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Plug In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston

This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry. Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance and growth will continue....

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

150 Mile Nissan Leaf?

Ever since I bought my Nissan Leaf in 2011, I have been on their survey list. They send out occasional questionnaires.  What do you like, what could be better... The usual stuff. However, this last survey had several questions about a Leaf with 150 miles. How much extra would you pay for double the EPA rated range, how fast do you expect it to charge... Here is one example:

A survey question is far from a product commitment, but it shows that Nissan is thinking about their next gen longer range EVs.

So GM and Tesla are not the only ones that will be fighting for the affordable long range EV. Nissan has a head-start over both of them in the affordable pure-EV market space and they are not going to give it up easily.

Fuel Cells: More than you ever wanted to know in 11 parts

Part 1 - Intro
Part 2 - H2 From Natural Gas
Part 3 - H2 from Water
Part 4 - Hydrogen Infrastructure
Part 5 - Storage
Part 6 - Fuel Cells
Part 7 - How Soon?
Part 8 - A Foot in the Door for H2
Part 9 - So Why the Hate?
Part 10 - Tin Foil Hats
Part 11 - Conclusion

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I tried a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Here’s what it was like.

I tried a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Here’s what it was like.: "Building a station takes just $1 million-$2 million, according to Santucci. So that's no problem. It's the gas that's expensive. Even in the Los Angeles area, it's priced as high as $5 a kilogram. Much of the cost is linked to transporting and storing the stuff in liquid form; unless the distribution point is relatively close to the pipeline, you're going to have to pay through the nose."

$28.59 Million for 20 Fuel Cell refilling stations


This money could have installed more that 1400 CHAdeMO stations.

Plug-in Vehicles Sale Continue to Grow

As more plug-in vehicles come to market and prices continue to drop, so does the public’s appetite to change from conventional fuel vehicles to cars w/ cords. Earlier this week Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz highlighted the fact that PEV sales doubled in 2013 over 2012 and that the Energy Department is investing nearly $50 million more to improve fuel efficiency in vehicles, including nearly $30 million for PEV technologies(1).

The graph above illustrates that plug-in vehicles’ rate of sales is actually higher than the rate of growth hybrids experienced in the same time period after their market introduction.

via the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why My Next Vehicle Will Be A PHEV SUV

My family and I live a typical Northwest lifestyle. A normal day's driving includes school drop-off, errands, commuting... We go skiing a few times per year in the winter and we go camping a couple of times each summer. To do all this driving, we currently have three vehicles: a Nissan Leaf, a Toyota Prius, & a Honda Passport SUV.

Having this spectrum of vehicles to choose from is nice. The Leaf is 100% electric and is the daily commuter. The Prius gets great mileage and is used for school drop-off and errands. The Passport is idle most of the time, but when we need 4WD in the snow or we need the horsepower to pull our pop-up camper, it is our go-to. With an electric, a hybrid, and an SUV we can select the vehicle that best fits our needs for any given task.

We have three vehicles, but only my wife and I drive. So what we need is a vehicle that can cover all of these use-cases: hauling; long drives up the mountain or into the woods, treks to Seattle or Southern Oregon... and be able to handle daily errands and commuting without burning gas (by running on electricity instead).

Sounds impossible right? A single vehicle that is an electric, a hybrid, and an SUV all rolled into one. Well, I can't walk up to a dealership and buy one today, but that may be changing soon. Over the next couple years here are a few of the vehicles that might fit the bill:
  • Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid SUV 
  • BMW X5 Plug-In Hybrid SUV 
  • Range Rover Plug-In Hybrid SUV 
  • Volvo XC90 Plug-In Hybrid SUV
  • Volkswagen CrossBlue Plug-In Hybrid SUV
  • Bentley Plug-in Hybrid SUV 
  • Ford C-Max Energi PHEV
  • Mitsubishi Montero Plug-In Hybrid
Ok, I am never going to buy a Bentley; but it is a PHEV SUV that is coming soon, so I added it to the list.

We would trade in both the Passport and the Prius for this new PHEV SUV. We would keep the Leaf as a daily commuter.

I am sure that many of my EV loving friends are wondering why the Tesla Model X is not on the list of candidates. I like the idea of having an EV and a PHEV in our family fleet. This gives us the flexibility to use gas if/when we need to for those long trips out into the woods or to crank up the heater to full blast going over the mountain without worrying about range. For us, I think the combination of a fully electric car and a plug-in hybrid SUV will be just right.

