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Think Ansari X Prize. The goal: a 500 horsepower hydrogen powered motor pulling an 18,000 pound semi trailer from coast to coast. The main obstacle: making it over the Rockies. Until carbon nanotubes are manufactured on a large scale, the most likely candidate is a lithium slurry, but it does have downsides: no free lunch, alas. More below the fold, but may require some chemistry to make sense.

Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic won him this check, the Raymond Orteig $25,000 prize for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris.

The Ansari X Prize paid Burt Rutan 10 million dollars to build a gorgeous little spaceship.

DARPA paid Stanford University 2 million dollars for winning the  2005 DARPA Grand Challenge.

The Democrats could do worse than run as the Party of Science, considering the Republicans and their patently irrational opposition to progress, on so many fronts.
Forget the little battery-powered runaround cars, just for now.  Forget the hybrids, and the expensive solid battery/hydrogen vehicles.  Until we've got an pure hydrogen engine capable of generating 500 horsepower, and a meaningful fueling infrastructure, the conversion simply won't work.  Hydrogen power will take over eventually, given enough pain and suffering, but until we've got the freight system running on hydrogen, at an acceptable price point, our economy will always be vulnerable to the geopolitical vagaries of petroleum. 

I propose a 100 million dollar prize offered for the first 500 horsepower hydrogen motor to pull a standard loaded semi trailer from coast to coast.   Put some real economic muscle into the proposition.

IMHO, ( donning Dr. Bunsen Burner disguise ) it's pretty straightforward.  Pull into the fuel station, pump in fuel, add distilled water to it, hydrogen gas is released.  The hydrogen is either fed to an internal combustion engine or to fuel cells.  When you're out of fuel, pull into the gas station, pump out your old depleted fuel and fill up again.  The fuel is recycled by heating it, hydrogen gas is added again, and the cycle completes.

Metal hydrides can store 1-2% of their own weight in hydrogen, and any impurities in the hydrogen are left behind, reducing capacity. Under heat, this can be brought as high as 5-7%.

Carbon nanotubes, however, are capable of storing up to 65% their own weight in hydrogen. That's a huge number, of all the hydrogen storage techniques, I would guess CNT tanks to be the most promising.

Even today, metal hydrides are not the prime choice. You can store slurried Lithium Hydride (LiH) that is nearly 25% hydrogen by weight dry, less in the slurry but still significantly more than can be stored in a metal hydride tank. The lithium slurry is reacted with water to give Lithium Hydroxide and Hydrogen. The Lithium Hydroxide can be stored and reprocessed into lithium hydride fairly easily cite

The chemistry of lithium slurry, and a far more detailed explanation of lithium slurry technology can be found at

The down sides;  lithium slurries are heavy.  Reprocessing lithium requires heat.  Furthermore, lithium slurry requires a pure carbon sink to extract the lithium impurities:  think slag from refining.  Coal fired plants eject huge amounts of particulate carbon, they seem to be candidate for pure carbon recapture.

The Pie in the Sky is carbon nanotubes.  Downside:  terribly expensive to make. But, as with all technology of this sort, economies of scale and improved manufacturing technology will bring the nanotube within the range of affordability.

2.2.4. Carbon nanostructures The discovery at the beginning of the last decade of new forms of carbon aggregation with basic particle size in the nanoscale range has opened up a variety of scientific and technological speculations and investigations about their potential applications. Fullerenes, carbon onions, carbon nanotubes and nanofibres, along with activated carbon, have been developed and proposed also for the storage of hydrogen, through the adsorption at low pressure of compressed hydrogen. This method has been considered as the substantial breakthrough, long awaited, for significantly improving the volumetric and gravimetric energy density of hydrogen storage systems.


These materials can adsorb significant amounts of hydrogen at room temperature, but research is still needed to better understand the way they work, to develop reproducible production techniques and to confirm, to a certain extent, contrasting experimental results. Carbon nanostructures have been tested at various operating conditions with pressures from a few bars up to some hundreds of bars, temperature ranging between 80 and 800 K, with percentage of hydrogen adsorption in weight varying from a few percent up to an incredible 60%.


If you've made it this far, and have not succumbed to the soporific effects of citations, nor yet consigned me to the tinfoil hat brigade, I am grateful.  Solomon said without a vision, the people perish.  I sincerely believe a Democratic candidate who ran on a platform of science and energy independence could bring out the best and brightest to vie for a great prize: the goal - to get a 500 horsepower motor to pull 18,000 pounds of freight from coast to coast on hydrogen power. 

