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back to article US govt hydrogen highway runs out of road

The Hydrogen Highway has just become a B road. The Obama administration has announced that the Federal government's $1.2bn (£788m/€880m) plan to develop hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars and infrastructure is to end. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the government preferred to target more immediate energy-saving solutions and so …

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Top Gear repeats

so remember to laugh heartily during repeats of the Top Gear episode when they claim hydrogen is the fuel of the future and electric cars are a dead end....

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Excellent news

Hydrogen was always going to be a dead-end, and I suspect it only achieved the prominence that it did because some of the bigger vested interests, notably the oil companies, saw a useful and easy upgrade path from their current business models.

Let's spend the money on developing battery technology, and start looking at pure plug-in vehicles and hybrids with more emphasis on the electric powertrain than the internal combustion on, and see where the development takes us.

”Man is the animal that intends to shoot himself out into interplanetary space, after having given up on the problem of an efficient way to get himself five miles to work and back each day.”

~Bill Vaughan

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Go

*dances*

This is the best news I've heard all day. Which isn't saying much tbh, but it's still good.

Pure-Electric vehicles are far more efficient over the whole system than hydrogen vehicles- and given that we're running out of energy an efficiency boost is something to be welcomed!

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Seems fair enough

The Grand Hydrogen Plan goes back decades to when everybody was worried about urban pollution.

Now the Big Thing is CO2.

Unfortunately, you have to make the hydrogen somehow. And we can't make hydrogen anywhere near as efficiently as we can make electricity. So, when you take CO2 into account, hydrogen cars currently come out as even more polluting than electric vehicles.

It seems pointless spending any more money on using hydrogen when we don't even know how to make the stuff properly...

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"Not much to show for it."

But those hydrogen cars that have been created are a million times better than the little POS electric cars that have been created. They don't require gobsmacking recharge times, they don't have a range of 30 yards, they don't have batteries to dispose of, etc, etc.

What a bunch of idiots.

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Boffin

quick fix

Oh FFS. Apply here a variation on the old quote - short term quick fix = long term FAIL.

Standard operating procedure for politicians world wide.

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Hydrogen Cars Bomb

What a refreshing difference it makes to have a president that has a real intellect and recognized that Hydrogen fueled vehicles would bomb out before arrival.

I've been saying on this site for quite a while that hydrogen fuel is dangerous and extraordinally inefficient to produce.

Not to mention that the use of natural gas (same process and capabilities) as a vehicle fuel has never caught on even though it is far easier and safer to use, store and transport.

We have to hope that someone in the administration is intelligent enough to recognize the problems with battery life in electric vehicles and put the money set aside for hydrogen research into the R&D neccessary to extend that life to say 10 years from the current three along with the ability to travel at 60 MPH for 200 to 300 miles

That, coupled with whole new species of ultralightweight vehicles and big incentives to get the 3.5 ton behemoths off the road will allow electric vehicles to flourish.

These innovations must be coupled with efforts to make rail transportation and mass transit ubiquitous in the US so that commuting to work does not require personal vehicles and that freight is carried over rail to be delivered locally by trucks powered by biodeisel.

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Paris Hilton

Idiot. Who pushed him to that?

Pure-electric is a complete dead-end. It's obvious!

Given the choice, and assuming that the two 'green' vehicles have similar purchase price (ie quite a lot more than a standard petrol or diesel) and the same range of say 200 miles (as that's pretty much the top end of Lithium Ion) do you buy:

A) A vehicle that plugs into a wallsocket in your garage and has to stay there 6-8 hours to allow it to go 200 miles.

B) A vehicle that you fill up at a station in a few minutes to allow it to go 200 miles.

The answer's obvious.

The answer is even more obvious if you don't actually have a garage - maybe you live in a flat, like the majority of city-dwellers.

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For an unbiased analysis of options...

Read David McKay's 'without hot air' free at

www.withouthotair.com

He knows his chips. Hydrogen stinks.

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Peter

Greg. Go and check about the new electic cars before making stupid statements.

They will outperform IC cars and with new battery technology coming very soon, match range and be fast to recharge. Hydrogen is a dead duck, it was never going to work, more polluting overall than a petrol engine.

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Pirate

At least it's good to know...

the $500 million they DID spend wasn't wasted.

Oh, wait...

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@Richard

Actually, lets go really unbiased.

Would you rather have (a) a car that can go 300 miles and recharge from the building you arrive at, with the option to fast-charge if they've got a 3-phase supply they don't mind you nicking a few pence of electricity from

or (b)

a car that can go 300 miles. Except you can't do anything when you get 300 miles away as you're on the "regular" highway and not the hydrogen-equipped one. So... your journey time is up by about 5, 10, maybe 20 years until they get 'round to deploying a hydrogen station within car-pushing distance. Or you get picked up by a diesel-powered towtruck.

Alternatively,

(a) a car that, in a crash, burns horribly and releases hydrogen gas- which burns more

or (b)

a car that, in a crash, explodes with at least 5,000psi of pressure behind it. And then burns horribly.

