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Honda Bets on Hydrogen

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August 12, 2009 – Comments (10) | RELATED TICKERS: HMC

Saw a very interesting article today from Bloomberg. It said that Honda has placed a big bet on fuel cells that use hydrogen. Once Honda makes a corporate decision, they stick with it; they have spend $gazillions on this technology already. Frankly, I would not bet against Honda. It also explains how Toyota was able to drop a dime on Honda for hybrids.

They are testing a fleet of these things in So Cal, where they have a dozen or two hydrogen fueling stations. Apparently, these things already work: they have a cruising range of, I think, about 200 miles. At this point, it is only a matter of getting a fueling infrastructure and economy of scale.

The governator has a Hummer powered by hydrogen. This technology makes sense: it is one of the few fuels abundant enough to replace petroleum. Right now, today, Hydrogen costs about 2x of the equivalent of gasoline. Wait: all this is on a few prototypes, and some experimental fueling stations? How far down will the cost go when they get the economy of scale down pat?

10 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On August 12, 2009 at 9:48 PM, angusthermopylae (40.73) wrote:

My skepticism about hydrogen is the same as it is for battery powered vehicles:  Hydrogen is an energy transfer mechanism, not an energy source.

Oil is an energy source.  The complex hydrocarbons that we burn for energy (electricity, go-power for your cars, mowing the lawns, etc) were created a long time ago (no, I'm not going to get into the whole evolution/intelligent-design debate...just "long ago" is enough).  The energy that we take out of oil and its byproducts was put there as the oil was formed...think something along the lines of the dinosaur's last meal gets you about 100 feet down the road.

Or, to put it in financial terms, oil is the inheritance that great-great-etc grandpa left us...it's not money we earned...we're just living off the huge estate he left.

Hydrogen, batter-power, etc. are simply energy transfer mechanisms.  Batteries have to be recharged...with what?  Electricity through a plug in the wall.  Where does that electricity come from?  Big ol' oil and cola burning plants....burning through great-great grandpa's estate again.

In particular, there is no (or practically no) free hydrogen on earth--it has to be created by putting in energy to crack the molecules that bind it.  Where does that energy come from?  Usually eletricity...and we're back to grandpa's estate.

OTOH, hydrogen, when it burns, only produces water and heat...no pollution.  So it's absolutely perfect as an environmentally-conscious "fuel."

But...and here's my point....hydrogen in and of itself is not a fix for anything.  It just moves the dirty mess of hydrocarbons (oil, gas) to a far away place...leaving the owner of a hydrogen-powered car feeling smug in how he's helping the environment...because he's not seeing the fossil fuels being burnt to drive his car.

Combine hydrogen fuels with hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear energy prduction, and now you are talking...but otherwise, it's just moving the mess to a far away place.

But at least it won't be "in my back yard."

Ride the H-fuel wave while you can, but don't bet the long-term farm on it....at least, not until all the issues have been addressed.

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#2) On August 12, 2009 at 9:50 PM, ChrisGraley (29.86) wrote:

Fuel costs won't be a problem. Storage and explosion risk is the problem. I can make hydrogen in my back yard if I wanted to.

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#3) On August 12, 2009 at 9:53 PM, catoismymotor (< 20) wrote:

Here is a link to Top Gear's profile of the hydrogen powered Honda.

 

Thank you for the post. I believe this is an important technology that has wonderful potential.

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#4) On August 13, 2009 at 10:47 AM, Donnernv (< 20) wrote:

Doesn't anybody think anymore?  Doesn't anybody read or research anymore?  Hydrogen is NOT a fuel.  There is NO hydrogen.  Locate for me the world's first hydrogen mine.

Using some other form of energy (usually electricity), hydrogen is forcibly cracked out of water molecules.  I know you can crack it out of natural gas.  That's a great idea.

Then, in theory, hydrogen can be combined with oxygen to yield energy and a water byproduct.  But the energy you get back came from the energy you put in to separate the hydrogen and oxygen in the water in the first place.

And you don't get back 100% of the energy put in.  But forget that it's an inefficient process from an energy point of view.  Say you make a bunch at a nuclear power plant in the New Mexico desert.  How are you going to get it to Pete's gas station on your corner?

Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe.  You can't ship it around as a gas.  You'd need a container as big as a supertanker to transport a few pounds.  That notion is absurd.  It must be compressed or cooled to a liquid to make transport even plausible.

But how do you compress or liquify this gas?  It takes a lot of energy to do this.  And then what?  You cannot put into any pipeline that exists in the world.  It would turn the pipeline into potato chip brittleness in a week.  You'd need very special tank trucks to carry the liquid hydrogen.  It's cold!

And what is Pete going to do with it?  No storage tank at any fuel station in the world can store liquid hydrogen.  It turns steel into potato chips in a week.  Every fuel station on Earth would have to install very expensive special storage tanks to hold liquid hydrogen.

And then what?  It evaporates through any storage container at an astonishing rate.  It would all be gone in a couple of weeks.  And the hoses and dispensers to put it into a car?  Liquid hydrogen?  Soccer Mom pumping liquid hydrogen?  Absurd.

And the tank required in the car?  Storing liquid hydrogen?  It's colder than -400 degrees!  And it evaporates like crazy.

The whole notion is ridiculous.  Just Google the damned thing and learn something about it.  It will NEVER happen.

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#5) On August 13, 2009 at 11:04 AM, StopLaughing (< 20) wrote:

There were experimental hydrogen fleets in the 70s. The switching costs are to high.

Nat gas makes more sense and is cheaper. Hybrids are already viable and improving in both cost and performance and do not require high switching costs or new infrastructure at the consumer level.

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#6) On August 13, 2009 at 11:22 AM, catoismymotor (< 20) wrote:

This is a good journaistic explainantion of the complexities of using hydrogen.

 

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#7) On August 13, 2009 at 11:48 AM, Melaschasm (53.71) wrote:

A hydrogen fuel cell is more like a battery powering an electric motor, than a combustion engine powered by buring hydrogen.

Hydrogen fuel cells might someday replace lithium ion batteries in laptops, cell phones, etcetra.

Personally I still think CNG is the best alternative to oil based gas.  I would love to see more vehicle able to run on either CNG or gasoline, and allow the drivers to switch back and forth based upon price.  This would offer direct competition for gas, and help keep the price of both fuels lower.

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#8) On August 13, 2009 at 12:11 PM, panchocharlie (27.51) wrote:

honda motor and plug power in a joint  venture are developing a home energy system.   the home energy system is a fuel cell fueled by natural gas which provides electricity,heat hot water for the home while also supplying hydrogen fuel required to power a vehicle. this info from aol money and finance

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#9) On August 13, 2009 at 12:36 PM, Donnernv (< 20) wrote:

This article contains all you need to know about the practicality of using hydrogen as a fuel source.  Useful links for the curious.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_vehicle

 

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#10) On August 13, 2009 at 12:54 PM, CaFCPChris (< 20) wrote:

Visit www.cafcp.org and www.h2andyou.org for information about the demonstration fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen stations already deployed and answers about H2 production, costs and storage.

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