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As part of my continuing Environmental Series, posted usually each Sunday, today I'm covering the Science and Tech behind Fuel Cells. A very recent Break-Through may make this Renewable Energy "storage media" much more of an "affordable" solution, much quicker than many realize.

First the Tech -- let's start with a Picture or two.  I like pictures; they tend to make the complex -- simpler.

How Hydrogen Fuel Cells Work
by Bill Siuru, -- 12/18/2007

Oxygen and Hydrogen go in ... a charged circuit of Electricity comes out.  

Enough power to even power this:

so far so good ...  

Here's the Science and Chemistry that makes "Fuel Cell" Go -- basically they are rechargeable Batteries, that take Hydrogen gas and Oxygen gas, and turn them into Electricity -- lots of it.

How Fuel Cells Work
By Peter Tyson, NOVA ScienceNOW, -- 07.01.2005

On paper, the workings of a hydrogen fuel cell sound straightforward enough: An electrochemical reaction occurs between hydrogen and oxygen that converts chemical energy into electrical energy.

Think of them as big batteries, but ones that only operate when fuel -- in this case, pure hydrogen -- is supplied to them. When it is, an electrochemical reaction takes place between the hydrogen and oxygen that directly converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Various types of fuel cells exist, but the one automakers are primarily focusing on for fuel cell cars is one that relies on a proton-exchange membrane, or PEM. [...] In the simple reaction that occurs here rests the hope of engineers, policymakers, and ordinary citizens that someday we'll drive entirely pollution-free cars.

Here's what happens in the fuel cell: When hydrogen gas pumped from the fuel tanks arrives at the anode, which is made of platinum, the platinum catalyzes a reaction that ionizes the gas. Ionization breaks the hydrogen atom down into its positive ions (hydrogen protons) and negative ions (electrons). [...] The electrons are forced to go around the PEM, and along the way they are shunted through a circuit, generating the electricity that runs the car's systems.

So the main problem with the Fuel Cell tech is that it, until recently relies on very expensive Platinum, to directly "convert chemical energy into electrical energy" -- foregoing the Petro-Carbon footprint, of conventional fuels.

Many companies have been searching for new ways of doing this -- without the Platinum -- including these University Nano-tech researchers ...

US researchers claim breakthrough in Hydrogen Fuel Cell tech -- 24 March 2011

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland say catalysts made of carbon nanotubes dipped in a polymer solution can outperform traditional platinum catalysts in fuel cells at a fraction of the cost.

The scientists say the new technology can remove one of the biggest roadblocks to widespread cell use: the cost of the catalysts.

Platinum, which represents at least a quarter of the cost of fuel cells, currently sells for about $30,000 per pound, while the activated carbon nanotubes cost about $45 per pound, a Case release said Tuesday.

Well just a few days ago the U.S. Dept of Energy, specifically Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico, announced they have solved the Platinum Catalyst problem -- using much cheaper, and equally reliable and efficient substitute materials.

This is a big deal!

Discovery Could Make Fuel Cells Much Cheaper
By Chuck Squatriglia, autopia -- April 22, 2011

One of the biggest issues with hydrogen fuel cells, aside from the lack of fueling infrastructure, is the high cost of the technology. Fuel cells use a lot of platinum, which is frightfully expensive and one reason we’ll pay $50,000 or so for the hydrogen cars automakers say we’ll see in 2015.

That might soon change. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a platinum-free catalyst in the cathode of a hydrogen fuel cell that uses carbon, iron and cobalt. That could make the catalysts “two to three orders of magnitude cheaper,” the lab says, thereby significantly reducing the cost of fuel cells.

Although the discovery means we could see hydrogen fuel cells in a wide variety of applications, it could have the biggest implications for automobiles.

Hydrogen offers the benefits of battery-electric vehicles -- namely zero tailpipe emissions -- without the drawbacks of short range and long recharge times. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are electric vehicles; they use a fuel cell instead of a battery to provide juice. You can fill a car with hydrogen in minutes, it’ll go about 250 miles or so and the technology is easily adapted to everything from forklifts to automobiles to buses.

Fuel Cells can power even a Bus -- Incredible!

Los Alamos National Laboratory Researchers -- those public employees -- describe the technical benefits of their recent Science discovery:

Say Hello to Cheaper Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Los Alamos scientists document utility of non-precious-metal catalysts

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, News Release -- April 22, 2011

In a paper published today in Science, Los Alamos [National Laboratory] researchers Gang Wu, Christina Johnston, and Piotr Zelenay, joined by researcher Karren More of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, describe the use of a platinum-free catalyst in the cathode of a hydrogen fuel cell. Eliminating platinum -- a precious metal more expensive than gold -- would solve a significant economic challenge that has thwarted widespread use of large-scale hydrogen fuel cell systems.

The Los Alamos researchers developed non-precious-metal catalysts for the part of the fuel cell that reacts with oxygen. The catalysts -- which use carbon (partially derived from polyaniline in a high-temperature process), and inexpensive iron and cobalt instead of platinum -- yielded high power output, good efficiency, and promising longevity. The researchers found that fuel cells containing the carbon-iron-cobalt catalyst synthesized by Wu not only generated currents comparable to the output of precious-metal-catalyst fuel cells, but held up favorably when cycled on and off -- a condition that can damage inferior catalysts relatively quickly.

Moreover, the carbon-iron-cobalt catalyst fuel cells effectively completed the conversion of hydrogen and oxygen into water, rather than producing large amounts of undesirable hydrogen peroxide. Inefficient conversion of the fuels, which generates hydrogen peroxide, can reduce power output by up to 50 percent, and also has the potential to destroy fuel cell membranes. Fortunately, the carbon-iron-cobalt catalysts synthesized at Los Alamos create extremely small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, even when compared with state-of-the-art platinum-based oxygen-reduction catalysts.

[Project funding for the Los Alamos research came from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office as well as from Los Alamos National Laboratory’s  Laboratory-Directed Research and Development program.]

Who's says investing in Science R&D -- Can't pay off with huge dividends?
(The GOP Austerity Hawks, that's who.)

Well, if Fuel Cells are suddenly to become affordable in a matter of the next few years

-- What about the Fuel?

Where does one go to get a Tankful of H2 ???

Well, thankfully those Govt Scientists are busily trying to "solve the Hydrogen Fuel Supply Problem, as well ...

It seems the Hydrogen can be captured from a wide variety of sources, including many with very low Carbon footprints ...

Hydrogen Production and Delivery --

NREL: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

Most of the hydrogen in the United States is produced by steam reforming of natural gas. For the near term, this production method will continue to dominate. Researchers at NREL are developing advanced processes to produce hydrogen economically from sustainable resources. These R&D efforts include:

-- Fermentation

NREL scientists are developing expertise with pretreatment technologies convert lignocellulosic biomass into sugar-rich feedstocks including hemicelluloses and cellulose that can be fermented directly to produce hydrogen, ethanol, and high-value chemicals.  [...]

-- Biological Water Splitting

Certain photosynthetic microbes produce hydrogen from water in their metabolic activities using light energy. [...]

-- Photoelectrochemical Water Splitting

The cleanest way to produce hydrogen is by using sunlight to directly split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Multijunction cell technology developed by the photovoltaic industry is being used [...]

-- Conversion of Biomass and Wastes

Hydrogen can be produced via pyrolysis or gasification of biomass resources such as agricultural residues like peanut shells; consumer wastes including plastics and waste grease  [...]

-- Solar Thermal Water Splitting

NREL researchers have demonstrated that highly concentrated sunlight can be used to generate the high temperatures needed to split methane into hydrogen and carbon. Concentrated solar energy can also be used [...]

-- Renewable Electrolysis

Renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics, wind, biomass, hydro, and geothermal can provide clean and sustainable electricity for our nation. However, renewable energy sources are naturally variable, requiring energy storage [...] One solution is to produce hydrogen through the electrolysis [...]

So, Hydrogen has not only the potential to get us off of Foreign Oil, it also has the potential to provide a simple "portable" Storage Media, for collecting and saving all that energy created by wind farms, and solar plants, and even Bio-fuels.

There is even a Project in Sacramento demonstrating the feasibility of converting Solar to Hydrogen, to fill up and power Fuel-Cell vehicles ...

Cool.  Very cool.

Solar Driven Hydrogen Refueling Station in Sacramento -- February 15, 2009

[Demonstration Refueling Station for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars]

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project. Ford and Daimler-Chrysler -- provided the prototype cars -- and BP, installed and operate the hydrogen station refueling equipment. [...]

The solar panels make electricity, which is then used to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is produced by electrolysis -- an electric current is used to split water into its components -- hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then used to power the fuel cells that run the car.

So we keep hearing about how America needs to become Energy Independent using the 21st century Clean, Renewable Energy of the Future.

Isn't it about time we took those warnings to heart, and started SERIOUSLY investing in the Tech and Infrastructure

-- that it will take, to take these high-tech break-throughs, from off of the Drawing Boards, and onto our Drive-ways?

It's long past time, if you asked me.  

What are we waiting for?  ... a written invitation from the Oil Companies ???

Originally posted to Digging up those Facts ... for over 8 years. on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 05:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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  •  Tip Jar (315+ / 0-)
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    Got Time?
    Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

    by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 05:58:17 AM PDT

    •  tu for this great, uplifting diary (31+ / 0-)

      despite all the political bs, it is great to see that our country is stepping up to the plate.  go team!  

      I appreciate all the work and time you put into it and the fact that you brought it to us.

      We need to find things to be happy and positive about and this is certainly one of them.

      Thanks again.

      If one of us is denied civil rights, all of us are denied civil rights.

      by SeaTurtle on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:50:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Any progress on using hydrogen atoms in cells? (9+ / 0-)

      It's my understanding that fuel cells store hydrogen as molecules, which are fairly easy to make.  But if the fuel cells could use hydrogen atoms, you can pack far more into an energy cell.  Either you could make the cells tiny (like the size of a laptop battery) or you could keep them the same size and greatly extend the range.

      "Pragmatists don't DO things! They explain to you how things CANNOT be done." - AndyS In Colorado

      by Uberbah on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:02:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The H2 is stored in a tank (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Uberbah, jamess, elwior, Odysseus

        and fed slowly into the fuel cell as power is needed. You cannot store hydrogen atoms in bulk, without a Tokomak or similar.

        we are but temporary visitors on this planet. The microbes own this place <- Me

        by yuriwho on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:38:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Isn' atomic hydrogen (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Uberbah, cville townie

        highly unstable? How does one store it?

        •  It isn't - it's stored as H2 - molecular hydrogen. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quiet in NC, elwior

          Still plenty reactive - but it reacts two at a time with molecular oxygen (O2) to form 2 H2O molecules.

          `Ideology offers human beings the illusion of dignity and morals while making it easier to part with them.'- Vaclav Havel

          by Black Brant on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:26:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Gasoline is even less safe (7+ / 0-)

          If you tried to introduce gasoline as a new fuel today, it would never pass safety requirements.

          Hydrogen tanks have to be well designed to take the pressure.  They're continually improving.  It's just a matter of good engineering.

          Hydrogen can be dangerous, but has the huge advantage over gasoline in that if there is a rupture the hydrogen quickly dissipates into the atmosphere where it combines with oxygen back into water.  A gasoline rupture is much nastier and toxic.

          Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
          Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

          by Caelian on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:27:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Nah. (10+ / 0-)

            If a big corporation wanted to introduce gasoline today, they'd just change the safety requirements to allow it. Or ignore them as they do with the rest of the regulations.

            Current government regulations are simply used by mega-corps to make the bar of entry too high for small competitors. They don't actually do much in the way of regulating safety.

            See the current licensing of new deep water drilling in the Gulf for reference. Also, fracking.


            One problem with living in a global village is we now have global village idiots. - Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport

            by Mr Bojangles on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 01:45:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  You seem to confuse H and H2... (0+ / 0-)
          •  Not true. (19+ / 0-)

            Compare NASA's safety guidelines for working with hydrogen to those for working with gasoline.  Not even close.

            1) Hydrogen ignites with 1/10th the ignition energy of gasoline.  that means even the tiniest of static sparks will set it off.
            2) Gasoline will only burn within a very narrow mix of fuel and air.  Hydrogen burns with almost any mix of fuel and air, 4-75%.
            3) Gasoline will only conflagrate (burn) without being compressed.  Hydrogen can and will detonate (explode).
            4) Both hydrogen and gasoline can "escape".  Gasoline escapes downward (flowing), hydrogen upward (rising).  Just like an enclosed space on the ground can contain gasoline, an enclosed space overhead (such as a garage or rain shelter) can contain hydrogen.
            5) Hydrogen is absurdly good at passing through materials.  For example, hydrogen pipes have to be the highest pipe in a series of pipes, or gas may pass out of the lower pipe and into the upper pipes, follow them to their destinations, pool there, then detonate (this has happened many times).
            6) Hydrogen is very prone to embrittling metals.
            7) Hydrogen is not carcinogenic, but it is an aspyhxiant which destroys ozone.
            8) Due to #1, #2, #3, and #4, buildings which will contain at least 1kg of hydrogen at any point in time, according to NASA's guidelines, should be designed with:

            A) Roofs designed to be blown away
            B) Hydrogen suppression/active ventilation systems
            C) Hydrogen sensors to detect the pooling of leaked hydrogen
            D) Every last electronic device being rated to not give the required miniscule spark needed to set of hydrogen.

