Hydrogen Economy Humbug

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Aerospace engineer (and Mars Society president), Robert Zubrin thoroughly debunks hydrogen hooey in his excellent New Atlantis article, "The Hydrogen Hoax." To wit:

The spokesmen for the hydrogen hoax claim that hydrogen will be manufactured from water via electrolysis. It is certainly possible to make hydrogen this way, but it is very expensive—so much so, that only four percent of all hydrogen currently produced in the United States is produced in this manner. The rest is made by breaking down hydrocarbons, through processes like pyrolysis of natural gas or steam reforming of coal.

Neither type of hydrogen is even remotely economical as fuel. The wholesale cost of commercial grade liquid hydrogen (made the cheap way, from hydrocarbons) shipped to large customers in the United States is about $6 per kilogram. High purity hydrogen made from electrolysis for scientific applications costs considerably more. Dispensed in compressed gas cylinders to retail customers, the current price of commercial grade hydrogen is about $100 per kilogram. For comparison, a kilogram of hydrogen contains about the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. This means that even if hydrogen cars were available and hydrogen stations existed to fuel them, no one with the power to choose otherwise would ever buy such vehicles. This fact alone makes the hydrogen economy a non-starter in a free society.

And even if you are among those willing to sacrifice freedom and economic rationality for the sake of the environment, and therefore prefer hydrogen for its advertised benefit of reduced carbon dioxide emissions, think again. Because hydrogen is actually made by reforming hydrocarbons, its use as fuel would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all. In fact, it would greatly increase them.

To see this, let us consider an example. Let's say you wanted to produce hydrogen. You choose to do it via steam reformation of natural gas, the most common technique used commercially today. The reaction is:

CH4 + 2H2O => CO2 + 4H2 ?H = +59 kcal/mole (1)

As the positive enthalpy change indicates, the reaction is endothermic (that is, heat-absorbing) and will need an outside source of energy to drive it forward. This can be obtained by burning some methane, which releases 205 kcal/mole, via the following reaction:

CH4 + 2O2 => CO2 + 2H2O ?H = 205 kcal/mole

(2)

Assuming an optimistic 72 percent efficiency in using the combustion energy to drive the steam reformation, this would allow us to reform 2.5 moles of methane for every one that we burn (or 5 for every 2). So if we take five units of reaction (1) and add it to two units of reaction (2), the net reaction becomes:

7CH4 + 4O2 + 10H2O => 7CO2 + 4H2O + 20H2

(3)

As far as usable fuel is concerned, what we have managed to do is trade seven moles of methane for twenty moles of hydrogen. Seven moles of carbon dioxide have also been produced, exactly as many as would have been produced had we simply used the methane itself as fuel. The seven moles of methane that we used up, however, would have been worth 1435 kilocalories of energy if used directly, while the twenty moles of hydrogen we have produced in exchange for all our trouble are only worth 1320 kilocalories. So for the same amount of carbon dioxide released, less useful energy has been produced.

The situation is much worse than this, however, because before the hydrogen can be transported anywhere, it needs to be either compressed or liquefied. To liquefy it, it must be refrigerated down to a temperature of 20 K (20 degrees above absolute zero, or -253 degrees Celsius). At these temperatures, the fundamental laws of thermodynamics make refrigerators extremely inefficient. As a result, about 40 percent of the energy in the hydrogen must be spent to liquefy it. This reduces the actual net energy content of our product fuel to 792 kilocalories. In addition, because it is a cryogenic liquid, still more energy could be expected to be lost as the hydrogen boils away during transport and storage.

As an alternative, one could use high pressure pumps to compress the hydrogen as gas instead of liquefying it for transport. This would only require wasting about 20 percent of the energy in the hydrogen. The problem is that safety-approved, steel compressed-gas tanks capable of storing hydrogen at 5,000 psi weigh approximately 65 times as much as the hydrogen they can contain. So to transport 200 kilograms of compressed hydrogen, roughly equal in energy content to just 200 gallons of gasoline, would require a truck capable of hauling a 13-ton load. Think about that: an entire large truckload delivery would be needed simply to transport enough hydrogen to allow ten people to fill up their cars with the energy equivalent of 20 gallons of gasoline each.

Instead of steel tanks, one could propose using (very expensive) lightweight carbon fiber overwrapped tanks, which only weigh about ten times as much as the hydrogen they contain. This would improve the transport weight ratio by a factor of six. Thus, instead of a 13-ton truck, a mere two-ton truckload would be required to supply enough hydrogen to allow a service station to provide fuel for ten customers. This is still hopeless economically, and could probably not be allowed in any case, since carbon fiber tanks have low crash resistance, making such compressed hydrogen transport trucks deadly bombs on the highway.

And it gets worse. Read on.

In February 2004, in my "Hydrogen Bombs" column, I asked,

I'm as big a techno-optimist as you're apt to find, but hydrogen doesn't seem to have much of an immediate future as a replacement for our current energy system. Besides, why use electricity to make hydrogen to make more electricity? Why not just use electricity for what you need and instead do a lot of research on improving battery technologies?

Last week saw the launching of the Automotive X Prize (modeled on the Ansari X Prize for reusable space craft) that will award a prize to whomever develops a commercially viable car that gets 100 miles to the gallon. I think a better prize (say $100 million) would be for developing a commercially viable battery that can charge and recharge in less than a hour, last at least 10 years, and power a car for 300 miles. (Of course, I am more than happy to listen to more technically savvy people suggest more "reasonable" battery prize goals, but you get the idea.)

I am less sanguine about Zubrin's conclusion that we should mandate flex-fuel vehicles because I think that turning food into fuel is an economic and ecological deadend. (Though I do have hopes that cellulosic ethanol may turn out to be economically and ecologically viable.)

I realize the urge to comment on this topic will be nearly overwhelming, but I don't think you'll regret reading Zubrin's entire article.

Disclosure: I own a few shares of stock in two hydrogen fuel cell companies which have declined more than 90 percent in value since I purchased them 6 years ago. In fact, a shareholder suit against one of the companies just netted me something like $30 as compensation though the class action lawyers got a bit more than that. If you run out and buy such stocks based on what you read here, you've clearly not understood the arguments. On the other hand, if you nevertheless feel like mandating or subsidizing hydrogen production, one side effect may be that value of my almost worthless stock will go up.

NEXT: Who Can Solve a Problem Like Hugo?

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  1. Sour grapes. Leave suuuuuch a bad taste. Sour grapes.

  2. DW: I see you speed read the Zubrin article? Sour grapes? Alternatively: Learning from one’s mistakes.

  3. Wow, an article with equations! Thanks for linking to it! I’ll read it when I get a chance.

  4. For hydrogen to work you need to produce it on site at the filling station with solar or geothermal or hydrothermal or wind producing the electricity that produces the hydrogen.

    Hydrogen is dependent upon other alternative energy sources, but can work.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0315/p12s01-sten.html?page=1

    “On sunny days, solar panels on the roof of Strizki’s detached garage generate more than enough electricity to power his home. The excess electricity powers a device inside the garage called an electrolyzer, which transforms a tank of water into its base elements – oxygen and hydrogen.

