Are fuel cells environmentally friendly? Not always!

Fuel crucial for life cycle assessment

From the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)

fuel_cell_still[1]

Image from fueleconomy.gov

Fuel cells are regarded as the technology of the future for both cars and household heating systems. As a result, they have a key role to play in the switch to renewable energies. But are fuel cells always more environmentally friendly? An international team of scientists headed by Empa performed a series of calculations and reached a conclusion: it depends on the fuel.

In the future, we might be driving fuel-cell cars that burn solar-generated hydrogen. This would make the “zero emissions car” a reality. At the same time, small combined heat and power units – also based on fuel cell technology – could be placed in our cellars at home. They convert natural gas and biogas into electricity while generating heat as an added “bonus” to warm the building.

Although this is technically possible, does it also make sense for the environment? Empa researcher Dominic Notter teamed up with colleagues from Greece and Brazil to analyze the life cycle assessments for the use of fuel cells: From their production, throughout their entire service life, all the way to their eventual recycling.

How the electricity is generated the key

The result was conclusive: Fuel cells for cars are only ecologically sound if they are able to run on hydrogen from renewable energy sources. It doesn’t make any sense to draw electricity from the European power grid, use it to produce hydrogen via hydro-electrolysis and fuel cars with it; the CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity would be far too high using this method. At present, industrial hydrogen is predominantly obtained directly from natural gas. However, the fuel cell does not really have any environmental advantages with this kind of fuel, either. A car with a combustion engine currently has the edge: The production of conventional cars is less harmful for the environment.

Nor does the fuel cell stand a chance in the eco-comparison with electric cars for now: First of all, electricity is needed to generate hydrogen, which the car tanks up on. Electricity is then produced from hydrogen again in the car. This double conversion significantly reduces the efficiency level. People who use the same electricity to charge the battery in their electric cars directly travel more economically and thus in a more environmentally friendly way.

It could be different story in future, however, says Notter. A fuel cell car will become competitive as soon as a company chiefly produces its electricity from solar, wind and hydro power – because the vehicle will guzzle fewer resources during production than a battery-operated electric car, have a far greater range and can be refueled more rapidly.

Combined heat and power units: world champions of energy efficiency

When it came to comparing combined heat and power units, the research team pitted a fuel cell based on state-of-the-art carbon nanotubes against a Stirling engine. This zero-emission machine, which was invented and patented by the Scottish clergyman Robert Stirling in 1816, converts heat into kinetic energy. Both types of combined heat and power unit can be operated with natural gas. The result of the calculation: a slight advantage for the fuel cell as it converts a higher proportion of natural gas into valuable electricity. Anyone who uses it to produce heat and electricity simultaneously exploits 90 percent of the energy contained in the natural gas – a huge proportion. Combined heat and power units – regardless of the type – are therefore masterpieces of energy efficiency. The drawback, however: A fuel cell contains rare metals such as platinum, which are becoming increasingly more expensive and might be difficult to obtain in the future; the Stirling engine, on the other hand, can simply be constructed from steel.

Electric cars with EU electricity not more environmentally friendly than gas-powered cars

For their calculations, Notter and his team used the life cycle assessment instrument, which enables the environmental impact of goods and services to be calculated and compared. The researchers calculated the components of the fuel cells from scratch themselves: For the combined heat and power unit, the fuel cell has an output of 1 kW (kilowatts) and is comparable to a Stirling engine, which generates the same amount of electricity. The fuel-cell vehicle in the study has an output of 55 kW and is comparable to a 55-kW, strong electric car and a small, 55-kW, gasoline-powered car.

The result: Taking the current EU power mix as a comparison, with an assumed consumption of 6.1 l/100 km after 150,000 km of mileage, the gasoline-powered compact car is ahead by a nose. The electric car charged with EU electricity produces slightly more environmental pollution – comparable to 6.4 l/100 km of gasoline consumption. Today, a small fuel-cell car that uses EU electricity to generate hydrogen would easily be the worst option. The car would have the same environmental impact as a luxury sports car with a gasoline consumption of 12.1 l /100 km.

However, the fuel cell could be a key future technology – especially when surplus electricity from wind power and solar energy is stored temporarily in the form of hydrogen and thus becomes accessible for household heating or mobility. Currently, wind farms are simply switched off when there is too much electricity on the market and the eco-energy goes to waste.

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157 thoughts on “Are fuel cells environmentally friendly? Not always!

  1. Anth0ny:
    The article says

    However, the fuel cell could be a key future technology – especially when surplus electricity from wind power and solar energy is stored temporarily in the form of hydrogen and thus becomes accessible for household heating or mobility.

    Hydrogen would be an extremely dangerous substance to use in such a manner.
    A fuel is a store of energy and it releases the energy in a slow and controlled manner.
    A kilo of gelignite releases less energy than a kilo of coal when each is ignited, but the gelignite burns faster. Hence, gelignite is not a useful fuel.
    Hydrogen also burns explosively and may spontaneously explode when mixed with air. It is also very difficult to store without leaking, and it damages containers (e.g. hydrogen embritlement of metals).
    Vehicle crashes and domestic leaks would be horrific if hydrogen were used for “household heating or mobility”.
    Richard

      • So take a bad idea, add complexity and expensive energy to make it a complex, expensive, less-bad idea spread out in a huge industrial facility. On its face, it begins with a fundamentally flawed concept and ends with PIE in the SKY.
        Since CO2 is beneficial to the environment and there is no such thing as CAGW, just burn gas or diesel or Nat gas.
        You have to stay on track people. OIL, Coal, Nat Gas, Nuke, hydro. These are adult, serious, energy production methods. Everything else is fantasy sci fi for the drones amongst the bees.
        If all of the USA agriculture is converted to ethanol, BTW, only 7% of the USA energy needs will be met.

      • Joel,
        Where do you get your CO 2.
        It is expensive to separate from the air or from a stack discharge.
        Besides Methanol is very corrosive and has about 1/2 the energy of gasoline. Methanol needs to be rained from race cars to prevent deterioration and it is tough on non metallic components.
        We already have the perfect fuel in C8 H18 and it is cheaper than all the alternatives.
        It is like taking a 2 home from the bar when there are plenty of 10’s

      • “It is expensive to separate from the air or from a stack discharge.” ……Have you ever been to a brewery? Or a grain to ethanol plant? If you can visit one, watch the little bubbles.
        ” We already have the perfect fuel in C8 H18″
        ..
        The only problem is that current sources are finite. In fact we even use ethanol these days to boost octane ratings.

      • Joel D. Jackson:
        You assert

        The only problem is that current sources are finite. In fact we even use ethanol these days to boost octane ratings.

        Rubbish! Peak oil is NOT a real or foreseeable “problem”.
        There is sufficient fossil fuel for at least 600 years and probably much longer. Nobody can know what – if any – fossil fuel will be needed 600 years from now.
        Richard

      • Richard…….It does not matter if there are 50, 200 or 1000 years of fossil fuels left. The simple fact is that they are a finite resource. You seem to be avoiding the issue of them being “finite” When you consume a resource faster than it is replenished, you eventually run out. A fine example of this is the race to extract subsurface water in the California Central Valley. When your well runs dry, you need to drill a deeper well. Sooner or later that won’t work anymore.
        ..
        Oh…and “peak XXXXXXXX (fill in a resource) ” is real </b , the theory holds for any finite resource, as there are numerous examples of it.

      • Joel,
        How are you collecting the bubbles, do you need to compress the gas to get it somewhere else?, Compression is one of the big costs of CO 2 capture. How many bubbles do you need to make several million barrels of low BTU Methanol fuel that is corrosive as hell? I’m accustom to working on large scale plants needed to supply large amounts of energy, hundreds of thousands of barrels/day, not lab experiments.
        Yes I will use C8 H18 since there currently seems to be a large supply and the cost is reasonable, when that runs out I recommend that we convert coal to liquid fuel using technology that was developed in the 80’s with a hundred year supply.
        I would not depend on failed technologies like wind and solar to supply our energy needs and spending more money on the same failed technology never works. We need to focus on new technology not 14th century ideas that were successfully replaced by fossil fuels years ago by private innovators. Technology will provide a replacement fuel when the government stops picking losers..
        I would like to see those who want to restrict our use of energy (which has dramatically improved everyone’s lifestyle), live the lifestyle they want to impose on us. The State Department flew over 80 flights to Europe to get a bad “deal” with Iran. Think he was using renewables or is Kerry just a hypocrite who wastes fossil fuels because he is entitled to?

      • Joel said:

        You seem to be avoiding the issue of them being “finite” When you consume a resource faster than it is replenished, you eventually run out.

        I think Ridley made the excellent observation that the only resources we’ve ever run out of a renewables: whale oil, wood, fishing stocks, etc.. You’d do well to consider that fact, Joel. Oh, and here’s a little nugget for you: the sun which drives all of your “renewables” is finite. What do you do when the sun runs out? Remember, your only criteria is that a resource is finite.

