Back to Previous Editorials >>


Hydrogen Vs Electric Hybrid
April 29, 2005

The Hydrogen Story

Lately, there has been so much interest in hydrogen as an alternative fuel that it has even gained the endorsement of President Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union Address, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who in 2004 promised the California Hydrogen Highway Network by the year 2010.

However, when examined carefully, hydrogen cannot become a source of energy like oil is today, so how can hydrogen become oil's replacement? To explain, hydrogen is found locked inside of water and hydrocarbon molecules. Energy is therefore needed to separate the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen or carbon atoms that bind it in water, coal, oil or natural gas are the most common sources of hydrogen.

Hydrogen enthusiasts tell us that we need not rely on petroleum sources of energy to extract the hydrogen but can use renewable energy, such as solar or wind, to separate hydrogen from water by electrolysis. They want to spend renewable electricity to create hydrogen to power our cars. But let's take a closer look at the details...

In the ideal Hydrogen Economy, the gasoline engine in your car would be replaced by a hydrogen fuel cell, which will create electricity from hydrogen gas. The electricity from the fuel cell will then power an electric motor that will turn the wheels of your car. To obtain this new fuel, renewable electricity will be used to separate hydrogen atoms from water molecules, releasing pure hydrogen gas. The hydrogen gas would then be captured and compressed, and distributed to a hydrogen gas station which would function much like gasoline stations do today, supplying the compressed hydrogen and the pumps for filling your car with hydrogen. In the April issue of Forbes, they mentioned that it would take 25 tanker trucks to deliver the energy equivalent of one gasoline tanker today.

Let's stop and think about this. Because this is an energy intensive process we must first ask ourselves how much energy will be required to create the hydrogen, store the hydrogen, transport the hydrogen and then make electricity again from the hydrogen, before hydrogen power can turn the wheels of your car?

Scientists tell us that the losses add up. To begin with, energy is lost in the process of separating hydrogen from the molecules that bind it. This means that the energy stored in hydrogen will always be much less than the original energy spent to create the hydrogen. That is, the energy value of the hydrogen gas is only about 60-70% of the energy, or electricity, spent to produce it. The other 30-40% is lost in the process of separating the hydrogen atoms from the water or carbon molecules, as well as during the process of compressing the hydrogen so that it can be carried in your car. Additionally, the fuel cell has only a 50% electrical efficiency, which means it will only convert about 50% of the hydrogen it stores into electricity to power the electric motor that turns the wheels of your car. The other 50% is lost in heat. It should be noted that hydrogen enthusiasts envision an ideal fuel cell that will someday achieve 70-80% electrical efficiency. But this has not yet been achieved.

Finally, the overall efficiency of the fuel cell car will not be much better than today's typical gasoline powered cars, a result that is less that ideal. Furthermore, if today you are driving a new hybrid such as the Toyota Prius or the Honda Accord, then you are already getting better fuel efficiency than hydrogen enthusiasts are expecting for fuel cell cars sometime in the next 10-15 years.

The Electric Hybrid Story

Today, you can already buy a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) that uses an electric and gasoline engine. If you are buying a hybrid for the first time, you will be increasing your gas mileage (mpg) by anywhere from 40% to 100% - assuming you are trading in a typical gasoline powered internal combustion engine.

Today's hybrid car has an internal combustion engine along with an electric drive train, making it similar to how a future fuel cell car might operate. Toyota and Honda have taken the lead in developing this technology. But if the fuel cell ever becomes affordable and reliable, Toyota and Honda will simply replace the gasoline engine in their hybrid cars with a fuel cell, and the electric drive train would remain pretty much the same.

The gasoline-electric hybrid car has a battery that provides electricity to the electric motor. But the hybrid battery, unlike the all-electric car, does not have or need a plug. A generator that is powered by the hybrid's gasoline engine charges the hybrid battery, similar to how the battery in your standard car is charged. The hybrid battery is also charged when the brake is applied - this is called "regenerative braking." The hybrid is in fact designed to capture the energy generated from stopping the car.

