Hydrogen power in real life

Mar 13, 2012

Since 2009, a hydrogen powered street cleaning vehicle has been undergoing testing on the streets. The project is intended to take hydrogen drives out of the laboratory in order to gain experience on using them under practical conditions. The result: hydrogen as a fuel for municipal utility vehicles saves energy, is environmentally friendly and technically feasible. To make it cost-effective, however, the prices of fuel cells, pressurized storage tanks and electric drives must all drop significantly.

To develop a prototype and then test it right away under everyday conditions of use is not an easy undertaking, and setbacks are practically preprogrammed. The hydrogen powered street cleaning , which took about 18 months to develop and began trials in Basel in 2009, is no exception. "It became clear relatively quickly that the system, which had been developed as a one-of specially for the project, was not yet ready for use in a real-life setting," explains project leader Christian Bach, head of Empa's Internal Combustion Engines Laboratory. "On top of that, the various kept interfering with each other and bringing everything to a halt."

But because the vehicle achieved its targets both in terms of energy consumption and performance, the project team – which, in addition to researchers from Empa and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), also included the vehicle manufacturer Bucher Schoerling, the electric drive specialist Brusa, the hydrogen manufacturer Messer Schweiz, and the city of Basel Environment and Energy Department as well as the city's cleaning services – decided to replace the fuel cell system initially used with another more mature product, and also to implement a single centralized safety module. The "Fuel Cell System Mk 2" has now been in operation since the summer of last year and has proven to be far more robust: only once has it been necessary to take the vehicle out of service, because of a defective water pump.

But one problem rarely comes alone and sure enough the voltage converter between the fuel cell system and the battery died, then the sensing system for the electric motor drive as well as two cooling water pumps had to be replaced shortly after the vehicle was initially repaired. All these components were, it goes without saying, tailor-made for the vehicle and therefore had appropriately long delivery times. Despite these setbacks, however, for the past three months the vehicle has been running so reliably that the city cleaning services are able to use it on an everyday basis as they would a "normal" vehicle.

Lessons learned from the experience in Basel

The test phase in Basel showed that fuel cells are ready for use under everyday conditions, also – perhaps particularly – in niche applications such as municipal utility vehicles. Their use allows the operator to save a considerable amount of energy, since the vehicle consumes less than half the fuel of its contemporaries. In figures: instead of 5 to 5.5 liters of diesel per hour (equivalent to an of 180-200 MJ per hour) the hydrogen powered vehicle needs only 0.3 to 0.6 kg of fuel per hour (that is, 40-80 MJ per hour). And in terms of CO2 emissions, too, the new vehicle performs about 40% better than a diesel powered equivalent, even when the hydrogen is produced by the steam reforming of natural gas using fossil fuels. If the hydrogen was produced using energy from renewable sources then the CO2 reduction would be even greater.

During use the novel vehicle has proven to be user-friendly and safe. Refueling was done by the drivers themselves at a mobile, easy-to-use hydrogen fuel station. The refueling stations and garages where the vehicles are parked are fitted with a hydrogen monitoring system, but since it has been in use there has not been a single problem caused by leaks. An additional advantage is the fact that the fuel cell powered vehicle is much quieter than a diesel vehicle, both when driving to the area to be cleaned as well as during cleaning itself, even when the suction system and brushes are operating. This leads to a noticeable reduction in noise, particularly for the drivers.

The only disadvantage is that on cold days the waste heat from the fuel cell and the electric motor are not sufficient to adequately warm the driver's cabin – a typical weakness of electrical drives. To counter this, the driver's seat was fitted with a heater unit for use on cold days.

Around the middle of March 2012 the test phase in Basel will draw to an end and the vehicle will be taken to St Gallen for further practical trials. Now that the teething problems have been overcome, the vehicle will undergo further testing in everyday situations in order to gain more operating experience and to allow the ageing behavior of the various components used in the vehicle to be studied.

Currently a vehicle of this kind is about three times as expensive as a conventional one. On the other hand, the costs of fuel cell systems alone have, over the past few years, dropped by a factor of ten, and the end of this trend is not yet in sight.

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User comments : 37

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Eikka
1 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2012
I'd like to see the comparison between primary energy used for the hydrogen versus diesel.

It's estimated that the hydrogen infrastructure itself is somewhat less efficient than the fossil fuel infrastructure, which largely negates the efficiency gained in the vehicle itself.