    The oxygen is released into the atmosphere, while the hydrogen is stored in 10 1,000-gallon propane tanks on Strizki’s property. In the winter, when the solar panels collect less energy than the home needs, that hydrogen is piped to an air-conditioner-size fuel cell, located just outside the garage, which generates electricity.

    The final piece of the equation is “The New Jersey Genesis,” a hydrogen fuel-cell car Strizki helped design and now maintains for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. He can fill up the Genesis with hydrogen from his electrolyzer and drive it pollution free. “

  5. Easy, Ron. I am not saying you are wrong here. I can tell you that if:

    a better prize (say $100 million) would be [awarded for] for developing a commercially viable battery that can charge and recharge in less than a hour, last at least 10 years, and power a car for 300 miles. (Of course, I am more than happy to listen to more technically savvy people suggest more “reasonable” battery prize goals, but you get the idea.)

    then it would be the best news for me career-wise, by far, since all the California Internet stocks crashed (and that was a long time ago now). Seriously.

  6. posted equation
    pretend to understand cuz
    more complex than words 🙂

    pencil in bosom
    prancing steed in the office
    cannot help us here

    equations are not
    necessar’ly easier
    than a botox shot

    hydrogen tastes good.
    uh oh just got a boo boo
    need to helium

    some elemental
    “humorous” haiku series
    better than coffay.

  7. Ron, The fact you bought those stocks in the first place doesn’t say much about your science accumen. Unless you were hoping to capitalize on huge government subsidies, which wouldn’t be very libertarian of you. That you were wrong about hydrogen power gives me hope that you are also screwing up jumping on the shaky science AGW bandwagon.

  8. I think the real secret to the future will be decentralized power generation becoming affordable and easy. Any time you generate a lot of power centrally you face storage and transport problems, but in many climates you can generate power right where it will be used, when it will be used, and not worry about that.

    Solar foil technologies could be promising, as can wind generation at the household level. That doesn’t solve the need for industrial levels of energy, but if everyone makes surplus I can see selling it into the grid, or maybe some of these technologies would work for industrial applications: either way, I’m a big techno-optimist, but I don’t think most people are thinking about the problem in the right way.

  9. VM – I likey.

  10. I have not read the full article yet, but this seems to confirm what I have suspected all along.
    You can’t stay in business for long if you are spending ten dollars to make three. Unless, of course, you plan to get the government to make up the difference (or drive your competitors out of business).

  11. I haven’t read the article yet, but I’ve not been impressed by Zubrin’s pronouncements of this sort in the past. He’s lovely as a drummer for the Let’s-Go-to-Mars movement, and I respect his efforts and plans in that regard; however, he has a great tendency to shoot down any ideas that threaten his particular vision with nuclear-tipped warheads. In other words, I find that, even when I agree with his conclusions, his reasoning is often results-oriented. He wants X, therefore, these reasons justify X. Pay no attention to those facts behind the curtain.

    Of course, maybe this article is different, and I don’t mean to say that he can’t say anything worth thinking about. Mars-Direct is still a friggin’ great and inventive idea, even if we don’t end up going that route. Still, I find his leap to the flex-fuel option–which has some elements just as easy to discredit as the hydrogen alternative–to be a hint that this is typical Zubrin bombast.

    Also, let’s not forget that most of these energy alternatives are really in the early stages of development–oil has been heretofore so cheap as to make high-end R&D less than a priority.

  12. award a prize to whomever develops a…

    One of the mysteries in life is why anybody tries to use forms of “whom” when natural English allows you to use “who.” This is especially true if you can’t tell which one is called for.

  13. Dave W.: Nice Descendents reference.

  14. Besides, why use electricity to make hydrogen to make more electricity? Why not just use electricity for what you need and instead do a lot of research on improving battery technologies?

    DUH-UUUUH!
    I can’t believe anyone is seriously talking about hydrogen as a major fuel source. The Green movement is full of stupid shit like this. Even the mindless minions should be able to understand that it will always cost more to crack water than you get back when it’s reassembled.

  15. I thought that the fuel for Our Hydrogen-Fueled Flying Cars was supposed to be a byproduct of Atomic Power that was Too Cheap To Meter. Did I err?

    Kevin

  16. Timothy:

    I’m not looking to contradict you on local power generation or anything, but isn’t one of the big arguments for battery-powered cars that it’s better to have all the pollution generation happen in one place, preferably NIMBY?

  17. JA: “Unless you were hoping to capitalize on huge government subsidies, which wouldn’t be very libertarian of you.” I shamefacedly confess to being a rent-seeker. I have been duly punished.

    RH: Damn it! I looked up whoever/whomever here and let my impatience get in the way of figuring it out. Mea culpa.

    Timothy: Good batteries would go a long way toward making decentralized power a reality.

  18. Can someone please explain to me why the assumption that a better technology to extract hydrogen from a source will not come into play and thereby increase the likelihood of economical feasible hydrogen extraction?

    Whenever global warming is discussed here, it’s a given that the assumption is that technology improvements in a “do nothing” scenario could potentially mitigate environmental changes from warming. But with hydrogen power, that assumption goes out the window; whatever technology we have today, that’s it, nothing new will ever be discovered to change matters.

    Can someone explain this inconsitency?

  19. Whenever global warming is discussed here, it’s a given that the assumption is that technology improvements in a “do nothing” scenario…

    Make that unforeseen technological advancements.

  20. Timothy is right about distributed energy and distributed hydrogen production allows for emissions free vehicles that don’t have the “recharging” bug for long distance trips.

    http://www.engadget.com/2006/10/04/gm-developing-home-based-hydrogen-filling-station/
    http://www.nmsea.org/Curriculum/7_12/electrolysis/electrolysis.htm

  21. pro lib: i’ll shorten it for you. second law of thermodynamics. you can’t shuck and jive around that one and neither can zubrin. and he didn’t.

    hydrogen is a stupid idea.

    disclaimer: i have no stocks or other ties to any energy companies of any sort.

  22. kevrob beat me to it. One of the most cost-effective ways to produce large amounts of hydrogen is as a “waste” product of nuclear reactors.

  23. “Can someone explain this inconsitency?”

    maybe different people advocating different positions?

    dunno. will keep an eye out for that. that has potential to be an interesting investigation! cool!

    cheers!
    VM

    p.s., all this talk about electrolysis makes me realize that my mehair sweater needs a vacuuming!

  24. Alan and Kevrob,

    Indeed nuclear is one way. But it suffers from being a centralized power generation source. Distributed energy production, IMHO, is the better route.

    On site production of clean electricity.

    http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-03-18-voa10.cfm

  25. Mr Bailey-

    Thanks for the link to an article I would otherwise never have seen. Having read the article now, I will say I was right with him (and predisposed to be) until he got to the flex fuel mandate. Although, I will say his free trade justification makes more sense than most of the other “analysis” I have seen.

    ps- There was an interesting WSJ article about the practical aspects of ethanol distribution in Big Petro stations not long ago.
    There is also an interesting little factoid floating around out there about what one might call “CAFE offsets” for flex fuel vehicles; the automakers couldn’t care less if anybody ever runs E85 in those vehicles, as long as that production counts against the gas hogs.

