By on June 30, 2012

The intensified alliance between Toyota and BMW shines a new light on a technology that has been discussed for decades, but that never quite made it: Hydrogen fuel cells. BMW will get access to Toyota’s fuel cell technologies. This most likely spells the end of the fuel cell cooperation between BMW and GM. Let’s take another look.

Toyota is far ahead with the technology. The company had Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicles (FCHV) on the roads for ten years. In 2009, it “launched” its FCHV-adv, basically a Highlander with the hybrid synergy drive from the Toyota Prius connected to a 90kW fuel cell stack. A few months ago, editor-at-large Ed Niedermeyer and I had it on a short test ride through the scenic warehouse landscape of Torrance, CA. Except for an eerily quiet drive, the ride was uneventful.

On a full tank of – this time real – gas, we could have taken it all the way to San Francisco and beyond – no range anxiety here. Fuel cell vehicles have all the advantages of a battery-operated vehicle, i.e. no emissions (the fuel stack produces water), and nearly none of its drawbacks.

If you want to drive tailpipe emission free, your choices are battery, or fuel cell. A fuel cell is basically a battery. Fuel cells and batteries use a chemical reaction to make electricity. When the chemicals in a battery are depleted, you must recharge or throw away the battery. The chemicals of a fuel cell are hydrogen and oxygen. You provide the hydrogen. The fuel cell stack uses free-of-charge oxygen from the air and produces electricity plus H2O – water. Proponents of the technology say that well-to-wheel, fuel cells involve much lower emissions than batteries. Refilling the hydrogen tank should not take longer than filling up with unleaded. Next stop after 400+ miles.

The only way to extend the range of a BEV (if you don’t want to add an ICE) is by adding more batteries. This quickly becomes an exercise in futility. Each added battery cell means more weight, heavier brakes, a larger traction motor, a stronger body to carry the mass, and in turn even more batteries. And most of all, it becomes insanely expensive.

Not so with fuel cells. Fuel cells can make electricity at weights that are between eight to 14 times less than current batteries. Extending the range of a fuel cell vehicle has negligible impact on its weight.

Like electricity, hydrogen is not a way to make energy, it is a way to transport energy. Hydrogen can be made in the same number of ways as electricity.

And why aren’t we all driving around in fuel cell vehicles by now? There were a number of technical challenges, but as Toyota Chief Engineer Satoshi Ogiso had told us last year, the challenges have all been mastered. The only real problem Ogiso is facing with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is money:

“For us, the only remaining real issue that stands in the way of fuel cell electric vehicles is mass production cost.”

Current fuel cell technology is big, bulky, heavy and expensive. With enough scale, package size and price can come down considerably. Toyota plans to launch a commercial FCV in 2015. It still will be expensive, the Nikkei figures 5 million yen, or $62,000. By 2020, Ogiso plans to have an affordable FCV.

Luxury vehicles are much better for early-tech alternative propulsion, because the cars are big enough to hide the heft and expensive enough to mask the price. With their alliance, Toyota and BMW plan totake the lead in commercializing fuel cell cars,” as The Nikkei [sub] writes. Says The Nikkei:

“Other automakers are forging ties over green technologies. Daimler AG is rushing to develop a fuel cell car with capital partner Nissan Motor Co. Meanwhile, Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. are developing fuel cell cars on their own. General Motors Co. has been considering a fuel cell tie-up with BMW, but it may have to change course now that the German firm has opted to partner with Toyota.”

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50 Comments on “Toyota And BMW Plan To Take The Lead In Commercializing Fuel Cell Cars. Let’s Revisit...”


  • avatar
    Toucan

    Oh no, an attempt to respawn hydrogen hype with new wave of purified nonsense.

    Because of endless energy conversions and storage leaks (convert something into hydrogen, transport it while leaking, store it in the car while leaking, convert it in the fuel cell, convert the electricity to motion in the motor) “well-to-wheel” efficiency of HFCV is AFAIK worse than that of a good old American V8.