This also presents a further problem in terms of renewable energy, because you need to construct many times the generation capacity as compared to systems like battery electric vehicles.
kochevnik
2.8 / 5 (8) Mar 13, 2012
@Eikka In case you didn't get the memo, Washington is already paying utilities to turn off windmills because they GENERATE TOO MUCH UNUSED ENERGY.
Callippo
1 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2012
Hydrogen economy is a hoax and a waste of precious fossil fuels in addition. During production of hydrogen from electric energy and back again the 80% of energy is wasted. Whereas the efficiency of motor burning hydrocarbons is 30%, these motors are way more cheaper and the energy density of gasoline is ten times higher.
Estevan57
2.1 / 5 (30) Mar 14, 2012
Sorry Callipo, the hydrogen economy is the future one way or another. Oil won't last forever, and the lower emissions add value to the project too.

From the article:

"Their use allows the operator to save a considerable amount of energy, since the vehicle consumes less than half the fuel of its contemporaries. In figures: instead of 5 to 5.5 liters of diesel per hour (equivalent to an energy consumption of 180-200 MJ per hour) the hydrogen powered vehicle needs only 0.3 to 0.6 kg of fuel per hour (that is, 40-80 MJ per hour). And in terms of CO2 emissions, too, the new vehicle performs about 40% better than a diesel powered equivalent, even when the hydrogen is produced by the steam reforming of natural gas using fossil fuels. If the hydrogen was produced using energy from renewable sources then the CO2 reduction would be even greater."

Next time read the article.
Callippo
1 / 5 (5) Mar 14, 2012
In figures: instead of 5 to 5.5 liters of diesel per hour (equivalent to an energy consumption of 180-200 MJ per hour) the hydrogen powered vehicle needs only 0.3 to 0.6 kg of fuel per hour (that is, 40-80 MJ per hour)
At first, hydrogen doesn't grow at trees. You would need 5 to 5.5 liters of diesel to produce that 0.3 to 0.6 kg of hydrogen fuel. At second, how is it possible to power the same car with 5x lower energy? It simply makes no sense, until you switch it into motorcycle. http://www.thenew...brin.pdf http://www.fromth...ers.html
jmorley
5 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2012
I think that what Callipo is saying is that he would like it to run off of cold fusion.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2012
At first, hydrogen doesn't grow at trees. You would need 5 to 5.5 liters of diesel to produce that 0.3 to 0.6 kg of hydrogen fuel.

Why would you think anyone would keep using diesel to create hydrogen forever?

A hydrogen economy is perfect fo those technologies which generate (more than) enough energy (like wind, wave and solar) but not at a consistent rate.

how is it possible to power the same car with 5x lower energy?

Because a carnot cycle (which is what diesel/gas powered car motors are bound to) is woefully inefficient.
Fuel cells are much more efficient in extracting the energy from the fuel. Even though the fuel cell then needs to transfer the power to an electric motor such motors are up to 98% efficient (so not much loss there).
Add to that that EVs don't have transmissions.
add to that that the efficiency of a fuel cell is also not dependent on the RPM/speed you go at (unlike regular motors).
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 16, 2012
@Eikka In case you didn't get the memo, Washington is already paying utilities to turn off windmills because they GENERATE TOO MUCH UNUSED ENERGY.


I know. It's part of the problem of wind power.

It produces little overall, but when it does produce, it makes too much, because the output variation is so great compared to the average power it produces. In other words, it dumps a lot of power on you, whether or not you can use it at the moment.

You could argue that it's sensible to turn that energy to hydrogen, but then again there isn't nearly enough excess to do that, and the system efficiency of transforming electricity to hydrogen to electricity is less than 40%, which means you'd waste just about much anyways.

Eikka
not rated yet Mar 16, 2012

Because a carnot cycle (which is what diesel/gas powered car motors are bound to) is woefully inefficient.
Fuel cells are much more efficient in extracting the energy from the fuel.


The Carnot cycle is a theoretical ideal heat engine cycle, which the combustion engines do not employ, and it is not "woefully inefficient" any more than the hydrogen "cycle" is.

Consider that a properly designed engine-generator can, and does reach 40% efficiency, and then contrast it to the efficiency of a fuel cell which is roughly 50% (and gets worse over the life of it). Then consider that producing the hydrogen by electrolysis is not a 100% efficient method either.

