AL KLU, I am working with a design, hopefully to prototype soon, that provides hydrogen on demand rather than producing H2 then storing. We have build three devices for demonstration and will soon be producing 50 for installation on diesel engines. Combining that with and electronic control unit, we will collect data to determine cost savings relative to improved gas mileage. With the one now installed, we have accomplished an 18 % improvement as installed on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter. This is the "van" used by FedEx. Hopefully, we will get this design commercialized by the end of the year. We feel this is more viable than the H2 fuel cell design. Thank you Charles for keeping us up to date.
J-Allen, you are exactly correct about the overall energy consumption. And even if the car uses a fuel cell, which is much more efficient than any ICE power source, it still is a logistic challenge to handle hydrogen in any form, and it still uses a lot of energy to "package" that fuel for the car. Hydrogen is not as slippery as helium, but it still likes to leak out of any storage system. And the returning of hydrogen to a condition where it has recoverable energy is still an energy consuming process.
Yes. I agree that this needs to be a zero sum equation. But you have to agree that running a fuel cell on hydrogen does not add hydrocarbons or other pollutants to the environment at the car level. The water/aluminum/gallium reaction brings the materials to their natural (i.e. lowest energy) state. Having an on-demand supply of hydrogen is safer than super high pressure tanks of the gas.
So the real question is how do we convert the oxides back to the base metals in an efficient and cost-effective process. This is the already-existing technology of recyling aluminum. Yes, this is energy intensive. But so is the process of pumping oil, transporting it to refineries, refining it, and transporting fuel to the gas station just to burn it off at 35% efficiency.
The best part of the recyling process is that it is already available, so that we can then work on improving the recycling process with respect to using pollution-causing fossil fuels (i.e. running the smelters with solar energy, wind energy, wave energy, and all the other green technologies). Improving the environmental impact at a power station is more effective than in an ICE. What this means is that the de-oxidation process can be run when the external energy is available so that energy would be stored for when it is needed.
This reaction is like a battery (stored chemical energy), except that a material changeover (refueling) would be much faster than recharging a battery. And storing alloy pellets in an existing gas station is far easier to implement than building a hydrogen pumping station.
No matter what method is used to reduce hydrogen from water, the First Law of thermodynamics requires that at least as much energy go into the process as one would get by burning the hydrogen back to water. Otherwise you would be proposing a perpetual mothion machine of the First Kind. No free lunch!
In the real world the practical processes are considerably less than 50% "round trip" efficiency. So again, hydrogen is great for filling buoyant balloons, and talking in a funny voice, but not for running a gas engine economically.
j, I agree that creating hydrogen off-vehicle, and then storing it in a high pressure canister on vehicle is incredibly inefficient. I think the future would be more in line with creating hydrogen on demand. Purdue Univeristy has created an aluminum-gallium alloy, which when mixed with water, creates hydrogen in volumes that can run a car's IC engine.
The resultant byproducts are aluminum and gallium oxides that can be just drawn from the "engine" compartment and recycled back to the initial alloy.
Imagine driving up to a gas station and filling up your tank with water!
Excellent post Charles--good update. I'm very impressed with the attempt to provide aerodynamic properties to the design. Also, it does seem that more and more auto makers are getting on the "hydrogen fuel cell bandwagon". I personally think this is fascinating technology and applaud their efforts to develop this alternative to the "standard" internal combustion engine. That's what engineers do.
Unfortunately, I'm unable to view the photo in your comment, JimT. I'll just have to take your word for it that the front of the car (which does seem to have a facial expression) is modeled after Robert Downey Jr.
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