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back to article Scientists find safer way to store hydrogen

Australian scientists have come up with a clever way of storing hydrogen that they feel could make it a viable portable fuel source. Hydrogen is abundant: pass a current through water and you'll make some. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells have therefore been advanced as a potential replacement for the internal combustion engine and …

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Hydrides have *always* been the dark horse in the H2 storage race.

40atm is c 600psi. This is *very* reasonable compared to the 5000psi of normal GH2 tanks and +50c - +350c is also a *lot* easier to handle IRL than the -250c needed for LH2 (unless you are used to fueling launch vehicles).

Let's not forget that the cooling or compressing can use 3x the amount of energy needed to *make* the H2 in the first place.

Bringing the storage temp and pressure more into a range most people are comfortable would make Hydrogen more acceptable but probably cheaper.

Thumbs up for them pursuing a smart rather than simple solution to a very difficult problem.

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Mushroom

@John Smith 19 - Re: Hydrides have *always* been the dark horse

"Thumbs up for them pursuing a smart rather than simple solution to a very difficult problem."

I think any solution to this difficult problem would do nicely.

H2 Bomb Icon

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Re: @John Smith 19 - Hydrides have *always* been the dark horse

3x the energy wont be a problem in some areas where power is cheap and water is plenty. Iceland, coastal solar areas etc. Power plants could be modified to release H2 as part of their cooling cycles, especially some nuke plants.

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"can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

"can soak up so much of the stuff that a fuel tank stuffed full of the compound could match a conventionally-sized fuel tank for energy potential"

Can you define the difference between a "tank" and a "conventionally-sized tank"?

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Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

What they are trying to say is that the energy density is roughly equivalent, which is a big, big deal.

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Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

But unlikely, even liquid hydrogen is only 1/4 the density of petrol and i can't see how you can adsorb a material to a higher density than a bulk liquid.

ps Explosiveness of the gas isn't a big deal. It's a lot less explosive than LPG and only risky over a very small range of concentrations. A bigger problem is that keeping it under high pressure needs lots of metal and hydrogen under pressure does nasty stuff to metal, keeping it as a liquid is even worse.

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Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

Energy density, not mass-over-volume density. The density of the hydrogen in the storage medium may well be less than that of petrol.

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Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

i can't see how you can adsorb a material to a higher density than a bulk liquid.

By rearranging things chemically so that the density of hydrogen atoms loosely bound to some carrier compound is greater than the density of hydrogen molecules in liquid hydrogen. It's akin to the old party trick of pouring a pint of water into a pint glass already full of sawdust. It all goes in! (Water packs more tightly around just about anything, than the dynamicall changing open structures in liquid water).

The density of liquid hydrogen is an extraordinarily low 0.07 (water is 1.0) so there's a lot of scope for it to pack down into the interstices of open crystal structures. That's the problem with storing hydrogen at high pressure in metal tanks. It does pack down into the interstices in the metal crystals, and as this happens, the metal becomes progressively embrittled.

(Source for 0.07 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_hydrogen corroborated elsewhere by Google. That's quite a lot less than 1/4 the density of petrol. More like 1/12 working from memory)

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Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

This is why I'm on here. Not only did I not know about liquid hydrogen's density before, I also now have a nifty party trick which AFAIK no-one I know is aware of. :)

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Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

efficiency of the resultant will also play a point too. Even energy dense petrol may well be married to an inefficient engine. Ford quoted fuel cell efficiencies 2-3 times greater than a petrol engine. I certainly wouldnt mind a car with half the range if it cost half as much to run.

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WTF?

What?

"I certainly wouldnt mind a car with half the range if it cost half as much to run."

Wouldn't that mean it costs the exact same amount, then?

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Boffin

Re: What?

"I certainly wouldnt mind a car with half the range if it cost half as much to run."

"Wouldn't that mean it costs the exact same amount, then?"

@NukEvil: Nope. Half as much to run, at half the distance, is still half as much to run, you just get less range per fill-up. If it was half as much to run over half the range (note the change in word order and the use of "over"), then you're just saying it costs less due to reducing the distance driven.

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Mushroom

Re: "can soak up so much of the stuff ..."

