from the reaction alone, which, if you believe Wiki, would amount to at least 600 million tons CO2 in 2004 alone. However, the first step of the reaction, which produces CO and H2 is strongly endothermic while the final stage conversion of CO to CO2 is only weakly exothermic. It’s my understanding that the required energy usually comes from the combustion of natural gas, which results in still more CO2.

    However, this may be a sensible way to use wind power. Generate hydrogen from wind power by hydrolysis. Accumulate it and use it to generate electricity from fuel cells during peak hours or during periods of calm winds. Not sure what efficiencies can be achieved now with hydrolysis.

  15. The ultimate source of hydrogen is from hydrolysis. The oceans, lakes, and groundwater are the reusable and inexaustible natural supply. The energy source to split the water is geothermal, solar, wind, and even off-peak nuclear power among many others. Not only will this give us all the energy we need in a convenient form, but we’ll get the water as the combustion product.

    Hydrogen serves as a convenient energy storage material that allows for the continued use of internal combustion technology. Even natural gas power plants could use hydrogen or even a methane-hydrogen mixture with very little modification.

    We need to quit burning coal, natural gas, and petroleum for a varieity of reasons–the most important of which is the need for this natural resource for making stuff.

    Hydrogen as a fuel, once safely storable, is an important fuel for our future that would allow for the continued use of internal combustion engines while fuel cell and batter technology continues to develop.

  16. The advantage of a gas vs. liquid in an accident is, the gas will explode ONCE. A liquid will not only combust, but while burning will soak into things like a car seat, tires, any permeable surface which prolongs the danger of a burning gas.
    I think most people would take an explosion which knocks them silly over the chance of burning to death…

  17. So someone explain to me how hydrogen is so much more dangerous that a gas tank full of gasoline or a CNG car’s tank full of methane??

    Hydrogen gas is immensely more explosive than methane when used in cars.

    It is a much smaller molecule is most of the reason. It has to be stored at much higher pressure as a result,and disperses much more quickly anyway. So in a crash will expand very quickly, providing a highly explosive mix of H2 and O2.

    Hydrogen even provides quite a satisfying explosion in a test-tube, whereas bunsen burners show how unexplosive methane is, burning with quite a steady flame (H2 would burn too fast to do this).

    Hydrogen itself may be carbon free. But all of the sources for hydrogen are not.

    Hydrogen is a fairly simply produced from electrolysis of water, so any produced from nuclear or hydroelectric is totally carbon free.

    Industry produces it from hydrocarbons for a variety of reasons — cheapness of the material (which is often the surplus to fuel production), ability to produce on site an amount that would be highly dangerous to store (think zeppelin explosions) and the need to produce it hot. The situation is quite different.

    It would be mental to use petrol to produce H2 when we could just burn the petrol in the first place. I think the scientists have thought this through just a little bit.

  18. Say we could fill up on cheap environmentally friendly H2. Why bother with the fuel cell? Why not use the tried and true internal combustion engine?

  19. Jason Joice M.D. says: “So someone explain to me how hydrogen is so much more dangerous that a gas tank full of gasoline or a CNG car’s tank full of methane??”
    When gasoline or methane burn, you can see the flame. When hydrogen burns, you cannot see the flame.
    Gasoline and methane are fairly large molecules, and thus are relatively easy to contain. Hydrogen is very very small, and difficult to contain. It is possible that a tank to contain hydrogen would have to be very thick-walled (in comparison to a gasoline tank) just to slow down the leak rate.

  20. Doc Stephens says:
    August 30, 2011 at 2:46 pm
    “We need to quit burning coal, natural gas, and petroleum for a varieity of reasons–the most important of which is the need for this natural resource for making stuff.”

    The peak oilers and greens also constantly say this but that doesn’t make it true. When you have enough energy but you ran out of hydrocarbons for “making stuff”, you can very easily expend some plant oil for “making stuff” or just synthesize hydrocarbons from scratch.

  21. Scott Covert says:
    August 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm
    I have a great idea, let’s burn petrolium. We have lots more of that than ammonia borane and all you need to do is distill and filter it!

    Can’t do it. The green cult believes in peak oil and to prove it’s real they are doing everything they can to make it happen. No drilling, no refining, no pipelines.

    Viola! Peak Oil is here.

    Kasuha says:
    August 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm
    Will it be cheaper than oil?

    No, because we won’t be allowed to drill for oil, refine it, make it from coal, or anything except food stock.

  22. IEEE invited paper (2006) “Does a Hydrogen Economy Make Sense”

    The Myth of the Hydrogen Economy
    “But there is one basic flaw which will never be overcome. Free hydrogen is not an energy source; it is rather an energy carrier. Free hydrogen does not exist on this planet, so to derive free hydrogen we must break the hydrogen bond in molecules. Basic chemistry tells us that it requires more energy to break a hydrogen bond than to form one. This is due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and there is no getting around it. We are working on catalysts which will help to lower the energy necessary to generate free hydrogen, but there will always be an energy loss, and the catalysts themselves will become terribly expensive if manufactured on a scale to match current transportation energy requirements.”

  23. Cary says:
    August 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm
    “Whatever happened to Billings’ technology for his hydrogen powered cars? As I recall it was something similar, using stable hydrogen pellets.”

    Very often, these technologies that try to store H2 within some other solid or liquid stuff run into practical problems because they can’t release as much H2 as is needed at any given moment. Driving a car requires changing amounts of fuel all the time; or at least at critical moments; how would you control the amount of H2 you set free via the catalyst? That’s what the researchers and inventors are silent about.

  24. Jason Joice M.D. says:
    August 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm
    So someone explain to me how hydrogen is so much more dangerous that a gas tank full of gasoline or a CNG car’s tank full of methane?? I don’t get this solution to a non-problem. In a collision, all of these fuels need to be released from their tank, they need oxygen in the proper ratio (somewhere between the UEL and the LEL) and they need an ignition source. If those conditions are met, they are all extremely dangerous.

    The difference is that CNG and gasoline when released do not convert immediately and completely to the vapor or gaseous phase. Gasoline in particular has a vapor density about 4 times that of air, so it isn’t easy to get a well-mixed volume with an open pool. In fact, if you drop a lighted match onto an unconfined pool of gasoline it will usually go out. A tank of hydrogen is going to be at about 6,000 psi to get any decent energy density. Assuming it doesn’t become a rocket in the accident, if it’s breached you’re going to have a well mixed volume looking for an ignition source right from the get-go. As for LEL and UEL, gasoline is 1.4%-7.6%, H2 is 4%-75%.

