hydrogen car

What Innovations Are in the Future of the Car Market?

We have all heard the cheers or jeers over electric and fuel cell vehicles that debut at auto shows around the world, but at this year’s Detroit Auto Show we were able to find more cheers than jeers. This year’s show took on more of a “green” exterior and appeased the environmentalist in all of us.

Many debuts for 2015 were cars that took last year’s model or idea to the next level of conservation. Makers ranging from Hyundai to Mercedes featured electric vehicles. Then makers such as Honda showcased a fuel cell vehicle. Trust me I am not one to complain so you will only hear cheers coming from this direction when I cover some of the top cars.

Charging towards the Future

Chevy was one of the first to shock the onlookers with its Chevrolet Bolt. The Bolt will hit a price point of $30,000 and have a range of 200 miles. Chevy is looking to compete with the Nissan Leaf, since both are in the same price range but the Bolt comes with a larger range. This electric car will truly challenge Tesla Motors on becoming the first to make electric vehicles mainstream.[i] Most gas powered cars get 300 miles to a tank, while electric vehicles get around 100 miles before a charge.[ii] The Chevrolet Bolt makes the consumer happy with a range of 200 miles to a charge. Look for the Bolt to hit your nearest dealership in 2017.

Now we move to a luxury EV, the Mercedes Benz- C350 plug-in hybrid. Many might think that this C350 doesn't carry the same firepower that a normal C350 might, but they would be wrong. This EV is a 208-horsepower four cylinder turbocharged machine that can reach up to 130 miles per hour. [iii] Though this machine is fast it can also get 19 miles on an electric charge. One other item to note regarding this hybrid is the battery can be charged in under two hours using a regular 240-volt outlet.[iv]

Where the Hydrogen Meets the Highway

In 2014 we saw Toyota come out with its first fuel cell vehicle. Now we are seeing almost every major car manufacturer joining the FCV game in 2015. Honda was one of those car manufacturers who joined the game this year. The company debuted a five passenger hydrogen powered car that expands upon their first try at an FCV the Honda Clarity. This sedan has a driving range of 300 miles and can refuel in about 5 minutes. Since many might ask why would I buy an FCV when there aren’t any charging stations near me? Well that may be changing within the State of California. Honda has partnered with FirstElement Fuel to build additional hydrogen fueling stations.[v] And believe it or not California has the most hydrogen fueling stations than any other region in the world. [vi]

Hopefully you are as excited as I am when it comes to the new developments in the auto industry that will help to better our environment. I know I would truly appreciate cleaner air after living in the Central Valley for the past 24 years. And if you are from the Central Valley you know what I may be referring to…smog.

[i] “Chevy Could Beat Tesla to Building the First Mainstream Electric Car”, Jan., 14, 2015, http://www.wired.com/2015/01/chevrolet-bolt-ev/
[ii] “ Chevrolet unveils $30k Bolt electric car with a 200-mile range!”, Jan., 14, 2015, http://inhabitat.com/chevrolet-unveils-30k-bolt-electric-car-with-a-200-mile-range-photos/
[iii] “Mercedes-Benz C350 Plug-In Hybrid promises 20 miles EV range, 5.9 seconds to 60”, Jan. 14, 2015, http://www.autoblog.com/2015/01/12/mercedes-benz-c350-plug-in-hybrid-detroit-2015/
[iv] “Mercedes-Benz C 350 Plug-in Hybrid debuts at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show”, Jan., 14, 2015, http://inhabitat.com/mercedes-benz-c-350-plug-in-hybrid-debuts-at-the-2015-detroit-auto-show/
[v] Honda FCV fuel-cell concept makes its U.S. debut at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show”, Jan., 16, 2015, http://inhabitat.com/honda-fcv-fuel-cell-concept-makes-its-u-s-debut-at-the-2015-detroit-auto-show/
[vi] Driving for the Future”, Jan., 16, 2015, http://www.fuelcellpartnership.org/toolkits/stations

Getting Behind Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles

When I was in middle school, a report was published suggesting that our oil supply as we know it would run out by 2050. At the time, I thought 2050 sounded close enough to motivate us to at least start THINKING about how to deal with this dramatic change, but far enough away to completely ignore it, too, which most of us did. Immediately.

