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Fuel Cells for home use

Posted by Brewbeer (My Page) on
Fri, Apr 9, 04 at 13:47

I don't understand completely how they work, but my understanding is that fuel cells could use natural gas or porpane to generate electricity and heat for use in the home.

Experiences? Thoughts? Comments?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Converting NG or LPG for use in a fuel cell is called re-forming.
The gas contains lots of hydrogen. This hydrogen is stripped for use in the fuel cell.
I think it is an excellent idea. Don't know about the cost tho.

Pooh Bear


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

I've been following the fuel cell market for a while now. I find them fascinating really, and their future sales potential could be massive.

From what I can gather they're not too different to a battery, but rather than using acid for the electrons they are constantly re-filled with a gas containing hydrogen (LPG and natural gas are good examples), from which the metal plates remove the electrons to create electricity.

They can make electricity with around 50-60% effciency, but they also create heat as a byproduct, and this may be captured for use in heating your household water or central heating. Combined together, both the electricity and heat generation means that about 85% of the fuel is used. Such systems have been used in a limited number in Japan, and aparently they work very well. They are also environmentally friendly. As the fuel is not burnt they only create electricity, water and heat. Of course, it's still using a non-renewable fuel source and extracting/transporting it has environmental impact. Still, if we must use fossil fuels, fuel cells seem a much better idea than burning them.

However, it will be years before fuel cells become commonplace, and as with most new things, we can expect them to be suitably expencive at first. Perhaps 10-20 years from now they will be a viable option. However, I wonder to myself how good an investment they would be, if only because all the other technology will have progressed massively in the same 10-20 years. Will people really want to buy a system that uses expencive gas (and it will be expencive by then) when they will have high tech solar pannels that make power without using a fuel the consumer must buy? As the inevitable energy crunch tightens, we can expect normal fuels to become prohibitively expencive and grants that encourage people to use renewable sources to become common. The expected economic future seems likely to push fuel cells aside in favour of other technology.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Fuel cells are a way to convert energy from one source (hydrogen) to another (electricity) AND back again. Now they are not magic and nowhere near 100% efficient And are horrifically expensive at the moment. I drove an H2 demonstration car and was horrified to be told it cost $1M to build one car.

The Fuel cell economy will start to make sense when each of us has a fuel cell car in the garage which takes solar energy and uses that "free" energy to generate hydrogen which is stored for use later. Reforming natural gas is very inefficient at the moment and is still using a non renewable fuel source. Hydrogen should be thought of as a battery (holding energy developed by another source) rather than a source in its own right.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

The fuel cell has been around for quite a while and if all we needed was a fuel cell to generate electricity for home they would be common place.

However the big thing that the media has not hit upon is that fuel cells operate on hydrogen not on NG. While LP and NG have lots of hydrogen cracking it off for use in the fuel cell is hard.

So in regards to brewbeer's original question a fuel cell for the home would be a two stage system. First the fuel reformer (NG to H2) followed by the fuel cell.

The main problem is at any price reformer technology is just not there right now. When I was doing some contract work in that industry (one year ago) the largest problem was preventing fouling in the reformate. Essentially a catalyst is used to cleanly crack the hydrogen off of the gas. The problem is that you are producing carbon as a waste product. This carbon eventually fouls the catalyst and the system can no longer reform the gas. Regardless if you are talking about NG, LP, gasoline, diesel, etc... the same fouling issue exists to varying degrees.

So for home use the cells are not really the problem. It is the reformer. So if the reformer piece of the puzzle is solved within the next decade they might have a place at the home. But if it takes too long I share Bry84's sentiments that it will be eclipsed by other technologies.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

First, Fuel Cells are not actually renewable energy, with that said, we will probably see more of them in the futer.

Plug Power , located near Albany NY has developed some technolgy being used for residential apps.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plug Power


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Actually, fuel cells are both non-renewable and renewable energy. It simply depends on where the hydrogen came from, and technically it could come a biogas like methane, or even be extracted from the atmosphere and water.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

bry84, interesting point, if you used solar or wind to produce electricity for the electrolosys to separate the hydrogen from water it could be renewable. Proably same could be true for taking hydrogen from methane.Alopng those lines, I have heard about hydro electric plants to produce the electricity to make hydrogen for fuel cells.

Good to see people thinking about this.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

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Interesting discussion . . . . .

What's renewable energy ? . . . the concept of fuel cells can offer pretty "clean" energy, especially when some of the existing technological challenges are met. However; in my mind it is not renewable energy. Don't know the "textbook" definition of renewable; but in my mind it means not using a resource that exists in a finite quantity. ANY source of hydrogen ultimately came from the sun at some point . . . either through plants fermented into methane, oil that is essentially plants from millions of years ago . . . hydrolyzing water . . . . that requires energy to do. Seems that fuel cells are simply a new form that is probably pretty clean; of "burning" hydrocarbons. In that sense; it is not renewable.

For purposes of being truly renewable; that is pulling cleanly from an unlimited source; the sun is the only real renewable source. I've read that if you collected ALL the energy from the sun that hit the average umbrella; that it would supply the energy each one of us needs every day. No method for doing so exists. However; Photovoltaics in conjunction with efficient energy use can readily supply typical needs in most all locations. Heat gathered through heat collectors can capture an amazing amount of energy as well.

So, while fuel cells may indeed be a cleaner, more efficient way to generate power / heat; they still indeed depend upon fossil fuels or some other energy intensive source that is not directly from the sun. They therefore are just another form of burning some resource that is of limited quantity. The sun on the other hand; will outlast us and MANY generations to come . . . ..

Bob


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Well, I agree that we all have different ideas of what renewable means, but I would explain it as a source of energy that may be econmically replaced during a normal lifetime. Weather or not it comes from the sun I find less important.

For example, coal was prehistoric plants and it's energy contents came from the sun, but it takes millions of years to form, thus I don't consider it renewable.

