• Jul 12th 2010 at 3:54PM
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Hydrogen bus in Hamburg - Click above to watch video after the jump

The ongoing debate between hydrogen advocates and supporters of battery-powered vehicles has kind of died down for now, but this latest video of the Hamburg hydrogen bus fleet might whip it up again. The video explains some of the well-known advantages and disadvantages of each technology and it also touches on the dirtier side of going green. There's some one-sidedness, such as when the discussion turns to the high costs of fuel cell technology and the inherent lack of energy efficiency of hydrogen vehicles, but it's still an interesting piece to watch.

The gist of the video is pretty simple: hydrogen is expensive, but it can be green; battery power is cheap, but unlikely to be as clean. The video also features the hydrogen-powered buses that roam the roads of Hamburg. As it turns out, those buses get their hydrogen fuel with a little help from the wind and emit nothing but water. How much cleaner can it get? Follow after the jump to watch the bus in action and to get your daily dose of hydrogen versus electric.

[Source: CNN]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hey. It wasn't a standard H2 puff piece.

      Pretty much everyone acknowledged what a huge waste of energy it is to convert electric power into H2 and back.

      • 5 Years Ago
      The Hamburg demonstration is trying to answer the question that everyone who purchases new technology asks: will this meet our needs and provide a benefit we don't have now?

      In this case, the need is to reliably move people for 16 hours a day in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner. Hamburg got enough of an answer to move to the next phase of the project. Just like the BC Transit project in Whistler and the AC Transit project in Oakland.


      • 5 Years Ago
      Yes - let us waste 70% of the power since wind power is "cheap".
      • 5 Years Ago
      They did mention the "economic chicken and egg" problem, they can't bring the price down until there is mass production but they can't produce for a mass market until the price comes down to mass market acceptance. I've pointed out that problem before.

      Their only remaining excuse for promoting H2 fuel cell busses is the claim that batteries don't have sufficient range. Perhaps batteries aren't yet ready to power a 16 hour bus run, but there are already many electric busses that run off of power from overhead lines, no battery needed, and they are far cheaper and considerably more efficient than the H2 "solution". Yet some politicians and bureaucrats keep insisting on the inevitability of H2, like it was some sort of unstoppable juggernaut, and I suspect that the oil companies are the ones behind the push. After all, the oil companies have the cheapest source of H2, and they'd continue to supply most of the fuel if the H2 juggernaut succeeds, but if the electric/battery approach takes off and dominates instead, the oil companies will loose significant market share.

        • 5 Years Ago
        mm, good point.

        Electric tech got a head start because it's *everywhere*. Lithium batteries have been in gadgets since the 2000's. We didn't even need electric cars to exist in order to start getting the mass production advantage!

        I don't see the same amount of applications for hydrogen. It doesn't seem like it will start small and gradually scale up to things like cars..
        • 5 Years Ago
        I see future of the HFC:s being large applications like big UPS for large server rooms, maybe replacement of oil-heaters in apartments and stuff like that. Batteries started small laptops, cellphones, power tools and things like that.

        And I see that same continuing in future of cars too. HFC:s for big cars that need long range and fast recharging at service stations (busses, trucks) and B for small cars maybe five-seven seaters max which you can park in vicinity of electric outlet with convenience of nighttime recharging.