And then think about the other applications of electric car R&D- most battery powered tech would benefit from improvements in battery tech.

Try taking something hydrogen fuel cell powered onto a plane.

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Hydrogen, Sources

Geoff Campbell says, "I suspect it only achieved the prominence that it did because some of the bigger vested interests, notably the oil companies, saw a useful and easy upgrade path from their current business models"

The next generation nuclear power plant is supposed to produce hydrogen as a byproduct, meaning that hydrogen could be harvested without digging in the ground. Electric cars will need the new power plants, not leveraging the hydrogen is now a waste.

Geoff Campbell posts, "Let's spend the money on developing battery technology, and start looking at pure plug-in vehicles and hybrids with more emphasis on the electric powertrain"

Nothing wrong with that, but Hydrogen would have supplied energy in a way where battery technology would not be needed, new engine and powertrain technology would not be needed. Tweeking the old technologies were sufficient (i.e. add a new gas tank and filling system.)

Dan Paul posts, "hydrogen fuel is dangerous and extraordinally inefficient to produce"

From new nuclear power plants, it is not difficult to produce. Correctly packaged, it is not dangerous. New nuclear power plants will be needed with electrical vehicles. Batteries will continue to be incredibly toxic.

Dan Paul posts, "rail transportation and mass transit ubiquitous in the US so that commuting to work does not require personal vehicles and that freight is carried over rail to be delivered locally by trucks powered by biodeisel"

Rail transportation is an incredibly inefficient way to carry light weight loads and people - but a very efficient way to carry heavy loads (i.e. coal, crushed up cars, etc.) Rail can not be brought into individual neighborhoods in nations like the United States, where so many people live in suburban areas without tremendous rip-out and replace of existing infrastructure.

Bio-anything will produce too many hydrocarbons for the global warming community with CO2 concerns.

The government moved too slow on deploying new generation nuclear power stations - but the drive to Electric or Plug-In Hybrids will make their construction a requirement, to avoid brownouts with wide-scale deployment of new battery based vehicles.

All this being said, I will probably buy an electric car or plug-in hybrid, since the government programs moved too slowly on hydrogen, and plug-in hybrids are appearing as a market solution.

Just another example of a good idea killed by central government planning and over-regulation.

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Storage

Hydrogen would be great, _if_ it could be stored efficiently. Of couse, it can't as yet, until this has been resolved it's a dead end. How I would love to be the person who cracks hydrogen storage, but as I'm not doing a Chemistry Phd, it's not really likely.

Plug in tech has limitations, not least for all those who live in terraced housing with no on-street parking. Charging points would be good, but I really can't see my council ponying up the cash, if they can't be arsed to collect our rubbish on a weekly basis. It seems to me that the best solution at the moment is something like converting as many existing cars as possible to alcohol, alongside bringing in charging points at supermarkets/filling stations. Augmenting this with battery swaps at filling stations and phasing over to new cars. Long range cars should have a charging generator built in and there should be limitations of the ammount that moterway based filling stations can charge for a battery change.

Of course, this is very easy to say, I'd imagine a total nightmare to implement, I can't think of any time that this sort of fuel change has taken palce, unleaded was probably the only change that even came close.

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@"Not much to show for it."

Well I have seen a hydrogen car at a car show recently. It had a huge high pressure tank in the trunk leaving essentially no storage space. I asked what range that gave and was told it did about 300km on a tank. The tank took about 30 minutes to fill (you do NOT fill 5000psi tanks the way you fill your petroleum fueled car), which is better than electric, but still bad, especially given the range. Drive for 2 hours, fill for 20 minutes, drive for 2 hours, fill for 20 minutes. What a pain.

I also do not want a hydrogen tank in my car anymore than I want natural gas or propane (and I would prefer to avoid gasoline as well and stick with diesel personally).

Hydrogen is also inefficient to produce at the moment, and seems like a much too dangerous material to be transporting around. Maybe the fuel cells would do something different, or one of those hydrogen stored in metal systems would work someday, but you still have to find a way to make the stuff. I just don't see it ever becoming useful.

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I see

People are still spouting the "What's the point of an electric car as it takes 6 to 8 hours to recharge" line.

As I understand it using a suitable charging point many of the newer batteries can be charged to 80 or 90% in a few minutes. Yes with a normal wall socket it will take longer buts its going to be a hell of a lot easier to modify current filling stations to provide electric charging points than it is to add hydrogen pumps.

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Charging points

For those of us who don't have on street parking there is always going to be the problem of charging but for us at least this could be mitigated by:

1) Charging points at supermarkets. Charge while you are in doing your weekly shopping, the charging could be linked to the tills so when you pay the charging stops and the price of the charge is added to your bill.

2) Charging point at work. I walk 100 yards to work but my wife occasionally drives. If you gave some tax benefit to companies with large car parks to install charging points we could be covered there.

3) Normal filling stations for a top up.

