Future Energy eNews October 24, 2003 Integrity Research Institute
1) Electricity Squeezed out of Water.Electrokinetic effect produces a microampere of current from water forced through porous membrane.
2) The Air Car Goes on Display- First Demonstration.50 km/hr for 300 km on free air and an electric compressor (FE eNews, Feb. 5, 2003).
3) Electric Vehicle Abandoned: The Death of GM's EV-1.G.M. wants all its electric cars out of private hands when the last leases expire.
4) OPEC Story Accompanied with World Energy Timeline Poster.OPEC reduces production surprising no one but the US DOE/EIA.
5) Focus Fusion Advances.With collaboration and new investment, billion degree nuclear fusion forges ahead (FE eNews, May 15, 2003).
6) Twenty Myths of Hydrogen Challenged.The controversy over hydrogen reaches new levels of detail with point and counterpoint.
1) Electricity squeezed out of water
Water pushed through narrow pores powers a new kind of battery.
Generating electricity from water is very inefficient.
A new battery harvests electricity from flowing water. One of its creators, Larry Kostiuk, claims that it could make water "an alternative energy source to rival wind and solar power". But its lack of efficiency may stand in the way.
Kostiuk's team at the University of Alberta in Canada have powered a light bulb by pumping water through a glass filter riddled with tiny holes1. The 'electrokinetic battery' might drive portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, the group suggests.
How does it work? Inside the device, some water molecules fall apart into positively charged hydrogen ions and negatively charged hydroxide ions. In the prototype, the surface of the porous glass filter is negatively charged - this attracts hydrogen ions to form a layer.
The pores are about ten thousandths of a millimetre wide - the same size as this layer. So the ions accumulate preferentially in the pores. Pressure is then applied to drive the liquid through the pores and move the charged ions from one side of the porous membrane to the other. In other words, a current flows.
The current is tiny, but it adds up when the water flows through thousands of pores at once. Gravity drives water through, as the inlet pipe is 30 centimetres above the outlet. It produces a current of around one microamp - enough to power microscopic gears and switches.
To catch on, an electrokinetic battery would have to compete with conventional batteries and fuel cells, which are becoming ever smaller and more powerful.
Currently the technology is very inefficient. Kostiuk and his colleagues estimate that it converts a fraction of a percent of the mechanical energy of water flow into electrical energy. In contrast, hydroelectric turbines can achieve around 80% efficiency.
This is a serious problem for any plan to use the technique for large-scale power generation. Even if the water from a mountain stream or dam could be channelled through some vast, porous filter, would anyone want to harness its energy with the new technology unless it performed much better than existing methods?
But the approach might help to extract low levels of power from natural environments that are not usually deemed potential energy sources, the researchers point out. For example, porous rock could provide the necessary narrow channels. Groundwater flowing through could create small currents for buried electrodes to harvest. This is akin to how thermoelectric devices reap low-level geothermal heat.
The notion of energy from water has an enduring appeal. Jules Verne mooted it in The Mysterious Island (1874): "Water will be the coal of the future." And water-powered vehicles are proposed regularly. But no one has yet got around the fact that water itself is not a fuel.
2) The Air Car Goes on Display: First Public Demonstration----- Original Message ----- From: Info The Air Car
To: Integrity Research Institute, Thomas Valone
Sent: Saturday, October 18, 2003 9:47 AM
Subject: Re: Production inquiry
We have pleasure in inviting you to the first ¨live¨ presentation of the MDI Air Car. www.theaircar.com
As somebody interested in the pollution-free, innovative technology of the air car, we would like you to join us at the show, which takes place on 7th November 2003, at 10.30 am at the Juan Carlos I hotel in Barcelona.
We will have on show a range of prototypes, one of which will be demonstrated running on the hotel΄s helipad. Director General of MDI, Mr Guy Nègre, with his Finance Director Mr Paul Durand, will be present to answer all questions, both technological and economic, put forward by attendees. For the opening, we expect the presence of a senior politician from the Spanish government (to be confirmed). We are inviting exclusively investors and the national and international media.
Although we have already made three presentations, this will be the first time a working car will be shown and we will completely open our technology to the public. The previous presentations took place in Barcelona two years ago, where a prototype without an engine was displayed, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where 600 professionals from the automotive sector met and the third in London some months ago, among those present being the British Environment Minister, Mr Meacher.
Since the room at the Juan Carlos I has a maximum capacity of 300 people, we urge you to confirm your and any companions΄ attendance soon by calling 00 34 93 362 37 00, asking for Anna Massana.
We thank you for your attention and hope to see you at the presentation in November.
Miguel Celades Rex
MDI Official Representative for Spain,
Portugal, Latin America, UK & Canada
(translation by Alex Planidin)
Reservations by e-mail: email@example.com
The new model to be presented in Barcelona: The MiniCat
Road trial of the first prototype:
New applications: Public transport
3) Leased and Abandoned: Revolt of the EV-1 Lovers
By CHRIS DIXON, October 22, 2003, NY Times
TWO summers ago, Peter Horton drove home in the car of his dreams. Mr. Horton, a star of "Thirtysomething," had signed a three-year lease with General Motors for a Saturn EV-1 electric car, joining 800 other California and Arizona drivers behind the wheel of the most energy-efficient, lowest-emission vehicle ever produced by an American manufacturer.
Mr. Horton will not have it much longer.