  25. A company called Cella Energy were in the news in the UK earlier this year talking about something similar. I believe their system works by heating ammonia-borane hydride beads to release the hydrogen.

    A link to a news article: UK researchers invent ‘artificial petrol’ costing 19p per litre

    “UK researchers are developing a synthetic petrol that could cost as little as 19p per litre. The future fuel, developed by Cella Energy in Didcot, ditches hydrocarbons for the cleaner, more abundant element hydrogen.

    It could be a fabulously efficient source of energy — hydrogen has a much higher amount of potential energy than petrol in any given weight. It’s notoriously difficult to deal with, however, as it has an unhelpful tendency to explode once it’s mixed with oxygen. Cella says it’s found a solution that will allow motorists to pour a hydrogen-based fuel directly into a car’s standard fuel tank without risk of a Hindenburg-style meltdown at the pumps.

    The company plans to store the hydrogen, in the form of ammonia-borane hydride, safely inside nanobeads with a porous polymer coating. The nanobeads — think of them as tiny M&Ms with hydrogen nuts inside — protect the volatile chemical from the elements, but their minuscule size and composition mean they behave as a fluid, so they can be transported in much the same way as petrol.”

  26. >> Mooloo says:
    August 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Hydrogen even provides quite a satisfying explosion in a test-tube, whereas bunsen burners show how unexplosive methane is, burning with quite a steady flame (H2 would burn too fast to do this). <<

    A bunsen burner doesn't explode because it has a constant limited flow. You can take a test tube and add water and metallic calcium and get a nice steady flame when you light it.

  27. @LarryD
    Agreed. However with all these useless windfarms, rather than supplying electricity to the grid, maybe we could get them to produce hydrogen from electrolysis of water when the wind is blowing.

  28. Doc Stephens says:
    August 30, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Yes ideed!
    Get real, hydroogen is the best possibility we have as an energy bearer once hydrocarbons runs out.
    It can easily be produced by those “pesky” unreliable solar panels and (vertical) windmills wherever (salty) water is present (oceans..), stored as compressed gas, and transported directly to your car or home where you turn it back to electricity you can use, via fuel cells (reverse electrolysis).
    As to the danger of this highly explovsive gas, remember that hydrogen gas, once released into the atmosphere will rise at a rate of more than 30 mph, making any explovsive heat at ground level very shortlived, as opposed to a ruptured gasoline fuel tank spilling it’s guts on the ground around your car igniting…
    Yes, i know prodcution of hydrogen through electrolysis today is costing more energy than you will get back, it still will be a good way to store the unreliable energy we can get out of solar, wind and tidal powerplants. Much better than having a coal plant on standby, anyway.
    And no, i seriously don’t believe in the co2 hype!! I’m more concerned about what happens when we run out of fuel… ;)

  29. >> Mark Wilson says:
    August 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm
    Hydrogen itself may be carbon free. But all of the sources for hydrogen are not. <<

    What's the problem? We just need to move everyone to Jupiter. CO2-haters first.

  30. Back when Den Beste was still blogging I did some research into hydorgen and hydrogen cars and the one thing that I remember from that is the HEAT that combusting hydrogen put out. Used in stationary applications like hosptials or apartment complexes, that heat could be recovered and used for water heating; but the heat coming from cars? Talk about a urban heat island effect.

  31. one of the things about hydrogen explosions is that they are very fast.

    another is that a great deal of water is liberated with a great deal of heat. this comes off as steam and thats the explosive element.

    the dirty little secret is that the steam touches the walls of the container and then recondenses very rapidly.

    this push pull can cause a lot of damage.

    if it happens in an internal combustion engine then the cylinder walls are already hot enough to stop the condensing feature and the steam goes out of the exhaust.

    then you have the problems of the hydrogen wanting to combine with the lube oil, the material that the o rings are made of (seals)………

    the same thing as when the state of california forced a change in the formula for diesel fuel for on highway vehicles. lots of expensive engines rolling to a stop before the first tank full was used.

    C

  32. Liquid or gaseous hydrogen is not safe. Hydrogen has a very wide flamability range, this means the fuel to air mixture can be very rich or very lean and still cause Fuel-Air-Explosion weapon type shock waves. Someone mentioned the preferability of a bang over burning to death. Burning to death must be horrible but the kinds of explosions possible with hydrogen gas are a bit more devastating. One of those hydrogen busses in London could have a catastrophic failure of their fuel tank and literally kill hundreds of drivers in adjacent lanes and buildings. Now think about the possibility of a chain reaction on the L.A. freeway if everyone was running hydrogen. Look at the explosions at Fukushima, that scale of blast could be produced by one full fuel tank with a stress fracture.
    Hydrogen in a carrier like this above would make it much safer but the carrier needs to be able to liberate hydrogen rapidly when accelerating. If it can’t, there will be a lot of smashed smart car tailgates on the freeway onramps.

  33. Hydrogen fuel cells have a lot of barriers to overcome, but have much greater potential as an energy source than chemical batteries.

  34. Since CO2 is a non-problem, it is amusing to see the contortions done to try to make H2 work in vehicles.

    H2 is a delightful tool for silver soldering, just a little dabbing to take away the residual water condensation.

    I think Tom_R (3:28pm) has the right idea. We’ll let them pilot the scoopships which dive into the atmosphere to capture the H2 we need back here on Earth. Gee, after it’s compressed, we just throw it downhill to Earth in the Sun’s gravity well. o_O <- loved Anthony's "mindblown" smiley.

  35. for Alfred Nobel’s design of a stable substrate for dynamite (which at the time used unstable nitro-glycerin). This solves the collision problem for automobile mounted fuel cells.
    ———-
    Confused explanation. Dynamite was the product of stabilizing nitroglycerin, which had been previously used as a liquid, on an kieselguhr substrate.

  36. Look, hydrogen itself is only a heat storage & transport medium. Its practical use depends on two things:

    – a safe and effective storage system
    – a cheap and abundant energy supply

    Petroleum can supply H2 during transition and as a backup, but H2 must ultimately be obtained from electrolysis of H2O, in order to claim a hydrogen powered world. Hence the requirement for cheap (efficiency is irrelevant) electrical power. Whether this electrical energy comes from fission, fusion (cold or hot), wind, hydro, solar, is irrelevant, provided it’s delivered cost is comparable to fossil fuel.