Originally posted to BlaiseP on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 09:21 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Obnoxious pedantic quibble #745,831 (none)
    While it has a raggedy pedigree of some years now, the verb "incent" is one of those obnoxious back formations from business-speak that I wish good writers like you would banish.
  •  Hydrogen is not really an energy source (none)
    quibble is an energy transfer medium. Hydrogen must be produced from other processes that use energy or harvest it from the environment. Such as: generate electricity to split water. Wind, solar, coal, nuclear, natural gas, tidal, geothermal...need to make electricity to split water...or use another energy source to decomp hydrocarbons. I agree with the approach of incentive prizes, and the promise of nanotech....which is really having an impact on solar.

    If we shall fail to defend the Constitution, I shall fail in the attempt.

    by spoon or no spoon on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 10:06:51 PM PST

    •  yes, no free lunch (none)
      was on offer. I'd generate the hydrogen with sub-sized nuclear reactors, but I'm sure that's going to be considered flame bait. Perhaps we can work out some way to generate power from bullshit. We'll call the unit of power so generated as the rove, radiant energy, joules per second per unit of bullshit

      People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

      by BlaiseP on Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 10:15:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  more than just a quibble (none)
      In the early '90s the auto companies dodged making fuel efficient vehicles by promising to make 'lectric ones real soon. Now they dodge making fuel efficient vehicles by promising to make hyrogen powered ones real soon. Big priority. CEOs standing in front of concept cars and everything....
      Hydrogen does have more traction right now than batteries did ten years ago though- because folks like the senate candidate mentioned downthread want to strip mine Wyoming for coal to generate hydrogen.
      •  Rampant nimbyism (none)
        plagues any valid solution to America's energy independence problems. I'm a newly converted ex-Republican, and it disturbs me to see the Kossacks preaching to the choir, running around in little circles, flapping their hands and making little squeaky noises. It is my observation the Democratic Party cannot even muster up the spinal calcium to think big, and take on the issue of a conversion to hydrogen power. If the Democrats want to win any more of my votes, they will get off their pansy asses and start defending the scientists. They will exhibit more vision and embrace bigger solutions. They will become the Party of Science. I ain't looking for it soon. The Republicans will crush you Kossacks again, giving you more grist for the gossip mill which seems to characterize this place, and I cannot say in all seriousness I will be sorry to see it happen.

        People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

        by BlaiseP on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 03:56:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Got a hybrid (none)
          Cut my gas usage in half.  If 25% of the population buys hybrids in the next few years, big savings in carbon emissions, trade deficits, etc. So much of our population is on the coasts. Tidal power is amazingly economical if the NIMBY does not kill it.

          If we shall fail to defend the Constitution, I shall fail in the attempt.

          by spoon or no spoon on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 05:35:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Here's a candidate who shares your plan: (none)
    I hosted a house party for Dr. Dale Groutage last week. Dale is a candidate for U.S Senator from Wyoming. I was thrilled to find that he is thinking about energy independence, not just as a proposition that makes sense for our country, but in terms of research that could be good for the economy in Wyoming.

    It's been a long time since anyone with a PhD has run for U.S. Senate in Wyoming, and it's definitely a refreshing change!

    here's a link to Dale's webpage:

    •  Checked out the link (none)
      and this Dale Groutage guy reads like a dream candidate. I must be posting diaries at the wrong time of day, or to the wrong audience. With one recommend and two comments of any substance, Kossacks are clearly not the the audience for this sort of topic. Maybe if I wrote a long rant about how I'm a converted Republican, or some masturbatory innuendo about how the Pajama Gang is the Tool of Satan, I'd make more progress around here. Dems ain't the Party of Science, at least not the critters that wander this part of the forest. The Dems wouldn't back Gore worth a damn in 2000, and he was a man of science. A few weeks here, and I am not impressed.

      People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found by others.

      by BlaiseP on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 03:29:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why not give folks time? (none)
        I think the comment about Gore is a bit inflammatory. Plenty of Democrats backed Gore. We took it to the Supreme Court. It really isn't the Democrats fault that the Supreme Court didn't rule in Gore's favor. I'm not gonna even touch the other inflammatory remarks other than to say that DKos is a community and sometimes folks engage in banal chatter in between working on issues. I think inflammatory may not be the best way to woo people to listen to what you have to say. As for energy policy I find it laudable that you want a policy that supports finding a renewable source, most of us do. I also feel that we should offer greater incentives to get the ball rolling. Unfortunately with our financial situation I don't see the Congress critters going for it.
      •  Check out the Energy Diaries of (none)
        Jerome a Paris, Devilstower, Meteor Blades al.

        For some additional thoughts on energy issues.

        Version 3

        I like the idea of the challenge, although I'm not sold on Hydrogen.  

        Oh and although I loved the technological challenge of the the DARPA Grand Challenge I have some reservations on the intent.  I can't get to excited about unmanned autonomous military vehicles.

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