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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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  • Nice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:03PM (#13933742) Homepage Journal

    They need to try this in more than warm, sunny southern California. My sister has a Prius and loves it, though the battery sometimes doesn't respond well to being parked outside overnight in sub-zero. You also have to wonder what cumulative effect road salt ions will play. Seems the ions in the sea air in California like my 12v battery a lot, I do wonder how hybrids are doing with their higher voltage.

    Still, it's promising. I wished they gave us a little tip off on how the trial is going rather than all the peripheral issues, but I suppose Honda wants to keep as much of that confidential as possible.

    • by CSIP (31272) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:08PM (#13933792) Homepage
      There have been a few fuel cell cars on the road in Vancouver, BC [theautochannel.com] for a few months already.
    • Re:Nice (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gravedigger3 (888675)
      California isn't just a small strip of sunny beach on the west coast. I live in the valley and it is raining outside right now. It gets well below freezing in the winter and I often have to scrape the ice off of my windshield before work. It can get even worse if you head up into the Sierra Nevadas.

      • California isn't just a small strip of sunny beach on the west coast.

        Unfortunately that's what our tourist brochures imply. Otherwise our real estate market might not be quite so insane.
    • They need to try this in more than warm, sunny southern California. My sister has a Prius and loves it, though the battery sometimes doesn't respond well to being parked outside overnight in sub-zero.

      That reminds me of a possibly apocryphal story I heard about some of the older (as in 1960s-era) Volkswagen cars. Apparently they were designed for Germany's climate, and in the considerably warmer American Southwest, some parts would expand at different rates and just not fit together.
      • Re:Nice (Score:5, Informative)

        by The_Rook (136658) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:33PM (#13934066)
        more to the point, the air cooled volkswagon beetle engine was designed for cooler european climates. when people began driving them across the hot dry deserts of north america, the flammable bits on the engines (rubber, grime, etc.) would catch fire.
    • Re:Nice (Score:2, Funny)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)
      No problem with road salt here, it's too cold. But I wonder how the thing's batteries will stand up to -40.
    • Re:Nice (Score:5, Funny)

      by Slicebo (221580) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:16PM (#13933887)
      Excellent point. At lower temperatures that hydrogen gas might get all liquid and slushy and get stuck in the pipes.

      Sigh.
      • Re:Nice (Score:5, Funny)

        by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:22PM (#13933951) Homepage Journal
        No kidding. I always hate it when the tempertures outside get below -200 C [harvard.edu]. Having to swim through the atmosphere [www.ucc.ie] makes me terribly cold by the time I get to work.
        • So... (Score:3, Funny)

          by Faw (33935)
          ... you live in Canada?
        • Re:Nice (Score:4, Interesting)

          by lazlo (15906) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:06PM (#13934400) Homepage
          I actually do get the joke, but I feel it's worthwhile to point out that fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen to produce power and water. My understanding is that in cold temperatures, that water freezes and does nasty things to fuel cells. IIRC, Honda is one of the few companies to have produced a viable sub-zero fuel cell car.

          Still funny to think "maybe they should road test this on Pluto, to see what happens if the fuel freezes..."
        • Re:Nice (Score:3, Funny)

          by hey! (33014)
          No kidding. I always hate it when the tempertures outside get below -200 C. Having to swim through the atmosphere makes me terribly cold by the time I get to work.

          On the plus side, if you're a carpenter you can drive nails with your pecker.
      • What's so funny? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hellfire (86129) <deviladv @ g m a i l . c om> 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.
    • Low temp operation (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I think they've already dealt with that. [autoweek.com]
    • Re:Nice (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Duncan3 (10537)
      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 :)
    • Re:Nice (Score:3, Funny)

      by srussell (39342)

      They need to try this in more than warm, sunny southern California.

      Yeah, say somewhere like... Pennsylvania. Now, if only we could find someone in Pennsylvania willing to do this sort of test... hmmm...

      Oh, heck. For the good of the nation, I'll do it.

      --- SER

      P.S. For a low, low fee, I'm also available for testing the psychological effects of being given large amounts of cash; the long-term physiological effects of Segway use; and the ergonomics of ultra-high-end laptops.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:05PM (#13933762)
    Forcing users to pay to beta test.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I know it must work. I get paid for working and I don't take it seriously. My employer has to pay for me to work (which I don't) and they seem to take it very seriously.
    • 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,

    • According to this article [boston.com] I read last Monday, Honda is already on its fifth iteration of FCX's. It's considered to be the most advanced hydrogen-fueled vehicle developed thus far by any motor company.

      Some other tidbits in this article:

      - the car has an ultra capacitor -- a non-chemical ''battery" that injects electrical power when demand is high. The ultra capacitor sets Honda apart from rivals.