Maybe by early 2015 when I plan to start shopping, I'll reconsider. I certainly plan to test drive the Model X :)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Test Drive the ELF

The West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce would like to invite you to test-drive an innovative pedal-electric hybrid vehicle called the “ELF”.

The ELF is made by the Organic Transit company. They are looking establish a manufacturing presence in Portland area.

Wood Village Mayor Patricia Smith will sponsor and attend the event.

  • Time: 10:15AM Welcome / 10:45AM to 4:00PM Test-Driving
  • Date: Saturday January 25th
  • Location: 
    • McMenamin’s - Edgefield
    • 2126 SW Halsey St, Troutdale, OR 97060
    • Parking lot West of the Power Station

Registration: Send an email to testdrive at organictransit.com with "Portland" in the subject line.

We hope to see you there!

For more info about the ELF and Organic Transit, here is a TEDx talk by the CEO:

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 11 - Conclusion

This is the 11th and final entry of my fuel cells treatise.

We have looked at hydrogen production, storage, fuel cells, & infrastructure. We also examined business models and political aspects.

There is nothing impossible about fuel cells. Everything needed to put them on the road, is possible today. Possible and feasible, however, are two different things.

Today, H2 production is energy intensive and expensive. Fuel cells are expense and evanescent, non-durable items. There are promising technologies that could greatly increase the efficiency of H2 isolation and reduce the cost of fuel cells.

Until these breakthroughs happen, the expenses will relegate fuel cell vehicles to little more than concept cars and media enticements.

Although nearly all auto companies are spending some level of R&D money on both fuel cell and battery electric technologies, they are generally split into either those that are supporting fuel cells (Toyota, Honda, Hyundai) and those supporting plug-in vehicles (Nissan, GM, BMW, Mitsu, Ford, VW...).

As plug-in cars gain in popularity, those auto companies that are not in the plug-in camp will attempt to frames themselves as being a technological leader by being on the forefront of the next big thing. Given this, I expect to see more fuel cell hype over the next 5 years.

Yet, despite the expected hype, I don't expect to see any real action to create a viable H2 infrastructure.

Rather, by 2018 the auto companies in the fuel cell camp will license, acquire, or develop plug-in vehicle technologies to meet fuel economy and emissions goals. All the while, they'll be justifying away their sunk costs as something that will pay off in 5 to 10 years.

Perhaps I won't phrase it as brashly as Elon did, but in the end, I am siding with him on this one. Fuel cells will continue to make promises while, the range for battery electric cars will continue to increase and the filling time continues to decrease. This will leave fuel cells as a solution looking for a problem, and finding none wanting.

Fuel Cells: More than you ever wanted to know in 11 parts:
Part 1 - Intro
Part 2 - H2 From Natural Gas
Part 3 - H2 from Water
Part 4 - Hydrogen Infrastructure
Part 5 - Storage
Part 6 - Fuel Cells
Part 7 - How Soon?
Part 8 - A Foot in the Door for H2
Part 9 - So Why the Hate?
Part 10 - Tin Foil Hats
Part 11 - Conclusion

Monday, January 20, 2014

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 10 - Tin Foil Hats

After the analysis of the previous 9 parts of this series, you may think that any rational person would understand that fuel cell vehicles, especially passenger vehicles, are a long way from a viable solution anytime soon.

And yet, the hydrogen hype continues. Why? The answers offered range from the reasonable to conspiratorial.

First, the sublime: Major auto companies cannot afford to miss out on a huge technology shift within the transportation industry. They have to spend at least a portion of their R&D budget on fuel cells so as not to be left behind should it actually come into being.

On the conspiratorial side of the coin, you have auto company boardrooms that are filled with big-oil fat-cats. As racecar driver, Leilani M√ľnter, put it "You drill for the oil, and we'll make the cars. Together, we'll make a fortune. Mawaa Haha!"

The conspiratorial story goes something like: Big oil's goal is to make sure that you keep buying fuel from them. Gas now, followed by H2, algae fuel, or whatever comes next (other than electricity). H2 requires a vast distribution and infrastructure system. Who best to manage this distribution network? Of course the companies that manage (and profit from) the current fuel network.

