Wednesday, November 20, 2013

$200 million hydrogen highway probably won't work and is a good idea

Delayed blogging here, but thought I'd call out an initiative to fund $20 million annually for a decade to create hydrogen fueling stations in California. This should create 100 new fueling stations - currently the state has nine that are open to the public.

Maybe I'm being too skeptical, but electric vehicles have a huge leg up on hydrogen and still confront an enormous challenge getting an adequate infrastructure in place, so I have strong doubts about whether this will work. Still, they should try it. Maybe the range advantages of hydrogen will help it catch up with or complement electric vehicles. A price of $20 million annually for something that has enough of a chance to be beneficial is worth it.

Absent the potential fraud issue, Solyndra represented a similar, reasonable investment. It didn't work because the technology costs didn't work as expected. You need to spread your bets when you're dealing with a difficult investment. Other bets, like with Tesla, seem to be going well.

45 comments:

Andrew said...

As a fuel, Hydrogen has exactly one advantage - it's easy to make from (for example) excess electric generation.

Apart from that, it's awful. Low energy density. Nightmare to store; tendency to leak/evaporate in storage. Hard to safely distribute - at least hard to distribute in cryogenic form just because cryogenics are hard. Not as dangerous explosion-wise as petrol, though.

My particular fave on this one is Methanol, which has the huge advantage of being a fairly normal fuel, but chemically as simple as possible for a room temperature liquid. Can be made using water, electricity/heat and a carbon source.. which can be anything from biomass waste to CO2. Still needs a lot of energy, though.









Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

First of all, you are freaking idiots. Thank you for your attention. Now, for transportation uses, cryogenic liquid oxygrn and hydrogen are unparalleled in performance when stored in Dewars properly and used reasonably. Already the trucking industry is HEAVY into cryogens. The problem is making it. Steam reforming must be replaced with clever methods of electrolyzing, cooling and storage.

Mottness. Did I say you're unresearched and naive approach to physics was idiotic? I mean it. Cave man bullshit from idiots. It's no wonder that the second people started working Tesla's hard on the interstate that all hell broke loose, it's a war zone of blown tires, carcases and debris out there on the road, and super batteries are basically explosives, contained and measured. You people need to grow up when it comes to playing with fire. Nobody uses flames anymore.

EliRabett said...

Ah yes, hydrogen in Dewars handled by experts. Such a walk in the park, after you get blown there

Russell may have more to add

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

Ah yes, super batteries, handled by experts. Or better yet, gas tanks handled by idiots. Go for it.

The minute anyone can post a link to a modern research paper on Mottness then I might take you seriously.

Otherwise, good luck with the carbon problem on this planet. Fermi had a paradox that adequately expressed the problems that you face, which will not be solve with pansy assed cave man approaches to modern physics.

You people aren't even within the minimal realm of reality on this. The collapse of civilization is and will be entertaining though.

Anonymous said...

Eli should take his own advice and RTFR

Anonymous said...

"$200 million hydrogen highway probably won't work and is a good idea."
are you missing a "not" or am i missing a joke ?

Russell Seitz said...

for transportation uses, cryogenic liquid oxygrn and hydrogen are unparalleled in performance


Unparalleled? Liquid H2 may be the only fuel for a driving fool, but what use hydrogen without a really ripsnorting oxidizer?

Oxygen is for sissies. Sporting Califonians want elemental fluorine pumps installed at stochiometric intervals along the downwind side of the Camino Real .

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

Like I said, you're an idiot.

Good luck with the carbon thing.

I sure am glad I'm childless.

Brian said...

Anon at 4:49 - no, for the reasons stated below the headline.

Andrew said...

Elemental Fluorine is for wimps. You need FOOF as an oxidiser, then you can use pretty much anything as fuel.


Fergus Brown said...

Hydrogen works, but only if you produce it via renewable energy, otherwise you aren't getting the efficiencies. Works better in trains than cars, though; already being used in some places, development in others. It's no more hazardous than many other items transported by rail.

bluegrue said...

Off-topic, but wanted to share this:
The Texas Board of Education gave preliminary approval Thursday to dropping algebra II as a requirement for high school graduation, over the objections of critics who say the state is watering down its academic standards.

Uh-Oh.

EliRabett said...

