The Hydrogen Myth


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Why hydrogen-powered vehicles will not help solve our energy or pollution challenges.

Published in: Technology, Business
  • My only exposure to hydrogen fuel advocates has come through the process of debunking (with amazement) some of the surprisingly extreme statements they frequently make about the Hindenburg Disaster (as part of my airship history website at I have been surprised at how people with ostensibly scientific backgrounds can say things that are so scientifically absurd with regard to the Hindenburg, even going so far as to claim that no-one was injured by the hydrogen on the airship. (see: ) Your slide presentation may shed a little light on that matter. :-)
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  • 'I refer you to the famous story that the US spent millions to invent a pen that writs upside down, and the U.S.S.S.R used a pencil… '

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  • Nice job, except for the packaging issue, I really don’t see a problem,
    Lets say someone shows up in the near future with a new material, where the hydrogen stays packaged for as long as you want, and has no corrosive problems. What then?

    I refer you to the famous story that the US spent millions to invent a pen that writs upside down, and the U.S.S.S.R used a pencil…

    Regarding the pump? Is that a real problem? It can be redesigned

    Maybe the way you are costing the development is wrong? You are using the current infrastructure, what if you could create the hydrogen at home? In your garden? Use solar panels and a wind turbine and small hydrogen generator? You would still petrol stations, but not as many.
    True this is not the most energy efficient – but there are really no emotions (except of curse for the initial setup)
    You wouldn’t need as many pipes…

    Maybe the ways cars are designed is old fashioned ? they can be bigger , longer or higher …

    Again assuming that the storage issue is solved, you could use hydrogen in many other applications like UPS’s for computer rooms.

    If you electrolysis sea water you get materials that can be used for carbon capture and other uses.

    Regarding clever people, CIA didn’t they miss Bin laden? Didn’t they miss weapons of mass destruction of IRAQ, the title CIA to means people with problem thinking out side the BOX

    Toyota? They refused to take part in the netter place project, are they clever?

    Never the less Nice and interesting presentation!
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The Hydrogen Myth