Furthermore, the hybrid battery and electric motor connect to the transmission independently, so both the electric motor and the gas engine can provide propulsion power. As a result, the hybrid car can run on battery power alone or the gasoline engine alone, or combine both for increased power and performance.

Fill-up your tank with electrons?
Clearly, the purpose of hydrogen is to provide a way to store and carry electricity onboard a mobile vehicle, making it possible for renewable electricity to replace gasoline. Might it not be better to use the electricity directly, so that we can avoid wasting so much energy creating hydrogen? Might it not be more efficient to just store the original electricity in powerful batteries and then let the battery power the electric motor?

Electric transportation is already much cheaper than petroleum fuels, and it will always be much cheaper than hydrogen. Advances in battery technology and electricity storage will likely outpace advances in hydrogen storage. Hybrid electric vehicles are here today, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHVs) are the buzz of the future.

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) can potentially do even more for the economy than the hybrids currently in use. A plug-in hybrid is a hybrid that can ALSO be plugged into an electric outlet when the car is not needed, such as overnight while you are sleeping or during the day when you are at work or in a parking lot. With a plug-in hybrid, the vehicle's battery can be charged with electricity from the electric grid, rather than from the car's gasoline powered generator alone. Plugging-in will be optional.

America's electricity is generated from domestic resources such as coal, nuclear power, hydroelectric dams and natural gas. In fact less than 2% of electricity in the USA is generated from oil. Seventy percent (70%) of a plug-in hybrid's mileage could therefore be powered by electricity from America's electric grid, versus the imported oil currently powering 70% of most of the cars on the road today!

Advocates of plug-in hybrids say that most people drive less than 20-30 miles at a time, which an all-electric vehicle could currently handle. But people want to know they can go further than 30 miles if they need to. There will be no limitation on how far you can drive in a plug-in hybrid. If the battery goes dead, your hybrid car will switch to engine power. With all of that in mind, the PHEV is expected to average between 100 and 200 miles per gallon!

Because the overall average miles per gallon (MPG) would be higher for a plug-in hybrid vehicle than for a hybrid that is dependent on its gasoline engine to re-charge the battery, and because a percentage of the plug-in hybrid vehicle's mileage would be powered by electricity obtained from the grid, the plug-in hybrid car could be the shortest path to freedom from Middle East oil.

Summary

If renewable energy is added to the electric grid and grid electricity is used to charge the hybrid battery when it is plugged-in, then renewable energy would indirectly contribute to the highway fuel efficiency of the vehicle. In this way, wind and solar energies could help reduce dependence on gasoline without the need for hydrogen.

The technology in today's hybrid cars can increase vehicle fuel efficiency by anywhere from 40% to 100%. In the near future, hybrid cars will have plug-in capability so you can fuel-up with electricity directly from the grid!

Fuel cells may one day play a role, but let's not put all of our hopes in hydrogen. By focusing our efforts now on higher MPG and the development of the national electric grid to support future refueling of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, we will put America on the road to energy independence.


Ron Bengtson
Ron@AmericanEnergyIndependence.com
Founder of AmericanEnergyIndependence.com

Read/Post Comments (26)













Comments (26)

David Webber from MD
5/3/2005 10:04:29 PM

I notice that there is now a PHEV kit that you can buy that works with the Toyota Prius and does indeed give you 120+ mpg.

Peter Blackman from AZ
5/5/2005 5:44:57 PM

Why can't people think outside the box?
Why would we have to transport hydrogen like we transport oil today. The hydrogen is produced at the wind farms and then we still keep all power we have and enjoy with are big cars.
Also we can produce hydrogen where we live. The Challenge is the renewable power is not continuous so extra energy we are not using can be stored as hydrogen.
Hybrid electric cars are a disaster because of the maintenance and high cost of the batteries. For the short term okay use hybrids. For a long term solution hydrogen is the answer. When we have to we can transport hydrogen like we do when we transport natural gas.
The pollution factor was not addressed in the article. With hydrogen we can forgot about acid rain.
I am part of a movement to get this country totally on renewable power in 10 years. If this is something you would like to learn more about go to http://www.alt-e.biz and click on one of the rotating globes.