        Both have their place in future. BEV probably eventually wins with future very high density batteries and easy automatic charging capabilities even while driving in highways. But that is still distant future.
      • 5 Years Ago
      *Lightbulb, why not make it a hydrogen-electirc hybrid, similar to the prius set up but with hydrogen. Since the hydrogen consumes too much energy to manufacture why not use regenerative braking to gather the energy loss. As I see it this would bring down the cost about 15% minimum. Requiring only 2/3rds the hydrogen power, saving a 3rd of its fuel cost, and bring down the size of the hydrogen plant by 1/5th and still being able to run the same. Since the hydrogen is the costly part as the fuel is, why not substitute a portion with hybrid technology, maybe even regenerative shocks(as the weight is massive).
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's going to happen in the next generation: FC hybrid buses.
        • 5 Years Ago
        All existing H2FCVs, including these busses, already have batteries to supplement the fuel cell and to store regenerative braking energy. But a plug-in hybrid approach would be even better, efficiency wise, requiring only a larger capacity battery. Both Ford and GM plan to use plug-in hybrids for their next generation H2FCV prototypes, as they could do most of their local driving on much cheaper and more efficient electricity, reserving the costly H2 for those rare longer trips. .
      • 5 Years Ago
      How is it that hydrogen can be green whereas battery power is unlikely to be as clean??? If you are talking about electrolysis for creating hydrogen then why can't you use that same green power source to charge batteries?

      Are they talking about methane? If so, what is the by product of the steam reforming into hydrogen? That carbon needs to go somewhere.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Its very possible that a lifetime's worth of hydrogen will cost less than the battery required to propel a bus 16 hours per day.

        And, if the buses require heat/defrost, the fuel cell supplies it at no extra energy cost while a battery powered bus must use power from its battery to supply heat.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The summary by Eric is completely wrong. The video mentioned using hydrogen means 2-3x the energy use compared to using batteries (since the way the hydrogen is produced for this fleet is from electrolysis). The only reason why they didn't consider batteries is the energy density isn't good enough for 2 shifts.

        No where does it say battery power is unlikely to be as clean.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Batteries however are getting cheaper and cheaper every day / Wh/kg, while HFC is not. "

        Toyota intends to sell a family sized (not leaf sized) fuel cell sedan in 2105 for $50,000. Hyundai says they can undercut that price. Do the math and you'll see that the entire drivetrain would cost ~$350 per kw. And that is still at low volume production with relatively immature tech.

        10 miles per kg.
        $350 per kw fuel cell drivetrain.
        $5 per kg hydrogen.

        200,000 miles x kg/10 miles x $5/kg = $100,000 worth of hydrogen
        200 kw x $350/kw = $70,000 for the fuel cell drivetrain
        Total cost $170,000.


        Assume this bus will requires about 10 times as much power as a Tesla Roadster for propulsion and that the passengers require HVAC. (Assume a power factor of 1.5 for HVAC)

        Assume that the bus travels an average of 15 mph for a 16 hour shift for a total of 240 miles.

        The range of the Tesla is 180 miles unless you fully charge and discharge (which Tesla advises against doing on a regular basis) And the battery costs $25,000 and weighs 1000 lbs.

        240 mile/180 miles x 10 x 1.5 = 20 Tesla batteries.

        So the battery costs $500,000 and weighs 20,000 lbs.
        And the electricity should be about $40,000 (assuming the FCV takes 2.5 times as much)

        Thus, with the FCV bus, you'd save:

        $540,000 - $170,000 = $370,000

        And that's ignoring the expense of beefing up the BEV bus's chassis to support its battery pack.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Dave, it is quite possible that lifetime of hydrogen is cheaper than batteries. But then again so are lifetime of electrons cheaper than hydrogen fuel cell. That's not very smart comparison. Producing HFC costs money. So does batteries too. Batteries however are getting cheaper and cheaper every day / Wh/kg, while HFC is not. The benefit of batteries is that they are used in various different applications, not only for cars. Laptops, powertools etc. use same techs as BEV. There will always be bigger market for batteries than HFC:s.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Not only could you use the same energy source to charge the batteries, as to make the hydrogen -- but you can get 3.5X more efficiency out of the batteries.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I said clearly long time ago to give me for free a green car with a gazeous hydrogen tank and a fuelcell and electrics motors and controllers and a windmill and a home electrolyzer, all this cost only 15 000$ to 20 000$. Stop this mad joke or building 100x costlier same kind of gadjet in germany.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'll need your address, social security number, full name, and credit card number. As soon as i recieve that info, i'll send your free hydrogen car right away ;)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Letstakawalk, have you already forgotten that electrolyzing saltwater produces sodium hypochlorite, also known as chlorine bleach? In fact, that is how chlorine bleach is produced commercially, and plans were to use the "waste" H2 from the process as a fuel source.