    I’ll save my time by mentioning neither lack of infrastructure nor lack of any successful commercialization.

    The real and realistic goals for the merger:
    - put best diesel engines under Toyotas’ hoods
    - increase ROI for majority of BMW good but expensive technology that sells in too few cars
    - let BMW make a hybrid that makes sense and sells; current 300HP hybrids that save mere 18% and put 350 lbs of pork on the 5 series make no sense at all, failed dual mode hybrids are even worse
    - develop some serious plug-in hybrid platform for the BMW

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      You’re missing the point. Of course there is no infrastructure now, but none of this is going to happen tomorrow or even this year. Toyota say it will be 3 years until the first commercial FCV goes on sale. 8 years until the first “affordable” (I assume mass-market) FCV. Who knows what will be in place in 2020, and how the tech will have advanced?

      Toyota and BMW, sure those are the obvious short to mid-term goals of the partnership. 5 years from now, they may be on to the next big thing.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        Your point undermines Schmitt’s odd argument that makes the assumption that battery tech will never change. As soon as charging times come down it’s game over. B.S. has a strong (virulent?) anti EV/hybrid bias which both creates this tortured logic, and makes me consider this article as perhaps a red herring.

        Back in the Bush (league) days GM used hydrogen “research” as a way to get free money from uncle sugar – I have no problems with the tech but for some reason it’s become – like patriotism – the last refuge of scoundrels.

        Let’s see how tesla’s lovely new thing does.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Schwartz

        Don’t forget the catalyst Pt $1800/oz.

        Fuel cells are for the future, and they always will be. they don’t make sense, and the never will. The cleanest and cheapest way to store and transmit H2 is as hydrocarbon compounds (Natural Gas, Ethanol, Methanol, Gasoline, DME, Jet A, etc.)

        That will not change — Ever. Those are the laws of chemistry in this physical universe.

      • 0 avatar

        “As soon as charging times come down it’s game over. ”

        Probert, the problem with batteries is the same as it’s been since the first wave of electric cars more than a century ago, it’s the same problem the Edison had with his nickel-iron batteries: energy density. Just the other day I read that researchers led by a Stanford team have used nanotech to drastically improve the charge/discharge performance of nickel-iron batteries for “ultrafast” charging. “the battery’s energy density is still too small for it to serve as a standalone energy source,”.

        http://io9.com/5921981/thomas-edisons-car-battery-is-back-and-its-better-than-ever

      • 0 avatar

        @probert:
        BS is completely powertrain-agnostic. Whatever works. BS has been in the industry long enough to know that it is hard enough to sell a competitive product, but that it is impossible to sell an uncompetitive product in appreciable numbers. The EV is seriously uncompetitive in terms of price/weight/range/usability. An escape from this conundrum is not even on the horizon. I am all for EVs that get 400 miles, take not more than 5 minutes to charge, and cost not more than 15% over the cost of a comparable vehicle. Until that happens, the EV will appeal only to fanatics. I am a huge fan of diesels, and a huge fan of new hybrids like the Prius C which slowly approaches “comparable price” territory.

        BTW, show me where I say that “battery tech will never change.” Everything changes. However, currently there is no tech on the horizon that promises an out from the conundrum.

      • 0 avatar
        Toucan

        Bertel Schmitt

        > and cost not more than 15% over the cost of a comparable
        > vehicle.

        Why this threshold? If an alternative fuel vehicle costs 30% more but will save all of this in running costs, will the mental barrier overcome straightforward arithmetic?

        EVs should not be in question at all. They are not there yet. Only PHEVs can do by means of a small, feasible battery. This will suffice to cover 80% of the service miles due to the typical “short frequent commute/rare long distances” driving pattern.

        Your 15% price hike outs even natural gas vehicles.

        Back to the FCEVs – where was the TTAC typical down-to-earth and realistic view on them that we like here so much? The post sounded like some PR news.