    This would effectively mean our transport industry and cars would be powered by the grid, even though they still have fuel tanks. So whatever powers your grid, powers your vehicles.

    This all is a peak oil issue, as carbon reduction should not be the motivation behind the switch. GK

  37. I think some folks need to study up on the whole “conservation of energy” thing. Sure, you can generate hydrogen using electrolysis powered by windmills or solar panels, but not on a scale to use as a replacement for gasoline. You have to put more energy into the process than you get back in hydrogen.

    Looking at a few quick numbers, there are around 2.5 kW of energy in a US gallon of gasoline. The US used about 126,773,388,000 gallons of gas in 2009 (quick internet search). The entire US power generation system comes up a few orders of magnitude shy of replacing our annual gasoline usage. The clean-energy-for-hydrogen thing falls apart quickly when you figure out how little power generation capacity we have to spare for running electrolysis machines.

  38. Jason Joice M.D.
    So someone explain to me how hydrogen is so much more dangerous that a gas tank full of gasoline or a CNG car’s tank full of methane?? I don’t get this solution to a non-problem. In a collision, all of these fuels need to be released from their tank, they need oxygen in the proper ratio (somewhere between the UEL and the LEL) and they need an ignition source. If those conditions are met, they are all extremely dangerous.

    I’m not sure anyone can, It’s probably one of those things that Everybody knows but no one ever checked after all the Hindenberg that was painted with what was basically thermite had Hydrogen inside it! Personally I’d expect that diatomic hydrogen is so buoyant in the atmosphere that even burning it poses much less of a hazard than expected. Maybe we should get Adam and Jamie on the case.

  39. $1000 bet anyone? Well, no way to consumate it. But if I could, I’d do it.

    Pure poppycock. Love these SCIENCE types. NOT ENGINEERS I assure you. No mention of power density. Sound the BUZZER. You lose. Unlikely to match gasoline. Go back to “Go” and DO NOT collect $1000.

    Max

  40. What are the stack rebuild costs and intervals?

    These questions will haunt the fuel cell industry until they finally (some day), after 40 years, come up with something that dosen’t last half as long or cost 5x what a normal engine costs.

    One also has to look at how they respond long term to running in polluted cities, where some cell designs that need outside air, typically unfiltered, which contains contaminants, can come in and poison their stacks.

    Drive by a dump or wastewater plant?

    Then it gets worse as the precious metal based catalysts tarnish/poison, requiring a costly rebuild.

  41. Jason Joice M.D. says:
    August 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    > So someone explain to me how hydrogen is so much more dangerous that a gas tank full of gasoline or a CNG car’s tank full of methane??

    On just the hydrogen vs methane question. First, instead of just cars, note this applies to natural gas as used in domestic and industrial settings. (Natural gas is 90% methane.)

    According to the MSDS for H2 at http://www.airgas.com/documents/pdf/001026.pdf , Hydrogen self-ignites at temperatures from 399.85 to 573.75°C (751.7 to 1064.8°F), and flammable within the limits of 4% to 75%.

    According to the MSDS for natural gas at http://www.airgas.com/documents/pdf/001033.pdf , methan self ignites at 539.85°C (1003.7°F), and flammable within the limits of 5% to 15%.

    http://ccinfoweb.ccohs.ca/help/msds/msdstermse.html says :

    EXPLOSIVE LIMITS
    Explosive limits specify the concentration range of a material in air which will burn or explode in the presence of an ignition source (spark or flame). Explosive limits may also be called flammable limits or explosion limits.

    The lower explosive limit (LEL), or lower flammable limit (LFL), is the lowest concentration of gas or vapour which will burn or explode if ignited. The upper explosive limit (UEL), or upper flammable limit (UFL), is the highest concentration of gas or vapour which will burn or explode if ignited. From the LEL to the UEL, the mixture is explosive. Below the LEL, the mixture is too lean to burn. Above the UEL, the mixture is too rich to burn. However, concentrations above the UEL are still very dangerous because, if the concentration is lowered (for example, by introducing fresh air), it will enter the explosive range.

    In reality, explosive limits for a material vary since they depend on many factors such as air temperature. Therefore, the values given on an MSDS are approximate.

    The explosive limits are usually given as the percent by volume of the material in the air. One percent by volume is 10,000 ppm. For example, gasoline has a LEL of 1.4% and a UEL of 7.6%. This means that gasoline vapours at concentrations of 1.4% to 7.6% (14,000 to 76,000 ppm) are flammable or explosive.

    So, hydrogen can ignite at lower temperatures than methane and can explode at lower concentrations – or much higher – than methane. Guess that’s why it’s so easy to collect enough hydrogen in a container to explode it.

    Do not, do not, do not treat hydrogen as a substitute for natural gas, it’s much more dangerous.

  42. Jim Bob said:
    “Looking at a few quick numbers, there are around 2.5 kW of energy in a US gallon of gasoline.”

    A kW is a unit of power, not energy. The energy unit is KW-Hr, and there are about 40 of these in a gallon of gasoline (without ethanol)

  43. JimBob says:
    August 30, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Looking at a few quick numbers, there are around 2.5 kW of energy in a US gallon of gasoline.

    kW is power – like what a car puts out while cruising a some speed, or energy/second. You probably want kWh, and Wikipedia says gasoline has 36.6 kWh/US gal. The three place accuracy is pushing things, but close enough for Wikipedia and us.

    Then you need to compare electrolysis efficiency and fuel cell efficiency and compare that to a car engine’s efficiency. I think the killer may be the electrolysis efficiency because otherwise people would us wind turbines to generate hydrogen.

    They could pump the H2 into a pipeline – no need for fancy power controls – and the pipeline can go to tanks – easy storage. That’s not happening, I assume because the energy budget does work out well.

  44. I remember watch a TV show (long ago) where they took a hydrogen tank and a gasoline tank and fired a rile shot at each. The gasoline gave a big explosion, the hydrogen burned like a propane torch as it came out of the hole. Of course the show was about hydrogen possibly replacing gasoline, so maybe the experiment was staged to make their point. This was long before cAGW became a cause-celebre.

