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I was always told Hydrogen power couldn't be done-- that is was a myth.

GM's Billion-Dollar Bet

The hydrogen car has been a long time coming. GM is betting $1 billion that the end of internal combustion is near.

By Dan Baum

VIEWED from the proper angle, Detroit's Renaissance Center — six medium-high office towers surrounding a cylindrical 73-story giant — is a mighty glass hand giving the finger. Hulking by the iron-gray waters of the Detroit River, this is the führerbunker of the tired old industrial economy: the headquarters of General Motors.

These days, the company is on a PR tear to tell the world it is "reinventing the automobile." At the Detroit Auto Show in January, the company rolled out a radical prototype called the AUTOnomy, and a drivable proof-of-concept version debuts in September at the Paris Auto Show. How radical is it? It dispenses with just about everything that makes a car a car, such as the engine, transmission, steering wheel, and gas tank. Rather than spitting out carbon monoxide and other smog-causing gases, it emits nothing but water because it runs on hydrogen. With few moving parts, it will last for decades. It will generate more electricity than it uses and be equipped to apply the surplus to power the owner's house. Manufacturing will cost a fraction of what it takes to build a traditional car, because the AUTOnomy will contain many fewer components. And it will be ready for mass production by the end of the decade, which in the automotive world is a week from Tuesday.

I park my rented Pontiac Sunfire in the Renaissance Center garage and open the trunk to retrieve my laptop. As I do, a slab of snow slides down the rear window and straight into the open trunk. I stand for a minute contemplating this. The same people who are promising to reinvent the automobile can't figure out how to design a car that doesn't dump snow into the trunk. I'm reminded that, out of bullheaded arrogance, GM has lost more than half its 60 percent market share since the 1960s by making ugly, often slipshod vehicles. It missed the rise of the small car in the '70s and the SUV in the '90s. Now ponderous, elephantine General Motors is claiming not only to be able to read the post-gasoline future but to accelerate it as well. What's going on here?

WHAT'S GOING on is that after decades of tinkering with nonpolluting cars in a desultory, "chump change budget to satisfy the enviros" kind of way, GM is getting serious. To be sure, there is cause for skepticism. The hydrogen fuel cell has long been the miracle that remains perpetually 10 years over the horizon. Wired itself wrote in 1997, "Fuel cell momentum is now so great that its emergence as a predominant technology appears just short of inevitable." GM CEO Rick Wagoner is fond of calling the fuel cell car "the Holy Grail," which may be a truer assessment than he intends. "The Holy Grail is something you spend your entire life looking for," grumbles David Redstone, editor of the newsletter Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Investor. "The whole point is that you never find it."

Detroit's eco-car efforts have been largely a matter of public relations. As they cynically wrap themselves in the Earth Day flag by promising hydrogen-powered cars, automakers have been using their muscle to keep federal fuel-efficiency standards exactly where they were when enacted in 1975. Freed of stringent regulation, the Big Three have reaped billions selling high-profit, gas-guzzling SUVs. Look at the window stickers on GM's current crop, arrayed in the Renaissance Center lobby - Chevrolet Avalanche: 13 city, 17 highway. GMC Denali: 12, 15. Cadillac Escalade: 12, 15. My Pontiac GTO got better mileage than this 33 years ago. Individual engines have become more efficient, but because "light trucks" (SUVs, pickups, and minivans) constitute half of all vehicle sales (54 percent for GM last year), national average fuel economy is at its lowest since 1980: 20.4 mpg.

In January, the Bush administration scrapped a $1.5 billion Clinton-era program to develop an 80-mpg car by 2004. Instead, the White House launched FreedomCAR (the "CAR" stands for cooperative automotive research), promising $125 million next year plus more later to help automakers in pre-competitive hydrogen power research. The initiative set no hard goal or deadline for producing an H2-powered car, so environmentalists see it as a Big Oil/Big Three/GOP plot to distract the public from the need to mandate immediate, radical increases in fuel efficiency. The New York Times wrote that the only freedom that FreedomCAR will bestow is on "the manufacturers, now relieved of the obligation (absent strong new fuel economy standards) to produce serious breakthroughs in the next few years."