      - the hydrogen fueling plant in Pomona uses solar energy to produce hydrogen

      - the car in the above story is
  • by Keyslapper (852034) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:05PM (#13933763)
    According to the article, most manufacturers are still up in the air about this technology. Only Ford is bullish, and believe they will be in the open market by 2010. If they can avoid bankruptcy.

    It would certainly be nice, but I do think 2010 is a bit soon.
    • Got your US automakers confused there: TFA says GM, not Ford.
    • Only Ford is bullish, and believe they will be in the open market by 2010. If they can avoid bankruptcy.

      That's GM, not Ford. Ford has been very quiet on the whole thing, but is still working on the technology.
    • According to the article, most manufacturers are still up in the air about this technology.

      That's only because air is mostly made up of nitrogen, so hydrogen is naturally lighter. HA!

      Okay, look, someone had to say it.
  • Theifs.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by GoodOmens (904827) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:06PM (#13933775) Homepage
    I wonder who will be the first to car jack this million dollar test car and take it to Mexico.
  • by jgbishop (861610) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:07PM (#13933779) Homepage
    What happens if a hydrogen-powered car is in an accident? Can the fuel cell 'rupture' and explode, ala The Hindenburg? If it can, then ...

    Oh the humanity!
    • I imagine the hydrogen tank is pretty much the same as the tanks used on LPG-converted vehicles.
    • by eln (21727) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:15PM (#13933882) Homepage
      If the fuel tank were to rupture and explode, it would actually be less dangerous than your current gas tank rupturing and exploding. Plus, the tanks are designed not only to resist puncturing, but to keep hydrogen gas from entering the passenger compartment in the event of a rupture. Numerous real-world tests have been conducted that show these hydrogen cars will perform at least as well as gasoline cars in a high-speed collision.

      The Hindenburg went up so fast because the canvas was treated with substances that also happen to be used in rocket fuel. Even so, the passenger compartment itself was unharmed and the passengers survived.
      • "Even so, the passenger compartment itself was unharmed and the passengers survived."

        Interesting... I'm sure the families of the 13 passengers, 22 crew and 1 member of the ground crew believed to be dead all this time will be relieved to hear that news.
      • by sco08y (615665)
        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 passenge
      • by apederso (619173) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:58PM (#13934328)
        I beg to differ on the subject of the cause of the Hindenburg disaster. If you read the Wiki Article [wikipedia.org] on the subject or look at any number of other [colorado.edu] scientific articles [sas.org] you can see that all though it is possible that the skin of the airship was involved it was the flamable properties of the hydrogen gas that caused the fire to burn as quickly as it did.

        You are correct however about the death toll on the passengers. From the Wiki:
        Contrary to popular belief, most of the crew and passengers survived. Of a total of 36 passengers and 61 crew, 13 passengers and 22 crew died. Also killed was one member of the ground crew, Navy Linesman Allen Hagaman. Most deaths did not arise from the fire, but were suffered by those who leapt from the burning ship. (The lighter-than-air fire burned overhead.) Those passengers who rode the ship on its gentle descent to the ground escaped unharmed.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:16PM (#13933885)
      Nothing will explode a la Hindenburg unless it's painted with rocket fuel a la Hindenburg. Pure hydrogen doesn't explode very well (just like gasoline) because you have to get enough oxygen to it fast enough. Hindenburg had the benefit of being painted with a nice solid rocket oxidizer that releases oxygen when it gets hot.
      • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:35PM (#13934653) Homepage
        The hindenburg was painted in cellulose acetate (relatively fire resistant - it took Bain a bloody jacob's ladder, at the right angle at that, to ignite it, and it burned itself out (the very reason why there is so much Hindeburg skin left in the hands of collectors), not cellulose nitrate (somewhat explosive, and occasionally used as a rocket fuel). Its coating isn't thermite, either (the ratio is backwards, and the layers were separated, not mixed as required by thermine, plus coated in a binder). Even if it was painted in rocket fuel, that wouldn't be an explanation either - rocket fuels combust relatively slowly.

        Stop and think for a minute here: Hindenburg, like most derrigables at the time, had been struck by lightning several times in the past, and had large holes burned in the skin by it. If the skin was so flammable, why didn't it (and other craft) catch on the first bolt, instead of only when it (and others that burned) were venting hydrogen? Only when the hydrogen was mixed in stochiometric ratios did it (and others go up).