            And a bunch of other stuff.  Does that sound like your garage?  The explosions that devastated the Fukushima reactors were hydrogen explosions.  These were buildings designed to not set of hydrogen in the event of a leak.  But that's an incredibly hard challenge; the stuff explodes so damned easily.

            This is a 18x7 hydrogen/oxygen balloon, so about 200ft^2.  Watch the video.  Assuming stoichiometry, that's about 133ft^2 of H2, or 1/3 of a kilogram.  Being a mix of H2/O2 yields about twice the explosive force of H2/air, at this scale, so we'll double the amount of hydrogen to about 2/3rds of a kilogram.  The Honda FCX clarity stores 4.1 kilograms of hydrogen.  Picture that going off in a confined space.  And that's just a car; just picture a hydrogen-powered SUV (a dozen kg).  Or a hydrogen semi (a hundred kg) in the Lincoln Tunnel, for that matter.  I think we could safely call that "a cannon".

            It's fun to pretend that hydrogen is some docile chemical in order to play into fantasies about a hydrogen economy, but that's simply not the facts.

            To try to counter this, the hydrogen hype-rs usually like to pretend that there's no way a hydrogen tank could ever fail.  Yeah, we've heard that before.  And let's just ignore that the failure doesn't have to occur in the tank itself -- the valve could rupture, the controls for the flow rate in the vehicle could fail and leave it open (allowing for a failure in any part of the drivetrain), and so on.  But let's just look at the tank itself.  Hydrogen tanks are generally high pressure carbon fiber tanks, for a wide range of reasons.  Well you know what, the exact same sort of tanks are used in (much more common) CNG vehicles.  And guess what?  They do fail.  There have been a surprisingly large number of failures of them.  Here's pictures from one.

    •  A number of technical comments on the chemistry (13+ / 0-)

      first as noted below, there is a science podcast that interviews the lead author about his catalysts here:

      As I understand this (I am not an expert on fuel cells), in traditional fuel cells Platinum is used both in the Anode to oxidize hydrogen to protons and electrons, and at the cathode to reduce oxygen to water. In fact, very little Pt is required at the anode and a lot is required at the oxygen reducing cathode. This is because reactive oxygen species generated at the cathode can poison Pt rendering it inactive. These researchers created a new catalyst from polyanaline (electrical conducting polymer) Iron and Cobalt which is heat treated to create an un-characterized gimmish that functions as a catalyst for the oxygen reduction reaction. Platinum is still being used at the anode to reduce hydrogen.

      Both Iron (Fe) and Cobalt (Co) are known to catalyze reactions of activated oxygen species and this explains why little to no hydrogen peroxide is produced. It reacts first with Fe, Co or both and then with H+ + e- at some as yet unknown active site in this polymer gimmish to produce water.

      The lead author says the most important things moving forward in research will be:

      1) characterizing the active sites in the catalyst
      2) building a permeable 3-dimensional version of this catalysts that will allow for high power density fuel cells.

      All in all, a very interesting discovery seeming based on intuition about the basic reactivity of transition metals but not on a high tech analysis of chemical reactions.

      Take polyanaline, add iron and cobalt, heat the crap out of it, test it.

      However now that this has been shown to be functional, the real science begins. I think there is much room for improvement of this catalyst based on my understanding of the chemistry.

      disclaimer: I have not yet read the full article as I do not have access from this computer. If anyone wants to e-mail it to me ;-). Also, as I am not a fuel cell catalyst expert, I may have some details wrong.

      we are but temporary visitors on this planet. The microbes own this place <- Me

      by yuriwho on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:30:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Please rec the parent up. (13+ / 0-)

        This is not new.  It's just a possibly better non-platinum cathode catalyst than some of the other non-platinum cathodes proposed in the past.

        There's an abstract on the article, by the way, publicly available here

        Let's toss the hype aside.  Hydrogen fuel cells:

        1) Are absurdly expensive.  And it's not just the platinum cost.  The membranes aren't cheap either, and there's a ton of associated hardware.  And on top of it all, you still need a li-ion battery pack!  Not EV sized, but between the size you'd use in a hybrid (~$3k) and a PHEV (~$9k), versus the ~$12k in a low-end EV and the $30k in a high-end EV.

        2) Are extremely inefficient.  The total hydrogen fuel cycle is approximately 1/3rd as efficient at turning electricity to motion as the electric vehicle cycle.  There are lots of different energy loss mechanisms.  "Increasing the efficiency of non-platinum cathode catalysts" is hardly going to change the whole picture.

        3) Have short lifespans.  GM recently got them up from 3 years to five years, and think they'll be able to hit 7 years by 2015.  EV packs are generally rated for 8-10 years, currently.

        4) To fill fast (3-5 minutes, instead of 20-30 minutes), you have to have the filling stations at nearly the same extreme pressures (5-10k psi) as found in the vehicles.  But storing bulk hydrogen at those pressures is not something you want in your backyard (yes, I'll gladly NIMBY that).

        5) Hydrogen leaks, which are inevitable (it leaks so damned easy) release hydrogen into the atmosphere (assuming nothing sets it off), where it destroys the ozone layer.

        6) Hydrogen vehicles' range advantage over EVs has been dropping as time has gone on; they're not improving as fast as EVs.  There's currently only about a 50% range advantage, and falling.

        7) The scaling factors are all wrong.  The more range you want on a H2 vehicle, the higher the pressure you have to keep your tanks, the higher the pressure you have to keep your fill stations and/or the longer your fill times.  To get even more into your tanks, you have to use storage mediums which hurt the efficiency even more and take even longer to fill.  With EVs, it's just the opposite; as range has increased, charge time and efficiency have also increased.  Cells charge in parallel; it doesn't matter how many cells you have.  Charging at a given current rate produces less stress on each cell in a larger pack than if you had a smaller pack.  You still have to increase the power on the delivery side, mind you, as well as the cooling, to improve charge times.

        8) And then the obvious stuff -- no home charging, no filling up in an emergency at any random farmhouse (you have to make it to one of the rare hydrogen stations, meaning you have to have a full nationwide infrastructure comparable to our gasoline infrastructure), way more moving parts (including compressors, which are always failure-prone), etc.

        There's a reason that the running joke about hydrogen fuel cells is "they're just five years away!".  They're always "five years away".

        •  How about stationary applications of fuel cells, (7+ / 0-)

          for example, large fuel cells attached to the power grid that might store energy produced by other sources (e.g. wind and solar) which is used to produce H2?

          It would seem that the "rechargeable battery" concept applied large scale to the energy grid might turn out to be the most practical application of all, especially with this new nanotech breakthrough, and most especially if used in conjunction with High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission which may be less expensive and more efficient for long distance power transmission.

          As suggested by the diarist, such an application might be tremendous in getting around the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy, essentially making these forms of energy greatly more practical and cost effective.

          And not incidentally, making the actual carbon footprint of pure electric vehicles greatly lower.

          It would seem like the biggest obstacle to overcome will be the opposition of entrenched petroleum interests, who will almost certainly redouble their backing of "austerity" measures to make sure that the kind of public support needed to bring about this kind of development is never allowed to happen.

          "But there is so much more to do." - Barack Obama, Nov. 4, 2008

          by flitedocnm on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:31:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Those are a totally different tech. (5+ / 0-)

            Large grid fuel cells are SOFCs, not PEMFCs, which is what the current tech advancement is for.  Grid-tied SOFCs are a more near-term technology than PEMFC vehicles (apart from the occasional highly subsidized demo project), although they're still at present only suitable for niche apps.

            The cheapest and most efficient way to store electricity from wind and solar is pumped hydro.  This can be from uprating existing hydro plants (basically, adding more generators to allow the dam to run more intermittently with a higher peak) or relying on the two pond solution (you create a high altitude pool and a low altitude pool (or use existing pools, even the ocean for the lower altitude one), and pump water up to store or let it flow down to recharge.  China already does this on the large scale -- not to buffer supply changes, but demand changes.

            Storing energy in hydrogen generation is over an order of magnitude more expensive per kWh, with far higher per-kW generation and per-kWh storage costs.

            Petroleum companies don't sell much oil for electricity generation.  Oil is primarily a transport fuel.  Natural gas is a different story; its two prime roles are heating and power generation.  But you can burn NG in SOFCs (reformed or, in some designs, non-reformed).  The oil industry has no beef with fuel cells  ;)  

        •  See my comment below... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          A safer way to store hydrogen for your fuel cell is to use a solution of sodium borohydride and water - much more info at the link I provided.

          PB PAC is closing - we made our final donation ($460.59) to the WI recall!

          by AnotherMassachusettsLiberal on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:42:03 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Ah, you answered one of my questions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I just posted below. So you still need the platinum at the anode side to split Hydogen into H+ ions and electrons right?

        The diariest didn't mention that platinum also was used to reduce oxygen to water at the cathode. Now it gets clearer.

    •  Don't forget .... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, liberte

      polymer gel batteries too.

      Great diary, T+R.

      Sorry not much comment, past midnight here and got to work tomorrow.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:52:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for giving us something to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      smile about!


  •  Good thing we are cutting clean energy (60+ / 0-)

    research, development, and deployment in favor of over 100 billion in subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels.

    Nice summary. We are going to be left behind in the clean energy revolution if the Republicans have their way.

    Be radical in your compassion.

    by DWG on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:13:04 AM PDT

  •  fascinating (15+ / 0-)

    now will the ruling class allow us to have these technologies??

    I am awaiting delivery of my new DK4 signature

    by BlueDragon on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:16:40 AM PDT

  •  Now the ultimate would be to design a cell that (11+ / 0-)

    can renew hydrogen automatically for almost perpetual energy with limited easy to obtain fuel.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:21:00 AM PDT

    •  yeah I was wondering about that too (7+ / 0-)

      especially since one of the "waste" outputs is H2O

      (see first image)

      Seems that ultimately there are some

      "recharging while driving" possibilities, ala the Prius?

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:32:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You cannot violate the First Law of Thermodynamics (12+ / 0-)

        A perpetual motion machine is not workable for that very reason.

        I do think the ultimate solution is going to be a combination of some kind of nuclear reaction and water.  As Einstein pointed out, there is almost infinite energy stored in matter. The problem is "mining" that energy.

        •  lol (11+ / 0-)

          I wasn't suggesting "perpetual motion"

          -- only suggesting "less waste".

          I thought the Prius was doing something like that,

          Recharging the Battery when the brakes are applied,
          or something like that, while it's still drawing from the battery.

          Got Time?
          Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

          by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:00:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I know you knew better. (8+ / 0-)

            I was pulling your string.  Heh.

            The point I really wanted to make came from a conversation I had with a lifelong friend. We were next door neighbors when I was in high school.  He is now an internationally known physicist.  He knows more about dense matter than almost anybody.  We talked about extracting the elements  from water, which is one of the most plentiful substances on the planet.  He would not tell me what it is exactly he had been working on, but I got the idea that it may involve some sort of nuclear reaction on a very small scale.  If it is what I think it is, and he and his colleagues are successful, I foresee a Nobel prize in their future.

          •  The Prius turns waste energy into electricity. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            That is all.  Turning waste energy into hydrogen, then back into electricity, is both A) pointless, and B) laughably inefficient.  A) pointless, because H2 vehicles already have to have battery buffers, so you don't need to do that. And B) laughably inefficient because instead of going generator(motor)->battery->motor, you're doing generator(motor)->battery (for buffering, since electrolysis isn't instant)->electrolysis->H2 compression->storage->O2 compression->fuel cell->battery (for buffering; fuel cells don't work well at high power)->motor.  Sound smarter?  ;)

        •  "Violate the First Law of Thermodynamics"? (6+ / 0-)

          This is only partly tongue-in-cheek.

          But as I understand science, the "Law of thermodynamics" is a human construct based upon what we know about the universe--it is not an eternal truth handed down from "on high" or whatever.  That being so, what if we were to discover more about the nature of the universe in our research, enough to alter the Law?  Is it totally outside the realm of possibility to imagine that we could discover an as-yet unknown way of seeing that changes everything we THINK we understand about the universe?

          It's happened several times in human history, and I leave myself open to the possibility that it can happen again.

          Just sayin'.

          Incorrigible punster; please do not incorrige.

          by Ran3dy on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:41:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks for (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            thinking outside the box, and apologies for a tired (but expedient) cliche'!

            Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth - Abraham Lincoln

            by Gustogirl on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:00:16 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  its not a 'human construct' exactly (5+ / 0-)

            Its a description of a law of nature:

            Matter/Energy cannot be created or destroyed, just converted from one form to another.

            And the BIG questions in Physics were solved by Newton in the 1600s. Nothing simce has contradicted him, just dealt with anomolies at very small matter (quantum mechanics) and very high velocities (relativity).

            you can apply Einstein and Newton to "you are on a ship moving at 10 mph. you walk towards the bow at 2 mph. what is your total forward speed to someone on shore?"

            With Newton it is: 12 mph.
            with Einstein it is: 11.9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999992415 mph.

            Most new items refine what we already know, they don't repeal the laws of physics.