        And regarding fueling of the FCEVs, do you REALLY believe in hydrogen? If yes, why? If they planned to refuel the cars with nat gas or gasoline itself (fuel cells can process methanol, so maybe other hydrocarbons will also apply?) then we could talk about remote sense. Maybe this is exactly what they do with H2 being a decoy only.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Forget 15%, then. How about 25% price premium, 250 miles of range and 10 minutes for a full charge, considerably more relaxed than Bertel’s standard. Where can I buy one?

  • avatar

    I have never understood why alternative energy technologies (Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt) are released under downscale nameplates, when early adopters prefer luxury cars. That’s why I always thought Tesla would be more successful than its downmarket rivals.

    Toucan brings up an interesting point about leaks, which I hope the fuel cell advocates have a good answer for. It seems straightforward enough that if you are relying on the smallest element in existence for your fuel, of course you will have leaks …

    D

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      Well, you can always liquify Hydrogen by cooling it to 423 degrees below zero.

      Even liquid hydrogen is so much less dense than hydrocarbons, that hydrocarbons carry more hydrogen per liter than does liquid hydrogen.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      So us normal folks wouldn’t think they were for rich people or hipster d-bags or both

  • avatar
    Bytor

    What a ridiculous puff-piece of propaganda.

    “no range anxiety here. Fuel cell vehicles have all the advantages of a battery-operated vehicle, i.e. no emissions (the fuel stack produces water), and nearly none of its drawbacks.”

    No Range anxiety? How about filling station anxiety. You aren’t going to to take an H2 Vehicle on a road trip, because you are missing the Trillion Dollar infrastructure to fill up. Heck most people wouldn’t be able to get out of their driveway because they don’t have a local filling station.

    All the advantages of EV. You mean like freedom from the big Petroleum companies? A fuel supply that is already delivered to every home? 80-90% running efficiency? Available models already for sale? More like None of the Above.

    Nothing can touch EV efficiency and in an increasingly energy starved world, that will be the overwhelming advantage.

    “Proponents of the technology say that well-to-wheel, fuel cells involve much lower emissions than batteries. ”

    Yes, some proponents do say that, but they are lying through their teeth.

    You talk about H2 from same sources as electricity, in that case you are using the Electrolysis cycle to create Hydrogen for vehicles.

    An EV goes 3-4 TIMES the distance of an H2 vehicle per KWh or electricity.
    http://phys.org/news85074285.html

    Tell me, how could only getting 1/3 the range out of the same fuel possibly translate into H2 vehicle coming out ahead on WTW emissions?

    H2 Vehicles are, and this should be obvious, 3-4 TIMES WORSE on WTW emissions than an EV, and comparable to gas powered cars.

    I don’t know the author, so I don’t know if he is a shill, or just woefully ignorant. But either way I am disappointed with TTAC editorial control.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Bytor,

      You said, “I don’t know the author, so I don’t know if he is a shill, or just woefully ignorant.”

      Please keep ad hominem language out of your correspondences in this website. Bertel is neither ignorant nor a “shill”.

      ———–

    • 0 avatar

      Anybody can say his or her opinion at TTAC. However, the comments must be within the boundaries of civil behavior. If you can’t say it without being insulting, don’t say it. I am sorry, but Bytor has been removed and he will not be invited back. This comment stays as an example of what not to do.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        I love that the comments at ttac are actually insightful vs other sites by you guys have been banning a lot of fairly good contributors lately. I’m not even sure what the point of a ban is since it’s fairly easy to bypass any sort of internet ban unless you start banning entire isps.

      • 0 avatar

        You can say anything at TTAC, as long as you don’t forget your manners.

        We appreciate and welcome any comment at TTAC, the more insightful the better. We protect the right to an opinion. Nobody gets banned for voicing an opinion.

        We also fiercely protect an environment where people can safely voice their opinions without getting attacked or insulted.

        Please keep your comments respectful and civil. Uncivil comments can result in a ban from TTAC.

        Banning a commenter for uncivil behavior is a last resort, and it is not taken lightly. We miss every commenter we have to ban. When we ban, we do not make a distinction whether it was a good or a mediocre commenter. The rule applies to all.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      BEV efficiency. No. They are no more efficient than ICE of the same size. EPA cooks the comparison numbers by leaving out the generators that power the grid. And don’t forget grid transmission losses and charging inefficiency.

