Again another energy related posting but I’ve been sat in traffic jams and thinking. What I came up with is nothing new it the obvious answer to our existing fossil fuel related problem with cars. Electric vehicles or EVs if you like are a very nice solution to removing the bad, bad fossil fuel burning gas cars but they are really not practicable. Not because they require a lot of nice things like lithium or they don’t have the range or even because they are too expensive but as I said in a previous post they are not practicable with the way the majority of the world works and interacts with their car, for now. I must stress with careful planning that would/will get better and become less of a problem but so would a lot of things!
However, lets say what to do “tomorrow” about fossil fuel burning cars. You see the issue is the carbon dioxide emissions but that is not the entire story it is also the emission of other gases and particulates which are not particularly good as well. So if you could turn a whole series of very nasty polluting cars into a series of water emitting cars (gross over simplification there seeing as this would also emit other noxious gases but at significantly better levels and no particulates) then why not do it?
What am I talking about?
Well pretty much any car today that is an internal combustion engine could be converted to gas. To run on LPG and or hydrogen. Hydrogen is the winner for me. It would mean less boot space, it would mean a different way to refill the car and building a hydrogen infrastructure but to be honest we already have petrol stations and a lot of those have LPG and it is not too hard to transport hydrogen about. Please do not quote forklift trucks at me using propane as being “hard to use” as I will just ignore you.
Why go to hydrogen and burn it?
People will complain about it being a waste. OK say it is terribly wasteful. It is made from the electrolysis of water and that is more expensive than turning hydrocarbons into hydrogen BUT it is cleaner and breaks the fossil fuel link. Unless you use coal but well ok you can. Where was I? Ok you switch to hydrogen because it massively reduces pollution. You make the switch to burning hydrogen in a normal converted car because it means that you can use a normal car or wagon. This means it is compatible with the norm of society. You do this now because it is a quick fix. You do this because you can not wait for EVs and urban planning to make them a reality. You do not kill off EVs you just give them more time to become part of the design landscape. You allow for solutions like EV charging for apartment blocks.
But very, very importantly tomorrow you stop the carbon dioxide release from millions upon millions of independent sources those of cars. Tomorrow you make driving a low pollution car a reality for everyone and we are talking at the tailpipe pollution. This improves the air in the cities something I am appreciating more and more as a problem. You can just like you can for EV cars using coal fired power, gas fired power nuclear whatever you want to do the electrolysis. You can do this because again you use a lazy technology to fix the short term problem you use Carbon Capture and Storage at the point of generation the power station. Easy and just like EV cars you can offset with renewables in the mix.
The important thing is “tomorrow” you do not need a fuel cell technology or burn the hydrogen, you do not need a massive new electricity infrastructure building into apartment complexes. You do not need better battery tech being rolled out. You do not need everyone to give up their existing car and to move to another car which in reality there is not sufficient global capacity to make if we all wanted to switch tomorrow. You use existing tech to give you a stepping stone over the problem. I am not saying it fixes the problem it just gives you a shortcut for now.
Ok you do need to convert millions upon millions of cars. This is simple in terms of retrofitting components. You will need to build a hydrogen infrastructure. But what is that exactly? Production, well we can build the electrolysis plants near existing power stations, we can transport using the same tech as gas via tanker. Or pipeline if it is short (which it won’t be). You use the existing petrol stations you just add another product line. Then you start phasing out petrol. Of course if you want to make it simple the electricity already goes to the petrol station so just make the hydrogen generation plant local. Then you can reduce the storage capacity required. No such tech exists? Google it: http://www.hydrogenics.com/hydro/
During the war people in the UK switched a lot of their cars to run from coal gas. This was a good thing encouraged by the government. Yes it made a great Dad’s army episode. And yes people had crazy balloons on the roof of their cars but it was done. So who says we can not do it again but for hydrogen. Ok so hydrogen is more tricky to handle and modern cars are different from those of the 1930’s and 40’s but it is doable.
Lets do some really quick fixes folks, get some things sorted tomorrow and then next week we can have the luxury of time to start getting the other cool tech issues resolved.
If today I gave you a box that replaced your fuel tank and could power your car by the electrolysis of water in your car as and when you needed it would that be a good thing? You could do that. You could make such a system. The problem is the net energy balance. You see you use energy to make hydrogen, you burn hydrogen to allow your car to move. You can not get back enough energy locally to store to make more hydrogen later for the electrolysis. We are talking a normal car running an alternator no new tech at that end. So in short you would need another battery and well we are back to the charging issue again we have for EVs.
It would be better than storing hydrogen in a cylinder, I know, because all you would store is a small amount of hydrogen in a header tank plus water. It would also produce the exact hydrogen and oxygen ratio because well that is what electrolysis does it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen:
H2O -> H2 + 1/2O2
2H2O -> 2H2 + O2
if you prefer?
But you could not convert the hydrogen back to electricity through the internal combustion process via an alternator in such a manner as to maintain the charge in your battery that was being used to generate the hydrogen via electrolysis. However if you increased the size of the header tank such that you bought hydrogen in or you did have the battery charging infrastructure then you could have dynamic hydrogen generation I guess.
How about a few references yes OLD ones to prove the point?
Int. J. Hydrogen Energy, Vol. 15, No. 6, pp. 425~143, 1990
Int. J. Hydrogen Energy, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 363-371, 1998