            We have no desire to offend you -- unless you are a twit!

            by ScrewySquirrel on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:31:58 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  But who DEFINES the laws of physics? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              That's my question.  Humans define the laws of physics, based upon our understanding of how the universe works.  So yes, by definition, the laws of physics ARE a human construct.

              To say that our understanding of the physical universe is essentially complete (or even that BIG questions no longer exist--think about our understanding of the beginning of the universe if you want an example of one remaining Big Question) is hugely anthropocentric.  And a huge disservice to the scientific community at large.

              The Laws of Physics remain because no human has yet to falsify them, and they enjoy a near-universal acceptance among the (human) scientific community.  But that's it.  

              There's plenty about this big ol' universe we call home that we have yet to discover and understand.  The Laws currently  held as truth are simply the best our current scientific thinking can do to explain to ourselves what this place is all about.  I refuse to close my mind to the possibility that there's more to it than we currently have the ability (and dare I say open-mindedness?) to observe and/or consider.  The simple fact of our humanity necessarily means that we see the universe from a human-centered viewpoint.  We can only see and detect things that we can see and detect, because we are only human!

              And no, I'm not speaking of religion.  Just the opposite, in fact.

              Incorrigible punster; please do not incorrige.

              by Ran3dy on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:28:14 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Sorry, but that just isn't how science works... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Yes, it is a human construct of using words, numbers, and formulas to describe the world around us. That doesn't mean that certain properties of the Universe are themselves human constructs.

                The hierarchy of scientific certainty is as follows:


                Note that Special and General Relativity, Evolution, etc remain theories even though they describe the world to a high degree of accuracy.

                Above this are the scientific Laws. Laws of the thermodynamics and motion are two examples. They are far fewer in number than Theories.  Laws essentially are reality.

                "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities" Voltaire.

                by JWK on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 05:48:53 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  And the LAWS of science come from where? (0+ / 0-)

                  From outside the human realm, or from within it?
                  That's all I'm saying here.  These LAWS are accepted as reality because HUMANS have made observations and proposed explanations for those observations.  Not other earthly species, aliens, supernatural beings, deities, but HUMANS.  Flesh and blood, with five basic senses with which to make observations, and reason, to put it all together to describe a universe that (hopefully) makes sense.

                  To say that it's something other than human construct is folly!  We are mere observers in this universe--as opposed to, say, creators-- so what we make of it can never be more than observation.  We do not decide the properties of the universe (it existed LONG before we came into being!), rather we observe it and do our best to explain it.  So humans make hypotheses, theories, and laws to explain to ourselves what we observe.  Thus, "human construct."  

                  Maybe that's not how science works.  But if not, then it's a limitation of science, not the universe.

                  Incorrigible punster; please do not incorrige.

                  by Ran3dy on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:16:04 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  sorry... (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    if it worked differently, the description would be different.  The POINT of science is to describe the universe as it really is, not to construct internally-consistant fantasies.

                    the universe is bigger than Human constructs.

                    We have no desire to offend you -- unless you are a twit!

                    by ScrewySquirrel on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 05:57:38 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  This will be my last reply on the matter (0+ / 0-)

                      because you are all proving me correct (if only you could see it....)

                      You say

                      The POINT of science is to describe the universe
                      emphasis mine

                      ...and that's what I'm all about.  Science, human science, is about describing the universe, in terms that humans understand.  The description (be it in the form of hypothesis, theory, or law) is thus a human construct.

                      I never said the universe was a human construct; quite the opposite, in fact.  But our science is very definitely a human construct.

                      Incorrigible punster; please do not incorrige.

                      by Ran3dy on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 06:35:36 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

          •  Yes. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            That being so, what if we were to discover more about the nature of the universe in our research, enough to alter the Law?  Is it totally outside the realm of possibility to imagine that we could discover an as-yet unknown way of seeing that changes everything we THINK we understand about the universe?

            Yes, it is.

          •  You cannot change the Laws of Thermodynamics (0+ / 0-)

            That is why they are laws not theories. You are proposing that we can stop time? You can think "outside the box" all you want but you cannot change the way the Universe operates.

      •  The problem is that thermodynamically water (6+ / 0-)

        is more stable than hydrogen gas and oxygen gas.

        In other words, you have to put energy into water to split it apart.

        We don't want our country back, we want our country FORWARD. --Eclectablog

        by Samer on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:32:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes but the waste heat can be used (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jamess, Samer, WisVoter

          to raise the temp of the H2O which decreases the amount of energy needed to split the water vapor into the componet gases. This increases the overall system effeceincy a bit.

          Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

          by RMForbes on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:11:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  a liitle bit only: Carnot nt (0+ / 0-)

            Michael Weissman UID 197542

            by docmidwest on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 12:10:28 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I've been working on a system (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              liberte, Odysseus, Outrider

              that captures the waste heat that would normal escape out the exhaust in a standard ICE to crack H2O vapor from complete combustion and other exhaust gases from incomplete combustion back through the intake after passing through a catalyst grid. This process is called pre-ignition catalytic conversion. The fuel componets are reduced to smaller more reactive gases that burn many time faster and burns far cleaner. Because these gases ignite faster and more completely the piston absorbs more energy each cycle. It's not completely green technology but it could be a bridge technology that can be adapted to existing cars and trucks to reduce green house gases and reduce dependency on foreign oil. Since the fuel is all reformed before intake less refined fuels are required. I have found that bio-fuels work better than current more refined liquid fuels because bio-fuels ussually contain more H2O which is reformed to H2 and O2 gases.

              Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

              by RMForbes on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:01:15 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Well ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, WisVoter

      "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

      by indycam on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:48:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Just add solar (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Solar panels are a dandy way to run the fuel cell backwards to electrolize water into hydrogen and oxygen.  Then you don't even need to visit a hydrogen station to refuel.

      Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
      Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

      by Caelian on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:29:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, Recall

        There's not nearly enough surface area on the roof of a practical car, and anyways, you can make much use of our limited production of solar panels by putting them on a roof where they can always be exposed to the sun when it's out, always at an optimal angle (instead of flat),.

        The parent's post, by the way, is starting to sound like perpetual motion.  Hydrogen is way overhyped enough as it is.

  •  j would you post this up to SciTech? (8+ / 0-)

    Great article, thanks.

  •  Good news, thanks. (5+ / 0-)

    I've been hoping that there would be a similar breakthrough with solar. Price is everything.

    I wonder how long it will before the Republicans get their orders from the oil industry to cut the funding for the DOE?

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:29:40 AM PDT

  •  thank you folks (6+ / 0-)

    for putting this on the Recommended List

    Much obliged.

    Got Time?
    Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

    by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:39:53 AM PDT

    •  who owns these ideas, patents, breakthroughs? (5+ / 0-)

      if it's Los Alamos will the taxpayers get the profits, DOE, the scientists...who?

      Or will it be privatized for political back scratching and a good job in private industry?

      "Responsible people leave neither loaded guns nor paranoid, eliminationist ideologies laying around for the mentally ill to play with".....Driftglass

      by KenBee on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:50:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't know, for sure (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenBee, Otteray Scribe, Outrider

        I haven't done that Patent Search / research yet.

        the Los Alamos article says:

        Because of the successful performance of the new catalyst, the Los Alamos researchers have filed a patent for it.

        From my own work with the Govt,

        I'm pretty sure anything created on Govt Time,
        belongs to the Govt.

        Got Time?
        Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

        by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:57:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  not really. Gov money very often comes with the (4+ / 0-)

          incentive to use the intellectual property developed by researchers to file patents and stimulate new industries - or at least new start-ups, some of which lead to new industries.

          I know several scientists whose government-funded research led to patents and start-ups, some of which actually made money. This is true for a number of Nobel winners in Physiology or Medicine who have been able to start companies using patents on their Nobel-winning discoveries.

          It's actually most often quite the opposite of private biz, where the company does own you and your ideas, lock, stock, and barrel.

          Fear is the mind-killer - Frank Herbert, Dune

          by p gorden lippy on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:09:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yup - Technology transfer (3+ / 0-)

            There is a ridiculous notion in this country that the private sector must own all technology and make all the money on it. In the reigning paradigm, government's only purpose is to siphon money from ordinary people's pockets into the pockets of the corporations; any other use of our money (say, to educate or feed our children, keep ourselves and our parents healthy, etc.) is de-facto a poor allocation of those funds, and must be lobbied against with great diligence.

  •  The government should keep the patents. (8+ / 0-)

    Otherwise, some company will use it, claim it was their invention, and use the money to fund Repub candidates who will kill R&D.

    Ideology is an excuse to ignore common sense.

    by Bush Bites on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:41:59 AM PDT

  •  Excellent work, thanks (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Otteray Scribe, SeaTurtle, Matt Z

    "Lets show the rascals what Citizens United really means."

    by smiley7 on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:43:23 AM PDT

  •  Semi-serious: will oil/energy companies now buy up (8+ / 0-)

    rights to such technologies to slowwalk it to protect burning oil for profits?

    •  I hope not (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I would assume the DOE Patents, belong to the Public

      -- they ought to -- WE funded the Research.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:48:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  see above - not so much. One of the purposes of (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TofG, mamamedusa

        R&D funding is to drive new industries, which is very different from BP owning it. The inventors can develop a real stake in actualizing their discoveries and making them into technology. Having the guv own it becomes very problematic for a bunch of reasons.

        There are many gov funding mechanisms, and a lot of them include incentives for inventors/discoverers to patent their results. The next stage can also involve some gov investment in small start-ups, but it also encourages the inflow of capital to start-ups because they have a strong intellectual property position in the form of the patents, and they have a chance to transform the science into technology, given some more investment.

        Fear is the mind-killer - Frank Herbert, Dune

        by p gorden lippy on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:14:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  They will probably try. (6+ / 0-)

      And their Republican and Libertarian enablers will probably try to enact legislation to let them do just that.  Also to defund original research, just like the planned closure of the Tevatron, just as they are making new discoveries at Fermilabs.

      BTW, our own Kossack, rb137, is a physicist and one of the few people on the planet who knows how to fire up the Tevatron and get useful data from it. She told me she is just sick about shutting it down.  I sent her an email and she might drop in on this diary.

    •  Hydrogen has to produced. (9+ / 0-)

      There will be companiesThat profit from it.  Hydrogen is an energy carrier not a fuel.  It doesn't exist in nature in any concentarted quantities. It requires energy to produce it and currently the ratio of energy out versus the amount of energy out is poor.

      At least with current production methods, hydrogen is clean but is not energy efficient.  Electric vehicle like Nissan's Leaf are ~6x more efficient.

      •  that's always the case (0+ / 0-)

        someone has better tech somewhere,

        that for lack of marketing or buzz-factor, gets overlooked.

        Remember the Tech battle of BetaMax vs VHS Tape?

        -- Hah! they both lost out to Blueray and DVD, lol

        It seemed to me the NREL researchers were well on the way,
        to solving the H2 "Supply Problem" mostly with Low Carbon methods, it seemed to me.

        Heck, H2 could be created from Solar and Wind too --

        Which would go a long ways to dealing with the Wind Farm "bottleneck"
        they had in the NW last week:

        When Too Much Wind Power is NOT a Good Thing?
        by jamess -- Sun Apr 17, 2011

        Got Time?
        Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

        by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:35:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  listen to the lead researcher (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TofG, jamess, emal, Recall, Odysseus

    This week's Science podcast has a very interesting interview of the lead researcher about this paper.  He includes some important caveats that in only a minor way makes this breakthrough less exciting for me.

    Poverty exists in direct proportion to greed.

    by jcrit on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:48:35 AM PDT

  •  The fuel cell technology looks very promising (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TofG, jamess, Sneelock, Matt Z

    Howver electric cars are still much more efficient when you add in the current cost of prodcing hydrogen.

    Hopfully hydrogen production research will produce and energy efficent method of production,

  •  H supply in the vehicle (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Sneelock, WisVoter, Matt Z, JohnnySacks

      One of the other concerns with fuel cells is storing the hydrogen in the vehicle.  I think the current storage, like the bus pictured above, is tanks under pressure.  These are big and have a degree of danger to them.  (The big oil and deniers like to flash pictures of the Hindenburg here.  Actually the pressurized tanks are probably safer than the current gas tanks on cars.)

      Work has been done on holding the H in porous aluminum blocks.  The idea being that when you need to fill 'er up, you swap your empty blocs for full ones and drive off.  I don't know the current status of that idea, but I like it.  Anyone have current info?

    "We borrow this Earth from our Grandchildren."

    by Arizona Mike on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:57:14 AM PDT

    •  thanks for that info Arizona Mike (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sneelock, Matt Z

      I was hoping that the Tank Problems could be solved.
      sounds like they already have been.

      Afterall Gasoline, is very combustible,
      and we drive around with a Tankful of that, all the time.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:03:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  More infrastructure than danger (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jamess, JeffW, Matt Z

         I was thinking more about what I wrote, and didn't state the real reason for the technology change.
          Creating and infrastructure to get H conveniently to consumers is the key.  Big tank trucks and storage tanks would take too long to build and cost too much.  But if a technology that is as simple as it is today to get a new auto battery is in place, even if it means a swap out ever week or so, would allow using existing infrastructure of roads, trucks, and Walmarts

        "We borrow this Earth from our Grandchildren."

        by Arizona Mike on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:18:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  can't we just (0+ / 0-)

          convert the existing gasoline trucks?