Actually the flamable range of hydrogen - is actually VERY large, I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but kind of making this up to illustrate the point, it sort of ranges from about 5% hydrogen in 95% of air, to something like 87% hydrogen to 13% of air.

It's alarmingly bad....

Wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy worse than any other fuel / air ratios.

Speaking of genius moves...... I'd like to get a pipe say 1 meter in diameter, and 100Km long... and keep a stricometric mixture of swirling oxygen and hydrogen inside it, and to spark ignite one end of the gas mix, at one end of the pipe.

I am wondering... IF given the ferociously nasty high speed of combustion in hydrogen and oxygen, mixed at the ideal ratio - if the pressure wave could get high enough in compression and speed, to transition from combustion to detonation by the preceeding shockwave?

Just wondering...

Any geniuses have an answer to this?

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@Graham Bartlett "I also now have a nifty party trick"

Now try explaining why you're walking around with a back of sawdust......

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Exhaust temperature?

I wonder what the exhaust temperature of a hydrogen cobustion engine is? would be an easy way to get it up to temperature if it is anything near current exhaust temps.

I want my hydrogen fuelled V8!

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Paris Hilton

Re: Exhaust temperature?

I vaguely assumed that a hydrogen car would be using a fuel cell and electric motors. Fuel cells are a pretty useful bit of kit; the principle problem is the sort of fuel they accept. Hydrogen fuelled cells are well understood. Ergo, the exhaust temperature will be moderate as you don't want to toast your proton exchange membrane.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Exhaust temperature?

"Hydrogen fuelled cells are well understood"

Hydrogen Fuel cells aren't fully understood.

No one has managed to mass produce a cheap, reliable and very efficient fuel cell at this time.

It's not impossible, just the tech still needs R&D to get a viable production solution.

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Re: Exhaust temperature?

you mean apart from say the Merc F-Cell? Or the honda clarity? Without mass produced hydrogen they are running at "about" 30-40 mpg equivalent in cost of fuel. That is cost of fuel as they H2 consumption is about 60miles per KG.

Whilst not perfect they are almost direct replacements available now without mass rollout of fuel. The costs are high though at 100k each. Fuel stations appear to be the limiting factor.

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Re: Exhaust temperature?

Didn't the japs design a home fuel cell, looked like a server rack but mounted outside the house and would provide 50000 hours to the average home.

Pretty sure they were stable and almost ready for production a few years back, afterall in a home you won't have movement and likely bumps, jolts and crashes.

A quick google and found this.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8563928.stm

So pretty sure they understand it enough.

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Joke

Re: "In a home you won't have movement..."

I thought Japanese buildings were designed for bumps, jolts and crashes...

Mine's the one with the map of Fukashima in the pocket. And I don't know why someone down-voted you...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Exhaust temperature?

Potentially 500-600 F-Cells and 40 Clarity's, hardly mass production.

Given there are about 53m cars produced each year = 0.00001%

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True Cost/Efficiency

Unless someone finds a huge natural supply of hydrogen gas (unlikely), then hydrogen for use in vehicle engines can only be an intermediate energy store that is manufactured using electricity. As such, it seems to be a convoluted way of getting grid electrical energy to the drive of a vehicle, compared to using batteries.

Does anyone know about the relative comparisons for hydrogen manufacture, distribution, storage and use in vehicles; compared to the battery charging alternative? The main meaningful comparison would be the energy finally delivered to the vehicle for a given unit of grid electricity used. Another important comparison would be the costs of the entire supply and storage processes.

Technical and performance considerations for the vehicle would be less important since the entire reason for developing these alternative power sources is to reduce the use of fossil fuels. It's already been shown that the 'average car' can run quite well and fairly conveniently using hydrogen or batteries.

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

It's probably less efficenct than battery+charging but it is a lot easier to ship long distance.

So if you have lots of solar in the desert and lots of hydro in the north - it's an easy way of shipping Giga-Joules from their to LA.

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

Nuclear fission for the electricity to crack hydrogen from water, and the benefit of hydrogen over batteries is a) less blowing the tops off mountains to get rare earths, and b) if you can't go more than fifty miles on a charge, the only way you'll ever get people to drive battery-powered cars is at gunpoint.

