Hydrogen fuel distribution and storage for cars

Pooh BearJune 7, 2004

One of the big problems with using cars that run on hydrogen is that the infrastructure is not in place to distribute hydrogen. Meaning there are not gas stations to stop at to fill up with hydrogen.

Gas/Propane is being distributed (at most convienence stores) around here in full tanks. You just bring in your empty tank and trade it for a full tank. And pay for the difference (the gas/propane).

Why not do the same thing with cars.

Standardize the fuel tanks so that every car uses the same tank.

When you need to refuel, you just pull into a place that sells these ready filled tanks. You trade your empty tank for a full tank. Each car could have two tanks. When one runs out, the car would switch to the other one and you could then stop and trade out the empty tank.

This way, a lot of stores could offer hydrogen without having to upgrade their equipment. Just have to add storage for full and empty hydrogen tanks. Then sell them just like stores sell full propane tanks.

I think this would solve most of the problems with hydrogen fuel distribution.

What do ya'll think. Add ideas to this.

Pooh Bear

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Off the top of my head I see two issues.

1. Any tank that could hold enough hydrogen to run a car for 300 miles would be very heavy. (Or two tanks at 150 miles apiece.) Given the physical weight of the tank and the actual weight of the hydrogen the tanks would be quite heavy. Even if the weight were in the gas grill propane tank range there is no way my grandparents could ever refill their car.

2. These tanks would be relatively large in comparison to the current fueling method for vehicles. So while you could certainly redesign the vehicles to accommodate this you would have to find some means of producing a vehicle that would allow for two of your tanks to be accessible from the outside of the vehicle while still allowing it to hold all of its occupants and cargo/luggage. Looking in my garage at my current car it pretty much uses every available inch for something so my car would physically have to get larger. This adding more weight and potentially offsetting any gain I get from the efficient hydrogen vehicle.

I still think hydrogen based vehicles can only become practical through an evolutionary means. Directly fueling hydrogen into a car is revolutionary, it requires far too many changes to infrastructure and lifestyle to ever be practical IMO.

In the diesel engine market right now there is interest in hydrogen. As the emission regulations pick up along with the requirement for increased fuel efficiency something has to give. Generally speaking a diesel is more efficient at higher operating temperatures. However at those higher temperatures the creation of NOX and other pollutants is harder to control. So to get better emissions a reduction in operating temperature would help. This is where hydrogen may come in. A system that partially reforms diesel into hydrogen and injects it into the diesel stream would allow for reduced burning temperatures while still providing acceptable fuel efficiency.

Thus the current infrastructure still works and one small evolutionary step has been taken to changing the fuel platform for a class of vehicles.

Here is a link to a collaboration project between Arvin-Meritor and MIT on a technology like I described.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plasmatron reformer

    Bookmark   June 7, 2004 at 4:49PM
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Pooh Bear

I watched a show about hydrogen cars recently.
It was Scientific American Frontiers with Alan Alda.
The tanks looked comparable to the small propane tanks used by gas grills.
Two of them would easily fit in the trunk of a car.
And you would get roughly the same mileage out of a tank of hydrogen that you would out of a comparable tank of gasoline.
One pound of hydrogen is comparable to one gallon of gasoline.
And current laws say that hydrogen can't be self serve like gasoline can.
So the attendent would just change the tank out for each car.
It seems do-able to me.

Good input so far. Keep it coming.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   June 7, 2004 at 7:10PM
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Aside from the necessary infrastructure to deliver hydrogen, there is another even greater concern. Hydrogen is extemely hazardous as is any pressurized fuel system. It is for that reason that we dont see more LP gas cars. One of the most practical sources of renewable energy for the automotive industry is alcohol or what we call ethelene fuels. We are already using alcohol blended with gasoline which is commonly marketed as ethel gas. The drawback with alcohol is that when it burns the flame is nearly invisible. It would be a serious problem if a vehicle were on fire at at accident and no one could see the flame, they would unknowingly walk right into the flame.(that very thing hapened numerous times when INDY racing cars were experimenting with alcohol fuels) Simple solutin would be to put an additive in it to produce smoke and visible flame. If we were to adopt the technology on a larger scale, the american farmers could go back to work at what they do best, growing corn and wheat for a profit, and we could cut OPEC off at the gate. We alrady have the technology, which we have had for fifty years, and present day engines will run very well on alcohol fuels with only minor changes to fuel settings. In addition, the engines run cleaner and last longer,but alas, in this world of planned obsoleescence, do they really want to make engines last longer?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2004 at 4:30PM
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Though I really like the idea of being self-sufficient in terms of energy, one question I can't seem to find an answer to is the maximum potential US output of renewable fuels. Does the US really have sufficient land to grow corn or wheat to create ethanol or biodiesel that would fuel the nation's vehicles? How much arable land is required to fuel the average car or truck for a year? And the biggest question is how expensive would it be to do this?