Electric cars on-the-other-hand allow you to "fill-up" in your garage. They are a disruptive technology that could send Exxon & Shell the way of Kodak & Nokia.

I mockingly called this section the Tin Foil Hats, but the money and political influence of several of the world's most profitable multinational corporations, cannot be ignored. Ensuring their interests is not a conspiracy theory, it is just smart business to protect a cash cow. #oiligarchy

To the final step in this Fuel Cell journey:
Part 11 - Conclusion

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The future of transportation -- as seen by a sci-fi author | VentureBeat | Gadgets | by William Hertling/FeldThoughts

The future of transportation -- as seen by a sci-fi author | VentureBeat | Gadgets | by William Hertling/FeldThoughts: "By 2025, that Nissan Leaf battery pack will cost less than $1,800, making the cost of the electric motor plus battery pack less than the price of a comparable gasoline motor. Assuming even modest increases in storage capacity, the electric vehicle will rank better on initial cost, range, performance, and ongoing maintenance and fuel costs."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Electric Dreams: 11 Cars Worthy of a Look in 2014

Electric Dreams: 11 Cars Worthy of a Look in 2014: "Electric vehicles may be hitting their stride. As drivers continue to see the benefits and automakers continue to improve on them, it’s likely that electric vehicles will only continue to gain in popularity."

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 9 - So Why the Hate?

Fuel cell vehicles (FCV) are propelled by an electric motor. They are, in fact, electric vehicles that get their electricity from a fuel cell rather than a battery pack. FCVs and battery EVs (BEV) share many components and both can be powered from clean sources. FCVs even, typically, have batteries too to allow for regenerative braking and faster acceleration.

With all of these similarities, you may think (as I did prior to 2006), that EV advocates would be big supporters of FCVs too, but that is not usually the case. On EV-forums you'll find fuel cells referred to as "fool cells" and worse. And as the first of this series pointed out, Elon Musk referred to fuel cell cars as "bullshit".

So why all the hate? Is this yet another circular firing squad case within the EV community? Or is there something more this time?

Because FCV are driven by electric motors, they are often put forth by their proponents as having all the benefits of BEVs with the additional benefits of fast refueling and long range. FCV detractors will tell you that FCVs are held up as "the future" and this provides a convenient excuse for some to continue to use gas while waiting for this "perfect hydrogen car." FCVs are the distant mirage that keeps us walking in wrong direction down our fossil fuel status quo path. You can see how these views begin to put them in opposition.
Mercedes Benz Ener-G Force FCV

This is a case of the 'perfect' being used as an enemy of the 'good'. Plug-in advocates will point out the FCVs are far from perfect. Many FCV challenges (H2 production, storage, & infrastructure, and fuel cell cost) currently have no line-of-sight to a solution, even after spending billions of dollars and half a century of research.

Battery electricity, on the other hand, is a solution you can drive off the lot today. Electricity can be generated in a myriad of ways and you can "refuel" in your garage. And if range and refueling times are a significant issue for your driving patterns, then plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) allow you to do most of your driving on electricity without any range limit or refueling time concerns. PHEVs allow you to plug in when you want to and use gas when you have to.

For many PHEVs are the right transition technology from gas-only to BEV. Battery technology is improving by about 8% each year. This trend shows no signs of stopping as lab breakthroughs are continuing to be made, thereby providing a pipeline for production improvements. This will lead to better prices, faster charging, and longer EV range. Battery improvements are not a 'someday' promise; their advancement is being driven by the need for better batteries for the smartphone in your pocket and the tablet in your living room.

Why not live and let live? 

If FCVs find the breakthroughs they need, great. If not, why not let people cheer for their technology of choice? The answer is simple, there are limited budgets and mindshare. Whether it is government research grants for energy storage or R&D budgets at the auto companies, these technologies are competing.

Looking at it another way, FCVs can play "the spoiler" in electric vs gasoline competition. In the 2000 US presidential election, George W. Bush was running against Al Gore. True or not, third party candidate, Ralph Nader, was accused of costing Gore the election by garnering votes that otherwise would have gone to Gore. And just to show this spoiler phenomenon can happen on either side of the isle: Ross Perot is blamed by some for costing George H.W. Bush the 1992 election.

E - All of the Above
Applying this to transportation: the "all of the above" strategy of funding fuel cells and battery EVs, means that neither will receive the funding that they need to become a serious threat to the incumbent, reigning champion, gasoline.