Next July, he must return the car to G.M., which is ending the EV-1 project. That move has set off a contentious debate between the automaker, which introduced the model with great fanfare in 1996 but now says that demand was not high enough to justify keeping it on the market, and drivers like Mr. Horton, who not only like the car's environmental qualities but also the two-seater's pep and handling. G.M. wants all its electric cars out of private hands when the last leases expire in August 2004. The car was never offered for sale.
Most EV-1's, which are sitting on a vast lot in Van Nuys, Calif., will be dismantled and their parts recycled, G.M. says. About 75 will end up in Rochester, where they will be driven by the company's fuel-cell researchers and other employees; a handful will go to colleges and museums.
Disgruntled EV-1 lessees have formed a loose online support group, relaying stories and strategies as they try to hang on to their cars. In July, 100 celebrities, engineers and fans even gathered at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and staged a mock funeral.
Some drivers have asked for lease extensions or offered to buy the cars and release G.M. from the responsibility of providing parts or service. They have even sent good-will checks of $1,000 or more.
G.M. says that extending the leases could cost the company lots of money in warranty claims and parts overhead. It argues that the release of liability would be a bad business decision, one fraught with peril if a buyer sells a car to someone who demands parts and service.
Adding to the dispute are assertions from angry lessees and a present and a former G.M. employee that the company is trying to erase all trace of a car that it never intended to succeed. The company denies this, saying it would never have spent $1 billion over the last decade on a car it did not plan to sell in large numbers.
The EV-1's history is intertwined with a 1990 California mandate that 2 percent of all cars sold in the state in 1998 be zero-emission vehicles, or cars that could not emit any of the usual tailpipe gases. The figure was to rise to 10 percent by this year. The mandate was bitterly fought by automakers, including G.M., as an unreasonable manipulation of the marketplace.
Yet in the early 90's, Roger Smith, who was G.M.'s chairman, publicly professed hopes that tens of thousands of EV-1's would soon travel up and down California, recharging their lead-acid batteries as they went at convenient plug-in stations.
That never happened. Construction of the car ended in 2000, with just over 1,000 vehicles made and 800 leased. Only a smattering of recharging stations was spread around the Los Angeles area.
Ken Stewart, the EV-1's brand manager, contends that the car is a success, at least technically. "It's still the most efficient car on the road," he said. "From a commercial perspective, it was a real struggle. No manufacturer goes into business to mass-produce vehicles only to end up with less than a thousand. The program gets to be cost-prohibitive when the numbers are so low. So at this point, why keep them on the road?"
Mr. Stewart said that with the leases expiring, it made sense to end the program. "We certainly want to honor everyone's lease for the full duration," he said.
California has since relaxed its 1990 law, and to meet the current mandate, automakers can include partial zero emission vehicles, which are particularly efficient but otherwise conventional. The list also encompasses cars and trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells and hybrid gas and electric vehicles.
Toyota is already marketing its hybrid Prius, and Honda introduced the Insight and now the Civic Hybrid. Next year should bring hybrid sport utility vehicles from Ford and Lexus and hybrid pickups from G.M. and Dodge, a unit of DaimlerChrysler.
Chelsea Sexton, a former Saturn saleswoman and an EV-1 specialist until 2000, when G.M. stopped leasing EV-1's, described a strong demand at first for the original batch of several hundred EV-1's and then a drop after potential customers found the $550-a-month leases too expensive. This seemed especially high for a car that seats only two and has limited luggage space.
But, Ms. Sexton said, a 1997 recall to replace a faulty charger and inadequate batteries led to a reborn Generation II car with a $275 monthly lease and batteries with a range of 100 miles between charges, instead of 50 to 60 miles.
At that point, she said, interest increased. But G.M. built only 500 of these new models, enough to satisfy the California 2 percent mandate. "I was on my own waiting list for two years," she said. She eventually got a car, the same azure blue EV-1 that Mr. Horton now leases.
Ms. Sexton said that she was one of the last 13 EV-1 specialists. "As people left, I took over their business," she said. "In the end, I had thousands of people who were telling me, `I will write you a check today.' "
Mr. Stewart acknowledged that more than 4,000 people had requested more information about the car. "Yet in 2001," he said, "when the company asked those people if they would sign a lease for a car should one become available, less than 50 people wanted to go to the extent of actually leasing."
Another issue that divides the two sides is how committed General Motors was to the EV-1. One G.M. employee who was involved with the project said: "We launched the car in December of 1996, and by about April, I figured we'd been duped. They weren't marketing the vehicle." He insisted that his name not be used because he was afraid of job repercussions.
He said that the no-purchase policy limited the car's appeal. "Jay Leno even wanted one," he said, but G.M. turned him down.
Marvin Rush, an EV-1 lessee and a cinematographer for the "Star Trek" television series, used his own money and the cast of the show to create radio advertisements for the car. But they flopped, he said.
As he put it: "I tried to sell that car, and I think G.M. did their dead-level best. They only gave up when it was pointless."
Mr. Leno, who has an extensive car collection, confirmed that he wanted to buy an EV-1 but was turned down. He harbors no ill will. "G.M. is very proud of that thing," he said. "Here was essentially a zero-emissions car that had A.C., a stereo and low drag. It was sexy, too."
Mr. Leno said he drove a Lamborghini Diablo and an EV-1 for a week, "and I actually had more fun with the EV-1."