    There are a lot of problems with hydrogen, one only briefly mentioned is that cities might get awfully humid with all of the water vapor released into the air, but I don’t think hydrogen is any more explosive than gasoline, or any other high-energy-density electrical or chemical storage mechanism.

  45. Codetech says- “We could also have hydrogen bound with carbon at the molecular level, for example:
    C8H18”

    :-)
    C8H18 is a great solution for storing hydrogen, and when disassembled, additional energy is released from breaking the C-C bonds. Its time to pitch this to some green-tech VC firms for seed funding.

    I made a bumper sticker for my Ford Explorer with a picture of the blue Earth, and a dinosaur grazing under a tree. There are molecular formulas for the main constituents of gasoline sprinkled faintly in the background.
    It says-
    “THIS VEHICLE RUNS ON HYDROGEN-loaded nanorods”

  46. It’s a myth that CNG (or as we call it LNG) is as dangerous as petrol in an accident.

    Here in Perth, Western Australia, the majority of vehicles on the road are LNG powered. Every service station has one or more LNG self service pumps.

    While petrol vehicle and service station fires are a regular occurence, I can only recall one LNG vehicle fire, and that was someone who had done the conversion himself at home.

    LNG is generally only a problem if it vents into an enclose space which almost never happens with a vehicle accident.

    Otherwise, interesting study by the Western Australian government comparing diesel, LNG/CNG and fuel cell vehicles.

    Bottom line is that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles require twice as much energy as diesel vehicles.

    CNG/LNG vehicles require 40% more energy than diesel, but LNG is locally produced here and much cheaper than diesel fuel.

    http://www.transport.wa.gov.au/ACT_P_alt_LCAreport.pdf

  47. Tom_R says:
    August 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    > I remember watch a TV show (long ago) where they took a hydrogen tank and a gasoline tank and fired a rile shot at each. The gasoline gave a big explosion, the hydrogen burned like a propane torch as it came out of the hole. Of course the show was about hydrogen possibly replacing gasoline, so maybe the experiment was staged to make their point. This was long before cAGW became a cause-celebre.

    This sounds like the Billings demonstration I mentioned earlier. The reason the tank didn’t explode was because he was using hydrogen pellets and not straight hydrogen.

  48. And, don’t forget all the methane that leaks into the atmosphere from fracking the natural gas out of the ground, with which to make the H2. And, don’t forget the peer reviewed studies which have the AGW footprint of natural gas higher than that of coal as a result of this methane leakage.

  49. As I recall from basic high school chemistry, the thing that makes hydrogen such a great fuel (the amount of energy released when it reacts with something) is exactly the same as what makes it a lousy (inefficient) fuel. Hydrogen rarely exists by itself. In order to get plain hydrogen, you have to overcome the strength of the molecular bond it has with whatever it has combined with. That requires expending power. If your intention is to get hydrogen out of water, then burn it “cleanly,” producing water, then you have a zero-sum system (assuming you are actually able to capture all of the released energy, which is unlikely). You might as well just use the power you used to seperate the hydrogen for your end purpose instead. The most efficient method would be solar-powered electrolysis, but then you don’t have that power available for something else. To make matters worse, in order to get the hydrogen out of ammonia-borane, you have to heat it, reducing the efficiency even further.

  50. “So, unless someone can figure out a clean way to produce hydrogen”

    Truck it in from the sun.

  51. The so called greening of our economy is the biggest hoax in human history pushed by useless wind and solar power and thousands of technological and scientific breakthroughs that fail to materialize
    The sad part of the story besides the fact that these projects burn incredible amounts of public money and hike energy bills is the fact that the masses think a Green economy is realistic and good for the environment. We know the opposite is the case.

    Here is the latest breakthrough:
    Frustrated scientists turn to panda poop in search of biofuels…
    http://denver.cbslocal.com/2011/08/30/panda-poop-could-by-key-to-producing-biofuels/

  52. Last I heard, crashes were not any problem, given the way the fuel tanks would rupture in any collision. Do these blokes know about that? Storing hydrogen as a solid, however, could be very
    useful, as shipping hydrogen is a real pain. But I wonder how the energy densities work out?

  53. Yes, H2 is for storage of energy. Duh, it takes energy to make H2. And it takes more energy to make it that it stores. Duh again. If you want an alternative fuel, or battery, H2 is a good choice, but obviously, you need to produce it from an energy source where you have abundance and an ability to produce H2 cheaper than petroleum. Think nuclear energy.

    1 kg of H2 is the equivalent of 1 gal of gasoline. But 1 kg of H2 takes up 4 gal volume. However, you save in the mass you must move. The good news is the other half of your battery is the O2 in the air, available everywhere. Forget pressurized H2 at RT.

    Think of a complete production and delivery system. You make H2 from wastewater using nuclear energy. Liquify. Deliver LH2 through a pipe. In this pipe, you also have a wire. LH2 at 20K is able to make Al a near superconductor. So now you can deliver not only LH2, but also e- with far less loss than high tension wires (10 to 30% loss depending on distance and other factors). When the LH2 is used in a fuel cell, it might be possible to collect the H2O produced in a reaction with O2. When the LH2 needs to be replaced, the H2O can be collected and fed to a domestic water supply. The water is used and treated wastewater goes back to the top.

    The water recycling part is obviously optional, since the water cycle works very effectively (rain). However using treated wastewater as a source of H2 is a good idea since discharging wastewater is getting more difficult. It would be nice to make a product out of something that is currently a problem.

    H2 will not take off until it becomes economical compared to petroleum. For now, NG is a better choice. The last price for H2 I heard was $8 / kg, so unless gasoline gets above $8 / gal, H2 will not be a viable alternative. I guess the other way to go is make production of H2 cheaper. Nuclear energy might make that possible.

    Note electric cars are also a stupid choice now compared to gasoline. Especially if you are worried about CO2 (the CO2 is emitted at the power plant, and energy conversion losses at every step amplify the CO2 released per mile driven). Only nuclear power supplying energy to electric cars makes any sense at all. Renewables cannot deliver the energy needed to replace gasoline. They don’t scale well at all.

    Also, consider ethanol contains only about 2/3 the energy per gallon compared to gasoline. And corn ethanol uses more petroleum to make than it replaces.

  54. At some point we are going to grow up and realize carbon is not our enemy. The carbon-hydrogen bond is the marker of life – it is everywhere. Look in a book on Biochemistry. The main elements are C,H,O,N. – but certainly not all.

