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Science Technology

Hydrogen Fuel Cells Hit the Road 530

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the tough-finding-a-fueling-station dept.
caffeined writes "Well, it looks like Honda is doing a real test of their fuel-cell car. A family in California is renting the car for $500/mo. Honda is charging them so that they take it seriously - an executive explained that if it were free they might not get the kind of feedback they want. If someone is paying for something and they're not happy - then you're going to hear about it. This is apparently the first fuel-cell car on the road anywhere in the world, according to Honda."
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Hydrogen Fuel Cells Hit the Road

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  • by eln (21727) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:08PM (#13933806) Homepage
    Charge them $500 a month to have the car blow up upon impact and kill the whole family. Sheesh.

    You're right, we should stick to powering our cars with a nice, non-volatile, non-explosive substance like gasoline.
  • Re:Sign me up! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:15PM (#13933880) Homepage
    I've found that the best engines for running on biodiesel are the Peugeot XUD engines. You get them in some Volvos, Renaults, Citroëns, Dacia and of course Peugeots. Ideally you want one with a Bosch fuel pump - the Lucas ones don't last nearly as long, for some reason. Failing that, find a diesel VW Golf or Passat.

    Basically you are looking for any late 80s-to-mid-90s European diesel, preferably with the Bosch pump.
  • Re:Nice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Duncan3 (10537) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:29PM (#13934025) Homepage
    Shhhhhh! you're giving away the dirty little secret!

    These things don't work worth a [beep] in Minnesota, or Winnipeg, or anywhere else cold.

    Fortunately with oil and natural gas prices, everyone living where there is snow will soon have to declare bankrupcy and move south. Problem solved :)
  • Granted (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:30PM (#13934034) Journal
    Seeing as how we have solar panels, wind power, and hydro power as pipelines to the sun. Shoots, we even have tidal power( which is actually lunar), and nuclear (which is big bang power).

    As to the hydrogen itself, we are loaded with it.
  • by LemonFire (514342) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:31PM (#13934048) Homepage
    Since 61% of all electricity in California is produced using fossil fuel how is this really helping us right now?
    Only 28% of the electricity is created using nuclear or hydro power sources.
    So if more and more people start driving electric cars in California we'll have to burn even more fossils and quite a bit of it is the good old polluter named coal.

    Not that I have anything against a better car runs on renewable energy, but I think it would be better to start with creating more electricity that doesn't come from fossils.

    -- Sir! I'm only telling you once, step down from the soap box. This is your last warning...
  • by nuggz (69912) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:32PM (#13934053) Homepage
    Hydrogen comes from electricity.
    Incremental electric demand comes from oil & natural gas.

    Using hydrogen cars will just shift the fossil fuel burning to the power plant rather than the car.

    So I'm wondering, other than sounding like cool space age technology, where is the benefit?
  • by haggar (72771) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:38PM (#13934117) Homepage Journal
    We hear this argument on Slashdot every time this is brought up, and every time it's equally wrong: electricity is produced by many means, many of them renewable or non-polluting, like nuclear energy. Furthermore, natural gas creates less CO2 than gasoline or diesel. Also, and very importantly, producing electrical energy in any powerplant, is much more efficient than transforming the thermal energy into motion, in cars.
    Finally, it is relatively easy to shift the source of electrical energy from carbon to nuclear and perhaps solar and wind. It is IMPOSSIBLE to do that if cars stay the same, i.e. gasoline-based.

    Moving from gasoline to fuel cell is an enabler, it allows for a shift from polluting to non-polluting technology. If you don't have that enabler, you will never be able to do the shift.
  • What's so funny? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hellfire (86129) <deviladv&gmail,com> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:43PM (#13934167) Homepage
    The Grandparent post is right in their sentiment. They need to test this in more than just sunny temperate california. It has nothing to do with how hydrogen reacts to extreme climates, but it has everything to do with how the Car reacts to extreme climates.