A tree however may reach maturity in just 30 years and be burnt to release the energy it captured from the sun, just like coal. However, it can be replaced within my lifetime, thus I consider it renewable.

However, on a slightly different topic, I find splitting water in to hydrogen and oxygen to burn it concerning. Electrolysis requires a supply of very pure water, probably cleaner than what comes out your tap, and as it currently is hosepipe bans and water shortages are very common. How would things change in 40 years when we have more people and more cars, only now they must burn billions of gallons of water that must be processed and cleaned? And, once water has been split and burnt, will it naturally turn back in to water again? Or will it be permanently changed and uneconmical to turn back in to water through a man made process?


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Wood is renewable. But burning it gives off Carbon DiOxide (a greenhouse gas).
And it can't supply any where near the amount of energy we get from coal and gas.

Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen by the electrolysis
method is only about 1 percent efficient.
This means it takes almost 100 times as much energy to split
the molecule than what you get from the hydrogen.
Solar panels and wind generators can't supply this amount of energy.
There are other methods that are more efficient.
But they involve using sulfuric acid and various metals.
This is not a good method for a homeowner to utilize.
Steam reforming of NG is another method, but again, not for the homeowner.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Burning trees may produce carbon dixoide, but it's from this carbon cycle and doesn't contribute to global warming. Because that tree would have naturally died and released it's carbon back in the atmosphere within the next 100-200 years it's not a problem to burn it and release the carbon. The excess carbon dixoide in the atmosphere is because we have dug down deep in to the earth and extracted carbon that is millions of years old and would never have naturally been released back in to the atmosphere.

Still, I don't consider wood a suitable replacement for fossil fuels. Burning it still creates smoke and pollution. And I really don't like the idea of forests being 'mined' in the same way coal and oil have been.

As for the fuel cells, I didn't realise that splitting water was 1% efficient. That's never going to be economical untill the process is changed. The steam reforming of natural gas is however quite affordable, but natural gas is of course a fossil fuel. Sure, hydrogen is clean, but it's not renewable and extracting it is still damaging to the environment. I just cannot see the value in building the processing plants, infastructure and machines to use hydrogen when we're so close to running out of it's only economical source - natural gas. The money and time would be better spent advancing other technologies that don't use fossil fuels.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Hi Poohbear, do you have a reference for the 1% efficiency number electricity-to-hydrogen conversion you stated? One source I googled gives an efficiency of 72%. there seems to be a range of efficiencies out there; 66% was another figure mentioned more than once.

Bry84, salt water is suitable for electrolysis.

Bob, I'm not sure of this number, but I believe that energy from sunshine, when the sun is directly overhead at the equator at noon, produces a potential of about 1,000 watts per square meter on a clear day. As you move away from the equator to other places on the earth, the power declines. Same with time of day - the lower the sun is with respect to the horizon, the lower the potential.

The infrastructure for the distribution of hydrogen is already in place. Hydrogen could be sent down the existing network of natural gas piping. Some equipment changes would be necessary. (I wonder if natural gas appliances could run off hydrogen if the gas orifices were changed? This is how appliances are changed from propane to natural gas.)

There is also another way to make hydrogen out of water: Thermal decomposition. Get water hot enough (above 2,000 C), and it breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen. But that process has its own difficulties.

It seems like more research should be done on making fusion workable. Fusion should be capable of providing both electricity for electrolysis, and large amounts of heat for thermal decomposition, of water. Our government seems to be talking a good talk about a hydrogen economy, but without some way of converting water to hydrogen, that isn't going to happen. Fusion seems like the solution.

Anyone know how much our government spends supporting the coal and petroluem industries vs. how much it is spending on fusion research?


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

I do not have any numbers on fusion research but way back when in college I studied nuclear engineering for a while. I changed majors because at the time there were not many domestic opportunities. Now if I spoke fluent French.....

Anyway I had one prof who was fusion researcher. He described some of the fusion problems roughly as follows. (Keep in mind this is 12 plus years old, although I have no reason to believe any of it has changed significantly. Also keep in mind that it is 12 plus years old in my mind which has a known half life of 2 weeks.)

- Fusion has a startup problem, needs incredibly high densities to get the process started. The density requirement drops off to an extent as a function of time. But so far no means exists to keep the density high enough to build a sustained fusion reaction.

- Fusion has a containment problem for obvious reasons. A tendeny to want to vaporize its containers. So it would need to be suspended in the heat transfer medium.

- It was his opinion that not enough money was spent on nuclear power research. He felt that going straight for fusion power was like trying to design an F-16 with only the practical knowledge of the Wright brothers. He advocated the continued development of more advanced nuclear reactors to provide the stepping stones that would be necessary to eventually achieve commercial fusion.

Also in theory fusion is not a renewable form of energy either. It converts two forms of matter into another. Although at some point the sun will burn out too. So we better not invest in any more solar research etiher!

If we had abundant fusion power why would we need hydrogen for home use? Would it not be cheaper to just use electric heat pumps?

More food for thought.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

This is the book I got the reference out of.

Pooh Bear

Here is a link that might be useful: Fuel From Water - Lindsay's Technical Books


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Yimminy, you asked "If we had abundant fusion power why would we need hydrogen for home use? Would it not be cheaper to just use electric heat pumps?

The reason is that transmitting electricity long distances down transmission lines is inefficient. The longer the transmission line, the greater the inefficiency. That is not a problem with hydrogen (or natural gas). The gas needs to be boosted by "pumping" stations to move it down the pipe, but the energy content of the fuel is the same when it comes out of the end of the pipe, as it was when it was put in at the beginning.

A power plant can burn natural gas to generate electricity at about 60% efficiency. The electricity is then transmitted down power lines, resulting in losses. At the end of the line, the remaining efficiency is much less (20 to 40%). The heating appliance in my house can burn natural gas at an efficiency of approximately 85%. Even more efficient appliances can achieve efficiencies approaching 95%. Heat pumps might be good for some places, but in cold climates, they are not very efficient, unless they are ground source (vs. the more common air source)

If hydrogen were sent down a pipeline to a house (or other building), where it goes into a fuel cell to generate electricity and heat, the efficiency would greater, than if you would just generate the electricity and send that down the power lines. The hydrogen can be converted into electricity with about 60% effieiency. The other 40% is heat, most of which could be used to heat the house or building, or heat water, or stored in insulated thermal mass, to be reclaimed for use later.

