TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, YET

fuel cell vehicle An announcement from John Deere and Hydrogenics of a small tractor that runs on fuel cells which double as a power source for your home, has that “too good to be true” smell to it. Here are some of the claims they make. Can someone who knows about fuel cells give us a reality check on this?

The vehicle can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour, is powerful enough to supply electricity to more than four homes, generates little noise and produces water as its only by-product.

This is the future the way Hydrogenics sees it. Cars that plug into your home at the end of the day that provide power to your fridge, stove and lights. Fleet vehicles that, when parked overnight in the company parking lot, collectively contribute electricity back to the power grid and reduce corporate hydro bills.

If 4 per cent of all vehicles used fuel-cell technology and contributed back to the grid, they could generate more power than hydro, coal and nuclear power combined.

The final paragraph of the article say that “realizing the dream” will take 10 to 30 years, despite recent commitments of $1.2B by the Bush administration and $2B by the Canadian government to advance such technologies. So if the vehicle pictured is available now, and all this money is being invested to “realize the dream”, why will it take 10 to 30 years? What are we not being told here?

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17 Responses to TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, YET

  1. Rayne says:

    10 years is the window I was given by a futurist in 1999; he felt it would be that long before they’re commercially available. I believe I read a report from Coates & Jarrett which also made the same prognostication. A friend in the financial industry also told me that companies like Ford and GM already have the vehicles — it’s the infrastructure for hydrogen distribution that’s a problem. Personally, in spite of the fact I’m against their ubiquity, I think a consortium of these firms should approach Walmart and see if they can’t work out a new kind of distribution system. It’s what Walmart does best (buy in volume, distribute broadly, cost effectively).

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Rayne. Surely there must be more to it than just distribution network, or Walmart and others would be in like a dirty shirt. There has to be some major science issues to solve as well.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Same response as my article. Seems legit but there’s still a lot of hemming & hawing about scaling, commercialization, and ‘promise for the future’. We need a scientist’s perspective, methinks.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Marie: Just had a strange thought…I wonder if people looking at your comments sig think you’re the mother of the poster? Maybe you should expand your sig to ‘Blog Baby’s Mom’ to avoid false impressions. Besides, you’re way too young to be my Mom ;->

  5. Marie Foster says:

    I have tried doing that. But it seems that the apostrophe does not take for some reason. I also think that it is a kind of dumb affectation so I will probably just change it to my name. Or maybe the Mother of Blog Baby? Jeez.. I will just be Marie Foster from now on.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Sorry, Marie. Why not do the rapper thing and just skip the apostrophe. Or use your ‘stripper name’ (first pet’s name + choice of mother’s maiden name, grandmother’s maiden name, or name of street you grew up on). Or a phrase from your favourite song. Or an epithet with your home town name (e.g. “Doctor Detriot”). I feel like I rained on your creativity here.

  7. Marie Foster says:

    Nah… I think I am entering my second childhood anyway. Though Mother of Blog Baby might work.You guys been doing this longer than I have and have a good connection between your names and your Blogs.Like I have said before, Blog Baby is in the process of evolving. And hopefully so am I still. I will think on it. I have been using my name on other comments type pages anyway. Oh, and I did not take offense at your suggestion. I found your comment humorous. And anyway, I would be proud to be thought of as your Mom.

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Heh…thanks, I feel better. There are some nuts out there so you might want to think further about a pseudonym. There are many who think I’m nuts to use my real name. One last suggestion for a name — how about (*drumroll*)Holy Marie Mother of Blog. Just kidding.

  9. Marie Foster says:

    Hey.. I kinda like that one!!!! Cute!!!!I have ways to protect my privacy. I have my phone listed for example under my Father’s name. When anyone calls for him, I take a very teary response and say, I am sorry but he died. The fact that he died in 1980 does not erase the poignancy in my voice and I like the idea that he does live on in the phone directory.

