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Resilience NYC Meetup Group Message Board › NY Times on Hydrogen

NY Times on Hydrogen

William B.
wilburke
Chester, MA
Post #: 174
Interesting and balanced article on hydrogen:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/02/business/02hydrogen.html­
Bob
angryscientist
Brooklyn, NY
Post #: 57
No mention of how to generate the hydrogen just an acknowledgement of the fact that it has to be generated. If anyone thinks that anything like present driving habits are going to be sustained with hydrogen-powered vehicles you know they have to be thinking of nuclear.
donna b
ringtails83
Brooklyn, NY
Post #: 42
anybody care to parse this?

http://www.isracast.c...­
A former member
Post #: 40
hi Donna,

Wow this article isn't misleading at all from the headline
"The car that makes its own fuel"

The article mentions a new technology that will allow the car use use metals like magnesium and aluminum and oxidizes them to generate hydrogen. The car will be able to travel the same distance of a conventional car but in order to do this the fuel (a metal coil) will have to be replaced. The used coils will be conveniently collected at a fuel station and recycled for further use in the metal industry.

The coil weighs 220 pounds!!!

Why don't they just come out and say that they have invented one of those MR. Fusion reactors that powered the delorean in back to the future. That thing created the power of plutonium out of banana peels and eggshells.
Bob
angryscientist
Brooklyn, NY
Post #: 58
anybody care to parse this?

http://www.isracast.c...­

The energy imput comes from (re)generating the metal. In nature (or after it has been used to generate hydrogen) the metal has fewer electrons and exists in what is called a positive oxidation state. The positive ion is paired with a negative ion. Far aluminum it is probably found as Al2O3 (not correct but I can't do subscripts or superscripts here). This means two Al3+ ions and 3O2- ions. To create aluminum metal you need to add electrons. Al3+ + 3e- -> Al(0). This requires a lot of electricity - a whole lot in the case of aluminum. Al(0) is what they are using to generate hydrogen (2Al(0) + 6H+ -> 2Al3+ + 3H2). The situation for zinc is similar except that it exists in nature as Zn2+ and is more reactive than aluminum.

What this means is that the metal is just a way to transport electrons from the power plant to the point of hydrogen generation. Transport and storage of hydrogen is problematic so this technique (as well as the method you asked about earlier, in which the hydrogen was stored as ammonia) may have some use eventually. But it is not an energy source as they would have you believe. And it can't be used to maintain current driving habits, in my opinion.
donna b
ringtails83
Brooklyn, NY
Post #: 43
hey rob and bob -
gentlemen - thanks for the translations, (which I had to read 50X to vaguely understand)! I wasn't really holding my breath here - they are, after all, seeking INVESTORS.
bob - geez - what are you, photographic??? I had no recollection of asking about hydrogen/ammonia until you brought it up again here. gd prodigy!
A former member
Post #: 48
If anyone thinks that anything like present driving habits are going to be sustained with hydrogen-powered vehicles you know they have to be thinking of nuclear.

Bob,

Can I engage you on this? I think hydrogen power is feasible. I'm not sure it will sustain "anything like present driving habits", because I'm not sure what that means.

We can get hydrogen from two places:

1. Natural gas, etc., by removing the hydrogen from the hydrocarbon.
2. Water, by breaking the hydrogen from the oxygen.

The quick knock on these ideas is basically EROEI: the surrendered hydrogen has less energy than the thing it came from. And, in the case of water, the electrical input exceeds the energy content of the harvested hydrogen.

Your statement implies water is the only source of hydrogen sufficient to supply a transportation system resembling the one we have now. (Meaning, I suppose, steel cars, goods delivered by truck, and housing spread over the countryside.) More, that nuclear is the only source of electricity cheap enough to do the job. Have I got that right?

My answer to you would be that natural gas is the better alternative. My answer to the "lost energy" argument is that the hydrogen can be used more efficiently. Yes, it's less energy dense than a hydrocarbon. But natural gas burned in an internal combustion engine is 30% efficient at best; hydrogen in a fuel cell is over 90% efficient. Any energy lost in the conversion is more than recovered by not wasting 2/3 of the input.