Turns out, a good hybrid engine and a fuel cell will perform roughly the same efficiency wise. The differences come in where do you get the fuel for the engine, and where do you get the electricity for the hydrogen - i.e. what is the primary energy source.
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 16, 2012
In figures: instead of 5 to 5.5 liters of diesel per hour (equivalent to an energy consumption of 180-200 MJ per hour) the hydrogen powered vehicle needs only 0.3 to 0.6 kg of fuel per hour (that is, 40-80 MJ per hour).


At the moment, 200 MJ of diesel from fossil sources requires roughly 250 MJ of primary energy in the form of fossil fuels.

Producing 80 MJ of hydrogen would similiarily consume about 200 MJ of primary energy in the form of electricity. (Disregarding the fact that electricity is not a primary energy source in itself)

Fuel savings does not necessarily equal energy savings.
Eikka
not rated yet Mar 16, 2012
Even though the fuel cell then needs to transfer the power to an electric motor such motors are up to 98% efficient (so not much loss there).


Electric motors are only that efficient at very specific speeds and loads. Under real world conditions, you're looking at roughly 75% efficiency because the engine has to turn at various speeds, and the control electronics aren't perfect either.

antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 16, 2012
At the moment, 200 MJ of diesel from fossil sources requires roughly 250 MJ of primary energy in the form of fossil fuels.

Producing 80 MJ of hydrogen would similiarily consume about 200 MJ of primary energy in the form of electricity. (Disregarding the fact that electricity is not a primary energy source in itself)

Fuel savings does not necessarily equal energy savings.

Which is a pretty pointless comparison.

There are times when renewables (wind, solar) produce energy that cannot be taken up by the grid (because we need to install more than needed to ensure base load capability at all times - which means at times more will be generated than needed).
That energy is (currently) wasted.

If it were to be turned into hydrogen then that would be essentially 'free' hydrogen. Unlike with fossil fuel (or nuclear) power plants where creating hydrogen from electricity always costs fuel (and hence money).
Callippo
1.3 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2012
A hydrogen economy is perfect fo those technologies which generate (more than) enough energy (like wind, wave and solar) but not at a consistent rate.
Funny thing is, the most concentrated form of hydrogen are carbon hydrides, which are just utilized in all combustion engines one hundred years. For easy and safe hydrogen storage and transport it would be more effective to produce hydrocarbons from hydrogen and carbon compounds than to use compressed or liquified hydrogen in pure state - with respect to both utilization of energy, both energy density of product obtained.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 16, 2012
What's funny about that? It's a perfectly viable alternative (if we can ever get the automobile motors to burn the fuel in a clean way. there's a whole slew of toxic stuff that comes out of a diesel/gas engine. Not just H2O and CO2)

There are more considerations than just getting rid of fossil CO2, here. Quality of air (i.e. life) is another.
Callippo
1 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2012
there's a whole slew of toxic stuff that comes out of a diesel/gas engine
But how hydrogen is produced? With electricity, the 80% percent of which is generated with fossil fuels burning. During this the 70% of energy is wasted and the emissions are released anyway. You just produce more emissions outside of cities to keep the urban atmosphere more clean.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 16, 2012
With electricity, the 80% percent of which is generated with fossil fuels burning

And this has to stay that way exactly...why?

Is there some magic creature preventing us from using the wind and solar and hydropower being installed all over the place in the future for hydrogen generation?

Strawman much?
kochevnik
1 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2012
the system efficiency of transforming electricity to hydrogen to electricity is less than 40%, which means you'd waste just about much anyways.
The storage efficiency of hydro turbines is around 80-85% which defeats your comments about wind variability. Moreover they can be built most anywhere or retrofitted onto existing pumps for peanuts. There are hundreds of thousands of such wells scattered around the USA.
Callippo
1 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2012
Is there some magic creature preventing us from using the wind and solar and hydropower being installed all over the place in the future for hydrogen generation?
Of course, this creature is called an economy. The wind and solar power is diluted and unreliable and the hydropower is saturated already.
The storage efficiency of hydro turbines is around 80-85%
It represents about 5% of total net electrical capacity. Cold fusion will replace all needs of energy conversion, transport and storage in this raw material and environmentally abusing way. http://www.e-catw...ut-lenr/
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2012
he wind and solar power is diluted and unreliable

Diluted? That is changing rapidly. Unreliable? THAT'S THE POINT!
Using hydro as storage of excess energy makes it reliable.

