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Bloom off Hydrogen rose

 
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PowerSwitchJames



Joined: 24 Nov 2005
Posts: 929
Location: London

PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 10:25 am    Post subject: Bloom off Hydrogen rose Reply with quote

Is the Bloom Off the Hydrogen Rose?

It began when Ed Innes with Manitoba Hydro asked Peter Ostergard, one of the panelists during the opening plenary session at the 2005 Electric Drive Transportation Association?s annual conference here in Vancouver, why he thought hydrogen would be the fuel of the future, especially since Manitoba Hydro?s own research suggested that the process of electrolysis, transport, storage and fuel cell conversion was such an inefficient way to utilize the hydro-generated electricity.

The exchange began with Innes noting that 95-98% of Manitoba?s electric power is generated by renewables, largely in the form of hydroelectric power.

?We?ve looked into the electrolysis pathway to the fuel cell and back as an energy storage and transportation application, as well as looked at? hybrid and the pure battery electric vehicles. And quite frankly, the energy consumption is like night and day.?

He stated that there was enough overnight electric power capacity in Manitoba to run all the vehicles in the province if they were battery-powered.

?Now to do that with hydrogen, on the other hand, we?re looking at, if we?re trying to fill in that night time trough, building two Conawapa dams, which are over a thousand megawatts each to provide that same load,? he stated.

?Now the thing that comes out of that inherent efficiency in the electrolysis fuel cell pathway, why is that not a discussed disadvantage??

Innes? comment drew applause.

It was discussed, sometimes pointedly, Ostergard replied, but that didn't satisfy Innes and the ensuing brief exchange came within a hair?s breadth of igniting into a heated argument that was immediately snuffed out -- presumably in the spirit of maintaining a cordial, professional tenure on the opening day -- by Honda?s Ed Cohen, the plenary session moderator.

?You guys can take it out in the hall?, he commented with a pleasantly defusing chuckle. A ripple of laughter evaporated the tension.

But the question would not go away. All through the conference I kept hearing passing remarks that suggests among the cognoscenti, at least, the bloom may be fading off the hydrogen fuel cell rose.

For example, I moderated the plug-in hybrid forum on the afternoon of the second and last day of the conference. By one panelist?s estimate, a third of all the delegates at the conference attended the forum. A couple dozen extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate everyone.

After the forum ended, one of the attendees confided to me that he?d wandered briefly into one of the hydrogen sessions where he guessed only about thirty people where in attendance. I have no way of personally verifying this, but if it is true, it strongly suggest that there is a growing realization that hydrogen fuel cells are probably further off than many of us, including yours truly, had originally hoped.

As I write this entry while sitting at Gate 75 at the Vancouver, B.C. airport, another conference delegate stopped by to talk. I told him about what I was writing and he told me that when he approached one of Honda?s representative at the conference and asked when he could buy one of their FCX fuel cells cars -- which gossip reports is $1.3 million a copy -- the gentleman candidly told him it would be another twenty years.

This would seem to explain why we had an overflow crowd for the plug-in forum, including a senior executive from Toyota who sat quietly in the back of the room jotting copious notes on the conference program. It would seem that people in the business are starting to recognize that we need a more immediate bridging technology between current hybrids and the more distant promise of fuel cells, and they see grid-charged hybrids as a tantalizing pathway, though one that isn?t without its obstacles.

As Dr. Larry Oswald, the chairman of DaimlerChrysler?s GEM neighborhood electric car unit put it in Vancouver, plug-ins offer the ?best and worst of both worlds?. Their ability to dramatically reduce petroleum consumption currently is offset by their cost and complexity. However, potentially they do offer a more immediately accessible pathway to a cleaner, more sustainable transportation future than hydrogen appears to offer, at least for now. If and when the technology is ready, it?ll be relatively easy to substitute elegantly simple fuel cells for those complex, clunky IC engines.
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