  55. It sounds like this technology is aimed at increasing storage capacity and safety of hydrogen. Boron structures can have a precise geometry, and there may be some other atoms in the ligands to modify the structure to be better for hydride containment. .

    Related work has been done on metal-organic structures which have carefully controlled atomic structures. They can be used for storage, catalysis and many other applications. One example was a system that increased natural gas storage in a tank by 4X, extending the range of trucks and buses to double that of gasoline/ethanol blends. It is likely that a Nobel prize will be awarded to the inventor of the metal/organic hybrids. They are very versatile and can use the metal atomic structure to attach to the organics to create cages. By changing electric field, pH or other chemistry, the cages can be opened or closed. The cages can have strong or weak interactions with captured materials, and precisely-controlled geometry keeps the materials inside the structure until the “switch:” is operated.

    I have no idea about the practicality of the technology here. Much of this work will take some time to come to fruition.

    Those who are interested could read into ZIFs and MOFFs and go from there.

  56. PBS ran a documentary on alternate fuels for cars. they featured a hydrogen powered Mercedes Benz. It was shown going along the road dribbling that H2O it produces on the pavement. Hello, does it ever get below 0C in the German winters? So we’ll have to have a catch tank and haul it around. But how will we get rid of the stuff. Surely some Green zealot group will convince the media that it contains TOXINS!
    And, I’ve been told that compressed hydrogen is vigorously reactive with most metals. Reading to learn what I was doing when I was modifying cars introduced me to the term: hydrogen embrittlement. I wonder if those problems are inexpensively addressed?
    And the key question on electric cars is: How many miles to the pound of coal?

  57. While it is true that “Hydrogen makes a great fuel because of it can easily be converted to electricity in a fuel cell and because it is carbon free.” The suggestion that being carbon free is advantageous is misleading. The effluent from a hydrogen fuel cell is water vapor. When this water vapor condenses it releases specific heat which will cause the atmosphere to warm for one cycle. In this regard, using hydrogen has the same impact on the atmosphere as the water vapor that is released when fossil fuels are burned and when water from fossil (no or slow recharge) aquifers is produced. Specific heat is released when the water vapor condenses to liquid water and the kinetic energy is converted to potential energy.

    Although the new water vapor is not persistent in nature, continuous release causes continuous warming of the atmosphere and the entire amount of new water introduced into the atmosphere causes the sea level to rise.

    JFD

  58. Re: CodeTech C8H18.

    Very well stated, CodeTech. If Octane didn’t naturally exist, we’d have to invent it.

    Your piece reminds me of an essay in 1973’s “A Random Walk in Science” called:
    On the feasibility of coal-driven power stations by O. R. FRISCH

    Here is a URL that reprints it.
    http://www.theclimatescam.se/2010/10/20/kolkraft-en-mojlig-energikalla/ Enjoy!

    I particulary love these peices: from the year MMMMCMLV

    The power potentialities depend on the fact that coal can be readily oxidized, with the production of a high temperature and an energy of about 0.0000001 megawattday per gramme. This is, of course, very little, but large amounts of coal (perhaps millions of tons) appear to be available. The chief advantage is that the critical amount is very much smaller for coal than for any fissile material. ….. Fission plants become, as is well known, uneconomical below 50 megawatts, and a coal driven plant may be competitive for isolated communities with small power requirements.

    Design. of a coal reactor. The main problem is to achieve free, yet controlled, access of oxygen to the fuel elements. The kinetics of the coal-oxygen reaction are much more complicated than fission kinetics, and not yet completely understood. A differential equation which approximates the behavior of the reaction has been set up, but its solution is possible only in the simplest cases.

  59. JimBob says:
    August 30, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    I think some folks need to study up on the whole “conservation of energy” thing. Sure, you can generate hydrogen using electrolysis powered by windmills or solar panels, but not on a scale to use as a replacement for gasoline. You have to put more energy into the process than you get back in hydrogen.

    Looking at a few quick numbers, there are around 2.5 kW of energy in a US gallon of gasoline. The US used about 126,773,388,000 gallons of gas in 2009 (quick internet search). The entire US power generation system comes up a few orders of magnitude shy of replacing our annual gasoline usage. The clean-energy-for-hydrogen thing falls apart quickly when you figure out how little power generation capacity we have to spare for running electrolysis machines

    I think you, and a few others, miss the point.

    As a example: We could build small nuclear reactors to fit in large cars… OR we can build a reactor, to split H2O into H2 and O2, and fuel our cars with nuclear powered H2. The cost of uranium/thorium is insignificant, efficiencies, while desirable, not so important .

    Another example: We can build small coal fired boiler, to fit in a large car… OR we can build a coal fueled boiler to split H2O into H2 to fuel our cars with coal powered H2. The fact that this is inefficient is immaterial as we are now driving our vehicles on coal. When oil peaks coal energy may also have to power transport.

    As I said, these alternatives are valid, only as solutions to peak oil, if and when it arrives. Rising oil prices will make nuclear powered H2 viable. Economics will ensure, just in time, hydrogen replacement of transport fuels. And yes, it will necessitate, the construction of yet another magnitude of power stations. They may not employ present technology, nor look like anything, we are familiar with today. After all, we are talking about the future! GK

  60. There are large, sun-drenched, chunks of Australia that we don’t use because they are still radioactive from the bomb tests. We can set up enormous solar power plants there. (We’ll get Aborigines to do the actual work on site because they don’t mind radioactivity.) Use that electricity to desalinate sea-water and then crack it into hydrogen and oxygen. Sell the hydrogen as fuel, and sell the oxygen to hospitals nursing Aborigines dying from radiation.

    Everyone wins!

  61. I store my hydrogen in liquid form.
    Its called Petrol, gasoline for the benefit of my American friends.
    Using a small electric charge, I convert it to a low temperature plasma, resulting in small amount of plant food being created.

    Its awesome. I agree, the future is Hydrogen, bound to a complex chain of Carbon atoms.

  62. Using hydrogen in a fuel cell or combustion engine will put more water in the atmosphere. It was said some time ago that hydrogen gas was a planet cooling gas. Fuel cells systems leak hydrogen more than you think. Put those two together and we could precipitate the next ice age faster than nature will.

  63. Fitzy says:
    August 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    I store my hydrogen in liquid form.
    Its called Petrol, gasoline for the benefit of my American friends.