          Maybe retrofit existing Gas stations as well?

          Say one Tank at a time, as the demand grows?

          In theory anyways.

          Got Time?
          Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

          by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:23:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Probably not (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jamess, JeffW, Matt Z

            Two reasons I can think of:  Look who owns and controls all the existing trucks, stations and pipes.  After all, immediate profit is more important than long term good.  Are you aware of the problems in the early 1900's when the oil companies wanted to run pipelines but needed to cross railroad land?

            Second is the chemistry, which I'm only vague on.  Since H2 molecules are so small, and of course gas/oil/natural gas are huge by comparison, the existing tanks and pipes that are OK for the big molecules would likely leak like crazy with H2 is them.

            "We borrow this Earth from our Grandchildren."

            by Arizona Mike on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:14:40 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  You want the hydrogen stored as a liquid (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jamess, JeffW, Matt Z

            which means keeping it under pressure.  It would be more like propane than gasoline.  There have been some promising technologies when it comes to safely storing hydrogen for commercial use but without standardizing the system (the gas pumps work with all gas-powered vehicles) there won't be a mass adoption.

            The reason our energy overlords like to dangle hydrogen as a replacement is that it would look like the current system, you would have those extracting and processing the hydrogen, those shipping and storing and those selling it.  Getting rid of the platinum is a huge first step, but the energy industry is going to try to slow walk the process, making sure we don't have a hydrogen-based system before we have extracted as much out of out oil-based system as possible and they are going to try to put themselves into the same positions they held in the old energy economy in the new one.

            The problem with hydrogen is that even with the leaps in technology, every ten years it is still ten years away.  While these leaps advance the goal, they still don't seem to do it fast enough.  I think instead of trying to wedge new technologies into our lifestyle, in may be easier to change our lifestyles to meet the new demands.

          •  Back in the late 70's, I first heard... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jamess, Matt Z

            ...about using hydrogen as an energy source. A lot of people touted it as a replacement for natural gas. It's not, as it has a much lower caloric value, and will react with metal piping, leaking where natural gas wouldn't. You need special piping and tanks for hydrogen, and if you use it in fuel cells, you can't add odorants and colorants to make leaks apparent, as they will poison the catalyst. Otherwise, hydrogen fires are almost colorless, and leaks will definitely be odorless.

            Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

            by JeffW on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:08:08 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Several problems with Hydrogen (0+ / 0-)

          As I see it:

          1) Hydrogen suitable for distribution as a fuel storage has to be produced. That takes energy. Might be able to do it greenly e.g. solar/electrolysis but large scale producers may use dirtier methods.

          2) Hydrogen is "unstable" and requires extraordinary safety measures.  I would conclude that the technology to store it safely in a moving vehicle would not be available for many decades.

          3) There is no existing infrastructure for distributing hydrogen compared to other fuel choices.  (e.g. electricity, Natural gas)
          Building an infrastructure of comparable mass will take decades and cost trillions.

          One of the schemes I've seen for creating Hydrogen is to utilize Natural Gas and convert it onsite at a filling station. I conclude it would make more sense to use CNG in a vehicle and a fuel cell to catalyze it.  

          I think electricity and efficiency are our future.  Most daily car trips are less than 40 miles, well within the range of battery technology today.  Wind and solar are actually radically pushing down the cost of electricity.  New prospective technologies on the horizon include Traveling Wave Reactors which promise to convert our huge stockpiles of depleted uranium into clean long running supplies of power on industrial power plant scale.  

          --Mr. President, you have to earn my vote every day. Not take it for granted. --

          by chipoliwog on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 05:15:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Carbonized Chicken Feathers (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, Samer, PhilW
    •  It DOES seem dangerous though (6+ / 0-)

      to carry around a bunch of Hydrogen in a car.  People crash those things all the time.  And sometimes gas tanks explode.

      Can anyone explain how much more combustible Hydrogen is, compared to gasoline?  I don't know the numbers.  But one of you probably those floating around in your head...

      •  that is a good question (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gustogirl, jamess, JeffW, Matt Z

        If one of us is denied civil rights, all of us are denied civil rights.

        by SeaTurtle on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:15:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  That depends on design. (6+ / 0-)

        Vaporized gasoline is just as combustible as hydrogen - the main issue with hydrogen is you cannot allow it to get to a critical mixture level  (4% at 20 degrees C and sea level pressure) and access to a source of combustion (a spark).  Most pressurized hydrogen tanks are made of non-sparking materials (aluminum and carbon fiber).  Cars can be also designed to vent their hydrogen rapidly if their fuel tanks are damaged. Fortunately, hydrogen wants to vent and rise very rapidly.  A heat-resistant firewall would protect passengers in a crash.

        The sad ironies are that the Graf Zeppelin (the Hindenburg's ancestor) had a long and safe career filled primarily with hydrogen.  In fact, some of the Graf's ballonets (internal gas bags) were filled with a mixture of combustible hydrocarbon gases for engine fuel!

        If the Nazis had never rose to power in Germany, the Hindenburg herself would have been filled with helium as Hugo Eckener, the head of the Zeppelin company, desperately wanted to.  Unfortunately, the Hindenburg had to be rapidly readapted to hydrogen gas use, with tragic results as her outer skin was badly designed for hydrogen gas. One spark ignited a leaky gas cell when she was grounded in New Jersey.  The Germans were very aware of the dangers of huge amounts of hydrogen as a hazardous gas, but they had no access to large quantities of helium, which was at the time available only through the United States.  We probably would never have had such a bad rep for hydrogen if the Nazis hadn't caused the Americans to embargo helium. (The Americans could smoke in the hulls in their Zeppelins, including the German-designed Los Angeles.)

        `Ideology offers human beings the illusion of dignity and morals while making it easier to part with them.'- Vaclav Havel

        by Black Brant on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:45:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  If a fuel tank ruptures , (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sneelock, jamess, WisVoter, Matt Z

        the fuel leaks out and maybe burns .
        With gasoline the fuel pools under the leak and if it catches fire it burns slowly from below .
        With hydrogen , propane , natural gas , it leaks out quickly and up wards , the fuel can move up and away . If it catches fire it can burn quickly from above .

        They burn in different ways , some say that a fuel tank rupture with a hydrogen , propane , natural gas tank is "safer" than a gasoline one . The H,P,NG does not stay at the site of the rupture the way gasoline does .   H,P,NG does not cling onto , soak into clothing , hair etc .

        "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

        by indycam on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:29:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That makes sense (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jamess, Matt Z

          So, the fuel doesn't sit around waiting for a spark, like gasoline does.  The source of fuel for a fire is shorter lived and more localized.

          But if a fire does start.  What happens then?  Does the fuel just burn off as it escapes?  Or does the tank eventually bust open, and there is a huge explosion?  How big?

          •  It depends on the rupture (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sneelock, Matt Z, jamess

            if its a rupture where all the contents are lost at once , a "cloud" goes up with or without burning . If that sort of leak ignites it goes off like one big explosion . If on the other hand a fitting is knocked loose and the fuel is leaking out via a small leak and it catches fire , it can be a long flame .


            "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

            by indycam on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:29:49 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Not So Much The Leak, The Accumulation (0+ / 0-)

          (Don't misunderstand my comments as a belittlement of the danger of hydrogen.)

          Allowing it to leak and accumulate causes a lethally explosive situation, see the Rei post below.  Proper ventilation is an absolute necessity as is avoiding a full pressure loss upon a tank rupture.  If, hypothetically, a leak could be burned off rather than allowed to accumulate and explode, the explosion potential would be reduced.  Hydrogen may be an order of magnitude or more explosive than gasoline (flame propagation rate and flammability limits) but the thermal content is much less, meaning a pound of gasoline is capable of producing much more raw heat than a pound of hydrogen, therefore making hydrogen a poor substitute for gasoline as a combustion fuel.

      •  It is more dangerous. Much. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sneelock, JeffW, jamess, JohnnySacks

        Let's listen to NASA, one of the biggest users of hydrogen in this country.  I wrote this up a while ago, but to repost:


            * "Hydrogen-air mixtures can ignite with very low energy input, 1/10th that required igniting a gasoline-air mixture. For reference, an invisible spark or a static spark from a person can cause ignition."
            * " Although the autoignition temperature of hydrogen is higher than those for most hydrocarbons, hydrogen's lower ignition energy makes the ignition of hydrogen-air mixtures more likely. The minimum energy for spark ignition at atmospheric pressure is about 0.02 millijoules"


            * "The flammability limits based on the volume percent of hydrogen in air (at 14.7 psia) are 4.0 and 75.0. The flammability limits based on the volume percent of hydrogen in oxygen (at 14.7 psia) are 4.0 and 94.0."
            * "Condensed and solidified atmospheric air, or trace air accumulated in manufacturing, contaminates liquid hydrogen, thereby forming an unstable mixture. This mixture may detonate with effects similar to those produced by trinitrotoluene (TNT) and other highly explosive materials"
            * "Explosive limits of hydrogen in air are 18.3 to 59 percent by volume"
            * "Flames in and around a collection of pipes or structures can create turbulence that causes a deflagration to evolve into a detonation, even in the absence of gross confinement."
            * Deflagration limit of gasoline in air: 1.4-7.6%


            * "Leakage, diffusion, and buoyancy: These hazards result from the difficulty in containing hydrogen. Hydrogen diffuses extensively, and when a liquid spill or large gas release occurs, a combustible mixture can form over a considerable distance from the spill location."
            * "Hydrogen, in both the liquid and gaseous states, is particularly subject to leakage because of its low viscosity and low molecular weight (leakage is inversely proportional to viscosity). Because of its low viscosity alone, the leakage rate of liquid hydrogen is roughly 100 times that of JP-4 fuel, 50 times that of water, and 10 times that of liquid nitrogen."

        Hydrogen also has a tendency to collect under roofs and overhangs from even minor leaks. Combined with its tendencies to leak and even to enter other pipes and then follow them to where they let out, plus its ability to ignite from very weak ignition sources, building codes for anywhere that hydrogen will be stored tend to be very stringent (see 6.5.4: Buildings). This would apply to garages (both home garages and public garages), parking shelters, eaves, overhangs, etc -- anywhere that more than 1kg of hydrogen is stored (even a small H2 car like the Clarity uses 4.1kg).

        The only comparison in which gasoline could possibly win in terms of safety is that gasoline can pool given a (much more difficult to achieve) leak, while hydrogen, if somehow not ignited by whatever caused the leak, and if not pooling in the engine or even the cab of the vehicle or in any outside structures, will escape. If there were then a delayed ignition source, hydrogen could win in this (rather improbable) safety comparison.

        One final safety note: proponents of hydrogen sometimes still cite the bizarre theory proposed by Addison Bain that hydrogen wasn't the cause of the Hindenburg disaster. This theory holds no water.

        While gasoline leaks are indeed somewhat poisonous and can contaminate water if allowed to leak into it, any hydrogen leak is essentially guaranteed to do significant ozone damage. As covered above, hydrogen leaks two orders of magnitude more readily than gasoline.

      •  H2 MUCH More Explosive (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ... but also much less thermal energy per pound than gasoline.  The trick is to burn it off rapidly rather than let it accumulate in volume before exploding.  Hydrogen is certainly dangerous but analogies to the Hindenburg should be treated as extremist irrelevance.

        Most likely, the hydrogen will be dissolved in another material or stored in a porous substrate, not just kept in a giant gas bag like the Hindenberg...

        Oh shit, can't help it...
        What's the difference between the Hindenburg and Rush Limbaugh?
        One is a giant flaming Nazi gas bag, the other is a dirigible.

    •  Yes , someone does , (5+ / 0-)

      Liquid hydrogen was the fuel of choice because it "has three times the density of other fuels," Gitlin said. That means a pound of hydrogen will fly the plane three times as long as a pound of ordinary aviation fuel.

      But until now, at least, storing liquid hydrogen has been a major obstacle. It has required heavy, insulated tanks that would seem incompatible with a lightweight, long-endurance UAV.

      AeroVironment, Monrovia, Calif., says it has solved that problem, but won't reveal much about it.

      "We've developed a pretty innovative way to address the heavy tank problem. Strength [of the tank] is not so much the issue," Gitlin said and would say no more.

      but they are not talking  , afaik .

      Global Observer

      Global Observer, AeroVironment’s Extreme Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System, Achieves Historic First

      "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

      by indycam on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:58:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I Knew it (0+ / 0-)

        Thanks indycam.  

        "Drop the name-calling"  -- that's good advice.  It's like MB is having to scold his unruly children.  He's a good Dad

      •  I don't know if hydrogen is "so" dense. (0+ / 0-)

        Seeing that there is more hydrogen in a gallon of oil than there is in a gallon of hydrogen, go figure. It's all in the way hydrogen clings to carbon molecules- more compact... maybe by weight, but not by volume.


        by FakeNews on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:48:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  More BTUs per pound (0+ / 0-)

          Diesel 18,111 BTU/lb
          Liquid hydrogen 51,500 BTU/lb

          "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

          by indycam on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:24:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks. 3:1 ration for weight (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Volume-wise though - how much larger would a jet's tanks have to be to hold the same amount of BTU's? I think I had heard the same ratio 3:1 for hydrogen vs. diesel. Too bad there are not naturally occurring deposits of hydrogen - it all has to be manufactured. The other bad news is that hydrogen atom is so small that even the best holding tanks would loose 1 - 2 % per day through any material surrounding it.

