Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Steve asks: Is hydrogen fuel cell technology a potentially viable alternative to all this battery nonsense? Even solar and wind? It is reportedly being qualified in trucks, where batteries are a non-starter.
My reply: I think the better question is – why the push for alternatives when what we have works better and costs less? I know… because the “climate” is in “crisis.” Well, if so, then the last thing we need are high-performance electric cars that use 2-3 times as much energy as is necessary to get from A to B. In the course of which, they “emit” many times the amount of C02 as necessary, whether at the smokestack or during raw materials extraction and manufacturing. And the infrastructure which would be necessary to support all of this.
And yet, Teslas are adulated – and all the EVs on the horizon are of a piece.
Hydrogen (fuel cell) tech is less egregious, environmentally – but even more costly. Nothing available can compete with the cost of gasoline, or its energy density or its versatility and practicality.
This manic pursuit of “alternatives” would make sense if were on the verge of running out of gas – or if gas-powered cars were an environmental problem. Neither being the case, the whole thing is a kind of psychosis in need of therapy.
That is the proper “alternative”!
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“Nothing available can compete with the cost of gasoline, or its energy density or its versatility and practicality.”
Hydrogen has a huge upside potential and most people aren’t talking about it:
1. Current vehicles can be converted.
2. New vehicles can now use relatively cheap fuel cell tech that uses very efficient electric motors.
3. Converting the current supply chain to hydrogen is MUCH easier than electricity that requires new transmission lines and requires new power generation. (see #4)
4. Hydrogen can be a by product of Gen IV walk away safe nuclear reactors.
#4 is HUGE. The Gen IV nuclear reactors that they’re planning (if the US gov ever gets out of the way) are local to your community, buried under ground, completely safe, 300% more efficient than current reactors, and can be replaced by simply hooking up a new one and carting away the old one. Because these reactors can use controllable heat levels, if they get above about 900C they start producing hydrogen as a essentially free byproduct.
So that same reactor that is powering your community without any high power transmission lines that everyone hates, is also your fill-up station or at worst, has a MUCH shorter distance to the pump to travel than from the Gulf or Bracken. This makes the production of the fuel for cars cost virtually 0, makes the transportation of said fuel 1/100th what it is today, and eliminates all refining costs which will more than offset the cost of conversion.
The problem is that we have to get the EPA out of the way. Which Trump is doing… slowly. But this is why hydrogen is so intriguing. Yes it’s way less efficient than just using direct electricity in the car, but that doesn’t matter when it’s a byproduct (waste, but in this case makes the reaction no less efficient) of an already desirable process. And it can incrementally replace current tech in the way that we currently use it.
“The Gen IV nuclear reactors that they’re planning (if the US gov ever gets out of the way) are local to your community”
That would be decentralization. NEVER going to happen with power mad sociopaths in charge.
Well I’d agree, but the people behind it are more powerful in almost every way.
Though H2 addresses the issue of quick turnaround (can be refueled in 5 min), it has serious problems. One, there’s little infrastructure for it; where can you refuel, besides a few stations in CA? Two, since H2 is among the smallest molecules out there, it’s prone to leakage. Three, it operates under very high pressures; we’re talking 10,000 psi here, folks! Four, H2’s energy density is low. Five, H2 fuel cell vehicles are EXPENSIVE; the Toyota Mirai costs $60K! It costs more than a Tesla without the performance or luxury of a Tesla. Finally, making H2 is difficult, since it’s rare in nature.
To make H2, one of two things can be done: either use electrolysis to split water, H2O; or split methane, CH4. Both of these processes require energy. In fact, since H2 has to be split off from something else (either H20 or CH4), a net energy LOSS is realized! That’s because, as mentioned above, H2 has a low energy density. To put it another way, it takes more energy to MAKE H2 than it yields after it’s made.
In closing, H2 is even more of a non-starter than BEVs are. The Toyota Mirai costs MORE than a Tesla 3, while offering none of the performance, luxury, or even tech that a Tesla 3 offers. H2 is prone to leakage; because H2 is so small, it’s hard to contain it. It has to be contained under extremely high pressures. Outside of a few CA stations, you can’t get H2. At least BEVs have an increasing number of chargers available. At the end of the day though, ICEVs are better.