  26. edna,

    I understand that point. As has been mentioned above, there may be other options for making hydrogen work–whether it’s using solar or, more likely, nuclear energy to power the reaction. Energy efficiency isn’t the only issue here, of course; otherwise, I’d have agreed with the anti-hydrogen idea off the bat. And the efficiencies might be better with so-called thermochemical methods or high-temperature electrolysis. Not that I have much competence in discussing such matters, I hasten to add.

    Still, I probably let Zubrin’s previous annoying overstatements overwhelm me into an unwarranted attack. Please save it for the next statement he makes that is less sensible 🙂

  27. Ahhh… Disclosurlicious

  28. Can someone please explain to me why the assumption that a better technology to extract hydrogen from a source will not come into play and thereby increase the likelihood of economical feasible hydrogen extraction?

    LarryA Rule of Forecasting: Technology will continue to improve the human condition. However, no one alive can forecast either which technologies will make the difference, or how they will do so.

    Therefore implementing government mandates requiring development based on government forecasts seldom if ever improves the human condition.

  29. Son of a!: Well, battery manufacture could happen all at one place, but solar and wind don’t exactly generate pollution other than looking ugly in places.

    Ron: Of course, but I sure don’t have $100MM to put up for a prize.

  30. As a chemical engineer, I sometimes forget that things like this might not be obvious to the non-engineering public. The only way that hydrogen produced through electrolysis of water could possibly be considered economical is if a vast nearly free source of electricity were available.

    Virtually all of commercial hydrogen is made, as Zubrin says, by steam reformation of hydrocarbons. As he points out, this produces a lot of CO2.

    Some might say, “well, yeah, use solar energy to make the electricity, duh.” Unfortunately, even if we had the capability to use solar to generate that much energy at a high enough rate, it would likely be more efficient to store the energy as chemical potential energy in an electric storage battery than to use hydrogen.

    The energy pathways are similar, but significantly different:

    Solar Energy + H2O -> chemical potential energy stored in H2 gas (and tanks, regulators, pumps, compressors, etc., necessary to store it -> combustion to convert H2 potential to heat (inefficient) -> heat engine to convert heat to work

    vs.

    Solar energy -> storage battery (with attendant conversion inefficiencies and bulk and weight and maintenance of batteries) -> electricity.

    vs.

    Solar energy -> thermal engine -> electricity -> storage battery – > use

    Depending on whether we can ever use solar energy to make enough electricity (and this would require lots and lots of square miles of collectors) for our needs, the energy has to be stored as chemical potential energy in some way. The inefficiencies of the chemical storage and extraction processes (as well as the inefficiencies of converting light energy to electricty or chemical potential energy) will be the limiting factor in how much we can realize from solar energy.

    There simply is no way to get over certain efficiencies in processes. I’m all for research into improving these efficiencies to near the theoretical limits, but the hard fact is that, barring a BIG technological breakthrough, solar/wind/hydro are going to remain minor players due to minimal reliability and low efficiency.

  31. No one on this thread made the HFCS connection?

    Hydrogen will never take off if only bcse our ingesting of High Fructose Corn Syrup has enslaved us to corn which we will grow uneconomically to power out fleet of vehicles.

    It’s all about corn: All Hail Corn!

    🙂

  32. BTW Zubrin is generally perceived as something of a crank when it comes to his Mars advocacy (he advocates a huge expedition to Mars, with attendant government funding), but he seems to be a competent engineer. He did a lot of work with a process (The Sabatier Process) to produce rocket fuel from the CO2 atmosphere of Mars.

  33. LarryA Rule of Forecasting: Technology will continue to improve the human condition. However, no one alive can forecast either which technologies will make the difference, or how they will do so.

    Not saying that anyone can. But that’s an awfully big closing off of options to be making claims of hydrogen being a loser forever. Should we all just roll over and die now?

    Therefore implementing government mandates requiring development based on government forecasts seldom if ever improves the human condition.

    Not saying that either.

  34. Ok, here is my answer to all our fuel/global warming worries:

    1) Switch the US to a primarily nuclear powered electric grid (that way, electricity is produced without greenhouse gas).
    2) Use existing battery technology. It’s actually apparently quite good (if the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” is to be believed.) Highly dependable batteries are apparently available which power a NORMAL SIZED vehicle at reasonable highway speeds for about 100 miles on a charge.
    3) Design the cars and batteries so they can be “swapped” at a service station, kind of like you can do with a propane tank. (Yes, this may mean a return to having service pump attendants). This will allow instantaneous “refuel” of electric cars. Of course, you can avoid the additional expense of this procedure by charging up at home, but this provides an answer for longer trips/emergencies.

    So where do I claim my 100 million dollar prize?

    For all those concerned about nuclear waste, consider that whatever technology they are currently working on to safely house hydrogen could probably also be used to safely house nuclear waste while transporting it to the inside of some mountain. And if you believe the inside of a mountain is not safe enough to house nuclear waste, I don’t know what to say.

  35. db,

    All that is well and good, but ignores the working systems available today. Iceland is using hydrogen efficiently and reliably largely because they can use geothermal for electricity production (in large part). Nuclear has been mentioned, and of course there are many operational, solar powered hyrdrogen filling stations using electrolysis.

    Batteries are more energy efficent, but you have to charge them (for hours) every 200-300 miles. Hydrogen allows you to fill up and get on your way. That is its only advantage. You trade time efficiency for energy efficiency. Battery operated vehicles would be the better choice in town, but for long distance a fuel cell makes more sense.

    I suppose you could have a battery swapping station every 200 miles, but it seems like that would be more complicated.

    I don’t believe anyone advocates replacing one monolithic energy market with another. The idea is to use these technologies when and where they make sense.

  36. The question remains: do they make sense?

  37. db,

    That is indeed the question.

    Iceland has decided it makes sense for their situation. As has Mr. Strizki who uses a hydrogen/solar combo to power his house and travel.

    That doesn’t mean it is the solution for everyone.

  38. That has to be evaluated on an energy balance/efficiency basis.

    As to “many operational, solar powered hydrogen filling stations,” can you estimate what “many” means?

  39. Mr. Strizki probably has a much more detailed knowledge of his energy production/storage equipment than most people would be willing to accumulate.

    I, for example, would love the opportunity to build my own hydrogen production/storage station, but I’m a nerd engineer.

    I did a lot of paper research into alternative energy years ago, and came to the conclusion that to build any of the designs I considered would require such an expensive investment of my time that it was not worth it to me. Further, my ideas of small, individualized package plants to produce family-sized quantities of ethanol or hydrogen all broke down at the same point: getting the individual to invest the time necessary to maintain and operate the equipment.

    A few people make their own biodiesel, etc., but they have money and time to tinker with the processes. Not to mention the danger that most people would put themselves in if they tried to operate a hydrogen storage facility or production unit at their own residence.