            OK, later. FN


            by FakeNews on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 04:33:40 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The airplane above is not a jet . (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              The other bad news is that hydrogen atom is so small that even the best holding tanks would loose 1 - 2 % per day through any material surrounding it.
              The bad news is that its hard to keep it from boiling off .

              "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

              by indycam on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 03:52:12 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, I was thinking of the "Who killed the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    electric car" film when reading this.

  •  Burning H2 directly works best. (6+ / 0-)

    Less loss of energy.  BMW has some demonstration cars that burn the hydrogen directly same as they would burn gasoline. There's not even a significant amount of change to the engine.

    There is much less loss of energy than the fuel cell to electricity to battery to electric motor route of H2 in fuel cells and the life cycle manufacturing process has a much smaller carbon footprint than fuel cells.

    The BMW Hydrogen 7 is the world's first production-ready hydrogen vehicle. It's already proving itself in the real world too: we're putting 100 of them to the test as loan cars for leading figures from the worlds of culture, politics, business and the media,
    •  so (4+ / 0-)

      what's the catch?

      safety?  infrastructure? wear and tear on the engine?

      I'm assuming H2 ==> has No CO2 outputs.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:07:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So direct burn H2 more efficient, better. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jamess, Gustogirl, Matt Z, JohnnySacks
        "what's the catch? safety?  infrastructure? wear and tear on the engine?"

        Physics does not provide a free lunch. What are the "catches" to fuel cells powered by H2?

        One of the many advantages to direct burn of H2 in internal combustion engines is that it requires no change in current automobile manufacturing or engineering. It could be deployed in mass production immediately.

        The infrastructure build out would be adding hydrogen filling stations to current gasoline filling stations, a necessity for any hydrogen powered vehicle whether directly burning hydrogen or indirectly and less efficiently burning hydrogen such as in the fuel cells.

        Fuel cells would be more appropriate in homes generating electricity.

        •  This is an important point: (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jamess, Matt Z
          Fuel cells would be more appropriate in homes generating electricity.

          Admittedly, my interest in this stems from owning a remote, off-the-grid cabin; but eliminating the grid altogether strikes me as an extremely desirable goal.

          If each house could produce its own electricity directly, the terrible waste of "line loss" (the loss of electricity in transport on the grid) could be eliminated.  Even better - the enormous vulnerability of the grid to terrorist attack or natural disaster  damage would be eliminated.

          Remember when a problem with the grid blacked out everyone on the eastern seaboard and west into the great lakes states a few years back?

          At least in a natural disaster area, if each home were self-sufficient for power, there would be pockets of working energy sources that could help residents whose energy sources were damaged while repairs were being made.  As it stands now, huge swaths are rendered helpless in freezing cold when the grid goes out.  Sometimes it takes weeks to restore power.

          Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth - Abraham Lincoln

          by Gustogirl on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:31:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Thermal Energy Per Pound (0+ / 0-)

          Gasoline is about 18,500 BTU/lb vs. hydrogen at 51,500 BTU/lb

          (Damn, it's been a long time since I've been in engineering)  The problem is that if a gallon of gas provides 114,000 BTU and 1 cubic foot of hydrogen at atmospheric pressure (14.7psi) produces 319 BTU then 8 gallons of hydrogen at 5,000 psi would be equivalent to a gallon of gas.  I don't know how willing I am to drive around with 8 gallons of hydrogen at 5,000 psi.

      •  Right now I think the catch is *getting* H2 (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jamess, OtherDoug

        Unlike O2, which naturally exists in the atmosphere, H2 is not; it's so light that it just escapes into space.

        We don't want our country back, we want our country FORWARD. --Eclectablog

        by Samer on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:34:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  second law, Carnot (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OtherDoug, JeffW

      Fuel cells are not heat engines and therefore can in principle achieve very high efficiencies. Electric motors are already very high efficiency. Only some of the free energy goes to and from the battery, which can be done at fairly high efficiency. Direct combustion engines are heat engines and have severe intrinsic Carnot efficiency limits. So there's very good reason to do fuel cell R&D.
      The big hang-up is hydrogen storage. The current energy density limits are terrible. But that hang-up is there for H2-burners also.

      Michael Weissman UID 197542

      by docmidwest on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 12:18:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not really (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OtherDoug, Recall, JeffW

        Fuel cells are Carnot-limited.

        Remember that Carnot's theorum is not a fundamental law, but a direct consequence of the fundamental laws; if it's violated, perpetual motion becomes possible.  This applies to fuel cells as well.  Part of some of the claims that fuel cells are not carnot-limited requires not counting some of the losses, which are then instead attributed to the electrolysis side.

        •  nope (0+ / 0-)

          All devices are limited by the first and second laws. However, Carnot only applies (as is obvious from its simple derivation) to engines powered by the transfer of heat from a cold to hot reservoir. Electric motors, etc. have no Carnot limit. Of course, if you redefine the meaning of Carnot efficiency to simply being "obeying thermodynamics" then all devices are Carnot limited.  

          Michael Weissman UID 197542

          by docmidwest on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:25:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  whoops- I meant hot to cold! duh nt (0+ / 0-)

            Michael Weissman UID 197542

            by docmidwest on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:26:06 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  nope (0+ / 0-)

            When you have a peer-reviewed paper saying you're wrong, unless you can present a counter peer-reviewed paper, you're wrong.  Nothing against you personally.

            •  peer-reviewed paper (0+ / 0-)

              As I read that abstract (the journal was so obscure that we don't seem to have it in our major university library, so I wasn't going to pay for the full article) it was dealing with a purely semantic issue. The available work is given by the excess of G (Gibbs free energy) over the equilibrium value. That already takes into account the entropic second-law limits, via the -TS term in G. (There is no relevant T_H to even use in a Carnot expression, 1-T_C/T_H.) Peer reviewed papers are nice but we don't usually turn to them for the standard material we teach in sophomore courses.

              It ain't peer-reviewed, but (with a few awkward starts) the Wikipedia summary of the efficiency of fuel cells actually ends up giving a good description of the thermodynamics and some of the practical issues. It at least avoids getting hung-up on verbalisms.

              Michael Weissman UID 197542

              by docmidwest on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 01:12:34 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  teachable thermodynamic moment (0+ / 0-)

              Maybe this will help. In this context (fixed p, T environment) the available work is given by the excess of G, the Gibbs free energy, above its equilibrium value. By the second law, all spontaneous changes are in the direction of lowering G. Combustion is such a change. Therefore it lowers G. In a burning system that process, in which G is lost, occurs before anything starts to extract work. Therefore it causes a loss of available  work. That's why combustion-based heat engines have intrinsic inefficiencies, in addition to practical problems.

              Michael Weissman UID 197542

              by docmidwest on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 02:26:12 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  No, it is not less loss of energy. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OtherDoug, Recall, Odysseus, JohnnySacks

      But even PEMFCs are much more inefficient than EVs.  Here's a nice chart:

      Link.  That's from this research paper.  Acronyms: ICE = Internal Combustion Engine, PEMFC = Proton-Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell, NG = Natural Gas, CNG = Compressed Natural Gas.

      I'm really frustrated by how many people here read some hype piece and just buy into whatever it says without knowing anything about the topic.  This isn't so much a commentary on your post as on all of the "hooray!  the future is here!" posts scattered throughout this thread.

      •  the people (0+ / 0-)

        need hope in the future.

        Peak Oil is coming.

        We HAVE to do Something.

        Want would you have us do Rei?

        Maybe invest in Clean Coal,
        or Safe Nuclear?

        Maybe wait for the Perfect Tech, and the Perfect Implementation.

        the people need hope in the future,
        that it will be better,

        that it can work out.

        Got Time?
        Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

        by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:42:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Electric. (0+ / 0-)

          It's a much more near-term approach than hydrogen, and far more efficient (read: scalable).  Beyond that, for any vehicle (gasoline included):

           * Vehicle mass reduction, esp. a switch to composites (which will also increase vehicle lifespans and safety)
           * Vehicle streamlining (we need to stop letting unaerodynamic style trends dominate vehicle design)
           * Increasing use of hybrid technology
           * More widespread adoption of LRR tires
           * The continued incremental progress in ICE efficiency

          There's no reason why two-seater hybrids shouldn't get 100+ MPG, and four-seaters 70+.  If you let streamlining and composites/weight reduction dominate your design process, you absolutely can make cars with those numbers that are still as safe or safer than ever, and plenty good performing to boot (electric motors have tons of power).

      •  I'm Confused (0+ / 0-)

        I just realized I may be one of the 'hooray' people without knowing one of the details.

        Let's face it, if the best we can do is produce hydrogen from hydrocarbon sources, then this diary's entire premise is 100% bullshit.  I'm making a blanket assumption that the hydrogen is produced from solar.  

        If we ignore the cost to produce the hydrogen and focus on fuel cell vs. internal combustion...  

        Is more or less useable horsepower produced from the same amount of hydrogen from a fuel cell or from internal combustion?  

  •  I'll never forget (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Otteray Scribe, Matt Z, ebohlman

    when my in-law with the big corporate investment job told me they didn't like alternative energy because it was gov't subsidized.  I guess what he really meant was it wasn't realiably subsidized like oil.

    I just hope these hydrogen technologies come on line soon, and taxpayer investors get some payback, like reasonable prices.  Unfortunately the commercialization process will introduce private corp's and CEO's into the mix, with their insatiable greed and profit lust.    

  •  I would rec this diary 100 times if I could (6+ / 0-)

    I was just considering starting a business retrofitting hybrids as plug-ins, but this is a much better place to go.  I was so not paying any attention to hydrogen (mostly due to that expensive platinum problem) that I missed this completely.

    The applications are endless.  I like the solar and water feeding the fuel cell that could easily power your entire existence at current levels with no power company, no oil company, no BS.  You will, however, have a fuel cell payment in all likelihood, because even without the platinum, it's still going to cost a bit until things get into mass production.

    Thank you so much for this diary!

    Our economy is so completely f***ed, the rich are running out of things to steal. --Matt Taibbi

    by Man from Wasichustan on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:13:46 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for this incredible diary. nt (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Otteray Scribe, TofG, SeaTurtle, Matt Z

    Take the pledge on Social Security

    by 2laneIA on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:15:54 AM PDT

  •  Oil company armagedon? (8+ / 0-)

    I usually try to keep up with the ongoing fuel cell technology but I must admit I was caught by surprise by this recent announcement.

    Honda has been ahead of the game for some years with their beta testing of the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle. The Clarity is being leased in California to a select few and tested for future production-we hope. Honda has also been actively developing the HomeGen fuel station which is essentially your own hydrogen power generating station at your home which would provide your home with it's electrical needs and your fuel cell vehicles with the hydrogen they need.

    This recent breakthrough by Los Alamos is indeed striking because of the cost curve. This will indeed drop the cost dramatically for the fuel cell (both commercial and residential) the ramifications of which can not be overstated enough.  The technology for vehicle conversion from fossil fuels to hydrogen is relatively simple and mass production of vehicles would only take  political will to proceed.

    Only the oil companies and those making billions trading oil will thwart every effort to move this technology to the forefront. We must be vigilante and email and call our elected representatives en masse to ensure we have the voice over the millions the oil lobbyists will spend to slow this technology down to continue to rape billions out of the American citizens.

  •  Spectacular, Except It's Still Crazy for Buses (8+ / 0-)

    Electric buses run on wired electricity and save the energy cost of lugging the fuel and generator around with them, plus the costs of generating or refining the fuels and the energy losses of converting them back into electricity.

    We used to have them all over the developed world; they still run in places. Battery or fuel cell buses are wasteful.
    Image Hosted by

    But for cars and many other applications --hey, how would they work for storage of renewable energy such as solar, for nighttime release?? -- abso-tively, bring on the fuel cells.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:21:28 AM PDT

  •  It is important to keep in mind (8+ / 0-)

    That this is research.  The initial breakthrough in something like this is like finding the trail at the base of a pretty formidable mountain.  We really don't want to create the impression that having done something like this, some sort of utopian solution is right around the corner.  On the other hand, it is very significant to have identified a path that looks like it could get you up that mountain.

    The question is do we, as a nation have the will and the resources to climb that mountain?

    I believe that the species probably does.  I'm not quite as certain about this country.

  •  Thanks BTW. Great Diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, SeaTurtle, Matt Z
  •  This isn't a big deal (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, SeaTurtle, Gustogirl, fayea, Matt Z

    This is a big FUCKING deal!

  •  Dems should campaign on this (5+ / 0-)

    GOP = propping up oil millionaires and billionaires
    Dem= propping up pollution-free cars

  •  oh joy! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Crider, Matt Z

    Soccer Moms and grannies and distracted teens and stressed Dads all pumping hydrogen gas and Happy Motoring can go on for all, forever.