      BTW, the world is not running out of energy, not fossil fuels, not any time soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed.

      • 0 avatar
        Glen.H

        The world is not running out of fossil fuels or energy soon, but neither Japan nor Germany have much reserves of oil, and Japan in particular is very vunerable to disruptions in supply. It may come as a surprise to commentators here,but potential fuel cell cars may not be targeted at the North American market- it is unlikely to have the financial ability,or political will to invest in hydrogen infrastructure. Also the Japanese and German consumers have tended to be more open to purchasing these sorts of vehicles than American over the years in volumes that make them financially viable, e.g Toyota Prius. So don’t worry, boys, the Greens aren’t going to snatch away your ICE cars anytime soon!

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    While H2 can eventually be obtained from electrolysis of sea water by wind turbines at coast lines, and while a by-product (O2) can be sold separately to offset costs, there are still these issues:
    1) Current H2 production comes from reduction of petroleum products, and consumes much energy to produce;
    2) H2 has a very low mass density as a gas, and even as a liquid is 1/3 the BTU/liter value of gasoline;
    3) Transporting gaseous H2 in pipelines does not exist, at least on practical basis, in the USA;
    4) Transporting LH2 in tankers means boil-off issues (venting), as with LH2 in cars (BMW “Hydrogen Seven”), which means don’t ever park the vehicle in a closed storage space (unvented garage). As “Toucan” pointed out, gaseous H2 loves to leak through small imperfections: it’s almost as bad as helium in that regard: so the closed storage problem still exists for H2 gas cylinders;
    5) Like most electric cars and their derivatives, there is a very high cost for relatively poor performance (e.g., slalom; skidpad, braking), although electric motors do allow good acceleration by providing high torque at low RPM;
    6) For enthusiasts, where does the “Vroom” come from? There isn’t any. Now, if H2 were used in an ICE (e.g., BMW H-Seven), that problem would be solved, and so would the issue mentioned in point 5), but the first 4 issues still remain. And even without the dual fuel “Hydrogen 7″ method, how large would LH2 tanks have to be on a small car to get a range of 300-400 miles?
    7) What about collisions? Accidents? Gasoline tanks can be tucked into some very safe places on a car: but for ICE, with LH2 tanks required to be larger and in various places, would there be a safety issue? Even with fuel-cell based electric power and use of compressed-H2 cylinders, what happens if an H2 cylinder at 2500 psi is ruptured in an accident? (Hint: think blue-flaming missile.)

    ————

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      1) Its worse than that. The “waste” carbon from the reaction has to go somewhere.

      3) Maybe not “practical”, but the Shell Hydrogen station in Torrance (right across 190th street from Toyota’s US HQ) is fed by pipeline from Air Products in Carson, a few miles away.

      7) CNG is dispensed at 3600psi and those cylinders are installed in cars trucks and buses on the road today. Properly engineered installations pose no unusual danger. A gasoline tank ruptured in a collision can result in a flaming pool under the car, H2 (and CNG)is lighter than air and dissipates upward. I always wanted someone to name its H2 powered car the Hindenburg.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Hi Nikita,

        1) Good point.
        3) This is worth pursuing: since my experience with H2 (and He) is that it can escape through most metal matrices; and since that trial pipeline is so close to you, do you know if Toyota uses some special coating either inside or outside that pipeline, and what the pipeline itself is made out of? (Of course, being outside in the “open air”, maybe they just tolerate a certain amount of leakage where it hurts no one.)
        7) My H2 cylinders were 2500 psi. But I think you are making my point: if trucks and buses use compressed gas cylinders for their short routes, and considering their size and mass, it is easy to tuck cylinders away among solid frame members safely. If your had 4 such standard cylinders in a Ford Focus (or equivalent), not so much. Those multiple cylinders would be in more vulnerable locations than a single gasoline tank that can provide the same range of travel.
        Yes, H2 is lighter than air, but whereas gasoline rapidly “burns” (typically, not always), H2 when mixed before combustion with O2 will explode, aggravating a burning problem later. God forbid that a ruptured cylinder does bleed upward (as you say) into the passenger cabin before ignition (or should I say detonation!?). At any rate, extraordinary (read: expensive) precautions would have to be taken, which is why some form of chemical metal hydride storage (or comparable) may be much better.