  1. 1. The Hydrogen Myth Stephen Fleming Chief Commercialization Officer
  2. 2. Stephen Fleming • 12+ years investment experience. – General Partner, Alliance Technology Ventures. – 18 investments as lead investor, 15 exits to date. • BS, Physics, Ga. Tech (Highest Honors). • 15 years operational experience at AT&T Bell Labs, Nortel, LICOM (venture-backed startup). – Supervised startups developing first ADSL modem and one of the first cablemodems in early 1990s. • Multiple advisory boards at Georgia Tech; endowed chair in telecomm; occasional instructor in MBA entrepreneurship program. • Strong regional technology leader. 08/09/2007 2
  3. 3. Disclaimer • All material in this presentation reflects the personal opinion of Stephen Fleming, and does not necessarily represent the position of Georgia Tech, the University System of Georgia, or the State of Georgia. And that’s a damned shame. 08/09/2007 3
  4. 4. Further Disclaimers • Please don’t confuse the debate by throwing in references to hydrogen fusion. Large-scale fusion would be wonderful, but we don’t know how to do it yet. • The much-derided “cold fusion” would be even better, but we don’t know how to do it yet, either. (But hope springs eternal...) • Everything in this presentation refers to burning hydrogen, either in an internal combustion engine or in a fuel cell. 08/09/2007 4
  5. 5. The Hydrogen Hype • Clean-burning • No CO2 emissions • Inexhaustible supply 08/09/2007 5
  6. 6. The Promises… BMW ad, June 2007: According to our engineers, tailpipe © 2007 BMW of North America LLC water can be quite delicious. Our next-generation hydrogen-powered vehicle is every bit BMW, but it has something more. Or less, actually. It produces near zero emissions. Which means the exhaust produces water vapor, not carbon dioxide. So it reduces pollution and greenhouse gases and lessens our dependence on imported oil. 08/09/2007 6
  7. 7. Not So Fast… 08/09/2007 7
  8. 8. Hydrogen Experience We’ve been using hydrogen as a fuel for quite a while now. The RL-10 engine will turn 50 next year! 08/09/2007 8
  9. 9. Problems with Hydrogen • The opposite of dense – That’s why you lift dirigibles with it! – Not good when you want to fill a fuel tank • Difficult to work with – Hard to carry useful quantity in gaseous state – Hard to maintain liquid state • Boils at -423°F (20°K)… seriously cryogenic – Hard to maintain under high pressure • Passes through most standard pipes, tubes, valves, gaskets, etc. • Compressing takes 30% or more of energy content 08/09/2007 9
  10. 10. Cryogenic Storage • Imagine the corner mechanic trying to deal with cryogenic storage… • Requires special equipment, training, and working brain cells! 08/09/2007 10
  11. 11. Embrittlement • H2 molecule is so small that it penetrates most metals – Crack propagation leads to embrittlement – Continuous maintenance – Chance of catastrophic failure 08/09/2007 11
  12. 12. 5-Gallon Energy Density How much energy is contained in a 5-gallon tank of fuel? (not counting volume of insulation or pressure vessel required for H2 tanks) = daily power consumption of typical American home Compressed H2 gas* 24.7 kWh * at 700 atm pressure Liquid Hydrogen 53.1 kWh Gasoline 181.9 kWh 7.4x! 08/09/2007 12
  13. 13. Hydrogen Density • Fun fact: There is actually more hydrogen in a liter of gasoline (116 grams) than there is in a liter of pure liquid hydrogen (71 grams)! • Some hydrogen advocates claim this means we should extract the hydrogen at the point of use (on-board reformation) – If you’ve gotten the fossil fuel all the way to your vehicle, just burn it! 08/09/2007 13
  14. 14. Filling the H2 Tank • Gasoline pump – Approx. 1 gigajoule/minute – Operable by 16-year-old kid – Proven safe: millions uses/day • Hydrogen pump – Either cryogenic (low temp) or high-pressure (compressed H2) – Slow flow rates, pricey components – Dangerous, finicky, requires special training 08/09/2007 14
  15. 15. More Problems • Violently explosive in concentrations ranging from 4% to 75% (with O2 present) • Leaks from pressurized tanks can ignite just from the static electricity of gas escaping the leak! • And, just for extra fun, hydrogen flames are invisible! – Energetic enough that most emissions are in the ultraviolet 08/09/2007 15
  16. 16. Invisible Flame Hydrogen refinery Same refinery on fire! 08/09/2007 16
  17. 17. Fundamental Problems “Captain, I canna change the laws of physics!” Some problems cannot be solved by throwing money at the problem. 08/09/2007 17
  18. 18. Sources of Hydrogen • There are no hydrogen wells! 08/09/2007 18
  19. 19. Hydrogen as Storage • Hydrogen is not a primary fuel. • It is a storage medium, carrying energy from the point of manufacture to the point of use. • Think of it as a battery: – A dangerously explosive battery that is hard to work with, has a lousy power-to-weight ratio, and tends to self-discharge (from boil-off) if you don’t use it promptly. Gee, Li-Ion batteries are looking better and better! 08/09/2007 19
  20. 20. Exotic Storage Concepts • Various metal hydrides • Carbon nanotubes • Magnesium slurry • Even stranger things Unfortunately, the common thread is that we don’t yet know how to do any of them in volume! 08/09/2007 20