    Eliminate some of that stuff in the pretty picture and try [solar panel]---->[battery]---->[car] without trying to confine the tiniest molecule around under high pressure in a tank made by the lowest bidder sitting under your ass.

    don't always believe what you think...

    by claude on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:46:06 AM PDT

  •  I still think we will need to reduce car usage (8+ / 0-)

    Cars take huge amounts of energy to build, asphalt covers too much land and people get fat and disease ridden because of our car culture.

    It's not sustainable and its not healthy. We need systemic change that reduces the need for cars.

    And thanks for the uplifting diary. Well done.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:54:39 AM PDT

    •  unfortunately, funding for mass transit and (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, JeffW, Caelian, Matt Z

      and infrastructure are being bitterly opposed by RepubliCorps.  Christie is just one example.

      can't reduce car usage without building up trains and addressing urban sprawl.

      sustainable community models would help, I think?

      always appreciate your insights, FOW

      If one of us is denied civil rights, all of us are denied civil rights.

      by SeaTurtle on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:21:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yet I think the best piece of information (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I got out of this diary and the comments is that it sounds like existing cars could be converted to hydrogen fuel cell technology.

      SOOO much better than having to junk a gazillion humongous hunks of metal in order to replace them with another gazillion humongous hunks of metal!

      Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth - Abraham Lincoln

      by Gustogirl on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:36:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Already being done (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, Caelian, Matt Z, OtherDoug

      There's nothing like a hike in gasoline prices to reduce driving rates. The price of gas has been steadily climbing for a decade now, and will continue to do so as the demand from fast-developing nations explodes and the supply shrinks.

      Don't worry, the conservatives will be screaming about liberal conspiracies to stifle innovation in transportation soon enough.

  •  Good diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A big issue (besides the fuel cell) still remains, in my mind, how to store the hydrogen efficiently and reversibly.

  •  Excellent and informative, jamess. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thank you.

    ...would you be willing/able to crosspost it to ePluribus Media?

    We'd love to see it there, too.

    (You used to post over there - last time was in 2009...we've missed you.)

    •  thanks GreyHawk (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreyHawk, Odysseus

      I tried to post my piece,
      the last time you asked.

      I spent about an hour getting going again,

      Only be blocked by the "spam filter" when posting it.

      -- I forwarded the message to the admins.

      checked back a few hours latter, no message, same problem.

      Take me off the spam list,
      and I might try again.

      Life is too short, sometimes, you know.
      And I DO have a Day Job.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:55:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ah - wasn't aware you'd hit that issue. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jamess, Odysseus

        I went in and took you off the mollom and spam filters when I posted the message above, so it obviously hadn't been done previously.

        My apologies for the time-suck. :/

        It should work now w/o a hitch, but if you give it a whirl and encounter even a slight twitch, email me (greyhawk at realmquests dot com is the fastest) and I'll address it.

        Thanks for your willingness to try again - much appreciated!

  •  Two questions (8+ / 0-)

    Apologies if these have been asked in the comments; I didn't see anything in the titles suggesting so, but I didn't read the comment content. Anyway, here are my two questions:

    You mentioned that platinum comprises 25% of the total cost of fuel cells. The breakthroughs you describe eliminate that cost. Doesn't that mean that the total cost of the fuel cell will be reduced by 25% due to these breakthroughs? While that's a sizable reduction, it seems that it would reduce the price you stated for an electric car ($50K) to at best $37K. That's still nowhere near competitive with gasoline cars. Of course, if the fuel is considerably cheaper than gas, then hydrogen-fueled cars would be cost-competitive, but you don't address that issue.

    My second question concerns production of hydrogen. As you note, current methods rely on conversion of natural gas. If we're going to use natural gas as the base fuel for hydrogen, why not just use it directly? We already have buses that burn natural gas -- why not extend the technology to passenger vehicles? What's the advantage of inserting a hydrogen middleman into the system? I imagine that perhaps we get better thermodynamic efficiency: burning natural gas gets us less than 40% efficiency, while using it to make hydrogen might be more efficient. Do you know the energy efficiency of the conversion process?

    Of course, we can also electrolyze water to get hydrogen, but that requires electricity. Right now we get most of our electricity by burning coal, so for us at this time, hydrogen cars would be, in effect, burning coal rather than gasoline. There is, of course, the nuclear alternative, but given the current political climate, that appears to be out of the question.

    •  It depends.. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Erasmussimo, OtherDoug, EricS, Odysseus

      Using natural gas directly might be as good, depending on what is done with the carbon during the conversion process in question. If it ends up as CO2, then burning it might be just as well. If not, then not. Then there is the other question, how is the methane stored in the vehicle. If cryogenically, then you also have the continuous emission of methane, which is 25 times as effective a greenhouse gas as CO2 is.

      They had some LNG powered buses at the Idaho National Lab when I worked there some years ago. At a transportation open house at which those buses were one of the "stars", I asked the bus operations manager about the LNG storage system and about how much gaseous methane it emitted, and he said it didn't emit any, except for when the relief valve opened from time to time, lol. As a profligate user of LN2 in my nuclear measurements lab, I just had to chuckle a little at that.

      The buses would run dry in about 2 weeks, actually, if allowed to sit that long with initially full tanks, if I remember correctly.

      Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

      by billmosby on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:53:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow! Didn't think about that! (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        billmosby, JeffW, OtherDoug

        The methane emissions from tanks had slipped right by me. Yes, that's a serious problem. With hundreds of cars storing tons of LNG in tiny tanks, sitting in the sun in parking lots all day long, it's conceivable that we could get a natural gas explosion.

        Sounds like an excellent reason NOT to burn LNG in cars.

        •  I think it's mainly applied to (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW, Erasmussimo, OtherDoug, Odysseus

          larger vehicles, like buses or trucks, but I don't really know. You'd want to vent your garage pretty well, eh?

          Most of the smaller vehicles I am aware of use CNG, compressed natural gas. No leaks necessary there. Although methane leakage does occur to some extent in any handling system I suppose, just a question of how much.

          Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

          by billmosby on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:09:07 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Another point... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            billmosby, OtherDoug

            ...there are fuel cells that will run on natural gas, emitting carbon dioxide as well as water vapor. They require catalysts, too, but may be able to take advantage of these discoveries. The big problem is that they have higher operating temperatures than hydrogen fuel cells, so you have to provide for insulation and cooling.

            Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

            by JeffW on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:21:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  CNG versus CH (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            billmosby, OtherDoug

            Obviously, the constraint on CNG is the amount of energy you can store per unit volume. I wouldn't expect it to be much, although perhaps high strength materials would permit high enough pressures to store an adequate amount of CNG.

            But the same considerations apply to hydrogen -- and the volumetric energy content of H2 gas is less than that of CH4 gas. On the other hand, we should get higher energy efficiency out of a fuel cell. Hmm....

      •  Boston's buses run on natural gas (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sparhawk, Crider, OtherDoug, Recall, JeffW, Odysseus

        The MBTA bus fleet is powered by gas.  It's cleaner than liquid fuels and probably a lot cheaper.  And Honda makes a gas-powered version of the Civic.  It doesn't leak out in normal use.  Metal tanks hold it in tightly.

        Hydrogen is much, much harder to contain in fuel tanks.  It's the smallest atom, and squeeze through materials that are impervious to everything else.  Storage probably requires using hydrated metal, but that's not fully developed either.

        Hydrogen is simply not a fuel, since it has to be manufactured using a of energy or from fuel.  It's not even a good medium for storing energy to be released via fuel cells.  Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research was a Bush feint. It gave the Village press something to look at and say, lookie, we're working on alternatives to oil.  But they and their oil-company sponsors knew it could never succeed.  We should not waste any more time on it.  The platinum catalyst issue is trivial; it's like saying you've solve the homelessness problem by coming up with a water closet that's $50 cheaper than the current $200 models.

        •  Yes (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          squarewheel, OtherDoug, Recall, JeffW, Odysseus

          And at the end of the day, hydrogen fuel cells are just another kind of battery with different trade-offs. As far as I can tell, it simply isn't far superior to existing electric-car technology and the storage problem is massive.

          People forget that it's one thing to demonstrate something in a lab and quite another to commercialize it to sell millions of it. These processes take years and sometimes don't work at all because the thing you are trying to commercialize ends up being more expensive than it is worth at the end of the day.

          Commercialization is a huge problem.

          (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
          Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

          by Sparhawk on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:29:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, a battery (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            OtherDoug, Odysseus

            It's not even a metaphor.  Batteries work by changing chemistry which releases energy.  Fuel cells do pretty much the same thing but inject the ions directly, rather than storing them in changing chemistry.  Batteries release hydrogen when overcharged.

            Fuel cells might make some sense when combined with the reformer, which breaks down a fuel into hydrogen and whatever else.  So there are natural gas fuel cells, which are a nice alternative to moving-part generators.  Reformers, though, tend to require catalysts and very high operating temperatures, limiting their applicability.

          •  my money is on battery technology improving (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            JeffW, chipoliwog

            to the point that fuel cells are unnecessary, since hydrogen production and storage are such big problems.

            big badda boom : GRB 080913

            by squarewheel on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 05:26:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  that 25% was the quote (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      from one of the articles -- I didn't "say it".

      I would imagine the costs will be fluid for a while.

      the Autopia article, quoting the Lab, said:

      “two to three orders of magnitude cheaper,”

      that generally means 100-1000 times cheaper

      (10^2  to 10^3)  as I read it.  (someone correct me, here.)

      Don't know the answer to your 2nd question,
      I didn't research Natural Gas, yesterday.

      But I suspect it would work, and it a cleaner alternative to Gasoline,
      though certainly not nearly as clean as Hydrogen -- which has No HydroCarbon chains to burn, like NG.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:10:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So what's the final price? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sparhawk, jamess, Odysseus

        OK, let's assume then that the cost of platinum is completely eliminated from the overall cost of the fuel cell. The source you quoted estimated that the platinum comprises 25% of the total cost of the fuel cell. Do we have any better numbers? If not, I think that the final price of the hydrogen-fueled car would still be well above $35K. Ugh.

        Bill Mosby presented an excellent reason why we don't want to use LNG in cars.

    •  the article says (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Crider, jamess, Recall

      reduction in costs by several orders of magnitude.  that means at least 100th the cost for the fuel cell

      not sure how they get that

      the fuel will not be considerably cheaper than gas in fact it will be much more expensive, fueling infrastructure for hydrogen is prohibitive right now.

      we are using natural gas for transportation fuel.  the infrastructure is there.  

      in my opinion, the fuel cell tech boom was a pr move by the oil industry to put off the conversion of the u.s. infrastructure to alternative fuels for as long as possible.  there are much better alternatives that are more reasonably priced.

      they got away with it because it has a similar energy density (can go as far and fast as gasoline) so it looked like a reasonable alternative to lawyers with no technical background.

      currently, plug-in electric hybrids (with gas engines) are the most reasonable alternative. in my opinion.

  •  can it be reversed? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    electricity = hydrogen and oxygen?
    either from braking or possibly more important
    charging to save otherwise wasted wind/solar energy

    •  not sure about the "reversing" (0+ / 0-)

      but fuel cells are being touted

      as long-term "storage media" for Solar and Wind

      -- which really intrigued me.

      Or more specifically the Electricity from Solar and Wind,
      could be used to create the Hydrogen,
      which would power the Fuel Cell Batteries.

      I even seen some designs, for Home systems.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:58:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hybrid (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, K S LaVida, jamess, Recall

      It's more efficient to convert the kinetic energy of the car into electricity and store it in a battery. That's what hybrids do. Hydrogen-fueled cars would certainly include this feature, because they already have the electric motor/generator. Besides, they'd probably want to have a battery for load-leveling on the fuel cell.

      •  Fuel cells = good energy, poor power (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        To elaborate on this comment, fuel cells can store a great deal of energy but they can't deliver or absorb a lot of energy in a short amount of time, i.e., they have limited power.  So it's best to supplement with batteries or supercapacitors which have excellent power capability but inferior energy density.

        Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
        Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

        by Caelian on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:35:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  thanks so much for another informative diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And especially for not forgetting about the hydrogen supply question. One other thing, since I'm a bit too pressed for time to look into it, what kind of range can you expect from a hydrogen car given present storage options, and what work is being done on that aspect of the technology? Or did I scan the diary a little too fast...

    Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

    by billmosby on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:55:21 AM PDT

  •  This tech is not green not yet (10+ / 0-)

    I am 100% certain the diarist knows that so long as the hydrogen for fuel cells derives from cracking natural gas, that this technology does not solve the CO2 emission problem.  it might lessen out imports of overseas oil but even that is not certain.

    The reason for this, is that it takes considerable energy to extract pure hydrogen and oxygen from source materials - such as water.  No process is 100% efficient.The energy needed to manufacture enough fuel energy to operate 100,000 autos would be enough to power 400,000 autos if that energy could be used directly in the autos.  (The numbers are made-up just to illustrate the idea.)

    If we could use solar power to crack oxygen and hydrogen from seawater, then hydrogen cells would more than likely be a revolutionary technology.  But if we are producing those elements from cracking natural gas or deep-sea hydrates, or if fossil fuels are burned in order to produce these elements, then this tech will go by the wayside.