    We have enough posts on how people like MS aren't testing their software enough, but now we criticize someone who thinks they should be testing more? :)

    You might think Honda would do this, but be cautious. This is brand new technology, of course, and businesses love to cut corners in order to make it to market on time.
  • by sco08y (615665) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:47PM (#13934210)
    If the fuel tank were to rupture and explode, it would actually be less dangerous than your current gas tank rupturing and exploding.

    Gas tanks don't spontaneously explode. A few liters of gasoline will burn quite nicely, but it doesn't explode.

    Think of all the car wrecks you've seen. How many were burnt up?

    The Hindenburg went up so fast because the canvas was treated with substances that also happen to be used in rocket fuel.

    Debatable...

    Even so, the passenger compartment itself was unharmed and the passengers survived.

    "Of the 97 people on board, 13 passengers and 22 crew-members were killed. One member of the ground crew also died, bringing the death toll to 36." --wikipedia

    Though most of them fell to their death...

    At any rate, I think comparing an airship with H2 at 1 atmosphere pressure to a vehicle with pressurized H2 is useless for evaluating safety.
  • Re:Great news! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VendingMenace (613279) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:48PM (#13934217)
    two things...

    1) WHere do you think we will be getting the energy for hydrogen seperation?

    2) How many wars have started directly because of oil supply? ANd what is the death toll for these wars as opposed to the more traditional "agression" wars?

    Honestly, the wars for oil have contributed very little to the death toll due to violence in our history (even modern history). And fuel cells does not remove our dependence form oil until we can power hydrogen purification plants using wind, solar, or nuclear power.
  • by teeker (623861) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:48PM (#13934222)
    But what alternatives are there to fuel cells, when the oil runs out? Artificial petroleum, maybe?

    Well the easiest (and that is a very relative term) are ethanol or biodiesel. Both are liquid fuels, meaning our entire infrastructure designed for handling liquids doesn't need to be replaced (gas pumps, tanker trucks, pipelines, etc.). They are carbon neutral, meaning the carbon released during combustion is the same carbon that the original plants absorbed as they grew (ie no net carbon increase in the atmosphere). Both run in cars that are manufactured TODAY (sometimes with slight modifications), and both are dinosaur-petroleum free. Instead of sending your money overseas to some royal family half a world away, your money goes to local farmers for growing the biomass that these fuels are derived from.

    Both still have their problems, of course...and there is debate about whether either can replace oil on a large scale, but there is a lot of potential there, and if the energy balance is there, then they seem like the most obvious alternatives. Unfortunately, neither get the same kind of press hydrogen does.
  • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:48PM (#13934223) Homepage Journal
    In addition, it lets you shift from a dependency on oil to a variety of other fuels: coal, wind, hydro, etc. Even if it isn't cost-effective in terms of miles per dollar, there are externalities to take into account:

    * The price of the occasional war
    * The price of terrorism sponsored by some OPEC states
    * The price of dependency on oil importing stations (e.g. New Orleans)

    Really, I'm not trying to start a flame war here over the necessity of the Iraq war or to cast blame on any state in particular. But if the US reduces its dependency on a fossil fuel from a very volatile region it may do more good than just the immediate environmental and economic effects.
  • by thomasdelbert (44463) <thomasdelbert@yahoo.com> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:00PM (#13934342)
    The better way to put it is that Hydrogen can come from electricity. The are are other sources of Hydrogen and electrolysing water is actually very inefficient. The more common and less costly method and easier to do on a large scale is exctracting it from coal. USA has immense coal reserves. The only byproduct of Hydrogen production from coal is carbon dioxide.

    Because all the CO2 that is produced from this is produce in bulk quantities at a central location, rather than by millions of individual automobiles, it is practical to collect the CO2 and pump it back into the ground. On top of that, pumping CO2 into an oil reserve reduced the viscosity of the oil, allowing it to be pumped at a greater rate, creating an economic benefit and our foreign oil dependency is reduced in two different ways.