Although people object to both large gas transmission pipes lines and large electricity transmission lines, the objections to underground lines are less than if they are run above ground. Power lines assembled into large power "grids" also seem to be prone to failure (last years big black out).

Yes, fusion is not "renewable" per se, but from our existing perspective, it would appear to be "inexhaustible".

Even though I am NOT a fan of nuclear fission, I am inclined to agree that it SHOULD be a part of the short and mid term equation. France is like 60 or 70% fission powered, and they do it with great success. But the government of France regulates their nuclear industry much much more than we do here, basically making all reactor designs more or less the same, so that they benefit from economies of scale. State-side, we have all different kinds of nuclear power plant designs, which makes them much more expensive to build, regulate and operate.

The technical challenges to sustainable fusion reactions are large, but technical challenges have not stopped humanity from trying and succeeding in other areas. My personal belief is that there is nothing that humanity can't achieve through the force of our desire and will to achieve it (given enough money and resources).

Pooh, could you post the relevant info from the book you linked? Particularly any thermodynamic mass-balance equations and references that are the source of the 1% figure. Thankx.

I certainly don't know all the details. I'm just trying to keep the discussion going. Something MUST be done about where we, as US citizens, get our energy from, because it is obvious that where much of it comes from now, it is an uncertain, expensive, and dangerous proposition.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Brewbeer my question about just using heat pumps was more related to the inefficiency of cracking hydrogen out of water. So even if you have a 95% efficient appliance if the cracking process is not efficient enough then that is a problem.

In fusions case the point would be relatively moot. As you pointed out fusion from our perspective would sort of be inexhaustible. If hydrogen was a more logistically preferable means to transfer the energy it would be fine since the cost to crack it in theory would be relatively cheap.

Pooh I am also interested in seeing the information from the book.

I agree that this is an important discussion and would like to see it continue. However with the relatively low traffic on this forum it might just be a discussion between 5 or 6 of us. Brewbeer I also agree with you that something needs to be done about our energy policy. However I think we as a country also need to realistically address our current and future energy usage. (NOTE: I am not talking about conservation, but realistic projections for our ever increasing appetite for energy and how to get it.) After all my neighbors own a Suburban and a Hummer H2 because they are both good family cars. Of course both of them have "No War For Oil" bumper stickers on them too.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

The more I look at hydrogen, the more it seems to be the holy grail of fuels.

Hydrogen is produced using other fuels, either natural gas or splitting water with electricity. Sure, it has no point of use emissions that could be considered polluting, but at the start of it's production it uses another fuel that will cause pollution of some kind.

The issue isn't new, it's the same 'out of sight out of mind' mentality that has convinced people electricity is really clean. There's a number of housing estates in the UK that are electric only and have banned fossil fuels. They fail to realise that if you were to trace the wall outlet back to the source you'd almost certainly find a pollution belching power plant or nuclear station that generates a smaller but highly toxic/radioactive pile of waste.

Electricity and hydrogen have something in common, they're both what I'd call 'artificial fuels' as they're fuels made from fuels. We cannot escape the fact that they're predominantly made from fossil fuels, or worst of all that their production wastes a lot of energy by converting it from one form in to another. Take for example an electric space heater, first the coal at the power plant is burnt to make heat that is converted to steam and then electricity, then it's distributed to people's houses where they turn it back in to heat again. It will undoubtably use more fuel and cause more pollution this way, but people don't acknowledge this as they don't see the smoke, just a nice clean plastic outlet in the wall. The marketing and projected future for hydrogen seems to prey on the fact that consumers ignore issues they cannot see. It almost seems like a cynical way to further our fossil fuel consumption while apeasing customers.

The argument is that hydrogen can be made with renewable electric, such as solar power, but they must know this is not a viable option. Firstly, electrity is a valuable and highly adaptable form of energy, so why waste some of it turning it in to hydrogen when you can just use the electric directly? Sure, we could drive hydrogen cars, but then again, why not drive electric cars and avoid the energy wasting conversion. The mass reasearch in to home fuel cells also seems crazy. Why use renewable electric to make hydrogen that the consumer will just turn back in to electricity again? This will do nothing but waste energy, and since we cannot (according to many energy companys) provide all our energy needs with renewable energy, how can they then claim we can provide it all with hydrogen that's made from renewable sources? Particularly when it would require *more* renewable energy to make it.

I do however see hydrogen in a future that's entirely based on renewable energy sources. There's a number of people like myself who like their gas cooker and gas fireplaces, but of course this is converting it for a specific use, not to save energy or supply the whole world's demand for power with it.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Long-distance transmission of electricity over power lines results in line losses and less power at the end of the line than what was put in at the begining. This is not a problem with long distance transmission of natural gas or (eventually) hydrogen.

I guess one of the questions the needs to be solved is

"Is it more efficient to turn electricity (or any energy) into hydrogen for transmission, and then use it direcly (for heat or for vehicles), and/or turnd back into electricity (fuel cells), or is electricity transmission the most efficient method of moving energy?"

Sounds like a question needing some research.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

To make a fair judgement we need to look at the whole picture, the expenditure of energy from the initial collection of fuel (eg. mining or drilling) to how it loses efficiency during conversion (eg. heat to steam) and then finally transmission losses before it arrives at it's point of use.

Hydrogen may not suffer the transmission losses that electricity does, but of course it has to be mechnaically pumped at high pressure in to the pipes. The ammount of energy needed to move it may rivial or even exceed the energy losses from electric cables.

