Hydrogen

Politicians and automakers love to talk about pollution-free cars powered by hydrogen. The media eats it up, and the debate for and against hydrogen resurfaces again.

  • Proponents claim hydrogen will someday free us from our dependence on oil and eliminate pollution from our cars.
  • Cynics say hydrogen may never be practical as a motor fuel, and they accuse energy companies and automakers of focusing on hydrogen at the expense of more realistic, near-term solutions.

At this point, it’s hard to tell which side is right: A lot depends on how quickly technologies can be developed to generate, transport, and utilize hydrogen fuel that is both economical and environmentally sound.

> Assuming you could produce a supply of hydrogen fuel, are there other challenges to putting hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road?

So Close and Yet So Far

One of the big advantages of hydrogen is that it’s abundant: there is hydrogen in fossil fuels, alcohols—even in water. This means that hydrogen fuel can be made from a large number of feedstocks. Today, common ways of producing hydrogen include reforming natural gas (in which four hydrogen atoms are separated from a carbon atom) and electrolyzing water (which decouples two hydrogen atoms from an oxygen atom). The fact that hydrogen can be produced in so many ways means that, unlike petroleum, supplies of hydrogen can’t run out, nor will they be concentrated in one area of the world. Hydrogen is everywhere—it just needs to be captured and used.

Capturing hydrogen, however, is not as easy as it sounds. There isn’t much pure hydrogen around because hydrogen tends to bond easily with other elements. To make hydrogen fuel, hydrogen must be separated from whatever it’s attached to, a process that requires energy. For this reason, hydrogen is often called an “energy carrier” rather than an energy source.

To get hydrogen, you first have to put energy in. For example, making a kilogram of hydrogen from water through electrolysis requires 45-70 kWh of electricity, depending on the technology. This amount of electricity could power the average American home for roughly two to three days.

Consider the Source

Depending on where that electricity comes from, hydrogen can be clean and efficient or anything but. In many areas of the country, electricity comes primarily from coal-fired power plants. Burning coal to generate electricity—and then using that electricity to make hydrogen—is not such a good idea. The hydrogen at the end of the process may be used in vehicles that are “clean,” but the coal that was used to make the electricity emitted significant amounts of pollution and greenhouse gases. In addition, this process is not very efficient since losses occur each time one form of energy is converted to another.

However, if the electricity used to make hydrogen comes from renewable sources, such as hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, or wind, then hydrogen can be extremely clean. Hydrogen from renewables also releases no climate change emissions, and provides users with complete independence from fossil fuels. This is what appeals to hydrogen’s supporters: the prospect of a fuel that is abundant, non-polluting, and safe for the world’s climate.


  • Westley Wendler

    Thank you very much for the info.

  • Amber

    this are some really nice cars i want one so bad. but they also cost a fortine so i will stick to the car i have now.

  • Mike

    If we were to switch the majority of our electrical power production to nuclear fission, and add more capacity, we could use the off peak capacity to create hydrogen for the next generation vehicles, and power plug-in hybrids. That would also free up large amounts of natural gas now used to produce electricity. That natural gas could be used to power retrofitted vehicles from the existing fleet. Trust me, if natural gas became much cheaper than gas and diesel, many local truck fleets, for example, would jump at converting.

    Hmmm, big reduction in greenhouse emissions, nobody fighting and dying for oil, a distinct loss of income to terrorist states… sign me up!

    Where are our environmental and political leaders???? Too heavily invested in the major oil companies? Too invested in keeping the global warming crisis going – the one they created when they villified nuclear power?

  • wayne

    How much fuel is being made with Hydrogen? If it takes 70KW of electricity to get 1 kilogram of Hydrogen, why not make electric cars fueled from alternate fuel sources such as windmills? Or maybe yet, drive smaller cars and not consume as much.

  • w1aZbnm./12.

    “If you go through the entire hydrogen chain starting with AC-DC conversion, electrolysis, compression, or liquefaction, transportation, storage, re-conversion the electricity by fuel cells with subsequent DC-AC, there are additional losses in every process stage. This is physics, not poor handling. And as the laws of physics are eternal, there was no past, there is no present, and there will be no future for a hydrogen economy.”

    -Ulf Bossel

    efcf (dot) com/reports/E22.pdf

  • harry bomb

    i love these cars!!!!

  • Stephen A.