Peter Blackman from AZ
5/5/2005 6:01:47 PM

Why do we want to complicate the issue with fuel cells? Why not just for the immediate future burn hydrogen as a fuel in our cars. There is a relative easy conversion and we then do not have to try to destroy the car industry in the process. The fewer industries that you disrupt the better.
There are 3 states in this country that could provide enough electricity through wind power to to supply the needs of the entire country. Add local pockets of wind farms and solar and we would have more than enough power to produce al electricity we would need to produce hydrogen. Infact the farmers along route 40 would love to have wind farms on their properties to produce hydrogen. Read up on Green tags and see how these tags force utility companies to buy renewable power. Goto www.alt-e.biz

Dave Brown from ID
5/7/2005 4:30:44 PM

ExxonMobil recently announced that it has so much extra cash, it hasn't even figured out how to spend it all.

The five largest oil companies are ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Conoco-Phillips, BP and Shell; collectively, they’ve raked in profits of $230 billion since 2001. This handful of corporations controls a substantial chunk of the oil and gas market, enabling it to keep gas prices artificially high. Indeed, a 2004 investigation by Congress' research arm, the Government Accountability Office, concluded “that mergers and increased market concentration generally led to higher wholesale gasoline prices in the United States.”

Increasing fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2015, would reduce U.S. oil consumption by 2.3 million barrels a day and saving consumers $23 billion annually.

Hybirds can do that now, with existing technology.

Tony from PA
5/12/2005 11:28:45 AM

I'm a hybrid owner, but worry about the environmental impact of spent battery disposal, especially as hybrids represent a bigger portion of the cars on the road.

Ron Bengtson from CA
5/13/2005 9:47:27 PM

About hybrid car batteries

(This information from Toyota) - Lab data for the hybrid battery shows the equivalent of 180,000 miles (289,681 km) with no deterioration and expect it to last the life of the vehicle. Battery technology continues to improve: the second-generation model battery is 15% smaller, 25% lighter, and has 35% more specific power than the first. This is true of price as well. Between the 2003 and 2004 models, service battery costs came down 36% and are expected to continue to drop so that by the time replacements may be needed it won't be a much of an issue. Since the Prius went on sale in 2000, Toyota has not replaced a single battery for wear and tear.

Toyota has a comprehensive battery recycling program in place and has been recycling nickel-metal hydride batteries since the RAV4 Electric Vehicle was introduced in 1998. Every part of the battery, from the precious metals to the plastic, plates, steel case and the wiring, is recycled. To ensure that batteries come back to Toyota, each battery has a phone number on it to call for recycling information and dealers are paid a $200 "bounty" for each battery.

http://eartheasy.com/live_hybrid_cars.htm

Terrence Ryan from TX
5/16/2005 7:26:57 PM

I couldn't agree more with this web site.Hydrogen is not the answer.Most thinking people understand that there is no source of hydrogen that doesn't require huge amounts of energy to release it.Ultra conservation in your automobile as well as your home is and always will be the answer.

Drew Doman from CA
5/19/2005 9:38:53 PM

Hydrogen is not a fuel.
It is a way to store energy.
The answer to our energy problems is Bio-Fuel.
To produce Bio-Fuel, you grow soybeans, you ferment them, and you burn the Ethanol/Bio Diesel in your stock car from today.
When it is burned, Bio Fuel does pollute, but far less than gasoline.
But in the end, there is no pollution produced because the process of growing the crops takes the carbon back out of the air.
As wasteful as we are, we could cut our dependence on Middle Eastern oil just by fermenting our biological waste.
There is no electricity, total conversion of vehicles, or fancy technology involved to make the switch.
Hydrogen is not the answer; we have run out of time.
The production of Bio Fuels is as complicated as the production of vegetable oil, we can start doing it now.
www.biodiesel.org