      Now the tiny amount of bleach produced in a lab demonstration can be easily disposed of, nor is it a problem when bleach production is the objective, but to produce large quantities of H2 by saltwater electrolysis means large quantities of a toxic and hazardous waste to be dealt with.

      There are other electrolytes such as sulfuric acid or potassium hydroxide are much better suited for water electrolysis, as they don't produce unwanted byproducts from electrolysis.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sorry for the duplicate post, editing problems...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Yes, let's divert gigagallons of drinkable water into fuel for cars. What could possibly go wrong?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I was in 'independent studies' back then, so go figure ;)

        What about the dislocation/relocation of water, though? on a massive scale, this could be a problem. We go through billions of gallons of gas here. Imagine billions of gallons of water being tied up by hydrogen..

        Also, does *all* the water turn into vapor/liquid, or is some of it oxidized, or otherwise taken out of the normal circulation of water?
        • 5 Years Ago
        "In fact, that is how chlorine bleach is produced commercially..."

        So, you're saying that a byproduct is produced that has commercial and sanitary value? Sounds like a positive to me.

        • 5 Years Ago
        Silly, water is a by-product of the fc, so any water that goes in, will also come out, part of that big water-cycle we call our atmosphere.

        Even sillier, you really don't need *drinkable* water. Waste water (literally urine) makes an ideal H2 source, and seawater is also a great source, readily available to a majority of the world's population centers.


        • 5 Years Ago
        "Seawater seems like it would need to be desalinated..."

        No. Go back to high-school chemistry - you need the salts in the water.

        "Electrolysis of water can be achieved in a simple hands-on project, where electricity from a battery is passed through a cup of water (in practice a saltwater solution or other electrolyte will need to be used otherwise no result will be observed)."

        • 5 Years Ago
        Does it come out in equal proportion?

        That urine thing is interesting. Seawater seems like it would need to be desalinated, which is on the energy/labor intensive side, isn't it?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Letstakawalk, have you already forgotten that electrolyzing saltwater produces sodium hypochlorite, also known as chlorine bleach? In fact, that is how chlorine bleach is produced commercially, and plans were to use the "waste" H2 from the process as a fuel source.

        Now the tiny amount of bleach produced in a lab demonstration can be easily disposed of, nor is it a problem when the bleach is the objective, but to produce large quantities of H2 by saltwater electrolysis means large quantities of a toxic and hazardous waste to be dealt with.

        There are other electrolytes such as sulfuric acid or potassium hydroxide are much better suited for water electrolysis, as they don't produce unwanted byproducts from electrolysis.
      • 5 Years Ago
      for continuous use vehicles like bus, trucking and aircraft, battreries are true enough not well suited. (some buses could be blitz charged)
      but given the many problems with hydrogen, not just the 3 times worse efficiency but storage and compressive losses, why not take the extra step and combine the hydrogen with atmospheric CO2 into methanol that could then be used in combustion engines.
      if it's going to be as inefficient as combustion engines and more problematic and costly, why not just run the few vehicles as combustion engines on net CO2 free fuels.

      it's pretty straight forward chemistry to make methanol out of water, air and electricity. roughly speaking, electrolyze water, combine the hydrogen with CO2 in a pressure chamber and methanol drips out.
      and from what I know it burns very cleanly so it doesn't even create local smoke pollution like fossil fuels
      • 5 Years Ago
      It would appear as though you're not familiar with the "state of the art". Suggest you have a look at e. g.:

      Now, if the info in those links is insufficient to show you in which direction the bus is heading, I can post several more for you.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You still lose in the process compared to BEV:s. Quite a bit actually. There are losses in both creating hydrogen which is comparable to creating electricity and in HFC:s that are huge compared to efficiency of the batteries.

