Inarguable comments on how a H2 Car is 20 years off....

HAASE COMMENT - The U.S. market has no problem sticky billions of tax dollars into "future fuel infrastructure's" that are decades away from economic reality, while completely discarding programs that promote economic growth and the reduction of fuel use... canceling viable domestic programs and promoting individual conservation?  

I came across the important thread every critic and proponent should read... "great post engineer-poet AND a timely focus - concerning an energy carrier 'nicknamed' an energy source by to many. And on top of it all - it is the most miniscule particle in the universe - the hardest little thing to contain that is ...  Where are these proponents for Hydrogen from anyway ? anyone ?  

Engineer-Poet - I had similar goals for "Sustainability", except that I was trying to pull old interest groups away from the current dysfunctional system rather than create new ones.

Another possibility. The scientists themselves are human and are themselves in denial and are unable to admit in print the fix we are in. It is kind of like going to a doctor and having him tell you that you have 4-6 months to live - how easy would it be to go out and tell others this grim news?

Right now, it is a crisis only in the minds of the doomers.

Engineer-Poet - True.  However, a failure to act to head off a crisis practically guarantees we'll sleepwalk into one.  In that sense, the doomers are not wrong so much as premature.

Some of this obstruction is more or less direct set to deliver product in the 2007 timeframe and also suitable for PHEV modification, and replacing it with a program of dubious feasibility and a very long time horizon), but some of it is more subtle, taking the form of misdirection.

This misdirection is evident in the shameless promotion of unready and perhaps impossible fixes, such as:


In this climate of disinformation comes a paper from Purdue, titled Sustainable fuel for the transportation sector.  The premise is rather simple:  US production of biomass contains sufficient carbon to replace all our transportation fuel...

In the H2CAR paper, figures such as 239 billion kg/year of hydrogen from 58,000 km2 of solar PV panels are tossed off rather casually.... cost would be closer to $40 trillion.  Clearly we're not going to do this. Another example of the disconnect between the researchers and reality is their proposed quantity and method of hydrogen production.  Their most optimistic (smallest) quantity of hydrogen required is 239 billion kg/year, which they propose to produce from renewable electricity via electrolysis.  The quantity of electricity required (at 100% efficiency, no less) is a staggering 9810 billion kWh/year2; this is nearly 2.5 times current annual US electric production.


Maybe, just maybe, this will help slay one more of the non-options so we can get on with the things that might actually work.

More comments

Engineer-Poet "I think that most Americans would take a prescription to switch from gasoline to batteries a lot better than one to stop eating hamburgers and fries and live on salads instead.  It's the oil companies (any change away from oil is painful) and auto companies (hurting no matter what) which have the troubles; the public doesn't care what makes the car go, just if they can get enough of it and what it costs."

daniel morris - Solutions must also be politically and economically possible. If your solution were politically possible, demand would drop and gas would get cheap, then someone would use it. In the long run there is only one answer, energy must be more expensive. This will almost certainly happen.

NeverLNG "Yes, it seems that whoever has the capital naturally wants the most profit possible from its use. If you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Somehow, the paradigm has to be changed. How to get the maximum possible benefit for the largest part of the entire world -- can't forget the plants and the animals we share it with, and totally depend upon for survival -- from capital, rather than the maximum narrowly-defined "profit" for a small group. But how to define the groups -- who profits? who pays?

So far in history all human systems have tended to collapse toward basic greed -- monarchist, free capitalist, socialist, caudillo, whatever. It takes a lot of energy to maintain complexity.

Probably in 100 years a tiny elite will be driving cars and the rest of the survivors of the great technological collapse will be cutting sugar cane for ethanol to power them. And the politicians and religicos will be justifying the god-blessed nature of the system, and the poets will still be busy questioning it all. But there won't be so many people, and the rivers might run clean again (if only seasonally, since the glaciers are all melted.)"

Bigelow - This is a good place for history. Ford and Edison were to produce an electric vehicle, a century ago. Delays because Edison’s batteries suffered performance problems due to the cold were a problem, but loss of Edison’s labs were the clincher. Notice no one is saying firebombing in the following quote. Book is full of seldom heard history. Black favors a natural gas powered Honda as one solution to our dilemma; not a good idea really.

“Few understood the voracious fire's extraordinary speed and broad destruction. Ten buildings completely burned to the ground. All but Edison's lab and the storage battery building were reduced to fire-ravaged rubble. It was hypothesized that a random spark from a switch in the film department suddenly ignited the surroundings. Yet it was as though the fire erupted all at once from everywhere across the fireproofed compound in building after building, and even across the walkways. Certainly Edison's complex was filled with every form of flammable chemical and material. But no one could explain certain "funny capers," as they were termed.

Reports soon documented that for some reason "in one of the little low red buildings, they found 2,000 gallons of very high proof alcohol that wasn't damaged." What's more, investigators "also found on some of the floors cans of gasoline that didn't even ignite. The flames swept right over the top of them. Corners in the concrete building weren't even touched with fire." Some rooms emerged without any fire damage at all.

How did the fire spread from fireproof concrete building to fireproof concrete building? Everyone assumed it was the wooden window frames and their heat-broken panes. But no one could explain the massive blaze that destroyed much of Edison's life work. The majority of the$7 million property loss was not insured, precisely because the concrete buildings were considered so impervious to fire and because a private on-premises fire brigade was always on duty.

Edison's dreams--past, present, and future--were now reduced to char and ash. A lifetime of invention had succumbed in the twinkling of an eye. Standing amidst the scorched ruins and smoldering memories, a smoke-battered yet still strong and undefeated Edison emerged to bravely and boldly announce to gathered reporters, "Although I am over 67 years old, I'll start over again tomorrow."