      • Joel Jackson:
        “Richard…….It does not matter if there are 50, 200 or 1000 years of fossil fuels left. The simple fact is that they are a finite resource. You seem to be avoiding the issue of them being “finite””
        If we (sic) run out in 200 or 1000 years, WHY IS IT AN ISSUE !?!? TO WHOM !?!?
        It is not an issue.

      • >>WHY IS IT AN ISSUE !?!? TO WHOM !?!?
        You have a real short-term view of the world and of civilisation. If the Victorians had been thinking like you are thinking, we would be in deep do-do by now. A couple of centuries goes past in a flash, and the rate our fusion engineers are going at present, they will not be there to help out. UK fossil fuels ran out in 40 years, without any reliable non-fossil alternatives being developed. That’s not exactly long-term planning, is it?
        And Richardcourtney still does not understand what Peak oil is, after all this time. He’s a bit slow like that. Peak oil is not when we run out of oil – it is when demand outstrips supply. We might have 10,000 years of fossil fuels left, and still hit Peak oil inside a decade.

      • So, did the Stone Age end because we ran out of stones? No. It ended because the free market and human ingenuity, without taxpayer subsidy, came up with something better, more profitable and more efficient. (Unlike current “renewables”.) As you said, we have hundreds of years to come up with alternatives, and that will inevitably happen without massive destruction of wealth.

    • Joel D. Jackson:
      Yes, synfuels are a good idea. In that case the cost-effective source of the hydrogen is coal using a water-gas-shift.
      2C + O2 -> 2CO
      CO + H2O -> CO2 + H2
      But I was addressing the article which is about fuel cells using hydrogen gas as a fuel. And my comment explained that the suggested use of hydrogen would be horrifically dangerous.
      Richard

      • Joel D. Jackson:
        You are incorrigible!
        I said, “Yes, synfuels are a good idea”, and I pointed out that my first post was addressing the subject of the above article and NOT synfuels.
        However, your promotion of additional costs to manufacture multi-fuel vehicles is as daft as promoting wind-powered subsidy farms. The infrastructure exists for gasoline and diesel fueling of vehicles. If there were a shortage of such fuels then they could be produced from syncrude (made from coal using the LSE process) at comparative cost to crude.
        Richard

      • I’m sorry Richard. I just realize that coal is a finite resource, and I guess I’m much too forward looking, in that building the infrastructure today for renewable will be less expensive than building them in the future when the finite resource depletes.

      • Joel D. Jackson:
        You say

        I’m sorry Richard. I just realize that coal is a finite resource, and I guess I’m much too forward looking, in that building the infrastructure today for renewable will be less expensive than building them in the future when the finite resource depletes.

        No, Joel, it seems you are not sufficiently “forward looking”.
        It seems you don’t realize the Earth is a finite resource, and it seems you are not sufficiently forward looking, in that building the infrastructure today for an alternative Earth is as necessary as building alternatives to the coal supplies that are more than adequate to meet needs for several centuries to come.
        Please come back when – and only when – you have plans to replace the finite Earth.
        Richard

      • @richardscourtney
        As a small point, the study was looking at natural gas as the fuel source for the combined heat & power cycles. I would not personally be a fan of stored or large scale piped distribution of H2 in my basement.
        On a more practical note, homes in the US with piped natural gas usually don’t have supply piping and regulators of sufficient size to feed fuel cells large enough to supply home electrical needs. It would depend on whether the primary goal is to heat the house and offset some of the electrical needs with a grid-tied system, or supply electricity to the house with heating as a side benefit where you’d probably have to dump the excess heat. You’d still want a grid-tie in any event.

      • rgbatduke:
        You quote me and ask

        Vehicle crashes and domestic leaks would be horrific if hydrogen were used for “household heating or mobility”.

        Moreso than gasoline? Vehicle crashes are already “horrific” with gasoline, which has more energy per kg than hydrogen. I’d think one’s risk would come as much from the compression needed to put a reasonable weight of hydrogen into a vehicle as it does from the fuel per se.

        Yes, “Moreso than gasoline”.
        I explained this in my post you are questioning where I wrote

        A fuel is a store of energy and it releases the energy in a slow and controlled manner.
        A kilo of gelignite releases less energy than a kilo of coal when each is ignited, but the gelignite burns faster. Hence, gelignite is not a useful fuel.

        It is the release RATE of the energy which is of concern and – as my coal vs gelignite illustration says – the “energy per kg” is of relatively little concern. .
        It is quite difficult to cause a vehicle to explode in a crash because gasoline and diesel burn quite slowly. Indeed, the stored elastic energy of the gas compression is – as you suggest – potentially explosive because it would be rapidly released if a container were ruptured.
        Richard

      • Joel D. Jackson:
        The UK coal industry was shut for political reasons and NOT because of depletion and/or exhaustion.
        You obviously know as little about this subject as you do about climate issues. I was the Vice President of the British Association of Colliery Management whose Members were tasked with conducting the closure.
        There is sufficient coal available around the world to meet needs for at least 600 years.
        I still await your plans for a replacement Earth.
        Richard

      • “finite” resource is nonsense.
        for example: firewood is not a finite resource. we can always grow more of it. so, over time it is infinite.
        Yet firewood production peaked about the same time that coal replaced firewood as the primary fuel source. If finite supply is the deciding factor, we should still be burning wood in our steam engines to drive around.

      • Hydrogen is horrifically dangerous, don’t exagerrate, my wide experience with hydrogen, even under high pressure never caused any trouble. I think it is in the textbooks and a showcase as the Hindenburg that people are scared to be involved with hydrogen. Of course proper monitoring and maintenance is required.

      • Joel D. Jackson : “You are advocating the depletion of a finite resource. It’s attitudes like yours that has caused Great Britain to be at the mercy of coal exporters.
        You’re behind the times as usual, Joey.
        A billion-pound plan to reach untapped coal reserves under the North Sea will be under way by the end of the year, as the vast scale of the energy source beneath the North Sea is made clear.
        Scientific data of the true extent of the coal deposits on the sea bed reveals that even a tiny percentage of them would be enough to power Britain for centuries to come, says a local expert.
        Dermot Roddy, chief technical officer of energy company Five Quarter which will be leading the much-anticipated extraction work, said there are trillions of tonnes of deeply-buried coal stretching from the North East coast far out to sea: an amount thousands of times greater than all oil and gas extracted so far.

        http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/drilling-date-set-north-seas-6896191
        And don’t forget ocean bed methane hydrate, there are practically unimaginable quantities of that, and the Japanese feasibility study has been completed successfully.
        So there are fossil fuel reserves sufficient for centuries – perhaps millennia, by which time we will have in all probability have developed cheaper and more efficient sources of energy than silly ‘unreliables’ such as wind and solar, and the even more ridiculous ‘solutions’ such as you appear to favour.

      • rgbatduke: “Moreso than gasoline?”
        Given that gasoline doesn’t require extreme pressure/cryogenic storage and so isn’t particularly liable to change into a large volume of highly inflammable/explosive gas practically instantaneously if the container ruptures, yes – very much so.

      • Richardcourtney
        It seems you don’t realize the Earth is a finite resource.
        ________________________________________
        And here comes Richardcourtney, the original double-dealing political hypocrite. Rich, what you said before was:
        In the real world, for all practical purposes there are no “physical” limits to natural resources so every natural resource can be considered to be infinite; i.e. the human ‘Petri dish’ can be considered as being unbounded.
        http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/07/04/2c-or-not-2cthat-is-the-question
        So which is it Richard, is the Earth filled with infinite resources or finite resources? Which bottle of snake-oil are you selling us today?
        Ralph

      • ralfellis aka silver ralph aka & etc.
        I see you are maintaining your behaviour as an ignorant and offensive Malthusian.
        In your usual insulting, snivelling and stupid fashion you ask me

        And here comes Richardcourtney, the original double-dealing political hypocrite. Rich, what you said before was:
        In the real world, for all practical purposes there are no “physical” limits to natural resources so every natural resource can be considered to be infinite; i.e. the human ‘Petri dish’ can be considered as being unbounded.
        http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/07/04/2c-or-not-2cthat-is-the-question
        So which is it Richard, is the Earth filled with infinite resources or finite resources? Which bottle of snake-oil are you selling us today?