        Sure 60% solar to hydrogen is a good one, but electricity can be produced from many sources. And "state of the art" solar cell can convert over 80% of the radiation to electricity but is very very new tech, and not available anywhere outside of the labs. Any better and discussing about source-energy efficiency becomes a moot point.

        There is also cheap fusion coming, which in turn will revolutionize electricity production.

        But all that aside, the main problem with HFCEV:s I see is that there just is no hydrogen distribution infrastructure and even if there were it would never reach homes. You would need to go to service station to fill your car. Ask any Roadster owner how inconvenient that really is. Electricity is everywhere. That _alone_ is enough that BEV wins for smaller vehicles.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I must object to your comments but the world record for solar PV is held from Fraunhofer, Germany with 41.2% for the cell not the module. For me, as a retired electronics engineer and physicist, fusion belongs to the realms of fairy tales.

        MIT researchers have managed to store hydrogen in Graphene without pressure at 14% Wt; DOE specifies at least 4% Wt. That is almost 4x the lowest requirement and that is benchmark worldwide. I think these perspectives are very reassuring for hydrogen. Personally, I'm convinced that in the not all to distant future, hybrid vehicles - BEVs with H2 REs - will more than likely become standard. Presently, the biggest deterrent for this option is the high price of FCs
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Geronimo: That 80% solar cell is based on nanoantennae that can convert radiation _a lot_ better than any conventional solar cell. 80% is measured prototype conversion. It can get even better.

        For fusion take a peek to Focus Fusion (www.focusfusion.org). There are huge amounts of money push to tokamak -based fusion research, when solution can be much smaller and much more elegant.

        I just don't believe in FC:s. They are good for big things, but in smaller scale (ordinary household passenger cars and smaller) batteries are way better. Current battery tech is still far from what it can be. Lithium-air batteries have potential for about same amount of energy gravimetric density than gasoline. Silicon nanowire-batteries can make at least five times better batteries than those now on market. Nanoscale ...whatdidtheycallit... conductive "corridors" allow power densities that makes possible to recharge in seconds (and also release powers in few order of magnitude higher than current batteries rivaling capacitors). 600 mile range for ordinary sedan with battery size of suitcase and weight of about 150-200kg is well in the possibility of future battery tech.

        Only barrier I see in BEV future is how to make fast charging safe for very long continuous road trips. That's the only one. If you go with robotics and high-current plugs then it would be possible to charge BEV as fast it could be refuel FC. In homes that doesn't matter because you can plug it in for the nigh and have fully charged car at the morning. If you have that 600 mile range then something like 99% of all daily driving falls in that range.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Wait a sec... I've got to go pop some popcorn.

      These things are fun to watch - terribly mis-informed BEV advocates posting rants about comparative efficiency, while the FCV people simply want to coexist, while agreeing that clean air and energy independence are good goals.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Dave, you are correct, but we are a long way from 100% or an excess of renewable electricity in most countries, France is an exception, I don't see the level of renewables getting to an excess level for many decades, so in the short-term charging BEVs are probably the best use of this limited high value resource and for the absorption intra-day excess production. I feel we need to replace all coal and gas fired power stations (or CCS them), before we can even consider using any excess renewables for hydrogen.
        I suspect hydrogen has a better future if technology can be developed to generate hydrogen from biomass or something similar, i.e. a process using a low value source of fuel and not electricity.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "In some senses hydrogen is only as third as green as battery technology given its well- to-wheel inefficiencies."

        No. You mean to say it is only one third as *efficient*. I agree with that. But, it is still 100% clean, or green. However, efficiency is not the only metric for comparison.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Moreover, considering the bulky nature of H2 gas, the space and cost of requirements storing surplus energy are much higher for H2."