Robert Tai from Virgina has good evidence that the last HS math class is the major influence on all STEM college grades. Texas is not exactly smart on this.

EliRabett said...

Fergus, given Lac-Megantic, that does not exactly fill Eli with confidence. Yes, it would be better for large units, but the potential for disaster w/o care is high.

As you know, most industrial accidents are very creative.

Anonymous said...

Twenty Hydrogen Myths"

There might be some surprises in there for Fergus, Eli, Russell and others (if they choose to read, of course).

Among them, the "Hydrogen is too dangerous" myth (which is also debunked in this DOE report (also linked to above)


Fergus Brown said...

Eli,
This has been one of the major issues that hydrail (sic) has been working with for some time. Notwithstanding, H trains are being used in SA platinum mines (no nasty emissions to poison the workers), and Japan, China, Turkey, The UK, Denmark and, I think, Canada, all have ongoing work in the area, and in some cases have working (and safe) examples.
As anonymouse above mentions, H can be handled properly, the point being that it's easier to do this with a rail-type set of weights and power outputs than with PVs.
There is also considerable potential to store excess renewable energy as a side-benefit, and a close-to-zero CO2 input and zero emissions.

Anonymous said...

"Hydrogen works, but only if you produce it via renewable energy,

A myth.

"otherwise you aren't getting the efficiencies."

One must carefully DEFINE what one means by "efficiencies" (see the Twenty Hydrogen Myths paper)

"Works better in trains than cars, though;"

Specifically, what does that mean, "better"?

Again, it's important to define one's terms.

otherwise, it is "very unhelpful" to anyone actually interested in the hydrogen transportation issue.

Fergus Brown said...

Anon;
Excuse my brevity. My opinion derives from having spent some time looking at as much material as I could usefully absorb over a number of days.
Efficiencies refers to the CO2 benefits related to hydrolisation processes, which consume energy to create the H. If the energy source is CO2 rich, the relative gains are small - if the energy source is low CO2, the gains are larger.
For 'better', see my last comment.
If someone is genuinely interested in the H transportation issue, they probably know at least as much as me and probably more.
H for PVs may have a future - my suggestion is that H for trains makes more sense, in the right circumstances, for example, where the cost/mile/ton of materials is lower than or equal to the same for road transport, but the emissions are vastly lower.

Anonymous said...

As an example, one could also say that "diesel works 'better' in trains than cars" if one means by "better" that it allows one to transport more passengers per mile per gallon of fuel consumed.

But was that really what was intended by hydrogen "works 'better' in trains than cars" above?

Andrew said...

Anon 6:16..

Mr Lovins does have a habit of arguing against myths of his own creation.

As an energy storage mechanism, the only thing that hydrogen has going for it is is the relative ease of production. It's hard to store, the energy density is low, and losses in storage are also non-trivial.

As above, Methanol is much better as a petrol replacement on grounds of being a very stable room temperature liquid.

There are others - Ammonia and Boron have both been proposed. Boron is very interesting indeed, with a combination of excellent energy density and complete crash safety - it's just tricky to do boron engines.. Ammonia is a bit smelly but much easier to handle than hydrogen.

And of course there are good old batteries.


Anonymous said...

"Mr Lovins does have a habit of arguing against myths of his own creation.'"

My, what a profoundly scientific way of dismissing the arguments he makes in that "Hydrogen Myths' paper.


Fergus Brown said...

Anon,
'H works better in trains than cars' in the sense that solving the problems of production, storage, safety, transportation of fuel etc. has a better chance in the context of the logistics of a rail network than those of a highway network. The cost-effectiveness is another argument for implementation.
Side point: rail projects are commonly run on scales which can readily incorporate infrastructure of the kind of scale required, including, for example, terminal wind farms. The logistics appear to be a little more tricky for highways.
In response to Andrew, recent work on low-pressure storage solutions offer hope that some of these issues are solvable, but they involve larger apparatus.
Toshiba are using batteries of a new LI variant in new train designs which are quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

One need look no further than this very thread to see the "hydrogen is too dangerous' myth being propagated.

You know, the one that Amory Lovins created.

Anonymous said...

"H works better in trains than cars' in the sense that solving the problems of production, storage, safety, transportation of fuel etc. has a better chance in the context of the logistics of a rail network than those of a highway network."

I don't think anyone would disagree with that.