Of course, I'm aware I'm posting this on a PO list, where some of my fellow travelers think there won't be any natural gas from which to get any hydrogen, nor even any economy to sustain. Still, I cling to my pointy headed optimism.

--jkl
A former member
Post #: 52
Whenever I read these articles about hydrogen, knowing that it is NOT a primary energy source like oil, my question becomes: in the context of what energy regime will this hydrogen vehicle be powered? That is, if the source of the energy inputs into hydrogen production are not renewable sources (solar, wind, hydro), even though the hydrogen vehicle may produce no carbon emissions, we will still be in the predicament of depedency on fossil fuels, merely transferring the distribution of carbon emissions from vehicles to centrally generated power plants--however improved their sulfur and carbon "scrubbing" operations. Like Bob observes, the assumption in articles like this seem to be that we can carry on with our current extravagant, car-dependent civilization by switching to hydrogen. Omitted from consideration in this article is the energy costs of building a car in the first place--currently significantly dependent on oil, gas, and coal inputs-- and the proper use of the automobile. A vast sustainable energy grid which converts some energy to hydrogen use will be needed to accomodate our current auto dependent lifestyle, but a number of analysts (Kunstler among them) suggest that it won't be possible. For both economic and energy reasons the hydrogen car will be more expensive and unavailable to many. Even if it weren't, shouldn't we alter the auto lifestyle? Mr. Spallino, the experimental driver, says that "...I take the girls to school in it, I take them to soccer, just little one-mile jaunts here and there." One mile jaunts that on nice days could be walked or bicycled? Could the girls bicycle, or even walk, to school or to soccer? For me, the problem with these optimistic articles about the hydrogen alternative, is that their focus is too narrow (on the car rather than the energy system) and therefore misleading.
Bob
angryscientist
Brooklyn, NY
Post #: 59
If anyone thinks that anything like present driving habits are going to be sustained with hydrogen-powered vehicles you know they have to be thinking of nuclear.

Bob,

Can I engage you on this? I think hydrogen power is feasible. I'm not sure it will sustain "anything like present driving habits", because I'm not sure what that means.

We can get hydrogen from two places:

1. Natural gas, etc., by removing the hydrogen from the hydrocarbon.
2. Water, by breaking the hydrogen from the oxygen.

The quick knock on these ideas is basically EROEI: the surrendered hydrogen has less energy than the thing it came from. And, in the case of water, the electrical input exceeds the energy content of the harvested hydrogen.

Your statement implies water is the only source of hydrogen sufficient to supply a transportation system resembling the one we have now. (Meaning, I suppose, steel cars, goods delivered by truck, and housing spread over the countryside.) More, that nuclear is the only source of electricity cheap enough to do the job. Have I got that right?

My answer to you would be that natural gas is the better alternative. My answer to the "lost energy" argument is that the hydrogen can be used more efficiently. Yes, it's less energy dense than a hydrocarbon. But natural gas burned in an internal combustion engine is 30% efficient at best; hydrogen in a fuel cell is over 90% efficient. Any energy lost in the conversion is more than recovered by not wasting 2/3 of the input.

Of course, I'm aware I'm posting this on a PO list, where some of my fellow travelers think there won't be any natural gas from which to get any hydrogen, nor even any economy to sustain. Still, I cling to my pointy headed optimism.

--jkl
I don't know what you mean by feasible. I believe that hydrogen power can have some use in a sustainable economy but I don't think individually-owned cars are compatible with sustainibility. Hydrogen may be useful for powering busses or trains or for storage of solar or wind energy in some cases.

As long as you are not talking about an energy source (and I don't expect for any hydrogen mines or wells to be discovered) EROEI is not a consideration. The 2nd Law of thermodynamics dictates that EROEI will always be negative when you are converting energy from one form to another, e.g., solar to hydrogen, nuclear (to electric) to hydrogen, hydrogen to electric, electric to mechanical, natural gas to hydrogen, etc. You convert from one form to another if it is easier to use or transport and you don't loose all of the energy in the conversion. Natural gas is much easier to transport and store than hydrogen. If you are going to use natural gas-derived hydrogen to power a vehicle with a fuel cell, you don't convert to hydrogen and put containers of hydrogen in the car. You put canisters of natural gas in the vehicle and attach a converter directly to the fuel cell. You will loose some energy in the conversion, probably in the form of heat. You will also generate the same amount of CO2 as if you burned the natural gas.

