By on November 18, 2013

Honda FCX Clarity

Remember this piece from the Honda Summer 2008 Hydrogen Collection? It was supposed to point the way to future of green fuel technology before the Tesla brought plug-in sex appeal down the ramp with their Roadster and, later on, the S, as well as the trend of compliance EVs from Chevrolet, Volkswagen and Kia.

But with sales of plug-in hybrids advancing far slower than originally expected regulators are taking another look at alternative ZEV powertrains.

Back in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama set a goal for 1 million EVs on the road by 2015, going so far as to place a $5 billion bet on Tesla and Fisker among other automakers. Since then, only 95,000 units have managed to leave the showroom for the open road, with sales of over 500,000 predicted for 2015 by West Bloomfield, Mich.-based Baum & Associates analyst Alan Baum. With the current administration downplaying their role in the EV market, President Obama is awarding $4 million to aid in the development of fuel cell technology and storage for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Leading the charge toward the hydrogen future is California. Aside from passing a measure to provide 100 hydrogen fueling stations as part of their clean technology vision, the state’s legislature has fine-tuned the Zero-Emission Credit formula to better benefit hydrogen vehicle producers — such as Honda and General Motors, who announced a partnership to develop their respective technologies back in July — while drawing down power from Tesla to as much as 40 percent by 2015 for each S sold.

Back in D.C., Audi is putting the pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to change their mileage formula for the showroom window sticker, and to level the playing field in taxation between diesel and gasoline. The reasoning, according to Audi of American president Scott Keogh, is that the current formula favors gasoline power on the assumption that most driving is done in the city; diesel it at its most efficient on the highway, and is one-third more efficient than gasoline in otherwise equal conveyances according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The diesels used today are cleaner as a result of the advent of ultra-low sulfur fuel and tailpipe exhaust treatment.

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16 Comments on “Never Say Never: Hydrogen, Diesel En Vogue Again...”

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “Back in D.C., Audi is putting the pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency”

    Oh, Boy. Lobbyists at work again. Create exemptions and special case rules, which will confuse the public.

    • 0 avatar

      No more unfair / special cases / exemptions than what ethanol (big farma quadruple subsidy), utility companies (plug in cars need more coal burnt [definitely ZEV ;)]), and gasoline refineries for tax credits for expansion (whereas diesel has not had a significant refining capacity increase in 30 years but gas has almost doubled with tax credits and other gov’t intervention).

  • avatar

    Personally, I don’t believe hydrogen to be a smart bet as I see its challenges outweighing its benefits. But I also don’t believe in one-size-fits-all, and that means there may be a place for it.

    Given that, I think it would better to spend the money converting fleet vehicles. That solves refueling availability and may facilitate real-world data collection.

    • 0 avatar

      redav – – –

      As you may remember from our past discussions on TTAC, I have ben a champion of H2 for years. It’s at least worth a trial time in a certain market niche, as you suggest. Most likely in fuel cells, less likely in ICE (e.g., BMW “Hydrogen 7”) when used directly.

      But Audi has thrown a delightful wrinkle into the H2-storage dilemma. Why not store hydrogen tightly at the atomic level, and allow combustion for the storage medium as well? The storage medium here was carbon, the four-fold tight-pack forms… guessed it…..methane. So, by solar/wind-powered electrolysis of sea water to get H2; and by the reduction of H2 using CO2 obtained from the atmosphere, we get a simple methane ICE engine that, ironically, is carbon neutral. Neat, Huh?. No expensive fuel cells, and no range-limited, temperature-dependent EV technology. Might even throw in a nice manual transmission, and you’re all set…

      See links:


      • 0 avatar

        The process Audi is using is called the Sabatier reaction. It makes a lot of sense when you need a chemical (like water) that isn’t present (such as on Mars).

        But any process that involves electrolysis of seawater to power a car is still dumb. If you use solar/wind, you spend quite a bit to generate electricity and then immediately throw 30% of it in the trash can. You then throw even more of it away with every chemical reaction. At the end of the day, you need to generate nearly 3x as much electricity compared to simply using that original electricity to power an EV. This process does not change those energy economies. If the cost of producing batteries skyrockets and/or the cost of natural gas vehicles craters, then that 3x loss may wash out, but I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future.

        Look at what NASA does: When their devices need to do work (e.g., move around like a car does), they don’t mess with convoluted chemical processes. They just use solar panels, batteries, and motors. They only use processes like the Sabatier reaction when they need to generate certain chemicals (like O2 and water) so humans can live.

        For hydrogen as a fuel to make sense, there needs to be a feedstock. Currently, the only such viable source is natural gas, which of course doesn’t solve our environmental concerns. However, there may be other sources we can tap. I know of farms that capture gases from rotting compost/manure to power their machinery & generate heat. Expanding such programs make a ton of sense.

