2. Hydrogen: The transportation fuel

(Updated 5March)

Replacing gasoline and diesel.

Here's another area where apparently competing systems really aren't. Battery-electric (think Tesla) and hydrogen-electric (think Hyundai) cars look great and run well. Both use electric motors to drive the wheels and both are smooth, powerful and already reliable. We need both battery and hydrogen vehicles to cover the huge range of energy needs associated with transportation. Battery-powered cars are simpler but heaver, hydrogen cars involve less efficient hydrogen production and storage but the fuel is much lighter. Both battery and hydrogen systems are changing rapidly. Hydrogen in particular would take a huge step forward with the development of low-pressure storage. That's probably feasible if we sic the universities and national labs on the problem. Batteries also have some running room in terms of developing lighter weight/higher power density. It's not clear which will lead the pack at any given moment. But again - we need both.

Long-distance car travel, pickup trucks and large highway semi-trucks are probably better powered by hydrogen, even given the current high pressure or low temperature onboard storage requirements. Quick-fueling an H-vehicle vs. stopping to charge batteries in a battery-powered vehicle is a significant difference on a long trip, although we'll need hydrogen fueling stations throughout the U.S. to make this happen. (That's the old chicken and egg problem - it's likely that the long-haul truck companies will solve it soon. We've done this transition once already without much fuss, when shifting from hay-burners to gasoline in the 1920's. Take a look at my June 2021 articles in Hydrogen Fuel News to see how a battery truck will compare to one running on hydrogen. (Hint: it won't.) they're at https://www.hydrogenfuelnews.com/?s=Ford+Lightningh#google_vignette and https://www.hydrogenfuelnews.com/network-for-ford-f150-lightningh/8547196/ .

On the other hand, traveling around town or within 150 miles of home is easily handled by a battery-electric car, charged slowly overnight.

Most hydrogen gas at the moment is actually produced from natural gas -- that's not the long-term answer.

The alternative system doesn't use electricity as efficiently as charging a battery, but it's improving. That alternative is electrolysis, splitting H from H2O.

There's magic here!

We can (in effect) move hydrogen fuel invisibly:

H can be made right at the distribution point overnight (at a normal-looking gas station complete with electrolysis and H-storage, marginal bathrooms and Cheetos) whenever there is extra electricity available. We'll delete the gasoline/diesel transport trucks and trains that move carbon fuels around now -- the power lines can move hydrogen fuel invisibly. This is now happening around the world - electricity from solar and wind is producing hydrogen at distant locations in rapidly increasing quantities - it's a very good fit to our current systems.

A "fun fact": Either a battery- or H-powered car is a great storage device. It would power an entire house for days during a storm. The latest Hyundai electric car platform already has a "both-ways" power plug installed for this purpose, as does the forthcoming Ford Lightning electric pickup.

Yes, yes, and very well :) .

The components are getting better and smaller even as we speak -- the diagram above is already out of date, but serves its purpose here.

This was the entire electricity-producing 100 kW unit in an H-car a few years ago (when I took the picture at a Los Angeles conference). It's now smaller and more powerful, and improvement will continue.

These are both great vehicles - talk to any Tesla driver about battery-electric cars. I've had a ride in the Nexo H-SUV and it's excellent.

This is my current favorite - you have to visit Calilfornia to drive one at the moment, but I imagine that early-on you had to go to the Ford factory to drive a Model A. That's changing. Drive your neighbors' Tesla to get the same experience -- E-cars just work. I have a friend in the oil industry who ((shhh)) drives a Leaf! :)

And, it's a system that provides maximum torque at zero speed - ideal for a vehicle.

We'll keep thousands of small self-driving ECars cars all around town (relocating often as their 5G-based regional E-controller learns our patterns for mornings, afternoons, evenings, nights and weekends). They'll wait in neighborhoods for morning smartphone clicks, arriving in no time to pick us up, then drop us off at school or the grocery store. We'll set up quick-transfer Centers to switch to long-range 10-passenger all-First-Class vans to travel to nearby cities. The vans will provide wifi, laptop trays, coffee and a donut and comfortable, roomy seats with only two in each row. Another small ECar will be waiting at the distant Center with our ID on it, alerted by the E-controller as to our arrival minute to take us wherever in town with no need to fight traffic or park. The in-town cars could be battery- or hydrogen-electric; the longer-range vehicles will probably be HVans, refueled in a few minutes as needed during the day.

I've added a post to this site with a story about such an ideal system - it's fun to imagine what's coming. :)

So - can we provide our vehicles with enough hydrogen?

We can, although let's share that task with battery-powered E-cars as well:

That's a lot of H, but it's possible given the trend toward larger electrolyzers seen recently.

Here's the rub, at least for the moment:

To my knowledge (corrections welcome) we've had no problems with hydrogen-powered cars themselves, just at two H storage facilities involving failed pipe fittings that are being redesigned. But -- I'll admit that anything involving very high pressure H storage makes me nervous -- in the long term, a low-pressure system is necessary. That is being researched, but...

We need to work on this much harder now that you're in charge of Transportation, Secretary Pete! Low pressure, high-density H can be the answer to most power storage issues including solar- and wind-power backup, but it starts with transportation.

An example: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200416151739.htm

Secretary Buttigieg: Let's get the universities and national laboratories focused immediately on developing high-density hydrogen storage without the impediments of high pressure or low temperature. That will not only revolutionize transportation including aviation, but will allow large-scale backup of solar and wind power. Practical, large-scale hydrogen storage, using fuel cells to convert it back to electricity on still nights, will take us a long way down the road to reversing climate change.