Also, producing hydrogen is much more complex than just using renewable electricity. It needs water that must be collected, pumped and treated, all with mechanical equipment that uses energy. This combined with the energy lost by turing electric in to hydrogen, and then back in to electricity again, is likely I think to exceed the energy lost from the supply wires.


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Another thought...

Oh, and something else I just thought of!

A lot renewable energy is collected close to it's point of use, for example solar pannels are normally installed on the actual building that consumes their energy. This eradicates the transmission losses entirely.

Of course, hydrogen cannot be easily made at it's point of use. You just cannot install hydrogen generation with the same ease you can a solar pannel or hydroelectric system.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

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I'll chime in again . . . .

Hydrogen as a fuel . . . piped in . . whatever . . remember the Hindenburg ( sp? ) hydrogen is what was in that when it went up. So yes; there is lots of energy available . .. but it is highly flammable in the presence of oxygen and an errant spark or other means of ignition.

We have lots of ways to change energy from various forms to other various forms . . . . common to them all is that the more directly you can use any source; the less are the losses in converting it to some other form.

Solar PV panels can collect electricity at pretty decent levels now . . . . and can generate point of use needs when wise energy consumption is involved. Solar panels can also be made to collect heat . .. as opposed to generating electricity . . . for purposed requiring heat. BUT . . to use solar electric to generate heat ( resistively ) is terribly lossy / inefficient. Use directly as you can to eliminate conversions and their attendant losses.

The easiest way to need less is to pay attention to usage . . . it is usually far cheaper to reduce your need through efficiency than it is to "generate" or "find" the additional need you have. Using a fluorescent ( CFL ) bulb will give you 4+ times the amount of light per watt consumed. Easy to do and simple. The idea that it is inevitable that we will continue to use MORE energy per capita as time goes on is not realistic in my opinion. Some live that way; and it is indeed a "habit" our country has. It does not need to be so. There are many new technologies out there that can make it very easy to live very well on LESS energy than we are accustomed to.

Take oil for example: it is a HUGE import into this country ( we like to bi$%# about China, Japan, Korea etc about their products coming into this country . . . . how come we don't bi$#% about oil ? ) and yet the CAFE standards have been in place for how many years without any change ? Raising the CAFE standard 0.1 mpg would save far more than drilling for oil in the Tongass ( Alaska ) . ... so who's kidding who ? The oil there is a fraction of a percent of our annual consumption . . . so drilling there does not change the energy picture one bit . .. just possibly destroys / damages an irreplaceable area for a few to get rich from . . . .

A few words about nuclear energy. If the TRUE cost of nuclear energy showed up on your electric bill; THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A SINGLE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EVER BUILT ! Why you say ? Your bill does not include the cost of disposing, permanently and safely; of the waste. No one on earth has yet figured out how / where to safely store the stuff for a long enough period of time until it's safe . .. for all practical purposed; it is indefinately. Secondly; who insures nuclear power plants ? The government. Why ? Because no insurance company on earth is willing to take the risk of an "event" . . . . so if the insurance companies won't touch them with a 10 foot ( or longer ) pole; you KNOW they're a loser at some point. And hows about the cost of decomissioning a plant once it's lived it's useful life. To make it safe when it's no longer running. No one knows how to do that in a fashion that will last the necessary tens of thousands of years. The pyramids are made of rock, in a climate without freeze / thaw cycles; and they are coming down after only a few thousand years. Man does not know how to make such a structure; and we certainly are not paying for it. Our children's children's childtren's children will be. Not a solution in my mind . . .. never has been . .. never will be.

Off my soapbox again . .. . . . Bob


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

One comment on hydrogen. Hydrogen was the gas in the Hindenburg. It is not what you see burning in all of the old newsreel films. What you see burning is the skin of the dirigible. Hydrogen burns with a colorless flame. I would readily use hydrogen as I already use natural gas if they can come up with a way of producing it other than electoylisis. I remember reading an article somewhere that they are genetically modifing alage to produce hydrogen. If they develop that process it would make it cost effective.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

I have seen both those articles before.
About the Hindenburg and the algae.
Very interesting articles.

I will have to find that book.
We moved into this house back in October
and my library is all in boxes in a closet somewhere.
Mite take time to find and look that up.

Pooh Bear


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

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Hydrogen is indeed a potentially VERY clean "fuel" . . . under perfect or pretty good conditions, it's "combustion" evolves nothing but water vapor and heat ( energy ).

The simple fact remains that this heat evolved in it's burning is energy existing in the chemical bonds that are broken during the burning. It is also true that at some time there was energy put INTO making those bonds. Be it the sun, electrolysis of water, or any of a myriad of other processes . . . . . you do not get something for nothing. Every process involves losses. We could take crude oil and extract hydrogen from it . . . with lots of other by-products and losses. Just wouldnt' make sense to do so.

My point: Use as little as you can . . . . use things closest to the forms they are common in . . as every process loses something in the "translation" from one form to another. If there are good clean sources of hydrogen available somewhere in large quantities; then perhaps fuel cells provide a good answer to some things. If not; they're just another way to burn the limited supply of fossil fuels still left on the planet. We've burned what took millions of years to make; in a mere 200 years. It all runs out some day . . . . you think the middle-east is a hot spot now . . . wait 'til the oil starts getting close to running out. The more intelligently we use it now, and the more we try to find other ways of doing the same things; will mean all that much longer before our descendants will need to deal with a world without oil; and yet stuck with a huge appetite for it.

Bob


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

The context is a bit different, but you'll find some interesting FC efficiency numbers on the page referenced below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fuel Cell efficiency discussion


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Here's one of the reasons dubya's administration is so hot for hydrogen-

Here is a link that might be useful: the russians are coming


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Here is another for you MudBug, Seems that Bush killed Kennedy too.

Bush Killed Kennedy

Is there nothing these low life conservatives won't do? I bet he's the antichrist as well!!!

Why don't we just stick to talking about Fuel Cells and leave the political agenda's out of it!