But in truth the disaster was not only the final blow to Edison the man, but also to a bold venture by two titans of American invention and entrepreneurship--Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Their plan was to blunt the world's irrepressible and growing appetite for oil and the internal combustion machine. If successful, Edison and Ford--in 1914--would move society away from the ever more expensive and then universally known killing hazards of gasoline cars: air and water pollution, noise and noxiousness, constant coughing and the undeniable rise in cancers caused by smoke exhaust particulates.” Internal Combustion by Edwin Black at

btu - E-P makes a very timely point, how interested is the U.S government in finding viable energy alternatives? If you look at research funding for NREL you get the answer. Ethanol is a trojan horse, this will never fuel the fleet, major conservation and efficiency measures are the only way forward.

abelardlindsay - Based on what I've read about the history of electric cars and transportation in general -- it would appear that the fourth law of thermodynamics is that no mass produced transportation system will be allowed to run on anything other than liquid hydrocarbons.

sf  - There is an old argument for the existence of God: Believe, because if you are right you get the benefit of heaven. If you are wrong, you will be dead anyway and won't care. In the present case, the logical argument is: Believe that peak oil and global warming are a left-wing conspiracy. If you are right, we get to continue our comfortable lifestyle. If you are wrong, we are all condemned to a miserable, Orwellian existence no matter what we do.

Seadragon - Right, I'll start believing we're serious (or, we're a "sane and sober nation"--loved that qualifying line!) when we begin with the simplest, cheapest, easiest ways to conserve, starting with lowering the speed limits back to 55. Hmmm, haven't heard much talk about that one...

pedrito - During the gas "crisis" of '67 and again in '73, I remember that the saving by driving at 55 mph was said to be around 5-10%. Proper tire inflation saves between 2-5% of fuel usage.

I would think that reducing the speed limits in normal commuting areas to 55 mph, and encouraging all gasoline retailers to have functioning air supply, to facilitate proper tire inflation would make for a potential gross saving of 5-10% fuel immediately.

In a related vein; people buy cars to meet most of their total needs. Which means the vehicles are generally too large for daily routine use.
What if car were made with a trailer hitch adapter already in the bumper? With my Jetta I know that that would meet just about 99% of my needs, if I can conveniently attach the trailer hitch and pull a small trailer, capacity no more than what two people can comfortably lift.

Stuart Staniford  - I think probably a fairly normal combination of naivety and self-promotion is enough to explain the genesis of the Purdue paper...

JoulesBurn - What struck me about this non-solution was that it seemed more designed as an "everybody gets a piece of the action" plan. Farmers, biofuel enthusiasts, H2 proponents, nuclear proponents, automakers. Think of all the jobs this would create...

andytk I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree. It wouldn't be beyond the imagination for 10 such plants to be in operation by 2050. I wouldn't be so quick to write off this technology. The world revolves around diesel fuel. We're not going to give it up easily. Andy

lilnev - Hydrogen only makes sense if you assume that electricity is cheap and transportation fuels are expensive. That's not true now, but it's not inconceivable for "some day" -- say, after we get the bugs worked out of fusion ("Just another 20 years now, this time we mean it").

So I'm not opposed to the basic research in these fields. But I agree with the author that it's irresponsible to promote it as a solution to the current crisis. It's a technology whose time is still decades away.

peace, lilnev

wimbi - EP, I always appreciate your offerings. Yours is a strong voice of reason.

Has anyone done the numbers on the idea of using solid biomass for all space heating so as to free up liquids/gas for vehicle use, while at the same time, using the space heat combustion to run small cogen units?

My 1kW stirling does pretty well for biomass domestic use, and gets about 23% fuel/electricity efficiency. But I don't like the expensive linear alternator, and now have a new project to do the same with a so-called free casing engine, wherein the power comes from the oscillation of the pressure enclosure which drives a fluid pump/turbine/alternator. This thing is cheaper, very simple, efficient, and uses a lot of existing technology. And of course you can store pumped fluid energy.

tstreet - I went to a book signing/talk by Bill McKibben last night in Boulder, Colorado. Inspring and depressing simultaneously. For me, though, the main takeaway is that most of this talk about future technology as the solution to our problems is just intellectual wanker wagging. We need a doomsday clock set to the amount of time that James Hansen says we have until it is too late. But, noooo. We will waste what little precious time we have left researching hydrogen, wasting our time, food, and resources with ethanol, and working on yet more tweaks to get 250 or 300 horsepower, multi ton vehicles to squeeze out a few more miles per gallon. By the time that's all done, it will be GAME OVER.

Well, I'll be at the anti global warming march on April 14th, anyway. I supposed that makes me a cockeyed optimist.

Message to American People, and the rest of the world for that matter. Wake the fuck up!!!!

Oh, I forgot we're going to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. How convenient that virtually all legislators and other politicians alive today will be dead by then.

pfdietz  - It is claimed nanotechnology can improve sevenfold the hydrogen output from electrolysis

Given that electrolysis is already very energy efficient (at least 70% in cells run at typical current densities, isn't it?), this claim would seem to run counter to the first law of thermodynamics.

I suspect real claim is that nanotechnology can increase the current density of electrolysis cells at a given efficiency. The net effect of this would not be to reduce the cost of electrolytic hydrogen too terribly much, but rather make low-duty-cycle electrolysis more economical, for example to absorb excess generating capacity from intermittent sources or 'always-on' sources during off-peak times. But PHEVs could do that too, and nanostructured battery materials show much promise also.

Pascal's_Wager - "the expected value of believing (which Pascal assessed as infinite) is always greater than the expected value of not believing."