  40. I think a better prize (say $100 million) would be for developing a commercially viable battery that can charge and recharge in less than a hour, last at least 10 years, and power a car for 300 miles.

    Look at electrochemical double layer capacitors, instead of batteries. Longer lasting, less toxic components.

    Power density will only go up, especially with nano-structured components. CNTs or nanopores.

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

    Hydrogen should be considered an energy storage mechanism, like batteries or a big twisted rubber band. If you can get cheap electricity (say from a nuke plant), it would compare decently, but fuel cells are more complicated than batteries or EDLCs.

    And Warren @ 11:20 AM, it’s not the “green” movement pushing H as a savior, it’s the 43rd prez’s major donors. They make money off the delivery infrastructure and will mark up H transport the same amount as hydrocarbon transport.

  41. As to “many operational, solar powered hydrogen filling stations,” can you estimate what “many” means?

    Hundreds of thousands, at a guess. In 1998, there were over 180,000 gas stations in the US. Dunno why you’d need fewer hydro stations than gas stations.

  42. Iceland has decided it makes sense for their situation.

    No doubt. Governments always do what makes sense.

  43. Not to mention the danger that most people would put themselves in if they tried to operate a hydrogen storage facility or production unit at their own residence.

    I shudder to imagine the average HnR commenter trying to manage a hydro plant and a big ol’ tank of explosive gas.

  44. Although HnR posters might have a better go of it than some others.

  45. db,

    “can you estimate what “many” means?”

    Well, “many” is probably an overstatement.

    But there are certainly enough to demonstrate proof of concept. Honda has some in California that have been operating since 2001, fur instance.

  46. db,

    True, but all new technologies start at the geek level and simplify to the average joe level over time.

    There just seems to me to be no reason to shut down an entire avenue of research before the geeks get a chance to work the bugs out.

  47. “I shudder to imagine the average HnR commenter trying to manage a hydro plant and a big ol’ tank of explosive gas.”

    Yeah. No homes today have any explosive gases piped in.

    And imagine a vehicle with a big gasoline bomb strapped to its frame… the peasants would never figure out how to be safe.

  48. Electronics guru, DIY/computer/hardware hacker pioneer Don Lancaster has been saying this for years. Half of his column for years was debunking alternative energy claims. His hydrogen spiel is summed up here:
    http://www.tinaja.com/h2gas01.asp

    He has lots of other interesting info on a number of topics, too.

  49. Certainly I don’t wish to shudt down avenues of research. But dead ends and wishful thinking have to be identified quickly and discarded if any progress is to be made. Thermodynamics offers the tool to make these distinctions.

    Thermodynamically, few if any of the proposed alternative energy systems make much sense.

    If solar energy is ever going to be a player, it will have to be collected in space and transmitted to earth’s surface. It really seems the only way to get the required collector area and solve the problem of reliability due to weather. Same for wind. Hydro is better but has the extremely undesirable effects of damming rivers and negative consequences for their ecosystems.

  50. Yeah. No homes today have any explosive gases piped in.

    There is a HUGE difference between methane at a couple of inches of water pressure and hydrogen at several hundred psig.

    And imagine a vehicle with a big gasoline bomb strapped to its frame… the peasants would never figure out how to be safe.

    Gasoline is only flammable as a vapor–stored as a liquid in a fuel tank it is relatively inert. It only becomes combustible when atomized by a fuel injector or carburetor. Your car’s gas tank is more dangerous empty than full due to the increased vapor space.

  51. There just seems to me to be no reason to shut down an entire avenue of research before the geeks get a chance to work the bugs out.

    Let researchers research. Just disregard the people who say hydrogen will ever be a significant automotive fuel – at least until the geeks get something within spitting distance of practicality.

  52. Recently I saw a video on the web of a hydrogen prototype, by Honda I believe, that was portrayed as, or I interpreted, as self contained. Maybe I misunderstood and frankly I don’t know where to find the video again.

    Anyway, as somebody who was stunned to learn that hydrogen isn’t a feasible fuel source about a year ago because of reasons similar to those listed in the article above, I wondered what Honda had done to overcome those problems.

    As a layman, I am confused about the confusion that seems to reign over hydrogen power. Surely there are a lot of smart people involved so why, if it is so clearly not feasible, does a company like Honda continue to pursue it? I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I’m genuinly curious about this ongoing debate and why it hasn’t been settled already.

  53. I’ve to agree with R.C. Dean on the present feasibility of home storage of hydrogen for the masses. I’d not be comfortable living next door to someone with, as New Mejican posted at 10:49 a.m: “The oxygen is released into the atmosphere, while the hydrogen is stored in 10 1,000-gallon propane tanks on Strizki’s property.”

    A can of gasoline in the garage or a propane bottle for the grill is one thing, living next to a hydrogen tank farm is entirely another.

    It appears to my cursory reading of Ron’s quotation that most of the CO2 generation from H2 production comes from burning methane to drive the reaction. As many of the other posters have already written, why not just use waste heat from some other power generation/industrial process, and if so, what does that do to the CO2 generation numbers?

    Moreover, isn’t battery manufacture/recycling an environmentally filthy process, one that has to be repeated numerous times throughout the lifecycle of a car (since batteries are only good for a certain amount of charging/recharging)?

  54. re: waste heat:

    generally the temperature of steam required for steam reforming of hydrocarbons exceeds the temperature available as “waste heat” from most processes. The implications of the second law of thermodynamics make this unviable.

  55. Yeah. No homes today have any explosive gases piped in.

    Hydrogen is a very small molecule compared to methane or propane, which makes it profoundly difficult to work with. Plumbing is so difficult to seal that everything needs to be essentially welded connections. It also causes hydrogen embrittlement of many structural metals such as steel or titanium. Liquid hydrogen also exhibits superfluidity, meaning that if you poured some into a cup the surface tension >> density results in the liquid climbing the walls of the cup and spreading over the table, like some freaky sci-fi movie.

    Hydrogen is literally the most difficult and dangerous-to-handle fuel short of nitroglycerin. Think of how many Space Shuttle launches have been delayed or scrubbed due to “fuel leaks”.

    why not just use waste heat from some other power generation/industrial process

    Reforming requires really high temperatures, like 1500?F. Even the boiler room in hell doesn’t typically put off waste heat at that temperature.

    /Structural engineer, specialty is composite materials. Article is wrong about crashworthiness of composite tanks, they are safer than steel.

  56. Moreover, isn’t battery manufacture/recycling an environmentally filthy process, one that has to be repeated numerous times throughout the lifecycle of a car (since batteries are only good for a certain amount of charging/recharging)?

    This is one of the pros for hydrogen and cons for batteries. Do the problems associated with battery manufacture/maintenance/disposal outweigh the hydrogen equipment issues? Maybe, maybe not.

  57. Carbon sequestration makes Hydrogen more viable in terms of Carbon Dioxide emissions. Much easier to do at a Hydrogen plant than trying to collect it from tailpipes…..

  58. Disclosure here, as someone might eventually go back to older posts of mine and discover that I work for a large electric utility at a fossil-fueled power plant.