Unfortunately, 2050 is no longer far enough away to allow Hummers and F-150s and 250s to stay on the road. Even more unfortunately, Americans (politicians and constituents alike) don't seem to care. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers declares that, in a mere 25 years, oil production will be 20% of our current consumption. Again, 25 years doesn’t sound super near, meaning it’s enough time to greatly increase populations world-wide and oil-driven industries. But don’t forget, in the scope of Earth’s lifetime, 25 years is nothing.

Europeans understood the severity of this long before we did. They also realized that to replace gas guzzlers with zero- and low-emission vehicles, they needed infrastructure to support it. Hydrogen-powered vehicles began to roll out this past spring and hydrogen fueling stations were already in place all over the continent.

Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car, 2012 Detroit Auto Show
Photo Source: Green Car Reports.
Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell concept car.
Roll out in 2015.
The US is far behind, according to this article from the LA Times. Not only is the ratio of gas stations to ALL alternative fuel stations 16:1, but there are fewer than 25 hydrogen fueling stations in the entire country. Californians are lucky because about a third of them are in the state, but nearly all of those are concentrated in LA and Orange counties. This leaves few alternatives for those in the San Joaquin Valley.

American automakers and distributors would like to start selling hydrogen cars, like the Toyota FCV-R hydrogen fuel-cell car shown at the right, in 2015. However, 2015 is now! It's here! and without the necessary infrastructure to support these vehicles, no one will purchase them.

Sure, the automobile wasn’t invented in the United States, but the Oldsmobile factory in Lansing, Michigan did start the movement of mass producing affordable cars. We’re in the land of opportunity and, as Wikipedia declares, we Americans are “characterized by a strong work ethic, competitiveness, and individualism”. So why are we so behind in mass producing cars with the latest environmentally-friendly vehicles? We have the ingenuity to take the lead on this movement; so let's take advantage of it.

REBATES! for Your New Alternative or Renewable Vehicle

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) offer a number of rebates, incentives and vouchers to promote the introduction of cleaner vehicles on California roads. So, if you’re looking to get a new (or used) car in the near future, seriously consider an alternative or renewable vehicle. It will save you your money and your lungs over the long term.

First thing’s first. What counts as an alternative or renewable vehicle? There are several technologies available and in development. Here are a few of our favorites:
Now for the incentive and rebates… the best part and probably the reason you’re reading this! 
Photo Source: Zero Motorcycles

CARB is sponsoring a CCSE- administered rebate program for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Whether you want to buy or lease one of these light-duty vehicles, you can get up to $2,500 through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. The website has an extensive list of eligible vehicles, links to apply for the rebates easily online, project statistics, and informative FAQs.

The Drive Clean! Rebate Program, administered by the SJVAPCD, offers up to $3,000 for new vehicles purchases and leases. Check the eligible vehicle list and apply for your well-deserved rebate using this fillable W9 form. If you need more information about all these vehicles, check out this DriveClean Buying Guide. You can access a quick vehicle compare and a Plug-In EV Resource Center or even calculate your savings by rebates and incentives.

The SJVAPCD also has a Vanpool Voucher program to promote carpools for SJV residents. So many people commute 20 miles or more for work by themselves in inefficient vehicles, and this rideshare program would alleviate congestion on the roads and vehicle emissions. The incentive is worth up to $360 a year and you can apply using this fillable form. The SJVAPCD has a number of other grants and incentive programs that target improving our air quality. Check them out here!

I want. If only! The new Tesla Model X.
If you manage a fleet that only operates in California, you could be eligible for this Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP). Vouchers are somewhat limited, but they are worth anywhere from $6,000 to $45,000 for each qualified new hybrid or electric truck or bus you buy. Eligible vehicles can be found here and the website has information for all dealers, fleets and vehicle makers. As long as your fleet operates only in California, it is eligible for this project, no matter the size or whether it is private or public.