As Mr. Horton drove his EV-1 up the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica, he expounded on its virtues.
"Along with simply loving the car," he said, "there was a sense that if this succeeded, it would significantly change the automotive landscape."
Mr. Horton, who wrote an article about his experience with the car for The Los Angeles Times Magazine, contends that G.M. is letting an opportunity slip by. "Why aren't they being saviors instead of trying to kill it? I think that's part of what drove a lot of its owners to stand up."
At a scenic overlook atop Topanga Canyon Road, Mr. Horton, who currently has a role in the new ABC series "Karen Sisco," met a few other disgruntled EV-1 compatriots: Ellen Crawford, a star of "E.R."; her husband, Mike Genovese; and Chris Paine, a filmmaker whose EV-1 lease has ended.
Mr. Paine, who said that he was considering producing a documentary on the car, describes the situation as "incredibly frustrating."
"We're getting massive smog alerts," he said, "and they're getting rid of a zero-emissions car."
Ms. Crawford compares her little red EV-1 to the defunct Los Angeles electric trolley system. "Those things went everywhere," she said, "and they ripped them out. We saved on gas, and we cleaned the air, but they're doing it again."
4) 30th Anniversary of OPEC Oil Embargo: OPEC Still in "Driver's Seat"
-- 86 Percent of Consumers Say Wider Availability, Selection of Fuel-Efficient Cars, SUVs Would Be Effective in Getting Them to Reduce Energy Use, According to New Alliance Market Research --
Rozanne Weissman, Ronnie Kweller,e-FFICIENCY NEWS, October 16, 2003 http://www.magnetmail.net/Actions/linktosite.cfm?message_id=19498&user_id=ase&recipient_id=797184&site=http://www.ase.org/media/newsrel/OPEC_anniv.htm
Washington, DC, September 29, 2003 Thirty years ago, large American cars queued up for hours in lengthy lines for a pauper's ration of a few gallons of gasoline as the OPEC oil embargo exposed our nation's dependence on foreign oil and our national security vulnerability.
Recalls then Senator Charles Percy, a Republican from Illinois , "I was an artillery gunner in World War II when America was under attack, but I never saw the American people as vulnerable as when that embargo hit."
The October 17, 1973 OPEC oil embargo prompted Percy and others in the 1970s to pioneer a number of important actions on the energy front that occurred in succession:
Found the bipartisan Alliance to Save Energy to focus on energy efficiency and launch a major public service ad campaign with actor Gregory Peck urging, "Let's Not Blow It, America ."
Create a federal department to coordinate energy policy and programs. The US Department of Energy provided funding support to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
Establish auto fuel efficiency standards that resulted in a doubling of the average new car's fuel efficiency.
These actions were even more critical as the Iranian revolution triggered a second world energy crisis in 1979. Oil prices doubled and plunged the industrial world into a recession.
Let's fast-forward to the present. Even larger gas-guzzling vehicles than ever envisioned in the 70s clog American highways. Transportation accounts for more than 60 percent of US oil consumption. Fuel economy is at a 22-year low as fuel-inefficient SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks comprise more than half of all new vehicle sales.
Gasoline prices today are high -- but a gallon of gas is still cheaper than a name brand, "unleaded" decaf cappuccino. US dependence on oil from the volatile Persian Gulf has more than tripled since 1973, from 848,000 barrels a day to nearly 2.7 million barrels a day for the first six months of 2003, reaching a peak of 3.1 million barrels a day in April 2003. Saudi Arabia and Iraq sit on the first and second largest known oil reserves, respectively. OPEC has cut production, and some analysts predict that Iraqi oil flow may not reach pre-war levels until 2005.
So what's new?
"OPEC is still in the driver's seat, and Congress, the Bush Administration, and automobile manufacturers have given them the keys," maintains Alliance Acting Co-President Mark Hopkins. "Congress and the Administration have abdicated their leadership responsibilities by doing nothing to immediately address this nation's increasing, deadly dependence on foreign oil from one of the most volatile regions of the world where the US has fought two wars since 1991.
"Improving fuel economy of cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks is the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to ease America 's oil dependence, extend our oil supplies, and improve national security. Instead of dealing with this," Hopkins observes, "Congress is throwing millions of dollars to the oil industry in subsidies and tax breaks in energy bills now in a House and Senate conference."
New Alliance to Save Energy nationwide consumer market research indicates that 86 percent of US consumers say that wider availability and selection of fuel efficient cars and SUVs would be very effective or somewhat effective in getting them and their families to reduce energy use.And 80 percent of consumers agree that our country needs to reduce foreign oil imports.
Just 22 percent think the federal government is doing enough to require manufacturers to produce energy-efficient products and fuel-efficient vehicles. Lack of financial incentives for manufacturers to produce and consumers to purchase energy-efficient products and vehicles are among the most frequently named reasons for not having more such products and vehicles in the marketplace.
Hopkins, a 19-year veteran of the organization that owes its roots to the OPEC oil embargo, urges Congress and the federal government to address these issues before it's too late.
In a moving speech the month after 9/11, New York Governor George Pataki sums up the importance of energy efficiency at the Alliance's 2001 Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency: "In the 21st-century, energy security is national security, and energy efficiency is the best way to bolster energy security."