    BTW, hydrogen gas is used as a coolant in electrical generators and is stored on site at most power plants. Hydrogen tank farms are usually positioned several hundred feet away from equipment, buildings, etc due to safety concerns. All tools used to work on hydrogen piping have to be non-sparking (brass, aluminum, other).

    Some consequences of hydrogen leaks in proximity to buildings/storage areas can be seen here: link

  59. Can’t we just store energy in the space-time continuum and extract it with, say, power rings? Or what about a cross-universe electron pump?

    I’m entirely disappointed with the future.

  60. I WISH I was more shocked by the people displaying an ignorance of the issue of hydrogen-for-combustion vs. hydrogen-as-fuel-cell-medium, to say nothing of hydrogen-as-fuel vs. hydrogen-as-energy-storage.

    In related news:

    http://www.thepoorman.net/2007/04/06/today-in-global-warming-denial/

    “Ron “the Shame Hammer” Bailey examines why some people only accept the scientific consensus when it fits with their pre-conceived ideas. Some people have their nerve! As my forehead is still raw and bleeding from the last time I made myself read one of RB’s essays, and as my new desk is of a very sturdy and unforgiving-looking steel design, I’m going to give this one a pass, but dimes to dollars the “some people” in question are not Mr. Bailey, his old boss and former science advisor to President George W. Bush Myron Ebell, or any of the other folks who, while knowing basically nothing at all about climate science, raked in big bucks from their industrialist benefactors by poo-poo’ing the consensus opinion of professional climate scientists. And a free The Poor Man t-shirt to Mr. Bailey if, during the obligatory awkward mea sorta culpa (but Al Gore is made-a blubba!) for his shilling, he neglects to congratulate himself for acknowledging this decade-long scientific consensus a week-and-a-half before fellow hack Gregg Easterbrook, a guy who firmly believes there should be no funding for String Theory until physicists admit that they can prove the Bible.”

  61. Can’t we just store energy in the space-time continuum and extract it with, say, power rings?

    Too much yellow stuff around.

  62. Or what about a cross-universe electron pump?

    The problem is that you have to keep switching universes; otherwise, one universe gets too sore. (Then, too, you have to freeze the excess electrons until you’re ready to use them.)

  63. I WISH I was more shocked by the people displaying an ignorance of the issue of hydrogen-for-combustion vs. hydrogen-as-fuel-cell-medium, to say nothing of hydrogen-as-fuel vs. hydrogen-as-energy-storage.

    Regardless of the ultimate method of extracting the chemical potential energy of hydrogen, the inefficiencies in its production and the hazards in it’s storage must be considered.

  64. er, “its”, not “it’s”

  65. “Even the mindless minions should be able to understand that it will always cost more to crack water than you get back when it’s reassembled.”

    That is true. But if there were a cheap source of energy (sunlight) that we (humans) can’t use as efficiently as other organisms (photosynthetic microbes), then maybe we could be clever and figure out how to make something else bear the cost and then take the hydrogen for ourselves.

    It is possible to genetically engineer a microbe so that it couples Photosystem I is to the enzyme hydrogenase. The electron generated by the photosystem could reduce water into hydrogen. Then all you would have to do is put your engineered bacteria in the sunlight, and -presto- it starts pumping out hydrogen.

    This was accomplised about 10 years ago, and is the subject of research in a few labs. For example:

    http://jb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/123/4/644

    So far it’s not very efficient, but it’s promising. If the efficiency problems could be solved then you end up with hydrogen basically produced for free from water as long as you have sunlight to grow your organisms.

  66. Then all you would have to do is put your engineered bacteria in the sunlight, and -presto- it starts pumping out hydrogen.

    And the advantage this has over yeast making ethanol? Or [pretty much any plant] making woody tissue to be distilled to methanol?

    The carbon released when these are burned is simply the carbon sequestered from the C02 the plant photosynthesized. It’s just as carbon-neutral as hydrogen.

    The difference is that a liquid alcohol is profoundly easier and safer to deal with than hydrogen.

    I agree that an attractive long-term solution is grown fuels using biotechnology. I just think that using hydrogen as an energy currency makes about as much sense as using chickens as a financial currency. Sure, it’s possible, and people over there do it all the time, but…WTF?

  67. Things that sound naughty but aren’t

    “a cross-universe electron pump”
    “otherwise, one universe gets too sore”
    “New Jersey Genesis”
    Dave W.
    “He’s lovely as a drummer for the Let’s-Go-to-Mars movement” [note: not so much as naughty, but kinda scary]
    “Batteries are more energy efficent, but you have to charge them” [hey – he’s the one making dirty comments]
    “long as you have sunlight to grow your organisms.” [my bad. misread “organism”]

  68. If we could only find a way to harness Joe’s outrage, the rest of this stuff would be rendered meaningless.

  69. gene tinkerer,

    But Zubrin’s point still holds. You’re still better off just making the electricity and putting your R&D into more efficient storage than trying to tackle the gauntlet of generating, storing, and utilizing, hydrogen.

  70. Interesting read, Instapundit had a link to it a few months back. What I found a little strange though is Zurbin’s insistance that fuel cells will never be economicall viable. The year is 1900, futurist says “I need pictures of naked ladies sent to a device in my room upon tapping my finger”, Zurbin says “we don’t have enough folks cranking out equations in the back room to ever make that happen, you dim witted fool”.

    Advances in industry A once thought impossible sometimes occur after advances in unrelated industry’s B, C, and D.

  71. Fossil fuels in the last century reached their extreme [popularity] because of their inherent utility: they pack a great deal of potential energy into an extremely efficient package. If we can but sidestep the 100 million year production process, we can corner this market once again.

    😉

  72. For some of the more interesting analyses on the topic of the hydrogen economy, I’d direct you to some reports prepared by ABB.

    If you search for “abb hydrogen economy reports” you’ll find some good ones. The upshot is that liquid hydrocarbons *depending on the source* will likely be far more realistically economical and net-carbon neutral.

    With regard to the commenters stating that current battery technology was good enough for decent cars… I beg to differ. I was essentially managing an investment portfolio in novel power sources for 4 of the past 6 years, and it’s a really tough business/science. Battery making is a sector where a 10% increase in (choose your figure of merit – energy density or specific energy) is a BANNER year.

    I have seen some technologies that I believe will eventually result in significant (2x?) improvements in cell energy density (e.g. in Wh/kg), but remember that such really large increases are often inversely proportional to changes in product safety.

    (Misused properly, most modern Li+ cells make really credible bombs, or at least incendiary devices.)

    Lastly, the best summary I ever read of the Second Law of Thermodynamics was: “Left to itself, the universe tends to go to hell in a handbasket.”

  73. I look to the string theorists to solve the energy problem using a cross-brane differential reactor.

    Yes, that’s a joke, though I will accept a share in the Nobel Prize if, by divine intervention, that prediction proves to be true.

  74. Fortunately, we still have lots of science to explore, like these over-unity claims:
    Free Energy

  75. PL, a cross brane is better than none.

  76. Otto Maddox:

    That’s some specious reasoning. “Something that once seemed impossible is now possible, therefore all seemingly impossible things are possible.” The laws of physics constrain us in very real ways. No matter how great the feeling might be, I cannot dance on the ceiling.