I have a nagging suspicion that the answers are that we don't have enough land to make enough biofuels to displace imported oil, and it would cost us $5/gallon or so even if we did. If anyone knows the answers to these questions, or where to find them, I'd love to know.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 1:20PM
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Pooh Bear

Hydrogen is not a biofuel.
It can be made from water.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   August 28, 2004 at 3:58AM
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Yes, but what fuel do you use to produce the energy to make hydrogen from water?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2004 at 10:10PM
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I've sorta been watching this topic . . . now here's my two cents.

No matter how clean hydrogen may burn under ideal circumstances; even in a fuel cell or whatever . ... the simple fact remains that you have to GET the hydrogen from somewhere . . . . cracking petroleum is one of them . . . electrolysis of water is another . .... but BOTH require energy to do . . . and that is some pollution of some kind, somewhere. In effect; these sources MOVE the source of pollution; not reduce / eliminate it. Same argument as for the plug-in electric car . . . the pollution is some other place . . . . .

My thoughts ( which are free, and worth every penny ) are simply to burn very low molecular weight hydrocarbons; which are easily available and EASY to make through digestion of waste and by-products of things we already do. Garbage dumps, literally; can supply methane . .. it is presently being done. Fermentation of virtually any farm waste . . .be it plant or animal . .. can yield methane, simple alcohols etc . . . and being relatively simple hydrocarbons can burn easily under normally attainable circumstances. Gasoline as we know it; is an absolutely INCREDIBLE mix of all kinds of stuff.

Gasohol / alchohol for vehicles ? What about problems with running in regular carburetors / injectors ? Some issues here with some materials used by some . . . . but certainly there are materials that will easily withstand this type of stuff. Power ? . . . . race cars don't burn alcohol blends to REDUCE their power . . . . in the sense that biomass can be easily digested into a fuel source makes it by far the most "renewable" source with minimal impact other than wind or solar.

Underlying it all is a major issue: the simple fact that we, as Americans; use an ungodly disproportionate amount of energy compared to most any other area in the world . . . . surely with out technology and knowledge we can develop easy simple ways to reduce our energy consumption . . . and set an example for the rest of the world . . . . instead of setting the one we are now. And talk about the trade deficit . . buying Japanese whatevers, stuff from China, Mexico . . . whereever . . . our single biggest trade deficit item is . . . you guessed it . . oil. And no; drilling for it in Alaska in a refuge . . . at best . . . would supply a small fraction of a percentage of our oil needs for one year. Not a solution . . for anyone.

There's my spout . . . . .


    Bookmark   August 29, 2004 at 5:00PM
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I'm thinking I've got a lot of research to do, so bear with me if this is really off-base and naive.
Hybrid cars are pricey, but available now. They use electricity or gasoline, right? (At least I THINK they do).
How about solar panels, ideally on the average garage roof, that transfer/store energy into batteries during the day. Cars are "plugged in" at night and recharged. Too simplistic? Or am I failing to understand something?

    Bookmark   August 29, 2004 at 7:55PM
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The hybrids I am aware of do indeed use a combination of gas / electric. An odd fact is that they tend to have signifigantly BETTER city than highway mileage. This is due to the fact that in stop and go driving; when you stop some of the braking action is actually using the momentum of the rolling vehicle to in effect turn a generator. This slows the vehicle; and the energy is put back into the batteries. With conventional vehicles; ALL the momentum is simply turned into heat in your brakes. They also have the advantage that the gasoline engine is "optimized" to run pretty efficiently at a single speed . . . doesn't have to run well at many different speeds like we expect in a conventional car. The engine runs a "generator", and I believe most of them use CVT . . . Continuously Variable Transmissions . . . they in effect have an "infinite" number of gears; it automatically puts it into a gear such that no matter your speed; the engine runs at virtually the same speed no matter what. This is good technology and certainly offers some benefits . . . . but sadly does not relieve us of our dependence upon oil.