    Stop. Stand up. Make a sign. Walk around in public. Be polite and orderly and the rest takes care of itself. Want to shake up the Plutocrats? Demonstrate your attention to politics.

    by Quicklund on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:07:34 AM PDT

    •  I did post that section (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      swaminathan, hotheadCA, Quicklund, Matt Z

      About the NREL Lab, finding new clean ways to produce H2.

      Wind and Solar to power Electrolysis was mentioned,
      as a practical option.

      I'm not trying to sell you "magic beans" or "silver bullets"

      -- just doing my best to educate a general audience,

      about complex Environmental Topics, FWIW.

      (Educate myself, too)

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:16:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I understand (0+ / 0-)

        Yes you did post about this. I was just trying to expand on that aspect a bit in layman terms.

        Stop. Stand up. Make a sign. Walk around in public. Be polite and orderly and the rest takes care of itself. Want to shake up the Plutocrats? Demonstrate your attention to politics.

        by Quicklund on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 12:56:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Made-up numbers are wrong (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, Quicklund, Egalitare

      "The energy needed to manufacture enough fuel energy to operate 100,000 autos would be enough to power 400,000 autos if that energy could be used directly in the autos.  (The numbers are made-up just to illustrate the idea.)"

      As I recall, the energy efficiency of converting CH4 to H2 et al. is pretty good if done on an industrial scale. The big difference is that the thermodynamic efficiency of heat engines is very low -- with automobile engines it's around 20% (although large high-efficiency engines in ships have achieved 50% efficiencies). Thus, the net energy efficiency of natural gas is higher when it is used in fuel cells rather than burned in internal combustion engines.

      The problem with using solar cells to hydrolyze water is that they're still too expensive. And you definitely do NOT want to hydrolyze seawater -- all that salt will really screw up your equipment. Fresh water is much better. Distilled water even better.

      •  Heat the water first makes it far easier (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jamess, Quicklund

        to break the chemical bonds. Solar systems could use the sun to both super heat the water vapor and provide the electrical energy to split the H2 from O2. The hardest part and most energy consuming is separating the two gases and compressing the hydrogen.

        Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

        by RMForbes on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:22:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Er... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Assuming that you're talking about natural gas conversion to hydrogen, you're quite right that heating up the water could be done by solar -- but only by solar heating, not solar electricity, and even then it would be a pre-heating process only. As soon as you bring solar PV into the picture, the prices go through the roof. There's reason to hope that the cost of solar PV will go down, but it's definitely not there yet.

          •  I've been working on a system (0+ / 0-)

            that uses the waste heat that would normally flow out the exhaust of a standard ICE to heat additional water vapor plus a small amount of new fuel before the heated gases are reformed in a catalytic reaction chamber just prior to intake. We call this pre-ignition catalytic conversion. Exhaust gases from a modern ICE are over 600 degrees and it does not take much additional external energy to reform all the gases down to smaller more reactive units.

            Water spits into H2 and O2 at 1200 degrees which is why we were taught not to use water on jet fuel fires in the Navy. The water becomes fuel when the temps are high enough. Why can't we apply the same principles to Solar, use solar energy to super heat the water vapor to as close as we can to 1200 degrees and use the electricity produced by the solar panels to complete the separation of H2 from O2 and compress the gases.

            Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

            by RMForbes on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:39:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  It would be astounding were they correct. (0+ / 0-)

        That is why I posted the disclaimer.  The point was illustrated though, I think.

        You are right.  The overall efficiency of one process must be compared to the overall efficiency of another process. This applies to energy usage and greenhouse gas production. That includes the ecological impact of materials extraction.  (Which is why the platinum is such a killer.)  It is not clear at this point which system wins that comparison.

        I am fairly certain that seawater can be distilled.  The reason I typed the word seawater and not freshwater is because fresh water is also a dwindling resource.  If fuel cells require surface fresh water, IMO this too will kill the technology.

        Stop. Stand up. Make a sign. Walk around in public. Be polite and orderly and the rest takes care of itself. Want to shake up the Plutocrats? Demonstrate your attention to politics.

        by Quicklund on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 01:01:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Yes (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Quicklund, Recall, JeffW

      I thought we settled this nonsense after Governor ARNOLD (with his hydrogen-powered Hummer) and George Bush touted the wonder miracle hydrogen economy ten years ago. Natural gas is where we get our hydrogen in any useable quantities, and I understand that they absolutely love fracking in Pennsylvania!

      If we're going to produce extreme amounts of solar/wind to crack water, why not use the electricity straight out instead? What's the fascination with being able to burn things with zero tailpime emissions when the upfront emissions from creating the hydrogen fuel would be just as bad?

  •  This is not a big deal. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Matt Z

    This is a BIG EFFIN' DEAL.

    Thanks for writing this.

  •  Hydrogen storage is a big challenge. (9+ / 0-)

    We need big advancements there, too, for this to work well.  It takes energy to compress it down, and then the tanks are very heavy.

  •  Anyone notice the BP logo on the H2 station? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Matt Z

    In that last picture in the diary.

    we are but temporary visitors on this planet. The microbes own this place <- Me

    by yuriwho on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:32:00 AM PDT

  •  you need a lot of electricity to produce (0+ / 0-)

    the hydrogren, so you'll need more and more power plants.
    and no, you won't get nearly enough from bio mass  

    •  That's not the issue (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yuriwho, Sparhawk, Odysseus

      Seriously you could simply go 300 miles off shore, and run windmills and use electrolysis to make hydrogen (simply running electricity through salt water makes Hydrogen).

      The issue with hydrogen is and continues to be storage. Hydrogen molecules (H2) as a gas are small and very corrosive, It's hard to store hydrogen unless you freeze it, but that takes lots of energy, and requires occasional venting as some of the liquid hydrogen warms up (yeah that's very dangerous).  We don't need more research on hydrogen fuel sells, or production, we need more money spent on better storage. The powers to be know this and direct federal research money to places we don't need it, so they can claim they are looking, but they know the hydro carbon industry isn't threatened.

      -1.63/ -1.49 "Speaking truth to power" (with snark of course)!

      by dopper0189 on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:40:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hmmm... (0+ / 0-)

        Two statements of yours trouble me:

        "(simply running electricity through salt water makes Hydrogen)"

        You end up with serious corrosion problems from all that salt.

        "Hydrogen molecules (H2) as a gas are small and very corrosive"

        I don't think that corrosiveness is the issue; we handle far more corrosive materials all the time. It's true that the small size of hydrogen molecules makes it easier for them to penetrate a number of materials, but I can't imagine that this problem cannot be solved with a thin but tight (on the molecular level) coating. Can you direct me to a source on this problem?

        •  Sorry for the late reply (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          1) Conductive ceramics can handle the salt corrosion, actually a thin layer of industrial diamond coating can do it also, or nickel alloys.

          2) As for the corrosion issue it's more serious than you think. Remember acids are basically a proton donating molecule. Protons donations are basically charged hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen gas is basically an acid waiting to happen if it get's any source of heat, or friction. As for a thick layer on the molecular level for storage, diatomic hydrogen is simply the smallest molecule possible. You would need to serious compress any other molecule in order to make the spaces small enough to prevent diatomic hydrogen from escaping. Or you need to liquefy hydrogen.

          Wikipedia is a great first step for these types of issue.

          The problems theoretically are solvable but the research money hasn't been placed there (yet)

          BTW I'm a chemical engineer and I interned at a department of energy program many, many moons ago.

          -1.63/ -1.49 "Speaking truth to power" (with snark of course)!

          by dopper0189 on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:45:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  you can use Solar and Wind (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      to power Electrolysis.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:01:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not so fast..... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A very positive development, to be sure, however, despite all the pretty pictures there is no side by side, item by item, cost comparison,  which would make your point.

    I believe my platinum lines catalytic converter is around $100, so use of this metal is not prohibitive in and of itself, depending on how much is needed.  

    Then high cost of the cells may be due to other factors.  For instance, the bulk of the cost could be in a high reject rate for manufacturing the cell membrane intself, ie a low yield.  

    Just saying, nirvana may not be here yet.

    Why do Democrats still persecute gays? Is a vote for Democrats a wasted vote? I voted for change. Where is my vote?

    by SGWM on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:45:18 AM PDT

    •  Amount of platinum (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, JeffW

      "I believe my platinum lines catalytic converter is around $100, so use of this metal is not prohibitive in and of itself, depending on how much is needed."

      Your catalytic converter uses very little platinum. A fuel cell uses a lot of platinum.

  •  I am waiting for that (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, WiddieDawg, Matt Z

    'aha' moment when these technologies really do flood into the mainstream and become true game changers. We've known about solar, wind, hydrogen for decades now. is well past time these replace there arcane and deadly poisonous fossil counterparts. I am actually heartened to see $4 and $5 a gallon gasoline. Alternatives will be sought when the real price inflection begins to alter consumer behavior.

    The era of procrastination, half-measures, soothing & baffling expedients, & delays, is coming to a close. We are entering a period of consequences - Churchill

    by PrometheusUnbound on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 09:54:08 AM PDT

  •  The whole platinum thing is a carnard. (0+ / 0-)

    Platinum has been used in catalytic converters on gasoline operated vehicles for pollution abatement for decades.  No telling how much of the stuff is sitting in automobile graveyards.  No reason not to use it in fuel cells, except that then the gas and oil people would have to figure out a new way to make money.

    •  No it is not (8+ / 0-)

      It's kinda like gold: tiny amounts of gold are used in some electronics. That doesn't mean that gold is cheap and readily available; it means that TINY amounts of gold are used.

      In the same manner, the amount of platinum used in catalytic converters is far less than what is needed for fuel cells.

      •  You're right about the amount of platinum (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        required being greater for fuel cell production than for catalytic converters.  But for decades, there was very little recycling of platinum from catalytic converters.  It went to auto graveyards with the car it was attached to.  It is projected to be much easier to recycle platinum from a fuel cell than from a catalytic converter.  Also, it will have to be deternimed whether there is enough platinum in the ground and whether mining companies can ramp up production to meet the need.  I think some studies have been done, and it is projected that there is enough platinum in the ground.  Ramping up production is another matter.  But FCEVs won't all come on line at the same time, so there is time to do this, if there is the will.

        But my point was that there was little if any motivation to do this for a fuel source that would replace gasoline completely, and cut deeply into the bottom line of oil/gas people.  The common man knows that platinum is a precious metal, and very expensive.  So this argument that fuel cells are too expensive because of the need for platinum is an excuse that makes sense to someone on the simplest level.  And that, to me, is a carnard.


  •  Thanks James (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Eric Nelson, Matt Z

    I've been trying to get the word out about these  exciting new developments in smaller green solutions that would allow us to decentralize our power production.

    Really don't mind if you sit this one out. My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think..Jethro Tull

    by RMForbes on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:02:32 AM PDT

  •  Fuel cells are nice... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, docmidwest, Matt Z, JeffW, Odysseus

    ...but at the end of the day are just another battery for storing electricity.

    I think it is highly unlikely we are going to get out of this mess with our driving habits intact, fuel cells or no fuel cells. You still need a method of generating the electricity to run the cars.

    (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
    Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

    by Sparhawk on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:12:50 AM PDT

  •  jamess, question about water (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Eric Nelson, Matt Z

    Hi, thanks for your diary. Do you know if any old water is suitable for use in these systems and what kind of water demands would be placed by wide-scale adoption of this technology?

    •  My attempt at an answer (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, Eric Nelson, Matt Z, Odysseus

      Impurities in the water will cause problems with the equipment. At the very least, the impurities will build up on the anode and cathode, requiring them to be cleaned off occasionally. This would not be a serious problem; it would merely raise the price of hydrogen slightly. More difficult would be corrosive materials in the water that would damage the anode or cathode. For these reasons, we would want to use pure water in the systems, but the degree of purity required should not be prohibitive; demineralized water might be good enough.

  •  Only one other hurdle to overcome... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is great, but no one has figured out how to store the enough hydrogen to give a vehicle the kind of range that would make it a viable mass market vehicle.

    I look forward to that.

  •  What about the artificial leaf? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A Greener 'Artificial Leaf'

    Rather than storing the hydrogen could the leaf produce enough as needed on the fly?

    Being gay is natural, hating gay is a lifestyle choice. - John Fugelsang

    by cooper888 on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 10:50:29 AM PDT

  •  As for the Fueling Infrastructure years ago I (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    thought up using Liquid Ammonia in Tanks like Propane an have them in stores everywhere and have a way to break the Ammonium down in the vehicle into Hydrogen and Nitrogen.Also I was wondering can Magnesium Foil be used in a Magnesium/Air Cell then people can refuel by buying Rolls of Magnesium or same Idea but the Magnesium foil goes into a reaction chamber with Sulfuric Acid or Hydrochloric Acid to make Hydrogen and Magnesium Sulfate or Magnesium Chloride and there is a lot of Magnesium in Sea Water and the amount of Electricity needed to make Hydrogen from Sea Water is around the same as needed for making Magnesium and Sodium(I Thought of Sodium since it too could be sold in Tanks with a heater built in to make it molten at below the boiling point of Water and react it in a Reaction Chamber in some way that is safe).To bad that a Magnesium/Nitrogen Fuel Cell can't be made I figure since Magnesium burns in Nitrogen it could be made to react with Nitrogen in a Fuel-cell.