    Above reads: “Burning coal to generate electricity—and then using that electricity to make hydrogen—is not such a good idea. The hydrogen at the end of the process may be used in vehicles that are “clean,” but the coal that was used to make the electricity emitted significant amounts of pollution and greenhouse gases.”

    But even if it’s not 100% clean, it’s better than hauling the oil from the Middle East on ships, refining it, and shipping it to our gas stations, isn’t it?

    Shame on the automakers for not getting us hydrogen cars or battery-powered electrics sooner than now.

  • Anonymous

    Food for thought: At present, enough electrical power can be generated from photovoltaic cells on a roof to run a household, and in some cases, sell the excess back to the power grid (be it aftermarket installations, or, from roof tiles where the technology is built into the tile). This may not be the case in Sun challenged geographical areas, where there’s not enough sunlight to make it efficient or economically feasable. However, where it can work, would it be possible ??.. to use this form of energy (geothermal and wind also) ??.. to charge/power, short distance electric commuter cars (inner-city with 10 mi. out diameter, ), power the household, and to make the necessary electrical power to extract hydrogen from water and (many) other sources, for use as a fuel for vehicles, cooking, water heating, etc.??? Especially with the advent of the newer roll-out “sheets” of photo-voltaic cells that are “flat” and much more adaptable to a larger variety of applications. While they are new and not yet in the marketing stage, money from oil companies, government, and investors , and a shift in focus, could speed up the process to consumers, and business, almost like overnight mail.
    Still, storage of hydrogen, remains a challenge. It has come a long way since Forest City, Iowa, (1962/64 ?), where all of the city’s buses were converted to run on hydrogen, in one of the first large scale trials, using hydrogen as a fuel. Earlier successful trials were done in Provo, Utah, and Riverside, Utah, (The Billings Company). If I had money to invest, I would put it there. It would be a worthy investment, not only in monetary returns, but in a cleaner, environmentally way.

    (You know.. in a stop global warming, stop oil war-ing, stop power broking sort of way)

    Think about it……

  • Anonymous

    DEAR SIRS: CAN ANY CAR BASIC INTERNAL COMBUSTION CAR BE CONVERTED TO USE HYROGEN ALSO? THANS.(KENNYGUY2@JUNO.COM) PLEASE TELL OF CONVERSION KITS AVAILABLE THANKS, KEN

  • Jamie Lynn Spears

    When I first read about the First Commercial Hydrogen Car Honda FCX Clarity I was amazed and saw the issue with high prices solved. I was new to the world of alternative power sources for automotive industry, so Honda Clarity seemed like a big deal to me. Then I’ve read about Hydrogen Powered Cars being potentially more environmentally harmful and my cloud nine collapsed. Then I’ve stumbled upon this site and found lots and lots of great info. I still have a lot of reading to do before I catch up with everyone, but I’m genuinely interested so I’ll be spending more time here.

  • Melech Berman

    I would like to know if a hydrogen kit can be added to a toyota Prius and will it make a differance?

  • Stargzer

    Yes, an internal combustion engine can be converted to run on hydrogen just as it can be converted to run on propane or natural gas, but I don’t know where to get conversion kits.

    Since hydrogen is a gas down to about 435 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, there’s no problem with vaporization of the fuel at low temperatures. Cold weather starts would be no problem, even in northern Alaska! Propane on the other hand vaporizes at about 44 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, at which point it would be a liquid during the winter in Fairbanks, AK, when the temperature can reach 60 below. Since no carbon is burned there are no COx products, only water vapor, and, perhaps (although I don’t know for sure), some NOx from atmospheric nitrogen.

    When I was in college back in the early 1970s I was a Chemistry major. One of the journals (it may have been ChemTech form the American Chemical Society) had an article about hydrogen for conventional internal combuston engines. One of the greatest perceived dangers, that of explosion, was called “The Hindenberg Syndrome.” In reality, in a car crash, gasoline vapors from spilled fuel stay on the ground, creating a danger of explosion, while hydrogen gas quickly disperses and rises up into the atmosphere (due to it’s lighter weight / lower density).

    The real problems were storage and distribution. We already have tankers delivering gas to stations, and we have pipelines delivering natural gas to homes. A pipeline to deliver hydrogen would be needed, but one problem is that the hydrogen molecule is small enought to diffuse through many seals. For an example, look what happens to helium balloons after a few days: all the helium diffuses through the balloon while the larger air molecules stay trapped within the balloon for a longer time.

