Friday, March 9, 2012

Hydrogen-fueled cars?

Gasoline is such a wonderful fuel because it packs so much energy in a small space.  Replacing this energy source with batteries is not only hideously expensive, even a car with modest performance must sacrifice useful space in the truck or cabin for the battery pack.  And that's just cars.  The energy requirements for large trucks and tractors almost precludes electrical power.  And there will be no battery-powered airliners

So folks talk about hydrogen as a gasoline replacement.  If liquefied, it packs a lot of energy in a small space.  And it's reasonably easy to obtain—run an electrical current through sea water and you have hydrogen.  So in theory, it is a candidate. However, the engineering challenges are awesome.  Hydrogen is the smallest molecule so just the problems of containing the gas are expensive.  A valve good enough to regulate oxygen could leak hydrogen like crazy.  Try to imagine a connection good enough to transfer liquid hydrogen from a storage tank to your car.  Now try to imagine the crowd down at your local self-serve hooking up that connection.  And this is only one of the basic concerns in practically using hydrogen—there's a long list.

BMW has an operating prototype that
has been converted to run on hydrogen
Once you figure out how to supply your car with hydrogen, you must decide how you turn that energy into power to your wheels.  If course, because gaseous hydrogen explodes readily, one could run an internal combustion engine with only simple modifications.  Because this would consume so much hydrogen, most automakers are designing systems that employ fuel cells.  Lots of engineering remains before your aunt Millie parks one of those in her garage.

But that doesn't stop dreaming of what a hydrogen-powered car could be.  Here is an "advertisement" for an Lexus LFA running on the stuff.  Trust me on this, this car does not exist—it is a product of CGI.

I seriously doubt that hydrogen is going to serve as fuel for automobiles. There's no hydrogen infrastructure and without millions of hydrogen-fueled vehicles, there is no reason to build that infrastructure. Besides, IF hydrogen comes to automobiles, it will be piped through a fuel cell—NOT burned in a V-10. The car shown in this movie would have a range of like 10 miles.

LEXUS LFA-h from Simon Brown on Vimeo.

In fact, even though the market does not currently agree with me, I think the future of cars is some variation on the Volt—an electric vehicle with a gasoline back-up to get you home in an emergency. This bridge technology would make travel costs reasonable even if gas prices were $15 / gallon. The Volt is a great idea and if someone like Toyota were to build it, it would be a hit.

I can see it now—the hybrid drivers arguing technological superiority with the extended-range EV drivers. May the person with the most expensive Birkenstocks win.


  1. Gasoline cars are really great. If you use electric cars, then battery took lots of space. It is efficient as well.

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  2. Hydrogen powered cars are indeed are the answer in the future, but are a little hard to come by as of late. Since most hydrogen powered cars are still in their concept stages, some enthusiasts and experts have made drivable examples for regular commutes. A hybrid car is more practical in the current times and can be had for a little over than 5 grand through