    Just in case you haven’t noticed, petrol is getting more expensive everyday and we haven’t seen peak oil yet. Once H production from nukes out prices petro, you may want to avoid petro lineups and breeze through the H pumps. When we see peak oil… that is.

    Mind you, if we wreck the world economy in the meantime, oil demand will disappear (nobody has money). Oil prices tank and welcome to a new, improved world depression. Forget hydrogen then. All bets are off, then! GK

  64. Let me get this straight. Burning gasoline in our cars releases a greenhouse gas, CO2, which is causing global warming. That’s bad, so the solution is to use hydrogen cells that will emit a greenhouse gas, water vapor, which will cause global warming. And that is somehow better????
    Someone needs to explain to me what I am missing.

  65. A bunsen burner doesn’t explode because it has a constant limited flow. You can take a test tube and add water and metallic calcium and get a nice steady flame when you light it.

    Actually a series of continuous explosions, that visually manifest as a flame because the H2 is produced at a more or less steady rate.

    Hydrogen gas is very explosive. It’s one reason it is virtually never burnt as a fuel. That includes in fuel cells.

    The hydrogen in a fuel cell is combined with oxygen in a non-explosive way. It is not exploded in the same way as petrol in a cylinder at all. It’s much more like a battery in fact. A couple of people commenting above about the difficulty with O-rings and catalytic converters have clearly failed to understand this. You should really look up what a fuel cell actually is first before entering this discussion.

    (As for the person suggesting burning H2 will cause sea level rise – I have to assume you are a troll. Where to you think the H2 comes from in the first place, if not the sea?)

    If the storage issues are resolved then H2 has a huge future. For example wind power is currently useless much of the time because the electricity arrives at the wrong time and in the wrong places. If windmills are used to make H2 then those issues go away: the electricity grid can be reliable sources, and unreliable alternative sources can be used when they appear to generate fuel.

    Big “if” there about storage being solved, but any resolution of that will leave H2 well placed. We have the fuel cell technology ready to go and the engines that will drive them.

  66. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and San Mateo County Transit District (California) Fuel Cell Transit Buses: Evaluation Results

    3 fuel-cell buses: $10.6 Million (compared to 5 diesel buses)
    24 inches taller, 6,800 lbs heavier than diesel version bus from Gillig.
    Result: 38 fewer passengers capacity (all standees)

    3 new facilities: bus wash, maintenance and hydrogen dispensing station.
    Cost $4.4 Million

    Hydrogen losses (compressed hydrogen):
    If the station utilization is not high enough to overcome the liquid hydrogen storage tank boil-off rate, the tank will vent this hydrogen. The size of the station caused the loss of approximately 50% of the hydrogen fuel during this demonstration. Air Products reports that if the station throughput had been greater, the hydrogen losses would have been significantly reduced.
    CUTE reported losses of 5% to 10% at best without the boil-off problem. Petroleum products generally have losses closer to 1% to 2%.

    Fuel economy: 12% lower than diesel on an energy equivalent basis (not counting boil-off)

    Maintenance costs: $3.55/mi vs $0.54/mi for diesel (does not include ca. $540,000 in warranty parts only for fuel cell buses)
    15 fuel cell row replacements during project duration (17 mos.) = 42% (blockage/contamination issues – repairable)
    Hydrogen purity requirements are very high, difficult to achieve (CUTE)

    Propulsion costs: $2.37/mi vs. $0.20/mi for diesel

    Roadcall: problem that required towing, replacement or otherwise causes significant delay in service.

    Meant Time Between Roadcalls (MBRC): 898 mi total/918 mi propulsion vs. 8,189 mi total/10,838 mi propulsion for diesel

    Range (distance between fill-ups): 140 mi. vs. 400 mi. for diesel

    Summary

    Challenges
    The main challenges for this fuel cell bus demonstration at VTA were extremely high capital and operating costs, a need for standardized hydrogen building codes, hydrogen fuel cost, and reliability of the fuel cell buses.

    Operating Costs
    $6.46/mi vs. $1.06/mi for diesel

    Fuel Economy
    12% lower than diesel (not counting 50% hydrogen losses due primarily to venting) (CUTE: 5% to 10% losses)

    Reliability (Diesel)
    12 hrs/day, 7 days/wk, 4,000 mi/mo., 85% up time, 8,000 mi. between roadcalls

    Reliability (Fuel Cell)
    8 hrs/day, 5 days/wk, 800 mi/mo., 58% up time, 900 mi. between roadcalls

    Safety (?)
    Fuel Capacity per bus (CUTE): 250 kg compressed hydrogen gas
    Amount estimated to blow up 50 m tall reactor building at Fukushima: on the order of 500kg uncompressed hydrogen gas

  67. mr.artday:
    hydrogen embrittlement is a condition that exists when certain steel alloys (those containing manganese and aluminum as i remember) are allowed to retain free hydrogen in their structure. when this condition exists if a strain is imposed on the metal part the hydrogen migrates to the nearest stress concentration point (usually a sharp internal corner) and makes the metal brittle. if the strain exceeds the tensile strength of the metal in that area a brittle failure will occour. (the damn thing breaks with a clear sweet “plink”.)
    hydrogen embrittlement can be avoided by stress relieving the part when it is completed, changing the design to avoid sharp internal corners or changing the alloy used for manufacture.

    there is a condition called “nitrogen embrittlement” which i believe is about the same but that came along after i took metalurgy so i don’t know about it.

    C

  68. Hydrogen production is energy demanding and costly. It is very dangerous to handle and there is no foolproof way to fill your hydrogen fuel tank in the car. There may not have yet been an acident but it will happen to some young woman with kids in the car guaranteed.

    Gasoline is also 2+ times as energy efficient as hydrogen so you are able to drive much further on a tank full.

    It does not matter about the CO2 so why use H2.

  69. Phil: At 10% leakage, then we destroy the ozone. I think 10% is low number, BTW. We have 10-20% losses in N2, and Hydrogen is harder to keep.

    Replacing all auto fuel, and assuming a 10% leakage at surface, H2 will cause global COOLING, by tripling stratospheric moisture, plus destroy the ozone by hydroxyl chemistry.

    http://pr.caltech.edu/media/Press_Releases/PR12405.html

    Personally, I like CodeTech’s hydrogen storage of C8H18. “Hydrogen loaded nano-rods” is cool too.

