Yes, there's still a fear factor associated with hydrogen. I still remember the Hindenburg and the hydrogen bombs used in Japan. Hydrogen still carries the fear factor people still carry about nuclear power. It's going to blowup and destroy us all.
Perception and related actions are an interesting thing. As long as these things continue to be bigger than life and out of proportion in our minds, use is going to be limited.
I find it interesting how the human mind finds it acceptable and doesn't impact our behaviors when 18,000 people are killed by drunk drivers and 100,000 people are killed because of incorrect hospital drug dispensing or contracted infections each year and they readily drive to hospital visits, but when a couple of batteries catch fire in a controlled crash test, or a dozen floor mats get stuck under an accelerator peddle, we refuse to buy that car.
I believe that the issue here is weigth. There are other options in lithium ion technology, like Lithium Iron Phosphate, but they have 70 to 80% of the cappacity of the usual Lithium-Cobalt batteries. They are a lot safer, withstanding higher temperatures, and they do not burst in flames when short circuited. But the weight kills them for use in cars. They are very common in light vehicles, like bikes or motorcycles. Maybe it's a question of time...
Gasoline, and battery packs both represent stored energy, which must somehow be rendered 'safe' in a crash. Amazing strides have been made in gasoline technology, yet firery car crashes still occur. There will be similar occurances with battery technology. The question is, how safe is safe. Will we accept one fire in a hundred, a thousand, or a million or more crashes ?
A protocol needs to be established to drain the charge from damaged battery packs, just as capacitors are discharged to return them to safe voltage levels.
Mellow, the problem of early adoption does not seem the same now as it was then.
Take light bulbs. The Edison Screw is by far the most widely accepted. Even new CFL bulbs are using this century old design. There were competing designs (and still are), but the lead early adopter pushed his design into the de-facto standard.
Gasoline nozzles are the same way. Petroleum companies early on saw the BENEFIT of commonality; they could push more of their product if all vehicles had the same receptacle.
Today, there's not many instances where an innovator make such a leap that nearly everyone sees the benefit of following the de-facto standard. Companies see an opportunity to create their own "standard" hoping more people will follow them than the competition. VHS vs. Betamax, Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD are good examples where competition caused early adoption grief.
Consumer battery sizes (AA, AAA, C, D) are all over a century old, though the sizes were formally ratified as ANSI standards in the USA in the 40s and 50s.
It's not a matter of "something a little different". If producers would be willing to standardize even a little bit, the infrastructure problems would be much less.
mellowfellow, I agree with your statement in regards to the NHTSA post testing procedure. In the event that I had a crash that totalled the rear end of my car and it was leaking gasoline, I would surely immediately have the tank repaired or removed to stop the potential fire hazzard. I would not wait three weeks without doing anything.
As I sit alone, late at night hiding behind my pseudonym and reading about batteries and safety, a couple of thoughts cross mind.
1. What are the NH-TSAs doing? Do they just look at dents and crash dummy damage? I would expect that they [if they were a company in the private sector] would perform some level of 'autopsy' after a crash test - especially if it involved a 'not very common technology' like battery power.
2. 'Instant gratification types' and 'academians' are always whining about the lack of infrastructure when something a little different might come to market. That would be nice and make for quick adoption, but it is contrary to the mass deployment of any new product that comes to mind. What was the infrastructure when the first automobiles were being sold? Or when the first mobile phones and cable TV service were sold in the 1940s?
I agree, Rob. Battery technologies have been notorious for looking good in the lab but not as good in production. I started covering electric cars in '88, and back then every battery looked great in the lab. Virtually every battery maker promised to bring vehicle range up to 300 miles and cost down to $100/kWh. One academic said that it was like being in "a liar's contest. Whoever told the biggest whopper got the most money." But for two decade now, these technologies have never quite realized their promise when they leave the lab.
Good comments, Dave. Interesting how promising technology changes when you move it from the lab and into production. In your case, I guess it didn't look like promising technology even when it was in the lab.
@Alexander Wolfe: The days of throwing huge sums of money at fuel cell research pretty much ended with the Bush Administration. Besides the issues which Charles cites, there is the larger issue of where to get hydrogen from. It may be the most abundant element in the universe, but here on earth, it's mostly tied up in water and hydrocarbons. If you want to separate the hydrogen from these compounds, you need to put energy in. Where do you get that energy from?
At best, hydrogen is an energy storage medium, not an energy source. And as an energy storage medium, its energy density is much less than that of batteries.
You're absolutely correct that most of the safety concerns about hydrogen are unfounded. However, that doesn't mean the technology makes sense.
I did some work on hydrogen fuel cell technology for the Department of Energy as an undergraduate. It was very interesting from a materials engineering point of view -- and it was inspiring to feel like I was helping to lay the groundwork for an energy revolution which would someday break our dependence on carbon-based fuels. However, the more I learned, the more skeptical I became that hydrogen will ever be either environmentally sustainable or economically viable.
A couple years later, I worked briefly for a professor who was building a hydrogen-powered lawnmower as a demonstration project for a major city's parks department. He kicked me off the project after I asked too many "big picture" questions which he couldn't answer.
I agree, Beth, that it would be a shame to lose the momentum that the EV market has gained in the past five years. In the long run, though, I think the momentum won't be completely lost. I believe we'll see that momentum swing to hybrids and plug-in hybrids, which can use smaller lithium-ion batteries that inherently cost less. If we're going to continue publicly pushing pure EVs, it might be better for us to direct our efforts toward battery research. I don't believe we'll ever see a battery that can compete with the energy and cost characteristics of gasoline in our lifetimes, but if we could create a battery that could meet the old $100/kWh target, it would go a long way toward bringing pure EVs to the masses.
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