Note: There is a helpful timeline of world and Alliance energy milestones on the Alliance web site --www.ase.org/timeline.htm View world energy milestone timeline (4 page pdf) http://www.ase.org/2002_Timeline.pdf
The Climate Stewardship Act (CSA) vote at end of October.This landmark legislation--introduced by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Lieberman (D-CT)--is a responsible first step that will require reductions in the heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming. After much legislative wrangling, a Senate vote on CSA has been scheduled for October 30. Now is the time to redouble our efforts and ensure that, as the world's #1 emitter of global warming gases, the United States legitimately addresses this critical issue. http://www.ucsaction.org
To send a letter to your Senator - Go to:http://www.ucsaction.org/action/index.asp?step=2&item=2689
UCS Survey - Go to:http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?330PFS05MSP2A6CNJTAYQXP1
5) New Plasma Focus Fusion Collaboration Initiated with University of Ferrara, Italy
Eric Lerner, Focus Fusion Newsletter, No. 4, October 2003,www.focusfusion.org
Lawrenceville Plasma Physicsand the plasma focus group at the University of Ferrara, Italy have begun a collaboration to test theoretical predictions of focus models. These experiments, which will begin in November, will use the University of Ferrara's existing medium-sized plasma focus device.
The initial aim of the experiments is to maximize the efficiency of energy transfer into the tiny plasmoids where the fusion energy is produced. Since the plasmoids emit their energy in the form of ion and electron beams, measurement of the ion beam will allow a calculation of the plasmoid energy, which must be at least twice the energy of the ion beam.
The ion beam will be measured with two Rogowski coils, set at different distance along the axis of the plasma focus. A Rogowski coil is a circular coil of wire attached to a voltmeter. When a pulse of current--the ion beam-- passes through the coil, the changing magnetic field generated by the current produces a changing electric potential in the coil. By measuring the potential produced in the coil, researchers can calculate the rate of change of the current, and thus the total current and the total amount of charge passing though the coil.
Fast digital oscilloscopes, taking data every 2 nano-seconds, will record the shape of the ion beam pulses and the time of arrival at each of the two coils. By measuring the time it takes the ion beams to travel between the two coils, the velocity of the beam ions can be calculated. This in turn gives the average energy of the ions. The ion energy multiplied by the total charge in the beam gives total beam energy.
Theoretical models indicate that the efficiency of energy transfer into the plasmoid may be increased by increasing the velocity that the plasma sheath runs down the electrodes. This in turn can be increased by making the inner electrode, the anode, smaller in diameter, with a stronger magnetic field. The experiments will test whether this model is valid.
The experimental end of the work will be carried out by Agostino Tartari and Federico Rocchi of the Universities of Ferrara and Bologna, while data analysis and comparison with theory will be done by FFS Executive Director Eric J. Lerner, who is also President of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics. Money raised by the Focus Fusion Society will help to finance this effort.
The collaborators hope that these experiments, performed at peak currents of 400-600 kA, will pave the way for future experiments with a larger DPF, of 1.5-3MA peak current. LPP is continuing to seek private funding for half of the larger machine and the Italian researchers have applied for European Union financing.
Focus Fusion Volunteer Analyses Thermal, Mechanical Stability of Electrodes
High magnetic field strength in the plasma focus is essential to get efficient fusion power generation, as explained in earlier newsletters. In the focus, the smaller the electrodes the higher the magnetic field. Also, as mentioned above, a small anode will increase the sped of the current sheet rundown, which seems to enhance the efficiency of energy transfer into the plasmoid.
However, if very small electrodes are to be used, there is the possibility that the heat generated by the electric current could melt part of the electrode, or that stress created by the magnetic fields or by thermal expansion could over-stress the electrode and cause it to mechanically fail. To study these possibilities and to help determine how small the electrode can be, Focus Fusion Society member Chuck Olsen has volunteered to carry out a series of computer analyses, which have already begun. Olsen is a senior engineer with Northrop Grumman Corporation.
The heating problem is made more significant because the electric current carried by the electrode is concentrated in a 30-micron thick layer at its surface. This "skin depth" is characteristic of any rapidly changing current, and in the planned focus experiments, the current will vary at about 250 kHz. So, even though copper and other metals have high conductivity, the thin surface area has sufficient resistance to generate considerable heat. In turn this causes a sudden expansion of the outer layers, which can squeeze the rest of the electrode like a tube of toothpaste.
In the meantime, the pinch forces, caused by the interaction of the current in the magnetic fields, is also pushing the outer layers inward.
Olsen's preliminary studies have indicated that the first electrode design, with an anode only 2.5 mm in radius, is almost certainly too small. The studies should soon determine the minimum safe size that can be used in the next set of experiments.
Focus Fusion website remodeled and updated
Thanks to Focus Fusion Society member Bob Steinke, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Focus Fusion Website has become far more user-friendly and up to date. Steinke redesigned the site, and is continuing to keep it timely. It now has links to related sites, including to Lawrenceville Plasma Physics. Please visit focusfusion.org, if you have not done so recently. Also please send us any suggestions you have on improvements.
North East blackout calls attention to energy needs
The North East blackout has put energy supply in the news again. FFS Executive Director Lerner recently published an analysis of the causes of the blackout, which lie in the disastrous deregulation of energy supply. (See article at http://www.tipmagazine.com/tip/INPHFA/vol-9/iss-5/p8.html). He will be talking about the energy situation on Wisconsin public radio at 6 PM EST Monday, October 27.