    So, the benefits are both in the environment, the economy, and in national security.

    - Thomas;
  • by Clod9 (665325) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:07PM (#13934408) Journal
    BMW [bmwworld.com] and others [energyinde...ncenow.org] offer engines and conversion packages to make dual-fuel vehicles using internal combustion engines that work on both hydrogen and gasoline. The fuel cell vehicle has the potential to be more energy efficient, but over the next few decades, if hydrogen catches on, I think the vast majority of hydrogen-technology users will NOT be using expensive and new fuel-cell technology. They'll be using fairly normal cars (maybe even the cars they have now) with dual-fuel engines that don't require any more platinum than they do now (and if the hydrogen infrastructure grows to the extent that we can stop burning gasoline, they won't need any at all -- no more pesky catalytic converters). In the very long run, if America can finally get off the idea of having a separate car for every individual on the road, we will solve both the fuels problem and the platinum-availability problem. I don't see platinum as a limiting factor at all.
  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:08PM (#13934417) Homepage Journal
    Forcing users to pay to beta test.

    Whose evaluation do you trust more?

    Movie critic who doesn't have to pay to see films, or your friend who has to shell out hard-earned cash to see it? The movie critic will bring in all kinds of esoteric critical theory crap because they never actually directed a movie but always wanted to, and now they're just out to prove how much they know about the meta theory of film.

    Music critic who doesn't have to pay to review an album, and in fact gets paid to write a review, or your friend who had to pay for it? The critic knows everything there is to know about the genre and the artist, but he's listened to thousands of albums and is interested primarily in showing his mastery of artful language and his ability to place the album in some sort of hierarchy with other music by other bands.

    Making the testers pay keeps their opinions honest. They won't be tempted to blow off little annoyances, and they'll be more inclined to appreciate the things about the vehicle that they really like.

  • by blincoln (592401) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:15PM (#13934487) Homepage Journal
    They're trying to avoid the glowing review syndrome, and they specifically mention this in the article.

    If a reviewer gets something for free, they're more likely to think well of it than if they pay for it. Look at all the "hardware review" sites out there run out of someone's parents' basement. They don't generate actual useful information, it's just a giant web of marketing jizz about how awesome the newest ATI/Nvidia/whatever card is. That's great for PR, but not for the engineers who want to understand how their project will work in the real world.

    Honda is probably taking a cue from Toyota about this. Apparently one of the best sources of information Toyota got about the Prius (mark 1) was some guy in Canada who bought one and drove it hundreds of thousands of kilometers. Toyota bought it back from him and had an engineering team do a complete teardown and analysis.
  • by Scoth (879800) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:17PM (#13934502)
    For the average ICE, short jaunts are a lot more stressful on the engine than longer trips since it never gets up to operating temperature. You'd wear out an engine a lot faster by starting it up, running it hard for a short time, stopping it, and letting it sit a bit than having it run moderately hard at temperature.

    I do doubt the same applies to a fuel cell powered car, but that would probably be an advantage for some people who just drive short distances all the time.
  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:27PM (#13934577) Homepage Journal

    Also, and very importantly, producing electrical energy in any powerplant, is much more efficient than transforming the thermal energy into motion, in cars.

    Do you have some numbers to support this? Because I'm not sure it's true. Sure, the turbines in power plants are more efficient than the piston-based automobile engines, but in a power plant you go through two conversions, from potential to kinetic and then from kinetic to electrical, and there is a significant loss in the second stage, too. Not only that, you also have significant losses in transporting electricity to where it's used, and further losses in charging of batteries. Electrolysis is far from 100% efficient, either.

