Auto Manifesto

April 7, 2008

Hydrogen Infrastructure

I’m not totally against hydrogen. The sun is full of it. But it just doesn’t make sense to me as a fuel. According to Larry Burns of General Motors the development work on fuel cells is now to the point where it’s commercially viable except for the fact there is no hydrogen refueling infrastructure and no one has said anything about producing enough hydrogen to do anything.

BMW echoed the message on a commercial featuring the Hydrogen 7. They said that the car is ready for the world when the world is ready for it, presumably about the refueling issue. It only emits water vapor. Well that’s still about the only thing that anyone will talk about.

There’s a great article in the April 2008 issue of Fast Company (it’s like a car magazine) that talks about Iceland’s progress with hydrogen and energy in general, and how they’re exporting their know-how. That’s all fine and good but it appears to me that Iceland has three things going for it that the US and many other countries don’t have. Lots of installed geothermal energy sources, a very small population, and relatively small geographic area.

In a place where there is essentially energy from the ground to generate power, efficiency isn’t a deal breaker. But in just about every other part of the world, can someone explain to me where we are going to get the energy to make the hydrogen?

Maybe industry is doing this to show how impractical the idea is while getting green kudos from an uninformed public? Or maybe I’m uninformed and cynical. Time will tell.

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  • Always enjoy reporting about car tech.

    By the way, there's oddly a cartoon that rips on the hydrogen car as a major plot point,
    which you can check out here: Cats of Death, Episode Two


    By Blogger Bindledog, At April 7, 2008 at 11:12 AM  

  • Yes, BMW is claiming that hydrogen is ready. The Hydrogen 7 is an internal combustion engine vehicle that is fueled with liquid hydrogen. This is way different than the fuel cell vehicle (FCV). The FCV is a car with an electric drive train that gets its power from a gaseous hydrogen fuel cell.

    Maybe someday with some mass manufacturing techniques they may be able to to get price of the car below $50,000. But right now they require laboratory grade hydrogen. If any impurities get into the cell it clogs the membranes effectively killing it.

    As the 2 mentioned auto manufacturers have said, we need infrastructure. To even approach the current convenience of gasoline some 20,000 fueling stations will be required. At a conservative $500,000 each, the number is not pretty. And that's just for the stations, I can't even think about the manufacturing part. Where is this money going to come from? My guess is the consumers pocketbook.

    It looks to me like the Hydrogen Highway is just going to be damn expensive to drive on. I wish those people making policy would come to this conclusion and back the easiest, quickest and most economic solution to the problems.

    By Blogger Randy C., At April 7, 2008 at 11:31 PM  

  • randy c: I understand the distinction between IC engines burning hydrogen and FCVs. My issue with hydrogen itself is the process that we have to go through to obtain it, and how (in)efficient it is.

    Just how much energy does it take to produce, and how does that compare to other alternatives such as electricity?

    I suppose if it were highly efficient proponents would have been trumpeting that information.

    By Blogger David Nguyen, At April 14, 2008 at 9:56 PM  

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