The blackout also dramatizes the longer term desirability of new sources of energy that can be located closer to the demand, reducing the need for large scale power transfers. Focus fusion reactors, once developed with outputs of only a few to twenty MW, could be small and safe enough to be located in individual communities. This would eliminate large-scale blackouts altogether. In the event of a small local blackout, for example due to a storm, focus fusion reactors could be restarted almost instantly, in contrast to conventional generating plants which require hours to build up steam.
For more information:http://integrityresinst.crosswinds.net/FocusFusion-Ver5.htm#_Toc42793580
6) Twenty Myths of Hydrogen Challenged
by John Wilson, PhD - EV World - October, 2003
In his recent paper "Twenty Hydrogen Myths",http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid171.php#20H2Myths Dr. Amory Lovins, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute addresses some of the important issues regarding the proposed future "hydrogen economy"1. He describes some of the discussion that has occurred as "conflicting, confusing and often ill-informed" and claims that some issues have been raised solely as reasons for not developing a "Hydrogen Economy".
He is right on both counts but his paper adds to the problem by:
To add to the confusion, several of the "myths" that he identifies really are myths but most are not.
This response attempts to correct some of the impressions that have resulted from Dr. Lovins' "Myths" paper. We will depend to some extent on the useful bibliography2 provided by Dr. Lovins and his colleagues while adding some references and notes of our own.
We should note here that Dr. Lovins has a financial and emotional interest in seeing hydrogen succeed as a fuel. His Hypercar concept3 requires hydrogen fuel to meet all of its objectives. Much of the consulting activity of the Rocky Mountain Institute centers on hydrogen.
We should disclose our prejudices, too. The writer has worked with hydrogen intermittently for many years, first in the former coal-gas industry and then in the oil and chemical industries and was involved in the investigation and analysis of several hydrogen-related process developments, fires and explosions. Before that, he learned first-hand about the risks and the difficulties involved in dealing with hydrogen and hydrogen-methane mixtures as fuels by working in the U.K. gas industry just before it transitioned to natural gas. Based on this experience, we consider hydrogen to be a safe and technically viable commodity for industrial use but believe that numerous economic, technical and safety considerations make it non-viable as a replacement motor fuel for public use.
Our papers on hydrogen, including this one, have all been developed at our own expense. TMG now works for its clients on alternate-fuel topics such as coal-based synthetic fuels (including hydrogen), soy-based biodiesel and biomass-to-ethanol technology and assists its clients in making conventional energy vs. alternate energy decisions.
Lovins' "Introductory Facts"
First, let's take a look at the "Introductory Facts" set out by Prof. Lovins. Unfortunately, his "facts" get mixed in with a lot of opinions and generalities that are presented as fact. Some examples:
"....unlike electricity, hydrogen.....can be stored in large amounts". On the contrary, electricity can be stored in large amounts, for example in batteries (the largest being the battery that provides backup power for the entire city of Fairbanks, Alaska 2,000 m2, 1,300 mt, capacity 40 Megawatts for 7 minutes) or in pumped water storage reservoirs. The largest available storage devices for hydrogen are old-fashioned ambient-pressure gasholders (which leak), pressurized tanks (too small) or metal hydride systems (inefficient; not enough capacity). In principle, underground natural gas storage wells can be used but those that are suitable are all in use, can also leak and must be carefully selected for geological suitability.
"Like electricity, hydrogen is an extremely high-quality form of energy.....". We don't know what this means. By our definition, hydrogen comes nowhere near to equaling the qualities of electricity, or even methanol, that we all find so convenient.
"However, hydrogen yields a smaller share of fossil-fuel energy because its chemical bonds are weaker than carbon's". We don't know what this means, either. Hydrocarbon reforming involves a complex combination of water-splitting and (hydro) carbon oxidation with the release of all of the hydrogen in the hydrocarbon and in the water.
"Hydrogen is thus most advantageous when lightness is worth more than compactness, as is often true for mobility fuels". This may be true in extreme cases like a hypothetical hydrogen-fueled motorized glider, but not for automobiles for which the value of weight reduction is well defined at about $10/lb. of weight saved and has generally been achieved through size reduction and intelligent design using conventional materials, rather than by use of high-cost exotics. In any case, the weight and volume of the containment vessel (e.g., filament-wound aluminum) needed for the much larger volume of hydrogen (even at high pressure) that is needed to provide an adequate range more than offsets the small difference (~80lb) between a typical tank full of gasoline and the energetically equivalent amount of hydrogen. Fuel container size is a critical issue in the current smaller vehicles used to achieve weight reduction there is already barely enough room for an adequate gasoline tank.
PEM fuel cells are much less efficient than the ~50-70% hydrogen-to-output-electricity figure used by Lovins (as we have only recently discovered). An overall figure of ~35-50% is probably more appropriate for normal use when all accessory and parasitic losses are taken into account. At the same time, the figure that Lovins uses for gasoline engine efficiency is too low for modern gasoline IC engines combined with high-efficiency transmissions; roughly 25% is closer to the real efficiency and this figure is climbing steadily. But this does not completely negate his point that fuel cells used in light-vehicle applications should offer about 50-100% better economy (not the 2-3X claimed by Lovins) than gasoline engines, especially at low load. Diesel engines, on the other hand, are substantially more efficient than gasoline engines, approaching the lower bound of the fuel cell efficiency range (35-50%) and potentially capable of much higher efficiencies. In hybrid-electric applications, they can currently offer higher efficiency with acceptable on-road performance (currently a problem with fuel cell and hybrid vehicles). If high-speed compression-ignition engines can be developed to operate at very high compression ratios and near-instantaneous combustion (offering a close approximation to constant-volume combustion), probably on gaseous fuels (and possibly even hydrogen!), much higher efficiencies are possible.