        I could easily go on here. The fact that completely differently constructed WWI blimps (with different materials in the skin) burned in exactly the same fashion (the outer skin acts like a glow lamp to the inner hydrogen, which slowly burns from sucked-in oxygen). The fact that the combustion can be visibly seen in the pictures burning along cell lines [altfrankfurt.com], despite the fact that the skin was continuous across cells. Etc. I suggest you read up on the subject - the Addison Bain Incendiary Paint theory has been widely debunked.
    • The Hindenburg did not explode so no. Now could the tank rupture and burn well yes, but so can a gas tank. However due to how gas tanks are constructed and where they are located it's not an use compared to say being in the car as it hit's a brick wall at 75MPH or being in the car as someone is shooting at the tank. As to worrying about a ruptured hydrogen tank if you stop and think about it hydrogen is light so unlike a gas tank you not going to end up with a pool of the stuff if there is a hole in the t
    • Well the fun thing is that car companies are suppose to provide safety information to fire dept about these new cars. All the companies have made pledges to train and provide information to fire dept across the country of how to properly handle the new hybrid cars. (info is available on their websites, but they also are offering training classes) Its not so much the crash and burn that is the risk, but the crash and you have someone trapped in side. Cutting appart a car with such high voltage running thr
  • by Silver Sloth (770927) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:09PM (#13933813)
    From TFA
    Spallino was at the wheel of his silver Honda FCX, a car worth about $1 million that looks like a cross between a compact - say, a Volkswagen Golf - and a cinder block.
    For that sort of cash I'd like to get more that than a Volksie Golf, at least a Passat.
  • by adrenaline_junky (243428) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:17PM (#13933898)
    If someone is paying for something and they're not happy - then you're going to hear about it.

    So if you want honest feedback on your sexual prowess from your girlfriend then you should charge a fee, eh? Hmmm. I am intrigued by this concept and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • If someone is paying for something and they're not happy - then you're going to hear about it.

    Yes, tell that to every Office Space worker who's watched management throw good money after bad. God forbid that we admit we're unhappy with the results of all that spending....

  • Their marketing department need to rethink the name of the car, Hindenburg, just does not seem right. :)
  • 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.
      • 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 swillden (191260)

        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 onl

    • 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @02:39PM (#13934129)
    According to the Financial Times on Jul6th this year Platinum is an essential catalyst for Hydrogen Fuel Cells and there is only enough Platinum left on and in Earth for a 10 year Hydrogen car economy.
    Ft article :
    http://news.ft.com/cms/s/97b0b9ce-edbb-11d9-9ff5-0 0000e2511c8.html [ft.com]

    Sure current Fuel cells require a lot and advancements in the technology may reduce the amount needed but this will just spin it out a bit - it will only be decades at the most.
    So we will have to change everything again if Hydrogen is adopted.
    Why not Biodiesel? A Carbon Neutral technology that requires little change to the current Infrastructure and will work with current Diesel engines.
    Hydrogen for cars is clearly a dead duck, why then is it being foisted upon us ?
    • 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.
  • Cart Before Horse (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:41PM (#13934704)
    Until you have a clean, renewable source of hydrogen you haven't solved any problem at all by building a hydrogen fuelled car. You've only moved the pollution source, and likely lost energy in the conversion and transportation.
  • by SysKoll (48967) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @03:54PM (#13934818)
    This is good news. About 60% of the petroleum used in the US goes into transportation, with gasoline owning the lion's share. This while the oil market remains tense and the refinery capacity close to 100% utilization.

    So if even a small fraction of US cars convert to another energy source, this would considerably lower the strain on the gasoline supply chain and probably lower the oil price -- at least until OPEP tightens the supply.

    Naturally, you need that other energy source. If all you do is generate H2 from oil (or natural gas), then you accomplish nothing. You need nuclear power plants. They are not cheap (at almost $2 per watt, they are more expensive than natural gas plant), but they are considerably cheaper than solar arrays ($5/Watt), and they operate 24 hours a day whereas solar plants don't (a solar plant would need triple generating capacity and energy storage to be able to supply electricity at night -- generate 3x the energy during the day, store it, release 1x the energy at night, roughly).

    More nuclear power plants would allow emerging countries to bootstrap their economy faster. Costly oil is really harming them right now. Mundane things like irrigation programs require pumps that run on electricity, which itself comes from oil. Expensive oil means no pumps, no irrigation, no crop.

    So next time you meet a well-fed person opposing nuclear power, remind him/her that because of this attitude, millions of people are starving and rotting in abject poverty.

  • marketing stunt (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 2ms (232331) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:14PM (#13936023)
    Honda is one of the companies furthest behind in fuel cell technology among the majors. For example, DaimlerChrysler (really just Mercedes back then), has had fuel-cell buses for sale to European customers since late in 2000. These days, GM seems to be the furthest ahead.

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