Oregon and Washington state have installed the West Coast Electric Highway which allows EVs to travel these states border to border on Interstate 5 and more using a network of quick chargers.

In California, on the other hand, funds were split, hydrogen fueling stations were built and there are large gaps in the EV charging network (especially in northern Cali).

The cost of building a nationwide refueling network is not insignificant. Building two based on vastly different fuels at the same time is nearly impossible. If auto executives and politicians believe that FCVs are the future, then fuel cells could be the albatross around the neck of plug-in vehicles: delaying development at many companies, as well as delaying the deployment of plug-in infrastructure, thereby slowing the growth of EV sales.

Part 10 - Tin Foil Hats

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 8 - A Foot in the Door for H2

Fuel cell vehicles need to walk before they run

Actual historical photo of the
Edison/Tesla War of Currents
Let's assume for a moment that none of the obstacles blocking the hydrogen future are insurmountable. How could they become the solution of choice?

Electric vehicles were able to get a foothold because of the vast electrical infrastructure that we have been expanding since the Edison v Tesla war of currents. Any garage can be an EV fueling station. And battery advancements are being driven by consumer electronics, a behemoth of an ally.

Fuel cell vehicles don't have a similar leg up. Before we can expect the general public to have any interest in buying a FCV, there needs to be vast infrastructure.

The best way to roll this out would be to find niche local route needs that can be well served by isolated filling stations. These could be buses, mail delivery, fleet vehicles, or local delivery vehicles. Local use or defined routes allows these vehicles to be supported with a limited infrastructure.

Once these provide a smattering of H2 filling stations, the infrastructure could be selectively shored up with interstate fueling stations. Ironically, the Tesla Supercharger deployment plan provides a model that H2 can emulate.

With this expanded support, long haul trucking can start using H2 to move goods across the country. The interstate highways would all need fueling stations at 100 mile or less intervals.

This would provide the economy of scale that would allow FCVs to become affordable. We would have:
  • FC fleet vehicles, buses, and service vehicles
  • Cities and highways with H2 infrastructure
Until these are in-place, making a FC passenger car for the general public is nearly pointless. Starting with passenger cars, is putting the cart before the horse.

This is one of the major reasons that I find the current round of FC passenger cars announcements to be little more than marketing hype. It is an attempt by companies that would otherwise be ignored at the auto shows to grab media attention, rather than an honest attempt to put vehicles on the road.

Part 9 - So Why the Hate?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 7 - How Soon?

In the prior parts, we looked at all the components needed for hydrogen based personal transportation. Each of these puzzle pieces possible, albeit expensive.
  • Production: H2 can be produced from clean sources, but the current economics dictates that the vast majority of any industrial level production would be from natural gas (See Parts 2 and 3)
  • Infrastructure: H2 Distribution Infrastructure is expensive to install and initially, there would be little demand to make it financially viable (See Part 4)
  • Storage: H2 Storage tanks have made great strides in the last decade (See Part 5
  • Fuel Cells: The heart of a FCV is the fuel cell, it converts the H2 to generate electricity. They are currently too expensive and short lived (See Part 6)
The logistics and expense required for H2-powered personal transportation will relegate them to little more than concept cars and media stunts for the foreseeable future. Honda has been leasing their fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, since 2008. I searched but could not find out how many are on the road today. In 2010, it was reported that there were a total of 50 FCX Clarity available for lease in the US with a target to have 200 available worldwide.

Toyota, Hyundai and others that claim they will have FCVs on the market "soon" will likely have similar demonstration projects that put little more than a handful of vehicles on the road near the few filling stations that currently exist.

In 2011, General Motors CEO Daniel Akerson said:
We're looking at hydrogen fuel cells... The car is still too expensive and probably won't be practical until the 2020-plus period. And then there's the issue of infrastructure.
Unless you live within a few miles of a H2 filling station, don't expect that you'll be able to walk into a dealership and drive away in a fuel cell vehicle sporting the new car smell within this decade.