The reality of collecting enough solar to recharge your car, or to run your house; whatever . . . depends upon two things in the simplest terms: How much energy you "need" to do whatever the task; and how much can you collect with a given size "collector". With the costs of things now; it is quite easy to reduce your consumption to where you can extract enough energy with solar whatevers; but it is VERY difficult to extract enough based upon what the average person uses in energy. The more you can reduce your consumption; the less you need to extract from WHATEVER source. I've recently gone solar powered ( solar PV panels ) that will on an annual basis generate more than I use. Interested friends have inquired about my electric usage before going solar; and are amazed how low it is. They fail to understand that one can have running water, clothes washer, TV, computers etc . . . AND have low power consumption. You simply have to look into things well; and understand where the big hogs in energy consumption are in a household and deal with them in some fashion.

If you're talking about plugging a "car" into the grid at night to charge it up; well .... somewhere is a power plant that's putting out some kind of crap; the fact that it is not in your back yard does not mean it isn't in someone else's . . . . The pollution out of the tailpipe of your electric car is zero; but you've put extra into someone else's air somewhere.

The best thing any of us individuals can do is to reduce our usage in whatever ways we can . . . to stretch oil that is left . . and to continue to pursue new ways of doing things that are more sustainable. It will truly impact what our children, and their children; will have for a world many years after we've begun pushing daisies . . . . .


    Bookmark   August 30, 2004 at 6:37AM
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Bob, are you saying that solar panels will not create enough energy to power a car? Or just not portable enough?
My thought is that we find a way that does not involve liquid fuels or powering into the electric grid. Conservation and economy of movement would be logical first steps. But the creation of self-sustaining solar energy in a form that is portable would be ideal.
(Sorry PB, did not mean to hijack your thread)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2004 at 12:36PM
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Pooh Bear

Cars, as we think of automobiles, ie: sedans, are too heavy to be powered by solar panels on top of the car.
Consider the old volkswagon cars with their 40hp motors.
40hp x 746watts/hp = 29840 watts. Thats almost 30kilowatts.
A volkswagon is not going to carry enough solar cells to make 30kW.

Same with having the solar panels on the roof of your house.
You could have 30kW worth of panels, and store the energy in batteries.
Then you could plug the car into the batteries to recharge.
You would need more than 30kW worth of panels cause you only get so many hours of sun per day.
So lets say 50kW of panels. At $4 per watt.
You are looking at $200,000 dollars.
That same money invested in a mutual fund will give you a greater investment over time.
The economics just aren't there.

Solar module prices won't come down till more people buy the technology,
and more people won't buy the technology till prices come down.
Sadly the driving force is not how it will benifit future generations,
but rather how will it benifit us now.

Since stock prices will go up and solar prices will come down,
if we want to invest in future generations,
We can buy stocks now, and when they are worth enough,
then our kids can invest in solar technology.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   August 30, 2004 at 4:57PM
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I ran across the linked article today. It's interesting; in short, it's about various efforts to use sunlight to crack water into hydrogen and oxgen.

If they are successful, using the sun to produce free hydrogen could make a huge change in the way we produce and use energy. (Edited to add: By "free" I mean unassociated, not free of cost.)

I have to admit, though, that I'm rather skeptical of their prospects. Having some familiarity with how things work in academia, I suspect that all we're really seeing here is, "Oh, there's $1.2B of federal money available for hydrogen fuel research. Let's put together a proposal and get some of that money. ... OK, it's time to publish something saying that we're hopeful that we'll get some good results if we get some more money."

Here is a link that might be useful: Hydrogen Fuel Closer to Fruition

    Bookmark   September 3, 2004 at 11:15PM
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From the article, "It will take five to seven years to produce a device, less if we get the resources we need," said Sorrel.

Sounds like a sales pitch to fund research, rather than something concrete. I'll believe it when I see it.

You still have to collect the energy to break the hydrogen and oxygen atom bonds, and there is no getting around the square footage of solar collection needed. The sun only has so much energy flux.

I finished a rather detailed article about the hydrogen economy in an engineering journal. The task of creating the hydrogen and distributing it is daunting. When you put it in hard numbers, most of the hydrogen pundits have no clue as to the magnitude of this task.