    Mark Yannone:

    http://www.randi.org/

  77. None of these alternative fuel source strike me as solving AGW, or they offer long term problems themselves.
    Solar – As if increasing the albedo of the planet won’t cause it to warm.
    Space-based solar – Adding surface area with increased albedo.
    Wind – Saps energy from winds which help cool the planet.
    Geothermal – speeds cooling of the crust, which in turn speeds the “marsification” of the planet as water is trapped in the cooler crust and won’t outgas as steam.
    Ethanol – the aforementioned tying of food to fuel. The 1970s with starvation.

    I’m all for industrial society. We shouldn’t delude ourselves though that any of these is a magic bullet. We’re going to have to deal with there effects, or turn Luddite. And nature sucks worse than the above. Lions, Tigers, Asteroids, gamma bursters, supernovas, invading alien civilizations, oh my.

  78. (Misused properly, most modern Li+ cells make really credible bombs, or at least incendiary devices.)

    C’mon strat, don’t tease us like that. Spill!

  79. As an armchair energy pundit I can only look to the progress that is reported by those doing the actual work.

    Those who discuss the difficulties of any alternative energy source need to be listened to. But when they are pessimistic, I think it is important to look at the real world implementations of these technologies currently in the world to balance the theoretical difficulties they discuss.

    Hydrogen has a few successes that make me less skeptical than db and others (who emphasize the dangers and thermodynamic inefficiencies).

    I am more skeptical than these folks,

    http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/13/11/36746599.pdf

    But they are working with real systems implemented in the world and, so far, have found those systems to be promising enough to continue development.

    Another group who I admire is the Rocky Mountain Institute, who implement solutions using current technology and demonstrate results that seem counter intuitive…

    http://www.rmi.org/

    This company is implementing environmentally friendly practices and increasing profitibility.

    http://www.interfaceinc.com/

    Public policy needs to encourage the exploration of the largest amount of the possibility space. Fixation on too narrow a spectrum of options would be unwise. What policy mechanisms avoid that narrow fixation?

    That is the real policy debate, in my view.

  80. Bobbo,

    I think your analysis is a bit simplistic.

    Just a bit.

    ;^)

  81. Even the mindless minions should be able to understand that it will always cost more to crack water than you get back when it’s reassembled.

    Unfortunately the mindless minions who people the environmental movement including but not limited to politicians don’t get this. Producing hydrogen from electrolysis is very lossy. If you already have the electricity, just use the goddamned electricity and quit trying to separate molecules with it.

    For hydrogen to work you need to produce it on site at the filling station with solar or geothermal or hydrothermal or wind producing the electricity that produces the hydrogen.

    Neu Mejican

    I read the article you linked and I’m highly skeptical. I have electricity, I take that electricity and lose about 90% of it to produce hydrogen– enough to drive, all done on solar panels. Something not sitting right with this picture.

    At the equator, if I magically produce a solar panel which is 100% efficient, I can pull around 1000 watts per square meter. Which is great– if we ever produce a solar cell which is 100% efficient.

    Solar panels today are around 12% efficient. Now subtract what, 90% from the electrolysis, and he’s still running his home, stereos, stoves, refrigerators, air-conditioners, TV’s, lights and driving his car?!!

    Strizki claims that when the solar panels don’t produce enough electricity, he produces the extra boost from the hydrogen? It took electricity to produce the hydrogen– why not just use excess electricity directly? Why split molecules at 90% loss rate to later reproduce electricity? They claim his solar panels are on the roof to his detached garage. How many square meters at less than 1000watts per sq meter at 12% efficiency is he gonna pull? Something’s very very wrong with the Strizki article. Must research further. Methinks Mr Strizki has a Honda Generator hidden under the floorboards he forgot to tell the reporter about.

  82. Update:

    I missed this on the last page of the CS Monitor article:

    Electrolyzers are only 50 percent efficient.

    My bad, I had read somewhere the elctrolyzers were only about 10% efficient. However, although this is better for Stizki, it’s no slam dunk. There’s still something wrong with the overall model the article talks about. Why waste 1/2 your energy producing hydrogen when you’re probably getting precious little of it from the solar in the first place?

  83. Paul,

    Please do investigate and let me know.

    I think the only reason for the hydrogen is so that he can run the vehicle. That’s my take at least.

  84. Solar specs…

    http://www.solarexpert.com/pvbasics2.html

    “Research cell efficiencies greater than 25 percent under 1-sun conditions, and nearly 28 percent under concentrated sunlight. Multijunction cells based on GaAs and related III-V alloys have exceeded 30-percent efficiency.”

    Is the best they report.

  85. That’s a horrible explanation of who/whom. A better analysis is that “who” is the subject of “develops” and so calls for a nominative case, and the entire clause “whoever develops a…” is the object of “[award] to.”

    However, natural English lets you use “who” in either function. The reason people can’t tell the difference is in fact because natural English does not require it, so they have to drop into a foreign tongue to figure it out.

    The exception would be directly after prepositions moved out of the final position (another tic people pick up), eg. “For whom the bell tolls.” But that’s a register rule (moving the preposition in “Who the bell tolls for” out of the final position changes it to formal register, and then formal register requires “whom.”)

  86. Wow, that’s the first post I’ve seen here with numbered equations. Reminds me of the LaTeX days…

  87. Research cell efficiencies greater than 25 percent under 1-sun conditions, and nearly 28 percent under concentrated sunlight. Multijunction cells based on GaAs and related III-V alloys have exceeded 30-percent efficiency.”

    I saw those when I was doing my light research. I didn’t reference them because the article I came across indicated a 12% efficiency rating for solar panels “available today”. I’m assuming that Strizki didn’t put research panels on his garage. Although I’d be impressed if he did. Given the pictures of his digs and his hydrogen processing facility (tanks, meters, separation systems etc.) the $500,000 price tag doesn’t seem that unreasonable. But it’s not cost I’m concerned with. Mr Strizki is trying to save the planet. Fair play to him.

    It’s the efficiency that’s got me bugged.

    There are too many factors not listed in the article. Like Mr. Strizki may be one of those uncooked food nuts, not shower, hates TV, and likes the temperature in his home a comfy 46 degrees in the winter, and a smooth 89 in the summer. He may not do much reading except by candlelight, and his office may be at the end of his driveway. All these factors could add up to a man who totally runs his house on 12-30% efficient solar panes covering only his garage roof, and some big-assed hydrogen tanks which run on the–I hesitate to say it– excess power produced by his solar panels on cloudy days in the winter.

    Hey man, look, I was a solar panel nut from the time I was a wee bairn living in New Mexico. We had good sun in New Mexico. Dang if I could barely run a freaking transistor radio on a solar panel. Clouds? Forget it. I recently purchased a rather expensive solar panel to recharge a sealed lead-acid battery system I use for electronics on long kayaking trips. If I plugged those panels end to end and covered my entire property with them it’d be doubtful if I could even run a TV, let alone an 12,000 btu air conditioner.