        The answer is BOTH.
        If you had as many as two useful brain cells then you would be able to understand that both these statements are true and are NOT mutually exclusive.
        (a) “Earth is a finite resource.”
        and
        (b) “In the real world, for all practical purposes there are no “physical” limits to natural resources so every natural resource can be considered to be infinite; i.e. the human ‘Petri dish’ can be considered as being unbounded.”
        I provide a more direct link to my explanation which you partially linked. It is here.Try to read my comment to which you have linked. And if you still don’t understand it then ask your Mummy to explain it for you.
        Richard

      • “””””…..Vehicle crashes are already “horrific” with gasoline, which has more energy per kg than hydrogen. …..”””””
        I take it Richard, that you are saying that gasoline, which consists of Hydrogen plus Carbon has more energy per kg than H2 alone since burning carbon releases more energy than burning Hydrogen.
        I had always thought that methane gave more energy than other hydrocarbons, because it had the highest hydrogen to carbon ratio (molecular)
        Izzat not true ??
        Yes I know that gases such as Acetylene give more energy than hydrogen, but that is because you have to put in energy to make that triple bond in acetylene, so it takes more energy to make acetylene in the first place.
        I am not an organic chemist so I don’t know one way or the other.
        I do know that organic foods contain carbon, which the SCOTUS says is poisonous, so I don’t buy organic foods.
        g

      • Just trying to get in to the Courtney v Jackson debate:
        Joel: you keep banging on about coal (for instance) being a ‘finite resource’. OK. Let’s see. Is human ingenuity finite? How long ago did man take to the air in powered flight? How long after that did man land on the moon? How do you compare a Boeing Dreamliner or A3800 Airbus with Wright’s Kittyhawk flight?
        You must not judge the future on the present.

        • You must not judge the future on the present.

          Especially when there are so many things we don’t do yet/ as much as we could, nuclear, fusion, a Solar System so full of resources that it makes the whole finite resource argument pointless, if we continue developing.
          If we decide to huddle in the mud, well we’ve sign our own extinction notice.

      • george e. smith:
        You here say you “take it” I meant something I had already refuted here where I wrote in reply to rgbatduke

        I explained this in my post you are questioning where I wrote

        A fuel is a store of energy and it releases the energy in a slow and controlled manner.
        A kilo of gelignite releases less energy than a kilo of coal when each is ignited, but the gelignite burns faster. Hence, gelignite is not a useful fuel.

        It is the release RATE of the energy which is of concern and – as my coal vs gelignite illustration says – the “energy per kg” is of relatively little concern. .
        It is quite difficult to cause a vehicle to explode in a crash because gasoline and diesel burn quite slowly. Indeed, the stored elastic energy of the gas compression is – as you suggest – potentially explosive because it would be rapidly released if a container were ruptured.

        .
        Richard

    • Vehicle crashes and domestic leaks would be horrific if hydrogen were used for “household heating or mobility”.

      Moreso than gasoline? Vehicle crashes are already “horrific” with gasoline, which has more energy per kg than hydrogen. I’d think one’s risk would come as much from the compression needed to put a reasonable weight of hydrogen into a vehicle as it does from the fuel per se.
      Hydrogen embrittlement is an issue, I agree. Hydrogen molecules are small and want to surround themselves with charge.
      Synthesizing hydrocarbons might make more sense in the long run, but it potentially drops efficiency. I just don’t think we’ve solved the problem of storing energy (however it is generated) efficiently. Yet. Hydrogen cells are lovely, but they are expensive and it isn’t clear that this is “the” solution for the long term.
      rgb

      • There are multiple classes of fuel cells. Most people just focus on PEMs, which can only utilize very clean hydrogen. They need reforming for any alternative fuel such as CH4. You point out correctly that hydrogen is no more dangerous than gasoline even in an automotive environment. It dissipates rapidly if the storage is breached unlike gas which has a much lower vapor pressure. The problem with hydrogen is entirely in its low energy density and its difficulty of production and storage.
        For home energy production something like this will be the future. Transportation is another issue entirely. Liquid, non-cryogenic, standard pressure fuels are the only practical option for the foreseeable future.

      • Liquid gasoline does not explode, if fact I don’t think it even burns, gasoline vapor is quite flammable, and prone to exploding.
        When you have to weld a gas tank, the trick is to completely fill it, as even empty it usually has gas vapor.
        BTW, leave this to professionals.

      • In the past it was used for household heating on a large scale, source was the watergas reaction, major problem at that time was the presence of carbonmonoxide

      • ‘Moreso than gasoline? Vehicle crashes are already “horrific” with gasoline…’
        Years ago I was riding along in a friend’s Alfa Romeo Milano when the pointer on the fuel gauge began to drop like a rock. We also smelled raw gasoline. So, he pulled to the side, popped the hood, and we saw that one of the fittings on the pressurized fuel inlet line was leaking. In fact, it wasn’t just leaking, it was spraying gasoline all over the place, including onto the hot exhaust manifolds. We thought to ourselves, ‘Gee, we better hop back in the car and drive home fast before we run out of gas.’ So, that’s what we did.
        The gasoline hitting the exhaust manifolds? The pin point drops just – psst – evaporated away in a heartbeat as they hit the hot surface. Raw, liquid, gas really doesn’t burn very easily. But atomize it into a fume, compress it with air to about 1/8th or less its original volume, and you’ve got a bang. With hydrogen that’s likely done before it ever gets in the engine.

      • “[gasoline] …more energy per kg than hydrogen.”
        I think you better go look that up again. A kg is a lot of H2.

      • “When you have to weld a gas tank, the trick is to completely fill it, as even empty it usually has gas vapor.
        BTW, leave this to professionals.”
        I feel it is best to have all my gas tank welding done by others…while I am out of town.

      • micro: “Liquid gasoline does not explode, if fact I don’t think it even burns, …”
        Yep, we used to use a coffee can of gas as an ashtray just to spook people.

      • David L. Hagen:
        I suspect that we stored and handled much more hydrogen than that academic when we were developing the Liquid Solvent Extraction (LSE) process at the UK’s Coal Research Establishment.
        His article is frivolous.
        Richard

      • David L. Hagen:
        Yes, hydrocarbons are both easier and safer to store than hydrogen. And, therefore, compounding hydrogen gas to form a hydrocarbon (e.g. methanol) reduces problems of hydrogen. However, the suggestion of the conversion to methanol is an admission of the severity of the problems with hydrogen gas.
        And I remind that the above article is about a fuel cell that uses hydrogen gas – not methanol – as its fuel.
        Richard

      • The biggest problems with hydrogen are lack of distribution infrastructure, very low density, and consequently high pumping/delivery costs and the need for high pressure tanks. e.g., 10,000 psi storage tanks are being developed and certified.

  2. The fuel cell’s competition is the microturbine, which can be made out of fairly ordinary materials. Let’s talk about fuel cells when their efficiency is significantly better than microturbines.
    And yeah, hydrogen in consumers hands is a really bad idea from a safety standpoint, regardless of the conversion technology.

  3. This almost is a sensible article.
    “It doesn’t make any sense to draw electricity from the European power grid, use it to produce hydrogen via hydro-electrolysis and fuel cars with it; the CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity would be far too high using this method.”
    1) CO2 is not a problem.
    2) France is 85% nuke.
    3) Hydrogen gas storage is nasty…. how does one store a proton with a wide explosive limit. (Hindenberg anyone)
    I say store the hydrogen in a more stable format like acetylene. Ha Ha.
    Really, strip the hydrogens out of cellulose (wood), and make H2O, What to do with all the free carbon?
    This is a great idea if it wasn’t such a bad idea.

    • It would seem to take energy input to turn Hydrogen and CO2 into methanol.
      How much ??

    • Hindenberg did not have any Hydrogen explosion. Yes there was a hydrogen fire, which can be clearly seen above the tail where the Hydrogen was leaking out.
      It was the skin of Hindenburg that was the explosive material, that ignited due to a spark discharge, when it connected to the ground.
      Nobody would have survived if there had been a hydrogen explosion, but the low density of Hydrogen, kept the fire in the upper area, instead of the cabin.
      But no I don’t want to be driving any hydrogen car or having a lot of it in my house.
      Water is a good place to store Hydrogen safely; I like that.
      g

      • Explosive limits, Upper and Lower, are a defined term of chemistry. A mixture within the upper and lower limits will support a flash fire.

      • @Paul
        Yes, but that’s a well-mixed volume. For something the size of the Hindenburg, the fire can only burn at the air/gas interface so you get more of a deflagration, and certainly not an explosion.

      • Unlikely theory debunked by A. Dessler. The Hindenburg Hydrogen Fire: Fatal Flaws in the Addison Bain Incendiary-Paint Theory
        Some hydrogen better than no fuel. Petroleum is depleting ~ 4%/year and developing countries need to grow – adding 3%? So need 7%//year replacement fuels plus growth – > 6 million bbl/day new production each year.
        More than the production of USA, SaudiArabia, or Russia every two years.
        We are fast running out of new areas to drill.
        We urgently need to develop alternatives.

      • David L. Hagen:
        We are NOT running out of oil.
        If there were a foreseeable problem of insufficient oil reserves then oil companies would be investing in plants to produce synthetic crude oil (syncrude) from coal or natural gas or tar or bitumen. Since 1994 it has been possible (using the LSE process) to produce syncrude from coal at competitive price with crude and this constrains the maximum true cost of crude.
        Richard

      • David L. Hagen: “We are fast running out of new areas to drill.”
        Nope.
        New technology such as is used to extract gas and oil from shale has massively increased the available areas to drill.
        Try to keep up.

