Greg Frenette, a lead engineer at Ford Motors, said last week that it may take at least 20 years before hydrogen-powered cars become widely available because obtaining the fuel is so costly and difficult. However the latest news from the Reuters Global Environment Summit is that these zero emissions cars could become a reality in California very soon. The state plans to build out “Hydrogen Cities” to support the hydrogen car industry.
How Does the Hydrogen Car Work?
Fuel cells create electricity in a chemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen, emitting water vapor as a by-product. instead of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Since the conversion of the fuel to energy takes place via an electrochemical process rather than combustion, the process is clean and highly efficient. The hydrogen car reduces greenhouse gas emissions while also reducing dependency on crude oil.
Development of a Hydrogen Highway Across Hydrogen Cities in California
The main impediment to the development of the hydrogen car has been a lack of refueling stations in the country. However, California plans to change this. Today there are roughly 70 hydrogen stations in the U.S., nearly half of which are in California according to the Fuel Cells 2000 website (www.fuelcells.org). At the summit, California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols said that she expected to see a fairly rapid build-out of stations in the next couple of years forming a “Hydrogen Highway” across the state’s most concentrated cities. These cities are referred to as “Hydrogen cities”. Nichols expects there to be tens of thousands of hydrogen cars in California over the next decade or so.
Already car manufacturers like General Motors and Honda are testing small numbers of fuel cell vehicles in California.
Revolution in Hydrogen Cars – 650 Miles Per Tank : Gas 2.0
Scientists Reach Hydrogen Storage Milestone : CleanTechnica
Want to Test Drive a Hydrogen Powered Car? GM’s “Project Driveway …
Photo Credit: www.hydrogencarsnow.com
You need to understand the process that is required to obtain pure hydrogen in order to see how non-green the fuel cell may really be. One of the factories in which I used to work produced pure hydrogen for one of its process facilities. Here’s how we did it:
First, you force a large amount of natural gas to the combustion chamber of a large furnace known as a reformer and burn it to heat this high temperature exchanger. The tubes inside the reformer carry compressed methane which “cracks” under the extreme heat into a variety of component gases (i.e. CO, CO2, H2, etc.). Next, you dry these component gases to remove as much moisture as possible. Then you route the gases to something called a cold box. Large refrigerant compressors circulate refrigerant to keep the temperature in the cold box at extremely low temperatures (less than 300 F average). The cold box is coldest at the bottom and less cold at the top. This allows the component gases to settle at different elevations, so they can be separated and removed. The component gases then have to be compressed in order to transport them to other locations.
As you can imagine all of this compressing, heating, cracking, freezing and separating requires huge amounts of energy. So, while you may be driving around in your fuel-cell vehicle exhausting only water vapor and feeling proud of your green ways, somewhere upstream an exponential amount of energy was expended (and wastes were generated) to give you that feeling. There are other ways to obtain pure hydrogen, but the processes are not all that dissimilar.
Until we can drill for pure hydrogen, the economy of the fuel-cell is questionable. I am not even going to mention the difficulties surrounding keeping hydrogen in a pipeline and the potential dangers surrounding its transport.
I think with our current economic depression with local governments needing extra funds. Taxes at the county level could raise sales taxes by .001%. This money then would go to build a fuel station along major hwy. and interstates. Since government cant make money off business all the proseeds from the station goes back to home owners within the county in the from of lowered property taxes due to the profit of the company. This would then give the chance for hydrogen fuel to be available for a growing green future and then lower our depends on foriegn fuel sources. This idea is both great for local homeowners and great for local governing powers to be distributed amunge emergency forces that are being cut due to our current state of depression.