  10. Rayne says:

    Dave — sorry, I finally came back to this. Rethink the distribution issue… The entire petroleum industry will be threatened substantially if hydrogen successfully usurps gasoline in transportation fuels. The largest economy in the world just went to war to get more oil, to the tune of 80+ billion dollars. There’s much more on the table if this country can be dragged into an 80+B commitment. That’s the real reason distribution appears to be the problem with hydrogen implementation. Were there no petroleum industry and the most powerful presidency in the world not in its pocket, there would be no problem with getting hydrogen commercialized. It’d be a done deal, fat lady warbling and all.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Here’s an explanation from Ecotecture, an Australian journal on renewable energy, for why these fuel cells are, today, ‘too good to be true’:The only problem with the [use of water to produce the hydrogen for these cells] is that electrolysis, at present, is expensive-?hydrogen currently costs about three times as much as it?s fossil fuel competitors. This is mostly a problem of scale, however. As more and more hydrogen fuel applications come on line and the demand increases, mass produced hydrogen costs will drop. Another aspect of the problem, though, is that the cost of electricity for electrolysis is increasing, and most electricity is produced by environmentally degrading technologies such as coal fired and nuclear power plants or hydroelectric dams.Again, the solutions are at hand, and do not require any technological breakthroughs. Renewable electrical production through a widely distributed network of wind, photovoltaic, biomass and geothermal plants can eliminate most of the environmental hazards and, potentially, greatly reduce the costs of electricity. This same network would, ideally, meet the electrical needs of our built environment, using surplus power and power generated at off-peak hours to produce hydrogen. (Currently, many power plants are idle in the wee hours of the morning when electricity, which cannot be stored, is not being drawn through the grid. Firing up our existing plants during off hours would burn more fossil fuels creating more polution, of course, but there is no reason not to run wind or biomass generators 24/7.)So as I suspected, there are major scientific obstacles, not just political and economic ones, to making this a reality. From that perspective the amount that has been invested by government and business to address these obstacles is laughably small.

  12. Rayne says:

    Hmm, I’ll have to dig through my resources — but there are other methods for production of hydrogen which don’t require electrolysis, being chemical reactions of catalysis, or as by-products (waste products) of other chemical processes. I know of technology based on this science which was sold to major players in the marketplace. I’ll reiterate that the technology is there, and I’ll add a bit: a financial friend who personally knows Bill Ford has said it’s there.There’s far more to this picture.

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    Point me in the right direction, Rayne, I’m anxious to start digging. Didn’t know you were a chemistry buff. Emphasis in our neighbourhood is on windmills — very promising, but a huge investment. The consumer has to agree to pay a premium for ‘green energy’ and for those that do (on your electric bill), they agree to divert that amount of energy production to green sources. It’s a start, but sloooooooow.

  14. Rayne says:

    Agh, a premium? that’s not going to work! That’s a disincentive to using something else. Sure, there’s sunk costs that must be absorbed, but there’s got to be a better business model than demanding a premium. Is power public, privatized, or a mixture there? will make a difference on business model. Actually, any power providers creating pollution should be assessed a “pollution use fee” which roughly offsets the cost of capital required to start green power systems — but that may be difficult to implement depending on public/private/mixed power providers.I’ll continue to poke around on the energy thing, see if I can send some chemical-based info. I’m not a “chemistry buff” per se, but I worked for a biotech-chemical company for nearly 13 years.

  15. Rayne says:

    Check this out:http://www.uspolicy.be/Issues/Environment/abraham.042403.htmThis validates my suspicions that it’s not the electrolysis that’s the problem, but it does indicate a different problem. It’s the cost of manufacturing around electrolysis. Part of the problem with fuel cells has been the temperatures generated by the reaction required, whether catalytic or electrolytic. Ceramics is a low-cost, high-production solution.Ugh, just weirded out by that slug Abraham making the announcement. He’s so icky-smarmy, he gives me the heebie-jeebies. Too right wing and a mouthpiece for the oil companies; were it not that he’s originally from Michigan, I’d be much more suspicious. I’m sure the car companies are leaning on him and they can’t afford to be blindly wedded to petroleum any longer.Note, too, that I found the announcement in Belgium! interesting it didn’t make the front page here!

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