      • The program I saw investigating the Hindenburg disaster, demonstrated on screen the spark ignition and rapid burning of an actual sample of the Hindenburg fabric.
        Nobody ever said the Hydrogen didn’t burn and engulf the whole airship. And there are documents showing that the builders of Hindenburg, already knew the fabric was flammable.
        At the time I saw the film of them spark igniting the fabric sample, they forgot to put up the physical and chemical equations that prove it is impossible.
        g
        Did Dessler try the experiment with an actual example of the original fabric, or did he just try burning the recipe for the paint. ??

  4. Richard,
    Several good points.
    I would not want H 2 in my garage or basement. I don’t think these mad scientists realize the numerous safety issues with H 2.
    To be useful, H 2 has to be stored at high pressures to get enough energy; circa 8000 psi. Only a fool could sleep with such a bomb in the house. Also as you pointed out it is difficult to contain H2 due to the small size of the molecule. I have worked on numerous plants that manufacture and use H 2 and normally methane is the feed for steam reformers. That means a lot of CO 2 is released in the heating of the furnace tubes to circa 1500 F and also a lot of CO 2 is released into the atmosphere from the methane feed and steam.
    No good reason to convert methane to H 2 for a vehicle that does not release CO 2 to the atmosphere since a lot of CO 2 is released elsewhere. Besides why waste all the energy in the Carbon.
    I do not see H 2 as the key to the future for auto’s or home heating and wasting tax dollars on this technology fails to see all the issues..

    • I agree with your concerns and will add several design problems as well. Storing high pressure H2 requires a conservatively designed pressure vessel. A spherical vessel is preferred but large spheres don’t conform well with the auto design space parameters. Embrittlement is a major concern and may require a liner inside the vessel. The material used in Saran Wrap maybe?? Creep rupture potential will dictate either a weighty conservatively low working stress or a costly Kevlar or graphite over wrap. Finally, in the U.S., the DOT will dictate a replacement interval likely relatively short for typical automobile life. A space shuttle solution for an automobile?? Going the wrong direction.

  5. Don’t know if the posted article discussion includes the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that is still in development and is not yet available for commercial or residential use. The SOFC, if it makes it to the market, is supposed to be more efficient with a higher power density than current fuel cells:
    http://www.fuelcellenergy.com/advanced-technologies/solid-oxide-fuel-cells/.
    “Commercialization of the technology has been limited because acceptable performance could only be achieved from very small cells, and configuring commercial scale power systems with small cells is not cost effective. Versa has successfully scaled the technology to produce larger cells and stacks than any other planar SOFC developer. The potential target market for SOFC is sub-megawatt applications, which would be complementary to the megawatt-class market for DFC power plants.”
    “We have incorporated the larger-scale SOFC components into fuel cell stacks as large as 60 kilowatts (kW) as part of FCE’s project under the U.S. Department of Energy Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program. The SECA program has a long term objective to introduce low-emission, high- efficiency SOFC based systems operating on coal gas in the size range of hundreds of megawatts. Smaller sub-megawatt scale natural gas or renewable biogas fueled systems are expected to be near term spin-off products from this developmental activity.”
    The SOFC is also reportedly supposed to cost less if and when it makes it to market.

    • Bloom Energy is a commercialized SOFC with on board methane reformation, for stationary generation. Over $1.2 billion invested by folks like KPCB and Khosla Ventures. And likely wasted. Since it is not economic, even with California’ high electricity costs because of its renewables drive, even at current low natural gas prices. Check the Google and EBay campuses for some early installations.

      • Ristvan:
        http://www.technologyreview.com/news/518516/an-inexpensive-fuel-cell-generator/.
        A company called Redox claims to have the cost of SOFCs down to about $1000 per KW compared to Bloom’s $8,000.
        “Warren Citrin, the company’s CEO, says the fuel-cell systems will cost about $1,000 per kilowatt, compared with $8,000 per kilowatt for Bloom. However, the company’s claim of a two-year payback is a rough estimate; it doesn’t include the cost of financing, for example, and it factors in expected economies of scale from producing about 400 fuel-cell systems per year, although the company has yet to manufacture even one complete system so far.”
        Not making any claims here, just saying what I hear…..

      • CD 153, am well aware of this spinout from U. Maryland. Main claim is lower temp (~500C versus ~750C for Bloom), which potentially enables much lower cost, and longer life (SOFC are prone to cracking from thermal expansion/contraction with cycling). But they don’t (yet) have any commercial prototypes out in the field. Hopeful R&D, agreed.
        Cost claims, to be verified. They come from a startup seeking capital how has not built enough to know. Don’t invest without kicking the tires. I personally know folks who lost lots on the Bloom hype. My ex wife is one; her significant other operated a feeder fund for mezzanine (d, and beyond VC rounds) funding for KPCB and the like. She lost a part of my millions she got in the divorce. Neither she, nor her significant other, nor other Chicagoland investors in the same midwest VC loop I tried to warn, would listen. Bloom would be the next Google. Transform energy markets. All told, my Chicago acquaintance are out about $20 million.

    • richardscourtney July 15, 2015 at 10:18 am
      Hydrogen also burns explosively and may spontaneously explode when mixed with air.
      In the Hindenburg crash we see a huge quantity of hydrogen burning, but not explosively. Actually, the flames and smoke were from the fabric covering, as hydrogen burns invisibly. I don’t think a car crash would be any more explosive than with gasoline or natural gas.

      • Mike McMillan:
        You accurately quote me having written

        Hydrogen also burns explosively and may spontaneously explode when mixed with air.

        Please note the word “may”. I did not say such an explosion will always occur during a crash, but it sometimes will. Such explosions cannot happen from gasolene or diesel.
        Richard

      • Hi Richard.
        Spontaneous means without an ignition source, and I don’t believe you’d get an explosion without a spark. You also don’t get explosions without a prior mixing of air and hydrogen (or methane or gasoline vapors). Otherwise, you just get burning at the air/fuel interface, as the hydrogen did with the Hindenburg.

      • “You also don’t get explosions without a prior mixing of air and hydrogen …”
        Right, the high pressure H2 tank ruptures ‘explosively,’ mixing the air and hydrogen. Thereafter we can worry about whether or not we get a real explosion that fricasees the already dead occupents of the vehicle.
        Without such a prior rupture we only have to worry about rescuers being fricaseed by the invisible flame.

  6. Right now there are 1.2 billion cars on the planets roads then you have to add all of the hgv’s and the only economically viable method of producing hydrogen is by steam reformation of natural gas a process which demands that the Co2 is split off and released to atmosphere which environmentalists choose to ignore. The petrochemical industry use this method to produce hydrogen to clean petroleum spirit to the required EU and American EPA standard. For 1.2 billion cars you would need to cover the planet in solar panels and it would still not be enough, to replace the 160,000 TWh’s of energy the planet currently consumes would demand 183 million wind turbines. According to the BP 2014 energy review coal expires by 2100 and with gas and oil departing by 2068. At current rates of uptake of battery electric cars in the UK it will take 15,000 years to replace every one with a Battery electric equivalent and even at the current lethargic uptake lithium ion expires in 2100. Anyone who really does believe that we have or can develop a method of replacing 91 million barrels of oil a day and 3.9 billion tons of oil equivalent in coal and 3.4 billion cubic metres of gas with wind solar or hydrogen is delusional.
    The hope and expectation has to be that we will find more fossil fuels because even if we could deploy wind and solar in the required quantities no one appears to recognise the shear volume of raw materials required to achieve that end but it would be a complete waste of time just bringing forward the day when there are no more holes in the ground to dig.

  7. The problem I have with their suggestion of “why not just charge batteries and run the vehicle on that” is the weight to energy storage equation. Batteries are simply too heavy and have very poor energy to weight ratio. That is the whole problem with battery-driven vehicles. If the store of Hydrogen for the fuel cell gives a range comparable to full tank of gasoline at a comparable weight, then I think the attraction is there.
    I have always thought methanol driven fuel cells would be the best option. Methanol is already liquid at everyday temperatures and pressure and can be produced in a number of ways. I remember Sony had a fuel-cell powered out there once with small methanol recharge bottles (about the size of a cigarette lighter). It obviously wan’t successful, but it would be nice/

    • The only major obstacles to using batteries for cars is their cost (and recharge times), not their weight. And in considering weight, you have to understand that an electric car lacks a lot of the drivetrain parts of a gasoline car and thus a lot of its weight. The Tesla Model S weighs 4000 pounds and currently has an adequate driving range , city – 300 miles, highway probably 270 miles and a recharge time of a bit over one hour, or an 80% charge in 40 minutes. An equuivalent gas powered car of equal power and interior room would weigh about the same.

      • arthur4563 WRONG! An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Vehicles need a set weight for road handling, past that it is a boat anchor. You must use energy to get the car in motion then to stop it. This extra weight causes extra wear and tear on braking system and drive train when stopping.
        and just for chuckles go compare the battery weight plus electric motor for your tesla to that of a four cylinder alum block engine with ten gal. of fuel. Oh and the ford fiesta weighs in at 2400-2700 lbs depending on engine size. And it ” gases up” in less then ten minutes, including coffee & payment
        michael

      • Mike, yeah, you were right the first time. Arthur is the idiot. Tesla S is 4600 pounds, not 4000, versus standard small/medium car about 2700 to 2800 pounds.