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

You need to look at it not purely from an energy efficiency standpoint, but also from one of practicality.

It takes a couple of minutes to brim my car's fuel tank and then it has a range of about 450 miles. It takes an overnight charge of a battery car to give you a range in the region of 100 miles - so to drive from Manchester to London could easily take two or three days. If a battery-powered car could be produced that gave 450 miles from a three-minute charge, I'd be right there in the queue to buy one. I'm not convinced it's going to happen though.

The fuel cell, whilst certainly less energy-efficient overall, appears to be a more promising line of development from a practicality point of view, offering the possibility of a high-density fuel source that might be safe enough for the likes of us to handle.

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FAIL

@Aaron Em

"Can't go more than 50 miles on a charge"? So the Tesla series (with models rated at between 160 and 300 miles on a charge) are a myth then? IBM's plans for a Lithium-Air battery with a 500 mile range is all pie in the sky?

You don't just have to electrolyse hydrogen, you need to cool it to a liquid or highly compress it for shipping, which needs lots of energy too. More than the power loss from grid transmission and charging, The moment that people can do what they want to do in en electric car for less money then you'll have to beat them off with a stick.

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Re: @Aaron Em

So the overnight charging requirement for a Tesla between those 160-300 mile runs is a myth, then, too? There's at least one Reg author who'll be very surprised to hear that!

Fission has the characteristic of producing enormous amounts of electrical power, more cheaply per KWh than any other proven reliable generating technology. (Note I say proven reliable, which pretty much disqualifies pie-in-the-sky stuff like large-scale solar and wind.) And the whole point of the article we're talking about here is that some researchers have found a hydrogen storage method which doesn't require the kind of compression and cryogenic-storage requirements to which you refer.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: True Cost/Efficiency

> It takes an overnight charge of a battery car to give you a range in the region of 100 miles - so to drive from Manchester to London could easily take two or three days.

Sigh. Such a tiring argument. Electric cars are not for everyone. They are more part of the solution, than the solution as a whole.

Just because it doesn't fit your specific needs doesn't mean it doesn't fit other's. (Please re-read that so it sinks in, not everything in the world is designed specifically for you.)

There are lots of people who simply commute from their house to the office every day, a journey that's well within the range of an electric car. For these people such a vehicle would be perfect.

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Boffin

Re: True Cost/Efficiency

I agree, Hydrogen is a way of storing energy, and a poor one compared to petrol. What we need is an energy store that's as easy to use as petrol but that's easy to produce. I vote for Ethanol.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: True Cost/Efficiency

sea water + solar cell?

supply of raw material and energy sorted, just got to get the rate of production up

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Boffin

Re: "I vote for Ethanol"

Unfortunately, votes don't work very well on the laws of physics or the complexities of engineering.

The best source for the volumes of ethanol an industrialised nation would need to keep itself going would be something like a vast algal bioreactor; technology that's way up there in pie-in-the-sky territory. Compare with hydrogen that we could conceivably run our cars and industry on using modern day tech, were it not for the fact that petrochemicals are a wee bit more convenient.

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Stop

Re: @Aaron Em

Apart from the fact that you're changing the subject, the current Tesla home charging rig can charge at a rate of about 60 miles range/hour. That's from a standard 240 volt domestic supply.

It doesn't matter that fission based power is cheap, you'll still need a lot more of it to supply hydrogen as a fuel than charging batteries (the methods discussed were suitable for a fuel tank, but not bulk distribution, you'd still need tankers full of high pressure or liquid hydrogen to deliver it to fuel stations).

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

...which means you need to invent a solar cell that's better than 15% efficient, which means -- you guessed it -- back to the drawing board!

Something which seems to escape the green campaigners, I think because they're by and large not actually technical people or involved in technical industries: Any plan, which depends on fifty years of inventing things which don't exist yet, is not a good plan. That's one of the major reasons I'm so hot (if you'll pardon the expression) on nuclear fission and water cracking: these are things which we already know how to do.