Which may be true. Point is, though, it doesn't matter. Even if Bush's hydrogen-car initiative is a cynical ploy, even if the Big Three are hiding behind hydrogen promises to prolong the reign of the V-8 and oilmen secretly want to strangle the fuel cell in its cradle, simple geology is carrying us toward a post-gasoline future. Petroleum's days are numbered. GM executives themselves understand that. Some say the oil will last 20 more years and some say 50, but nobody says forever. "The internal combustion engine is an incredibly efficient source of power, but we've wrung the towel," Wagoner concedes.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dan Baum ([email protected]) wrote about intelligent transport systems in Wired 9.11.

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In my Environmental Physics class, a science class for non-science majors, the professor brought up an interesting point though, where do we get the hydrogen to run these cars from?

Hydrogen is the most abundant substance in the universe. There is plenty of hydrogen on Earth, it is just locked up in water. If we could separate it from water we would be home free.

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That is the problem, do you know how difficult it is to seperate hydrogen from water. This is a point the professor made. It still doesn't answer the question of where do we get hydrogen from. Of course I have an idea for something radically different and it deals with magnetism.

Edit...Forgot to capitalize :D

Edited by Richard Roark

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The idea is this:

When hydrogen is combined with oxygen and some energy it forms water and releases a bunch of energy to run your car.

Some plant has to produce the hydrogen for the car. To do this it is going to have to take water and separate it into hydrogen and oxygen. This requires that it put as much energy into the process as the car is going to get out (and of course still more energy will be used beyond this).

The hydrogen functions more or less like a battery. It is a storage place for energy produced elsewhere (in the plant). The advantage though is that the basic waste the car is producing is water. So it shouldn't be environmentally damaging, or harmful to people.

The plants to produce hydrogen can be located whereever you want, and use technologies to produce the hydrogen that might not work very well at running a car directly (solar, wind-power, hydroelectric, etc.)

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The most economical sources of hydrogen right now are actually fossil fuels--like propane. Even at the stage of using fossil fuels to provide the hydrogen for these vehicles, they are still more inefficient than a regular vehicle. I am basing this on pricing, and something called EROIE, energy return on invested energy.

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Yeah, EROIE, is the point my professor was trying to make and as punk pointed the energy to split the atom of water to get hydrogen is the tough part and requires a tremondous amount of energy here. Remember hydrogen is the most reactive of all the elements and as such there a very few instances where hydrogen can be found truly outside of a bond with another element. As I also said, I think what needs to be done to truly get over any energy crisis we'll be facing in the future is to truly think outside of the box. Meaning finding a way to have a vehicle that runs with out having to refuel it as such.

Edited by Richard Roark

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There is no way to have a vehicle run without refueling it, even those silly solar powered cars have to be refueled (by sunlight and it can be done while driving, but that's not the point).

Second point, hydrogen is not the most reactive of the elements, that would be fluorine. Still, hydrogen is up there, third or something.

Third point, it doesn't take that much energy to separate hydrogen from oxygen in water; I did it in high school with only a nine-volt battery. The real problem is that the cars can't get more energy out of the reaction than is put in in the first place. (That is if you just let them chemically recombine, wink wink.)

A much more philosophical question is SHOULD we (by which I mean those of us in discussion here) produce a car that can run on water (if we ever figure out how to). Will this help the producers or the looters in today's society?

How is anything in that last sentence relevant to whether you should make the car? If you can make the car and make a profit, you should do it. If you wouldn't make a profit, then you shouldn't.

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Well of course, you have the enviromentalist complaining about the the "dirty" air, I can only imagine that the next phase is if a hydrogen car becomes a reality, they will be complaining about the depletion of water from the earth. :)

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Doesnt that apply to pretty much any innovative new idea; why are you singling out the hydrogen car here? For instance, do you think that the world today would have been better for the producers if others had not created the computer?

Edited by Hal

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Hmmm....

Since there are plenty of people who are not objectivists who are going to invent things, you are suggesting objectivists become the *least* productive people on the planet?

You only live once. If you want to take the attitude not to do anything until the world around you treats you the way you want it to, I suppose that is your own business.

