Re: Hydrogen cars, et al. A re-evaluation from several different perspectives.

Joe Suber (
Mon, 17 Nov 1997 01:53:52 -0600

Michael M. Butler wrote about hydrogen and fuel cells:

> Re: pollution: Yes, and sort of, and no. Depends on what you mean by
> pollution. Less airborne nitrox compounds, sure. But the carbon and
> trace elements in the fuel have to go somewhere. And catalyst bed
> contamination remains a serious problem. Further, as I mentioned before,
> many "hydrogen economy" plans just move the pollution around, while
> _increasing_ the sum. Examples: farmed-methanol, central-site
> electrolysis with hydride storage, etc.

Doesn't the central-site plan's polution impact depend on how you get the
electricity to power the electrolysis? Wouldn't certain solar (or even
nuclear fission) options net a lower total sum of polution? Or are you
talking about the extra metals and chemicals that are needed to manufacture
photovoltaics and storage devices? If so, is this a study or just a guess?
I am under the impression that hydrogen gas could be distributed on the same
kinds of pipelines in use for natural gas today. I also have read that
hydrogen has an energy density 3 times that of gasolene, by mass (not by
normal volume, of course). Good enough that a strong liquid hydrogen tank
could give you gasolene-like range (even given internal combustion
efficiency) while venting less than 10% of its hydrogen storage per day to
keep the contents cool.

> Now, hypothetical complex-organic fuel cell catalysts (verging on
> enzymes in complexity) *might* solve these problems. I devoutly wish
> for them. But evidence of their actual commercial-quantity appearance
> remains sketchy at the present time--even though I built a
> bacteria-powered fuel cell twenty years ago. IMHO, bulk nano is the most
> likely way to produce such--by which time _everything else changes too_.

What is the differences/advantages between engineered bacteria and "bulk
nano?" Also, could you tell us more about the bacteria-powered fuel cell?

> AFAIK, all published fuel cell chemistries that use hydrocarbons
> function in exactly the way I describe, by reforming the fuel at point
> of use: the fuel cell. Methanol is expensive for reasons mentioned
> previously. The issue isn't purely one of how efficent the _fuel cell_
> is; it's a _systems_ concern.

If we are going to have fossil-fuels at the point-of-use, then we might as
well use internal combustion and pre-heated catalytic converters, like Honda
is going to put on some 1999 models. These are actually better than
zero-emission because in most urban areas the air that goes in will be
"dirtier" than the air going out, even at start up... government definitions
of "zero emmisions" be damned. Another doable option is to have small gas
turbines running at a constant efficient speed and fuel/air ratio. This
on-board turbine would charge batteries for a practical electric car.

> People are prepared to fight over lots of things.

Yeah, I am prepared to fight, connive, tinker so I can keep driving a fast
car with good range. I'm afraid of what alarmists/environmentalists are
doing in the name of dirty air that just isn't that bad. The air has been a
thorny problem for libertarians like me. I have to admit my '83 Rx-7 is
probably one of the dirty 10%. But it really isn't a big deal. Since we
live in a community that puts politics above property rights it is tough to
see who's air is who's, so I think people should live and let live on this
issue unless things are just absolutly intollerable. The question will soon
be moot anyway; you can fart and roll down your window and do more damage
than the new car you are driving.

My first post to this great mailing list!

-Joe Suber