Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hydrogen Vehicles Fail; Electric Vehicles Win

This article is inspired by a recent proposal by the California Air Resources Board to change its Zero Emissions Vehicle credit system to greatly benefit potential hydrogen vehicles at the expense of existing battery electric vehicles
(http://www.arb.ca.gov/regact/2013/zev2013/zev201315daynotice.pdf).   Analyzing both present technologies, I believe it is clearly true that hydrogen is a terrible way to go and battery electric vehicles are the only way to go.  The reasons can be stated in top-ten lists. 

(If you agree with this article, please make a public comment to discourage this possible change by cutting and pasting what I’ve written or presenting your own comment at this address:
http://www.arb.ca.gov/lispub/comm/bcsubform.php?listname=zev2013&comm_period=1.)

 

TOP TEN REASONS WHY HYDROGEN VEHICLES ARE A FAIL:

The reasons why hydrogen is a fail can be broken down into 3 general buckets:  cost, safety, and environmental damage.

1.  Hydrogen Requires A Completely New Infrastructure At Tremendous Cost.
            There is nothing that exists that is adaptable for conversion to hydrogen use.  Therefore, an entirely new infrastructure of large reservoirs, transport vehicles, fueling stations, and pipelines would have to be built.  For some elements, the technology for doing so does not even exist.  The cost for all of this  --  at a scale necessary to replace gasoline vehicles  --  is astronomical.  Each hydrogen station costs about $2,000,000: there are about 120,000 gas stations in the United States, so the cost of merely creating a hydrogen fueling station infrastructure will cost about $240 billion dollars (http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/04/16/the-battle-of-the-green-vehicles-electric-cars-vs.aspx).  In a world that measures everything by cost first, this is in itself a complete deal-breaker.

2.  Hydrogen Requires Very Expensive Fuel Cells.
            While hydrogen can be burned in an internal combustion engine, this is not commercially proposed because it would be a poor and expensive use of the fuel.  Instead, proponents propose using hydrogen in fuel cells.  However, the cost of fuel cells is startling.  There are several fuel cells on the market, and each is very expensive: the cost of a fuel cell that can make a sufficient amount of electricity to operate a vehicle is about $50,000 to $100,000 (http://www.iop.org/resources/topic/archive/fuel/).  Moreover, fuel cells require the use of a fair amount of platinum as a catalyst material, and so mass production of fuel cells would not reduce the cost, but instead would actually drive up the cost due to the scarcity of platinum.

3.  Hydrogen Is Inherently Very Dangerous. 
            We’ve all heard of or seen footage of the Hindenburg zeppelin exploding (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgWHbpMVQ1U).   We know that this can and has happened at hydrogen vehicle filling stations (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlyCPbmO7Ts). 
           Fundamentally, hydrogen is one of the most dangerous materials to handle as it is extremely combustible, and without scent or color and so its escape into the atmosphere is impossible to detect.  Therefore, an ignition source may be unknowingly introduced to it.  Because of its amazing combustibility, it will burn extremely quickly, with extreme heat, and therefore is extremely dangerous.  While this danger can be mitigated, it is inherent, and should rule out the use of hydrogen on the broad consumer market.

4.  Hydrogen Is Difficult To Capture.
            Hydrogen is always maintained under great pressure.  Because hydrogen atoms are the smallest element, it can escape through any small gap http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_safety).  Therefore, any possible source of escape will be found.  As life too often proves, where there is a risk, that risk will eventually manifest itself. Escaping hydrogen may result in an explosion, and at a minimum it will result in a serious threat to the environment.  The reality is that building an entire new infrastructure for hydrogen will be both extremely difficult and very costly due to these safety and environmental issues.

5.  Hydrogen Is Extremely Dangerous To The Crucial Ozone Layer.
            We depend upon the natural ozone layer in the upper atmosphere to act as a filter against ultraviolet radiation that would cause skin cancer, crop damage, and potentially increased mutation.  We have banned substances like chlorofluorocarbons that damage the ozone layer.  Yet, it has been calculated that the widespread use of hydrogen will produce dramatic damage to the ozone layer, because hydrogen acts just as chlorofluorocarbons in destroying the ozone layer (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDAQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.caltech.edu%2Fcontent%2Fhydrogen-economy-might-impactearths-stratosphere-study-shows&ei=uo-BU_mtHMbeoAT_hICgCg&usg=AFQjCNFiGWBoGqqea3VTBuwBJ_SxdKBcaw&sig2=aemYZPiXluYS8DBgDiHlsw&bvm=bv.67720277,d.cGU).  Obviously, it would be tremendously foolhardy to risk inducing such environmental damage.