Several manufacturers of battery-powered cars are about to announce significant technical breakthroughs, hopefully to be followed by economic gains. Lithium ion battery-powered light passenger vehicles will soon offer ranges of up to 300 miles, a vast improvement over earlier efforts such as the General Motors EV-14. Li-Ion batteries offer rapid recharge capability and long lifetimes. Increased use will undoubtedly reduce their initial cost, now prohibitively high, and operating costs should be low unless utility costs rise unexpectedly. As in the case of the power used to produce electrolytic hydrogen, power to charge batteries must be generated in coal, oil or gas-fired power stations, typically at 30-35% thermodynamic efficiency, and some power is lost during the charge cycle as heat or parasitic losses. But at least battery charging does not involve the conversion of one energy carrier into another. We will shortly be publishing a number of detailed, thorough well-to-wheel analyses of the various automotive power options, including this one.
The major problem with hydrogen fuel cell use lies not with the fuel cell per se but with the efficiency loss associated with converting one energy form (e.g., natural gas or an alternative fossil energy source) via electricity into another (hydrogen). The energy "cost" of this is often not fully accounted for in Lovins' estimates. The "well-to-wheels" efficiencies of the two systems (hybrid and fuel cell), if all factors are correctly accounted for, are not that far apart5. Lovins routinely separates, in his paper, the efficiency of use of hydrogen in fuel cells from the energy losses associated with the manufacture, transportation, distribution and delivery of hydrogen. As a substitute for conventional energy generation in a distributed power scenario, fuel cells are attractive, at least on paper and if you can afford to produce and transport the fuel for them.
We also question much of the underpinning of the "hydrogen economy", although this concern is not directed at Lovins or RMI. We believe that there is substantial doubt that carbon emissions are the cause of global warming (GW). Much of the warming effect attributed to carbon dioxide is in our view due to a natural increase in solar irradiance accompanied by a related increase in atmospheric water vapor levels. The latter is more effective as a GW forcing agent than carbon dioxide (we estimate its GWP = 1.75 compared to 1.0 for CO2) and is present in the atmosphere in far greater quantities. We therefore believe that water vapor, rather than CO2 is the dominant forcing agent in global warming (with a little help from the sun and perhaps from other greenhouse gases) and that the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels is a secondary effect. Since one of the major reasons for moving to hydrogen fuel is the reduction of carbon emissions, this observation brings into question a large part of the entire underlying rationale for hydrogen.
Anyone who has actually worked with hydrogen on a commercial scale would not claim, as Lovins does, that "The....technical obstacles to a hydrogen economy storage, safety and the cost of hydrogen and its distribution infrastructure have already been sufficiently resolved to support rapid deployment....". To do so is irresponsible. More specifically:
Storage is far from resolved in fact it is one of the biggest barriers to successful implementation of hydrogen-powered transportation. Current storage systems have numerous shortcomings among them, excessive weight and size for a given task, inadequate capacity or availability, and a lack of safety in collisions and fires.
Safety has yet to be addressed, at least in terms of codes and standards, as evidenced by the many initial meetings on the topic that are scheduled around the country for later this year (2003). In the transportation industry, safety and the related topic of product liability is of enormous importance. The level of reliability required to make a complex hydrogen fuel cell system and its associated vehicle deliver 100% safety will be high indeed. The same will apply to hydrogen pipelines, distribution and delivery systems and especially the small-scale reformer-based gas-station hydrogen generating plants that Lovins believes are feasible and desirable (they are neither, but more of that later).
The cost of hydrogen in the real world remains to be determined but, notwithstanding the optimistic estimates presented by Lovins, DOE and the would-be hydrogen manufacturers for this market, we have shown that it will be more expensive on a per-mile basis in a given vehicle configuration and weight than is gasoline6.
Finally, distribution infrastructure issues are anything but resolved. We have in place in the U.S. a few hundred miles of pipeline carrying industrial-grade hydrogen operating at relatively low pressure (~1,500 psi or ~100 bar) and, separate from that, a few hydrogen refueling stations are planned, mostly for demonstrations to politicians. So far, the most prevalent attitude regarding hydrogen availability has been "the government will take care of that". Not so!
Prof. Lovins is incorrect in implying that no major technological breakthroughs are needed in fuel cells, other than those aimed at cost reduction. Major work is still required on reliability and durability (current warranties must be lengthened by up to an order of magnitude to be acceptable in a marketplace used to 50-100,000 mile vehicle warranties). Membrane life is a major unknown. Avoidance of membrane fouling requires ultra-clean air which, in turn, currently requires ultra-filtration and consequent parasitic losses. Catalyst loadings must be reduced and perhaps precious metals in the catalysts replaced with less costly alternatives while catalyst life is increased. If hydrogen is to succeed both technically and economically, significant cost-reducing breakthroughs are required in manufacturing (especially in the distributed, rather than centralized, manufacturing model preferred by Lovins), equipment for compression to pressures above 5 ksi, pumping, pipeline hardware, local distribution systems, delivery systems (for liquid and gaseous hydrogen) and numerous other areas. A massive effort will be required to reduce the energy consumed in manufacturing and transporting hydrogen. Unfortunately, the gas starts off with the disadvantage of having to be made from a primary energy source that could be used more efficiently if conversion could be avoided.