It represents about 5% of total net electrical capacity. Cold fusion

Cold fusion represents 0%.
If you really think that 'diluted' and 'unreliable' are salient points then cold fusion should be the last thing you'd be rooting for.

(And depending on country electricity production from renewables go from anywhere like 10% in the US, 20% for Germany, to 88% in Brazil to 100% for Paraguay, Albania, Tjikistan, Norway (almost) and even the Republic of Congo)

There's hardly a country BELOW 5% (notable exceptions are Israel and Belarus - both at about 0.4%)
Callippo
1 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2012
Diluted? That is changing rapidly.
How it could change, rapidly the more? The energy density of wind and solar radiation remains the same all the time.
If you really think that 'diluted' and 'unreliable' are salient points then cold fusion should be the last thing you'd be rooting for.
Cold fusion has a very large potential. The solar radiation is limited with solar constant and its flux can be never higher. Wind or even geothermal energy the same. They're diluted sources and they do require to concentrate a lotta metal and concrete at place, they do require much of copper, rare earth metals for dynamos, etc. We cannot fill the surface of Earth with solar panels, dams, wind plants, neverending grid wires, transformers and accumulators and all this shit. We should live somewhere in environmentally unobtrusive way.
Callippo
1 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2012
Cold fusion represents 0%.
Yes, I know - a fifty years already. The economical potential of cold fusion is so high, it cannot be researched at all - it must be simply ignored in quiet. At the moment, when we would admit - no matter how remotely - that something like this could work, then we couldn't justify such an ignorance anymore.
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2012
The economical potential of cold fusion is so high

Yep. At 0% it already topped out.

How it could change, rapidly the more?

By capturing more of it (i.e. builiding more power stations). The amount of energy in solar radiation is enough to supply the world's needs many, MANY times over. We do not need to 'fill the surface of the Earth with dams/solar panels/whatnot'...only a miniscule fraction. The oceans have space to spare. So do all deserts. Almost every country has plenty of spare land to supply itself - easily (with the possible exception of Vatican City...but they seem to have a never ending supply of hot air).

If we add tidal energy and geothermal we're sitting on a superabundance of energy.
Estevan57
2.1 / 5 (29) Mar 16, 2012
So, Callipo, how much space does a working cold fusion reactor take? Trick question, none.

0 percent reliable is pretty darned unreliable.

Would you like a list of reputable research programs that have investigated cold fusion? It might embarress you.

Estevan57
2.1 / 5 (26) Mar 16, 2012
Wind farms in the Pacific Northwest - built with government subsidies and maintained with tax credits for every megawatt produced - were getting paid to shut down as the federal agency charged with managing the region's electricity grid says there's an oversupply of renewable power at certain times of the year.

The problem arose during the late spring and early summer last year. Rapid snow melt filled the Columbia River Basin. The water rushed through the 31 dams run by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency based in Portland, Ore., allowing for peak hydropower generation. At the very same time, the wind howled, leading to maximum wind power production.

Demand couldn't keep up with supply, so BPA shut down the wind farms for nearly 200 hours over 38 days.

A plan has been submitted to have the BPA not reimburse wind farms for tax credits. It is expected to be approve by FERC.
Get it right kochevnik.
kochevnik
2 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2012
Get what right? You're just posting an article I linked last week. It proves there is surplus wind energy available for hydro storage, and surplus dollars available to pay for the same!
Callippo
1 / 5 (5) Mar 16, 2012
Would you like a list of reputable research programs that have investigated cold fusion? It might embarrass you.

I guess not, because the hydrogen fusion at nickel is known for twenty years already and Piantelli-Focardi are still the only guys who published something about it at scientific press. Maybe the mainstream science really invests millions into cold fusion research, who knows? At any case, the articles, these peer-reviewed ones in particular, about cold fusion are deadly missing in journals. And because mainstream science works by work-finish-publish paradigm, my qualified guess is, the mainstream physicists are actually fu*ing cold fusion research heartily. They know very well, why they're (not) doing it, after all. Most of them are involved in research of competitive methods of energy production/conversion/transport/storage, which would become obsolete soon and these guys would lose their jobs. In Czech we have a wisdom proverb: "no carp will empty its own pond".
Estevan57
2.1 / 5 (29) Mar 17, 2012
The California Institute of Technology, CERN, Texas A&M University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford, American Physical Society, California Institute of Technology, United States Department of Energy, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry, The Indian Institutes of Technology, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, United States Naval Research Laboratory, and more have all researched cold fusion and abandonded it. There are still researchers studying it right now. This is NOT a case of the secret that everyone wants to hide, it is still totally unproven.

