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Debate: Hydrogen vehicles

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*'''[[Argument: It's OK to use more energy to make hydrogen than is obtained out| It's OK to use more energy to make hydrogen than is obtained out]]''' [http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-10895_7-6724347-1.html Wayne Cunningham. "Driving It. Why Hydrogen will fuel future cars." CNET. 11 Apr. 2007] - "The most common way to produce hydrogen is electrolysis, running a current through water and causing the hydrogen molecules to separate from the oxygen molecules. Critics point out that it takes more electricity to create the hydrogen then it will generate in a fuel cell. While that is true, it also takes energy to create a gallon of gasoline. Oil has to be pumped, transported, and refined." *'''[[Argument: It's OK to use more energy to make hydrogen than is obtained out| It's OK to use more energy to make hydrogen than is obtained out]]''' [http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-10895_7-6724347-1.html Wayne Cunningham. "Driving It. Why Hydrogen will fuel future cars." CNET. 11 Apr. 2007] - "The most common way to produce hydrogen is electrolysis, running a current through water and causing the hydrogen molecules to separate from the oxygen molecules. Critics point out that it takes more electricity to create the hydrogen then it will generate in a fuel cell. While that is true, it also takes energy to create a gallon of gasoline. Oil has to be pumped, transported, and refined."
 +*'''[[Argument: Clean materials and processes can be used to produce hydrogen| Clean materials and processes can be used to produce hydrogen]]''' [http://www.motortrend.com/features/consumer/112_0408_hydrogen_fuel_cells/index.html Arthur St. Antoine. "Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Reality". Motor Trend.] - "processes show some long-term promise for producing low-cost, clean hydrogen, including reforming biomass feedstocks like corn-based ethanol (which can be carbon-dioxide neutral--releasing only as much CO2 as the plants consumed in the first place), and experimental methods like converting sugar water to hydrogen at around 400 degrees F using a nickel-zinc catalyst or starving green algae cells of sulfur to cause them to generate hydrogen."

Revision as of 22:02, 12 September 2008

Should hydrogen fuel cell vehicles be a major part of strategies to fight global warming?

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

A hydrogen vehicle is a vehicle that uses hydrogen as its on-board fuel for motive power. Hydrogen fuel cell cars exploit the significant chemical energy in hydrogen through a process of electrochemical conversion. In this process of fuel-cell conversion, hydrogen is reacted with oxygen to produce water and electricity, the latter of which is used to power an electric traction motor.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been proposed as a renewable, 0-emissions form of transportation. This is significant in the context of global warming because vehicles account for roughly one-third of all man-made C02 and greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen fuel cell cars, therefore, are being proposed as a possible solution to global warming.
The main question, therefore, is whether hydrogen fuel cell cars can and/or should become a major component of strategies around the world to combat global warming. What are the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell cars in this context? Are they truly clean? Is it problematic that they rely on electricity to produce hydrogen, and that electricity is largely generated by burning coal? Are hydrogen fuel cells economically viable as an alternative form of transportation? Can hydrogen fuel cell cars help cut foreign dependencies on oil? Is it feasible to build a hydrogen fuel infrastructure and fueling stations to support hydrogen cars? Is it feasible to store sufficient quantities of hydrogen in cars and safely? Would hydrogen vehicles be practical for owners? And, finally, how do hydrogen cars compare with the other alternative and clean forms of transportation, such as hybrids, hybrid-electric, electric vehicles, or even public transportation? Is it better to invest in hydrogen than these alternatives? These are the questions that frame this debate regarding hydrogen fuel cell cars as a possible component in energy and global warming strategies.


Global warming: Will hydrogen vehicles help reduce emissions, fight global warming?

