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Are Hydrogen Cars Finally a Reality?

November 24, 2013

Honda's Hydrogen FCEV Concept Car

Honda’s Hydrogen FCEV Concept Car

Hydrogen used as an energy carrier or a fuel has the potential to be a renewable, sustainable and practical energy source. Collectively, these energy and environmental benefits will help to achieve our National objectives in developing an alternate source of energy that is available, clean and convenient. Successful implementation will result in reducing our Nation’s reliance on fossil fuels which are limited, imported and environmentally harmful. In addition, these initiatives are critical to the success of our Nation in terms of Global economic competitiveness, expanding economic growth, decreasing the dependency on imported petroleum fuels, revitalizing our industrial capabilities, and reducing the emission of harmful pollutants.

In the 1990s, hydrogen technologies were being developed for use in the utility (electric generation, process steam, co-generation), commercial and residential, and transportation sectors (light duty ZEV and near-ZEV vehicles). The resulting hydrogen based energy systems and devices, will be safe, practical and competitive. However, various economic and technical issues prevented the use of hydrogen in widespread energy applications.

The Matsunaga Hydrogen Research, Development, and Development Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-566) directed the DOE to establish a Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel (HTAP). The HTAP panel’s mission was set forth to facilitate the development of hydrogen as an energy carrier and make recommendations on implementation and the associated economic, technological and environmental impact of hydrogen based energy systems. Complementing this Act, the DOE established short-, mid- and long-term national objectives of replacing from 0.1 to 0.5 quads of conventional energy per year by 2000, displacing 2 to 4 quads per year by 2010, and displacing 10 quads per year by 2030, respectively. In addition, the State of California has enacted legislation requiring that 2% of new cars offered for sale within the state be non-polluting by 1998 and 10% by 2003.

As a logical extension of these federal and state mandates, I cofounded the National Hydrogen Fund (NHF) Ltd in 1997. The Fund was created to provide a linkage between government and industry to facilitate rapid time-to-market hydrogen energy technologies in the transportation sector, the sector that is the primary consumer of foreign oil and therefore contributor to energy insecurity. Strategically, the Fund targeted the most promising technologies to help facilitate their commercialization. The Fund aimed to provide significant financial and managerial assistance to small emerging companies to enable their participation in a highly organized, industry-led, cost shared, research and development project which will accelerate the development of hydrogen energy technologies through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy.

For reasons better left to history, the U.S. Department of Energy abruptly deferred investments in hydrogen “fuel” programs. At the end of the day, there were no viable hydrogen technologies to commercialize and the NHF became another tragedy of U.S. myopic energy policy.

So, it was encouraging to hear in an NBC News report that Honda, the maker of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) prototype, is promising to put a final version of the zero-emissions vehicle into production in 2015.

NBC goes on to state:

“….. Toyota simultaneously announced 2015 production plans for its own fuel-cell vehicle, or FCV, at the L.A. event and the Tokyo Motor Show.”

“….. Hyundai may have stolen their thunder, not only revealing plans to put a fuel-cell vehicle on the market by the spring of next year but to offer it at an unexpectedly low price that will include the cost of all fill-ups during the three-year lease.”

“….. other manufacturers hinted they’re also working up plans, including General Motors, which earlier this year signed into a fuel-cell development program with Honda.”

“Hydrogen “is what we believe could be the ultimate solution to low-carbon mobility …..”

“….. ease with which motorists can slip from a conventional, gas-powered vehicle into a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle could prove critical to winning over potential buyers, and could be the significant selling point when compared to battery-electric vehicles.”

“….. fuel-cell vehicles like the FCEV prototype can be refueled in as little as three minutes and deliver up to about 300 miles per tank – compared to the hours it takes to recharge a battery car which, in turn, typically yields less than 100 miles of range.”

“….. fuel-cell technology is not only becoming more efficient but much less expensive – Hyundai claims it cut production costs of its fuel-cell “stack” in half over the last two years.’

In closing, the lack of fueling infrastructure to generate, store, transport and pump hydrogen rises again as one of the major impediments to broad market acceptance of FCEVs. Yet, nothing in the energy landscape comes even close to hydrogen’s elegance as a source of energy. Solar and wind too give thanks to their creator, hydrogen, the stuff that our sun is made of.

PS. Honda’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell EV Concept Car is a futuristic vision of beauty that designers at Tesla would have liked to conceive. Forget other current pure EV manufacturers who produce vehicles in the style of a four wheeled egg.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2013 11:13 AM

    Google Audi e-gas. They already have a 6MW plant in production in Germany producing renewably sourced synthetic methane, that uses the existing gas network for transportation.
    It can power domestic, industry, and dual fuel combustion engines in vehicles.