The Institute for Scientific Information identified cold fusion as the scientific topic with the largest number of published papers in 1989, of all scientific disciplines. The number of papers sharply declined after 1990 and cold fusion fell off the ISI charts.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2012
They're diluted sources and they do require to concentrate a lotta metal and concrete at place, they do require much of copper, rare earth metals for dynamos, etc.

And how do you think nuclear and coal power plants convert steam into electricity? By waving a magic wand?
MarkyMark
1 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2012
They're diluted sources and they do require to concentrate a lotta metal and concrete at place, they do require much of copper, rare earth metals for dynamos, etc.

And how do you think nuclear and coal power plants convert steam into electricity? By waving a magic wand?

Considering how E-Cat ( ahem ) works i guess his answer would be yes!
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2012
Wasn't there supposed to be some 'grand announcement' on the ECat front in february? It's mid march and it's still 'unnamed investors' and 'no checking up on it unless massive amounts of cash is payed'.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2012
There is more mine-able "rare earth" metals than fresh water supply.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2012
The storage efficiency of hydro turbines is around 80-85% which defeats your comments about wind variability.


How?

The storage efficiency of batteries is 95% or more, but I don't see enough batteries around to do anything about the problem, and neither do I see enough hydropower. Most of the power generated is run-of-the-river because the dams actually hold relatively tiny amounts of energy.

Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2012
Which is a pretty pointless comparison.


It's a very apt comparison when that very same energy could be used for something else, like stored heat or cold, electric vehicle batteries, or storing it in some other, more efficient way.

That energy is (currently) wasted.


And it will mostly be wasted trying to turn it into hydrogen as well. There are further problems such as, where do you get all the clean water to make the hydrogen? How much energy do you need to spend to remove salts and impurities from it? We're already running out of ground water reservoirs due to overconsumption, so energy would have to be spent in cleaning up brackish water etc. etc.
Eikka
3.5 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2012
And how do you think nuclear and coal power plants convert steam into electricity? By waving a magic wand?


They do it with a single large generator instead of a million smaller ones, and at those scales you don't really need rare earth metals because the generator doesn't have to be particularily light. It's magnetized by electric current, not by neodymium magnets. Big generators are also much much simpler than what you get in a windmill, because the design constraints are more lax.

Economy of scale is the keyword.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2012
Might as well disseminate couple more fallacies by Antialias.

Add to that that EVs don't have transmissions.

Which is actually a bad thing, because the motor cannot run at the optimum speed and power. EVs lose efficiency because of this.

add to that that the efficiency of a fuel cell is also not dependent on the RPM/speed you go at (unlike regular motors).


The efficiency of a fuel cell depends on how much power you draw out of it, which depends on how fast you're going. Of course, you can grossly oversize your fuel cell, but who's gonna pay for that?
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2012
Just the fact, the alternative energy sources must be subsidized with burning of fossil fuels speaks for itself. Actually, the only reason, why governments are investing into alternative sources is strategical - it allows the country to survive the moment, when import of fossil fuel sources will fail from whatever reason (like the closing of Strait of Hormuz with Iran). During last winter we faced the complete cut-offs of Russian gas supplies transported through Ukraine http://en.wikiped...disputes Just for these situation it may be necessary to invest into alternative sources more, than into fossil fuels. The question is, after then, why not to invest into cold fusion research instead. We are delaying it every day, which is suicidal approach, to say it diplomatically.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 18, 2012
It's a very apt comparison when that very same energy could be used for something else, like stored heat or cold, electric vehicle batteries, or storing it in some other, more efficient way.

Point being: currently it isn't used for any of that. (And how exactly are you going to store heat/cold for future use at off shore windparks?)

Electric vehicle batteries are also a system that draws power when the user wants to - not when the energy is available. Buffering the grid through EVs is not optimal as you charge/discharge the batteries more than through normal use - which degrades them faster.

Which is actually a bad thing, because the motor cannot run at the optimum speed and power

Given the conversion rates for NEMA standard motors is between 79 and 92 percent this isn't a terrible problem. Some motors have greater than 80% efficiency between 25 and 90% of rpm.
http://www.fastel...sics.htm