Most people only drive 30 miles a day at most and batteries should be able to do multiple times that so there should be no need for all cars to charge every evening in the same way that all cars don't need to be filled up everyday.

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Go

So thats decided then

Internal combustion petrol and diesel are here to stay.

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@Geoff Campbell + AC

@Geoff Campbell

Eh?? Where does internal combustion come into the argument? Hydrogen fuel cells have nothing whatsoever to do with combusting anything. Fuel cell cars have an entirely electric drivetrain AND they don't need batteries which means no need for horribly environmentally unfriendly mining and refining of heavy metals used in battery manufacture.

@AC - Fair Enough

Again, EH?? WTF does CO2 come into the argument? The output of a hydrogen fuel cell is the bi-product of combining hydrogen and oxygen. H2O. Water.

Granted, Hydrogen production is currently energy intensive, but research has been done which points to much more efficient mass production methods. Algae being one of them. Its also entirely feasible to for a individual consumer to set up a small solar powered home production unit, which is relatively safe thanks to honeycomb compounds which can store hydrogen relatively safely.

http://www.green-trust.org/2000/algaehydrogen.htm

http://ec.europa.eu/research/energy/pdf/efchp_hydrogen2.pdf

@Perpetual Cyclist

Having read the 10 page preview of this book, his view of hydrogen vehicles seems to be entirely based on prototypes, which clearly use existing inefficient hydrogen sources. I'm a little suspicious of some of his comparisons as well ... using a basis of everyone driving fossil fuel cars 50km a day is a world away from reality, since theres a lot of people who either drive < 5km a day or don't drive at all.

---

In my humble opinion there is one one sane choice in the battery vs fuel cell argument and its certainly not batteries. To divert the majority research and development resources into battery powered transport is utter folly and I'm disgusted that a president who until now appeared to be significantly more enlightened than his predecessors has made this call. I suspect strong political and commercial undercurrents to be the real driver.

Enormous long term benefits to mankind and our environment have been thrown away as a result, but that seems to be the precedent for this sort of thing. After all we're busy mowing down whats left of the amazon to make some of the most common raw ingredients of many trivial consumer goods and we're still ok, right?

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Bush Hydrogen Highway Was A Fraud

The only reason Mr. Bush funded hydrogen research was so that he could pretend he was doing something constructive while still not disturbing the oil companies. This is not to say that hydrogen has no future as a power source; I really can't speak to that. What I can say is that, given the current art, hydrogen doesn't look practical to me as a personal vehicle power supply. Near term, it's a bust, which is why Mr. Bush was so fond of it.

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Boffin

Storage

Will all you lot going on about high pressure hydrogen please go and do a bit of reading about metal hydride storage systems? I remember when looking into 240v solar / fuel cell kits a few years ago that they were available even then.

Having said that, I drive about with a 100L propane cylinder in my dual-fuel van. Having done some research into these, its suprising how difficult it is to make one blow up, because the cylinders themselves are unbelievably tough. You are even allowed to take vehicles fitted with them on cross-channel ferries.

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Coat

@Lennart Sorensen

I've had propane tanks in my cars for well over ten years now, and they cause me much less worry than the petrol tanks the cars come with as standard. 6mm steel, rated to stupid pressures (30 bar, from memory, with the propane stored at ~10bar), and with a pressure release valve to release the gas slowly under control. You can, apparently, sit a full one on a bonfire in complete safety, although I admit I have not tried this myself - I'm confident, not stupid.

I wouldn't particularly worry about hydrogen, either. Rather safer than petrol, I would think.

Mine's the one with the huge wodge of saved cash in the pocket.

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Coat

Help me here, ...

What makes the majority of the electricity consumed on planet earth? I'd guess hydrocarbon based combustion with a bit of nuclear thrown in.

H2 as a fuel is a reasonable solution and it is a shame America is drifting away from it. There are a few storage and transport issues (it does have a brittling effect on some metals) but in the main it is not too much more dificult to handle than LPG.

That much H2 is currently derived by reforming hydrocarbon based materials is sad when much more can be generated by electrolysis. I suspect that the 'H2 by-product' from nuclear power plants will be by electrolysis. I can't think of any other chemical process (perhaps high temp steam over a catalyst?)

Ultimately, unless N. fusion happens or energy demand per person falls substantially then humans will have to resort to electrolysis to produce H2 for burning. The maths is really very simple. Get used to the idea of wind, wave and solar furnace power folks - if not in your life time then certainly in that of any grand children you may have...

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@Lennart Sorensen - Wow!

Lennart Sorensen posts, "t did about 300km on a tank. The tank took about 30 minutes to fill"

That is a SUBSTANTIAL limitation of the current technology with Hydrogen!!!

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Boffin

Easier way

1: Use solar cells to crack hydrogen from well water

2: Use hydrogen to run house fuel-cell

3: Use house fuel-cell to charge electric car

4: ???

5: PROFIT!

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Hydrogen has a low energy density

The reason that gasoline is so popular is that it is a liquid fuel which makes it easy to transport store and manipulate in a car. Also, a small volume of gasoline will hold a huge amount of energy.