In the case of autos, Dr. Lovins must know of the many failed efforts that have been made to develop a cost-competitive ultralight, mass-manufacturable auto body (the writer managed such a program involving stampable composites in 1976-9). Notwithstanding the undoubtedly good design work at Ultracar, translating such designs into real manufacturable products that meet a wide range of engineering, cost and safety criteria and also attract the necessary large market has proven extremely difficult.
With respect to the future size of the required hydrogen industry, the current North American hydrogen industry produces about 10 million metric tons/year of hydrogen (not 15 million as Lovins estimates). To replace all of the current gasoline consumption (about 9 million barrels per day) would require about 130 million metric tons of hydrogen annually, a figure that depends on assumptions about use efficiency a very substantial increase and not just "several fold bigger", especially in view of the completely different manufacturing technologies that are likely to be needed.
Comments on Specific "Myths"
Note that carbon/coal produces about twice the amount of CO2, which must then be sequestered if CO2 atmospheric emissions are a concern (but see our earlier comments about global warming). At present, only about 2% of hydrogen production comes from the electrolysis of water. Current U.S production is about 9 million metric tons/year with Canada accounting for another 1 million tons. Lovins' estimate of ~15 million tons is high, apparently because of double counting.
Lovins is correct in saying that "the industrial infrastructure for hydrogen production already exists". However, there are only some 460 miles of pipeline in the U.S., all fully dedicated to industrial users of hydrogen in Texas and Louisiana. A comprehensive infrastructure associated with centralized hydrogen production would require many thousand miles of new pipeline (natural gas pipelines are fully committed and are likely to remain that way; in any case, none were designed for hydrogen service for a further discussion, see "myth" #5).
Professor Lovins does not like overhead electrical transmission lines but, notwithstanding the recent blackout in Midwestern and Northeastern states, they have served us very well and will continue to do so. As he rightly points out, these lines experience transmission energy losses (these can be as much as 5% and are a function of line length and construction as well as the transmission voltage), but he has his numbers wrong in the comparison with hydrogen. There is no real-world experience with pumping high-pressure hydrogen (=5,000 psi/350 bar) through long-distance pipelines but Eliasson and Bossel (see Lovins, Ref. #5) have shown convincingly that the energy losses will be substantial. Moving hydrogen at lower pressures requires a very large pipeline to move very large volumes because the energy content of hydrogen gas (or liquid) per unit volume is so low (as Lovins points out, the only time that the very low density of hydrogen may be an advantage is in space travel, and even then, as we know from experience with the space shuttle, the size of the liquid hydrogen tank presents significant design challenges).
Lovins is probably correct in saying that distributed, rather than centralized production and (of course) use of hydrogen will have to characterize any future "hydrogen economy", but this is precisely the problem small scale production means that economies of scale are lost (however well the "reformers and electrolyzers work at small scale") and that the probabilities, and associated dangers, of equipment failure are greatly increased. Furthermore, the energy source has to be connected to the distributed reformers or electrolyzers, although this should present no more of a challenge than distributing and delivering gasoline does today. A centralized or regionally distributed system (see the comments on Myth #9) offers much greater safety. A problem with any system involving large-scale hydrogen production, whether national or regional is the lack of really large-scale storage. Suitable underground storage such as proven gas-tight former natural gas wells or even salt caverns is not usually available where it is needed.
Off-peak power may be less costly, but is likely to become much more costly as the U.S. and Canada invest in a much-needed renewal of their power generation and distribution systems. Electrical power has or will become far too costly for hydrogen production.
The hydrogen manufacturing industry may indeed have an "enviable safety record". This writer has no statistics but recalls a few alarming incidents. Large-scale reformers are usually controlled remotely and automatically so that employee exposure is minimal. The hydrogen user industry (oil refining, ammonia production, etc.) is more prone to accidents, but many minor hydrogen-related incidents (usually compressor fires or explosions) go unreported.
Hydrogen is not inherently safe because it "rapidly disperses up and away from its source", particularly if this happens in a closed or poorly ventilated building. It easily leaks from equipment using it, especially at elevated pressure, but may not ignite at the point of egress. Any equipment using hydrogen must be equipped with hydrogen and fire detection sensors strategically located above the equipment, as must the building in which it is located.
As anyone who has been involved in large-scale hydrogen fires or has used an oxy-hydrogen blowtorch will testify, the flame is intensely hot on contact (although, as Lovins says, it is not intensely radiant) and causes a lot of damage very quickly. Notwithstanding all of the theory about lower explosive limits, in practice hydrogen both ignites and explodes easily. Hydrogen explosions, especially if the gas is at high pressure, are massively powerful (although in practice major hydrogen explosions often involve other energy sources such as gaseous hydrocarbons that are mixed with the hydrogen). The subsequent large-scale fires are often intense and very difficult to fight because the flame cannot easily be seen except in cases where hydrocarbon is present.
We agree that the Hindenburg story is irrelevant. Both airships and hydrogen technologies have made considerable progress since 1937.