    The storage problem was probably the most difficult technological hurdle. Hydrogen is not dense enough to carry enough around in a convential tank. One solution that was being worked on used rare-earth hydrides, where hydrogen bonds to rare-earth elements, to store the hydrogen. The rare-earth hydride is stable enough that heat is needed to separate the hydrogen, but the actual reaction of hydrogen evolving is endothermic, i. e., it absorbs heat. Thus, in an accident, if a storage tank of rare-earth hydride is breached, there will be a small initial release of hydrogen, but the reaction will tend to chill the tank and slow down or stop the release. Think of it as a sort of self-sealing tank, in effect.

    Electrolosis of water is one way to get hydrogen, producing oxygen as a byproduct. The article also speculate that thermal cracking in the heat of a nuclear reactor could also be used to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen.

    After college I went into computers instead of chemistry, so I don’t know what ever happened to this technology.

  • Joe

    Hydrogen cars still leave a foot print but not near as much as gasoline engine. Remember you still need lubricants, motor oil, synthetic oil, grease, etc. Mike above has the right idea!
    My next house will be solar powered and have geothermal HVAC unit. Hopefully that will free up the Nuclear Plants to provide my Hydrogen or electric car. We also need more wind farms and solar farms. Check out T Boone Pickens website on the PickensPlan.

  • pawpawjc

    The real problem may be (and probably is) how to tax alternative fuels. The Federal Government taxes each gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel in order to pay for road improvements (and other pork barrel programs). It is a pay-as-you-use type of tax, considered too hard to let go of. In other words, “if you can’t pump it, you can’t tax it”. That is the real reason why a plug-in electric car has taken so long to develop. There is currently no program for the federal goverment to recoup the lost revenues if we stop using oil.

  • Anonymous

    from what i have heard about hydrogen cars, they are powerd by the spliting of atoms? isnt that what makes an atom bomb???

  • lol guro

    omg this helps so much on my homework!!!

  • gallantkcanada

    We are still in a world of horse and buggy if you ask me. Hydrogen cars are the answer. You can generate methane from fermenting waste in Bulk Volume Fermenters which companies have been doing for 30 years. This methane contains a lot of hydrogen. Waste can generate methane so why not methane gas. Hydrogen can be extracted from CH4 – methane. No brainer. Waste to Hydrogen- It is that simple and the footprint is sludge which has 90% removals of waste from chemical reactions with simple bugs…
    Cheers,
    From CANADA

  • Anonymous

    Geo-thermal is mentioned in this article as being renewable and it is an intriguing idea. But I am concerned we are not looking forward. My understanding it that heat is removed from the earth’s core and released topside to power a generator. Has anyone seen a discussion about the effects of large scale geo-thermal use? If it were used to provide heat and power on the same scale that oil, coal, and natural gas are currently, what would happen? Would/could we “accidentally” cool the core of the planet half of a degree creating undesired consequences? Not enough questions were asked when we chose oil, coal, nuclear energy, and natural gas. Let’s make sure it gets discussed this time before end up with something worse then global warming.

  • porsche 993 turbo owner

    i love these cars and when the infrastructure and the price become fathomable for the average consumer to buy i will trade in my car and buy one but until then it is a way for politicians to appear “green”

  • Bree

    i love these cars, they are so great for the enviornment, but dude above me is right, nobody is gonna buy a car at these prices, i guess some people are just oblivious to the fact that were in an economic crisis, this is all about give and take, but if they are not willing to give then nobody is looking to take:/

  • Bree

    going green may be good for the enviornment but, saving green is good too:)

  • Me

    Some comments on all of the above: Hydrogen can be burned in a conventional auto engine, but with about 20% lower output to limit the formation of NO (smog) from the air that is drawn into the engine. Yes, you still need oil for lubrication, but less than 10% of motor oil is collected for recycling today and combined with synthetic additives, you’d use much less new oil than today. Which is better: 100 gallons of gasoline burned at 50mpg or 5 quarts of recycled oil in 5,000 miles? If you have excess solar capacity on your roof, a plug-in would make more sense than hydrogen cracking and the associated storage tanks. Cracking hydrogen is not in any way related to an atomic bomb: you probably saw it demonstrated in Jr. High school, where “electrolysis” was used to seperate the hydrogen from water, which the teacher then “popped” with a match. Renewable is the best way to genereate hydrogen and must be tailored to fit each source: wind near bodies of water, solar or geothermal near biomass (garbage dumps), hydro is a no-brainer. However, excess capacity at any power plant can and should be used now, even fossil burners…why waste it? And. no, we could never, ever pump enough heat out of the earth to measure a decline, nor do we have to…it comes out by itself already!