Brian Winters from CA
5/23/2005 11:47:51 PM

Natural Gas is a very intriguing option for making us independent of foreign-based fuels. It’s cheaper than gasoline, more environmentally friendly and is a resource of North America. Companies are making home filling stations that hook up to your existing home natural gas lines. Honda has a new Civic GX that runs on natural gas. More information is available at http://www.newwavecars.com

christian cullen from CA
5/25/2005 10:04:02 PM

a real possible future includes bio-diesel hybrids. you'll finally have areason to go to mcdonalds!

christian cullen from CA
5/25/2005 10:25:59 PM

there's also a wonderful technology involving floats and solar panels in the ocean. it can produce 4x8 sheets of wall material & hydrogen & oxygen free after installation (for the walls see popular science archive). just north of me they're building a desalination plant in a lagoon next to a nat gas burning power plant. they are not using solar distillation, but reverse osmosis, a wasteful, expensive proscess

Paul Scott from
7/6/2005 7:38:52 PM

Plug in, or Gas Optional Hybrids (GO-HEVs), are a great step in the right direction. The more electricity a car uses, the more efficient it is. A pure Battery EV (BEV) is the most efficient vehicle on the road. Many thousands were made and offered to the public (mostly by lease only) in California. Several hundred still exist in private hands. Our family has one of Toyota's RAV4 EVs and we can categorically state that driving a BEV is vastly superior to driving a car that uses gas. We have solar panels on our house that generate all the power for our house and our car. Our friends who drive EVs, but don't have solar, buy green power from their utilities. This eliminates all of the pollution, and it eliminates all of our payments to the oil companies. The best answer to our oil problems is a combination of BEVs and GO-HEVs. Most families have two vehicles, so one of each would be perfect.

Paul Scott from
7/6/2005 7:42:31 PM

Plug in, or Gas Optional Hybrids (GO-HEVs), are a great step in the right direction. The more electricity a car uses, the more efficient it is. A pure Battery EV (BEV) is the most efficient vehicle on the road. Many thousands were made and offered to the public (mostly by lease only) in California. Several hundred still exist in private hands. Our family has one of Toyota's RAV4 EVs and we can categorically state that driving a BEV is vastly superior to driving a car that uses gas. We have solar panels on our house that generate all the power for our house and our car. Our friends who drive EVs, but don't have solar, buy green power from their utilities. This eliminates all of the pollution, and it eliminates all of our payments to the oil companies. The best answer to our oil problems is a combination of BEVs and GO-HEVs. Most families have two vehicles, so one of each would be perfect.

Gary Wynn from TN
7/7/2005 10:38:32 PM

"It is 200 times more efficient to make hydrogen than gasoline and far less expensive"
from
One should not think too narrowly, for the future lies in making your own H at home with Solar Power, and no longer needing a CENTRALIZED supplier of energy.

James Newton from CA
7/13/2005 12:44:32 PM

Compairing Hydrogen to Hybrid is like compairing apples to oranges. Hydrogen is an energy transport system (as several have already noted) and hybrid power systems are a way of recovering and re-using part of the energy normally wasted during vehicle operation. There is no reason, in fact, why they couldn't be used together in a Hydrogen / Electric Hybrid.

The problem with PHEV systems and any electric car that depends mostly on a full cycle of battery charge and discharge is that batteries only get so many cycles: Once they have cycled that many times, they must be replaced or rebuilt. Led acid is good for thousands of cycles, but is heavy and doesn't store much energy. Nicad is good for hundreds. Li cells (like in your lap top) are often good for only 50 cycles. Hybrids avoid this by not depending on the battery for more than a very short time.

The transmission of electricity is an interesting and possibly valid point but as long as we are transporting it, why not use it to directly run our vehicles? Put in rail or trolley systems in place of one or more lanes of the existing freeways. Run them from the power lines directly. Of course the initial cost is massive and they do not provide the flexability or privacy of individual cars, but perhaps some system of hybrid cars with an electrical pickup on the freeway could be developed.

Several good points have been made about the problems with Hydrogen. One I haven't seen is that Hydrogen is a VERY caustic chemical. This is the prime reason why hydrogen fuel cell systems are needed rather than buring hydrogen directly. Look it up... hydrogen is nasty stuff.