  88. Ceo Morgan is right. We spartans realized that this:
    CH4 + 2H2O => CO2 + 4H2 ?H = +59 kcal/mole

    equation makes a whole lot more sense if it’s run in reverse. You crack the hydrogen, reform it into methane (or other hydrocarbons) and they’re much more useful manageable than H2.

  89. Paul,

    I believe there is reference to Mr. Strizki big screen TV in the article (or another one on him).

    I used to go to school across the street from a active/passive solar house in Albuquerque way back in the 70’s. And I know many people who do very well with passive solar heating here (pretty easy to heat with passive solar in NM).

    Building design and passive methods of reducing energy needs are a bigger factor than any other. If you build your building smart enough, you can heat it largely with the sun and heat from your lighting, and cool it without an a/c.

    The Rocky Mountain Institute buidling is an example…

    http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid379.php

    If Mr. Strizki’s house is built along these lines, which I am sure it is, he will have much smaller energy needs per square foot than a typical house.

  90. Paul,

    From CS Monitor…

    “His 3,500-square-foot house has all the amenities, including a hot tub and a big-screen TV.”

  91. “He’s lovely as a drummer for the Let’s-Go-to-Mars movement”

    I saw The Let’s-Go-to-Mars Movement last summer. They rocked.

  92. I hate to burst ya’lls bubbles

    None of it matters cause the world will end in five years.

    peace out

  93. Regarding whoever vs. whomever, best practice is to avoid the whole problem and write “to anyone who.”

  94. VHTR

    But you still have to transport the hydrogen, which is the real deal breaker IMO.

  95. “I think a better prize (say $100 million) would be for developing a commercially viable battery that can charge and recharge in less than a hour, last at least 10 years, and power a car for 300 miles.”

    Bailey, are you tracking the EEstor story?

    http://www.technologyreview.com/Biztech/18086/page1/

    I’ll believe it when I see it. …but we’re supposed to be able to see it later this year.

    “The first commercial application of the EESU is intended to be used in electric vehicles under a technology agreement with ZENN Motor Company. EEStor, Inc. remains on track to begin shipping production 15 kilowatt-hour Electrical Energy Storage Units (EESU) to ZENN Motor Company in 2007 for use in their electric vehicles.”

    http://www.zenncars.com/

    It may be that your hypothetical prize is about to be won.

  96. “EEStor claims that, using an automated production line and existing power electronics, it will initially build a 15-kilowatt-hour energy-storage system for a small electric car weighing less than 100 pounds, and with a 200-mile driving range. The vehicle, the company says, will be able to recharge in less than 10 minutes.”

    Okay, so it only goes 200 miles between recharges–still, two out of three ain’t bad.

  97. One of the saner comments found on this thread:

    Thermodynamically, few if any of the proposed alternative energy systems make much sense.

    But don’t tell anyone, or this whole discussion would suddenly become so much aromatic methane.

    Regardless of the ultimate method of extracting the chemical potential energy of hydrogen, the inefficiencies in its production and the hazards in it’s storage must be considered.

    Not if you’re saving Gaia.

  98. And I know many people who do very well with passive solar heating here (pretty easy to heat with passive solar in NM).

    Growing up in NM, passive solar was all over the place. Heating water with solar panels is a nifty idea. I’m all fer it.

    Then I moved to Seattle. Now ask me how many passive solar houses I see.

    “His 3,500-square-foot house has all the amenities, including a hot tub and a big-screen TV.”

    I caught that. My point was not that he didn’t have these things, but that he might not actually use them.

    I’ve been thinking of this a lot tonight. And I’m trying to figure out how he would be totally off his grid with all of these amenities and actually use them.

    He has to have many more systems in place than just the photovoltaic solar and hydrogen electrolysis devices. I just don’t see how he could run all those appliances with his garage covered with panels. Unless his garage is 50,000 square feet.

    Here’s a good page detailing some people who covered the entire main part of a large house in photovoltaic cells producing… 5.28 kw. Read about just how fantastically difficult it is to produce consistent current when something as innocent as a cloud blows by.

    I ran across another calculation that suggested that in this day and age, to do a real solar house, you’d want stuff like your oven, stove and hot water heater to be gas. Translation: run as little on electricity as possible. Assuming the biggies are running on gas, here’s the breakdown:

    This means that what you would be powering with solar electricity are things like the refrigerator, the lights, the computer, the TV, stereo equipment, motors in things like furnace fans and the washer, etc. Let’s say that all of those things average out to 600 watts on average. Over the course of 24 hours, you need 600 watts * 24 hours = 14,400 watt-hours per day.

    From our calculations and assumptions above, [you’d] need about 41,000 square inches of solar panel for the house. That’s a solar panel that measures about 285 square feet (about 26 square meters). That would cost around $16,000 right now. Then, because the sun only shines part of the time, you would need to purchase a battery bank, an inverter, etc., and that often doubles the cost of the installation.

    If you want to have a small room air conditioner in your bedroom, double everything.

    hmmmm…what does Mr. Strizki know that everyone else doesn’t?

    Lastly (not to pile on), but here’s a link (from 2000 admittedly) where University of Florida researchers built a prototype solar house–wait for it– sans kitchen. They concede that they could put in a kitchen if they really wanted to (I mean, who needs that) as long as all the appliances ran on gas. Oh, the house? 900 sq feet. Have things progressed so far that we can power a 3500 square foot house with none of these problems?

  99. Paul,

    I really think you need to look more carefully at the Rocky Mountain Institute link I put above. You are making a lot of assumptions about energy use that are not warranted.

    If you only change the source of energy without reducing consumption these things don’t work. But with current technology (RMI used 1984 tech) you can reduce energy use dramatically. It is the better building design that makes the biggest difference, not whether or not things are solar powered or not.

    Strizki’s house, is, by the way, not using gas to power anything (unless the article is just outright inaccurate).

  100. Staying cool with passive design in central Texas

    http://www.austinenergy.com/Energy%20Efficiency/Programs/Green%20Building/Sourcebook/passiveSolarDesign.htm

    Although I am skeptical you could ever make it comfortable in Austin in the summer without some air conditioning, this design should reduce the need for a big unit.

  101. Several technologies have emerged to separate hydrogen from whatever it is bonded to. For example, in 2004, a fellow at University of Minnesota’s Chemistry Department demonstrated a device that had 160% efficiency in extracting hydrogen. That seems like over-unity because they had alcohol in water and expected the extraction to be restricted to the alcohol, but it also extracted hydrogen from the water. The technology is 100% selective (can be used for any hydrocarbon), and is composed of off-the-shelf technologies that don’t require a change in the supply chain. His article on this process:

    Deluga G A; Salge J R; Schmidt L D; Verykios X E
    Renewable hydrogen from ethanol by autothermal reforming.
    Science (New York, N.Y.)
    (2004), 303(5660), 993-7.