However, if you are a FCV fan, don't give up just yet, stay tuned for Part 8 - A Foot in the Door for H2

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fuel cells – A realistic alternative for zero emission? | Publications | Media | Roland Berger

Fuel cells – A realistic alternative for zero emission? | Publications | Media | Roland Berger:

Fuel cells have long been considered a promising technology for circumventing the problem of limited battery range. However, success depends heavily on the price. "So far the high production costs of fuel-cell systems and the lack of infrastructure have prevented the long anticipated launch on the mass market," says Wolfgang Bernhart, Partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. "Even though the costs for manufacturing fuel-cell systems will drop considerably in the future, major technical obstacles must first be overcome before fuel cells achieve a breakthrough in the automotive sector."

Our study entitled "Fuel cells – A realistic alternative for zero emission?" paints a fairly bleak picture of this technology over the medium term. According to our experts it will be possible to cut production costs for fuel-cell systems by up to 80% by 2025. Even though this will provide fuel-cell technology with initial business opportunities, this reduction will still not be enough to achieve a breakthrough on the market.

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 6 - Fuel Cells

Affordable Fuel Cell Vehicles

The biggest obstacle to an affordable fuel cell vehicle is the fuel cell.

Toyota recently got a lot of press when they announced that their 2015 fuel cell car would cost less than $100k. Fuel cells are currently expensive and currently have a short lifespan.

They can be made durably, or they can be made cheap(er), but they currently cannot be both. If the fuel cell is $50,000 and will only last about 50,000 miles, this is not a viable option.

Advancements in fuel cell durability and cost are needed. 

By 2030, the Department of Energy estimates that the price for an average FCV will be around $34,181, before government subsidies. That's in comparison to their unsubsidized price prediction for a 300 mile range battery electric vehicle in 2030 of $34,979.

I hope the DOE is correct about their 2030 prediction for the price of a fuel cell vehicle. Today, however, fuel cells are expensive and short lived. They have rare and expensive materials such as platinum.

Research is being done to find cheaper ways to make them that use little or no platinum, but so far these not led to a commercially viable fuel cell. As anyone that has followed fuel cells (or any number of other "on the horizon" technologies) can attest, promises and predictions are much easier to make than high volume production products.

The upfront cost of the vehicle is only one factor in the total cost of ownership. Another big expense is fueling over the vehicles lifetime. At today's standard household rate, I currently pay 2.5 cents per mile to drive my EV. How much will it cost per mile to drive a H2 powered vehicle? The gasoline industry that is currently getting 10 - 20 cents per mile will certainly try to protect their revenue stream and extract a similar amount from this new fuel.

So, if the DOE's prediction is correct that EVs and FCV will eventually have nearly the same purchase price and one is a fifth the price to fuel, which would you buy? That adds up to thousands of dollars per year in savings for an EV compared to a FCV, even in 2030.

Part 7 - How Soon?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 5 - Storage

To drive a hydrogen (H2) powered car, once the H2 is generated and distributed, it has to be stored in your car. To have a viable range in a fuel cell vehicles (FCV), you are going to need a large amount of H2. If you carried this gaseous H2 along uncompressed, you would need a hot air balloon sized storage.


Although methods of binding H2 in solid form or chilling it to liquid have in used in some applications, the method of choice for FCVs is compressing the H2 gas under high pressure, such as 5,000 to 10,000 psi.

To handle these high pressures, the tanks have to be very strong. For stationary applications, this can be done with thick metal walls. For mobile applications, like a car, however, these thick-walled tanks are too heavy and reduce the car's performance and range. This means, to meet the high strength and light weight requirements, mobile high pressure H2 tanks are made of advanced materials such as carbon fiber.

The act of compressing the H2 itself takes energy too. Depending on the level of compression that is used, from 2% to 5% of the energy content is lost to compression and cooling.


Hydrogen is tricky to contain. It is a small molecule and it can pass through many solids via a process called permeation. Polymer lined tanks developed in the last decade have reduced this leakage to a near negligible amount.

Continue to Part 6: Fuel Cells

Onewheel :: The Self-Balancing Electric Skateboard by Future Motion — Kickstarter

Onewheel :: The Self-Balancing Electric Skateboard by Future Motion — Kickstarter:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 4 - Hydrogen Infrastructure

Hydrogen Infrastructure 

There are over 150,000 gas stations currently in the US. These stations have an average of 6 to 8 pumps each. That is about 1 million gas pumps currently operating in the US. If we are to have a viable H2 fueling infrastructure, for an (eventually) complete hydrogen economy, a similar number of hydrogen filling stations and pumps would be needed.