There is a lot to take advantage of and I suggest you look into these if you’re considering a new vehicle! The technologies are only getting better and our air seems to only be getting worse, especially with this recent drought. So, do your part!

Hitting the hydrogen highway is the ultimate video game

Hydrogen is not yet a viable, cheap and easy-to-use fuel.

But the quest to solve that clean energy puzzle continues.

Sciencedaily.com reports that scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a nickel-molybdenum-nitride catalyst to more cheaply crack hydrogen from water. Chemist Kotaro Sasaki is quoted as saying his team wanted to find a high-activity low-cost method of extracting hydrogen.

He says the catalyst "actually outperformed our expectations."

And according to globalenergyworld.com, Lynne Macaskie, professor of applied microbiology at the University of Birmingham in England, reports a method of creating hydrogen from food waste. "The bacteria can produce hydrogen," says Macaskie at a bioenergy workshop in São Paulo, Brazil. "At the moment manufacturers pay to dispose of waste, but with our technique they could convert it to clean electricity instead.”

Not ready for prime time

Impressive. So what's the hold-up? Why can't entrepreneurial ingenuity figure out a way to get a clean fuel on the market that could transform our skies and reduce the competitive pressures forcing up the price of gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuel?

The answer thus far has been cost and technology. Solve the dilemma and emission-free power remains a matter of infrastructure.

The benefits are many. Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe and No. 3 on Earth.

However, the reality painted by this Pres. George W. Bush-era study remains relatively static.

"To be economically competitive with the present fossil fuel economy ... the cost of producing hydrogen must be lowered by a factor of 4." The study, Basic Research Needs for the Hydrogen Economy, published by Argonne National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy in May 2003, says the performance and reliability of hydrogen technology for transportation and other uses must be "improved dramatically."

The ultimate gamer's quest

Unless, of course, somebody figures out the game. Compare the challenge to one found in a video game, perhaps the most difficult ever, with multiple levels, constant attacks by impossible to kill opponents, no cheats and the most elusive final key in recorded history.

Carrying this analogy further, I introduce gaming expert Pyree, who posted this answer to the question of most impossible game on tomshardware.com forum: "So apparently the hardest game is this one called 'Dark Souls,' made by Japanese game studio From Software."

Pyree, whose alter ego appears to be Wall Street Journal reporter Ryan Kuo, says the game makes it simply impossible to avoid dying excessively and horribly. There is no way to save or pause the game and if your avatar dies, the level resets. "Only attempt it if you are the hardcorest of the hardcorest rpg gamer and love to take on a near impossible challenge," he says.

Dark Souls to clean energy

Whether or not hydrogen is the Dark Souls of the clean energy world, I don't know. But I do know it will take some serious smarts and tenacity to break the code, find all the clues and track down the ultimate treasure.

How close we're getting depends upon whom is asked. I posed the question to a guy I've gotten to know here in the San Joaquin Valley. His answer surprised me. "Getting close," he says.

How close? By the sounds of it, very. I may be providing an update to my series on the hydrogen highway quite soon. A hint is here in a post by Laurence O'Sullivan on suite101.com that says, "Combined together, wind and hydrogen can cancel out their inherent defects and be an effective tool in the battle against carbon dioxide and global warming."

Pulling onto the hydrogen highway

There is also activity on the corporate front. Mercedes-Benz recruited drivers like actress Diane Kruger to drive its electric fuel cell vehicle, the B-Class F-Cell in California. Kruger is one of more than 35 "environmental enthusiasts and early adopters" in the state. Kruger, who stars in "Farewell, My Queen," drives the rig, which converts compressed hydrogen into electricity to deliver a range of up to 240 miles and an average of 55 mpg equivalent while emitting only water vapor.

I also checked in on Bob Lazar, whose company, American Hydrogen Energy, is gearing up to produce kits that convert gasoline-burning automobiles to run on hydrogen. Lazar converted his 1994 Corvette to run on H2 produced by solar panels.