Yes

  • Hydrogen cars emit no C02 or greenhouse gases from the tail pipe. In fuel-cell conversion, hydrogen is reacted with oxygen to produce water and electricity, the latter of which is used to power a car. Water is the only waste product, not CO2 or any greenhouse emissions. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are, therefore, 0-emission vehicles that can replace millions of greenhouse-gas-emitting vehicles that contribute significantly to the global warming crisis every day.
  • Hydrogen produced from coal-electricity is still cleaner than gasoline. Some argue that it is no better to produce hydrogen fuel cells from electricity that is "dirty", such as coal-generated electricity. Yet, even if coal was the only source of electricity production (which it is not), hydrogen would still be cleaner than gasoline cars. The reason is primarily that it is more efficient to burn coal on a massive scale to generate electricity for vehicles than it is to burn gasoline on a micro-scale in individual vehicles. The later releases more emissions.
  • Electricity for hydrogen production is getting cleaner. From an environmental and global warming standpoint, it is a good idea to move onto the electric grid for all of our energy because most future "green" energy will produce electricity. Nuclear, solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, wave, and tidal energy all produce electricity as their consumable energy product. By relying on electricity, hydrogen fuel cells will become increasingly clean as society transitions to these cleaner sources of electricity production.
"So far, hydrogen-powered cars are fuel for future thoughts". USA Today. 21 July 2008 - "While fossil fuels might be burned to produce much of the energy required for hydrogen production, some electricity would also come from burning biomass or from solar, wind and hydroelectric generation. Generally, these non-fossil fuel power sources are becoming a larger part of the electrical power generation grid and should eventually supplant fossil fuels."


No

  • Hydrogen vehicles will arrive too late to help global warming. A National Research Council report that pegs 2020 for the arrival of the mass-market fuel cell vehicle. According to USA Today, "That's the best case scenario, of course, assuming technology, government, industry and the public all cooperate on bringing hydrogen cars to the nation's highways."[1] Yet, the IPCC says that steps must be taken immediately to stop global warming. This means that hydrogen fuel cell technology is out of sink with the immediacy required in solving global warming.
  • Hydrogen is only as clean as the electricity producing it Producing hydrogen requires energy. Some or even all of that energy comes from burning fossil fuels, particularly coal. In the United States, for instance, over 50% of all electricity is generated by burning coal, which is a major contributor to global warming.
  • Some methods strip hydrogen from Methane, releasing CO2. Arthur St. Antoine. "Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Reality". Motor Trend. - "of the nine million tons of hydrogen currently produced in the U.S. each year, 95 percent is generated using steam and heat to strip hydrogen atoms off methane gas. This process produces carbon dioxide (CO2), as do all similar methods of reforming coal and other hydrocarbons."
  • Hydrogen cars are uneconomical so will not impact global warming. The only way that hydrogen cars can help the fight against greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is if they are economical and used widely. Because they are uneconomical, as is outline below, they will not have a positive impact on global warming.


Environment: Beyond global warming, are hydrogen cars good for the environment?

Yes


No

  • Too much energy is required in compressing/liquefying hydrogen. Arthur St. Antoine. "Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Reality". Motor Trend. - "compressing or liquifying [hydrogen] requires a further input of energy equal to 10 or 30 percent of the hydrogen's energy content, all of which ranks it among the least convenient and practical of all transportation fuels."
  • Leaked hydrogen damages the environment like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). A study from the California Institute of Technology says it is likely that mass-produced hydrogen will leak, which would be very damaging to the environment, because hydrogen destroys ozone in the same way that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) do.


Economics: Are hydrogen fuel cells economical?

Yes

  • Mass-produced hydrogen vehicles will be much cheaper. Wayne Cunningham. "Driving It. Why Hydrogen will fuel future cars." CNET. 11 Apr. 2007 - "Many articles I've read covering specific fuel cell cars point out the cost of the car, usually in the millions of dollars. But this dollar figure has no relation to any hydrogen fuel cell production vehicle that will eventually be offered for sale. These research cars are hand-built and use experimental technology created in limited amounts. The most expensive material used in these cars is the platinum covering the nodes in the fuel cells. Other than that, the car consists of motors, wheels, a frame, and body. And there are even fuel cells under development using different, cheaper materials."
  • Hydrogen cars will create new industries and jobs. Dennis Weaver, an actor and public spokesperson for alternative energy, said in a 2008 interview with Motor Trends, "[hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] would give our economy a tremendous boost. Our economy has always been stimulated by new technology, by innovation, by new ways of doing things. When we went from the horse and buggy to the automobile, the automobile industry created a tremendous amount of new jobs we couldn't even foresee."[2]
  • Hydrogen is abundant and universally accessible. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. This makes it universally accessible. And, because it is inexhaustible, it is a renewable resource and effectively a free resource.
  • Hydrogen has more energy per weight than any other fuel. Hydrogen is a very power element with an extremely large amount of energy in each molecule. It is, therefore, a valuable and economical source of energy.

