Davemb, the advantages of using an on-board reformer are really three: (1) you can continue to use the existing fuel delivery infrastructure, (2) you don't have to put up with the large loss of hydrogen from fuel tanks, and (3) you can avoid the high-pressure delivery and storage system.
When not in use, hydrogen fuel tanks empty out faster than lead-acid batteries die, just because the atoms are so small. And still, the distribution and on-board H2 system is all high pressure. Instead, for robust autmotive use, in the hands of regular people, a hydrogen reformer fuel cell EV seems mighty attractive.
As to the size, there are several programs going on to make just what cars would need. Just search under "hydrogen reformer for cars."
To me, this has the greatest potential for excuses-free EV introduction, big time.
Bert, Moore's law is a simple observation of exponential improvement, so it certainly applies to batteries. The actual rate for sillicon has varied significantly over the years, and is nowhere near doubling every 18 months today. It's more like a doubling every 30 months at the moment and slowing further.
As I've mentioned before people have repeatedly beaten the range estimates by manufacturers. Sure it requires careful driving, but the same is true if you want to achieve anywhere near the claimed mpg rates any petrol car and hybrid.
Car companies have been looking at hydrogen for many decades. Remember the GM Electrovan? That was 1966 (an interesting read - especially the exploding tank). So hydrogen is not new, and the fact that it has gone nowhere in 50 years is proof it is still not a viable technology.
Yes I'd be happy to take you up on that and see where we are in 5 years with EVs. You will be surprised with the progress.
1. On board reforming requires a breakthrough to become useful indeed. However methanol or biodiesel would be a much better and safer alternative to compressed or LH2 which rapidly leaks from tanks.
2. Total US hydrogen production is about 11 million tonnes. Total US petrol and diesel consumption is about 500 million tonnes. Taking into account hydrogen has 3x the specific energy, it would require 15 times the production to produce hydrogen instead of petrol and diesel. So no, it is not possible to produce that much hydrogen (and given the inefficiency of hydrogen production it means burning even more oil to produce the same amount of energy as the petrol/diesel).
3. Agreed, fuel cells are very useful for forklifts and other indoor vehicles. But I bet hydrogen will always remain a niche.
4. I don't see how hydrogen stations would be cheaper giving you don't need expensive storage tanks and regular transport via tankers.
6. There is not a single hydrogen car on the market. If they appear we can compare them with hybrids and EV's in terms of price, range and efficiency. I bet the comparison won't be favorable to hydrogen.
As a supporter of EV's of both the battery and fuel cell variety, I have several comments to add to this discussion;
1; It makes no sense to put a reformer and gasoline tank on board a fuel cell vehicle, unless you are trying to tap into the gasoline infrastructure, and that infrastructure is precisely what we need to get rid of. A reformer is too costly, too heavy, too bulky, and when mobile there is no opportunity to sequester the exhaust gases; resulting in a vehicle with no particular advantage over a conventional gasoline vehicle, at least from an environmental standpoint. That is precisely why the industry considered and rejected the idea in favor of compressed hydrogen as a fuel.
2. Use of hydrogen is neither impractical nor "too expensive", and it's not rocket science; we have been using it for more than two centuries-in fact, from the beginning of the industrial age. North America already manufactures enough hydrogen to fuel our entire fleet of cars and light trucks, if they were equipped with fuel cells (incidently, a third of this is produced here in Canada). Half of this output is used by the petrochemical industry to extract and refine the transportation fuels (gasoline and diesel) that we use today. Just one company, Praxair, built and maintains over 300 miles of hydrogen pipeline in the Gulf area, complete with underground salt cavern storage, to distribute hydrogen to refineries for the purpose of desulferization of diesel fuels and dearomatization of gasoline. All this production would become available if we phase out use of ICE vehicles.
3. While some vehicles can do perfectly well on batteries, it is impractical for many vehicles which see heavy usage. The chances are good these days that the food you eat, the goods you buy through the internent, the baggage handled by airports, etc. have been moved by hydrogen-fueled fuel cell powered vehicles. The industry has been very busy of late, replacing the batteries of fork lift trucks and goods-moving equipment with fuel cells and hydrogen tanks. Reason; these vehicles need to be kept busy 24 hours a day, and cannot afford to be held up for recharging or battery replacement. A fuel cell vehicle can carry enough fuel for an eight hour shift, and be refueled in less than 5 minutes between shifts, and there is no need to maintain multiple battery packs on constant charge for each vehicle.
4. Crunch the numbers, and you will find that in terms of vehicles serviced per-station, hydrogen refueling stations and infrastructure are not only cheaper than rapid battery chargers and infrastructure, but also cheaper than gasoline and diesel stations and infrastructure; and while both the former are getting cheaper, the latter is becoming formidably more expensive. It will take a long time to phase fossil fuels out, as every new gas-or-diesel-guzzling vehicle produced today will be on the road an average of 20 years, so we need to get started now.