        You said: “I always wanted someone to name its H2 powered car the Hindenburg.” This is hilarious – - – and a lot more probable than many people believe! (^_^)…. Thanks!

        ————-

  • avatar
    carbiz

    Wait a minute, the article makes it sound like nobody else is in the game. GM had a 300 mile range fuel cell vehicle in 1996. They’ve put more than a million miles on their test mules. They’ve had a facility in upstate New York dedicated to fuel cell technology since 1999.
    So Toyota makes a splashy press release and the media dutifully falls into place? Unless Toyota steals a helluva lot more intellectual property, GM has the lead where it counts: it’s the programming, stupid. Like with telemetrics (OnStar), electronic shift automatic transmissions, and a myriad of other technologies that are highly dependent on computers and programming, GM is blessed with computer systems. Former associations with Hughes Aircraft and its 12 year outright ownership of EDS brought a wealth of technologies that continue to benefit GM today.
    But, hey, don’t let Toyota’s press clippings get in the way of what is really going on out there.
    Japan Inc never rests.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Fuel Cells are a bright shiny object that the car companies can use to hypnotize politicians and the media (and the fanboiz at TTAC), so that they can stop demanding water carburetors, 30 cent a gallon gasoline, and other things that are just not going to happen.

    Honest car companies, honest politicians (Oxymoron alert), and honest well informed journalists (oxymoron alert), would tell us that:

    1.) The continued existence and prosperity of our civilization depends upon ample supplies of energy.

    2.) The only plausible sources of that energy are fossil fuels and nuclear fission.

    3.) The extraction and transmission of energy involves an irreducible amount of risk.

    4.) There is no such thing as a free lunch.

    5.) If you push the risks of energy off on other people, you are eating their lunch, not making the world better. You are a thief.

    6.) We are all going to die. None of us knows when, or how.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Hey!! A friend of mine is a sports editor for a small town newspaper. He’s a sports nut and as honest as the day is long. If this was 1840; you Sir, would be challenged to a duel. It takes big ones to insult everyone on the lower right corner of this website.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Schwartz

        Bring it on.

        Roger Clemens was acquited of charges that he lied to Congress. Why?

        Because everyone knows that there ain’t a congresscritter alive who knows the difference between lying and telling the truth. As for the media, they take the politicians seriously don’t they?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The H2 haters are missing the point of Bertel’s article especially the scalability of H2 range. For now, the show stoppers for FCVs are storage, storage and storage.
    Once a way to reversably store H2 at low pressures and high densities is developed, FCVs will blossom. First, in commercial fleets with central refueling and then heavy duty long haul trucks.
    There is continual progress in high effiency catalyst research that will lead to efficient electric H2 electroylsis. Transport through pipelines is a non issue. There are alreday thousands of miles of industrial H2 pipelines in use in this country.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Hi Felix,

      Pointing out the issues and complexities of H2 as a fuel does not constitute “H2 hatred”. In fact, hydrogen is the most abundant element on our planet, and its use as a pollution-free fuel would be nearly ideal. No doubt, that is what originally motivated BMW to try its ICE use, as well as GM and Toyota to push for fuel cells. I think H2 would be great as an ICE fuel, if only the on-board storage issues can be solved, and its transportation (pipeline or tanker) problems defeated.

      I don’t see how it’s possible currently to get any better low pressure/ high density storage of hydrogen except by liquifying it. But that inherently involves boil-off and venting, unless you want to forcibly contain boiling LH2 in a sealed vessel at mega-atmospheres to go beyond the triple-pont! Hardly practical (or safe) for cars. And condensed clathrate formation of H2 in a palladium matrix is just too expensive: think storage tank the size of a gasoline tank with the per-pound price of a catalytic converter!