It seems to me that once someone develops a economical fuel cell for home use, and I'm confident that someone will, the hydrogen industry will find a way to fill the demand. Before the advent of the economical car, gas stations were non-existant, but the industry arose from the new demand. The same thing will happen when Hydrogen fuel cells become economically feasible.

Yes there are technical problems to overcome. And yes new technology in the refining of hydrogen will also have to follow, but neither of these challenges are insurmountable. I personally see the fuel cell as an exciting and certain future. It gives me hope that my children and grandchildren will have access to inexpensive clean energy. I just hope that we won't have pushed our planet past the limits of it's ability to compensate before we achieve global implementation of clean energy.

Doc


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

I'm Steve but I'm hijacking my wife's logon to put my quarter of a piece of eight in(2 bits). I am a major fan of alternative energy. Fortunately I am living in Puerto Rico now and am in the process of building a house. Solar and wind have pretty good potential here but, I am still putting a diesel back up gen in the system, N of the Fl line they are pretty impractical. I was a physicist (M.S. radiation biophysics) and did my time at Argonne (then primarily a national nuk research lab) and Rancho Seco nuk station. It became apparent after a few years that I wasn't going to be able to retire at 30 in that business so I got out. (just establishing that my opinions are studied and not financially motivated). Quite simply, nuclear power (fission) is the only short-term solution to the energy (and significant political)morass. The little half true dissertation that Bob gave a few back is exactly the illogical thought process that has poised us on the brink of nuclear war in the middle E(mE) (or perhaps Washington DC or NY with a suitcase nuk). The mE problem has been around for over a 1000 yrs and we have been sucked into that insolvable disaster. Any one who doesn't think that that problem is not about energy has non-genetically induced brown eyes. The long and short of it is that, it is their dirt and oil and they should be left alone with it to eat. Is that possible? Of course! We could eliminate most of the oil and gas used for power generation, industrial heat and process energy so we could save them for transportation uses. An interesting chemical using boron might make hydrogen plausible for cars but not planes, trains and ships. The simple solution is the HTGR (high temperature gas cooled reactor) The USA had one many years ago at Fort St. Vrain and they are being actively persued by numerous nations. The beauty of these reactors is that they can be made to passively shut down (without pumps, people etc) if you have a problem, lock the door come back in a week or two, solve the problem and back on line. These are safe enough to put near cities and use the waste heat. The fuel cycle can be engineered to make it easier to buy special nuclear material (bomb grade stuff) than make your own so these plants could be built in the USA and exported around the world(yes, we're talking millions of high paying USA jobs and swinging the big pendulum on the balance of trade deficit all for less than the price of a desert storm 1 or 2, by the way, I'm happily retired in PR and don't want a job thank you). Nuclear power is the cheapest way to make electricity in spite of what Bob says. All the hoopla about nuclear waste is just so much barbra strisand(bs). The nuk waste problem is a political one. We have already had a fully staffed and equipped reprocessing facility that was shut down and never allowed to operate (love those politics). Also the high level waste becomes less dangerous after 100 yrs than the natural ore that the U235&8 or Thorium fuel was extracted from due to the rapid decay of the waste. We have a perfectly good and safe repository out West in the salt mines that will probably never be used because of politics again. By the way, if all the high level waste was simply diluted and dumped in the ocean we would not be able to detect the increase in the naturally occurring levels of radiation. The envirofacists seem to be easing up on nuk plants because of the totally bogus global warming (lots more barbra)but that's another long story and I've ruffled enough feathers for now. AEKDB


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Barbara Streisand? Don't you mean Jane Fonda.
Remember that movie she did, The China Syndrome.

Can you give sources for further reading for some of this.
I would like to read more about the boron issue.
And the HTG reactors. And about the decay times.

Got a question about nuclear plants.
About 12 years ago somebody made a statement to me.
"In a nuclear power plant there is never enough nuclear fuel onsite to build a nuclear bomb."
Is this true. Been wondering about it ever since.

Stick around Steve. Would like to hear more from you.

Pooh Bear


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Pooh - no, nuke plants (depending on flavor) each have plenty of material ot make nuke explosive devices. A relatively small nuke plant is what N. Korea is using to make their bombs.

Steve, although I agree with the vast majority of what you are saying, I don't agree with the cost issues. The ineffectual regulatory framework and the POCO's approaches to reactor design and operation in the states make fission-derived energy expensive enough that construciton of nuke plants no longer occurs in the states.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

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Gotta chime in again . . . nuke stuff. Do you know how much goes into mining / collecting / refining the stuff into a "useful" state ? How much environmental damage gets done ? Millions of tons of stuff moved to create a small amount of "useable" fuel. And all the water that needs to be pumped from the mines . . . laced with all sorts of stuff that would normally be tied up and only very slowly released by nature . .. all comes out in concentrated form to be dumped somewhere. Call me an eco-nut if you'd like; but quite simply the stuff is dangerous and we don't know how to safely get rid of it. Even if you bury it in New Mexico or whatever; it is still dangerous for thousands of years. If YOU lived there would YOU want it ? We're all NIMBY's ( Not In My Back Yard ) . . . . And how come NO insurance company on earth will insure a nuke plant ? . . . simply because at some point an accident WILL occur, and of catastrophic proportions. If it's a loser to an insurance company; it's a loser for all of us.

Sun, wind, and water are for the most part already here in great amounts; and are for the most part pretty harmless, and can be used without destroying anything. Using them directly by "collection" at their place of use is not only pretty harmless; but allows us to keep all of our eggs OUT of one basket. Consolidation is control. Control the resources, and you control the people. Period.

Bob


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Steve, I have to agree that global warming is an invented situation. We have sediment samples collected from Grande Pile France that can tell us with good accuracy the climate for the past 140 Ka. It has constantly fluctuated and it would seem the earth has glacial periods followed by temperate conditions. We are living in a temperate period that is following the previous patterns of warming. Eventually, some millions of years from now the earth will cool and become glacial again, but for the short term future it will continue to get warmer. This is the pattern it has followed many times before, and all long before we started to burn fossil fuels.