  2. December 3, 2013 6:16 PM

    With support from the Energy Department, private industry and the Department’s national laboratories have already achieved significant advances in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies – reducing costs and improving performance. These research and development efforts have helped reduce automotive fuel cell costs by more than 35 percent since 2008 and by more than 80 percent since 2002. At the same time, fuel cell durability has doubled and the amount of expensive platinum needed in fuel cells has fallen by 80 percent since 2005.

  3. Ed Howes permalink
    December 6, 2013 12:07 PM

    It is very obvious to me from the Barry Stevens article, Are Hydrogen Vehicles Finally a Reality for which you posted a link on Sterling Allan’s Timeline a short while ago, the big energy companies want to sell and control hydrogen fuel. Here is a short essay I write today about alternatives a do it yourselfer can handle.
    Water Power and Dual Fuels
    December 6, 2013 at 6:59am
    How many horsepower can we make burning 5 liters of water fuel per minute in an internal combustion engine? Has the engine been optimized for vapor fuel or is it set up to run on liquids? Does it make a difference if an engine is optimized for it’s intended fuel? It most certainly does and it has everything to do with speed of combustion or burn. Liquid fuels burn slowly, all through the exhaust cycle, producing zero power during that cycle, creating a net power loss and out into the environment. Vaporized fuel burns quickly and seldom needs to burn through more than half of a power cycle, saving both fuel and environmental pollution.

    At this time, due to obstacles to marketing, vapor fuel systems and high volume water fuel systems are scarce. What can we do in the interim? Supplemental water fuel is growing in popularity because system installation is relatively straight forward and can be done by automotive hobbyists. It increases the burn rate and less liquid is needed. Depending on the particular installation a fuel consumption decrease of 20 to 40% may be expected and realized. On a simple system often costing less than $500, fuel savings would pay for the installation in less than 2 years for most people and keep the inside of the engine much cleaner and free of carbon deposit hot spots.

    If water fuel will not meet the peak power requirements of the typical auto engine, dual fuel can, if the power fuel is also pre vaporized. The engine can be optimized for water and vapor fuel as it cannot when burning any liquid fuels – always being a compromise from optimum combustion. This engine can run on water fuel at idle and during steady state cruise. The pre vaporized alcohol, gasoline or diesel fuel for increased power only – hill climbing, trailer towing, acceleration. This is the ideal dual fuel arrangement which requires both the optimization of a disassembled, modified and reassembled engine with proper tuning and spark timing and the addition of both water fuel generator and liquid fuel pre vaporizer for; optimum performance, maximum power, fuel economy with minimal pollution. Zero pollution while running on water and minimal pollution from the vapor fuel, totally burned on the power cycle.

    If we jump down to small engine applications for water fuel, the first thing we might consider is an emergency water powered electric generator. The fuel production for such a small engine and lower power requirement just to run itself means off the shelf water gas generators are sufficient to provide the fuel, only requiring a portion of the electrical generator output to make the water fuel, the remainder powering your home or charging your electric vehicle. You are now making clean electricity at home using clean water you may have taken from your electric home water distiller. You are now energy independent. You can use water gas for cooking if you choose to generate more fuel than the electrical generator requires and water gas to heat water and home interior as well. You can use engine heat from the electrical generator engine to heat or pre heat your water. The larger the electric generator the more heat and electricity produced. One could scale up and produce heat and electricity for multiple homes and operate as a neighborhood utility company.

    While we are looking at small water powered electric generators, how about hybrid electric cars which do not use combustion engines to power drive wheels but a battery charger instead? It need not charge batteries at half the rate of a home charging system to considerably extend the range of the electric vehicle. It need not take up much space in the car, nor add 100 lbs./45 kilos weight and much more than a few hundred dollars or euros to price. Although the charger engine need not be noisy, many electric vehicle owners might not wish the noise it would produce and pay for all their electricity, keeping trips within recharge mileage range.

    My main point in this message is full commitment to clean and very powerful water fuel, which could reset every performance record for internal combustion power, air, land and sea, can begin with doing a simple conversion to water power as a supplemental fuel/ burn accelerator, economy and power enhancer and end setting world speed records. The energy cartels are no longer capable of preventing this technology from reaching the market as it already has and progress will be very rapid from this point.

    Ed Howes

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