The following editorial reflects
the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of Progressive Engineer.
for Powering Vehicles?
One writer says no way, while another attempts to dispel the myths he says naysayers bandy about.
By Brock Yates
We the people now understand the benefits of hydrogen-powered fuel cells after the Congress of the United States has bestowed its benediction on the system via an enormous subsidy. A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., mandates the Department of Energy to develop a plan to produce 100,000 fuel-cell cars by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020. No doubt this was inspired by the colossal success of California's edict to achieve zero-emissions from 10 percent of its vehicle population by the end of the decade. This idea, you may recall, just hit Sacramento's legislative rocks after sales of electric cars barely edged into double numbers.
These grand mandates from the feds and the states are to be praised, not ridiculed. After all, if they are successful, we can expect harsh laws outlawing cancer, the common cold, automobile crashes, insanity, financial panics, depressions, recessions, and even war. Who is to question the wisdom and power of our government in such heady matters?
But of course, there are potholes even for the divinities in the seats of power. For example, while we shout hosannas for the fuel cell and celebrate the impending doom of the internal combustion engine and its filthy petroleum energy source, bad news looms on the horizon. Contrary to conventional thinking and the constant agitprop issuing from the elite media, fuel cells might not be the perfect solution for the environment. Recall that we have been led to believe the cells only emit a few drops of water. That is true, but a potential assault on the atmosphere comes from the source of the fuel cell power -- hydrogen.
We learn from new research that massive conversion to a hydrogen-powered vehicle network could lead to serious leakage of the volatile gas. In case you missed high school physics, hydrogen is lighter than air. It is also highly explosive (remember the Hindenburg?). The entry of unwanted trillions of cubic feet of hydrogen into the earth's atmosphere could radically alter the climate by the gas oxidizing into water when it reaches the stratosphere. This could cause a dangerous depletion of the already threatened ozone layer.
Presuming we reach Dame Hillary's goal of 2.5 million fuel-cell miracles on the road by 2020, this would radically increase the amount of hydrogen manufactured, stored, and dumped into vehicle tanks on a daily basis. Leakage would inevitably occur somewhere during the cycle -- not to mention the occasional explosion. Safe storage of the gas in vehicles remains an unspoken but serious dilemma for vehicle developers.
Add that little problem to those already present in a hydrogen nirvana such as the massive energy costs in manufacturing the gas (which you don't exactly strain from tap water in your kitchen sink) and safely transporting it through a new network to filling stations. Suddenly the whole scheme begins to sound like another feel-good bamboozle, like the now-defunct electric car.
Brock Yates is editor-at-large for Car and Driver Magazine and a columnist for Tech Central Station
By Amory Lovins
Many diverse authors have criticized hydrogen as a fuel lately. Some call it a smokescreen to hide White House opposition to raising car efficiency using conventional technology or fear that working on hydrogen would divert effort from renewable energy deployment rather than complement it. Most arguments reflect errors meriting a tutorial on basic hydrogen facts.
Myth #1. Making hydrogen uses more energy than it yields, making it
But hydrogen's greater end-use efficiency can more than offset its conversion loss. From wellhead to car tank, oil is typically 88% efficient, with the lost energy mainly fueling refining and distribution. From car tank to wheels, gasoline is typically 16% efficient. Therefore, the average contemporary vehicle is about 14% efficient well-to-wheels. An advanced fuel-cell car's 70% natural-gas-well-to-hydrogen-in-the-car-tank efficiency, times 60% tank-to-wheels efficiency, yields 42% -- three times higher than the normal gasoline car. The energy lost in making hydrogen is more than made up by its extremely efficient use, saving both fuel and money.
Myth #2. We don't have practical ways to use hydrogen to run cars,
so we must use liquid fuels.
Myth #3. Hydrogen is too expensive to compete with gasoline.
Myth #4. Since renewables are currently too costly, hydrogen would
have to be made from fossil fuels or nuclear energy.
Myth #5. Hydrogen is too volatile and explosive to use as a fuel.
Myth #6. We lack a safe and affordable way to store hydrogen in cars.
Myth #7. Compressing hydrogen for automotive storage tanks takes too
Myth #8. We'd need to lace the country with hydrogen production, distribution,
and delivery infrastructure before we could sell the first hydrogen car,
but that's impractical and far too costly.
Myth #9. Making hydrogen from natural gas would quickly deplete our
Amory Lovins is co-founder and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org) in Snowmass, Colorado, a research organization focusing on energy policy and resource issues. This ran in a newsletter published by Sustainable Business.com (www.sustainablebusiness.com) as a condensed version of Twenty Hydrogen Myths written by Lovins.
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