    • I would be very unhappy at the thought of untrained consumers getting involved with methanol in any significant quantity.As a former industrial chemist I was always very wary of the material with i think , good reason , if you see the following typical data sheet extract about its hazards :
      “Potential Health Effects
      Inhalation: Causes mild central nervous system (CNS) depression with nausea, headache,
      vomiting, dizziness, incoordination and an appearance of drunkenness. Metabolic acidosis and
      severe visual effects can occur following an 8-24 hour latent period. Coma and death, usually due
      to respiratory failure, may occur if medical treatment is not received. Visual effects may include
      reduced reactivity and/or increased sensitivity to light, blurred, double and/or snowy vision, and
      blindness.
      Eye Contact: Moderate eye irritant
      Skin Contact: In general, primary alcohols such as methanol are not considered to be irritant to the skin.
      Repeated or prolonged exposure to methanol may cause dry, itchy, scaling skin (dermatitis).
      Skin Absorption: Can be absorbed through the skin and cause harmful effects as described in “Inhalation” above
      Skin Sensitization: Not considered to be a sensitizer
      Respiratory Sensitization: Not considered to be a sensitizer
      Ingestion: There have been reports of accidental or intentional ingestion of methanol
      although ingestion is not a typical route of occupational exposure.
      Ingestion of as little as 10 ml of methanol can cause blindness and 30 ml (1 ounce) can cause death if victim is not treated.
      Ingestion causes mild central nervous system (CNS) depression with nausea, headache,
      vomiting, dizziness, incoordination and an appearance of drunkenness. Metabolic acidosis and
      severe visual effects can occur following an 8-24 hour latent period. Coma and death, usually due to respiratory failure, may occur if medical treatment is not received. Visual effects may include reduced reactivity and/or increased sensitivity to light, blurred, double and/or snowy vision, and blindness.
      Birth Defects/Developmental Effects: has caused teratogenic and fetotoxic effects, in the absence of maternal toxicity in animal studies.
      Reproductive Effects:
      Not considered a reproductive toxin.”
      I think that in the EU the chemical safety people would disapprove of its use other than by trained personnel , in a controlled area . In the US a different , more robust , attitude may prevail.

      • “I would be very unhappy at the thought of untrained consumers getting involved with methanol in any significant quantity….”
        I am no fan of methanol as it wreaks havoc with the old cars that I mess with on the weekends, but gasoline isn’t exactly a cup of tea either!

      • Then I recommend that you stop non-chemists from using their windshield washer fluid, as most of that contains significant amounts of methanol. Fuels are rarely non-toxic.

      • Reply to omegapaladin:
        “Then I recommend that you stop non-chemists from using their windshield washer fluid, as most of that contains significant amounts of methanol. Fuels are rarely non-toxic.”
        Agreed , but the methanol is highly diluted , is being replaced by other less toxic alcohols, diols and in some cases by “green” detergents .
        I find it extraordinary that warmists invoke the “precautionary” principle with regard to AGW , ie if we do not know exactly what the consequenses of elevated CO2 are , then we should be cautious and assume that the best tactic is to avoid increasing it.
        Well the same principle holds in chemical safety , if you can do a job with a less toxic material do not replace it with a more dangerous material to achieve the same result . All fuels are dangerous as you say , but some are more so than others and I cannot believe that it is sensible to replace alkanes with materials that are more biologically invasive and toxic simply because it will use up wind or solar derived energy that was created because of the assumption of a less certain and unquantified danger from AGW. It just does not make sense, safety wise.
        All my life the regulations in the UK have been directed at replacing toxic materials with safer alternatives on the BESTNEC principle , the best alternatives , not involving excessive cost , and under the EU this programme has accelerated with eg the REACH regulations .
        It seems that , purely on ideological, or is it financial , grounds involving renewables the progress towards a safer environment in labs, factories and the general consumer environment is being thrown away.
        Makes me angry. Before this point came up the warmist debate was just that , an intellectual debate with a suggestion of some financial penalty for most of us – but if we are throwing away all we know about chemicals , materials and their effects upon people and the environment , just for an possibility that if we don not do so the future may be less comfortable for some , more comfortable for others , but all within the bounds of human capabilities , then I am very disappointed.

    • Rob, if you want detailed calculations including both types of hydrogen storage for FC, read essay Hydrogen Hype in ebook Blowing Smoke. IF you are worried about CO2 or oil scarcity, the answer is a MY2015 Toyota Prius.

  8. David, Paul, and others:
    The solid oxide fuel cell is flexi-fuel. It can run on any fossil or bio-fuel. It does not need to run on hydrogen.

  9. “In the future, we might be driving fuel-cell cars that burn solar-generated hydrogen.”
    And pigs might fly.
    “I guess I’m much too forward looking, in that building the infrastructure today for renewable will be less expensive than building them in the future when the finite resource depletes.”
    The woo is strong in this one.

    • Jorge, not only that, but ‘The Surplus”.
      However, the fuel cell could be a key future technology – especially when surplus electricity from wind power and solar energy is stored temporarily in the form of hydrogen and thus becomes accessible for household heating or mobility.
      Very strong woo.

  10. “I guess I’m much too forward looking, in that building the infrastructure today for renewable will be less expensive than building them in the future when the finite resource depletes.”
    The future is Gen 4 molten salt reactors. Renewables are not the future.

    • Solar panels, hydro, geo-thermal and wind turbines are available today, and are being connected to power grids today

      There isn’t a single Gen 4 MSR producing commercial power today
      ..
      In a sense you are correct about renewables not being the future….but that is because they are here today.

      • Joel D. Jackson:
        You say

        In a sense you are correct about renewables not being the future….but that is because they are here today.

        Yes, and enjoy it why you can because wind powered and solar powered subsidy farms won’t last much longer. These useless abominations will soon disappear when their subsidies are removed (as is already happening in Australia).
        Richard

      • Solar, geothermal, and wind all exist entirely because of huge subsidy. MSR generated power forty years ago. And conventional nuclear has been generating significant amounts of grid power for decades. You wanna go waste your money on windmills, be my guest. Just stop stealing mine.

      • Joel,
        Yes solar panels and turbines are being connected to the grid because they are not reliable and must depend on fossil fuels to keep the lights on. Even then they exist only from tax subsidies and increased electricity costs and government mandates from ignorant politicians. Take these away and solar and wind go away for good.

      • Solar, geothermal, and wind all exist entirely because of huge subsidy. MSR generated power forty years ago.

        I saw the MSR unit at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It worked and its only problem was that you could not get bomb grade material out of the damn thing. No bombs, no government interest. The history of that unit is fascinating reading.

      • “Solar panels, hydro, geo-thermal and wind turbines are available today, and are being connected to power grids today”
        Despite the fact that from a financial perspective, they suck like a fruit bat on a mango and have to be propped up with subsidies.

    • “Solar panels, hydro, geo-thermal and wind turbines are available today, and are being connected to power grids today”
      Not in any sort of remotely economically and environmentally efficient form they aren’t.
      Stop making stuff up.

    • There be no car of the future. Personal vehicles are off the table in just about every government/NGO plan for the future. Alternatively, keep that Hummer in good condition with a parts backup. You may need it to roll over the ruins of the Socialist Dream…

  11. Years ago, I bought 300 shares in Ballard Power. I paid about $5 per share. They ultimately rose to about $130 per share on the strength of all the hype surrounding their potential use as an automotive power source. I should have sold them. Today they trade at $2 Canadian. The only markets for fuel cells are niche markets like fork lift trucks and standby power sources for cell phone stations. Notwithstanding the millions invested over the years, these things never measured up The share price tells the whole story.

    • Same with Plug Power. “plug” was up to around 80.00 per share. They do produce products now but i have not kept up on them after I sold my shares, at a loss.
      mac

  12. However, the fuel cell could be a key future technology – especially when surplus electricity from wind power and solar energy is stored temporarily in the form of hydrogen and thus becomes accessible for household heating or mobility.
    Apparently many of you missed this groaner in the article. There will be no “surplus electricity from wind power and solar energy”, unless the plan is to disconnect them from the grid supply and use them for only H2 generation. Fuel cells have been around for decades, and yet there have no mass production capable systems that can come to market. This is sciency technology that’s a lot of fun to play with, but has zero chance of being a functional reality, except for an elitist few. In order for the product to be affordable as a transportation technology, it has to deliver lots of high efficiency energy in a compact, inexpensive, easily maintained system. On that basis alone, it can’t compete with fossil fuel powered vehicles.

    • It might be considered at this point in time to replace the hydrogen production from methane. In combination with load shedding of the grid and sufficient H2 storage and with a connection to the already existing hydrogen pipeline.