  • Abner

    You are guaranteed to save money with a hybrid car: If you are doing town driving, you may save fuel and you may not. The same goes for motorway driving. There are just too many different factors involved.
    Hybrid Car Myths
    Great read, Thanks.

  • Gaush

    With an increase in the pollution caused by the bio-diesel fuels it is necessary to adopt a new greener energy. I feel hydrogen is the best option in terms of reducing pollution. Many automotive companies are manufacturing their hybrid variants in electric versions and planning to launch such hydrogen fuel vehicles.

    This fuel will reduce the use of the oil and petroleum products and will help to maintain the environment pollution free.

    4×4 trucks

  • JOE

    Hydrogen can be made from new nuclear plants, solar, wind that are safer than oil rigs. Stop shipping U.S. dollars to people that dont like us. Plus when you walk/run down the road you dont choke on the fumes of gasoline vehicles that have defective exhaust.

  • broncos

    no need to wait for cell.
    hydrogen can be burn in usual engine that need few changes to use hydrogen instead of gazoline

  • see the other side

    What about hho on demand, No coal fire to make it, no extra fuel, just the Alt/charging system of the car

    A pure stoichiometric mixture may be obtained by water electrolysis, which uses an electric current to dissociate the water molecules:

    electrolysis: 2 H2O → 2 H2 + O2
    combustion: 2 H2 + O2 → 2 H2O
    William Nicholson was the first to decompose water in this manner in 1800. The energy required to generate the oxyhydrogen always exceeds the energy released by combusting it. (See Electrolysis of water#Efficiency).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxyhydrogen

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water-fuelled_car

  • see the other side

    HHO cuts to the chase no corporate diggers at 6 levels before it get to you, no storage needs, no transport needs just you your car and your on board system, look at the other post for info

  • see the other side

    water2gas.com
    for pics system info
    make at home
    look up hho on youtube

  • see the other side

    HHO on demand, on board system, no storage needed

  • Rozer

    Are you sick of paying more than $3 a gallon for gasoline only to see the prices continue to rise gas? Are you sick of lining the pockets of the billionaires in the oil game that rake in obscene salaries while people like you and I suffer as we struggle to put enough gas in our cars to get to work each day?Brown’s gas , hydrogen from electrolysis at least 20%better gas mileage. More Details please visit http://www.hyfusion.com

  • Henry SA

    There may be debates for and against the dependence on hydrogen for energy. The fact however is that the recent paradigm shift in favor of hho fuel based on a ‘hybrid concept’. That is the new found energy source, hho (hydrogen from water), while not capable of sustaining the demand for energy all alone will reduce significantly, the global dependence on oil

    It is a hard fact to accept by the oil merchants and corporates who are making billions of dollars in the oil market

    Today, we have seen the advent of hybrid cars running on water based on the hho-fuel-cell technology.

    Thanks

  • Henry SA

    It is also noteworthy that more than 70% of the earth by volume is hho (water). This confirms the relatively far more reaching abundance of this energy source when compared with the oil wells.

    Water surely is a sustainable source of energy in the future. Today, many engines are powered by free energy from water. Also, hydrogen from water has been used in arc welding. Also, water is being used as gas tom power autos.

  • Jose

    Don’t fall for HHO scam kits and false advertisements here! If they really worked car manufacturer would make them standard.

    Buy HHO kit and fool and his money are soon parted!

  • Alicia

    I seriously couldn’t agree more, our country is constantly adding fuel to their own fire. We sit around talking about our problems doing nothing to fix them while a select few find reasonable ways to fix them and do we even concider the bandwagon? Of course not. I swear I’m ashamed to even call myself American sometimes.

  • Jonas Blomberg

    Nice discussion thread. The US is not alone in the fossil feast. Sweden is also watching things happen, a pedestrian attitude which is a tradition here. The leaders in the coming hydrogen revolution are Germany and Norway. Things will change quickly after 2015.

  • Jamie Johnson

    Remember, when playing with gases, don’t do anything foolish or fast. Do you remember what happened last time it didn’t happen that way. It’s gone too far, but you know it don’t matter anyway.
    Time seasonal forecast. Simple as it can be.
    storage bins with lids