6.  Fuel Cells Produce Water Vapor Which Is A Green House Gas.
            In addition to producing electricity from hydrogen gas, fuel cells produce a considerable amount of water vapor.  If many cars used fuel cells, then there would be a great deal of water vapor released into the atmosphere.  While benign from an immediate health perspective, this water vapor traps the sun’s energy, meaning that it is a green house gas, and it would act to further warm the planet(http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_green_lantern/2008/01/is_global_warming_caused_by_water_vapor.html).   So if part of the thinking for hydrogen is to reduce global warming, this is one more reason it is a bad plan.

7.   Hydrogen From Fossil Fuel Is Inefficient And Produces Green House Gas.
            Hydrogen gas does not exist by itself in nature.  Instead, due to its ionically charged nature, it is virtually always bound to or within other materials.  Therefore, it takes energy to strip the hydrogen away from other materials.  Commercially, hydrogen is typically produced by stripping hydrogen from methane gas, where it is bound with carbon.  Stripping it is a process requiring in part a great deal of steam  --  which, of course, requires a great deal of energy to produce.  This reformation process is about 80% efficient.  Moreover, the process results in the release of carbon dioxide, which is the primary culprit in global warming (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_production).
            Finally, consider that methane is extracted through the process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing of rock), which sadly results in the tremendous uncontained release of methane (a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide) and the deadly polluting of water tables  --  and, it is now recognized to be the cause of many earthquakes (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fracking-would-emit-methane/; http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/05/22190011-oil-and-gas-drilling-pollutes-well-water-states-confirm?lite; http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/03/does-fracking-cause-earthquakes-wastewater-dewatering). 

8.  Hydrogen From Water Is Very Inefficient.
            The other significant way to produce hydrogen is by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen (electrolysis).  However, this electrolysis process is about 70% efficient (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water#Thermodynamics).  Because this process is so inefficient, it is rarely used.

9.  Fuel Cells Are Only 50% Efficient (Resulting In Approximately 33% Total Efficiency).
            Fuel cell efficiency is only about 50% efficient (http://auto.howstuffworks.com/fuel-efficiency/fuel-saving-devices/energy-efficiency-ratio-hydrogen-fuel-cell1.htm).  By comparison, most gasoline engines are about 30% efficient.  Clearly, while a bit better, fuel cells are not remarkable.  Moreover, because the creation of the hydrogen gas was through a process that was between about 70% to 80% efficient, and then used in a fuel cell that is about 50% efficient, the actual efficiency for the whole system is only about 33%.  Then, the electricity produced by the cell must be stored in a battery and then used in an electrical motor, and while these components are very efficient (total efficiency of nearly 90%), the total system efficiency is still reduced to about 30%.  This overall efficiency for hydrogen is clearly no better than that of a car burning gasoline.

10.  Hydrogen Will Require Extreme Taxpayer Outlays To Support It.
            Given the extreme cost for the vehicles due to fuel cell expense and the extreme cost for the infrastructure due to the need to create something technically very difficult and entirely new and difficult to properly determine, it will require a huge bet on hydrogen to get a broad consumer system up and running.  This means a government policy to require taxpayer money to be spent on hydrogen, in the hundreds of billions of dollars.  While fossil fuels have received hundreds of billions in subsidies, this should not mean that we have to repeat the same costly mistake.  The best policy is to remove all economic policies that require spending substantial money  --  that way, the money does not need to come out of the taxpayer’s pocket and government can reduce its own requirements.

 
 
TOP TEN REASONS WHY ELECTRIC VEHICLES ARE A WIN:

The reasons why electric vehicles are a win can be broken down into 3 general buckets:  low cost, environmental protection, and safety.

1.  Electric Vehicle Total Cost Of Ownership Is Lower Than Other Vehicles.
            It has been well-studied that the total cost of ownership of electric vehicles is already better than those of conventional cars (http://www.plugincars.com/total-cost-ownership-cheaper-electric-cars-study-proves-127503.html).  I will note that these analyses do not even include the use of home solar, which brings the cost of fuel down to pennies per mile  --  or, effectively, free, given the savings and reinvestment of those savings (http://jungreislaw.blogspot.com/2012/06/year-of-electric-energy-numbers-pv-ev.html?utm_source=BP_recent).  Obviously, this makes electric vehicles vastly less expensive than hydrogen  --  or, gasoline, which has a host of subsidies that support it (http://jungreislaw.blogspot.com/2012/05/this-is-about-virtues-of-electric.html?utm_source=BP_recent).