No

  • Hydrogen is not readily available for use on Earth. "So far, hydrogen-powered cars are fuel for future thoughts". USA Today. 21 July 2008 - "Unfortunately there is no readily available source of molecular hydrogen (H2) to be found on our planet. There is lots of hydrogen, but it is found as part of larger molecules, most commonly water or hydrocarbons. To be able to use hydrogen in a fuel cell, those hydrogen atoms must be stripped from hydrocarbons and reformed into H2 or electrically disassociated from oxygen in water."
  • Hydrogen cars are very expensive. Joseph J. Romm, PhD in Physics at MIT and assistant secretary of energy under US president Clinton, said in the movie "Who killed the electric car" (2006), "your average hydrogen car costs a million dollars. that's gotta drop [in order for hydrogen vehicles to be viable in the market place."
  • A hydrogen economy would require huge government investments The Argonne National Laboratory concluded that a version of the hydrogen infrastructure, using present technology, would cost approximately $500 billion dollars. This is beyond a reasonable government investment in an uncertain future technology.
  • Hydrogen fuel is a weak energy source by volume. While individual hydrogen molecules may contain significant amounts of energy, the problem is that hydrogen is very diffuse, meaning that there is not much hydrogen nor energy by volume. This is why compressing or liquifying hydrogen is necessary if it is to be used to power vehicles.


Foreign oil: Will hydrogen fuel cells lower dependencies on foreign oil?

Yes

  • Hydrogen cars will help end foreign oil dependencies Hydrogen fuel cell cars do not use gasoline or diesel. They use hydrogen, which is universally available in all countries. Hydrogen, therefore, will help lower dependencies on foreign oil. This is important primarily for the economic security of nations.
In his first term, US President George Bush announced a $1.2 billion "hydrogen-fuel initiative to reverse the nation's growing dependence on foreign oil."[3]
Dennis Weaver said in an interview with motor trends, "I think a global hydrogen economy--not just national, but global--would promote peace. In my opinion, most wars are fought over diminishing resources. Especially if that resource is extremely valuable, which we perceive oil to be."


No

  • Uneconomical hydrogen cars can't lower foreign dependencies. If hydrogen cars are uneconomical, as is argued above, they cannot scale in a way that will lower dependencies on foreign oil.
  • There are viable alternatives for lowering foreign oil dependencies. There are many alternatives that can help lower foreign oil dependencies. The electric car is the most important means to lowering foreign oil dependencies. Relying on electricity supplied by wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, nuclear, and coal energy, electric cars would adequately lower foreign oil dependencies. The hydrogen fuel cell car is unnecessary.


Infrastructure: Is a hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure possible?

Yes

  • Existing pipelines can be used for new hydrogen economy Amory Lovins, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute. "Twenty Hydrogen Myths". 20 June 2003 - "Myth #5. Hydrogen can’t be distributed in existing pipelines, requiring costly new ones. If remote, centralized production of hydrogen eventually did prove competitive or necessary, as this myth assumes, then existing gas transmission pipelines could generally be converted to hydrogen service, e.g. by adding polymer-composite liners, similar to those now used to renovate old water and sewer pipes, plus a hydrogen-blocking metallized coating or liner (analogous to those used in composite hydrogen tanks), and by converting the compressors."