  •   Good news (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    These people, on the other hand -

    Who's says investing in Science R&D -- Can't pay off with huge dividends?
    (The GOP Austerity Hawks, that's who.)
    ..are really bad news.

    An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics - Plutarch

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:38:22 AM PDT

  •  It's not just the cost.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We simply don't have very much platinum available. Anything that can sub for it will be a blessing for those parts of the world that would never be able to outbid us for it.

  •  Great news & presentation of it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess's the way to present the future technologies

    How a hydrogen vehicle works and how to fix it
    by jamess.
    I can see it now. The next John Muir approach to do it yourself repair and maintenence instruction manuals.

    Your presentation style is what is needed today. It makes future vehicles seem consumer friendly, not like some bizarre spaceship thingy that might turn into a 'nuculer' bomb and talk down to you.

    Making hydrogen powered vehicles  which so far has been presented sci-fi complex, make sense. Simple & straightforward.

    When people can talk easily and with some basic understanding, the new-fangled thing becomes  normal. it's okay then.  Not foreign and scary or 'other'.

    Ideas that become common talk have a much better chance of happening for real.
    thx jamess  

    •  thanks Eric Nelson (0+ / 0-)

      you get my methodology and my motives.

      this states it well:

      When people can talk easily and with some basic understanding, the new-fangled thing becomes  normal. it's okay then.  Not foreign and scary or 'other'.

      Ideas that become common talk have a much better chance of happening for real.

      We shouldn't be afraid of Science;

      We should be embracing it.

      Science may be our only long run hope.

      Talking about the Tech, is a good thing.

      Got Time?
      Take ten, to find something else informative and fun to read. Thx.

      by jamess on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 11:33:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Way tipped & rec'd (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson, jamess

    You're an excellent blogger on the energy issue, jamess... top of the line. Keep it up! It's exciting and it means a LOT to be able to read these coherent analysis.

    Happy Sunday, and it just got happier too!

  •  some caveats (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    itzik shpitzik, jamess

    First, completely consistent with what you wrote, but an important reminder for some:

    Hydrogen is not a significant source of free energy, it's only a medium for carrying free energy around. It has some advantages and disadvantages compared to batteries, which play the same role.

    Second, as mentioned by others, the key problem with hydrogen is that there's is currently no storage method with good energy/volume and energy/weight ratios. This problem might be solved with some sort of hydride or other technique, but it's not solved yet. Right now batteries make more sense as a mobile way to store free energy from clean sources.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 12:33:00 PM PDT

  •  They are contractors, not public employees (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Los Alamos National Laboratory Researchers -- those public employees -- describe the technical benefits of their recent Science discovery ...

    Virtually all of the DOE laboratory system is "GOCO" -- Government Owned, Contractor Operated. All of the researchers who work at the labs are employees of the managing contractor, in this case Los Alamos National Security LLC, NOT the government.

    What this means, among other things, is that the low-level researchers do not enjoy civil service protections and are paid slightly more, while the managers are paid MUCH MUCH MUCH more than if they were public employees.

    It also means that the real government, DOE, is not obliged to fund research projects, and can indeed yank the money from any group at any time. Thus everything tends to turn into a giant sales pitch, complete often outrageous marketing claims, also known as bullshit.

    As a result, I tend not to trust anything coming from any DOE lab, including Los Alamos, any more than I would trust something coming from Lockheed Martin or any other defense contractor.

    The invasion of Iraq was a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a crime against civilization. Prosecute the crime.

    by Positronicus on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 01:10:12 PM PDT

  •  And that's of course why the Republicans (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, jamess

    and their buddies in the oil industry want to strip the government of the funds they need to do this kind of research.

    We should be spending more on such things, not less.

    The wealthy MUST be forced to contribute more revenue to these kinds of projects.

  •  you might find this interesting... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    honda has had the fcx clarity on the road since 2007... the first 500 were in the l.a. area because that is where the refueling stations were.

    also in development is a solar home refueling station.  (when first proposed by honda, the idea was to expand this  personal fueling station to eventually power the entire home!

    honda has always lead the way on efficient and green technology for autos - even more than the prius. the delay in hybrid autos was due to the cost of recycling batteries, the expense of batteries, the life of the vehicle, etc.  honda turned toward the fuel cell as the best "green" solution!

    MOVE'EM UP! ROLL'EM OUT... MOVE'EM UP RAWHIDE!!! meeeoooow! mrraaarrr!! meeeOOOOOW!

    by edrie on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:49:29 PM PDT

    Recommended by:

    The community of fools might be small if it were not such an accomplished proselytizer.

    by ZedMont on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 04:30:04 PM PDT

  •  This breakthrough in conjunction... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with this one have the potential to really change the economics of true renewables in a very short amount of time. Wind was already cost-competitive with coal.

    Carbon could be the dirty AND expensive option within this decade.

    The so-called "rising tide" is lifting only yachts.

    by Egalitare on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 05:05:51 PM PDT

  •  Hydrogen can also be stored... (0+ / 0-) a solution of sodium borohydride - basically borax with a couple of hydrogen atoms added.  You'd keep a solution of sodium borohydride and water in the tank, and when it's used up, you're left with a solution of water and borax.  You'd drive to a filling station, empty the tank and refill with fresh sodium borohydride and water, and the stuff you dropped off can be recycled back into sodium borohydride for the next guy!

    Chrysler had this system working as long ago as 2002 - I don't know what's happened to it since then, but it sure looks like a safe, efficient way to store hydrogen for your fuel cell vehicle.  Here's a link and a quote:

    However, other compounds are being experimented with that are easier to catalytically convert to hydrogen for a fuel cell and can be more easily stored in a vehicle’s fuel tank. An example of the type of system that could work is being experimented on at Daimler-Chrysler. It involves simple borate, borax, a compound chemical that is produced and used for soap. A running prototype minivan was displayed at the North American Auto Show in 2002. The hydrogen fuel cell can run on hydrogen that is liberated in a simple chemical reaction from sodium borohydride. This chemical can be made in refineries from a combination of borax soap and Hydrogen gas. The vehicle could run on sodium borohydride, which would be processed in the car to yield hydrogen gas for the fuel cell. The only exhaust product would be water (H20). The other waste product would be borax (a form of soap), which would then have to be reprocessed to sodium borohydride, to refuel the car again. Infrastructure to produce hydrogen from methane or ammonia and then produce sodium borohydride would be necessary at your local refueling station.

    PB PAC is closing - we made our final donation ($460.59) to the WI recall!

    by AnotherMassachusettsLiberal on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:37:17 PM PDT

  •  An anti-fuel-cell is needed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And by that I mean something that turns water into hydrogen and oxygen as efficiently as these fuel cells turn hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity.

    Then, some clean electricity (wind, solar) plus water and the anti-fuel-cell will yield hydrogen where ever you need it. Stations could make their hydrogen on-site. We already have the transport infrastructure - water pipes!

    What's better is that we could then use the same tech to completely eliminate fossil fuels. How? Generate enough solar and wind power during the day to not only power stuff being used now, but also store plenty of excess in hydrogen. When night hits or the wind calms, use the hydrogen for power.

    It doesn't even have to be huge-scale. People could put such systems in their own homes.

    Another thing that's needed is better hydrogen storage, and things are progressing on that front too.

    Follow that up with a decrease in the minimum pressure needed for fuel cells to work and the tech might become ready for prime time.

    It's still a ways off but things are progressing quicker and quicker as time goes on. It's a race versus batteries at this point, although batteries have their own problems as they can be emission-instensive in construction.

    The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them. - Albert Einstein.

    by Cvstos on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:55:01 PM PDT

  •  Storing H as NaH pellets (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There was once a company called Powerball Technologies ( that was working on a hydrogen storage method.  You can read its old web site at

    Sodium hydride (NaH) pellets were wrapped in a thin plastic skin and stored in a water tank.  A blade would slice a pellet, and the sodium hydride released would form hydrogen gas (H2) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH).  When the fuel was depleted, the waste skins and NaOH would be replaced by a new supply of water and NaOH pellets.  The waste skins could be recycled for more pellets, and the NaOH could be heated up to break the NaOH down into oxygen and NaH, which would then be used for more pellets.

    Aside from the issue of how to deal with cold winters (which wouldn't be an issue in warmer climates), what do you think of this idea of energy storage?

    You might be a Rethug if you join forces with the tobacco lobbyists but condemn abortion, birth control, and gay marriage as crimes against humanity.

    by jhsu on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:56:22 PM PDT

  •  Outstanding diary. tyvm. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Say little; do much." (Pirkei Avot: 1:15)

    by hester on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:14:30 PM PDT

  •  I am glad for this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    breakthrough and I hope it is as significant as the article makes but I am  skeptical about hydrogen fuel cells being the way forward for several reasons. Just as a summary there was a reason why the DOE chose hydrogen fuel cells for some significant budget cuts a year or two ago.

    It is my opinion that hydrogen fuel cells are not a significant answer to gas cars. Strait electric, much higher fuel standards, higher taxes on gas, and proper investment in mass transit  are a better approach.

  •  You make some good points, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Recall

    but this statement is patently incorrect.

    So the main problem with the Fuel Cell tech is that it, until recently relies on very expensive Platinum, to directly "convert chemical energy into electrical energy" -- foregoing the Petro-Carbon footprint, of conventional fuels.

    In fairness, you do cover the real problem with hydrogen later in your piece, and I appreciate that.  The real problem is that producing hydrogen, currently, relies on using fossil fuels as reducing agents (natural gas is the least harmful one, since some of its hydrogen ends up in the hydrogen produced).  It is also the least pernicious one to burn directly, lessening its advantage for hydrogen production.  However, hydrogen can also be produced using coal as the reducing agent, and that is HORRIBLE!

    The fact remains that, at least with current technologies and economics, the cheapest way to produce hydrogen is to use fossil fuels, with carbon dioxide as the result.  This is worse than breakeven, since all industrial processes are much less that unity efficient.  Well, that may be an overgeneralization, but not too far from fact.

    With all of that said, I believe that fuel cells are going to be a viable method to produce electricity for smaller end users.  I certainly also hope so.  But until and unless a more economical way to produce hydrogen is developed that does not produce carbon dioxide, and soon, this is only one of the small pieces in an extremely complex landscape.

    By the way, as soon as I complete this comment I shall both tip and recommend this diary, since it does seem to be pretty objective.

    Warmest regards,


    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me over and over, then either I really love you blindly or I am a Republican.

    by Translator on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 08:56:48 PM PDT

  •  Fantastic diary - Very well explained and (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    inspiringly well written and put together. Many thanks. It sounds almost too good to be true. Now I have to read the other comments first.

    The only thing I got confused with is that the platinum catalyst sits at the anode and splits the hydrogen into H+ ions and electrons, whereas the carbon-iron-cobalt catalyst sits in the cathode and completes the conversion of hydrogen and oxygen into water.

    But the Hydrogen has to be split into H+ ions and electrons first to generate the electrical flow in the circuit and to let the H+ ions through the membrane to the cathode, where then the carbon-iron-cobalt catgalyst converts the H+ ions with the electrons and the oxygen back to water again.

    So, how do you get then the H+ ions and elecrons split at the anode, if you don't have the platinum catalyst there?

    Sorry to ask, I didn't understand that part, because you still need the H+ion and electron splitting before it goes to the cathode?, or not? What did I miss?


  •  Hydrogen is expensive (0+ / 0-)

    The real problem here is that hydrogen is expensive and comes from fossil fuels.  When you get that figured out report back....

    It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.

    by GrinningLibber on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 05:44:57 AM PDT

  •  I think you will find that it takes more energy to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    produce the system than you would ever get back out of the system.  The Hydrogen Fuel Cell was invented in 1839. It is as old as the steam engine. If it was so efficient we would have started using it a long time ago.  We will never have the rare metals and infrastructure to put such a complex system in place. We don't have enough oil to build all the cars needed to replace the gas powered cars we now have across the globe. Where are people going to get the money to buy a new car. The government can't even borrow enough money to pay for Social Security.

    The Department of Energy use to say that Nuclear Energy would produce so much Electricity it would be too cheap to meter. The DOE have been misstating the worlds oil reserves for forty years, their press releases are just a bunch of "feel good" propaganda. It is all about trying to stop panic and protect the rich's real estate investment in the exburbs.

    We are not going to find some magical way to power automobiles and save Suburbia. There is not enough Oil left to make the forty years transition to Fuel Cell Cars. As a country, we need to face the fact the we cannot spend the money on these insane wars, still pay our citizens their social security that has been promised, and transition to a new form of transport energy. We don't have the money or oil to do it.

    We need to have a sensible energy policy. Its called  "Conservation". We cannot continue to have 100,000 cars in a city driving 50 miles to work everyday with one occupant in each car. It is not sustainable. And the last thing we need right now is the government telling us just to hang in there we have all this technology coming down the pipe that is going to save you.  

  •  So, it breathes air & pisses water (0+ / 0-)

    It's ALIVE! It's ALIVE!

    Together with improved means of separating water, solar, etc, this is fantastic.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Fri Apr 29, 2011 at 08:36:42 AM PDT

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