But it also seems to me that a hydrogen system for cars is actually a distinct issue that should be considered in its own right.

After all, even diesel trains are "better" than gas or diesel cars based on that definition, but, though trains could certainly displace a large number of cars, the two are not interchangeable.

As an aside, except over long open stretches (away from electric infrastructure), direct electric trains are probably going to be "better" (by your definition) than hydrogen powered trains, at any rate.

Russell Seitz said...

Fie on thy FOOF, Andrew, plain vanilla F2 is equally hypergolic and offers the exciting bonus of setting fire to water as well as concrete on contact.

Instead of waxing hyperbolic about hypergolics, let us settle on the only reactive fluorine oxidizer that is both dirt cheap and available in enormous surplus-- UF6!

Besides the milage and acceleration biofuels could provide were hex to replace air , divering the world's supply into the automotive food chain would severely disconcert nuclear proliferators, and bring the HFC refrigerant controversy to awestruck closure.

Once the nation's lungs were teflon-lined by a few cautionary inhalations of the zestful gas, complaints about smog, ozone, and pedesrtrian encroachment on the freeway experience would dwindle to emphasemic murmurs of consent.

GRLCowan said...

Amory "I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years" Lovins got a letter published in the November Scientific American saying fuel cells for cars were plenty cheap already.

Not this November, mind you. November 1999.

Seitz presents a cunning plan, but there is a flaw: UF6 isn't much of a fluorinator. Rather than going from oxidation state VI to a lower valence, as the central atom in a strongly fluorinating hexafluoride like PtF6 tends to do -- I seem to recall that with dioxygen it makes Pt(V)F6(-)O2(+), oxidizing oxygen -- it stays hexavalent.

Anonymous said...

Amory "I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years"

My, what a profoundly scientific argument against his work.

Anonymous said...

As I indicated above, DOE also debunked the "hydrogen is too dangerous" myth.

...and DOE has also effectively "worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years" (36 to be exact).

Perhaps we should just dismiss the claims of DOE out of hand as well?

Russell Seitz said...

Back to the Journal of Cunning Plans and Gmelin, Cowan- hex will ignite most organics and fluorinate the rest as vigorously as the higher fluorides of silver or the transition metals - think of it as chromic acid on steroids.

Anonymous said...


Brian, I think enough “green” boondoggles enter the public consciousness as is. I’m for more selectivity and focus on stuff than has a fair chance of really mattering. There’s a tailpipe somewhere and steam reforming of NG and coal gasification are the process now overwhelmingly used in producing bulk H2. A hundred example dispensaries for paradigm that’s lost considerable interest for really being that useful, at $2,000,000 each scattered around CA because someone thought it was a good idea? I don’t recall seeing any updates of Lovins’ circa 2003 costs projections. And what is the reasoning for duplicating things like the LHNE project.

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/07/ix35-20130721.html

I’ve always, well for the last several years, had a warm and fuzzy spot for H2 as storage for renewables. Most of its problems go away when using it for mobility no longer matters. Rather than pump H2O uphill or compress air down below, electrolyze H2 and then react it in a gang of fuel cells or just burn the stuff, all in your own sweet time.

WhiteBeard

Russell Seitz said...

As part of the 12 step program for recovering hydroholics, someone should field a mobile halfway-house powered by pressurized hydrogen cooled by liquid nitrogen to gain a 293/ 77 advantage in storage capacity without the fuss attending liquid H2

Brian said...

Whitebeard - this is from your link:

"Although Hyundai has been developing its fuel cell vehicles for more than 15 years, it is only with the start of a viable hydrogen refueling network in place that it is considering putting a fuel cell car into series production, the company said."

I'm not sure London is enough, especially if the idea is to start scaling up production and reduce costs.

EliRabett said...

Whitebeard reminds Eli that in our wasted (Eli's was wasted) youths, there were large tanks in every town filled with towngas, mixtures of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which only occasionally went boom. The arrival of natural gas left many places with unused gasometers, which in places were converted to malls or discos

Russell Seitz said...

While town gas registers the size of upended zeppelins may appeal to Eli's refined sense of steampunk, let us not forget they were inflated by passing steam over burning bitumenous coal.

Disposing of the byproducts in today's marketplace might still possible in a JV with Coca Cola, to mass market New Classic Classic Coke Filtered Coke.

