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Hydrogen Conundrum

Hyundai has just released a new hydrogen-powered car in New Zealand – the ix35 Fuel Cell SUV.

ix35 Fuel Cell SUV Hyundaiix35 Fuel Cell SUV HyundaiIt emits water from its tail pipe, so why isn’t it on the front burner for environmentalists?

Right now, environmentalists are focused on battery-powered vehicles, but will they promote hydrogen if the battery-powered vehicles aren’t successful?

Maybe not.

Hyundai is planning on having 1,000, ix35 Fuel Cell SUVs, available for lease in 2015, with the first 17 vehicles destined for Sweden and Denmark.

Other car manufacturers are also getting more involved. Earlier this month, Daimler, Ford and Nissan announced a target of 2017 for introducing affordable hydrogen-powered cars.

Hydrogen cars have to overcome four obstacles:

  • Producing hydrogen
  • Storing hydrogen on the vehicle
  • High fuel cell costs
  • Lack of fueling infrastructure

If hydrogen is produced at a centralized location, there is a fifth problem, transporting hydrogen to fueling stations.

Hydrogen can be produced using electrolysis, but the cost is prohibitive. It can also be produced by extracting the hydrogen from methane, i.e., natural gas, using reforming. Oil refineries currently produce hydrogen from methane, and are the major source of hydrogen today.

In both instances, hydrogen can be produced locally at the filling station.

Transporting hydrogen is a problem. It requires liquefying the hydrogen, and then transporting the hydrogen using cryogenic trucks, with large amounts of energy lost in the process. A very expensive alternative would be to build new special, pipelines. Existing pipelines can’t be used since hydrogen attacks the metal in natural gas pipelines.

The high cost of fuel cells remains a huge obstacle.

Hyundai indicated the fuel cell pack used in the ix35 Fuel Cell SUV, costs $100,000, although many believe it costs more. Hyundai expects to bring the cost of the fuel cell pack down to $50,000 by 2015. This is still several times the cost of an internal combustion engine and five times the cost of the Li-ion battery used in GM’s Volt.

Storing hydrogen on the vehicle can be done by compressing it and using 10,000 psi storage tanks or, alternatively, it can be stored as a liquid in thermos bottle-like cryogenic tanks1.

Neither is a good solution. Experiments are underway using metal-hydrides, in an effort to develop new storage techniques, but the problem of rapid absorption and rapid, controlled release, stand in the way.

Finally, there is the need for thousands of fueling stations, a problem similar to the charging station problem associated with battery-powered vehicles.

Even if all these problems can be resolved, environmentalists may not welcome hydrogen-powered vehicles because the reforming process, to produce hydrogen, releases large quantities of CO2.

Without carbon capture and storage, (CCS) CO2 is an anathema to environmentalists.

This may be why the media has largely ignored the introduction of the ix35 Fuel Cell SUV.

Note:

  1. An alternative to on-board storage of hydrogen is reforming gasoline on the vehicle. On-board reforming would eliminate three problems: the need for pipelines; new fueling stations; and transporting hydrogen by cryogenic truck.

While the cost of reforming equipment adds to the cost of the vehicle, it can use gasoline that is readily available without investing in a new system of fueling stations.

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Donn DearsDonn Dears

Using knowledge gained from a lifetime of activity working in the energy arena, Donn writes for Power For USA.

Donn began his career at General Electric testing large steam turbines and generators used by utilities to generate electricity; followed, by manufacturing and marketing assignments at the Transformer Division....read more.

 

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