  102. Very cool.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/303/5660/993

    Also,

    Science 3 November 2006:
    Vol. 314. no. 5800, pp. 801 – 804
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1131244

    Renewable Hydrogen from Nonvolatile Fuels by Reactive Flash Volatilization
    J. R. Salge, B. J. Dreyer, P. J. Dauenhauer, L. D. Schmidt

    Droplets of nonvolatile fuels such as soy oil and glucose-water solutions can be flash evaporated by catalytic partial oxidation to produce hydrogen in high yields with a total time in the reactor of less than 50 milliseconds. Pyrolysis, coupled with catalytic oxidation of the fuels and their fragments upon impact with a hot rhodium-cerium catalyst surface, avoids the formation of deactivating carbon layers on the catalyst. The catalytic reactions of these products generate approximately 1 megawatt of heat per square meter, which maintains the catalyst surface above 800?C at high drop impact rates. At these temperatures, heavy fuels can be catalytically transformed directly into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and other small molecules in very short contact times without the formation of carbon.

  103. Science 13 February 2004:
    Vol. 303. no. 5660, pp. 993 – 997
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1093045

    Renewable Hydrogen from Ethanol by Autothermal Reforming
    G. A. Deluga,1 J. R. Salge,1 L. D. Schmidt,1* X. E. Verykios2

    Ethanol and ethanol-water mixtures were converted directly into H2 with ~100% selectivity and >95% conversion by catalytic partial oxidation, with a residence time on rhodium-ceria catalysts of

  104. Damn squirrels…

    Science 13 February 2004:
    Vol. 303. no. 5660, pp. 993 – 997
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1093045

    Renewable Hydrogen from Ethanol by Autothermal Reforming
    G. A. Deluga,1 J. R. Salge,1 L. D. Schmidt,1* X. E. Verykios2

    Ethanol and ethanol-water mixtures were converted directly into H2 with ~100% selectivity and greater than 95% conversion by catalytic partial oxidation, with a residence time on rhodium-ceria catalysts of less than 10 milliseconds.Rapid vaporization and mixing with air with an automotive fuel injector were performed at temperatures sufficiently low and times sufficiently fast that homogeneous reactions producing carbon, acetaldehyde, ethylene, and total combustion products can be minimized.This process has great potential for low-cost H2 generation in fuel cells for small portable applications where liquid fuel storage is essential and where systems must be small, simple, and robust.

    1 Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN 55455, USA.
    2 Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Patras, GR-26500 Patras Greece.

  105. I’m with the “hydrogen isn’t going to be the mechanism of storage” group. Better to come up with something biodiesel/hydrocarbon/ethanol related–anything non-volatile is much easier to pump, store, etc. You also get much more bang for the buck.

    A lot of the confusion about efficiency of fuel cells is because a) automotive vs. non-automotive applications b) using a fuel cell as part of a co-gen system.

    Stationary, co-gen fuel cell systems: already commercially feasible, altready being sold in Japan. These work together with methane and similar reformers–units placed on apartment balconies, hooked into the gas systems, producing hot water for the household and a chunk of the used electricity. Anything else needed is tapped off the grid.

  106. Oops: dear god, please post a link for someone who is producing hydrogen at 160% efficiency.

  107. Yea, and you thought my Hydrogen Powered Jeep and Hydrogen Powered (misnamed ‘hybrid’ by a newly famous NYT contributor) 1972 Dodge Charger were just silly jokes without a mole of truth.

    HA! How’s that feel now? 🙂

  108. Ok, still doing reading on this system of Strizki.

    Most of the articles are very journalistic, sunny articles about getting off the grid, his $0.00 electricity bill. But details on his system are scant. I found one page where his solar panel coverage was about 93sq meters.

    Going back to standard 1000watts of energy/m2 at the equator, and assuming that Mr. Stizki is getting what I found good (non research) commercial cells provide: 17% efficiency. Let’s pretend- you know, to make things easy– that he lives at the equator.

    At 93/m2 * 1000watts@17% efficiency: I get an absolute maximum output of 15810 watts.

    Which is great. Fantastic actually. I’m impressed. The problem is that 15810 watts (forgoing the fact he’s not at the equator at noon) will only be produced:

    1. During daylight hours.
    2. During maximum sunlight. (not sunset or sunrise conditions)
    3. At 0% cloudcover.

    Which means that for the few hours where this wattage can be achieved, he can churn out hydrogen which in mr. Strizki’s case is his battery system. So, for all the other hours: Nighttime, low sun, winter sun, cloud cover etc. etc., that wattage has to cover his heating of his 3500sqft home (a time notorious for poor or nonexistent sun AND short days), his hot tub, air conditioning in the summer time, and all the other sundries he has. When the sun goes down or there’s heavy cloudcover combined with winter sun, he’s going to be tapping those batteries continuously. So are the few hours a day of “peak” wattage enough to produce hydrogen (at 50% efficiency) to cover all the non-solar enabled time?

    Am continuing to read.

  109. Most of the articles are very journalistic, sunny articles about getting off the grid, his $0.00 electricity bill. But details on his system are scant. I found one page where his solar panel coverage was about 93sq meters.

    There are gadgets to hook to your meter that can do that or better.

  110. Not that anyone’s reading anymore, but I got an email back from Mr. Strizki. He was gracious enough to forward me some other articles (plus a video I haven’t yet watched) which gave many more technical details, but not enough to satisfy my appetite for info.

    He did emphasize his geothermal system which is responsible for heating water, including his pool and hottub. He didn’t elaborate on exactly how this geothermal site worked, but it helps explain some of my misgivings. Heating a dense volume such as water takes a lot of power. A lot. I was very skeptical that he could do this on his solar and hydrogen system alone.

    He also indicated that his solar panels provide about 10kw of peak power, lower than my high estimate of 15k. This seems realistic to me because New Jersey is a long way from the equator.

    During the winter, his panels only produce 60% of the electricity needed to run the house, so he augments that with the hydrogen produced.

    The details he didn’t directly address were his lifestyle issues. Does he ever have to cut way back and conserve to allow the hydrogen in his tanks to replenish? Does he ever run out of hydrogen?

    Ultimately, the system Strizki uses must rely completely on excess electricity provided by the solar panels. There must be enough excess provided so as to produce enough hydrogen for power storage. Again, hydrogen is his battery.

  111. Paul,

    Thanks for all the leg work.

    Geothermal…
    Ahhhh. That makes sense.

    That is how Iceland has kicked the fossil fuel for heating habit also.

    The thing is, all the solutions will be local. Some regions can depend upon the sun, some can depend upon waves or wind or geothermal.

    Increased efficiency of design, however, is the key.

    The history channel had a nifty program on insulation last night. They are doing some AMAZING things with insulation these days.
    Light & cheap with some very impressive R values.

  112. Neu,

    I can email those attachments he sent to me… if you’re interested. I don’t know if your email link on the comment form here is acceptable?

  113. How about producing hydrogen via genetically modified algae using photosynthesis? (http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/02/70273) I dont see a downside there at the moment, as it just uses sunlight to produce large amounts of hydrogen.

    Just because hydrogen is currently expensive doesnt mean it should negate research on how to bring costs down and make it mass produceable for the general public to consume. It is still the most abundant element on the planet and beyond…

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