I think hydrogen will start powering some vehicles within the next 20 years, but the rate of adoption after the initial introduction will be slow and tedious. It has to be, because we couldn't afford to do it any other way.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2004 at 6:04PM
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"Underlying it all is a major issue: the simple fact that we, as Americans; use an ungodly disproportionate amount of energy compared to most any other area in the world"

Of course our production of goods swamps the rest of the world also. Energy per person is not a significant number. The workers in an aluminum or steel factory use huge amounts of power per person.
How about energy per GDP dollar produced?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2004 at 10:54AM
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Brickeyee . . .

I stand by my statement . . but perhaps should have phrased it slightly differently. Use does not necessarily mean WISELY use . . . we seem to find incredibly wasteful ways to use it.

Your mention of aluminum strikes a particular chord . . . refining aluminum from raw ore indeed uses huge amounts of electricity. That's about the only way to refine it from raw ore . . . by electrolysis basically. BUT . . . to recycle aluminum from an existing can, pan, old lawn chair etc uses FAR less energy because it can simply be resmelted. I once read that throwing OUT an aluminum can and refining NEW ore to make another one; versus simply resmelting that very can; uses additional energy equivalent to filling that can 1/3 full of gasoline. And yet to this very day; there is legislation in place that subsidizes extraction of raw materials and tax structures that favor the same. Yes, this creates some jobs at the mine, the big electric plant needed to run the mine; etc. It also WASTES and incredible amount of energy in doing so; not to mention that the mining industry tends to create some incredible environmental problems.

I am a realist in that we must take some things from the ground; and use them. And in that process we do damage. But as long as our government, it's laws, it's tax structure, favors methods of doing things that are wasteful; we will continue to use disproportionate amounts of energy in this country relative to what is truly needed to do so. When the WTC came down . . . the steel went overseas to be scrapped / recycled / resmelted. Why ? Simply because in this country the extracive industries enjoy the benefits of an environment that does NOT put new vs recycled materials on a level playing field. I think we all can figure out that the exact amount of energy to re-use these materials is essentially the same anywhere on the earth. BUT . . . . it made more economic sense to send it elsewhere. Did it take a lot of extra energy to transport it, load it, and sail it half way around the world to recycle it? Sure did . . .

These are just a few examples that I happen to know of . .. there are countless others I'm sure. Simple fact is, we do, as Americans; use disproportionate amounts of energy to do the same things than many other parts of the world. Energy per task is maybe a better way to phrase it . . . embodied energy.

Energy has historically been very cheap and very plentiful through most of the history of this country. We developed some bad habits . . . we can and should change them. We should be the leader in doing these things in the world and set a good example for others to follow . . . . and NOT set the example of wasteful usage of them as we have been. Living a "good" lifestyle, and living a wasteful one; need not necessarily be linked with each other . . . . .


    Bookmark   September 15, 2004 at 6:18AM
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While the USA may waste a significant amount of energy, we still produce more goods per BTU than anyone else.
The point is that measuring energy use on a per capita basis is pretty meaningless. Energy used to produce goods is not wasted.
Why should the USA feel bad if we use more electricity to produce more value than other countries? They are the ones not using the power they consume efficiently.

There are no basic steel mills in the US anymore (Bessemer). All the steel we use is either recycled or imported.
Many of the aluminum and steel recycling plants are electric or natural gas. The highest quality steels can only be produced in electric furnaces (under an inert gas, followed by vacuum degassing).

    Bookmark   October 2, 2004 at 4:38PM
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In Korea, most of the taxi there have a small tank in the trunk.
They are LP stations (Liqiid natural gas) all around the country.
These car run on both LP Gas or regular gas.
(Switch on dash)
Myself this question came to me many years ago.
As a young member of the AF,I was ststation in Korea.
Why the US would not jump at this mean to help power vehecles here in the US.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2008 at 7:46PM
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I find this subject very, very interesting. So please allow me to put my spin on some of this. As to bio fuels, I keep hearing that if farmers grow corn for fuel human food prices will go up. Well what about all that other stuff that can be converted, grasses etc or even sugar cane. Also aren't we paying some farmers not grow at all...just doesn't make sense to me. We can get this nations farmers back to making a good living grow bio-fuel products I see it as a win win situation for all. I mean if Argentina can do it why can't we?

Everyone keeps saying drill more. Well what about all that oil coming down the Alaskan pipeline??? did we forget about that, or what about all those wells sitting in Texas...are we that short sighted that we can't make this work?

Hey, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, BUT if I can see why can't others. What has happened to common sense in this country???

Whew that felt good!!!


    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 9:36AM
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