      Some commercial fleets already use H2 in Germany, namely buses. Other medium-haul truck transportation companies over there are experimenting with electric motors powered by overhead lines (like street cars), but then a switch to CNG for side streets. That “switch” could be to H2 as well.

      Yes, it is true that there are H2 pipelines, but the only ones I know are “captive” – within industrial complexes and so on. Are there any real overland H2 lines (in the sense of natural gas lines we are all familiar with)? If so, where are they?

      ————-

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Lots of distribution centers,including BMW, using fuel cell fork lifts. Replacing batteries and big charging rooms. It seems to work and be economical in a controlled environment. Both battery and FC technology will move forward.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Wow, the H2 hate…

    You know, when you are looking at a new infrastructure, it only looks daunting from the outset because you can see the whole of it’s development overtime before it starts. If you have to start from scratch, the whole apparatus to get gasoline from the ground into our cars is pretty ludicrous as well.

    I’d also like to point out that ‘fuel cell’ does not necessarily mean hydrogen, though that is the method that seems he most feasible right now. Many years back Chrysler unveiled research into a hydrocarbon fuel cell system, which as unfortunately immediately decried by the ant-petroleum lobby. I wish more had come of it, because long chain hydrocarbons are essentially a very dense source of hydrogen, the only problem is that nobody to my knowledge has come up with a workable way of either running a reaction or extracting the hydrogen at feasible energy input levels.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Stuntmonkey,

      Well, forgetting fuel cells, we could always burn methane (natural gas), which is 80% hydrogen (atomic count basis). CNG has been used for industrial machinery for years, but LNG still involves cold storage and boil-off (-161 deg C). Methane CAN BE carbon-neutral, if collected from anaerobic decomposition of organic waste: the BMW plant in South Carolina runs largely on methane collected in that fashion. All we have to do is figure out how to rot a whole lot more of the junk we produce! (^_^)…

      ————-

  • avatar

    On the tiny molecules that escape:

    When it sat with Toyota’s New Technology-san, Chief engineer Ogiso last year, I questioned him intently about the issue. He said it doesn’t exist. Read his answers, link above. He says the only thing that bugs him is package size and price, which are related, and which he attacks with fervor.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Bertel,

      That was an excellent article (link above). But what Ogiso-san said was ““No, I don’t think so. We already have 150 hydrogen fuel cell units in the field in Japan, in the U.S. and in Europe, for more than one year, without serious problems. We have not had a car where the gas had escaped in the morning.”” He did not say that it would not exist, and he did not address the accumulation of explosive H2 gas in the closed confines of a garage, but only that H2 in the car itself would not run out.

      Escaping gas “in the morning” is less of a concern than the American family that goes away on a 2-week vacation; leaves their H2 FC vehicle in their closed, locked garage; and then comes home to turn on the garage-door opener with its potentially sparking electric motor…..well, you get the idea (^_^)… But then again maybe everyone who gets an H2FC will have to be required to install continually running spark-free electric fans in their garages, and pray there is no power failure!

      And perhaps under well-controlled or ideal conditions, H2 leakage may be small, but it will exist. For example, even in industrial labs around our country where combustible-gas cylinders are stored, we were OSHA-required to put in ventilation fans. Long before the anti-smoking craze, there was never any smoking allowed around combustible gas storage. And instead of Toyota’s very well controlled test fleet of 150 cars, prepared no doubt with typical Japanese diligence, let’s see how H2 FC’s would shake out in 1,500,000 American-made vehicles.

      I should note that right now you can’t even drive a camper van with fat-molecule propane through the Lincoln tunnel into NYC and others in or around Boston. Can you image what their prohibitions would be for H2 in similar situations?