    • PC, the hydrogen storage from renewables math just does not work. There are two ways to do it, and neither is viable unless you want electricity to cost >5x today. Details in my recent guest post ‘Intermittant Grid Storage’ over at Climate Etc. And hydrogen in all forms for automotive was covered in essay Hydrogen Hype in my ebook.

    • The article stated…”Currently, wind farms are simply switched off when there is too much electricity on the market and the eco-energy goes to waste.”
      =========================
      This is not my understanding. AFAIK, wind that is producing usually gets first rights to the grid, and conventional is often required to throttle back. Also, in many areas 100 percent of private solar generated is fed into the grid, and rebated to the customer, even if the grid does not need said power at the moment.

  13. I’m not sure this isn’t just another green modeling study to show that if you want hydrogen fuel cell cars (like the new Toyota Mirai, soon to on sale in Southern California) your electric utility should be powered by “renewables”.
    I suspect that you can get any answer you want, depending on the assumptions and methods you use. For instance, when making hydrogen from water by electrolysis, you also get oxygen, which is a sale-able product. Did they charge off the electrical cost only to the hydrogen, or did they apportion the cost between the hydrogen and oxygen?
    Then again, why would you use grid electricity to make hydrogen. Why not use a dedicated PV facility sitting in sea water to make hydrogen, oxygen and sea salt, all sale-able products.
    The Texas Coastal Bend area would be the perfect place for this. Lots of sun and lots of sea water. Transport the hydrogen the way vehicle fuel is transported today. Yes, I know it has to be done under high pressure. And yes, hydrogen takes tighter fittings that air, but this is just an engineering problem that will be solved.
    I had my doubts about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles until Toyota came out with the Mirai. The Prius taught me not to bet against Toyota.

  14. Methane is suitable for CNG vehicles right now. Los Angeles runs its busses on it; the large tanks on the top are very obvious. The driving requirement is cleaner air over the diesel engines that used to power these the fleet. Honda sells a CNG sedan.
    Another carrier for hydrogen is nitrogen. You can run an internal combustion engine on ammonia/oil mixture that is mostly ammonia. A vast liquid ammonia pipeline network is in place in farming country. Big drawback is that ammonia is toxic; I’m not sure how it compares to methanol or gasolline.
    It seems rather silly to push fuel cells when combustion technology is all that is required. Turbines, diesels, otto … all have been engineered to a high degree for decades. With clever combined cycle use, an external combustion Stirling might be more cost effective.
    I dont think we will ever see “naked” hydrogen fueling a personal vehicle. So far, its always combined in a compound with carbon or nitrogen.

    • Toxicity isn’t the issue for ammonia. The main Ammonia problem is emissions. It has huge NOX production, for reasons that should be obvious. Also, it has large issues with corrosion that dwarf even methanol’s notorious effects.
      I see no reason not to use natural gas. It’s a good fuel. The only real drawback is the high cost of infrastructure, which is why buses are the primary users.

      • I see no reason not to use natural gas. It’s a good fuel. The only real drawback is the high cost of infrastructure, which is why buses are the primary users.

        I have thought LP gas would make a good fuel for high output turbocharged applications, where you use the liquid gas to cool the intercooler, while at the same time boiling the liquid. LP drag cars ran good with high octane LP gas and high compression, but couldn’t evaporate enough to go beyond a certain level.

  15. “against a Stirling engine. This zero-emission machine”
    A Stirling engine is not necessarily zero-emission. It requires an external heat source to operate, so zero emissions would require a zero-emission heat source.

    • Thank you. I was going to mention that but I figured I’d check first to see if some one did.
      This whole zero emission thing is utter nonsense. There is absolutely no such thing anywhere, living or not, that is zero emission. The human body itself, or any animal’s body, is not a a zero emission engine or vehicle. We exhale CO2 and water vapor. We evaporate water vapor, shed dead skin and salt, release ammonia containing urine, release methane gas, and defecate. That’s a pretty dirty vehicle, eh? To proclaim in all comedy that something, anything, must be zero emission is to proclaim that it cannot exist. It is an offense to rational thought. And, common sense.

  16. @Paul Coppin “especially when surplus electricity from wind power and solar energy” There will be no surplus energy from those sources EVER! The goofiness of the discussion about how to dress up one’s favorite hobby horse as integral to a solution to modern energy needs sometimes takes even reasonable people over the edge. Is there really any question that Hydroelectric, Natural gas, and Nuclear are the heavy lifters for the production of electrical power on an industrial scale? The kind of power grid required to even discuss the trans formative change of personal and public transportation to electrically driven can only be built around the steady reliable production of energy those sources can provide. We need batteries for those cars and as emergency backup when the grid breaks down (yes, yes and whatever other creative things folks come up with) Not to store or power conversion to other forms of energy for the grid. Doesn’t it seem clear that what we want to do is continue to improve our clean up of pollution past, produce less of it now, while increasing our productivity and GNP. ENERGY lots of it is the key to all that.

    • Agreed!
      I am amazed at those that claim that Solar can charge their EV. HOW? The vast majority of people work during the day and sleep (not drive) at night. Their car is at their place of work and their solar panels are at home – How do you charge your car. Many companies don’t provide parking in the city any longer, costs to much. So now the Greenies are going to force those companies that have parking lots to also provide charging stations? The average daily driving distance is 35 miles city, and 45 urban. The present EV only get about 100 Miles on a charge. Thus, only if you lived in a city could you use your car two days in a row without recharging it. If it does not get a full charge that night you are SOL.
      On top of this, the Greenies are claiming that you should keep your care on the grid when not in use so that the battery can backup your solar panel/wind mill, etc. WHY. Why should I add numerous extra cycles to my car battery, greatly reducing it’s life for no reimbursement and probably extra expense. Then I will have the expense of replacing the battery. Not all chargers are 100% efficient. Not all Inverters are 100% efficient. Thus you lose 15 to 25% of the electricity you pay for to help the grid, use up your battery and waste electricity. What happens when you have your EV ion the grid, a storm causes a power outage, all of the neighbors use your battery and then you have an emergency and need your vehicle.
      Are all of these ideas coming from Co, Wa, and the rest of the “recreational” drug states?

  17. We know there are more practical fuel cells than hydrogen fuel cells. There is a very efficient fuel cell called a “Cow”, which burns grass or corn, quite safely. Imagine a pile of grass that a cow eats in a day. Not only it moves, it also produces milk, meat, and leather. How far do you think a car would go with that many calories? How about your own body?
    “Not Always” is a good warning. Undoubtedly there are very bad fuel cells. We can’t yet manufacture good ones.

    • If we are talking about personal transportation, then the Horse is the more viable comparison, and toxic waste production is a massive problem.
      I’m actually serious about that. Have you seen photos of Victorian-Era streets? The piles of filth everywhere was disgusting.

  18. When it comes to alternative energy for transportation I personally think hydrogen is a much better solution than electric battery vehicles like Tesla. The fact Elon Musk has stated hydrogen cells are a dead end kind of makes me want to see him eat his words.
    The performance and range of hydrogen powered vehicles is better than current battery cars and they can be fully refilled and back on the road in the same time as conventional gas powered car.
    One of the big barriers to hydrogen has been the cost to create it as platinum was required however it looks like they just found a much cheaper alternative.
    http://www.techtimes.com/articles/68904/20150715/platinum-alternatives-fuel-cells-facilitate-hydrogen-powered-cars.htm
    Also the fact that the big car manufacturers are leaning towards hydrogen makes me think this will be the big winner in the years ahead.
    https://youtu.be/-13l6vCgaVQ

    • Nope. Work out the net energy efficiencies. Hydrogen from either water shift reformation of methane,or electrolysis. Ignore storage and infrastructure. Put into a PEM FC (SOFC temperatures mean they can never be used in intermittant uses like vehicles). Compute. Done already for you with all the chemistry reactions, efficiency calculations, and even pictures in essay Hydrogen Hype.
      This paper is self evident except for the hydrogen from renewable electricity hydrolesis part. The authors did not think that part through. My essay did.

    • Sorry I had thought the paper they linked to was the breakthrough at Stanford University.
      http://www.engadget.com/2015/06/26/stanford-researchers-hydrogen-production/
      “A team of researchers from Stanford University unveiled an easier and more efficient way to strip hydrogen atoms from water molecules on Thursday. It’s still the same electrolysis method that’s been in use for years. But instead of using two different kinds of material for the cathode and anode, like conventional electrolysis procedures, Stanford is incorporating a pair of identical nickel-iron oxide catalysts. When a 1.5V current is applied, the system operates at 82 percent efficiency — many times more than what its conventional equivalent can make with the same charge. It could be precisely the production breakthrough that the hydrogen fuel economy needs to actually take off.”