However, the fact global warming is not real doesn't undermine the case against fossil fuels. Their extraction and burning is the cause of much environmental dammage, health dammaging polution, and of course the thinning ozone layer that will also impact our health. It also seems foolish to depend on something that is both limited and attached to so many political problems.

As for nuclear, I'm not against the technology as such. I believe the modern plants to be very safe, in fact I live quite close to one and am entirely comfortable with it. Conversely, I'm convinced a coal plant would impact my health and would not want to be anywhere near one, while the nuclear plant having zero emissions in to the atmosphere will do nothing to me at all. There has only ever been one major nuclear accident with a power plant (Chernobyl) and that was of course a very poorly designed and maintained structure. The containement vessel was comparative to a prefabricated concrete bunker. The meltdown also happened during tests that were 'experimental' to say the least. I do not feel for one moment that the power plant close to me poses any danger. It has more safety equipment and redunadancy systems than it is likely to ever need, but of course to say it's failiure proof is to be as short sighted as the people who said Titanic would never sink. There will allways be that tiny possibility something will go horribly wrong. However, if we could add together the actual number of people who have suffered poor health and early death due to pollution and the ozone damage (eg. skin cancer) caused by fossil fuel power plants, I'm sure it would make the number of casulties from nuclear accidents look tiny. People are more scared because of a few incidents involving dismally shoddy equipment that would never be allowed in Europe/America, and yet they ignore the far more incidious threat of coal plants because it is slower and harder to trace. My only concern is the nuclear waste, it's not easily disposed of and has a very long life. I find the suggestion it could be safely dumped in the sea unrealistic. It may eventually dilute enough, but the dump sites would be severaly dammaged, even if used just once. I much prefer the idea of reprocessing it to create minimal waste with a shorter life, which can then be contained safely untill it's no longer dangerous. Tempting as it may be to literally throw it away and forget it, I don't see it as an option.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

My first comments were a response directed to other comments, I would also like to discuss fuel cells. The most important issue to remember is that there is no free lunch. The H has to come from somewhere. The best place is natural gas C H4. It can also be derived from longer chain aliphatic hydrocarbons with less efficiency. You can always split oxygen dihydride (water), but as mentioned by someone earlier, this is a very inefficient process and you need lots of cheap energy (nuk power). I think that Ballard has a prototype project to place fuel cells in a large number of homes for prototype testing. I was hoping to get one for my home, but did not try very hard and just resigned myself to readily available commercial products. Solar cells are down to about $4 a Watt now and about the same for wind generators.
Here are some links discussing H storage for fuel cells (or combustion). I remember reading that a company has a fully developed a liquid fuel system, based on NaB, which provides similar power densities to gasoline. It is non-flammable and much safer than any other fuel. It requires a catalyst for H production.

http://www.rti.org/page.cfm?objectid=5C9D7E5B-CCCC-44F3-8124FC3A13E850F6

http://mailman.mcmaster.ca/mailman/private/cdn-nucl-l/0202.gz/msg00065.html

To poohbear
I enjoyed China syndrome, fun movie, in fact I like a number of JF movies, not to say that I think that she is a particularly good actress, but JF needs to realize that her politics are about as real as her movies, as are most movie stars. They seem to think that if they play someone knowledgeable, they become so ( too many people staying at Holiday Express).
Many years ago when I was plant Health Physicist at Rancho Seco nuk station, I was sent to an emergency-planning meeting sponsored by the NRC. We virtually melted down the core of a nuk plant (on paper) and calculated the worst case results from a china syndrome (core melts through reactor, containment building, 40' of dirt, hits a water table producing a steam explosion and high level waste meets the atmosphere in a weather inversion. The physics of this process are well known and the probability of this occurring is probably close to the probability of all the air molecules in your room getting a bad bounce, concentrating in a corner and suffocating you to death. Nevertheless, the offsite exposure that would have resulted to the surrounding population would have been less than 5 rem (which was the annual limit of an occupationally exposed worker at the time). So much for the China syndrome. A fission device can be made from several isotopes of U Pu and Th. I would rather not go into the details of nuk devices to avoid being put on some wacko list, but I am certain that there is enough material in a reactor core to build a device. There are very few places with the equipment and expertise to do this and those that do, already have the material. For HTGR just put it in a search engine, General Atomic is working on it as well as the Ruskies, S Africa, Japan and the US. Do your homework and I will try to answer questions if you have any.
To RCMJr. If you want to have a rational dialog about energy issues, which seem to interest you, you need to think more logically and less emotionally. There is a grain of truth in your concerns about mining, but consider this. Many U deposits have concentrations of ore of several percent. I don't claim to be an expert in mining, but I'm not aware of any particularly nasty chemicals used or released in the process. Au (gold) on the other hand is economically recoverable at less than 1 gram a ton or about 1 part per million whereas a percent is 1 part per hundred. It is common to use cyanide (not one of my favorite beverages) for leaching extraction. Are you worried about gold mining, chrome mining, copper mining (arsenic released in smelting)etc ad nauseum or just U mining? The mining industry has become much more responsible in this age of unlimited litigation. Most reasonable people properly briefed in mining practices would probably concur that it is being done with proper safeguards for the environment (in the USA). As far as nuk waste being toxic for thousand of years, so what? Relative to what? Arsenic, fluorine, chlorine, beryllium, mercury, lead(to name but a few) naturally occurring elements are toxic forever. Get a grip, put things in perspective. There are about 28x10E7 people in the USA and we kill about 4X10E4 in car wrecks every year, divide the second number by the first and you have about a 1 in a 100,000 chance of dying on the road. This is an extremely higher risk than dying or being injured by commercial nuk power (there has never been an injury or death to workers or the public from radiation in the history of commercial nuk power which generates 20% of electricity in the USA and has for about 30 years). The media has irrationally terrorized you in regard to radiation. The risks are much lower than hundreds of those that you take every day without nearly the benefit that you receive from nuk power. Think for yourself; don't be programmed by someone that wants to scare the money or vote out of you! There are good reasons that nuks are federally insured. In the beginning no one knew how to calculate the risk premium. It was in the national interest to get the nation energy independent (has anything changed) so the government stepped up to the plate. Now that we have turned the court system into a lottery, what do you suppose a few mrem would be worth to a jury if you can get a few $M for spilling hot coffee in your own lap. ( the power plants pay high premiums; the fed underwrites it, no claims so far to my knowledge). By the way, I consider an eco-nut as someone with an irrational fear of their own shadow (the sky is falling in)that doesn't venture out to harass others. An eco-fascist wants to take that irrational uninformed fear and control MY lifestyle. Which are you?
P.S. solar cells and windmills require copper, gold silicon, chrome, lead, plastics (benzene, styrene and all other sorts of nasties), nuk power (electricity to make them) and solar cells used to consume more power to make them than they produced in their useful life (I don't know that this is still the case) not quite as harmless as you would lead us to believe. I also just read that you should keep windmills at least 100' from your home because the low frequency acoustic vibrations can make some ill (I don't know this to be the case, but the military does use this concept in some non-lethal weapons). Let me leave you with a thought, most scientists and technologists are honest, concerned, hardworking normal people. The American public has done themselves a great disservice casting doubt on these folk and trusting the elite (news moguls, politicians, eco-fascists organizations and CEO-CFO's, who with few exceptions are totally corrupted by power they have begged borrowed and stolen)

