By on January 1, 2011

We are picking up more and more signs of an impending revival  of  assumed dead fuel cell technology.

Here is another one:  The Nikkei [sub] says that the Japanese government is supporting an initiative to draw a hydrogen from a surprising source: Oil refining. And they need to be ready by 2015.

One of the many uses of hydrogen is in oil refining. In this case, to remove sulfur from oil. The hydrogen used in this process doesn’t have to be high quality, 90 percent pure suffices.

Fuel cells expect 99.9 percent pure hydrogen. The sponsored project aims to produce high purity hydrogen, based on the “industrial” hydrogen technology, “with an eye toward creating a new source of income,” as The Nikkei says.

The Japanese government will bear half the cots of a cheap project. It is estimated to cost 500 million yen ($ 6.15 million) over a three-year period.  It wants to be ready in time before 2015. Why 2015?

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry expects a “wide adoption of fuel cell vehicles by fiscal 2015” and “seeks to secure a steady supply of high-purity hydrogen.” Again: Why 2015?

It just so happens that Toyota is dead set on selling its first mass produced fuel cell car by 2015. In Korea, Byung Ki Ahn, general manager of Hyundai-Kia’s Fuel Cell Group, said recently: “There are already agreements between car makers such as ourselves and legislators in Europe, North America and Japan to build up to the mass production of fuel cell cars by 2015.” Indeed, if you go through the many files produced in Brussels, you find that also in Europe “car manufacturers are getting ready for the commercial production of hydrogen vehicles by 2015.” In those many files was the EU master plan, as shown above.

What is this, a hydrogen conspiracy?

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18 Comments on “2015: Start Of The Hydrogen Age?...”

  • avatar

    “Here is another one:  The Nikkei [sub] says that the Japanese government is supporting an initiative to draw a hydrogen from a surprising source: Oil refining. And they need to be ready by 2015.”
    Now that’s an interesting little Catch 22, at least at first blush (from my own lay point of view). Still, it’s not as strange as trying to convert good fertile land for the production of automobile fuel.

  • avatar

    It was about time. And it’s strange. In any case, some people have realized that some technologies are not as viable as they thought.

  • avatar

    Even if adequate supplies of hydrogen are available, we still need to build a refueling infrastructure. Think about trying to replace most or all of the gas stations in the country in a year or two.
    Japan is the poster boy for centralized industrial planning. It hasn’t worked so well for them. If I remember correctly, Honda had to buck the Japanese government to begin building automobiles. Japan was the first to develop high definition television. However, their system was analog and the US decision to go digital made it obsolete before it reached the market. In the late 1980s, Japan wasted a lot of money in an unsuccessful attempt to develop artificial intelligence for personal computers.

    • 0 avatar

      Obtaining hydrogen is one part of the problem.  The other part is the transmission/storage of hydrogen – it must be done at high pressures and low temperatures.  Gasoline is remarkable in that at normal atmosphere temperatures and pressures – it contains a lot of energy.
      I worked in (what was the last of) the domestic TV industry.  The Japanese MUSE high definition system was very expensive – to transmit – to receive – to build the sets.  The only real practical way to implement high definition TV was with digital compression.

  • avatar

    There is a LOT of hydrogen on the planet. Unfortunately every atom of it is chemically combined with something else, so the energy and financial cost of getting it into the atomic state and keeping it there until you want to burn it makes it impractical to use as fuel. I find it interesting that these folks are thinking of it as something of a side effect of getting bad, bad, nasty fossil petroleum out of the ground.

  • avatar
    M 1

    I think it’s probably less about “creating a new source of income” and more about the inexorably rising cost of oil…

  • avatar
    George B

    Hydrogen is a horrible motor vehicle fuel.  Low density gas that makes natural gas look good by comparison.  A much more viable fuel for fuel cells would be methanol.  Methanol is also a plausible transitional fuel that could power both flex-fuel internal combustion engine cars and fuel cell cars.

    To make methanol on an industrial scale, you need large quantities of methane and water.  Unlike hydrogen gas, methane and water occur naturally in abundance.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    Maybe things have changed since I was working fuel cells ten years ago, but it doesn’t really seem like it.  The thing most people don’t know is that hydrogen is not the limiting factor.  The hydrogen reaction is easy.  The oxygen reaction needs a lot of catalyst.  Preferred was platinum, and there’s just not enough of that in the world to support an industry making tens of millions of cars a year, and who knows how many other things burning fuel oil. If that were solved, the hydrogen infrastructure would grow as needed. There’s always some university team that think they’ve cracked it, but nothing ever seems to come of it.

    There was also a problem that air is fairly crappy as an oxygen source, low in oxygen to begin with and also full of things that gunk up the electrode.  But that one seems pretty solvable by comparison.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine sells reactors that generate hydrogen from methanol. Most of the companies doing research in hydrogen are familiar with his work and many of them are his customers. he thinks that methanol is probably the best liquid fuel to use to replace gasoline. He also thinks that it’s going to be a long long time before hydrogen is a practical fuel. That’s despite the fact that if H2 became big, he’d be insanely rich.