        H2 storage tanks are getting cheaper all the time. Newer tanks are in the $23 per kWh range.


        Once FC stacks get into mass production, they will likewise see reductions in cost. Then you would only have the capital cost of a single FC unit, which could have as much H2 stored as you'd care to have. Which is the greatest benefit of HFCs vs battery systems - store more energy, for a greater length of time, in a smaller amount of space and at a lower cost.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That longer range is very doubtful in very near future. Batteries can quite easily reach a point where similar range HFC with hydrogen tank takes quite a bit more space than batteries do. Fast refueling is not comparable unless you can do it at your home. Like one of the Tesla roadster owners said Roadster charging time is 20 seconds. 10 to plug it in at the evening and 10 to unplug at morning. At longer road trips you can do "slow" charging at the service station. Something like a one hour charge with 600 mile range is just decent break of the driving that you would do anyway.

        Those benefits you mentioned are not very good benefits. You need something else to get hydrogen delivery to your home. Electricity is available there now.

        I agree that pure BEV:s and HFCEV:s probably do co-exist in future (at least until we have mr fusion) because for larger vehicles required energy cannot be charged very fast to batteries and battery swap is not very useful tech. But that is only for larger vehicles.

        How small scale is small scale infrastructure? I haven't seen any hydrogen stations anywhere, and not heard that those are even planned.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Imagine a world where ~90% of the electricity is produced by nukes (as is already the case in France).

        In such a world, the production capacity is built to satisfy peak demand.

        Off peak, the electricity is essentially free. (there are concerns about cooling water which can be addressed using more efficient but much more expensive cooling towers)

        In that case, electricity is plentiful while the materials required to manufacture a battery and carry around its additional heft are comparitively scarce.

        That IMHO is the theory of hydrogen.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm not sure what you mean by "terribly mis-informed" but facts are that hydrogen needs to first be produced somehow and that is usually using electricity. What batteries do is simply leave one conversion step out of the equation leaving much better overall efficiency which means less need to produce electricity which in turn means way less pollution.

        Obviously we *can* change all our electricity production to "green" by using renewable energies only, which point it is pointless to argue which of the techs is "more clean". Question then becames which is more useful HFCV or BEV. Unfortunately that is still long way in future.

        Hydrogen infrastructure doesn't exist, and will not ever reach the simplicity of simply plug your BEV in in your own garage. You will never have your dishwasher running on hydrogen. That is what makes BEV a future of the automobiles. For bigger vehicles like those busses HFCEV (they are EV:s after all) hybrid may make more sense: batteries for regen and power, HFC for fast "refuel" in long range trips and on-route recharge of batteries. You "just" need those hydrogen recharge points which do not exist anywhere.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes, technically they are both green, but hydrogen is alot less green. Lets say I currently own a house and a car both powered by fossil fuels and decide to make a green investment in my lifestyle by investing in a wind turbine at the bottom of my garden and a new green vehicle. My house uses 20,000 kWh per year, my ICE car uses 30,000 kWh per year and the turbine will produce 30,000 kWh per year. I then need to decide whether to buy a BEV or a FCEV. The BEV requires 10,000 kWh to run (about 3 times as efficient as a ICE and a FCEV) and the FCEV requires 30,000 kWh.
        If I buy a BEV my turbine covers both my car and house's energy use, if I buy an FCEV I still need to use 20,000 kWh of fossil fuels heating my house. So with a finite investment in a wind turbine, by switching to a BEV my lifestyle is carbon free, by switching to an FCEV it isn't. This is the reality on a bigger scale as well until there is an excess of renewable energy and fossil fuels have been replaced. As per my previoud comment, you need to try to optimise your usage of renewable energy, going down the hydrogen route is inefficiently using this limited resource and delaying the replacement of fossil fuels.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "You "just" need those hydrogen recharge points which do not exist anywhere."

