Via my brother and my wife almost simultaneously, I was directed to this story about South Carolina’s effort to lead in the hydrogen economy. Like James, I’m happy to see this sort of thing (we both live here, in opposite corners of the state.) Rather than going on about losing textile jobs – which are never coming back and weren’t that great when we had them – gearing up to create new jobs in a new economy is fantastic. Also like him, I hope this spills over into an increased commitment to educating the children of South Carolina to standards high enough that they are actually employable in these new facilities.
Even more, I’d love the irony of ushering in the new world of energy via facilities that were mainly used in the service of the cold war previously.
4 thoughts on “SC Loves the H2”
Great, except to those of us familiar with thermodynamics. Hydrogen as a highway fuel is greenwashing. The longer logistical chain of hydrogen means no net benefit. No benefit, unless you happen to have a stake in the oil/gas infrastructure, in which case hydrogen will prolong your market cap. Apparently, the commitment to educating the children of South Carolina hasn’t yet increased their mechanical and physics aptitudes.
jmurk, the benefit over fossil fuels is clear and obvious. You shouldn’t gloss over that. A hydrogen chain is one that can be built around ANY energy source, including both fossil based sources (like coal power plants) and renewable sources (like solar). I find it frustrating when people get stuck on the “it’s less efficient” issue. True, it’s less efficient than doing a burn of the fossil fuels in your car, but it opens up the possibility of cleaner production. Not to mention the pollution control possibilities. I was initially mired in the oil-profit cynicism like you, but eventually saw the light. If they make money on it, so be it.
Aaaanyway, what I came in hear to say was that just today I stumbled across the fact that Mazda has been working on a hyrdogen hybrid RX-8 for a couple years, and has been bringing it to market in tiny quantities this summer. Omigodomigodomigod, I have loved the RX-8 since it came out a couple years ago. And I have fantasized about driving a low impact car, but I need it to be, well, FAST — me and my lead foot. A hydrogen RX-8 might finally be the car that lines this all up for me. And yes I’m willing to pay a big premium for it …
Except that the RX-8h and similar IC engines are terrible on hydrogen. (Yes, that’s a technical term.) Aside from having less energy (octane rating is almost half… range is cut in half… and power is cut in half), hydrogen generates about as much pollution due to the ridiculously high flame temperature. The spectrum is different (negligible CO- still smoking the oil) but NOx is as high or higher. Your lead foot will be as disappointed as your fantasies. Really- hydrogen’s “octane” falls to 55, with similar decreases in performance. Hydrogen in a combustion engine is the worst of both worlds.
But back to the original point. “ANY energy source” is greenwashing- the practical one is natural gas, which we don’t have much more of, won’t be cheap, and has more practical uses in other fields. And why is natural gas the most likely source? Because it’s been set up that way. Funding for hydrogen fuel cell development was accomplished largely by diverting funding from solar, wind, and other non-fossil research, to set up hydrogen sources that look and act like our current fuel sources, thus profiting the current sources. The renewable sources you mention could be fed directly to plug-in hybrids at three to four times the overall efficiency. Same with nuclear- any process that generates hydrogen could generate several times more electricity instead. People get stuck on the “it’s less efficient” issue, because durnit if physics is mighty sticky. (Sticky, but not very “clear and obvious”, which is why Dave and I hope SC standards will get high enough.)
I can hold out some hope for DMFCs (Direct Methanol Fuel Cells), or high-temperature fuel cells, which can “burn” multiple fuels. Then you don’t have to do double-conversion and low-density distribution, and you can use existing distribution infrastucture, and possibly existing retail interfaces with some modification. However, these designs will still require hefty battery packs, and again you’re doing the worst of both worlds.
The big premium you’re willing to pay could be better placed in escrow, to be spent on a lithium- or EDLC-based solution, or perhaps a small-displacement diesel hybrid in the further future. And then you’ll get a trunk.
We should be looking at methanol which can be made cheaply from coal. It can be made from other sources too. Gasoline cars can run on methanol without any conversion! Hydrogen for use directly in cars or for heating is a really bad idea because it is not so portable and will need costly technology upgrades. Why not skip to the most logical solllution?
Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy
by George A. Olah
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