Lazar explains how it works this way: "The hydrogen gas is safely stored in a solid form (advanced metal hydride) and is in fact safer in a collision than your Gasoline tank. The only exhaust you get from burning Hydrogen as a fuel is water vapor (steam), with very small amounts of nitrogen oxides. It's about a 'green' a fuel as you can get."

Rare Earth complications

Yet Lazar has encountered trials. His latest has to do with source materials. He says in a recent update on his website that the conversion system is dependent upon rare Earth metals and compounds. The Chinese government's decision to limit export of the country's domestic supply means prices have skyrocketed and more than quadrupled the cost of his conversion kits.

China dominates the rare Earth market. U.S. deposits exist but remain mostly out of reach due to a lack of mining. The materials have names like lanthanum, cerium, yttrium and neodymium and also are used in the manufacture of electric car batteries, wind turbines and solar panels.

China has spent the past several years locking up supply of these elements, planning ahead and banking on their value escalating.

"We are looking into all possibilities," Lazar says.

So the game continues. I'll drop in another quarter, and push "Ready Player One."

Photo: Actress Diane Kruger fills up her Mercedes B-Class F-Cell.
More posts:
Hydrogen Highway: Demonstrating a fill-up in LA
Hydrogen power integration as fast as a Zeppelin
Hydrogen Highway is possible but unrealistic, for now

Zero emissions? Hydrogen highway is possible but unrealistic, for now

In a 2008 video, Bob Lazar calmly explains how the fuel system he developed works.

What he doesn't say is that if proved to be commercially viable it would give oil companies a serious competitor and turn highways from pillars of pollution to clean, moisture-laden vapor trails.

Lazar proposes converting everyday internal-combustion automobiles to operate on hydrogen. The fuel, he says, can be produced from a solar-powered system that costs about $10,000. It uses electrolysis to separate hydrogen gas from water.

He's among a growing group of backyard mechanics, university research teams and even automotive manufacturers looking to shift into burning one of the cleanest and most plentiful elements in the universe. The trouble appears to be cost and infrastructure and, perhaps, getting a deep-pocketed or politically influential sponsor.

“If we had the budget of only one day in Iraq, this entire system would be available to everybody,” Lazar says.

Who's killing the hydrogen car

Lazar's system is the subject of the video short “Who’s Killing the Hydrogen Car?” by Jon Farhat, one of the film industry’s top visual effects guys. Farhat asks straightforward questions, sounding more like a guy who went over to Lazar's garage and stumbled upon a really awesome custom car.

Certainly, Lazar, whose company is United Nuclear Corp., has a cool car. It's a 1994 dark red Corvette that runs on hydrogen.

After separating out the hydrogen molecules, Lazar stores the gas in tanks similar to the oxygen bottles carried around by the old smoker down the street or the nitrous tanks in the dentist's office. And this appears to be Lazar's lock on the process.

As he explains to Farhat, transporting gaseous hydrogen by standard means would require huge tanks while liquid hydrogen requires keeping the gas extremely cold, about 423 degrees below zero or hanging around the surface of Jupiter. Instead, Lazar uses four tanks containing a hydride compound, which stores the hydrogen until heat is applied to release it.

Going the distance

“That’s the volume it takes to propel this car close to 400 miles, just about what it gets running on a full tank of gas," Lazar says. "And it’s a lot safer than gasoline. They can be shot at with incendiary bullets, cut in half with a chain saw. You can throw a match on them and they just smolder. … Only the hydrogen you need is released when you heat it so there’s never much gaseous hydrogen in the system.”

Kevin Kantola of www.hydrogencarsnow.com, who has been writing on the subject for about six years, says most, but not all, of the industry has settled on compressed hydrogen gas as the standard.

"There are some others working on developing cars that use a chemical carrier for hydrogen such as magnesium + hydrogen, different hydrides, ammonia, slurries, etc.," Kantola says via email.

Hydrogen production & distribution

Kantola says how to produce and distribute hydrogen is still up in the air, with manufacturing it from natural gas being the most popular method. He adds that there are some solar-electrolysis stations and even a wind-electrolysis station making hydrogen. "So, as an emerging technology there is a lot of flux right now."