The problems with hydrogen are:

-- Very difficult to transport. The atom is so small it leaks thru just about anything including solid metal (which it makes brittle).

-- Lower energy density than methane (which is easier to store and use in the car).

-- A danger in poorly ventilated areas. (e.g. underground parking garages filling up with hydrogen cars and fuel air explosive.)

-- Require platinum catalysts for the fuel cells. If these went into mass production the cost of platinum would go sky high. Furthermore, the catalysts are poisoned by impurities in the air so this very, very expensive part of the engine would have to be replaced regularly. After 20 years, we still have not found a cheap way to make long duration fuel cells.

-- The theft of platinum in car's fuel cells would be very economically viable.

-- Hydrogen is very expensive to produce with electrolysis and no service stations are built with the huge power lines and transformers to build the electricity on site. Cracking the hydrogen on site is uneconomical so no unsubsidized gas station owner will do this, even if there were some hydrogen cars on the road.

-- If hydrogen was transported to gas stations in tanker trucks, each of those big 18 wheeler sized tanks will fill up 20 cars, because hydrogen gas has such a low energy density.

-- Commercial hydrogen today is made from cracking methane (releasing CO2 into the air). This just adds to the greenhouse gas burden and converts the methane (which can be burnt now in natural gas cars) into a form that is more dangerous and less efficient.

-- Hydrogen needs heavy steel tanks (mass reduces range) or high tech carbon-carbon composites (explode during crashes). Both take up a huge amount of storage space. I ran a propane truck for a few years and lost a 1/3 of the truck's bed to the tank. And propane has a higher energy density than hydrogen.

Hydrogen cars are a total economic impossibility in several different respects. See the book "Energy Victory" by Dr. Robert Zubrin for more details why the 'hydrogen economy' is impossible.

We will need liquid fuels (such as gasoline or methanol) for the foreseeable future. Electric cars are a serious contender for people traveling a couple hundred km or less.

Warm regards, Rick.

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Boffin

@David Halko

I have a copy of New Scientist which discusses the use of high temperature reactors (>800c) to produce Hydrogen for energy storage and chemical feedstock.

It's dated January 3rd, 1974.

They've been talking about H2 generation from nuclear plants (its a planned outcome, not a by product) for a *long* time. But assuming you can make it how will you distribute it?

Hydrogen's boiling point is 5.5x less than Methane and 11x lower than Propane. Its density is 1/5.9x of Methane and 1/8.2x that of Propane (when its liquid). They can use plastic foam as insulation. Some stainless steel grades are resistant. Mild steel (which is what I think most of the US gas distro backbone is made from) is not. Liquid Hydrogen is typically moved in 2 wall vacuum jacketed stainless steel line. IIRC tanker lorries are off the shelf down to liquid Nitrogen temperatures. Hydrogen is a special order. Liquid Methane storage tanks originally used balsa wood insulation in the late 1930s. Hydrogen requires vacuum jacketing, with multi-layer-insulation to prevent radiation heating of the contents. Hydrogen temperature leaks condense oxygen into pools around its pipes. Not a good idea. The H2 molecules small size makes it very able to diffuse through poor quality welds, and indeed solid metal. Screw threaded joints don't really cut it. If the system joints are not welded then high-precision connectors are needed. But maybe you can lay special sections (to filling stations) with impermeable layers inside the pipe. Note the ability to diffuse rises with temperature. But provided this works out that just leaves you with that 5000 PSI compressor and storage tankage you'll be needing.

It's not just an incremental change. Its quite major.

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@AC

Re-read my comment. The IC bit is regarding hybrid cars. I would personally love to see a plug-in serial hybrid with a ~50 mile range, coupled to a small IC engine of perhaps 15bhp. With a suitably aerodynamic body, 15bhp is fine for maintaining a steady 70mph, and in stop-start traffic would be perfect to recharge the batteries, whilst consuming small amounts of fuel.

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To all the H2 fans

Where do you think the hydrogen comes from? George Bush's a$$??

It's either made from fossil fuel or electricity (electrolysis). There's no magic "algae tech" that isn't 10x worse than biofuel.

Guess what? Cars can be made to run reasonably well on fossil fuels or electricity.

Why do we need hydrogen again?

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H2 is expensive

The cheapest and quickest way to make hydrogen gas is by steam cracking. Burn methane gas and put the hot exhaust gases through some kind of catalyst and recover the hydrogen. This means that for every cubic foot of hydrogen gas produced, up to two cubic feet of methane is burnt.

At that point, it makes much more sense just to compress the methane gas and burn it in a simple internal combustion engine. In the overall scheme of things, you'd consume less methane and there are no funky alloys and ceramics to dispose of at the end of the vehicle's life.

Hydrogen just makes no sense.

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Linux

Problems, problems everywhere

I don't doubt there are problems to solve in creation, distribution and use of H2 as a fuel to replace hydrocarbons but we'd better start solving them soon.