I am assuming you are an American. If so then you live in the society in which one is the most free to profit from their ideas. If you think America *still* isn't good enough that Americans should go ahead an invent a hydrogen car (assuming it is feasible), then there is no helping you.

Personally I think your real issue is still with the less polluting *hydrogen* fuel. You think it would constitute some sort of moral victory for environmentalists. Some petty perceived "victory" is more important to you than legitimate technological innovationl.

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I wasn't singling out the hydrogen car, I was using it as an example. Yes, it does apply to any new idea.

The computer was invented long before I was born (July 1980); by the time I could rationally think about the question, it was a non-issue.

What I am trying to argue is we (myself and whomever is willing to listen to me) should not invent anything else (or indeed use our minds in any way to benefit non-Objectivists) until we can be assured of our right to our own property. Basically, I'm calling for the mind to go on strike (like in Atlas Shrugged).

Many Objectivists have contemplated this over the last few decades and I believe most have come to the conclusion that we are not yet at the point where it is necessary to "go underground" or plot a violent overthrow of the government or secede from the Union.

I believe even Ayn Rand objected to and ridiculed building some sort of "Galt's Gulch" in some isolated region. As long as we are free to spread positive ideas (particularly Objectivism), we should still continue to live in America.

In other words, until the Ayn Rand Institute is censored by the government, I and many other Objectivists have no intention of going on "strike" and recruiting fellow rational men to go on "strike" with us.

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In other words, until the Ayn Rand Institute is censored by the government, I and many other Objectivists have no intention of going on "strike" and recruiting fellow rational men to go on "strike" with us.

Me neither. We don't yet have the power necessary to cause the rest of the world to collapse, nor are there enough of us to rely solely on each other as possible trade partners. There are simply too many non-Objectivist inventors still -- they'll figure it out and give it up to the world anyway.

Further, there is no place in the world or technology existent for us to create a "Galt's Gulch". To make our own country, we'd need a military to first obtain and then defend our borders. It's likely we'd need nuclear weapons as well. (And how would we "obtain" any territory morally, when all existent territory is already under the jurisdiction of some country or other?)

ARI is doing a fine job of spreading the ideas of Objectivism into the culture. If you want to help -- give to ARI, become a Ph.D. and make yourself available for placement as a university professor. They'll find a spot for you.

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Dirty air causes cancer boys and girls. Cancer is bad. I know so first hand. You are from phili EDIT: pittsburg for f-sake... How many incidences of cancer were there in your town among children... Probably more than there were years ago... but that's another story...

Hydrogen is not a viable fuel source. It is merely being used to divert the medias attention from a much more viable alternative ( yeah put on those tinfoil hats everyone it's that time again ). With the nature of American 'capitalism' sometimes private interests can do things that are for their best interests (that's why they are called private interests)... Like ensuring that we are dependant on fossil fuels.

Thankfully there is a good side to capitalism. We are not collectivists and do not have to blindly follow Big Brother's decisions...

Gee that's good...

There is a perfectly viable alternative.. That's cheaper than gasoline. There are cars that run on this amazing stuff that cost less than 16,000 new. You can buy used ones in all form factors. They get better milage than gasoline powered cars. Mine has a range of about 700 miles...at about 50MPG.

Per Gallon of what?

Bio-Diesel boys and girls....

"But Mr. Trout. Diesel is bad for the environment. It's dirty and the cars are loud. Please beat me over the head some more. My brain hurts"

EROI=ENERGY RETURNED ON INVESTMENT

EROI for Hydrogen using electrolysis: .5

EROI for Biodiesel using RapeSeed: 4.3

With current trends it looks like new methods for manufacture of hydrogen could have a return of up to 5 units. However, that is with an untested theory using microbes genetically engineered for the processing of bio-mass/waste. These technologies would be available in the next 5-10 years.

With current trends for BioDiesel, the EROI will surpass even the libral estimate for hydrogen by the end of this year. In fact to the best of my knowledge methods using algae have already surpased this and are projected to produce at an EROI of 20-30.

Biodiesel requires no new investment in infrastructure. It's already there. It requires no dangerous local storage of hydrogen. Oh and hydrogen based cars have a range of less than 200 miles.

GO BUY A DIESEL CAR. NOW!!!