      —————

      • 0 avatar
        stuntmonkey

        Hopefully, metal hydride solutions will become available in the future. As far as storage solutions go, I think that is the most feasible in the long run. Maybe the research will merge the battery (metal hydride tech) and fuel cell (hydrogen e- generation) camps together.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        Read all the way to see if anyone would remember metal hydrides. there’s lots of open space in a metalic matrix to absorb and later release hydrogen. I seem to remember claims that it’s almost here for in car storage from somewhere.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Battery, natural gas, hydrogen, it’s all good and gives us more choices. Whoever throws enough time, people, and money at various alternative energy sources will win. I think BMW and Toyota have lots of money to burn.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    The H2FC system seems like many alternatives to conventional transportation: putting the cart before the horse. Government pushes car companies to roll out real-world products far before the science is ready. Just like with ethanol, H2 suffers from the problem that the fuel itself can’t be created at a workable price and without consuming the very fossil fuel sources the system is supposed to relieve. Please check out this website: http://phys.org/news85074285.html . Unless we have an unlimited electricity source (nuclear fusion, for example), H2 is just not going to be cost or energy efficient.

    I say: more fundamental research first. If the science is there, consumers will demand the new system and we can move forward with infrastructure. Look at ethanol as an example… If we had ethanol at 1/2 the price of gasoline, consumers would gladly pay the few hundred dollars to buy E85-capable vehicles and fuel station owners would then gladly pay for dedicated E85 pumps. There would be no need to mandate or subsidize anything. The problem with ethanol (like H2) is that current technology can’t produce it cost effectively.

    I’ll repeat: please read http://phys.org/news85074285.html.

    Please don’t say that we could use non-fossil-fuel electricity to generate H2. Electricity on the grid is fungible. Any additional electricity use is made up for by turning on additional fossil-fuel generators.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    stuntmonkey and 051gt….

    Here is a good review and status report on H2 storage methods, among which are the metal hydride (MH) matrices.

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

    Bottom Line: Yes, there is progress with H2 storage alternatives for mobile applications, but no “home run” yet. The problems are: high MH cost; high energy/pressure to get H2 in; high energy to get H2 back out; and low capacity in wt% of the carrier. (Ideally, researchers would like that number to be about 15% or better, but that is really a bare minimum.)

    Interesting factoid for us ICE aficionados: There is 64% more hydrogen in a liter of gasoline than there is in liquid hydrogen!! And, on top of that, the carbon backbone adds more fuel and increases the combustion temperature as a gift. Gee. And it even stores well at room temperature with no leaks.

    So, we already have our ideal H2 storage matrix. All ya’ gotta do is go down to the local Shell station and pour in that ole V-Power, and….oh, wait: isn’t that what we’ve already been doing for the past 100 years or so?. Seems to work just fine….

    And you even get all the vroom you want. (Definition of a sports car with good forward visibility: a vroom with a view. (^_^))

    ———————

  • avatar

    It seems to me that the key to making hydrogen feasible is to make it using renewable resources or nuclear power. Take advantage of the west’s almost limitless sun and empty spaces that aren’t good for much else to set up massive solar farms (mirrors and solar towers) along with wind power and hydrogen plants at the location. Maybe wind and wave/tide power generation where possible, etc. Right now, it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than gas/diesel and that has got to change.

    As for the safety factor of carrying hydrogen around in our cars, I don’t see it as a problem. Right now, if a gas tank ruptures, gas runs all over the ground and the fumes may ignite engulfing the car. Hydrogen rises, so what you would have is a fire that rises away from the vehicle instead of engulfing it from below. Nothing is 100% safe, but I would love to see some crash tests to show what the danger of a ruptured hydrogen tank would actually be in a car or truck.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Actually, K5ING, I’d like to see a vehicle crash test with onboard H2 tanks too…from about 1/2 mile away! (^_^)…

      My point was that the lower density of LIQUID H2 would certainly require larger and more vulnerable tanks for ICE use; and that multiple cylinders with high-pressure GASEOUS H2 at 2500 psi, needed for a 400-mile range, would form a special explosion hazard with even a minor rupture or if there is a conflagration of the vehicle from other causes. (I’ve seen what happened with a 2500 psi argon cylinder when the top was accidentally sheared off: it went just subsonic in about 20 feet and plunged through a concrete block partition wall; across an empty corridor; through an outer solid concrete lab wall; and lodged in a vehicle in the parking lot outside the building. And that was with INERT argon. Don’t even think what could have happened if it had been an H2 cylinder!)

