Kinda Something New

Ok, so the plan of trying something new kinda flopped, oh well. Maybe I will just spring it on you guys when I have nothing else to write about some time, who knows.

Anyway, you may have noticed that this post isn’t filed under “General”, but instead as “Special”, and that “Boredom” is gone from the sidebar. Well, I decided that a select few posts will be put in this “Special” category, such as birthdays, anniversary, and major announcements. This, being the first post on iblog to have a higher count than blogger (uhm, something like that) is “Special”. Point is, iblog now has more posts than blogger did, which is a “Special” thing (I swear I wont do that quote thing on that word anymore, really).

Next, I want to do what this blog was founded for, and I haven’t done enough of lately, complain.

Hydrogen fuel cells are being called the “Next Big Thing”, but are they? They are said to decrease emissions, but I have questions as to whether that is true. Yes, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles themselves only emit water vapor, but what cost is paid elsewhere?

First, the undeniable truths. Fuel cells are low emission. They take in hydrogen gas and air containing oxygen, and emit power in the form of electric current, and water (vapor, as the operating temperature is above boiling). The problem with converting our vehicles to fuel cells is public opinion and infrastructure.

Public opinion of hydrogen is poor. “I don’t want to drive a ‘Hindencar'” they say. Ok, the Hindenburg started on fire, and the Hindenburg was full of hydrogen, but the two are unrelated coincidences. The Hindenburg started on fire because of a spark, caused by the floating blimp producing static electricity while traveling through the air, and discharging to the ground when it became close enough. This same thing happens with airplanes and helicopters. Why did it catch fire though? When the derigable was designed, they wanted the outside finish to be a hi-gloss shine that was easily visible. What causes such a finish? Just combine iron oxide and aluminum, a mixture commonly called THERMITE! Yes, the magic alloy that when ignited, will produce a flame capable or reaching 4000 degrees, hot enough to weld rail road tracks, and melt through an engine block. Truth is, because hydrogen is lighter than air, it floats away before it can really catch fire, making it safer in an accident than gasoline or diesel that just puddles up waiting for a spark or flame.

Infrastructure is tougher. Either we need to put hydrogen pumps at every gas station, or we need to equip cars with a small chemical plant to convert common fuels (gasoline, ethanol, propane, etc…) to hydrogen. The second option is easier, but has problems. Hydrogen pumps at every corner is, clearly, a difficult task. But it really is a better option. Needing to put in the necessary equipment to strip hydrogen from hydrocarbons in your back seat is an expensive and difficult task.

The real question though, is where does the carbon from the hydrocarbons go? Well, it combines with addition oxygen to create carbon dioxide, a well known green house gas, thus making more nasty emissions. Better than a gasoline car, but not the pure water vapor we were promised.

And that leads us to my biggest gripe. No mater how you do it, hydrogen isn’t naturally occurring, so we have to make it. Whether we use hydrocarbons or electrolysis of water. If we strip hydrogen from hydrocarbons in a plant, we have the same problem as before, carbon dioxide. Also, I should mention, that we are still dependent on hydrocarbon fuels, which are non-renewable and WILL run out. Yes, we could use methanol emissions from garbage heaps, or ethanol from vegetable processing, hell, lets just shove tubes up the ass of every cow in Iowa and just suck the methanol from there. My point is, its not feasible to use any of these sources yet, and fuel cells need them to be feasible itself.

Of course, there is the other option. The one I hate. One of the most abundant sources of hydrogen on the planet is the oceans. We could electrolyze water, to separate hydrogen from oxygen, think of it as the fuel cell backward. The problem is we would need LOTS of electricity for that. Where does electricity come from? Our now triple capacity coal power plants, belching out chemicals our cars would never dream of. So instead of water, carbon dioxide, and some soot from tailpipes, we have all that, plus sulfur dioxide (think sulfuric acid, once it mixes with water) and its in much greater quantity. Yes, we have hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, and solar power too, and natural gas is cleaner than coal, but it’s still not viable.

So those are my thoughts. Some of the arguments may be less than rock solid, and some of the facts may be a bit off, but overall it proves an undeniable point. Don’t get me wrong, fuel cells are the future, and have great promise. However, I don’t think the guys pushing them realize all that they’re up against, and seem to be avoiding these problems. Who can blame them, GM doesn’t care where the hydrogen comes from, they just need to have a car that uses it be 2012 or the government will complain. Which means, the government is who needs the talking to, but when do they not?

Remember, the internal combustion engine was thought to be a pollution fighting machine in 1900, because it took the horse manure off the streets of New York. What consequences of fuel cells we we not see for 100 years if we blindly accept it as the next pollution fighter?

nick

a picture is worth a thousand words,
but talk is cheap so that still isn’t much.

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