        They do exist on a very small scale currently, and the growth of that infrastructure is currently planned. You seem to be misinformed about infrastructure.

        Thanks also for going down the comparative efficiency rant route... It is obvious to all that adding in H2 production introduces an extra step in the energy conversion process. However, there are substantial benefits to that extra step which outweigh negatives: benefits including longer range and quicker refueling times.

        If a hydrogen infrastructure is going to be built, and if we acknowledge that FCs have benefits over BEVs in larger vehicles, then it is fair to assume that some percentage of the consumer automobile market will reach the same conclusions as the commercial and transit vehicle markets and decide that FCVs meet their needs.

        BEVS and FCVs will coexist in the future market. Some people will place overall efficiency at the top of their priorities - others will place range and refueling convenience at the top of their priorities. Fortunately, there will be 100% clean and renewable ways of powering both types of vehicles.
        • 5 Years Ago
        In some senses hydrogen is only as third as green as battery technology given its well- to-wheel inefficiencies. Unless there is an excess of green power, all producing and using hydrogen is doing is displacing the use of renewable energy from being used elsewhere. The real question is what is the optimal use of our currently limited supplies of renewable energy, what current CO2 producing process can renewable energy most efficiently displace?
        • 5 Years Ago
        The following links contain pertinent info of the direction research is heading for.


        Should the info be insufficient, I can post a few more links for your information.
        • 5 Years Ago
        PhilipH, your analysis is spot on, efficiency does matter, as the more efficient plug-in vehicles leave more electrical energy available to displace fossil fuels elsewhere.

        Dave, even for the instance of storing surplus "off peak" power, using stationary batteries to recharge a plug-in vehicle is still 3x more efficient than storing that excess electricity by water electrolysis. Off-peak electrical power may be cheaper, but it isn't and never will be "free". Moreover, considering the bulky nature of H2 gas, the space and cost of requirements storing surplus energy are much higher for H2.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There seems to be quite a lot fo apples to oranges comparisons going on here.
        Tim, the usual way of producing hydrogen at present is to reform natural gas, not to electrolyze water.
        If you compare the efficiency of this versus the grid, and use a fuel cell in the end use vehicle you end up in the same ball-park of effciency as for the grid - so conceptually instead of buring natural gas to generate electricity and then transmitting that with losses to power a BEV, you pipe in the NG reform it to hydrogen then burn it in a fuel cell.
        Note that I said that 'the grid' is in the same ball park for efficiency as using the NG for fuel cells, as individual new turbines can greatly increase the efficiency.
        However, that is part of the apples to oranges comparison, as if you are going to upgrade enough of the grid to hit that level, and reduce transmission losses then perhaps you should be comparing with reforming the NG in things like the Bloom Box, at much higher efficiency than is the practice at the present time.

        So what we are really arguing is about the relative efficiencies of some future system, where the grid is not powered primarily by fossil fuels, and hydrogen is produced by electrolysis, not reforming.

        In this context of future systems it should be noted that it is very difficult and expensive to store electricity.
        Renewables advocates in particular assume a great deal of storage, or their plans for really heavy penetration can't work.
        As soon as you try to store really large amounts of electricity, you are in a lossy situation, and the practicality of producing hydrogen starts to look more attractive.

        In fact, this is not going to be a choice between systems, but a blend wiht varying composition.
        The energy density of batteries as far as we can see is going to remain low relative to liquid fuels - lithium-air is barely a glint in the eye.
        Of course, if breakthroughs happen, that is great, but just as BEV everywhere folk always point to the more advanced state of batteries vs fuel cells, it is equally true that fuel cells are way nearer practical commercial production than very high energy density batteries.

        So in real terms what you do is use batteries wherever you can as they are likely to be more energy efficient going forward, but where the energy density simply will not do, you use fuel cells.

        Since you can't build a car with a 400 mile range as a BEV, the supposed conflict has no basis in reality.
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