  21. 21. Hydrogen Manufacturing • Since you can’t pump hydrogen out of the ground, you have to manufacture it. • Most popular process: reformation of methane. CH4 • Produces: O2 – Hydrogen – Waste heat + – Carbon dioxide!!! 2 H2 CO2 08/09/2007 21
  22. 22. Manufacturing Inefficiency • Manufacturing hydrogen has to obey the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics 1. You can’t win. 2. You can’t even break even. • Steam reformation of methane is about 70% efficient… other reactions are worse. • Energy input comes from somewhere— fossil fuel, nuclear, hydroelectric… – Solar and wind power are rounding errors. – Just shifting environmental impact from tailpipe to somewhere else! 08/09/2007 22
  23. 23. Hydrogen Manufacturing • Most other processes have the same basic equation… converting fossil fuels to hydrogen releases carbon dioxide. Water Hydrolysis 4% Methane 48% Coal 18% Oil 30% 08/09/2007 23
  24. 24. Why Not Electrolysis? • Cracking water into hydrogen and oxygen • Lovely in theory • Stubbornly expensive in 2 H2O practice – Breaking up those chemical bonds takes O2 serious energy 2 H2 & – Approx. 4x cost of methane reformation 08/09/2007 24
  25. 25. Why Not Electrolysis? “Captain, I canna change the laws of physics!” To be effective, electrolysis requires ample clean, non-polluting electricity. Did someone say “nuclear”? 08/09/2007 25
  26. 26. Hydrogen Logistics • So you’ve decided to manufacture hydrogen. Then what? Production 70% efficient Liquefaction or 80% efficient Compression Transportation 90% efficient (Boil-off, leaks) Fuel cell conversion 45% efficient Net Efficiency Only 23%! Oh, and did I mention that it all boils off from your fuel tank in two weeks if you don’t drive the car??? 08/09/2007 26
  27. 27. Hydrogen Infrastructure • Hydrogen pipelines would be expensive! – Insulated for cryogenic temperatures – Exotic valves, fittings, other materials – Frequent inspection due to embrittlement 08/09/2007 27
  28. 28. Hydrogen Infrastructure • New production facilities, new pipelines, new tankage, new fueling stations, new pumps… • How much? – Speculation on the cost of implementing a national hydrogen infrastructure is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps well over one trillion dollars. Damn. That’d buy a lot of plug-in hybrids… 08/09/2007 28
  29. 29. Energy Conversion • Design decision: Liquid-hydrogen internal combustion engines, or fuel cells? • BMW is using a hydrogen ICE in trials. • Fuel cells offer promise of higher efficiency, with less pollution. – Problem: We don’t know how to make them in volume yet. And when we do, they’re going to be stuffed with exotic and expensive catalysts (platinum-group metals, etc.). 08/09/2007 29
  30. 30. Fuel Cells Energy Conversion Year of Common Mechanism Invention Application Fuel cell 1837 ? Rechargeable battery 1859 Otto-cycle internal 1866 combustion engine Gas turbine 1906 So why are we still waiting for a workable fuel cell? 08/09/2007 30
  31. 31. Smart People “As far as I know, no one who is technically literate is an enthusiastic supporter of fuel- cell-powered vehicles” – Donald R. Sadoway, professor of materials engineering, MIT 08/09/2007 31
  32. 32. Smart People “Don’t hold your breath on fuel cells. Every 10 years they say commercial deployment is only 10 years away. We’re still not seeing any real fuel cells that can run, say, a car.” – Robert Lifton, chief executive of Medis Technologies 08/09/2007 32
  33. 33. Smart People In response to “When will fuel-cell cars replace gasoline-powered or hybrid cars?” “If I told you ‘never,’ would you be upset?” – Bill Reinert, national manager, Toyota USA Advanced Technology Group 08/09/2007 33
  34. 34. Smart People “Neither government policy nor business investment should be based on the belief that hydrogen cars will have meaningful commercial success in the near or medium term.” – Joseph J. Romm, acting Assistant Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton 08/09/2007 34
  35. 35. Smart People “There certainly will not be an overabundance of clean energy to squander on an inefficient hydrogen loop, particularly when the same tasks can be accomplished directly with the original electricity. Not even nuclear energy can turn hydrogen into a winner.” – David Barber, Nuclear Programs, Idaho National Laboratory 08/09/2007 35
  36. 36. Smart People “Forget hydrogen, forget hydrogen, forget hydrogen.” – James Woolsey, energy security analyst; former Director of the CIA under Bill Clinton 08/09/2007 36
  37. 37. Types of Challenges Resource-Constrained Knowledge-Constrained • We know how to do it, it’s • We don’t know how to do just expensive. it, or even if it can be done • Examples: at all. – Apollo Project • Examples: – Ending illiteracy – Curing cancer – Extreme longevity – Building 1000 new nuclear power plants – Faster-than-light travel – Mining the asteroids – “Hydrogen economy” I hope all these knowledge-constrained challenges are solvable. But “hope” is not a good basis for investment decisions or public policy. 08/09/2007 37
  38. 38. For Further Information Stephen Fleming Chief Commercialization Officer Georgia Institute of Technology <> <> 08/09/2007 38