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In Translogic Episode 1.3, we heard Stephen Ellis, Honda's Fuel Cell Marketing Manager, talk about how hydrogen can be produced using renewable energy. The way he described it, the FCX Clarity sounds like the perfect green car, one with no environmental impact. But to really understand the situation facing any fuel cell-powered car, it helps to understand a bit more about hydrogen. First of all, hydrogen shouldn't be thought of as a fuel, like oil, gas and other petroleum products. Scientists like to refer to hydrogen as an "energy carrier," which makes a tank of hydrogen seem a lot more like a battery than a tank of gas. Hydrogen doesn't exist in any natural state; it has to be "manufactured," so to speak, by separating it from any number of molecular compounds. In this case, Honda is talking about obtaining hydrogen from water, as "H2O" is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

At the station where we filled up the FCX Clarity, Ellis said they use electrolysis to produce the hydrogen. This is a process where electricity is used to create a chemical reaction that splits water molecules into separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms. If this electricity comes from sources like wind or solar power, the resultant hydrogen is "green." The FCX Clarity's onboard fuel cell then converts the hydrogen into electricity to power the vehicle without emitting anything more than water vapor.

But if the electricity used to produce the hydrogen comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels like petroleum and coal -- which is where 69 percent of the electricity produced in the US comes from, according to the U.S. Energy Administration -- the FCX Clarity hasn't really eliminated fossil fuel consumption as much as it's just pushed it up the energy chain. There are also serious questions about the efficiency of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity to produce hydrogen, which is then converted back into electricity in the car.

But rather than heading down that rabbit hole, let's consider a more immediate complication to Honda's perfect scenario: Hydrogen isn't usually produced via electrolysis. According to a Department of Energy report, 80 percent of commercial hydrogen is produced by steam methane reforming, largely because this is the least expensive method. Water electrolysis is only a niche market. Steam methane reforming works by splitting hydrogen atoms from natural gas, which has the unfortunate downside of producing, uh oh, carbon dioxide as a waste material. Remember, the EPA is now officially considering CO2 and other greenhouse gasses as pollutants.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 418 Comments
      magus47
      • 4 Years Ago
      ONE WORD: HINDENBURG. IF THESE IDIOTS THINK IM GOING TO CARRY AROUND A PRESSURIZED TANK OF THE MOST FLAMABLE SUBSTANCE IN THE UNIVERSE THEY HAVE THEIR HEADS UP THERE BUTTS SO FAR AS TO SEE DAYLIGHT. AND NO IM NOT SOME IGNORANT REDNECK WHO KNOWS NOT OF WHICH I SPEAK. YES I KNOW ALL THE 'ADVANTAGES' AND HAVE EVEN RODE IN ONE. NOPE. AIN'T GOING THERE. MOST OF THE BRAIN BOXES MOUNT THE TANK UNDER THE PASSENGER SEAT. YEAH LIKE DRIVING AROUND ON TNT, ETHANOL IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO. BRAZIL HAS ALREADY PERFECTED THE TECHNOLOGY AND AUTO COMPANIES HAVE DEVELOPED ENGINES TO RUN IN BRAZIL.

      BUT HELL WE DONT WANT TO RUSH INTO A DECISION. CONGRESS HAS ONLY HAD FIFTY YEARS TO KICK IT AROUND.

      AND IT WILL TAKE ANOTHER FIFTY YEARS IF THE OIL COMPANIES HAVE THEIR WAY (AND IT WILL AS THEY OWN CONGRESS LOCK STOCK AND OIL BARREL)

      DON'T WORRY FOLKS I'M SURE WHEN THE WATER IS UP TO YOUR CHINS CONGRESS WILL DO SOMETHING.