Andrew said...

Whitebeard...

I would envisage electrolytic H2 production as a first stage; the concept is very much that we create an electric grid that is oversupplied 99.9% of the time by nuclear + renewables; the concept being that we remove the need to match supply to demand. The surplus goes into H2 production.

The H2 can then be used as a feedstock into fuel creation. Certainly not perfect. As I said above.. Methanol is, in my opinion, a good target on grounds of simplicity and not being a cryogenic metal-destroying nightmare.


Anonymous said...


Brian,

My basic thesis is in the first sentence above. A public display (100 locations chosen for their proximity to private vehicle routes) as a test of acceptance of a whole new infrastructure, a fundamentally new paradigm? A paradigm that, when the zero emissions at the vehicle tail pipe bumper sticker is removed, one is left with the corrosion of about double the GH gas emissions of just burning the NG and uses the existing distribution infrastructure to get fuel to dispensaries. The advantages of eliminating smoggy point emissions is clear and is the focus of what California has been on about since Eli and I were whippersnappers, but optimizing that factor at the expense of a large increase of GH gases per unit of end user transportation?

And this, before a general public that doesn’t really understand too much about how their material culture works? A public assembled beneath their totem poles and with a number of tribal “big men” ever alert for an opportunity to jeer about the Flintstones’ Deno and his buds out cruising in a SUV.

Andrew,

Fine. But what of the span of time until electric demand (I’d expand the scope of the exercise to six continents) is satisfied by nuclear + renewables? I, like Eli, am not growing noticeably younger and really don’t see H2 in applications to move stuff more light weight than railway freight for quite a time. Electrolysis, rather that dumping renewable electricity that is in excess of demand seem a worthwhile immediate target.

WhiteBeard

Anonymous said...

Eli clearly thinks that hydrogen powered vehicles are just too dang dangerous, so that tells us all we need to know about his knowledge of the current state of the technology.

It is at least as important to imagine the future as it is to remember the past.

EliRabett said...

As Santayana said, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

John said...

For hydrogen to work, advances have to be made simultaneously, in hydrogen production, hydrogen storage, hydrogen transportation, and (maybe) hydrogen fuel cells. The American Physical Society (APS) issued an official statement on the topic a decade ago or so, IIRC.

Sorry to say, but many laypeople think of hydrogen as a source of energy instead of a storage medium.

One person, close to the DOE, told me (back in the G W Bush era). that Bush supported the hydrogen car BECAUSE he (GWB) thought that it wouldn't work. Now, you and I might support the hydrogen car if we thought that it would work, but GWB supported it because he thought that it worldn't work.

The real benefit was that GWB could point to the hydrogen car as proof of his commitment to the environment and protecting us from the effects of climate change. While actually not doing much that might upset the oil companies.

GRLCowan said...

John says,

For hydrogen to work, advances have to be made simultaneously, in hydrogen production, hydrogen storage, hydrogen transportation, and (maybe) hydrogen fuel cells.

But if all that is done, the motoring public will snap up hydrogen cars by the dozen.

Maybe. I used to be a hydrogen car fan, maybe I'm still too optimistic.

Brian said...

Hi John, I had the same opinion of Arnold Schwarzenegger regarding the push for hydrogen 10 years ago, before he finally got somewhat sincere about climate change. Now feels different, partly because of who's pushing it, and partly because hydrogen's not being used AFAICT to weaken policies promoting electric vehicles.

Whitebeard - from a policy perspective, the 100 hydrogen stations are unimportant as far as their direct effects are concerned, either positive or negative. If they lead to nothing, then that's too bad and a waste of money (but not a lot of money compared to overall energy budget over a decade). The chance that they could lead to something huge makes them seem worthwhile to me.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

You used to be a usenet crank too, and well, guess what, you still are.

EliRabett said...

:)

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

What's that, the internet stink eye? Everyone has their preferred molecule. It takes all kinds. But molecules have consequences. The consequences of hydrogen and oxygen molecules and ultraviolet photons are fortunately for you, very low. What I sense is a complete laziness of the US government and academic institutions to get this job done. When there are just a handful of people in the entire world working on this problem, the complaints of the rubes start to get pretty lame.

Russell Seitz said...

EliRabett said...
As Santayana said, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

And that goes double for the periodic table