Currently Deisel gas where I live is 2.70 Per Gallon. The biodiesel is 3.95 due to current market constraints.(it's soy based rather than algae and is neither mass produced nor consumed) However, with current trends it will not be long before the tables are turned...

Good luck. Ignorance is not bliss. Enlightenment is. Thank you for your time.

Articles from the UNH BioDiesel Program.. A must read. It's objective boys and girls... have fun

Edited by kilgoretrout

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Dirty air causes cancer boys and girls.  Cancer is bad. 

Did you write this with a pizza in one hand and a soda in the other, or did you wait till you finished the chips. Amazing how we blame the air when we constantly poison our bodies with the food we eat.

The lungs are an amazing tribute to nature. Smokers last a long time before they succumb to their vice. Unless you have a tailpipe up your nose gasoline fumes don't compare.

Sorry I got off the Hydro.

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I eat all organic food. Today I had pea soup for lunch. For dinner I had fresh Lobster. It was delicious.

I speak from personal experience when I talk about people with cancer. I have three friends that were diagnosed in there teens. One is dead. One has only a few months left to live. The last was diagnosed in January. These are not people who lived a long glutonous life then eventually succumbed to liver or lung cancer.

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I eat all organic food. 

I won't get into personal loss except to say we all know the cruelness of cancer... but my experience has led me to believe the absence of enzymes in one's diet is the fastest way to create an environment for cancer to thrive. Once the body is enzyme depleted, and has to manufacture enzymes, then "yes" the atmosphere can be an issue, but then so will everything else.

By the way... you cooked out all the enzymes in yesterday’s menu. For your stomach to digest the food, and it will not give up until it does :), it has to get enzymes from somewhere else in your body. :thumbsup:

The diet does not need to be, and should not be, totally raw, but it has to include raw vegetables(to a lesser degree fruit) - a little every day, not a lot once a week.

hmmmm "An apple a day will keep the doctor away." B)

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I think in the immediate future bio-diesel is the best answer to the problem and possibly ethanol for gasoline burning engines. Hydrogen can work when renewable energy sources are used to produce the hydrogen. Look at either iceland or greenland. One of those two nations ,maybe even both, are using geothermal to produce hydrogen. But as long as the hydrogen is being produced from fossil fuels there is no improvement, it is simply a shift of from one source to another. The air is polluted, our bodies are polluted and other things are bad, let's not get into an agrument about who is to blame for cancer.

I am seriously of the impression that if we do not remove ourselves from heavy fossil fuel dependence, within the next 20-40 years, then there will be a catastrophic collapse of government and economy. I can actually see some of the things happening in this country that happened in Atlas Shrugged, happening then. Well, one can argue that many of the things have occurred in the past and occur now. But I see some of the more drastic measures being enacted and a mass panic to maintain control over the situation. I think that a Galt's Gulch sort of approach might be necessary, not as strike, but as a means for survival after the collapse occurs.

Tettra

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"..."

"But Mr. Trout. Diesel is bad for the environment. It's dirty and the cars are loud. Please beat me over the head some more. My brain hurts"

I'd like to respond to your assertions with two(2) words, i.e., "particulate matter".

You see, diesel is as diesel does, my momma always say-id. And the simple facts of the matter are that for the same load and engine conditions, diesel engines spew out 100 times more sooty particles than gasoline engines. As a result, diesel engines account for an estimated 26 percent of the total hazardous particulate pollution (PM10) from fuel combustion sources in our air, and 66 percent of the particulate pollution from on-road sources. Diesel engines also produce nearly 20 percent of the total nitrogen oxides (NOx) in outdoor air and 26 percent of the total NOx from on-road sources. Nitrogen oxides are a major contributor to ozone production and smog. http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=36089

Granted, I'm all for utilizing bio-diesel fueling sources by way of lessening the burden on our overall fuel/oil supply/reserves but...particulate matter is still particulate matter even if that large plume of noxious black smoke you see rolling out of the stacks/exhausts of those transit authority/school buses/sixteen wheelers/dump trucks/concrete haulers/heavy equipment machines/etc., etc., etc. (albeit even that little diesel powered daily commuter of yours) smells like waffles/french fries...it's still having a major impact on our environment and our lives.