The equipment required for this is, of course, not cheap. It costs between $500,000 and $5,000,000 per installation of an H2 filling station. The price depends on factors such as the number units, pressure, security measures, and the types of vehicles the facility intends to serve (i.e., passenger vehicles or commercial vehicles).

One million pumps at the low-end price tag of $500,000 each is a $500 billion dollar expense. Clearly, advances in H2 pumps are needed to reduce the installed cost.

Selective installation at fleet accessible areas would be a good way to use H2 without a complete infrastructure.

Electric vehicles did not have this same fueling chicken and egg problem that fuel cell vehicles (FCV) and H2 refueling infrastructure face, because, albeit slow, a modern EV can plug into any standard household outlet to recharge. The installation of public charging stations increases the utility of EVs, but it was not a must-have before they were usable.

Today, if you want to drive a FCV in a region of the US with H2 infrastructure, then you are driving in Southern California and nowhere else.

Perhaps it is "island thinking" that makes Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai think that an H2 infrastructure could easily be deployed (I know South Korea is a peninsula, but it is a political island). South Korea could be completely served by a single H2 filling station, it wouldn't be convenient, but it is possible. Similarly, Japan would only need five or six H2 stations to service the entire country. The US, on the other hand, is a very different story.

Part 5 - H2 Storage

Monday, January 6, 2014

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 3 - H2 from Water

Water as a Hydrogen source 

Rather than extracting H2 from a hydrocarbon, it can be produced by splitting water by a process called Electrolysis.

With electrolysis, electric current can be used to split water into Oxygen and Hydrogen gas:  
2 H2O (+DC current) → O2 + 2 H2

Electrolysis uses two electrodes, an anode and a cathode. During electrolysis these electrodes undergo a chemical reaction. The anode is oxidized and the cathode has electrons stolen from it by a process called reduction. These electrodes need to periodically be replaced.

This process does not create CO2. It does, however, have a high energy cost. The electricity generation method will directly impact the CO2 related to H2 generation. Some reports quote an efficiency of 50 to 70% for alkaline electrolysers. There is research into higher efficiency with the use of proton exchange membranes (PEM) and catalytic technologies that could lead to 95% efficiency, but today electrolysis remains an energy intensive operation. 

The cost of electrode replacement combined with the great energy needed results in only 4% of worldwide H2 being produced by electrolysis today. Because of these costs for electrolysis, steam-Methane reforming remains the industrial method of choice for H2 production.

Electrolysis, however, is only one method of splitting water. Other methods are being researched, here are a couple:


At 2500° C water will spontaneously dissociate. This process is called Thermolysis. With the use of catalysts the dissociation temperature can be reduced. Thermolysis occurs at temperatures that are too high for normal piping and equipment and maintaining such an incredibly high temperature is very energy intensive.

Thermochemical Cycle

The Sulfur-iodine cycle is a thermochemical cycle processes for hydrogen production from water. It has an efficiency of approximately 50%. The sulfur and iodine are recovered and can be reused. The cycle requires 950° C temperatures.

There are hybrid methods that use both thermochemical and electricity, such as the Copper–chlorine cycle. It operates at 530° C and has an efficiency of 43 percent.

Ferrosilicon method

Ferrosilicon is used by the military to quickly produce hydrogen for balloons. The chemical reaction uses sodium hydroxide, ferrosilicon, and water. The generator is small enough to fit a truck and requires only a small amount of electric power, the materials are stable and not combustible. The method has been in use since World War I. A heavy steel pressure vessel is filled with sodium hydroxide and ferrosilicon, closed, and a controlled amount of water is added; the dissolving of the hydroxide heats the mixture to about 90° C and starts the reaction; sodium silicate, hydrogen and steam are produced.

Photobiological water splitting
Hydrogen can be produced by algae in a bioreactor. In the late 1990s it was discovered that if the algae is deprived of sulfur, it will switch from the production of oxygen, i.e. normal photosynthesis, to the production of hydrogen. This production is 7–10 percent energy efficiency.


Bacteria and enzymes can be fermented to generate H2. Photofermentation uses light, while dark fermentation, as the name suggests, doesn't need light. The process involves bacteria feeding on hydrocarbons and exhaling hydrogen and CO2. A prototype hydrogen bioreactor using plant waste feedstock is in operation at Welch's grape juice factory in North East, Pennsylvania.