      • The Theoretical thermodynamic efficiency of hydrolysis is ~88 percent. Commercial is already ~75. Not a lot of opportunity for improvement left. No matter what Stanford claims. Regards

  19. There is a technology that will probably render both the fuel cell and moreso the internal combustion engine more efficient still. A thermoacoustic electric generator can be added to any heat source such as the fuel cell and the exhaust manifold of the car.
    With a generating efficiency above 20%, as much as 45%, who knows what the future holds. The point is that the conversion of heat into electricity using a thermoacoustic generator is already a working technology. Five kW units are available for truck exhausts.
    This can be bolted onto the engine exhaust and the electricity used to power a motor assisting the engine or stored, as per an F1 hybrid.
    When it comes to energy efficiency it ain’t over until the heat is gone. 100 mpg? No sweat.

  20. I don’t think many realize the Engineering challenge to store Hydrogen either in a terminal or in the vehicle fuel tank. Just look around as you drive down the highway and look at all the infrastructure that private investment has provided to allow one to drive virtually anywhere in the USA as well as throughout the world. Does anyone have a handle on the massive investment which is required to duplicate that for a questionable energy source such as Hydrogen or even Electrical powered cars.
    Hydrogen poses special challenges, read below
    http://planetforlife.com/h2/h2swiss.html
    Hydrogen is difficult to store because has very low volumetric energy density. It is the simplest and lightest element–it’s lighter than helium. Hydrogen is 3.2 times less energy dense than natural gas and 2700 times less energy dense than gasoline. Hydrogen contains 3.4 times more energy than gasoline on a weight basis. Hydrogen must be made more energy dense to be useful for transportation. There are three ways to do this. Hydrogen can be compressed, liquefied, or chemically combined.”
    “Hydrogen compressed to 800 atmospheres (also called bars) occupies 3 times more volume than gasoline for the same energy. It is necessary to reach this density if a vehicle is to carry enough hydrogen to be practical. A pressure of 800 bars works out to 6 tons, or 12,000 lbs, per square inch. It is very difficult to contain such pressures safely in a lightweight tank. Catastrophic tank failure releases as much energy as an equal weight of dynamite. A tank made of high strength steel weighs 100 times more than the hydrogen it contains. A truck or an automobile using a steel tank would be impractical as the tank would weigh nearly as much as the vehicle.”
    The other option is to go cryogenic which also has significant cost.
    “Liquid (cryogenic) hydrogen also occupies 3 times more volume than gasoline for the same energy. (Paradoxically, there is more hydrogen in a gallon of gasoline than there is in a gallon of liquid hydrogen.) The advantage of hydrogen liquefaction is that a cryogenic hydrogen tank is much lighter. Hydrogen’s physical properties means hydrogen is harder to liquefy than any other gas except helium. There are significant and inevitable energy losses when hydrogen is liquefied. . Losses are 30% in the best case.”
    “Liquid hydrogen is colder than any other substance except liquid helium. The advantage of liquid hydrogen is that it can be stored in relatively lightweight tanks. A tank for cryogenic hydrogen is like a thermos bottle, but it must work much better. It consists of a tank within a tank with a vacuum between the two. The inner tank must be supported without conducting heat from it. This is very difficult to do in a tank designed for a vehicle. Gasoline, by contrast, requires only a small, low-tech tank.
    B&E estimates that a liquid hydrogen tank designed for automobile use will loose about 5% of its capacity every day, which is to say that all of it will be gone in 20 days. Losses of this magnitude are acceptable for, say, a taxicab fleet, but unacceptable to most people.
    Hydrogen cannot be vented to the atmosphere because it is an explosion hazard and because it is a greenhouse gas. The vented hydrogen must be burned. A continuously running gas stove with one burner set to “medium” would do it.”
    Are we reallyready to invest our tax dollars in H 2 powered autos given the practical obstacles that make it very expensive?? f course some governments will push this despite the waste of tax dollars

    • H2 can be stored in a metal sponge at low-ish pressures and probably work, but it is just a lot more efficient to make a liquid fuel. Central processing of fuel into liquids is much better than distributing the storage of gas.
      Combined cycle burning of coal involves gasifying the coal then burning it in a turbine, followed by making steam using the exhaust heat. Gasoline is gasified by evaporation and the exhaust heat can be used to create electricity for additional power. At the moment that is not done, but easily could be. Why waste heat? It’s energy. The IC engine is far from done.

  21. There was a highly-touted diluted methanol fuel cell announced about 8 years ago. Unfortunately, those promoting it were foolish enough to provide actual performance numbers that could be quickly used to calculate that a vehicle based on this new fuel cell required a full-size tank trailer pulled behind it to provide a driving distance equal to that of a conventional IC engine car. The promoters of newer schemes are more careful, rarely providing operating parameters of any kind, lest they give themselves away.

    • OK – these are not yet available for large scale storage but they do not require high pressure;
      http://www.horizoneducational.com/advancedproducts/hydrostik-pro/
      As E. M. Smith pointed out the Hindenburg was not a hydrogen explosion.
      How many boats have burned to the water line with heavier than air gases? H2 rises and dissipates very rapidly in the atmosphere.
      Just like the internet, distributed power generation from a range of sources will be the norm for similar reasons that people don’t like riding in public transport and prefer to have their own individual transport if they can afford it.
      I am thinking of technologies like small nuclear reactors, carbon based liquid/gas fuels, solar, wind, tide and any thing else you can think of – converted to a simple unified fuel like H2.
      Incidentally H2 is the most efficient working gas (not the fuel – the working fluid – look it up) for use in a Sterling cycle engine considering all other parameters are equal. Fuel cells are not the only way to use H2 as a fuel.
      My prediction is that the first company that can successfully store and transport H2 economically with low cost benign materials (maybe graphene based polymers?) will win the long term energy race
      BUT and a big BUT – there is a long evolutionary time span to go before that will be a reality because of all the reasons given above… still worth keeping an eye on though ;-).

  22. Methanol is not nice. It is an incredibly useful industrial product with many uses. However, the general public should be kept away from it IMO.
    Note that the ‘antidote’ for methanol poisoning is a regular alcoholic drink!
    From: http://www.methanol.org/Health-And-Safety/Safety-Resources/Health—Safety/Methanol-Safe-Handling-Manual-English.aspx
    First aid is the immediate temporary treatment given to an exposed individual before the
    services or recommendations of a medical professional are obtained. Prompt action is
    essential. If necessary, medical assistance must be obtained as soon as possible. A Material
    Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for methanol or materials containing methanol should be carefully
    reviewed for information on first aid measures.
    4.4.1 Inhalation
    In case of inhalation of methanol vapors, first remove the individual to fresh air if it is safe for
    you to do so, and keep him or her warm and at rest. Monitor for respiratory distress. If
    difficulty in breathing develops or if breathing has stopped, administer artificial respiration or
    cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately and seek medical attention. If trained to do
    so, administer supplemental oxygen with assisted ventilation, as required.
    4.4.2 Skin Contact
    In case of contact with skin, immediately use an emergency eyewash or safety shower, and
    flush the exposed area with copious amounts of tepid water for at least 15 minutes.
    Contaminated clothing and shoes should be removed under the shower. Wash the area
    thoroughly with soap and water. Seek medical attention if irritation or pain persists or if
    symptoms of toxicity develop. Wash contaminated clothing and shoes before reuse.
    4.4.3 Eye Contact
    In case of contact with eyes, immediately irrigate the eyes with copious amounts of tepid
    water for at least 15 minutes. The eyelid should be held apart during the flushing to ensure all
    accessible tissue of the eyes and the lids are in contact with water. Obtain medical attention.
    4.4.4 Accidental Ingestion
    Ingestion of methanol may be life threatening. Onset of symptoms may be delayed for 18 to
    24 hours after ingestion. Do not induce vomiting. Get medical attention immediately. The
    individual should remain under close medical care and observation for several days.
    Treatment of methanol poisoning is well established: administer alkali, ethanol, and
    hemodialysis.
    Alkali is administered to combat the accumulation of formate in the blood.
    Ethanol is administered because ethanol competes with methanol for the enzyme that
    metabolizes methanol to formate. When ethanol and methanol are both present, the enzyme
    preferentially metabolizes ethanol. Dialysis is used to enhance the removal of methanol and
    its toxic products from blood. An antidote (in the form of an injection) is also available to treat
    methanol poisoning.

  23. Seems like every limited “niche” technology gets breathlessly but thoughtlessly promoted to center stage — pinwheels, solar energy, fuel-cells, hydrogen, electric vehicles (batteries) — on & on & on.

  24. A few thoughts on markets:
    1. Peak oil is not when demand exceeds supply as someone asserted in the comments. Demand and supply are always in balance because of the price mechanism. Too much demand drives prices up, as does too little supply, etc. Peak oil is defined as that time when oil production, i.e., supply, has peaked and begins falling. Implicit in that definition is that production falls because new supplies can’t be found fast enough to replace the amount being used. It doesn’t apply to a technological shift where suddenly the demand for oil plummets for other reasons, e.g., a massive switch to nuclear energy as a power source.
    2. Those who want to tax “carbon” (really carbon dioxide, but carbon sounds so much dirtier, no?) fail to realize that such a move would bias market prices of alternative fuels in the future in totally unpredictable ways. For example, if a means was found to more efficiently utilize, say, coal in some sort of power storage system, the previously-applied carbon tax might be sufficiently high to keep that means off of the market, whereas, without the tax, market prices would dictate the use of coal. The effect of the tax would be to waste resources.
    3. Discussions of “finite” resources tend to ignore market pricing. Perhaps, someday, we will be unable to find enough oil to power our cars. So what? Pricing of gasoline will drive gas-powered cars from the market under that scenario so that oil could continue to be used for purposes of higher value. Rather than have a committee decide who should get that scarce supply, let the market price decide. Some billionaires would still drive a gas guzzler from their youth with gas at $2,000 a gallon, but again, so what? Let prices dictate usage, stop meddling with markets via taxation and regulation, and all this tends to sort itself out in the end.
    4. I was surprised to learn how quickly the earth becomes uncomfortably hot as miners dig deep. It strikes me that we not only have the sun, but we’re all sitting upon a massive furnace called Earth. Market prices for energy today are so low that only immediate sources of the heat from that furnace are utilized, i.e., from geothermal sources near the surface. But if energy prices ever rise because of dreaded peak oil, peak gas, peak coal, etc., eventually someone will utilize the inexhaustible heat in furnace Earth.
    Let market pricing settle these arguments. Everything else is as big a waste of effort as counting grains of sand on a beach, while damaging our economic prospects in the bargain.

    • An added thought on market pricing, and windmills and solar: Car batteries in hybrid cars seem to me to be the perfect storage mechanism for intermittent wind- and solar-generated electricity. Cars sit idle for most of the day, and most aren’t driven in one day far enough to discharge a fully-charged battery. So install smart chargers (I assume this is trivial, but don’t know) all over the place, including homes, that kick in and start charging whenever electricity prices drop below a consumer-chosen price.
      When windmills are now shut off, just drop the price of electricity instead, thereby activating hundreds of thousands of charging stations already connected to cars. If the sun comes out full force, drop it another penny, thereby activating hundreds of thousands more chargers that consumers have preset to charge at that price. As the next drive time approaches, the preset price could be automatically increased at the charger, ensuring that a full charge (at a price) is available the next day. If too high to recharge, the gas in the tank would become the prime fuel source for the day.
      This solution to wind and solar storage probably awaits better, less-expensive, battery packs in hybrids, but charging hundreds of millions of cars (billions worldwide) when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining would seem to be a good way to address the storage issue with wind and solar, provided the price mechanism is employed, and not 10,000 bureaucrats.

      • An added thought on market pricing, and windmills and solar: Car batteries in hybrid cars seem to me to be the perfect storage mechanism for intermittent wind- and solar-generated electricity.

        I think Tesla already has some of this functionality available now.

    • 4. I was surprised to learn how quickly the earth becomes uncomfortably hot as miners dig deep. It strikes me that we not only have the sun, but we’re all sitting upon a massive furnace called Earth. Market prices for energy today are so low that only immediate sources of the heat from that furnace are utilized, i.e., from geothermal sources near the surface. But if energy prices ever rise because of dreaded peak oil, peak gas, peak coal, etc., eventually someone will utilize the inexhaustible heat in furnace Earth.

      I figured it’d cost $10-$12,000 (plus the cost of repaving the driveway) to have enough geothermal to never have to shovel the driveway again.

  25. Whatever happened to the Fuel Cells that run on natural gas and are used to heat your domestic hot water and make electricity on the side. These could even be used to heat the home and make electricity. What happened to all of these ideas.

    • Whatever happened to the Fuel Cells that run on natural gas and are used to heat your domestic hot water and make electricity on the side. These could even be used to heat the home and make electricity. What happened to all of these ideas.

      I don’t think they’re gone, but I do think they’ve problems with long term reliability using Nat Gas, the membrane get’s fouled (iirc) and they stop working.

  26. Hydrogen fuel cells are a dead end. I worked on that for my PhD 14 years ago and I was convinced that the obstacles are just too much to overcome. Unless a revolutionary new way to produce cheap compressed H2 gas without producing CO2 is developed it will go nowhere. Not to mention that they are notoriously delicate and unreliable. The catalyst is expensive and easily poisoned over time. There are just too many ways for these things to fail and they are in no way economical.

    • Hydrogen fuel cells are a dead end. I worked on that for my PhD 14 years ago and I was convinced that the obstacles are just too much to overcome. Unless a revolutionary new way to produce cheap compressed H2 gas without producing CO2 is developed it will go nowhere. Not to mention that they are notoriously delicate and unreliable. The catalyst is expensive and easily poisoned over time. There are just too many ways for these things to fail and they are in no way economical.

      As you note, we’d need new material for catalyst, and a new catalyst to reduce the energy required to split water before it might scale up to something useful and non-carbon emitting.
      And I think I noted somewhere in this thread, if I lived way off grid, (or after the apocalypse), I’d use solar to split water and collect it for fuel, but you can’t operate a steel mill on renewables.

        • You can make steel from iron ore and charcoal.

          Charcoal is a renewable isn’t it?

          Sure, but if you want to build something big, you require a lot of energy.

        • Thank you for admitting that you can run a steel mill on renewables.

          Nice job parsing.
          You can’t make enough steel to operate a modern society with renewables.
          This report http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/11/f4/steel_energy_use.pdf
          says 770 kWh/shipped ton steel.
          China generates 160G kwhr/year wind, 28G kwhr/year solar
          US generates 140 G kwhr/year wind, 4.3 G kwhr/year solar
          China in 2014 made 822Million tons steel, US 88 M tons.
          Renewables if entirely went to steel can make 236M tons in China, the US could make 187M tons.
          But world wide production is 1,674 M tons, so China could make about 1/4 their steel, we could double our steel, but would not have power for anything else, and even doubling production would not supply just what China’s making let alone the rest of the world.

      • “You can’t make enough”

        That is not the issue. You have changed the subject. The simple fact is that you can run a steel mill on renewables.
        ..
        Maybe we can’t make enough today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t run a steel mill on renewables. If the supply of renewable energy continues it’s upward growth, we may be able to make enough steel in the future with renewables.

      • PS…
        ..
        “You can’t make enough steel to operate a modern society”

        Have you seen what Ford has done lately with it’s F150 with regards to steel?

      • Joel D. Jackson
        You replied to micro6500 by saying

        “You can’t make enough”

        That is not the issue. You have changed the subject. The simple fact is that you can run a steel mill on renewables.

        NO! You have changed the subject!
        micro6500 was NOT talking about a toy steel mill nor a smelter from the Iron Age. He was talking about a commercial-sized toy steel mill capable of supplying an industrial society.
        People following the discussion are not impressed by your semantic tricks.
        Richard

      • richardscourtney

        I find your mind reading abilities impressive !!!!!!

        Nowhere in his original post did micro6500 mention size. He stated: “you can’t operate a steel mill on renewables.” ( reference: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/07/15/are-fuel-cells-environmentally-friendly-not-always/#comment-1987102 )

        micro6500 even acknowledged that you can make steel with charcoal (which is renewable.)

        If the quantity of renewable energy was sufficient, you could easily run an industrial society.

      • richardscourtney

        Please point out to me where in micro6500’s original post was there any mention of “industrial society. ???” (reference: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/07/15/are-fuel-cells-environmentally-friendly-not-always/#comment-1987102 )

        The original statement made was “you can’t operate a steel mill on renewables.”

        I have shown that you can operate a steel mill on charcoal which is in fact a renewable.
        ..
        micro6500 even acknowledge as much by saying “Sure” (reference: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/07/15/are-fuel-cells-environmentally-friendly-not-always/#comment-1987108 )

      • Please point out to me where in micro6500’s original post was there any mention of “industrial society. ???”

        The original statement made was “you can’t operate a steel mill on renewables.”

        I have shown that you can operate a steel mill on charcoal which is in fact a renewable.

        You did show anything.

        Sure, but if you want to build something big, you require a lot of energy.

        Nice job parsing.
        You can’t make enough steel to operate a modern society with renewables.

        I have shown that you can operate a steel mill on charcoal which is in fact a renewable.

        Again You did show anything, and I wasn’t referring to using charcoal for power, I was referring to charcoal to carbonize iron into steel. That was what I said “sure” to.
        Like wise I noted that all you really did was parse the words up.
        And I did show there wasn’t enough renewable to make the steel currently in production.

      • Joel D. Jackson:
        In reply to my pointing out to you

        People following the discussion are not impressed by your semantic tricks.

        you have said

        The original statement made was “you can’t operate a steel mill on renewables.”

        I have shown that you can operate a steel mill on charcoal which is in fact a renewable.

        No!
        You acknowledged that micro6500 was talking about a modern commercial-scale steel mill when you wrote.

        If the supply of renewable energy continues it’s upward growth, we may be able to make enough steel in the future with renewables.

        That is admission by you that “you can’t operate a steel mill on renewables.”
        People following the discussion are not impressed by your semantic tricks.
        If you had any sense you would stop.
        Richard

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