5. Hydrogen is a multiple use energy carrier, useful for providing energy storage to help in integrating renewables into our electrical grids as well as being a clean vehicle fuel; and has industrial uses as well. Here in Canada we produce large quantities of hydrogen from industrial process byproduct (i.e. chlorine produstion, wood waste from paper manufacture, water purification and desalination, sewage treatment, landfill outgassing, etc.). Nature itself produces hydrogen; it supports ocean and seabed life, among other things. Moreover, it is safer as a fuel than gasoline, propane, or even diesel and natural gas.
6. Germany is committed to building 400 hydrogen refuelling station over the next 10 years; Japan, 200 over the next two years. Other European countries are planning similar projects. A West Coast Alliance is planning a rollout of both hydrogen stations and charging stations stretching from Southern California through Oregon and Washington to Vancouver and beyond, at least as far as Whistler. BC transit has 20 fuel cell buses in operation and are planning more. It makes sense, and should be expanded across the continent.
Note that Moore's law DOUBLES in density, every 18 months. Depending how you figure that, it is either 100 percent improvement or 200 percent improvement over 18 months, a far cry from any purported 7 percent in 12 months. Batteries have hardly reached that level.
Plus, in spite of the hype, when real people test real cars, you don't see these fantastic figures materializing. Electric car companies (or models) not only go out of business with amazing regularity, like Fisker recently, but never measure up to the hype. GM has said multiple times that they only kept the Volt alive because the clueless bureacrats that bailed them out essentially expected them to.
Plus, the proof is in the pudding. Auto companies have re-started looking at fuel cells recently. This isn't some fluke, or that auto companies like to throw money away. If you want a no-apologies true EV, make it with a hydrogen reformer and fuel cell. No energy starvation, no make-believe "battery problem solved," no range anxiety, no 4 hour refueling time, no make-believe "trust me, we'll have a supercharger outlet where you park," none of that.
Anyway, I'm perfectly happy to get back in touch in 5 years, to show you how BEVs haven't progressed as you think they will have. We can just wait and see.
Bert, once again we have thousands of EVs on the road that can do 300 miles on a single charge and can recharge in 30 minutes. Battery capacity is a solved problem. Charging time is a solved problem. No need to bring up energy density when it is already more than sufficient today!
Note battery technology does follow Moore's law. Average yearly improvement is 7% in density and 20% cost reduction: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/files/2013/04/lithium-ion.jpg
That means in 5 years a battery will have 40% higher capacity, yet it costs one-third!
Also check out: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/energy_resources_materials/battery_technology_charges_ahead
Here they say that battery technology is improving so fast that by 2020 it is cheaper than any other technology, including ICE and hybrid - irrespectively of the price of petrol.
All the fuel cell prototypes you mention as based on hydrogen as the fuel. There is no infrastructure for hydrogen refuelling, and producing hydrogen is way too expensive (even via reforming).
So which technology is a dead end and which is the future?
Batteries in EVs are only used because it's the drop-dead obvious and unimaginative approach. The problem will continue to be that batteries don't store enough energy (i.e. BEVs are perpetually energy starved), even so when the battery is humongous and heavy. And the problem will continue to be that recharging either takes way, way too long, or will require tremendous instantaneous charging power. EVEN during peak demand hours from the grid. You can't get away from that. It's practically impossible to get permission to install more high tension lines.
I don't think of the hydrogen reformer and fuel cell as a "range extender" at all. That's the lingo of BEV afficionados, and it misses the point. I think of it as a fuel cell car, with fully electric power train, and with a mild hybrid-sized battery. And which can use the existing infrastructure set up for fuel distribution, without pretending that some kind soul will provide supercharge stations at every urban street parking spot.
Battery technology has never pretended to follow Moore's law. Therefore, unless you intend for EVs to remain that odd niche product for fanatics with extra time on their hands, something better is needed. That's why the major auto companies have been looking closely at fuel cells again. All this talk about "in five years" is dreaming.
Hybrids and range extenders are not the future irrespectively of the fuel they use. They are useful today because of today's battery technology. However if you look at the progression of hybrids, every new generation has increased the size of the battery, the range and speeds of battery-only driving, and added plug-in capability.
Do you really think this is not going to progress further until the point there is little benefit in lugging around a heavy ICE engine plus hybrid drivetrain?
In 5 years or so battery technology will have improved enough that range, cost and charging time will be issues of the past. It doesn't require any breakthrough either - just simple progressive improvements and economies of scale. This is already happening.
Bert, whether you like Tesla or not is a non-issue. They are not the only EV on the market or the only company doing charging stations. However they have the most advanced EV technology and as such we know what they do today will be mainstream and affordable 2-3 years from now.
We had a discussion on here before about whether your roof could provide enough power for your EV. My calculations said not quite. However with improved panels and design of the roof (ensure 95% is south facing rather than at most 50%), every home could in principle generate enough electricity for all their use, including cars. So yes, solar panels (and wind turbines) will most definitely play a major role in electrifying personal transport.
I don't believe any technology that continues to rely on fossil fuels will have a future.
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