To bry84
As you say, there definitely can be global warming or cooling but it is extremely unlikely to be anthropomorphic. An interesting example of how little scientific validity "global warming " has can be demonstrated by the fact that the reputed primary causal factor is not the "green house effect". A green house warms by trapping heat and not allowing convective cooling to occur. A more accurate description would be a mirror effect. "Green house gases" reflect infrared radiation back to the ground and reduce its emission into space which has a warming effect. The most important "green house gas" by several orders of magnitude is water vapor. The huge effect of water vapor is so large that the effect of the miniscule amount of CO2, less than 1%, cannot accurately be measured. Coal fired plants are a problem and may be responsible for high mercury levels in fish among many other things; nuk power could easily solve this at a better price. By the way ozone depletion was thought to be cause by breakdown products of chlorofluorohydrocarbons ( not CO2) another hoax perpetrated on us little guys. The banning of these products has cost us billions of dollars and was based on a faulty study that assumed that all the fluorine in the atmosphere was man made(whoops! how about millions of tons a year from volcanoes. CO2 is not a pollutant, but an essential part of the atmosphere. In fact, the plants call it fertilizer. The concentration of CO2 has approximately doubled over the last 100 years, but there is such a huge source in the earth's crust that it is not certain that this increase in concentration is the result of our activities. In any case it has been very beneficial to the world's flora and fauna. I have read in a reputable newsletter that there is more biomass in the old USA from this fertilizer effect than there was when Columbus took his legendary cruise W.
P.P.S. I don't advocate dumping diluted nuk waste in the ocean, but the concept does help put things in perspective.
AEKDB


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

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Steve / Dcoats

I spend time on this forum to meaningfully exchange ideas / thoughts . .. NOT to judge others. I honestly respect the opinions of others even if they are different than mine . . . I do NOT expect to be judged by being told that I need to get a grip and think more logically / less emotionally.

Radiation in nature is for the most part pretty sparse; not much of an issue to health. Not so when concentrated into forms "we" wish to use. Let's take something pretty harmless and put it into a form that is highly dangerous / deadly to most every form of life we know. While we're at it; the mining process ( of virtually everything; not just U ) will leave huge scars; and pumping water from them will ( DOES ) leach lots of stuff out of the ground in a very short period of time and in large concentrations and dump it into our rivers etc. ( Perhaps the mining industry has cleaned up it's act to some extent . . . but consider too that military stuff is virtually exempt from ANY environmental regulations. ) Nature would disperse various minerals as well; but over a MUCH longer period of time and with much lower concentrations. As far as deaths from radiation nuke accidents . . . I know; more people have died in Kennedy's back seat than from nuke stuff. Good ( logical ) reasoning there . . . No one died from radiation at Chernobyl, or in Hiroshima and Nagasaki either. I'm about 30 miles from a nuke plant . . . and oddly enough, when the source of cooling water gets too warm in the summer; they have to scale back production in it so that they can be sure to be able to cool it properly in the event of some type of "mishap". The cooling water comes from . .. . . . . Lake Ontario . . . and it's a big lake in case you're not familiar with it. That's real comforting . . .

I accept that everything I do / buy has an impact on the planet we live on. I choose to try and minimize MY impact on future generations as much as I can. Leaving toxic ( for thousands of years ) piles around somewhere in someone ELSE'S back yard is not my way of doing that. Especially when it really isn't needed . ... there are alternatives. Yes, there are toxic materials involved in solar panels . .. just like everything else. Maybe RECYCLE them ? Don't have to bury it for hundreds of generations like a turd in the litter box. A solar panel will produce approximately 25 TIMES the energy in it's lifetime; that it took to produce it. Name ANYTHING else that even comes close. And once made; there are no further by-products ( nuke waste, combustion by-products, acid rain etc ).

Some jerk with their lawyer, getting millions for spilling coffee on themselves has nothing to do with renewable energy. I am not an eco-nut or eco-fascist; I give a damn about what I ( and we as a society ) leave to our grandchildren and their planet in the future. Do you ? I have no desire to determine your lifestyle; not sure where that even came from . . . . . .

"most scientists and technologists are honest, concerned, hardworking normal people" . . . . . yep, sure are. Can't argue this with me as I agree.

I respect your opinions . . . . but NOT your judgements of others . . . . . I welcome intelligent exchange of ideas . . . . not mud-flinging and/or name calling . . .