  70. @Philip Bradley says:
    August 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    CNG is compressed methane. LNG is liquid methane. LPG is liquid propane.

    LPG is used in some Australian cars – CNG and LNG aren’t. Only about 650,000 Australia cars (~5%) use LPG.

  71. There’s still the basic limitation of hydrogen’s lower specific energy (energy per mass) compared to hydrocarbon fuels. It still takes more hydrogen (by weight) than gasoline to move a vehicle a given distance at a given speed. And as a pilot and aircraft owner, I always think about the dead weight of the storage system itself. Aluminum or fiberglass tanks and neoprene hoses are hard to beat.

  72. “Scientists from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have determined that an inexpensive semiconductor material can be “tweaked” to generate hydrogen from water using sunlight. … When an alloy formed by a 2 percent substitution of antimony (Sb) in gallium nitride (GaN) is immersed in water and exposed to sunlight, the chemical bond between the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water is broken. The hydrogen can then be collected.”

    From: http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-08-alloy-hydrogen-fuel-sunlight.html

  73. 4 step solution to higher gas prices: buy more oil company stock, collect more dividends, thank people you see refueling their vehicles, enjoy a pint on them.

  74. Hydrogen is the most problematic of all transportation fuels and, of course, without nuclear energy it makes no sense at all. If we had enough nuclear energy to make all that clean energy for transportation we’d be better off just putting it in batteries. From what I understand it is currently not feasable to transport hydrogen either by rail, truck or pipeline and the gas would need to be produced at the point if sale.
    The discovery is nice, but only one of many hurdles that need to be cleared.

  75. Hyrogen isn’t a fuel, it’s an energy transfer medium. Because hydrogen has to be extracted from other molecules, like methane, it will return considerably less energy burning the hydrogen than just using the methane. Thus the ERoEI is negative, a net energy loss. So begs the question, why do it?

  76. Charles Dolci says:
    August 30, 2011 at 10:21 pm
    Let me get this straight. Burning gasoline in our cars releases a greenhouse gas, CO2, which is causing global warming. That’s bad, so the solution is to use hydrogen cells that will emit a greenhouse gas, water vapor, which will cause global warming. And that is somehow better????
    Someone needs to explain to me what I am missing.

    ——-

    The degree of sensitivity of the climate to increased CO2 is unmeasurably small. That’s what you are missing, and you visit this site??????

  77. “… A possible solution is to store hydrogen in a safe chemical form.”

    Would storing hydrogen in a safe form like water not be more economical? then all they would have to do is separate the hydrogen in the engine, there is technology that already does this efficiently, I suppose they’re just making the process more complex to monopolize an energy source that would be sold to the consumer, they cant do that with water without heavily regulating and taxing it.

  78. The problem with Hydrogen is the amount of energy needed to harvest hydrogen. Obviously hydrogen is abundant in water, but we need electricity to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen… so we are still stuck with where that electricity comes from.

    The laws of thermodynamics rule out using hydrogen fuel cells to harvest hydrogen.

  79. LarryD (https://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/08/30/fuel-cells-get-the-dynamite-treatment/#comment-732466) and several others have highlighted the central problem: hydrogen is not an energy source.

    Here’s a simple test for this hydrogen proposal and any other: Use the energy generated from the hydrogen to power the whole process, beginning with the initial creation of the hydrogen. If the complete cycle delivers excess usable energy economically, then and only then are you in business.

    PS. I recently wrote to a university being scammed by a “perpetual energy” merchant, urging them to test the complete cycle before committing funds. I don’t think they even understood what I was saying, and they were a university. Does the education system still teach anything useful?

  80. One danger of Hydrogen, which has not been mentioned, is that it can autoignite when leaked from a pressurized reservoir. Don’t know what kind of pressures are involved in the Ammonia Borane storage medium, so this might not be an issue with vehicles using this system. However, storage, transportation and distribution of H2 would almost certainly require that the gas be highly compressed and/or liquified, and in these circumstances the danger of autoignition from a leak is definitely present.

    Although the dangers of H2 explosions and fires are often overstated, the very wide limits of flammability and the possibility of ignition without an outside source mean that there are some real hazards that must be dealt with.

  81. Some great answers above re: dangers of hydrogen. I don’t believe that anyone mentioned that hydrogen is odorless and tasteless and invisible like natural gas. Unfortunately, it cannot be odorized because of its high storage pressure and one really doesn’t want to expose fuel cells anyway to sulfur compounds, for example mercaptans, or sulfides.

    In any case, here is an experment that one can do at least once if you do it in the right order. Pour diesel into a beaker and ignite it with a Bic lighter. You might get something like a candle flame if it does indeed ignite. Next do the same with a beaker of gasoline. The immediate ignition might burn the hairs off your hand and arm but then it will burn wildly, but still not too dangerous.

    Open a lecture bottle of hydogen into a beaker and light it, most likely you will be killed unless you were able to close the valve. Of course if the tank had ruptured, closing it is not possible.

  82. Mike Jonas says (August 31, 2011 at 9:34 am): “LarryD and several others have highlighted the central problem: hydrogen is not an energy source.”

    Right, it’s a way of storing energy. Big deal. So are fossil fuels (nature’s way of storing sunlight that fell on the Earth millions of years ago) and so is uranium (nature’s way of storing the energy of a supernova billions of years ago). The question here is cost. For example, in the future when fossil fuel becomes prohibitively expensive and the world goes nuclear, will it be cheaper to produce hydrogen (at a net energy loss) to fuel vehicles, or will it be cheaper to produce electricity (at a net energy loss) to power vehicles?

  83. @Gary Hladik Driving in Boston traffic, I would rather have a battery get broken than a container of CNG or H2. They love to travel at 70+ mph 1 car length back around here.

  84. So . . . we’re gonna need about a billion trillion solar panels and wind turbines to generate the electricity we’re gonna need to generate the hydrogen to fuel the cars. OR, we could use hydrocarbons to produce H2.

    Hmmm . . . what problem was it we were trying to solve again?

    ‘I plugged my power strip into the extension cord, and then I plugged the extension cord into my power strip, but my computer still won’t run.’