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

I think to some extent this is also turning 2 problems into 1. The nice thing about this (and batteries for that matter) is that we remove petrol from the list of issues we need to tackle and effectively turn it into the problem with power plants (lack of coal, whatever else). We know that we have a stop-gap measure we can implement there which is nuclear so this conversion buys us time more than anything.

Then if we crack fusion, problem entirely solved, sort of, probably...

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Re: @Aaron Em

Steve Todd, where are you getting those numbers? They smack of theoretical maxima to me, especially in light of people having apparently complained about getting as little as 50-60 miles between charges, and then having to plug the thing in for 12 hours to charge its batteries back up. I would also note that 240V isn't standard everywhere; if you're at home in the US, you'll have access to a 2-phase 240V appliance socket, probably, but if you're anywhere else, 120V is all you can count on.

Actually, given that, just as you say, you need a lot of it to support a hydrogen-powered vehicle scheme -- yeah, it really does matter that fission-generated 'leccy is super cheap. "You need a lot of it, so it being cheap doesn't matter"? What kind of argument is that? And what's wrong with cracking water right at the filling station? I mean, we currently truck petroleum products around, sure, but you can't just pull petrol out of the ground anywhere, and you can generate hydrogen gas anywhere you've got grid power and a water main.

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"Stop-gap" fission? No

Because if everyone involved in it treats it as a "stop-gap", just sort of an emergency measure to tide us over until we realize the impossible -- or at least highly improbable -- dream of fusion, then there's a strong impetus to spend as little money as possible on it, because after all we'll just be tearing down all the fission plants again in fifty years, right?

If we're going to build fission plants at all, we need to be building them to last a century apiece at least. Then, if fusion ever does manage to happen, of course we'll have a great big decommissioning party -- but if it doesn't, we don't find ourselves saddled with a bunch of half-assed BWRs which even whose lowest-bid builders won't certify for more than a decade and a half.

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@AC 08:35

>(Please re-read that so it sinks in, not everything in the world is designed specifically for you.)

Sigh. Such a patronising response.

These people who commute a short distance every day and for whom a battery car would be ideal - we never take days out? We never go on holiday? We never visit Auntie Jean in Truro for the weekend? We never, ever have an emergency while the car is charging up?

Yes, we could hire something for extra-commuting activities but why should we? Having spent all that money on a car, isn't it reasonable to think it should be able to cope with nearly all one's transport requirements (trips to Ikea excepted maybe)?

Battery cars are - in principle - a very, very good solution for short commutes. school runs etc. But for actual family use, they're not a practical means of transport.

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

"There are lots of people who simply commute from their house to the office every day, a journey that's well within the range of an electric car. For these people such a vehicle would be perfect."

Unfortunately they also have relatives to visit, or drive to holiday destinations a couple of times a year. May only be a handful of journeys, but not ones you can use an electric car for. So they would either need to buy 2 cars or one that satisfies both needs. So they choose a petrol/diesel car.

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

...which means you need to invent a solar cell that's better than 15% efficient, which means -- you guessed it -- back to the drawing board!

Completely wrong. For solar electricity, the energy source is inexhaustible in human terms and has zero cost. It beomes a matter of economics: the cost of making solar cells and the cost of the real estate on which you put them. At present the real estate cost is close to zero (no-one much wants the vast tracts of near-lifeless desert that exist) but the cost of the solar cells is rather high compared to the cost of generating the same electricity from fossil fuels.

Raising the efficiency of the solar cells is one way to improve this. Making them much more cheaply is another. If we could make a plastic sheet that generated electricity as cheaply as we make polythene sheets, it would not need to be even 5% efficient to revolutionise the world.

(Nature did this a long time ago. It's called a plant. Conversion efficiency of solar energy to hydrocarbons rarely better than 1%, but a very low production cost in human terms because to a large extent, they grow themselves into useful products, and make their own seeds. If only they didn't need so much water to grow! )

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Mushroom

Re: True Cost/Efficiency

"There are lots of people who simply commute from their house to the office every day, a journey that's well within the range of an electric car. For these people such a vehicle would be perfect."