Bob


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Regarding Global Warming:

Call it the "green house effect" or call it the "mirror effect", it is still the same problem: increasing earth surface temperatures. There aren't too many respected scientists, agencies, or governments who don't acknowledge that it is real, it is happening, and the rate of temperature change is accelerating. Come to think of it, I can't think of one credible organization that still denies the existance of global warming.

The evidence for changing global temperature change is overwhelming. And yes, global warming has two components: the natural fluctuation of surface temperatures due to advancing and retreating continental ice sheets ("ice ages") and variations in oceanic circulation patters which affect how heat is distributed around the planet.

The other component is clearly anthropomorphic. All one needs to do is review the data collected over the past 100 years regarding fossil fuel consupmtion, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and recorded surface temperatures. Global warming was occurring before humanity began pumping large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, but at a comparitively slow rate. CO2 emission rates exploded after WW2, and surface temperates have correspondingly accelerated.

To deny that human activity is affecting the climate of the earth is to deny the entire body of scientific evidence which supports this conclusion.

But then again, denial is the most popular way that people initially deal with their problems.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Brewbeer,

"Not too many respected scientists, agencies or governments that deny that (global warming) is real" [quotation not exact].

How about the U.S. one?

Many of whose major leaders have strong links to the petroleum industry.

Good wishes to you and yours.

joyful guy


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

"W" might be in denial, but he is only the president. He is not the entire government, and the majority of american people certianly don't agree with him on this issue.

The EPA knows the real scoop, and although W's administration has temporarily blocked EPA rules to regulate "greenhouse" emissions, W won't be president for ever, and the government (the american people) will move this issue forward when he is gone.

The price of our form of democracy is high, but it is worth it.


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Wow. This is a curious discussion thread!


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Curioser and curioser. Lot of interesting opinions. One thing I am pretty sure won't happen is hydrogen, liquified or other wise being pumped to homes. It is colorless and oderless, but the flaming structure of the Hindenburg was not the only combustion contributing to that fireball. H2 is the scarey devil that started the catastrophe and formed a big part of the spectacle. That is where development of transportable or pumpable organic compounds from which H2 could be recovered on site comes in. But, like with refrigerants, the trick is developing a medium that doesnt cause new environmental problems. I am not holding my breath on that one. Here in Michigan, the electric companies are promoting heat pumps for home heating and cooling. They involve pumping a fluid through pipes underground where temps are cooler than summer surface temps and warmer than winter household temps. It is easier to install in new constuction, and pricey but cuts heating/cooling costs way way down. I heard one guy say he went from several thousand $/year heating to several hundred for a 2000+ sq ft house. I also feel that uranium mining is way down the list of problems. After watching how miners are precipitating gold flakes from Amazon waters by dumping in gallons of liquid mercury - just so they can make a few weeks pay - my priorities have changed. We have a bigger problem with the unbelievable quantity of arsenic treated wood that infests this country. Arsenic leaches into any ground that wood sits on. Treated wood eventually ends up in dumps where it may be recycled, or burnt, or just sits around adding to the ground water. At least radioactive materials have a half life, elemental arsenic is forever. A pet peeve related to this: why do we try to create such long life building materials for items that the average home owner wil yank out in 10 years? When you watch all the 'trading spaces', 'before and after shows' they are ripping out counters, floors, you name it because it is ugly, or the wrong color, or boring, or old fashioned. Right to the dump go ceramics, brick, good wood, arsenated wood, marble and slate. Decks are personal. Decks are like cars. People trade them in for new ones. Same thing with kitchen counters. As I watch those 300 lb marble slabs being installed on tv I can already hear the next owner saying 'I cant stand black, that will have to go'. I grew up in a 1950's lower middle class subdivision. The kitchen counters were plywood covered with the same linoleum that was on the floors. It wore out, curled up and cracked eventually. I thought it was shabby then. Now I think it was brilliant. Easy to change or replace. Biodegradable too. Oh well


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RE: Fuel Cells for home use

Flowerkitty, I'm also increasingly doubting that hydrogen is going to happen. The massive infastructure alterations, the energy needed to produce it and the fact it would likely use fossil fuels anyway makes it seem unlikely to work - and yet it's one of the latests hot topics and many energy companies are pushing it despite the problems. Why they are promoting it so much I'm not certain of, but it fits in with my suspiscion that we will never run out of fossil fuels, or to be more accurate industry won't allow it. Our economy is based on fossil fuels. They are used for almost every part of daily life, from transporting us, our food and consumer items that also used fuels to produce, we're entirely dependant on fossil fuels. It's a massive industry and they want to keep making money, but renewable energy threatens their profits as it opens up the market massively and takes away their ability to keep increasing prices above normal inflation. When something is unlimited it loses a lot of value, thus the limited fossil fuel resources allow them to charge almost any price they like. Also, by owning the major resources such as oil wells and coal mines they control almost all the energy we use, but they don't own the sunlight and cannot stop the wind from blowing, which is another way renewable energy threatens their profits by taking away their control of potential resources. To keep turning a profit they need to keep us using fossil fuels in one form or another, something they're allready working on by trying to dig deeper for coal and extract more oil from old wells, and also by turning old fuels in to new ones - for example coal liqufication to make an oil substitute or turning natural gas in to hydrogen. Curiously, I suspect energy effciency is another ploy of theirs. Cars may use far less fuel than they did 30 years ago, but the price of fuel has risen so much since the mid 70's that we're still paying more per mile (including inflation) than we did back then. Interestingly, predicted oil reserves have risen since then and both modern technology and the increase in oil extraction has driven down the cost of production per barrel for the oil company, and yet they are selling it at a massive premium. Not only are they working on a whole family of new fossil fuels to sell us, but they're also encouraging consumers to use smaller ammounts of very expencive fuel, which means they make more money from each consumer depsite them using far less fuel than they have before. It's all a cynical way to extract more oil and more money from consumers. If a 1000 sq. foot house costs 300 per year to heat today, then they're going to make sure it costs 800 in 10 years time, even though energy will be cheaper to produce by then, and that house will have a newer more effcient heating system.


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