  • avatar

    I happen to agree with Dr. Zubrin’s argument against hydrogen, based on the difficulties in handling and storage, and inefficiencies in production. His teatrise is as relevan as when it was written, and what’s most important, there is not going to be a magic technology making hydrogen workable, ever. So, hydrogen is a non-starter absent a government mandate.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    The easiest way to transport a whole bunch of hydrogen?  HYDROCARBONS.
    Why bother going thru all the hassle and bother of highly compressed H2 when you already have an infrastructure built around a more ideal method of carrying hydrogen around?  Makes more sense to synthesize gasoline out of atmospheric CO2 and water for a closed-cycle of carbon, especially since it can be done without sending money to shitass camelfucker despots.  Thorium reactors with reprocessing fuel, resulting in far less radiation and pollution than burning an energy-equivalent amount of coal, and without any proliferation concerns (Thorium was abandoned early on for the express reason that it wouldn’t provide breeder-enriched uranium for weapons)..
    And for an electric vehicle, what about a fuel cell that can take gasoline (perhaps via onboard reformer)?

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Hydrogen, even liquid hydrogen, is so light that any given volume of it carries very little energy.
    One liter of liquid hydrogen contains 71 grams of hydrogen. On liter of gasoline contains 118 grams of hydrogen, and one liter of diesel, 130 grams.
    Of course liquid hydrogen costs lots of energy to make, is difficult to store (it will leak out of any container in a matter of days), and is 423 degrees F below zero, so be careful when handling it.
    Compressed hydrogen is less dense than liquid, and kaboom.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised that the oil companies haven’t asked for governments of the world to help subsidize a 93,000,000 mile-long pipeline to pump hydrogen directly from the Sun – after all, it’s a technology that they’ve mastered…

  • avatar

    I’m ever amazed at the narcissistic views of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, and yes as a lifting gas. it’s a tragedy for tomorrow child.
    but I am not surprised.
    The retooling cost for converting or adding a hydrogen gas & oxygen pump at your local filling station is similar to the cost new gas pumps. The biggest cost for a complete conversion would the hazmat clean of the existing sites.
    Hydrogen doesn’t need to be transported it can be made at the point of purchase. Transport problem solved. Storage longer than 24 months is not necessary, it’s a filling station that should be making money selling whaaat? Fuel. So Carbon fiber rapped steel storage cylinders are fine as it would be unnecessary to keep large about stored for long.
    Aluminum will do dropping the price of fore mentioned platinum, and adds an element of planned obsolescence.  The process of creating hydrogen gas from water only takes a light electrical current, and also creates oxygen as a bonus. Separated and then put on-board a fuel cell vehicle solves the “crappy air” problem and again with pure hydrogen and oxygen pushed back through fuel cell, you don’t need platinum plating. This process can be achieved by using solar or wind power or hydro energy production to create the electricity, and solve the storage problem of solar and wind generated energy.
    As for the energy efficiency of hydrogen gas or liquid compared with gasoline, it’s not a good comparison unless we are talking about an internal combustion hydrogen engine vs. gas. Add in the fact the an internal combustion engine using hydrogen gas would not suffer from carbon build up, it starts looking better. So now what to ya got?
    The problem that all you suffer from is “Hydrogen Blindness” As mentioned above May 6, 1937, started 73 years of you, your parents, teachers and professors, being blinded to the possibilities of hydrogen as an energy source. Public perception is problem number one. You can’t mention hydrogen without bringing up the Hindenburg.
    In the 73 years since the Hindenburg mishap (and I say mishap because 73 passengers and crew survived, what would be considered a miracle by today’s excepted life risk of commercial aviation), we have made a lot of great advices that seem everyday to you and me that would have seemed like science fiction 73 years ago, like radar!
    Given the hard science behind what we are doing to tomorrow child’s world every time we turn over that engine, coupled with the rarity of fossil fuels, warrants giving every alternative attention.
    But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check this link to the National Hydrogen Association;
    Check the FAQ page. I wanna cry partly from humor and partly from being sad to see how blind people are about hydrogen. Can you believe that some people worry that a hydrogen fuel cell might be used as a “hydrogen bomb”?  Oy Vey!
    Here is link to my blog:
    I have a post on there called “My Sustainability Manifesto” I cover a lot of the questions the previous post raise.
    Here’s to hoping 2011 is the year of the fuel cell, and hydrogen. But most of all Airships!!

  • avatar

    I think the hydrogen argument is mute, unless we truly embrace nuclear power. If we have enormous excesses of electrical energy, but no good way to store it, hydrogen would make a decent battery. You can burn it in heat engines, fuel cells, and even heating systems.

    There is also the possibility of using solar or nuclear to crack hydrocarbons (natural gas has a free- hydrogen constituent, I am not counting this), remove the carbon (you could make bricks of carbon), and ship the hydrogen.

    Honestly, if the green zealots insist on removing carbon from our automobiles, without providing us good batteries to replace gasoline/diesel, then I’d rather go the hydrogen route.

    Or I guess we can all drive Leafs up until the collapse of the world economy, which will occur if we can’t have a fuel with near the energy density of oil on tap.

    I’m all for electric vehicles. But I am absolutely against losing access to ridiculous amounts of excess horsepower or towing capacity. I have a feeling there are plenty of smart people of the same opinion, and I shall not be left wanting.

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