No

  • Hydrogen cars would need a new fueling infrastructure. Joseph J. Romm, PhD in Physics at MIT and assistant secretary of energy under US president Clinton, said in the movie "Who killed the electric car" (2006): "you have to have the fueling infrastructure. We have 183,000 gas stations someone's gonna have to build at least 10,000 or 20,000 hydrogen fueling stations before anybody is gonna be very interested."

Storage: Can hydrogen fuel be effectively stored in cars?

Yes

  • Hydrogen storage in cars is available and affordable. Amory Lovins, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute. "Twenty Hydrogen Myths". 20 June 2003 - "Myth #7. We lack a safe and affordable way to store hydrogen in cars. This problem was solved several years ago. Such firms as Quantum (partly owned by GM) and Dynetek now sell filament-wound carbon-fiber tanks lined with an aluminized polyester bladder instead of the traditional solid metal liner (cutting weight by half and materials cost by a third). Such carbon tanks have ~9–13 times the performance of an aluminum or steel tank, but can’t corrode and are extremely rugged and safe, unscathed by crashes that flatten steel cars and shred gasoline tanks. The car isn’t driving around with highly pressurized hydrogen pipes, either, because the hydrogen is throttled to the fuel cell’s low pressure before it leaves the tank. Such aerospace- style tanks holding up to 700 bar (~10,000 psi) and proven over 1,655 bar (~24,000 psi) have been tested by GM and others in fuel-cell cars and are legally approved in Germany; U.S. authorities, who have licensed 5,000-psi (~350-bar) hydrogen tanks, are expected to follow suit shortly. Linde AG recently installed a 700-bar German filling station for Adam Opel AG."
  • Hydrogen fuel-cell cars are really electric cars. Wayne Cunningham. "Driving It. Why Hydrogen will fuel future cars." 11 Apr. 2007 - "Every major automaker has a fuel cell research car that works. I've driven many of them, and the driving experience is very good. A fuel cell car is really just an electric car that powers its motors from a fuel cell. The fuel cell takes hydrogen and combines it with oxygen to make water, H2O. The byproduct of this process is electricity, which gets fed to the motors. Most importantly, the electrical output of a fuel cell pack is strong enough to give an electric car reasonable acceleration."


No

  • Hydrogen fuel cell membranes require a technological breakthrough. Joseph J. Romm said in an interview with Motor Trend: "we need three technological breakthroughs for these vehicles to be realistic in the near term: a fuel-cell-membrane breakthrough...Right now, the membrane's durability is about 1000 hours, and it's easily poisoned by such things as sulfur in the air. These are nontrivial problems, and they'll have to be solved while simultaneously reducing the cost of the fuel-cell's membrane by a factor of 100."[4]
  • Hydrogen can't be compress to give give sufficient range. Joseph J. Romm, PhD in Physics at MIT and assistant secretary of energy under US president Clinton, said in the movie "Who killed the electric car" (2006): "No known material to human kind can store enough hydrogen in the car to give you the range people want."
  • Too much energy is required in compressing/liquefying hydrogen. Arthur St. Antoine. "Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Reality". Motor Trend. - "compressing or liquifying [hydrogen] requires a further input of energy equal to 10 or 30 percent of the hydrogen's energy content, all of which ranks it among the least convenient and practical of all transportation fuels."
  • Liquefying hydrogen requires extremely low temperatures. Liquefying natural gas requires temperatures of -423 degrees F in a superinsulated tank. This is not feasible to suitable for mass consumption.
  • With no lubricity hydrogen is highly volatile in handling. This means that fuel-handling systems must be hardened and hermetically sealed. This is complicated, expensive, and prone to error.


Safety: Are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles safe?

Yes

  • Hydrogen is non-toxic, unlike most fossil fuels. Most fossil fuels are toxic and emit toxins when burned. Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the most common form of death that can result from burned gasoline. Hydrogen, however, is entirely non-toxic. It can, therefore, save lives.