      But I fully agree with you about the use of dedicated wind and solar methods dedicated to nothing else except H2 generation, if we can ever absolutely guarantee much higher levels of containment, safety, and security for on-vehicle storage than ever existed with our conventional gasoline (or diesel) tanks. Hopefully some form of matrix hydride or carbonate (or other) storage can eventually be developed to solve that problem.

      ———————-

  • avatar
    ydnas7

    As Hydrogen fuel cells can’t compete with Li-ion in mobile IT applications, then how can they compete against Li-ion in automotive applications. I can get a laptop with li ion cells, i can get a power drill with li ion cells, today people are taking delivery of Tesla cars with the same cells. Until fuel cells can compete in power tools and laptops, they will not be competitive with battery vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      That logic doesn’t consider economies of scale. For example, ICE doesn’t compete in tiny, low-power handheld devices but it is the dominant technology in cars and larger. That said, I’ll agree that batteries seem the better (current) technology over H2FC in both tiny applications and cars.

  • avatar
    Herm

    The future of fuel cells is Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC).. these take a hydrocarbon and process it to get hydrogen, then the hydrogen is used to make electricity. My local supermarket has an emergency power supply based on this.. the unit is about the size of a railroad car and runs on diesel (it has internal diesel tanks). The Bloom box is another example, running on natural gas. Some run on methanol and power laptops.

    The issue with SOFC is that the high temperature they operate at is not well suited for cars, the rapid cycling up and down literally grinds the parts away. Work is ongoing since they dont have the efficiency limitation of heat engines. Platinum is not needed.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Excellent comment, Herm..

      While platinum or palladium are not involved, other exotic, rare, high-tempertaure elements are. With those high operating temperatures, we could at least be assured of good cabin heat at -20 deg F in Outer Wiscongolia in January (^_^). But there is progress here, as you noted.

      Please see link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell#SOFC, partially quoted below – - – -

      “They require high operating temperatures (800°C to 1000°C) and can be run on a variety of fuels including natural gas.”
      “Challenges exist in SOFC systems due to their high operating temperatures. One such challenge is the potential for carbon dust to build up on the anode, which slows down the internal reforming process. Research to address this “carbon coking” issue at the University of Pennsylvania has shown that the use of copper-based cermet (heat-resistant materials made of ceramic and metal) can reduce coking and the loss of performance. Another disadvantage of SOFC systems is slow start-up time, making SOFCs less useful for mobile applications. Despite these disadvantages, a high operating temperature provides an advantage by removing the need for a precious metal catalyst like platinum, thereby reducing cost. Additionally, waste heat from SOFC systems may be captured and reused, increasing the theoretical overall efficiency to as high as 80%-85%.
      The high operating temperature is largely due to the physical properties of the YSZ electrolyte. As temperature decreases, so does the ionic conductivity of YSZ. Therefore, to obtain optimum performance of the fuel cell, a high operating temperature is required. According to their website, Ceres Power, a UK SOFC fuel cell manufacturer, has developed a method of reducing the operating temperature of their SOFC system to 500-600 degrees Celsius. They replaced the commonly used YSZ electrolyte with a CGO (cerium gadolinium oxide) electrolyte. The lower operating temperature allows them to use stainless steel instead of ceramic as the cell substrate, which reduces cost and start-up time of the system.”

      ————–

  • avatar
    carguy

    Thank you BS for this informative piece. Many people misunderstand the use of Hydrogen in cars as a fuel source and not just a battery replacement. However, I still don’t think that pervasive use of FCHV is just around the corner. The discovery in the US and China of ample natural gas reserves will probably mean that wider use of CNG is more likely in the next 10 years than FCHVs.


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