The long and short of it is that we need to fully develop and employ alternative fueling/powering sources other than those we currently employ, and apologies for any offense my post may cause for you, but diesel still stinks irregardless of whatever perfume you put on it (damn, now I've got a craving for waffles...sheesh!).

Edited by -archimedes-

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Granted, I'm all for utilizing bio-diesel fueling sources by way of lessening the burden on our overall fuel/oil supply/reserves

Listen, if people want to go with hydrogen cars, or whatever, to lessen the localized pollution such as it is, that's fine by me, I personally will not be kept from buying the most powerful car I can afford. I’d buy a Buggati Veyron if I had the gold, because there is no problem with oil supplies, and certainly no problem with energy supplies. Our problem is statists, such as environmentalists, getting in the way of production.

but...particulate matter is still particulate matter even if that large plume of noxious black smoke you see rolling out of the stacks/exhausts of those transit authority/school buses/sixteen wheelers/dump trucks/concrete haulers/heavy equipment machines/etc., etc., etc. (albeit even that little diesel powered daily commuter of yours) smells like waffles/french fries...it's still having a major impact on our environment and our lives.

It is? How? People are living longer than ever. Is it increasing our life expectancies?

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Engineering and EROI are influential, but of themselves not enough. If the electricity were cheap enough (ie nuclear of some kind after being freed of bogus restrictions), I suspect the economics for land transport fuel in event of real depletion of liquid hydrocarbons would favour the hydrogen produced being combined with coal in gassification or liquification to make synthetic hydrocarbons. I think the economics would indicate this path rather than the hydrogen used straight or via esoteric metal hydride formulations even if the EROI for these is better than for synthetics. By using synthetics there are no hydrogen leak issues to deal with, no new hydrogen supply or fuel-cell technologies that have to be developed, and the existing infrastructures for neither retail supply nor vehicle manufacture & servicing have to change all that much. The latter is a major issue by itself: that's a lot of capital which would have to be written off and replaced if the fuels used changed dramatically, and one thing I do know about energy costs is that the long term retail price is more strongly influenced by capital charges against the infrastructure than by costs of inputs. So, I think this militates heavily against the widespread introduction of totally new hydrogen-powered vehicle technologies, at least within the foreseeable future. Maybe in the future it will become prevalent, but I don't see the personal-consumer-level use of neat hydrogen happening in my lifetime.

That doesn't mean input costs wont have an influence at all, or that infrastructure will remain totally untouched. Since crude oil is also the source of lubricants and the like, the infrastructure developed in event of oil depletion would be for liquification of coal up to some fairly substantial carbon-chain lengths. The first step, the gassification, is a new addition, but the technology for this has been around for long time and the rest of the refining process is now old hat, including synthetic lubricants. Thus, LNG, LPG, petrol and diesel (and also avgas) would all be produced as steps on the way to synthetic heavy engine oils, with the main question being in what proportions. With that in place: cheapening electricity wrt coal prices = higher hydrogen content per total weight of fuel = increasing favour towards C1-C4 over C8-C10 as that fuel.

IMHO, unless I see some numbers showing otherwise I would assume straight hydrogen is a bust under laissez-faire (for now, anyway). As a geek I would certainly be fascinated by new technologies but as a motorist or investor I wouldn't get enthusiastic about them without a critical examination by someone well versed in such sober appraisals. Overall, my guess is that there will be a major shift to LNG and LPG because they take fewer steps to make, and the LNG makes for greater economies of scale when combined with the already massive infrastructure geared toward industrial and household demand.

JJM

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Well of course, you have the enviromentalist complaining about the the "dirty" air, I can only imagine that the next phase is if a hydrogen car becomes a reality, they will be complaining about the depletion of water from the earth. :)

Hee Hee. The first by-product of hydrogen combustion is good old H2O. Not a drop of water would be lost.

The first complaint of the EcoPhreak is that we are using technology to be fat dumb and happy WITHOUT destroying the earth. What right do we have to be fat when there are skinny people? What right do we have to be happy when there are miserable people? Etc. etc. etc..

As for being dumb, we do so at our own risk.

Bob Kolker

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