Friday, April 3, 2015

Hydrogen's promise - and avoiding common mistakes about energy

Today, some information on hydrogen and the promise it has to power the future.

But first, the consistently lucid Brad Plumer has a post that leads into the space hydrogen promises to, at least partially, fill.

The most common mistake that news stories make about energy - Vox: "
Repeat it over and over: "electricity" is not the exact same thing as "energy."
Last week, I wrote about a nifty milestone in Costa Rica — the country had gone 75 days without using any fossil fuels to generate electricity. It was intriguing news, and lots of other outlets also covered it.
Except a number of stories featured headlines that were quite wrong, saying that Costa Rica was now running completely on renewable energy:
That's not true, and this subtle error pops up a lot in energy coverage. "Electricity" and "energy" aren't perfectly interchangeable.
Yes, Costa Rica's power plants were all running on renewables (mostly hydro) and delivering clean electricity through transmission lines. But the country still had plenty of cars running on old-fashioned gasoline. There were still airline flights in and out of Costa Rica powered by jet fuel. The country has two large cement plants that were still burning coal in their kilns. It simply wasn't true that, as one outlet put it, Costa Rica had "eschewed fossil fuels completely."
I suggest people read this entire article, and Plumer's other work.

image from Student's Guide to Alternative Fuels
I received an e-mail noting work posted to the site of the "Auto Insurance Centre." I'm not sure I would have opened the link if it had not cited a work of mine that I enjoyed compiling/writing (Exporting more U.S. Coal can lower global emissions?)
I'm glad I did, as it summarizes a number of alternatives for powering transportation; I was particularly interested in the section on hydrogen.

Students Guide to Alternative Fuels
...motor manufacturers are busy designing vehicles that operate using alternative fuels, so that our roads in the future will be less polluted and our vehicles more environmentally-friendly and energy efficient.
Hydrogen Cars
Hydrogen might have had a bit of a public image problem thanks to the Hindenburg, but it is actually a safe alternative to petrol and with models like the perhaps unimaginatively-namedToyota Fuel Cell Sedan and plenty of other major motor manufacturers working away to produce their own hydrogen cars, this is an alternative fuel that has a big future on four wheels.
Hydrogen actually has the capability of fuelling two different types of car. Fuel cell vehicles run using hydrogen and cars that have an internal combustion engine can also be engineered so that they can run on hydrogen rather than gasoline.
A fuel-cell vehicle uses hydrogen to generate electricity which in turn, is then utilized to power an electric motor in the car. This is an important point, as instead of relying on battery power alone, a hydrogen-powered car is able to use its fuel cells to generate its own electricity.
The Honda FCX Clarity uses a chemical process within the fuel cell that allows hydrogen and oxygen to combine in order to create this electricity. The big bonus about this technology from an eco point of view, is that the only byproduct of this process is water vapor.
Hydrogen combustion engine
For those that like their internal combustion engine, hydrogen can be used to create what feels like a normal gas-powered car, but uses hydrogen as the fuel source rather than the more harmful-to-the-environment gasoline as its fuel.
These hydrogen combustion engine cars are also big winners when it comes to lowering CO2 emissions, as they also only produce water vapor just like the other hydrogen version.
The guide continues to cover many other options for powering vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal's Can Hydrogen-Fueled Cars Rise in China? provides more fuel to power optimism that hydrogen fueled vehicles will enter the market in a meaningful way:
French industrial gas supplier Air Liquide SAAI.FR -0.33% are hoping the world’s biggest market for passenger cars will become a major market for hydrogen-powered cars.
“If China moves, it will change everything,” Pierre-Etienne Franc, vice president for advanced business and technologies at Air Liquide told China Real Time in a recent interview. He added that more demand from China could act as a “trigger” point that could see global demand for such cars finally take off.
The Foshan district of Gaoming is likely to be the site of the first railway vehicle energized by hydrogen in China as part of a project—also by CSR Sifang—to build a 17-kilometer railway line there.
Perhaps most encouraging are new rules announced in July, to be phased in over a two-year period, that require green cars—including those running hydrogen—to account for no less than 30% of all new cars bought for official use each year.
Air Liquide’s Mr. Franc says adequate infrastructure is only one part of the equation. China still needs a regulatory framework that would ensure adequate and safe supply of hydrogen, and it needs more car makers to embrace hydrogen technology.
China’s desire to improve its environment will eventually drive it to put such conditions in place, he says, adding that embracing hydrogen as a car fuel is also part of the country’s journey from manufacturer to innovator. “That road will go through fuel cell technology,” predicted Mr. Franc.
There's a knock on hydrogen cars here (noted in the comments attached to the WSJ article) - specifically gas is usually the source of the hydrogen.

There are potentials for other sources. Nature's Solar energy: Springtime for the artificial leaf is one article discussing the pursuit of affordable artificial photosynthesis:
Inside Caltech's Jorgensen Laboratory, however, more than 80 researchers are putting a lot of effort into doing the leaf's job using silicon, nickel, iron and any number of other materials that would be more at home inside a cell phone than a plant cell. Their gleaming new labs are the headquarters of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a 190-person research programme funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) with US$116 million over five years. The centre's goal is to use sunlight to make hydrogen and other fuels much more efficiently than real leaves ever made biomass.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL - formerly AECL) sees hydrogen as a promising field it is uniquely qualified to contribute to. From CNL Invests in Hydrogen to Power the Future
Imagine a world where driving to work is no more harmful to the environment than walking or cycling...
CNL’s advantage in exploring future hydrogen applications stems from its six decades of experience with hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium...

CNL’s depth of experience is now being applied to exploring large-scale production of hydrogen using technology that can be integrated with nuclear energy. Essentially, this technology would use surplus electricity – either nuclear or renewable – as the clean form of energy needed to produce this resource.
Where could it lead? The “hydrogen economy,” perhaps. Hydrogen is a low-carbon energy source that someday could replace gasoline for transportation or natural gas for heating. Hydrogen is attractive because the only by-product from its use is water – the regular kind. 

UPDATE April 13, 2015

Here's one more story on scientific work promising to make hydrogen a practical transportation fuel:
New discovery may be breakthrough for hydrogen cars |

Update April 23, 2015

Toyota posted this video on YouTube - which plays on Elon Musk's reference to hydrogen as bullshit.

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