In my humble opinion, in the long run - 300 years or less- electricity will be for base load, H2 will be for mobility and hydrocarbon in all its forms will be for plastics. TINA?

We may as well start to solve the problems and build the enterprises/businesses now while we have the luxury of time. Research and development is required and I suspect only Governments trully have the power, influence and money to make it happen. The question is: Even if the politicians have the will does the Civil Service and Business have the same desire?

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Boffin

AC@16:14, Geoff Cambell

AC@16:14

".. do a bit of reading about metal hydride storage systems? I remember when looking into 240v solar / fuel cell kits a few years ago that they were available even then."

I am aware of this tech. but I don't think it's been mentioned as no actual mfg. has sold any cars using it. I suspect there is a perception its heavy too as the alloy foam used is several time the mass of H2 stored. However with the Clarity needing c4kg of H2 that is not that heavy and you should gain on overall tank weight. I think there are also issues with speed of absorption / desorption. I don't think you don't get the 5-10 min. fill-up you can have with high pressure H2 or LH2.

@Geoff Cambell

" wouldn't particularly worry about hydrogen, either. Rather safer than petrol, I would think."

See my comments to Dave Halko. But I'll add the Clarity storage tanks are not running at 10bar. They are running at c333 bar. You could drive a significant pneumatic motor just on the pressure energy stored in the gas, without ignition. If you go the liquid route LPG is well understood tech. LH2 requires storage temperatures 11x lower, with 11x better insulation.

I've driven LPG cars and am not concerned either. You might like to re-think your view on H2

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@John Smith

Oh, I'm entirely against H2 as a fuel for mobile applications. But I'm less concerned about the safety aspects than some others seem to be.

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Linux

Expanding on LPG

Today's technology available NOW on my 2002 1.8 people carrier. I get 39mpg using LPG which equates to a whopping 67.5mpg in Petrol terms. Little special equipment needed little extra infrastructure. Electric POS boxes? No thanks.

One happy bunny here and my coat is the one with the huge wedge of saved cash in the pocket too!

My wifes 2.5litre automatic 4x4 SUV gets the equivalent of 47.5 mpg on lpg too. Gas guzzler? It used to be. This all works because of the favourable tax treatment that LPG gets and being able to pay 47.9p a litre. So keep it quiet or Captain Darling will tax the bejebus out of it.

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Re: Expanding on LPG

And where does the LPG come from? We buy it from the MIddle East.

What about pollution? Oh yes, it's far worse than petrol for global warming.

Perhaps you could explain to us taxpayers why we should continue to subsidise this ridiculous fuel so you can pootle around in your oversized SUV?

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Paris Hilton

@AC

What do you base your global warming comments on? Last time I looked, LPG CO2 emissions were 20% lower than petrol mile for mile, all else being equal.

Oh, and before you have a go at me as well, my current LPG car is a Toyota Aygo, with my wife driving an Astra. Whilst I do have a big 4x4, it is used purely for towing big loads, a purpose for which it is ideally suited. I wonder what you drive?

Paris, because I'd drive her home any day (oo-errr, missus).

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Ah, yes, here we are.

"Taking into account fuel carbon content and upstream energy use, well to wheel carbon emissions from LPG vehicles are approx 18% lower than from petrol vehicles and similar to those from diesel. With dedicated engines, well to wheel emissions could be 25-30% better than petrol and 10% better than diesel. To achieve these carbon benefits, dedicated LPG engines must be produced. Mono-fuel vehicles offer significant carbon emissions reduction benefits compared to both conventional petrol and diesel engines."

From:

http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/archive/2003/efgsrfg/roadfuelgasesandtheircontrib1333?page=2

I'd love to see someone produce an engine running solely on LPG, tuned for the specific requirements of the fuel. I think the filling station density in the UK is high enough to support such a vehicle - I ran a previous LPG-converted car solely on LPG for 8,000 some years ago, when the petrol fuel system broke.

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Linux

AC@10:23

Perhaps you could explain to us taxpayers why we should continue to subsidise this ridiculous fuel so you can pootle around in your oversized SUV?

Oversize...Moi? 2.5litres? ROFLMAO!

It's so I can laugh at muppets in 800cc Lorries struggling to pull up modest inclines...right?

Taxpayer funding? It's so I can be VERY smug.

Mines still the one with shedloads of YOUR cash in the pocket! Mwahaha!

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Unhappy

@John Smith - Hydrogen

John Smith posts, "I have a copy of New Scientist which discusses the use of high temperature reactors (>800c) to produce Hydrogen for energy storage and chemical feedstock. It's dated January 3rd, 1974."

There is some good articles from just the past few years, as well.

http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2005/11/69456

http://www.eoearth.org/article/Hydrogen_production_from_nuclear_power

John Smith writes, "They've been talking about H2 generation from nuclear plants (its a planned outcome, not a by product) for a *long* time."