2.  Electric Vehicles Approach 90% Efficiency In The Use Of Electricity.
            Electric vehicles use electricity without doing anything more than storing it and using it to run a motor that turns the wheels.  There is no conversion loss, transmission loss, and little heat loss, and the result is nearly 90% efficiency in the use of electrical energy (about three times better than conventional or hydrogen vehicles) (http://www.teslamotors.com/goelectric/efficiency).  It is without argument that electricity is vastly more efficient than hydrogen: note that all the work in the use of hydrogen is really work toward the use of electricity, as all the hydrogen vehicle does is take (inefficiently) created hydrogen to (inefficiently) convert into electricity  --  the whole point of a hydrogen car is to get it to run on electricity!  Understood this way, it is clear that hydrogen is a foolish choice.

3.  Electric Vehicle Infrastructure For Widespread Adoption Already Exists.
            Electric cars recharge using the electrical grid, which obviously already exists.  While there is some cost in creating public charging stations, about 90% of all charging is done at home or at a place of employment (http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Most-electric-vehicle-drivers-charge-them-at-home-4999799.php).  In these locations the electricity is already present  and usually no work or only a small amount of work  is required to install a charging station (which only cost a few hundred dollars) (and in many situations, charging stations aren’t even needed as regular electrical outlets can charge the cars).  Further, most of the cost of creating public charging is absorbed by the businesses that install the charging stations, and so little public money is needed.  Lastly, even if over 70% of cars and trucks were electric, the existing grid would be sufficient to handle the charging without need for any major cost outlays (http://www.tbrpc.org/getready/files/E3%20GRTB%20Presentation_091710.pdf).

4.  Electric Vehicles Are The Cleanest Form Of Transportation.
            Electric vehicles do not produce emissions.  Of course, the electricity must come from somewhere.  If the electricity comes from the grid, then the amount of pollution depends upon the cleanliness of the grid.  But, regardless of the fuel used for grid power stations (typically natural gas or coal), electric vehicles are still cleaner (even if the electricity were from 100% coal, electric vehicles are still cleaner than gas cars (http://www.cartalk.com/content/dirty-power-clean-cars-even-coal-evs-are-cleaner).  Further, each year there is less and less coal powering the national electrical grid (this year it’s down below 40% (http://www.eia.gov/electricity).  Finally, here is an amazing fact: more electricity is needed to make the gas for a gas car to drive 100 miles than the amount of electricity an electric car needs to drive 100 miles, because there is so much electricity used in the pumping, transportation, and refining of petroleum (not to mention unbelievable amounts of fresh water) (http://www.solarfeeds.com/did-you-know-gas-cars-use-more-electricity-than-evs/). 

5.  Electric Vehicles Can Directly Utilize Renewable Energy And Improve The Grid.
            If the electricity comes from renewable energy such as solar, wind, or geothermal, then electric vehicles are essentially 100% pollution-free.   And, many homeowners can effectively do this on their own by putting solar on their roof (indeed, a survey found that about 40% of electric vehicles owners do just that) (http://energycenter.org/sites/default/files/docs/nav/policy/research-and-reports/California%20Plug-in%20Electric%20Vehicle%20Owner%20Survey%20Report-July%202012.pdf).  It is also true that more and more renewable energy is being used on the grid, and so in effect electric vehicles will pollute less and less over time.
            Electric vehicles benefit the grid by charging at night, often when power plants are in effect simply idling and creating electricity that would otherwise go to waste.  Further, the fact that electric vehicles charge at night enables the use of more wind power, which is often generated at night and therefore these turbines would be less likely to be built without nighttime electric vehicle charging demand.  Lastly, in the near future it is expected that electric vehicles will bring greater efficiency to the grid and encourage more renewable energy by being able to store renewable energy, acting as electrical load levelers to smooth grid operations and helping grid managers balance electrical loads.  All of these things will enable a cleaner environment.

6.  Electric Vehicles Are The Safest Form Of Personal Transportation.
            Electric vehicles can not explode.  The battery on an electric vehicle might possibly burn if badly physically damaged, but the nature of the location of batteries underneath the car and their protective shielding makes this possibility extremely unlikely.  If a battery pack were to burn, it would necessarily take several minutes to get going.  Despite hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles on the road and hundreds of millions of miles driven, there have only been literally a handful of incidents of a battery burning, and there have never been any injuries caused by a battery burning.  Also, there have been no incidents of anyone having been injured in charging an electric vehicle.  To put all this into perspective, consider that in the United States 10% of all fires are vehicle fires (over 150,000 a year) and annually these vehicle fires result in hundreds of people being burnt to death (http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/vehicles).