  85. the problem is defined by history. if hydrogen is such a piece of cake why haven’t we been using it for decades.

    there are a number of applications for liquid \gasseous fuels. most of them are stationary. and those use the easiest to handle fuels. fuels that are semi fluid or fluid. among them are powdered coal, oil and natural gas. this is mainly due to ease of transportation from a remote source.
    then we have the transportation industry. i won’t talk about air transport as it is really out of this league.

    in the transportation world you really need to store the fuel easily and safely. this is in actuality a relative statement. steam locomotives burned coal and because coal can burn on the ground in the middle of a rainstorm they had a tendancy to put the coal bunkers in more remote locations, like a mile or so from the local town center. then some of them shifted over to heavy oils and they applied the same safety features.

    since then the railroads have tried the various gasses LNG, Propane…… this has been over the last 60 years. for various reasons they just don’t seem to catch on. they hooked one of the biggest steam locomotives in the world up to a propane tank car and found that 18,000 gal of propane could not fuel the loco with a reasonable train 100 miles.

    time marches on.

    another railroad tried running contemporary diesel locomotives on natural gas. yes they put another 18,000 gallon tank between the two of them and gave it a try. they found that natural gas has a tendancy to burn the tops out of pistons and in the process yields only about 75% of the horsepower that the same locomotive does as a common ordinary diesel……….

    so you say whats the big deal, well locomotives for serious work now cost about 1.8-2 MILLION dollars each so giving away 25% of the power in a given batch means that you have to buy quite a few more to get the same desired result.

    there have been an awful lot of very intelligent people trying for a very long time to fine a better way of fueling vehicles, there is no holy grail. those who claim to have found it are simply trying to raise capital for continued research or fraud.

    in the real world of engineering the greatest innovations in the art yield only 1-3% advances. anything over that is snake oil.

    C

  86. As I write this, my computer says there have been 102 responses to the article. Most saying what a bad idea it is to use gaseous hydrogen as a transporation fuel. Which is exactly why the researchers at USC are looking at other ways of on-board storage of hydrogen.

    First though, why fuel cells rather than diesels? A diesel’s theoretical thermal efficiency is around 38 percent; a fuel cell’s thermal efficiency could be as high as 60 percent.

    It seems from some comments that not everyone understood that this is an on-board process. The vehicle has a tank of ammonia borane (H3NBH3). According to a Wikipedia article, ammonia borane is a solid, and is generally produced by reacting diborane (B2H6) with ammonia. Just guessing here, but the ammonia borane is probably in a liquid slurry. The ammonia borane undergoes some catalyst assisted reaction which liberates the H2, to be used in the fuel cell. Again, just guessing, but remaining compounds in the slurry are probably dumped to an on board “spent fuel” tank for recycling.

    The real question of course is: could it EVER be a cost effiective competitor to petroleum fuel?

  87. “If the storage issues are resolved then H2 has a huge future. For example wind power is currently useless much of the time because the electricity arrives at the wrong time and in the wrong places. If windmills are used to make H2 then those issues go away: the electricity grid can be reliable sources, and unreliable alternative sources can be used when they appear to generate fuel.”

    Putting two bad ideas together will rarely generate a good one.

    As one who has worked on numerous large commercial hydrogen plants used in the energy and fertilizer business, it is difficult to comprehend the rational of expecting that it will ever be practical to supply the energy needed to power very many automobiles with hydrogen. As with most of the alternative fuel initiatives we are just wasting taxpayers $$ and fooling the citizens into believing that the Government is replacing fossil transportation fuels.

    One needs to remember that every time you convert one form of energy to another there is a loss that occurs as heat. It will take a major breakthrough to replace the energy supplied by fossil fuels and the government is fooling around with trivial concepts rather than fundamental research.. .

  88. Hydrogen is fascinating to me so I appreciate the article, but I think we can mostly agree that we are many years from making it mainstream, affordable, and safe. I am a commuter that found CNG car conversion kits as a very viable and quite simple solution. Not only is it a very clean burning fuel, but the kits are very affordable and I save about 65% off my old gasoline bill. I leanred a lot about the facts from http://www.skycng.com. They dont sell anything, they just have good infor about government regulations and real life bi-fuel conversion stories.

  89. Code tech,,,
    No shirt, why you could take a little (light weight plastic) sealed container of that motion lotion and store it safely for many months in a cool place with no special equipment, and then when you needed some useful work done you could design some highly advanced machine that would use your material to cut grass, generate electricity or provide some form of personnel conveyance that would move you to different location at speeds of 88 to 120 feet per second, maybe more. Is that your phone ringing, ??? It might the Nobel committee !

  90. @old engineer says on August 31, 2011 at 7:52 pm:

    A diesel’s theoretical thermal efficiency is around 38 percent; a fuel cell’s thermal efficiency could be as high as 60 percent.

    The large diesel engines made by Wartsila have thermal efficiencies that can exceed 50%. Smaller engines for land transportation, obviously have a ways to go as you point out, but the potential for further improvement with diesel is there.

    Fuel Cells have some practical problems in these studies that significantly reduce the achievable thermal efficiency. Principally, fuel cells cannot “idle”, like an ICE, so the excess power generated has to be “dumped.”

    Power dump is the minimum FC (Fuel Cell) electric power associated with minimum FC current, resulting in the FC having always a minimum hydrogen consumption. This feature is associated to FC life expectancy.

    (Ref. page 5)

    Thus, the thermal efficiency is greatly reduced and the buses end up having poorer fuel economy than equivalent diesel-powered buses. This may be solvable with a fuel cell hybrid design, but that would significantly increase both the weight and capital costs even more when compared to diesel buses. Please see the Sankey diagram on page 25 of the CUTE Technical Findings.

  91. Carbon can be blended into hydrogen (coal gas or some other carbon gas) to improve H2 performance. Please don’t reply with petrol and diesel do it better. As a peak oil contingency (when oil cannot be delivered to market quick enough to meet demand), we no longer have options. Yes, I know there is lots of oil left, however it is extravagant “positive thinking”, to conclude flow rates will always be sufficient. With oil sand production ramping up, shale coming on stream, I can’t foresee peak oil soon. Still, there IS China and India…

    Keep in mind, that H2+C mix does not require any significant modifications to our present engines (fuel cells are not a requirement). This makes it an excellent transition fuel (if we have safe storage). We just need to know when. GK

  92. aaaay josh:

    have you ever seen a battery explosion blow the hood off of a ford sedan in a grocery store parking lot?

    just a 180 amp hour car battery.

    illuminating.

    C

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