One of the biggest problems is that of infrastructure. The transportation systems in our global economy are geared now to run our cars, buses and trucks on fossil fuels. The corner gas station from Deadhorse, Alaska to Hoboken, N.J. is part of the landscape.
"It's not so much an issue of cost, as the economics of producing and distributing hydrogen are understood," says James Warner, director of policy, Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, via email. "The issue is, how to build sufficient stations for a vehicle rollout, and how to keep them in the black as the population of vehicles increase."

How important is clean air?

It's really a matter of values. How important is clean air? Can a price tag be applied to stopping the flow of carbon into the air, acidity into the oceans and pollutants into the food chain?

To me, that's rhetorical. To others, the whole climate debate is considered misguided. Our economy is based on coal and oil. Separating such a major component is like slicing out a conjoined twin. One will surely die.

But do we have a choice? More rhetoric. But I'd certainly like to keep driving, and this hydrogen option sounds like a good one.

This could take awhile

Scouting around the web, I found quite a bit on the subject. An older piece in Popular Mechanics describes the contentiousness surrounding the technology and details the pullback by the Obama Administration after President Bush's endorsement.

Erik Sofge of Popular Mechanics writes in his piece, "Why the Hydrogen Feud Needs to End: Analysis," that hydrogen fuel cell research, which appears to be the method of choice for automotive propulsion, is mired in "tumultuous debate."

Sofge says while proponents sink money into research and marketing, opponents refute their claims with their own numbers, "asking that researchers shift time and money to more promising technologies, like batteries."

The answer may be grassroots

Endless debate won't shift even a small percentage of automobiles or fleets onto a hydrogen highway.

I stumbled (seriously, on stumble.com) across a video from Juan Pablo Girardi, engineer and a founder of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Brain Optimization Institute. He says while electric cars don't burn fossil fuel, they require creation of toxic materials via construction of their lithium-ion batteries. He also touts hydrogen.

Girardi says health-wise the evidence against gasoline is overwhelming. As for hydrogen, he says its development is not a technological issue but a political one. He urges a grassroots movement for getting U.S. government support of the production of hydrogen cars and the conversion of existing cars.

Maybe that will happen. But collateralized debt obligations, which in part led to the housing crisis masking toxic mortgages to investors, still exist despite heated opposition to the practice. So maybe not. This may need a big corporate supporter.

"You can move a 747 with hydrogen," Girardi says. "The technology is there. Let us stop procrastinating."

Hydrogen gets YouTube hits

There is interest. On YouTube, Girardi's video has just 3,660 hits. However, a test drive in a hydrogen BMW has 232,000 and an instructional piece with about the Formula Hydrogen racing car project, a collaborative exercise between RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and the University of Applied Sciences, Ingolstadt, Germany has about 72,000.

Geoff Pearson from RMIT's School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering heads the team and explains very simply how it works. "A lot of the technologies are very similar to what you'd find in your standard vehicle," he says.

Using standard technology is exactly how Steve up in Davis, Calif. attracted a collective 356,700 hits on his YouTube channel. His most popular is a 1:31 minute video of a raggedy old Ford running off a standard welder's tank in which he says is hydrogen. "The truck runs better on hydrogen than gas," he writes.

Steve, who goes by powerzap69, also peddles several books he's written on converting anything to run on the gas.

The tiger in your tank will cost

Gene "Hydrogene" Johnson, an energy consultant and managing editor of H2 Nation who lives in Fresno area, puts it in perspective. He told me awhile ago, "Let's help get the OPEC monkey off our back."

Hydrogene sent me a picture of his H2 HHR SSR, an acronym for Hydrogen Hot Rod Super Sport Roadster, taken at Sunline Transit H2 Refueling Station in Palms Springs, Calif. back in 2007. He says hydrogen is possible. “The challenge with anything new is the cost. The tank alone (on the SSR) cost us $10,000. Total install cost around $20,000.”