7.  Electric Vehicle Development Is Improving At A Terrific Rate.
            Electric vehicles require only 4 major components: a motor, a motor controller, a battery, and a charger.  These components have dramatically improved in the past decade (for example, you can now buy an electric vehicle that will travel about 300 miles and recharge in less than an hour).  Further, there is reason to believe they will continue to dramatically improve.  Consider the battery: battery energy storage has improved incredibly in the past decade, going from lead batteries (one of the heaviest metals) to lithium (the lightest metal), improving in energy storage about 1000% in that time.  There are tremendous discoveries being made almost daily in research facilities, and the expectation is that batteries will continue to dramatically improve in energy density, life span, charge and discharge quickness, and cost (http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1074183_how-much-and-how-fast-will-electric-car-battery-costs-fall).)  Similarly, there are regular improvements in the other components, despite that their use of electricity is already about 90% efficient.  Therefore, it can be expected that electric vehicles that can drive all day and charge with tremendous speed and cost even less and last the life of the vehicle will likely be available in just a few years.  Finally, electric vehicles are also improving in other ways, such as offering wireless charging (not only will the owner never have to go to a filling station again, they won’t even have to plug the car in).  It is also worth noting that electric vehicles have a better inherent ability to readily be autonomously operated, which is anticipated to be the future of all vehicles.

8.  Electric Vehicles Are Patriotic.
            First, the three best-selling plug-in vehicles are each made in the United States (Tesla; Nissan Leaf; Chevy Volt).  Second, it is necessarily the case that electric vehicle energy is created here in the United States.  Third, electric vehicles readily use renewable energy, which is also necessarily created here in the United States.  It is heartening that mainstream voices (despite that others, including those in the national security field, have been saying this for decades) are finally recognizing the virtues of electric vehicles for these reasons (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2014/04/02/bill-oreilly-fox-news-tesla/7225615/).

9.  Electric Vehicle Public Acceptance Is Already Being Achieved At Great Speed.
            There are approximately 200,000 electric vehicles in the United States (about half of all the world’s electric vehicles): about 90% of these have been sold in just the past three years (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plug-in_electric_vehicles_in_the_United_States).  This remarkable increase in electric vehicle sales is obvious demonstration of the increasing acceptance of electric vehicles.  The prediction is that electric vehicles will sell in the millions in the coming years (http://evtc.fsec.ucf.edu/reports/EVTC-RR-01-14.pdf).  Electric vehicles are clearly the replacement for gasoline vehicles, and consumers are proving these predictions to be true.

10. Electric Vehicle Sales Competition Reduces The Need To Use Taxpayer Money.
            Presently, electric vehicles receive federal tax credits and sometimes state rebates.  However, the cost of these incentives is dwarfed by the cost of subsidies and other government policies that enable gasoline and are poised to support hydrogen.  Given the better economics of electric vehicles, and given their natural compatibility with the commonplace electric grid (as well as compatibility with home renewable energy), there is no need for additional incentives.  To the contrary, given the many tens of billions of dollars that have propped up gasoline sales (http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-real-deal-on-u.s.-subsidies-fossils-72b-renewable-energys-12b), and that have now been proposed to support hydrogen, the following proposal seems to make the most sense. 
            Stop all policies, incentives, credits, rebates, supports, absorbed costs, etc: make everything cost what it really costs.  If this were to take place, three things would happen: first, some things would cost the consumer a bit more (ex: electricity), and some things would cost the consumer a lot more (ex: gasoline).  Second, the amount of money that consumers pay in taxes to the federal government (money that is then disbursed in subsidies, etc.) would dramatically decline.  Third, we would find that the environmentally smart things to do  --  conserve energy, use renewable energy, reduce the consumption of fossil fuels  --  would all suddenly be the single most cost-effective thing to do and this will result in a cleaner environment which will consequently save money down the road that would otherwise have to be spent dealing with global warming.  In short, the smartest thing to do is also the cheapest, safest, and most environmentally-protective thing to do as well.  However, here is the likely fly in the ointment: the smart thing to do will require less politics, and therefore it may be difficult for politicians themselves to accomplish as they will have less power and less opportunity to help their friends who paid to get them elected.  Therefore, the most helpful thing you can do is pay attention to the politicians who seek your vote, and elect only those who understand and will implement this solution, and not simply perpetuate the existing system.

3 comments:

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  2. Generally correct, not sure about the green house gas arguments (water vapor), other than that - spot on. As Bob Lutz claims: "the electrification of the automobile is a forgone conclusion"

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