      MORONS
        • 4 Years Ago
        @magus47
        Hindenburg the most hyped story of all. Do you know why there was such a small loss of life? That was because hydrogen goes straight up when released and flames upwards, unlike flaming gasoline which drops and splatters around and will burn alive anyone it falls on.
        Also there are tanks that use a catalyst that holds the hydrogen in a unpressurized, non-liquid state. I'm sure that the broad use of hydrogen will stimulate inventors to cause the problems we worry about today to go away.
        Another word is ethanol, let's take the food out of our mouths and the food chain so we can raise prices of what we eat. Let's use substantial amounts of fossil fuel to make ethanol from our food. Let's put this in our cars and drive around. How does that work for you!
      • 4 Years Ago
      It is time for the end of the oil game, hydrogen is the fuel of the future. Hydrogen fuel cells:
      http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/1851707/israeli_scientists_developing_lighter_hydrogen_fuel_cell/
      charger
      • 4 Years Ago
      Not one mention to the fact that this gas is extreamly explosive and it will take tanks and a system capable of handling thousands of PSI. Fuel cells like electric have been around for a very long time. Ford had prototype Crown Vics that had fuel cells.Batteries in the electric cars and the systems in the Hydo cars is the main hold back. We are on the right track we just need new tech. Batteries that last more than 40 miles in a real car with a heater and AC.The solution is in the future not now. Can you all imagine California drivers plugging in their cars it would shut down the entire grid. And the potential for a major explosion using Hydrogen is a very real thing. Keep working you'll get it. Until then switch to NG its cleaner and we have enough for 100 years or more. I think in a century the scientist can come up with a new fuel. If not we go back to walking.
      peteswarr
      • 4 Years Ago
      The only way is to have a solar electrolis plant at your home. A guy did it several years ago and it was on TV. It only cost him around $100,000, but he also used it to heat his house and generate electricity for the house. Not too cost efficient.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Hm...Not sure if hydrogen is the way to go, or not. Though, when I hear about all this green talk. I can't help but wonder how much damage was done by the recent volcano eruption.
      • 4 Years Ago
      look up in the sky, all thoughs jets in the air are burning a hydrogen based jet fuel by the tons. We need to be looking in all directions for new safer products, and by exparementing with new resourses(weather man made or natural)we will succeed. Oh by the way, you do know this and other tecnologies have been around for decades, whenever anybody went into the pattent office with a working fuel substitute the oil companies were notified by there insiders an they would emediatly buy the pattent and file it away, they allready have the solution, but realize that it would cost billions to change the infrustructure that now exist and know that when the oil runs out they will be in total control.
      JD
      • 4 Years Ago
      Not to mention that Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars are really electrically powered vehicles and do not "burn" the hydrogen in any sort of combustion process. There are lots of other ways to make electric vehicles, but none of them are really green - even the ones where the electricity is produced by solar cells or wind power. How do you think solar cells and wind power generators are "manufactured". That's right in big, smelly, smoky factories and out of plastics and heavy metals and lots other crap. If you analyze any products entire "life cycle chart", there's almost no such thing as a green "manufactured" article. My favorite analogy is the government mandate that many of us use the low energy fluorescent bulbs (or CFLs). Sure they use a lot less energy when turned on, but they contain Mercury and there is no comprehensive and "safe" nationwide disposal system for them yet. Most of them, when they do go dead, just get thrown in the garbage and, hence, the landfills, where the mercury leeches into the soil and groundwater. But that'll be the problem of a future generation, won't it?
      • 4 Years Ago
      So if 69% of the energy for hydrogen cars comes from petroleum, does that mean 31% does not? Yeah, right. So that's a 31% improvement over today's car fuels.

      Where do they get these writers?
      • 4 Years Ago
      ON HYDROGEN CARS. How about OXYGEN CARS? OXYGEN CAN BE EASILY GENERATED FROM THE AIR WHICH IS 70% NITROGEN & approx 21% OXYGEN. How to seperate the two? By a process I have conceived which dose NOT envolve hydrolosis. My idea is to ionize the air and then seperate the two major components. How to do this is my idea and the process can be done onboard a vehicle.
        • 4 Years Ago
        We already have Oxygen cars . . they burn Gas.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Oxygen cars? Oxygen doesn't burn. Fuel burns because it is oxidized quickly. As Rope points out we already have vehicles that use oxygen to generate energy. That's because they don't have to separate it from air in order to use it. The only way pure oxygen alone can supply energy is either hydraulically or through a nuclear reaction causing it to change element type. Neither option is very practical.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Lockheed-Martin has already built the mining equipment. The vessel to get to the moon, lower the mining equipment [unmanned], gather the helium 3, ship back to earth, has already been designed. An amount of Helium 3 the size of a basketball will create energy for the city of New York for 2-3 years or more.. As I have said, there is your future. Very. Some Helium 3 here on earth, but it is minimal because the Earth shield does not let it in. The moon does not have such a shield. That is why the Helium 3 is there.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Thanks Tom . . I was going to bring up H3 . . . but, since it is most abundant on the moon . . and we aren't going there . . . well, it was a moot point. Unless of course the China starts minining it as planned.
        But, on to Mars!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Daniel Watkins mentioned that we should go straight to using electricity. Again, most electric power is produced through coal or oil. We are in the same boat if we use fuel cells or electricity. Another problem with fuel cells, they cannot be used in jet fuels. I heard a report that the fuel cell car gets pretty poor mileage at between 15-20 MPG. Finally, it is almost impossible to get enough stations to sell this product. We do not have a method to get all gas stations in the nation to have this product.
      bob franklin
      • 4 Years Ago
      like it or not, hydrogen is the energy of the future; for many reasons. It will never be exhausted on the planet. It burns cleanly. We have 1000's of years of coal which can be burned to produce the hydrogen which we can then use to power our efficient internal combustion engines and heat our houses, etc. etc. We already have the hydrogen gas distribution in place (natural gas lines and retail gasoline stations) both of which can be used immediately for hydrogen transporation and sales. Coal is abundant and once the tree and bunny huggers finally all die off (thank God the baby boom generation is starting to die) we can get adults back in charge of our country and address issues like this in a mature, reasonable manner.
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