Next generation modular nuclear power plants, which use pellets and don't use rods, are the wave of the future. They are a necessity, since: they are melt-down poof; require less space; produce safer waste; grow organically as capacity needs increase. Old plants will be retired, and new plants can produce hydrogen - which would provide a reasonable portable energy supply.

http://www.physorg.com/news8956.html

John Smith posts, "But assuming you can make it how will you distribute it?"

The same way Hydrogen is distributed today. Hydrogen is in use in some vehicles today. People can generate it, in their homes, if they care to. Existing combustion engines can be converted. Even natural gas or propane appliances can be converted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_station

http://www.clean-air.org/conversion_kit_response.htm

With all the concern about CO2, hydrogen would be a reasonable product to use. With people driving vehicles, the production of water vapor into the air in combination with wind to transport across arid land, would be a benefit to the environment in order to create more arable land, and additional carbon sinks.

Hydrogen is a technology which can: free the individual (anyone can make it) for less than the cost of a auto; free the nations (any nation can make it) from hydrocarbons, water with renewable energy, or water from nuclear energy; free the West (not tied to hydrocarbon producing nations with political instabilities for day-to-day portable energy requirements.)

Everyone loses with shutting down hydrogen. There will always be the need for oil (oil is really too precious to burn - it is used to make roads, roofing materials, insulation, exterior siding, carpets, clothing, etc.) New portable fuels that are not hydrocarbon based need to be found, so we can conserve hydrocarbons for use in other materials.

Perhaps, it will just be batteries and nuclear, moving forward. That is not such a bad deal, but having more options would be better to drive innovation and competition.

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Happy

@David Halko

"Next generation modular nuclear power plants, which use pellets and don't use rods, are the wave of the future."

I also like the pebble bed design, at least one of which also dates from the about 1974 (the German design) and there is I believe a newer one from South Africa. For some reason I always think of a coal fired central heating boiler when I see them. However to be fair I think all "Next Gen" reactor designs are *much* more aware of loss of coolant accidents and are placing more reliance on passive safety, IE back up gravity feeding. Note that for some countries utilities the usually quoted sizes are a bit on the small side. They want them in GW sizes. I'll admit to a certain fondness for the molten salt design pioneered (IIRC) at Los Alamos. Again simple geometry but also burns multiple fuels (including Thorium) and nuclear wast.

I think India is having a go at this.

"The same way Hydrogen is distributed today."

I fear I have been misunderstood. A distribution network implies something made somewhere then sent somewhere else to be used. It is my understanding there are *no* H2 distribution networks anywhere in the world. There are networks for transmitting the *raw* materials for H2, but not H2 itself.

Your 2 web page references ended with one fail to load, the 2nd worked but one of its links lead to a site flagged by my AV.

I had in mind what would be needed to take over the current natural gas supply network for hydrogen and AFAIK the answer is quite a lot, as its physical properties are substantially more awkward than Methane or Propane

While in *theory* it can be made at home the complexity of the process and its efficiency is, I would suggest *very* poor. Either your going the steam/natural gas process (boiling water is one of the best ways to absorb *very* large quantities of heat) or you electrolyse. You need 2 moles of electrons (2 Coulombs) to get 1 mole of H2. If your running 220v and a 100A mains fuse with a cell that needs 2v you could get 11000 amps in the secondary. That would be a *very*substantial transformer however. 1 mole of H2 in less than 2 seconds! That's 2g of hydrogen. So in less than 70 mins. you have a full Clarity charge of 4kg. But your real problem is compressing the 44.8 m^3 of 1at H2 by the factor of 340 needed to put it in the tank.

If the concern is CO2 then methods which use carbon cyclically, IE renewable fuels, would seem the way to go. I believe anaerobic digestion of cow dung,Kudzu (fast growing highly prolific weed) or human faeces will generate plenty of Methane, which is substantially more tractable to store and transport.

With regard to oil and its use as a chemical feed stock you may like to look at microwave assisted pyrolysis. By mixing shredded paper waste with charcoal its possible to do a controlled burn of things like aluminium lined cartons to produce a chemical feedstock cocktail, while recovering the aluminium.

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Oh Bugger

I understand that converting energy into vehicle motion, is done more efficiently by petrol than by electricity.

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NH3 - The Other Hydrogen, and Better Biodiesel for the road

Quoting Richard Smith above (from 5/11):

<snip>

The problems with hydrogen are:

1 Very difficult to transport. The atom is so small it leaks thru just about anything including solid metal (which it makes brittle).

2 Lower energy density than methane (which is easier to store and use in the car).

3 A danger in poorly ventilated areas. (e.g. underground parking garages filling up with hydrogen cars and fuel air explosive.)

4 Require platinum catalysts for the fuel cells. If these went into mass production the cost of platinum would go sky high. Furthermore, the catalysts are poisoned by impurities in the air so this very, very expensive part of the engine would have to be replaced regularly. After 20 years, we still have not found a cheap way to make long duration fuel cells.

5 The theft of platinum in car's fuel cells would be very economically viable.

6 Hydrogen is very expensive to produce with electrolysis and no service stations are built with the huge power lines and transformers to build the electricity on site. Cracking the hydrogen on site is uneconomical so no unsubsidized gas station owner will do this, even if there were some hydrogen cars on the road.