        Honestly, the Audi plan seems to not be as much about powering cars as much as finding a way to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. There may be value in that. But that is an issue like creating water on Mars–it’s about chemicals, not powering devices.

  • avatar

    Diesel FTMFW mofos.
    Why Clean Diesels don’t get to go solo in the carpool lane in CA like “zero emissions” plug in hybrids boils down to dumb ass politicians.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Too many dreamers in this field. There won’t be 1 million EVs on the road by 2015, and probably not even 500k, primarily due to a lack of battery technology advances and refill time. And hydrogen simply won’t get a foothold because of infrastructure and expense. Who’s paying for the CA H2 filling stations, and how much will that fuel cost?

    • 0 avatar

      SCE to AUX – – –

      1) Dreams? All innovations started with dreams, including the humble ICE;
      2) Infrastructure? Even gasoline needed to be bought from the pharmacy in ca. 1900, so we have to be patient. OR use existing natural gas lines and the Audi process (See comment above);
      3) Expense/fuel cost? Currently (in low volume), the equivalent of about about $8 per gallon.


      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I’m all for innovation, but ICEs are entrenched and there is plenty of infrastructure for EVs. To be exact, there are 6699 EV stations nationwide, vs 10 for hydrogen. And any EV driver can fill up at home.

        That $8/gallon fuel certainly must be subsidized to achieve that price. But even if it isn’t, the 60-mpg Clarity ($0.13/mile) is costing the equivalent to operate as a 26-mpg ICE, so what’s the incentive? My EV costs a fraction of that to operate ($0.03/mile), and it can be filled anywhere there’s power (albeit slowly).

        To be successful, hydrogen will have to be game-changing in some way that people care about – and the environment isn’t one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      There’s plenty of infrastructure for H2, assuming you crack it off hydrocarbons. In fact, it’s _more_ flexible since you could hook a reformulator up to accept gasoline or natural gas. If doing so means that fuel is used more efficiently, that’d be a net benefit all by itself.

      The question is, will any fuel cell technology (H2 or, preferably, solid-oxide fuel cell that can take gasoline or natural gas directly) get down to $0.06-$0.10/W , such that a 100kW SOFC would range between $6k and $10k ? $1/kW is retardedly overpriced for mobile applications.

  • avatar

    Forty years ago when I was in college, the hydrogen economy was on the verge of happening. This according to Kip Siegel, the principal in KMS Fusion. We already had the infrastructure in the miles and miles of natural gas pipelines, so all we needed was to make the switch said Kip. Still not on the horizon.

    • 0 avatar

      Omnifan – –

      Using the Audi process, you don’t have to make the switch. Just use the natural gas (CH4) in its current pipelines. See my comment above.


  • avatar

    I submit that there is a far better way of doing this and all of these integrated systems have been tested and are available right now, but we do need a better liquid battery. None of entails added infrastructure, but maybe more delivery trucks or gas lines in some locations.

    It starts with recycled Methane Hydrides (but NMGOM above’s CH4 could work too) ( driving a small diesel combined with a large flywheel and also powered and recycled by a battery with EM’s driving four wheels independently and a great ECU integrating the mix.

    Calling it a DEMF, I am thinking of: The equivalent of over 150 mpg; No measurable pollution to speak of; Powerful acceleration equal to a Tesla: A system efficient enough to run it all backwards to power your house and take it off of the grid: And, finally, a very compact overall assemby… smaller than any current system.

    For the rest of the story, check it out on the blog by clicking on my name. Read it & leave your comments. This is the ultimate way to skin a cat (no offence to cats) and, no, I am not Cliff Barn’s nephew.

  • avatar

    Every time I see Semi-trucks barreling about the interstates belching tones of burned diesel byproducts into the atmosphere, I wonder to myself why such a fuss is made about a few modern super efficient clean diesel cars with ever harsher emissions laws.

  • avatar

    Thought I’d comment on my experience with a 2013 Cayenne diesel, my first “diesel experience”. Just turned 14k miles. Overall, the vehicle is remarkable for it’s thrust and with no special attention to economy the computer shows an average of 30mpg and change. I can now understand the appeal of these things in Europe, as the torque provides all the cut and thrust you really need and the economy is amazing considering the size of the vehicle. I read in a Porsche magazine (Panorama?) that 30% of Cayenne sales are diesel, far more than their expectation. The only con I have experienced is a less than exciting exhaust note – a small price to pay for such an excellent daily driver. For excitement, I would choose the GTS version, but for a frugal all rounder the diesel is the way to go.

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