As NBC Television learned the hard way, staged demonstrations of vehicle fires seldom relate to real-world experience. No one experiences much heating from an oxy-hydrogen blowtorch flame, even a big one, but hydrogen explosions at even 3,000 psi (200 bar) have been lethal and have done immense damage (e.g., that at the Esso (now Exxon) refinery in Linden, NJ in 1970).
This entire discussion is an excellent example of the smoke-and-mirrors (or perhaps apples-and-oranges) method of comparing energy sources. We will examine the claims point-by-point:
Any conversion of energy from one form to another is, indeed, costly although it is not true that such conversions "always consume more useful energy than they yield". In addition, most of our current energy resources require no conversion just a little chemical modification and fractionation for oil and usually only moisture and sulfur removal for natural gas. This means modest well-to-tank energy consumption (10-30% of that in the original source) as Lovins correctly points out, but no conversion energy costs of the kind applicable to hydrogen.
In the case of manufacturing hydrogen by electrolysis, for example, the equivalent of the "well-to-tank" investments of energy must be made just to get the fuel (coal, oil or natural gas) to the power station. Then the power must be generated, typically at a low efficiency of ~30% or less (more if in a combined-cycle facility), and only then do we have electrical energy available for conversion into hydrogen. So far, we have an overall efficiency of about 22.5%. Now we convert AC power to DC (5-10% loss), and electrolyze water to produce hydrogen (electrolyzer losses are more like 35% in commercial operation but are improving). So far, our overall conversion efficiency is just under 14% based on the energy in the original resource.
Having made the hydrogen at ambient pressure or a little above (and we will generously assume that this happens at the point of use, thus avoiding transportation costs), we have to compress it for distribution (if needed) and delivery, a process that can easily convert the small overall positive amount of net energy available (14% of that in the energy source) into a net loss of energy. These conversion losses and costs are not tolerable. It makes no sense, in a world that will soon be resource-limited, to invest massive amounts of additional energy just to achieve a fuel that offers somewhat greater end-use efficiency.
The energy balance is a little better for the conversion of natural gas into hydrogen because the really nonsensical double conversion step fossil fuel into electrical energy and electrical energy into hydrogen can be avoided. Thus we have only to be concerned about energy source production efficiency (taken above at 75%, probably a little better for low-sulfur natural gas) and the reformer thermodynamic efficiency (also about 75%, lower for small units but expected to improve) for an overall efficiency for the well ? hydrogen step of ~55% (not 70% as Lovins assumes). In this case, hydrogen makes greater sense although we are much less certain about the efficiencies (and certainly the safety) of future small point-of-use reformers. We expect them to be significantly lower perhaps 55-60% for an overall figure of 40-45%. At this point, we still have to compress the hydrogen (15-20% of total energy), so the net energy available, although positive, is not very large and we lose all of that in fuel cell inefficiencies.
The most critical issue facing the use of natural gas reforming to make large quantities of hydrogen, at least in the U.S., is that it represents an unwise use of a rapidly-diminishing resource (see response # 12-4, below).
There have been many "well-to-wheels" analyses of the efficiency of petroleum fuel use7. When being compared with hydrogen, pessimistic assumptions are usually made about the efficiency of modern internal combustion engines. Analyses for hydrogen that are used in comparison typically ignore some of the steps involved, or make optimistic assumptions about their efficiencies, so the differences are always exaggerated. The Toyota analysis referred to by Lovins was chosen to make their Prius gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle look good relative to Toyota's conventional vehicles.
In-vehicle fuel cell efficiencies, when they are stated at all, are generally overstated. If all accessory demands such as air compression are taken into account they typically range from 30-40% at high load to 40-50% or so at low load for an average of about 35-40%, depending on usage. The drive train (more accurately a drive system) loses a small amount of additional energy, leading to an overall tank-to-wheels average efficiency of about 35%. Electrically-driven air conditioning, steering and other loads will slightly reduce overall efficiency. Thus, using the well-to-tank estimate for reformer hydrogen (55%, which may be optimistic if small point-of-use reformers are used), we obtain a well-to-wheels estimate of 19%, or about the same low figure as Lovins quotes for the gasoline engine (gasoline-electric hybrids will soon achieve better than 30%). Diesel-engine hybrids using ultra-low sulfur fuels and direct injection provide even better overall efficiencies (up to 40%) since no energy conversion is required and this advanced diesel engine is much more efficient than, and offers almost the same performance as, the gasoline engine of equivalent performance. As we have made clear elsewhere, we see the diesel-electric hybrid as a far better choice for future transportation needs (once the U.S. has low sulfur fuel available in about 2006-2008) than either gasoline-electric hybrids or hydrogen fuel cells.
We have no quarrel with Lovins' conclusions regarding fuel cells in power generation, although his efficiency figures are, again, the most optimistic that we have seen. Fuel cells are already showing their worth in peak-shaving (although more often with non-hydrogen fuels and alternate, e.g., solid oxide electrolyte, cell designs).
Regarding underground storage of hydrogen, we note here only that old gas fields that are gas-tight for natural gas are often (although not always) unsuitable for hydrogen storage they may leak too much. The result is dependent on the local geology.
To Be Continued...
Provided as a courtesy from:http://www.integrityresearchinstitute.org -- sponsor of the First Nikola Tesla Energy Science Conference & Exposition, November 8-9, 2003 in the Washington DC area.
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