7 If hydrogen was transported to gas stations in tanker trucks, each of those big 18 wheeler sized tanks will fill up 20 cars, because hydrogen gas has such a low energy density.

8 Commercial hydrogen today is made from cracking methane (releasing CO2 into the air). This just adds to the greenhouse gas burden and converts the methane (which can be burnt now in natural gas cars) into a form that is more dangerous and less efficient.

9 Hydrogen needs heavy steel tanks (mass reduces range) or high tech carbon-carbon composites (explode during crashes). Both take up a huge amount of storage space. I ran a propane truck for a few years and lost a 1/3 of the truck's bed to the tank. And propane has a higher energy density than hydrogen.

<snip>

--

We can bypass these problems by obsoleting the gasoline engine, and replacing it with biodiesel. It's time to stop making gas engines which catch fire and kill people; my Jeep Liberty 2006 came from the factory in Toledo with Biodiesel in the tank, and runs perfectly on 99% biodiesel.

Instead of using soy (which we eat) there are arid-soil alternatives which grow where food crops don't; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatropha for the biodiesel which recently ran a Virgin Air jet.

But, we can make wind and solar power much more useful, by adding Haber-Bosch reformers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_Process#Ammonia_synthesis_-_Haber_Process at windmills to make liquid ammonia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammonia. It uses iron oxide as a catalyst and is a clean, non-carbonaceous process.

Since wind is consistant in very few places, and fewer of those have power lines adequate to receive the windmills, instead have the remote windmills drive the conversion of air (nitrogen + oxygen) and water (hydrogen + oxygen) into liquid oxygen and ammonia (NH3).

Liquid oxygen is a massively useful substance, including hospitals everywhere.

The ammonia is even more useful, for fertilizer production (gotta feed people!) The entire nitrogen content of all manufactured organic compounds is derived from ammonia.

We can also use liquid ammonia to run the quick-on gas turbine generators we now fuel with carbon-bearing natural gas (CH4), when the wind stops and the windmills go off-line. This is win-win, if we can get a small automated reformer into mass production.

This solves hydrogen problems 1-2 and 4-9 above. I'm not advocating using NH3 as a motor fuel, because ammonia spills are no laughing matter.

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@John Smith - Hydrogen

John Smith posts, "Your 2 web page references ended with one fail to load, the 2nd worked but one of its links lead to a site flagged by my AV."

I just double checked all of my links, they were OK - sorry you had a problem.

John Smith posts, "While in *theory* it can be made at home the complexity of the process and its efficiency is, I would suggest *very* poor"

Well, I guess we can't have everything! LOL!

As long a 2 car family does not need to refuel the same day, it should be adequate. This homefueler does about 2kg of compressed hydrogen a day.

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Homefueler

Need hydrogen more often, go to a central fuel station, that uses storage tanks.

http://www.hydrogenics.com/onsite/pdf/HySTAT-A%20Energy%20Station_web.pdf

Air Products transports gases world-wide today. They seem to think they can compress and move the hydrogen around.

http://www.airproducts.com/index.asp

I can't say I am too crazy about natural gas conversion to hydrogen at centralized or home stations, but at least it is an existing transportation method that could be leveraged to get the market moving almost immediately.

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Home_Energy_Station

While a $130 US$ hydrogen boost for autos may be bunk today, this article discusses how internal combustion engines based upon hydrogen can be more efficient than the engines based upon gasoline or natural gas.

http://www.motortrend.com/features/editorial/112_0502_technologue/index.html

For alternative energy sources which may be less regular (wind, solar, etc.) - the production of hydrogen to be stored and used later is a great advantage. The fact that modern internal combustion engines can run on hydrogen with conversion kits is a great advantage.

One of the things I like about hydrogen - everything that is required to produce/compress it in diverse ways is abundant and exists in all modern Western society today (water, electric, natural gas, wind, and sunlight.)

Sure, Hydrogen has disadvantages, but having to deal with wars, terrorism, communists, and petty dictators seems like a poorer choice to me. Anyone can dig a well, put up a windmill, buy a box, convert their existing car, and opt out. A similar conversion for natural gas is below.

http://www.saskenergy.com/business/NGVconverting.asp

If someone dug a well and used wind power, there would be no cost per fill-up, but of course, the fill station would have a cost as well as the conversion. This is a great idea for the suburbs and the country - but in the cities, I can picture a plug-in electric cars as a vastly superior solution for short distance stop & go driving. Perhaps a plug-in electric & hydrogen hybrid - both could be filled at home, a fueling station, or only half the energy sources replenished at a less diverse station.

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Happy

AC@18:31

“Instead of using soy (which we eat) there are arid-soil alternatives which grow where food crops don't; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatropha for the biodiesel which recently ran a Virgin Air jet.”

In principal this sounds reasonable, but note that the Virgin aircraft ran 1 engine on a 50/50 blend.