    That said, I have no doubt that hydrogen fuel cells are a great enabler for all sorts of alternative energy sources. Applying hydrogen and electrical stages to energy transmission and use is like adding layers of abstraction in software. It allows you to decouple energy production, transportation and usage, allowing all energy sources to compete on an even footing with petroleum. That's worth a little net loss in efficiency, just as software abstraction layers are worth a few wasted CPU cycles.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:30PM (#13934616) Homepage
    Very wrong. A pure electric car properly designed works very VERY well for the average city commuter. It's simply that americans dont want a single seater commuter but to drive an escalade XL with 3rd axle and 8 more inches of width for that all american vision blockage of the other drivers.

    having an efficient vehicle that can do 70mph for highway driving is not desired by the typical american even though it will work perfectly fine and have enough charge to return home with spare capacity.

    And these vehiclescan be bought today. charged in your garage off of 120Vac and even carry home several bags of groceries.

    I call that practical, not the oversized messes we drive today.
  • by bmwm3nut (556681) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:37PM (#13934667)
    the only emission from hydrogen vehicles is water.

    this is something that really bothers me. technically, yes the only product of burning hydrogen is water. well, the only products of burning gasoline is carbon dioxide and water. the trouble is, that in the cylinder, there's alot of regular air that's compressed and heated. air contains nitrogen. the heat from burning the gasoline makes the nitrogen and oxygen in the air combine and make the NOx (smog). guess what will happen in a hydrogen car? yup, you'll have nitrogen from the air in there and you'll still make smog. granted, you'll make fewer other pollutants like soot and the associated hydrocarbons, but in reality those are pretty much controlled for now with all the emissions controls. so don't buy the marketing crap that says that H2 cars will save the environment, they may help a little, but not very much.
  • Re:Nice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deathy_epl+ccs (896747) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:42PM (#13934711)
    What's funniest about that post is that -40 is the same for both temperature scales.
  • WHOOOO cares (Score:1, Insightful)

    by doctorjay (860762) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @04:00PM (#13934882)
    unless you are using solar power to generate the electricty to separate H20 into H (which will never happen), then hydrogen is USELESS!!! why dont people realize that? What is the big hype about Hydrogen somone please tell me. It doesnt solve anything.
  • Re:Great news! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rob the Bold (788862) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @04:34PM (#13935173)
    No more wars, pollution and death for OIL!

    Don't worry, I'm sure we can think of another reason.

  • by MustardMan (52102) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @04:47PM (#13935279)
    Which would be a great argument - if fuel cells worked by burning hydrogen in some sort of internal combustion engine. Which, of course, they do not. Insightful my ass.
  • Re:WHOOOO cares (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NaruVonWilkins (844204) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @04:56PM (#13935351)
    It's a way to transport energy more cleanly than bio-oils and in a smaller, cheaper package than batteries.
  • Re:Nice but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by greg_barton (5551) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <notrab_gerg>> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @05:00PM (#13935395) Homepage Journal
    Biodiesel is the way to go.

    Biodiesel is a storage medium. It takes energy to produce it. What are they going to use? Nuclear, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, oil, or coal? Zero point energy [zpenergy.com] is the way to go.

    Seriously, your argument is silly. Both hydrogen and biodiesel are energy storage mechanisms, and both require energy to produce.
  • by SysKoll (48967) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @05:03PM (#13935419)
    Re nuclear waste: yes, there are problems. But even coal-burning power plant create nuclear waste of their own, namely, thorium and uranium rejects [ornl.gov]. These don't cause any kind of alarm because of sheer ignorance, and the coal lobbies aren't going to raise this issue.

    The French and the Dutch reprocess their nuclear waste and convert the waste's plutonium into short-life radionucleides. The technology exists. It's there, it's working, it's available for licensing.

    I'd much prefer working at a waste reprocessing plant than breathing the air downwind from a coal burning plant: I'd wok in reducing the amount of deadly plutonium on Earth rather than being content with misspelling words starting with a "c" on slashdot.

The 11 is for people with the pride of a 10 and the pocketbook of an 8. -- R.B. Greenberg [referring to PDPs?]

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