How do you know that? I suppose you are talking about "semi-detached suburban man with 2.3 kids and a conservatory are you?.

He already has the perfect solution, its called a 3 cylinder turbo diesel made by VW which is proven cheaper and cleaner than any electric car

I have yet to see the "commute" mileage of any electric car thats been stuck on the M25 on a freeezing cold and wet January morning with the headlamps blazing, wipers going and the heater....heater? what heater? going full blast, meanwhile wondering if you can make it the office before you have to push.....misery!

Electric cars are a solution to problem that does not exist.

Hybrids on the other hand are more honest in that they offer a solution to the ever growing demand for fossil fuels by attempting to increase the mpg and therefore reduce the commute cost.

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Pint

Re: True Cost/Efficiency

"Huge natural supply of hydrogen": how's about the world's oceans?

Yes, I know you said "hydrogen gas". Thing is though, cracking water into H2 and O2 is well understood, and the technology to do it is a *lot* less hassle than the big dangerous refineries needed to turn crude oil into kerosene, gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, etc..

It would also be an incredibly nifty adjunct to any power station. Regular power stations assume near-constant load, and renewables have a hugely variable generating capacity. Neither of these will match the national grid's demands very well, so a hydrogen electrolysis plant would provide a perfect sink for any excess juice when the lights get turned off. Also, currently there's a lot of fun and games trying to match power demands, but if you can permanently run all your power stations at 10% (say) above the worst-case demand and instantaneously reduce/cut power to the electrolysis plant when you're hit by a peak, then life would become a lot easier for national grids.

The problem with hydrogen has always just been storage and distribution. If they've truly sorted this (and see Nigel11's comment above about energy density), then the game is on.

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Re: True Cost/Efficiency

when you look at all combustion fuels the best bet is actually diesel. Its probably the most compact per unit energy, its relatively high flashpoint, and its well known.

LIQUID hydrogen scores only on weight. Its light which is why its useful in rockets but as the odd shuttle disaster shows, its not something you want to be sitting on if it gets ignited all at once....

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Re: @Aaron Em

Yes on the nuclear, yes on the limitations (theoretical) on batteries, no on the hydrogen. FAR better to use nuclear heat and pressure to make diesel out of water and CO2. Or just wait till batteries are good enough for reasonable range cost and longevity.

That gives you a nuclear powered primary energy technology producing cheap electricity and expensive hydrocarbon fuels for the applications that cant realistically use anything else.

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Re: @Aaron Em

solar cracking would be thermal based not electrical based so the > 15% would be possible.

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Re: @Aaron Em

oh, also the hydrogen plant next to the windfarm idea would be perfect if it could also be reversed to supply the grid when there is no wind (and sell the excess H2 if any).

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Coat

Re: True Cost/Efficiency

Reread the earlier posters post.!

Just because it doesn't suit you, doesn't mean it doesn't suit anyone. Two car households are not exactly rare.

When I go on my handful of holiday journeys, i need a car that can cross seas and travel in excess of 500 mph, but as they aren't readily available (rotten scientists failing to design my personal jet-pack) i made a compromise and bought a petrol car that handles the normal run of journeys.

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WTF?

Re: "I vote for Ethanol"

Tell that to the Brasilians, who manage to run about half of their cars on Ethanol, and have done for decades.

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Re: @AC 08:35

> Yes, we could hire something for extra-commuting activities

In fact even that is unlikely to work once everyone starts to do it, since there would be huge demand at Bank Holiday weekends and Christmas, and low demand for most of the year. No rental company could afford to keep huge fleets idle just in case. And then who would buy them when the rental companies sell off the used cars?

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FAIL

Re: True Cost/Efficiency

> no-one much wants the vast tracts of near-lifeless desert that exist

You do realize what dust and sandblasting does to solar cells? Not to mention getting the power from those deserts to somewhere useful.

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Re: @Aaron Em

Apart from the fact that you're changing the subject, the current Tesla home charging rig can charge at a rate of about 60 miles range/hour. That's from a standard 240 volt domestic supply.

Is that not the special three-phase huge pluggy thing? So what happens when you get to the other end and they don't have a special three-phase huge pluggy thing?

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