No

  • Hydrogen fuel cell containers are weak/dangerous at present. Joseph J. Romm said in an interview with Motor Trend: "the storage issue is a potential show-stopper--it's clear that you can't build a hydrogen economy around high-pressure on-board storage. It would be fatal to H2 cars if they were prematurely introduced into the marketplace with this inadequate storage technology. I don't think your average soccer mom or dad wants to be a foot away from 5000- or 10,000-psi hydrogen canisters--which in industry are treated with great respect, put in separate facilities with blow-out walls, and so forth. We need--according to the American Physical Society--a whole new material for storage, and if you were to ask me how long might it take, the answer is it could take a very long time."[5]
  • Hydrogen is very flammable, so presents dangers. Patrick J Coyle. "The Hydrogen Debate Continues". Suite 101. 9 Jul. 2007 - "Hydrogen is a light, very flammable gas. It burns at a much wider range of concentrations in the atmosphere than propane (Wald), and requires less energy to ignite. This means that hydrogen is much more likely to catch fire than are hydrocarbon fuels currently in use."


Practicality: Are hydrogen fuel cells practical?

Yes

  • Hydrogen cars require less maintenance than gasoline cars. Dennis Weaver said in an interview with Motor Trends, "Running on hydrogen extends engine life and reduces maintenance, as no carbon builds up in the combustion chamber or on the spark plugs and the blow-by gases are so clean that the oil rarely needs to be changed (just topped up periodically)."[6]
  • Refueling with hydrogen will be cleaner and easier. Arthur St. Antoine. "Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, and Reality". Motor Trend. - "Expect gassing up with hydrogen to be a much more sanitary and more automated task than you're used to with gas and diesel. Standards are under development for an intelligent filler neck integrated with a ground strap (to prevent static electric sparks), and a communications link between the tank and the pump to monitor pressures and temperatures. Robotic refueling has also been demonstrated. The goal is to be able to refuel within five to 10 minutes"


No

  • Hydrogen cars are hard to start in sub-zero weather.[7]
  • Hydrogen fuel is susceptible to fuel contamination.[8]


Vs. electric: Is hydrogen superior to electric vehicles?

Yes

  • Hydrogen cars are essentially high-performance electric cars. Wayne Cunningham. "Driving It. Why Hydrogen will fuel future cars." CNET. 11 Apr. 2007 - "It's important to keep in mind that a fuel cell car is just an electric car that happens to derive its electricity from a hydrogen-oxygen reaction. Any other source of electricity could work. The reason that automakers are focusing on hydrogen is because they find it the most practical solution for achieving the performance we've come to expect from our cars."


No

  • Hydrogen cars cannot be charged at home like electric cars. Electric cars can be charged essentially anywhere the electric grid extends, including, most importantly, a car-owner's home. This contrasts very sharply with hydrogen cars that will only be chargeable where special hydrogen fueling stations are built, and none are yet constructed.
  • Hydrogen is more challenging than the primary alternatives. Joseph J. Romm, PhD in Physics at MIT and assistant secretary of energy under US president Clinton, said in the movie "Who killed the electric car" (2006), "Hydrogen is a much tougher alternative fuel than any other alternative fuel we've ever pursued."


Vs. hybrids: How do hydrogen fuel cell cars compare to hybrid vehicles?

Yes

  • Hydrogen cars can become 100% clean; hybrids cannot. Hydrogen vehicles emit only water from the tail-pipe, while hybrids still burn gasoline and emit CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the tail-pipe, albeit in smaller amounts than ordinary gasoline cars. It is important to eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases from the tail-pipe and move to electricity-based cars (hydrogen cars - which can produce hydrogen with electricity) that can become 100% clean as electricity moves to entirely 0-emission sources of power.


No

  • Hybrids outshine hydrogen cars in performance and price Joseph J. Romm, author of "The hype about hydrogen", said in the movie "Who killed the electric car" (2006), "Miracle 5 is you have to hope an pray the competitors in the market place don't get any better because right now the best car in the market place just got a lot better. The hybrid vehicle. Still runs on gasoline you can fuel it anywhere. It has twice the range of a regular car. And if battery technology keeps getting steadily better than the best hybrid and then plug-in hybrid in the year 2020 will be vastly superior to the best hydrogen car."


Pro/con resources:

Yes


No

External links

See also


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