The issue for me is the source. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and the hydrogen source for ammonia and ammonia-derived fertilizers. Until world population is reduced to the point where these fertilizers aren't needed to feed people I am opposed to using it to power cars. I am not prepared to discuss the availability of natural gas. I am aware that many people in the Peak Oil movement consider it subject to similar availablility constraints as petroleum. It's much more difficult (expensive) to transport over long distinces than oil. I am also aware of proposals to generate methane from municipal waste but as far as I know it is not being done (and won't be done) on a scale that will allow mass conversion from gasoline-powered vehicles to methane-powered ones whether fuel cell or combustion-powered.

Nuclear is the same. If we need it to survive, OK. But I don't want to see nuclear power plants become a common as gas stations so that people can frivolously drive around in cars. What other energy sources do I need to consider? Solar, wind, tidal, geothermal all have the potential to contribute to a sustainable economy but not in anywhere near the quantities needed to support a continuation of the status quo. Coal seems like a desparate measure as well. From a greenhouse gas perspective there is no such thing as "clean coal". You can't get energy out of coal without converting it to CO2. I expect that proposals to sequester CO2 by pumping it into the ocean or underground will be found to be ecologically unsound if implemented on a large-scale basis. People wouldn't even propose these things if they didn't asume that somehow we have to consume energy in the quantities we do now.

You are probably aware that there are people in this meetup who are assuming that their food supply will be lost and they will need to grow their own food with no fossil-fuel imputs. They are also assuming that millions of people will die of starvation within their lifetime because of the decline in fossil fuel supplies. I refuse to resign myself to this. As I see it most of our current energy use is frivolous and other people will eventually come to see this and change their behavior. These changes will resonate throughout the economy and a new economic status quo will emerge which will reflect the new behavior subject to the existing physical constraints. The change will be traumatic for many but it's already starting. There had been a noticeable increase in bicycle commuters and public transportation riding even before the most recent runup in gasoline prices.

It's possible because it has to be.
A former member
Post #: 49
I don't know what you mean by feasible.

By "feasible", I mean doable, within the bounds of existing or foreseeable technology and within the bounds of capitalism. That is, neither pie-in-the-sky engineering nor a complete revamping of society. (Some revamping may be needed, though.)

The issue for me is the source. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and the hydrogen source for ammonia and ammonia-derived fertilizers. Until world population is reduced to the point where these fertilizers aren't needed to feed people I am opposed to using it to power cars. I am not prepared to discuss the availability of natural gas.

Well, I think availability affects which uses are acceptable, no? If natural gas were as plentiful as water, you wouldn't be concerned about squeezing the ammonia supply.

Waiting for the light as I was walking home today, I watched the cars crossing in front of me. The taxis are 2 tons of steel motivated by 8 cylinder engines. They're built to drive across the country and yet they hardly ever go faster then 40 mph. But it's New York, right? So they're quick off the light. Same goes for the other cars.

I hope in 100 years we look back on what I saw today in rueful bewilderment. I can't think of an historical parallel to the feckless waste of resources. For me, see, it's not the cars per se; it's how little transportation we get for so much gasoline and steel. (And to so little end: so much transporting is made necessary by things being mis-situated.) I think if cars were 9X more efficient and half as necessary, we wouldn't be holding this discussion.

But I think your concern is misplaced with regard to food. First, by the numbers, because only a small fraction of natural gas is used to make fertilizer. More important is whether using any is a good idea.

Using ammonia to fix nitrogen in the soil is the basis for our ruinous system of agriculture. Things are so far out of whack that animal manure -- nature's first ammonia supply -- is being treated as toxic waste, merely because the animals are too concentrated and too far from the crops. We won't even go into the effects on marine (non)life. Our system of monocultures threatens biodiversity, leaving our food supply ever more susceptible to disease and pestilence. What of this argument with nature do you hope to preserve?

--jkl
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