We will do what ever we must and can afford to do to support our lifestyle for as long as we can, but I would really rather be on the road next to gas/diesel/bio hybrids or electrified rails than next to a hydrogen "bomb"

Adrian Akau from HI
7/13/2005 9:58:19 PM

I think we must look at chemical reactions in a different way. For example, we have been taught that electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen requires the same amount of energy as what is released when the hydrogen and oxygen are burned in combustion. However, under certain conditions, this is not always true.

If the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen are first weakened, then much less energy would be required for the separation of water in hydrogen and oxygen than would be given up during combustion.

Such technology might also be applied to using the hydrogen to react with CO2. 25H2 + 8CO2 = C8H18 + 16H20
If this reaction is enhanced in the same manner as the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen in water are weakened, then the result would be the production of gasoline.

How do we affect chemical reactions to proceed in the desired direction? We alter particular bond strengths, namely the strength of the bond between the carbon and oxygen. Presently, research is being done with the hydrogen to oxygen bond but I do not yet know of any work done with the carbon to oxygen bond.

adrianakau@aol.com

Adrian Akau from HI
7/13/2005 9:59:42 PM

I think we must look at chemical reactions in a different way. For example, we have been taught that electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen requires the same amount of energy as what is released when the hydrogen and oxygen are burned in combustion. However, under certain conditions, this is not always true.

If the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen are first weakened, then much less energy would be required for the separation of water in hydrogen and oxygen than would be given up during combustion.

Such technology might also be applied to using the hydrogen to react with CO2. 25H2 + 8CO2 = C8H18 + 16H20
If this reaction is enhanced in the same manner as the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen in water are weakened, then the result would be the production of gasoline.

How do we affect chemical reactions to proceed in the desired direction? We alter particular bond strengths, namely the strength of the bond between the carbon and oxygen. Presently, research is being done with the hydrogen to oxygen bond but I do not yet know of any work done with the carbon to oxygen bond.

adrianakau@aol.com

Dave from MI
7/21/2005 2:58:44 PM

Natural gas is NOT as friendly as everyone thinks.

When gas comes out of the ground it has a large amout of contaminants in it. As much as 30% of it is CO2 and that has to be stripped out before it is sold. What do you think happens to the CO2 after it is stripped?

The process of extracting and compressing gas is done by large engines that run on the untreated high CO2 gas futher polluting the atmosphere.

When people use natural gas in their homes or cars, again more CO2 is released. In my opinion Natural gas is a wolf in sheeps clothing as a viable low pollution alternative.

How do I know this? I work in Natural gas extraction.

Solar, wind, tidal, and biofuels are going to be the future.

why not use that electricity you would use to make hydrogen to power a biodiesel plant?

keep thinking, people!

Richard D. Masters from CA
7/30/2005 11:34:29 PM

1) Hybrids will forestall the inevitable respurce wars. That is not a solution.
2) Biofuels are a way for the farm states to seize funding that would have otherwise gone to expanding renewable energy. This will provide a larger gateway for nuclear expansion. I do not get the impression that American Energy Independence dot com is helping solve any problems. It is simply on the treadmill.
3) Hydrogen production is amortized over decades. It is the cheapest form of fuel because it carries no social, environmental, military or health liabilities. It is also the safest fuel ever envisioned.
4) Efficiency arguments against hydrogen only make sense with reformation, not with limitless renewable energy.
5) An extensive compendium of these issues can be found at the International Clearinghouse for Hydrogen Commerce www.hydrogencommerce.com

