Hydrogen: Hope or hype?

A number of automakers, notably General Motors, are holding out hydrogen fuel cells as the ultimate solution to everything from global warming to the world's dependency on increasingly expensive oil. But does a hydrogen automobile future really make sense? Ed Ring, editor of EcoWorld, doesn't think so.
In a summary piece posted at the AlwaysOn site for technology entrepreneurs, Ring enumerates the flaws in the seductive vision of a hydrogen highway:
  • Efficiency - Hydrogen is produced from something else, either electricity and water, biomass or fossil fuel. A fossil fuel source doesn't address the problem, and there isn't enough land to produce enough biomass hydrogen to meet the need. That leaves electricity and water. The problem here is that engineers are using hydrogen as an awkward and inefficient electricity storage medium - consuming electricity to generate hydrogen, which drives an auto fuel cell to produce electricity to run the car's electric powertrain. The end-to-end efficiency of this process is an unimpressive 40 percent.
  • Storage - No immediate solutions for storing useful amounts of hydrogen in a car exist, and a viable commercial solution is a long way off. We're a lot closer to viable electricity storage solutions for automobiles (better batteries, ultra-capacitors. Also see "efficiency," above.)
  • Opportunity Cost - This is what drives Ring crazy. He asserts that companies are looking at spending billions of dollars on hydrogen research (not to mention the cost of a hydrogen infrastructure) when other, more viable solutions exist.
Read Ring's rant here, and follow the links for a look at the viability of biodiesel and fuel cells in cars. Much more information can be found at the EcoWorld site.

Oh, the photo? It's a hydrogen-powered toy car from Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies.

[Source: AlwaysOn]

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