Large Scale Production 

The amount of H2 that would be needed by the world's transportation sector would require a significant increase in H2 production. For H2 to be seen as a clean, renewable fuel, it has to be sourced from water rather than fossil fuels. All of the methods mentioned above are being researched in hopes of finding a better method for large scale H2 production. Unfortunately, today, water sourced H2 remains expensive and energy intensive. This means that natural gas will be the foreseeable fuel stock for H2 production.

Next: Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 4 - Hydrogen Infrastructure

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 2 - H2 From Natural Gas

H2 Sources 

Fuel cell advocates often espouse that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. The only problem with that statement, is that here, on Earth, hydrogen is bound to other elements to make things like water and hydrocarbons. To get the isolated H2 that fuel cells need, the hydrogen must be extracted from compounds.

Natural Gas 

H2 can be derived from water (more on this later). Today, however, it is most often produced by a process called Steam-Methane Reforming. In this process, natural gas (Methane) is combined with high-temperature steam (700°C–1,000°C) under pressures that is 3 to 25 times that of standard atmospheric pressure. With this heat, pressure, and a catalyst the natural gas and steam break down and form hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide.

The carbon monoxide is further processed with steam to create more hydrogen and CO2.

Steam-Methane Reforming Reaction
CH4 + H2O (+heat & pressure) → CO + 3H2
CO + H2O → CO2 + H2 

The H2 from this process is captured and the CO2 is vented into the atmosphere.

Generating these pressures and high temperatures requires a lot of energy. Some of the energy used in this process is lost as heat. Overall, the process of generating H2 from natural gas is around a 50 percent efficient process – about 50-60 kWh are need to deliver 1 kilogram of hydrogen. If you could extract 100% of the energy available in the H2, you would get 25-30 kWh back.

Detractors will point out, that using Methane derived H2 is simply moving the transportation sector from one fossil fuel (oil), to another (natural gas) and the energy used by this process generally involves CO2 emissions also, which offsets much of the potential environmental benefit when using H2 produced in this manner.

So let's look at water sourced H2 in our next post.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

ChargePoint CEO Pat Romano: Don’t Try To Sell Electrons! (w/video)

ChargePoint CEO Pat Romano: Don’t Try To Sell Electrons! (w/video): " The CEO of the largest network of almost 15,000 points strong advised to not try to sell electrons, but rather to attract EV drivers as customers instead by giving them energy for free. Profits will come from higher sales of other goods or services."

Fuel Cell Future Unlikely or Inevitable? Part 1

Recently, Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, said that Hydrogen fuel cell cars are "bullshit". This is in stark contrast to car giants like Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda that are betting big on hydrogen (H2) fuel cells. So who is right?

Fuel Cells make the promise that they will be the long range, fast fill up, alternative to gasoline. They have long been heralded as the fuel of the future, with critics being quick to add that it'll always be the fuel of the future.

Since Elon didn't elaborate on the challenges that he saw for fuel cells, let's examine the challenges that others have listed. Back in 2009, then Secretary of Energy, Dr. Chu, explained that the DOE had cut funding for fuel cell R&D because they were longshot and they required four technological breakthroughs to happen all at once.
I always was somewhat skeptical of it because, right now, the way we get hydrogen primarily is from reforming [natural] gas. That’s not an ideal source of hydrogen. You’re giving away some of the energy content of natural gas, which is a very valuable fuel. So that’s one problem. The other problem is, if it’s for transportation, we don’t have a good storage mechanism yet. Compressed hydrogen is the best mechanism [but it requires] a large volume. We haven’t figured out how to store it with high density. What else? The fuel cells aren’t there yet, and the distribution infrastructure isn’t there yet. So you have four things that have to happen all at once. And so it always looked like it was going to be [a technology for] the distant future. In order to get significant deployment, you need four significant technological breakthroughs. That makes it unlikely.
So the challenges are:
  1. Sourcing Hydrogen (H2)
  2. H2 Storage 
  3. Fuel Cell Cost & Lifespan
  4. H2 Distribution/Infrastructure 
This list of challenges has been described with the quip "fuel cells only need four miracles to happen".
Let's examine what it would take to overcome each of these and make a hydrogen future. How many are miracles and how much is technological advancement?

In this multi-part post, we'll examine the viability of H2 fuel cell vehicles and compare them to the emerging plug-in vehicles.

Part 2 - H2 From Natural Gas

Peak driving

via The Energy Collective: