Hydrogen fuel: backseat to electric vehicles?

Obama focus on EVs cuts off Bush initiative

Ken Silverstein | Jun 26, 2011

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Obama Administration programs push electric vehicles (EVs), although the jury is out on consumer uptake. It's worth asking: what happened to hydrogen-powered cars, purportedly the cleanest possible alternative?
 
Not only is the idea still around, major car makers say they are almost ready to introduce such vehicles. Toyota reportedly expects to have its hydrogen-powered vehicle on the road by 2015; price tag: $50,000. Daimler, Ford and Hyundai have made similar comments.
 
Global demand for oil is expected to rise in the next two decades, while "peak oil" projections remind us that oil is a finite, fossil fuel with adverse environmental consequences—two drivers  behind initiatives to develop alternatives.

Hydrogen is abundant, renewable and non-polluting. The trick to its economic use is several-fold. To name two: an efficient method of extracting it from water, where it resides most abundantly; and an infrastructure that can deliver it for, say, transportation purposes.

To be useful in energy applications such as fuel cells, for instance, a pure hydrogen source is required. If the "hydrogen economy" is to become a reality, then cheaper and more efficient methods of stripping the hydrogen from water must be developed. Today's technologies—which include electrolysis—tend to be costly and inefficient. However, work at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) shows promise in achieving cost targets.

To catch up on current work on hydrogen as a fuel and converting wind energy to hydrogen, see NREL's website on the topic and my colleague, Intelligent Utility Daily Editor Phil Carson's recent column on the wind-to-hydrogen work at NREL. And according to NREL, hydrogen has nearly three times the energy content of gasoline, which compensates for efficiency losses.

Hydrogen has other advantages. When used in a fuel cell, hydrogen produces electricity and its only byproduct is water vapor. With current technology, hydrogen-fueled vehicles have more than twice the range of current EV technology, powered by electro-chemical batteries.

"People understand the appeal," says Susan Hock, director of electric and hydrogen technology systems for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in a previous conversation with this reporter at her Golden, Co. office. "We could wean ourselves from fossil fuels and become more energy independent to power cars and homes—and the only emission would be distilled water. But you have to produce, distribute and store hydrogen."

One major drawback: the energy used to create pure hydrogen, store it and transport it may outweigh its benefits. For now.

According to Hock, those hurdles will be overcome and EVs will bridge the gap to hydrogen-powered transportation and other applications.

Right now, however, electric vehicles are being pushed by the Obama Administration, which has allocated $11 billion to the research and development of EVs while challenging Americans to put 1 million such cars on the road by 2015. The current administration's budget would cut funds next year for work on hydrogen cars by $70 million.

Back in 2003, however, President George W. Bush announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative. This was reversed by President Obama in 2009.

What is the most advantageous policy and budgetary approach to EVs and hydrogen fuel cells to accomplish the goal of energy independence and, thus, security for the United States?

Ken Silverstein is editor-in-chief of EnergyBiz Insider. Intelligent Utility Daily Editor-in-chief Phil Carson's column returns tomorrow.

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Comments

Hydrogen Car

According to the consumers demand the automobile people trying to invent the new versions. In all those the hydrogen car is the on that made on the demand of people. The properties and uses are all as same as the electric car. Due to the air pollution now everyone want to be aware about it and want to do take some steps to decrease it. In that the vehicle pollution is more than others. So we need to be consicious and should stop using the fuel cars. BMW Specialist North Hollywood

Electric & Hydrogen Car

Electric Car and the hydrogen powered cars are very interesting to drive and it is becoming famous due to the activities that enhancing the characters in it. Like the environmental security car that securing our society from air pollution and the ozone depletion due to CO. Hydrogen abudant cars also just like the electric car and but you may face problem related to the fuel energy of these cars. Now the major car makers introducing these facility in their car like BMW, Mercedes etc.Land Rover Auto Parts

Putting the H2 car before the H2 iron horse

Steam railways were deployed 75 years before steam cars. Diesel railways were deployed 50 years before diesel cars and convenience store pumps to top them up. Diesel marine vessels predated trains.

Yet the media continually shove us toward cars--nearly the final step in the hydrogen economy because of their daunting ubiquity issues (dealer support, fuel tax sorting out, and dispensing pumps).

Like any other energy delivery system, hydrogen is most easily applied first to large vehicles operated by specialists in context where ubiquity is not an issue, e.g., streetcar lines, commuter rail lines, harbors, bus routes.

The media's inadvertant branding of H2 cars as a "Jetsons" artifact instead of focusing on the general hydrogen economy has created unresonable expectations that hold back all aspects of the hydrogen macro-system, cars included. 

Next summer, at the University of Birmingham, UK, Appalachian State University will co-host the seventh in a series of International Hydrail Conferences to expedite the transition of the world's railways from diesel to hydrogen, a far simpler undertaking to begin than the car universe. Sadly, misguided media obsession about the H2 car has put on hold the DoE's mass thermochmical water splitting project that would have produced ideal trackside hydrogen sources. It's as if work on the transitor had been stopped in 1960s until integrated circuit chips were perfected.

Hydrogen is a system for making electrical energy portable and storable so that intermittent renewable sources can be tapped.  It's not a subsytem of the automotive industry; instead, cars are one hydrogen application, and just about the most complex and difficult to realize.

As a frequent writer about history, I can't help believing that more media attention to the easiest hydrogen applications, such as buses, streetcars, harbor vessels, fork lifts, standby generators, underground construction, delivery truck fleets and perhaps even light aviation (as Boeing and the EU's ENFICA project have demonstrated) can do more to advance hydrogen cars than technological refinements can.

See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAslL-M4CeI&feature=relatedhttp://www.enfica-fc.polito.it/, http://www.hydrail.org

News coverage of non-automotive hydrogen "apps" would do more the advance the advent of the H2 car than any other factor. But the media's "Jetsons" car myth is "their story and their sticking to it."  The energy story that needs covering is not "electric versus hydrogen cars." It's which hydrogen apps should come first and which should be deferred until the H2 infrastructure has become more ubiqitous.

By putting the cart before the horse, President Bush's H2 car initiative guaranteed many more years of oil dependence. By conflating thermochemical hydrogen production with the H2 car, the Obama Administration has extended that same policy error.

original story-efficiency points

http://www.energybiz.com/article/11/05/hydrogens-hope

here's the original story that had the points in it regarding efficiency.


Ken

Hydrogen for storage

Yes, the laws of thermodynamics state that in any system, you will always end up with less energy than what you put in due to the fact that no energy transfer system is 100% efficient. However, there is a lot to be said for the potential for hydrogen to solve our storage problems. We all know the intermittent problems of solar and wind energy -- the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow. It would definitely make more sense for solar or wind energy to be the source of electricity generation for the purpose of immediate electricity use, but this is only possible when these forms of energy are available. When they aren't available, electricity will still need to be generated somehow to meet demand. This is where fuel cells step in. On extremely sunny or windy days, excess energy can be used to produce hydrogen. This hydrogen can then be used to generate electricity at night or during days lacking in solar and/or wind energy. This kind of a system is simple, and it makes sense. Whether the stored energy is used to power a fuel cell electric vehicle directly or used for electricity to power a battery electric vehicle, we need a system that ensures electricity generation at all times of the day. A system that involves purely solar and wind just doesn't do that.

Hydrogen from water

I feel that your article is misleading regarding the use of hydrogen as a fuel.  Your article implies that all we need to do is figure out how to economically “extract” or “strip” hydrogen from water to solve our transportation energy problems.   According to the laws of thermodynamics, it takes more energy to convert water to hydrogen than can be obtained from the hydrogen.  There is no way around this.  Just like a perpetual motion machine, no matter how “efficient” the process, you must always put in more energy than you get out.   Any use of hydrogen from water for energy purposes requires that the useful energy come from some other source such as wind, solar, fossil, nuclear, etc.   Hydrogen from water is like electricity in this regard, it is an energy carrier but not a fuel source.  Saying that hydrogen is “….renewable, and non-polluting” is like saying that electricity is renewable and non-polluting.  It depends on where the useful energy actually came from. 

Hydrogen Gas

Hydrogen is high in energy, yet an engine that burns pure hydrogen produces almost no pollution.  It has many importance  and benefits in the automobile industry.  It has many industrial applications like  firstly they  are in the fertilizer and paint industries. It is also used in the food and chemical industries. Food industries use the element to make hydrogenated vegetable oils such as margarine and butter. In this procedure, vegetable oils are combined with hydrogen.  In petrochemical industry, hydrogen is required for crude oil refinements. It is primarily use to create water.  Hydrogen gas can be used for metallic ore reduction. Chemical industries also use it for hydrochloric acid production.   Volkswagen Mechanic Chicago

H2 should be in the backseat

Hi, please don't argue about this, fuel cell for end usage, that is, for cars, that is not the point, the real potential for H2 and hydrogen is make, storage, transfer electricity, so it ought to be in the back office, ( so also not backseat).

IIf even fuel cell wins the EV for cars, that is not its best utilization.