Robert Letton from CA
10/3/2005 9:08:33 PM

Solving the energy problem first requires understanding the Law of Conservation of Energy and the Yin Yang cycle of Taoism, especially Taoist Yoga. Most of the energy released by combustion is usually converted to thermal energy which is simply radiated into space. Currently, solar radiation, adequate to replace all nonrenewable fuels many times over and indefinitely which is not converted by photosynthesis or vaporization to chemically bound energy is reflected or reradiated at a different wavelength back into space. Also, the byproducts of chemical combustion, primarily CO2 becomes available to photosynthesis. In Taoist Yoga we have the concept of original energy in which we find a correlation to nonrenewable energy sources such as petroleum. To achieve indefinite energy independence, it is neccesary to harness this original energy to build an initial infrastructure to collect solar energy. This would primarily be through various bio fuel projects, such as high oil content algae in the deserts and not excluding solar panels. For automobiles, the expensive utilization of fuel cell, hybrid and solar cell technology as well as other more expensive energy technologies represents becomes more feasible as the price of nonrenewable fuels increase. Wasteful use of these fuels until this happens will likely be a disaster economically while poisoning us with increasing levels of CO2, etc. A primary key to harnessing solar radiation is water. For example, waste water, which is typically pumped out to the ocean, could be pumped, possibly with wind powered pumps, to dry barren deserts to grow high content oil algae, etc., which would utilize CO2 released by chemical combustion of nonrenewable petroleum and renewable bio-fuels. The vaporization of water would also harness solar energy via hydroelectic dams. As more and more desert area is so utilized it may be neccesary to route new rivers and hydroelectric power plants while regulating water distribution for irrigation giving us a means to control the weather. Examination of a Taoist Yoga technique called the triple warmer suggests that we would also bring the water from the areas with swamps to the overly dry deserts. Also note that as this expanded, the weather would be affected and we would more and more be in control of the weather by regulating the flow of water used for irrigation. In doing this we could indefinitely solve energy, pollution and weather problems all at the same time just as Taoist Yoga can be part of a program to bring physical immortality with incredible health and strength to the individual human being. Of course doing this would likely become the goal of any human becoming immortal using Taoist Yoga as otherwise what would be the point. This is an extract from a book I am writing that would go into great detail as to how many of our problems colud/would be solved.

Andy from MA
11/22/2005 11:31:36 AM

Biofuels are certainly the way to go... And just to note--soybeans are one of the least effecient crops from which to produce biodiesel...

http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_yield.html

Anthony Surewell from MI
11/30/2005 6:05:13 PM

First of all, i believe that the discussion of Carbon and Bio-fuels lost all its momentum after Mr. Letton began to talk about Carbon, I am not sure whether this was just a comparison or he actually thinks doing stretching will solve the energy crisis, because i sure dont see how the heck it will!

But, what some people have to understand is that only 10% of current US fuel comes internationally. The remainder comes from Texas, Alaska, and the Gulf Coast. As we try to continue our push for uses of Hydrogen Cars, keep in mind that 'Governor Arnold' is doing a good job in California. His new Hydrogen Highways, expected to be completed around 2010, will make sure that when we drive it will be "turbo time!!!"(Jingle all the way). Until then, we must realize that the best way to utilize our use of petroleum is to begin to build more oil derricks in Alaska, because this way we could reduce the amount of international fossil fuels we purchase, and partially solve the Crisis in the Middle East. I say, lets just use gas now, and let our great great grandchildren worry about this problem, cause it wont be solved in our lifetime, and remember, GO REPUBLICANS!!!!!

Frank Johnson from WWW.NONE.COM
12/18/2005 5:55:34 PM

joe braverman from
1/14/2006 4:59:37 PM

Our hydroelectric system is underutilize4d . Hydroelectric can produce 400% of our electricity needs and hydrogen to be put into the current natural gas system to allow home and business owners and residents to take their hydrogen directly fro their gas mains to fuel their cars

joe braverman from
1/14/2006 5:03:23 PM

Our hydroelectric system is underutilize4d . Hydroelectric can produce 400% of our electricity needs and hydrogen to be put into the current natural gas system to allow home and business owners and residents to take their hydrogen directly fro their gas mains to fuel their cars

joe braverman from CA
1/14/2006 5:04:30 PM

Our hydroelectric system is underutilize4d . Hydroelectric can produce 400% of our electricity needs and hydrogen to be put into the current natural gas system to allow home and business owners and residents to take their hydrogen directly fro their gas mains to fuel their cars

Post a Comment

Your Name


State (Optional)


Comments