The article says there are 175 varieties so which one to pick might be an issue as well. The oil yield per plant varied year on year in a range of 25-40% (a 37.5% variation) and estimates of yield per unit area (I presume they are annual) vary by 6:1 from intensive cultivation to shared cultivation scrub land 560 l per hectare per year, or nearly *3* 200 l drums a year. There is a lot of marginal scrub land in the world, but for reference there is an on shore UK oilfield that manages 55 200 l drums a day.

“But, we can make wind and solar power much more useful, by adding Haber-Bosch reformers“

Using reversible chemical reactions to transport energy was one option considered in the US Naval Research Lab's “Solchem” programme about 1980. They went with heat storage in a mix of common salts (IE NaCl, LiCl, etc) split into tin cans to control volume changes. It was shut down by Hoppalong along with a lot of the other DOE stuff at the time, as he reckoned with oil prices down the pan who needed to worry about energy security. IIRC it is a subject of continuing research in Australia where solar thermochemical transport research is continuing.

NH3 mfg runs in the 100-200 (1500-3000psi) range so you'll either want compression on each windmill, a group of them or the whole circuit, including the transmission pipeline. Large diameter high pressure pipe is pretty expensive. I presume once mfg is complete you'll leave enough the NH3 under enough pressure to keep it liquid. 8 Bar rated pipe should be much more reasonable.

“Liquid oxygen is a massively useful substance, including hospitals everywhere”

Also the cheapest bulk cryogen on Earth, after liquid Nitrogen. LN2 is roughly 13c colder but it makes up 80% of the air to begin with. Last time I checked ball park figure for LOX was 8c/lb. With high enough demand companies like Air Liquide, or BOC will deliver a containerised LOX (or LN2) plant wherever you want it. It's highly unlikely you can justify long distance transmission cost, especially if you're going to liquify it. Using ammonia as a way to store power for use later is attractive. There has been some work on ammonia fuel cells under EU funding. The Solid Oxide type seems to be about 78% efficient. Google “ammonia fuel cell” for *lots* more.

Ammonia was used to fuel the X15 rocket system. It was reported to have a fairly high combustion temperature. IIRC this implies high levels of NO x. It was also described as burning rough, with > 5% variations in chamber pressure. If Ammonia is used as an industrial fuel already this will have been sorted out. Otherwise expect a fairly hefty development programme.

“I'm not advocating using NH3 as a motor fuel, because ammonia spills are no laughing matter.” Hard to believe Phillips Holland built a Hydrazine fuel cell powered motorcycle in the late 1960s eh? You really would not want to clean up a spill from that.

Some of your comments suggest your familiar with some parts of what you propose but not others. Apologies if I told you some things you already know. I'll hope I also told you some things you did not.

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@David Halko

"its efficiency is, I would suggest *very* poor"

I was particularly thinking of people who were running the home fuelling stations described from mains electricity. Given the substantial energy requirements for both electrolysis and compression why not just runt the mains into a battery powered vehicle. However should you have self generation and a water supply that changes everything. I doubt 36l of tap water costs that much.

I see that the Homefueller is supplied by Hydrogenics and seems to be for commercial sale. Do you have any idea of the unit cost for one of these?

"Air Products transports gases world-wide today. They seem to think they can compress and move the hydrogen around"

I never said they couldn't. It's the level of difficulty to do so. The very low temperature and high combustibility of Hydrogen make it awkward. Most of the bulk gases they (and other cryogenics companies) transport are inert. When these tanks overheat they vent. Not a good idea with H2 having a combustion range of roughly 4-96% with air. Nitrogen has 4x the boiling point of Hydrogen and is inert. As I wrote other common cryogenic fuels have even higher boiling points.

"everything that is required to produce/compress it in diverse ways is abundant and exists in all modern Western society today"

True. But is it worthwhile to do so? It is true that refuelling hardware *appears* to be available which renders a single consumer independent of *any* infrastructure. But balance this with its exceptionally difficult storage needs. This is unlikely to improve even if metal hydride storing alloys become viable, as by then the infrastructure (if it becomes viable at all) will have settled to either LH2 or high pressure room temperature storage.

Hydrogen production is a *very* energy intensive process. Energy wise it would be more effective to charge batteries or a flywheel (or maybe even just compress air to 5000 psi) *unless* the energy source is more or less free to begin with in the sense you make it yourself. OTOH if CO2 is your concern the problem becomes one of finding a fuel which recycles carbon, either through engines or fuel cells. On that basis Methanol and Ethanol are obvious and fairly easy to make (not forgetting to honour any tax obligations for Ethanol of course). Solar thermal driven Ammonia synthesis has been tried (Ammonia technology seems to be undergoing a renaissance). In Europe anaerobic digestion of meat waste (for example from meat pie factories) is being used to make Methane. I believe US meat consumption as a portion of the diet is somewhat higher than in Europe. At least one 200Kw fuel cell has been driven by methane from a US coal mine. It would be substantially easier to cool or compress it than Hydrogen and Methane or LNG has a long history of running engines.

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