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Top arguments concerning fuel cell vehicles?

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by AudubonB, Feb 8, 2014.

  1. AudubonB

    AudubonB Mild-mannered Moderator Lord Vetinari*

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    I realized today that I hadn't done my homework when a house guest started extolling the Wonderful World of FCVs. So am starting this thread to learn more about them - I know this forum won't find many champions of them, but perhaps their detractors could provide good cogent reasons as to why they should take a backseat to EVs? (and is this the right subforum for this thread? )
     
  2. roblab

    roblab Active Member

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    I am sure anyone could do better than me, but for starters, hydrogen is generally made by pulling it off of methane molecule, leaving carbon. This step, or pulling hydrogen out of water, is energy expensive. Putting the same power into a battery for use later is a lot more efficient.

    The idea of using a fuel cell is the same as using a battery: Energy storage. Fuel cells don't make power, they store it. The problem is that there are several steps to store energy in a fuel cell. Let's see.

    1. Make hydrogen and pump or pipe or truck it to service stations. I spose it could be made from Nat Gas at the station. Takes a while. Takes a lot of power, too. I doubt they will be doing steam reformation at a gas station.
    2. Pump hydrogen up to about 10,000 lb/sq in. This takes a lot more power.
    3. Put into a crash proof tank, which takes up lots of room somewhere in the vehicle (like a battery, maybe - no better) Can store maybe 200 miles' worth.
    4. Run hydrogen through various tubings and fittings which will probably leak somewhere, to the fuel cell area. Hydrogen will leak through metal, plastic, rubber, etc.
    5. Maybe have hydrogen detectors on the car to smell leaks, because no one wants to turn a light on in the garage after the car has sat there overnight. Hydrogen is way more flammable than gasoline. Wait til the news services get hold of the stories of hydrogen fires at home. Or on the freeway. Or at the filling station.
    6. Run hydrogen through a fuel cell. Sorry, an EXPENSIVE fuel cell. Where all it makes is water vapor. Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas.
    7. Store power from fuel cell in a -- gosh, a BATTERY!
    8. Use power to drive an electric motor.

    Seems like you could eliminate about half of those steps, get a lot less complication and more reliability.

    The advantage is that you can fill up in about 10 minutes. They say 5, maybe 15, but you have high pressure fittings to pump 10,000 lb / sq in that take more than the average driver to use. You would have a trained attendant.

    The other advantage is that the oil companies can furnish the hydrogen and control the whole process, sort of like now with gasoline. They keep the profit. You will not fill up at home overnight.

    Hydrogen will cost about what gas costs now, if all goes well. The only advantage is that you have faster fueling for an EV. An EREV would beat it on fueling availability and speed, but hydrogen would eliminate gasoline. But it will not eliminate the Corportate Fuel Companies (Exxon Mobile, Shell, BP) which sell methane.

    And the life cycle of the fuel cell is still shorter than gas engines.

    Win- win. Right?
     
  3. johnnyS

    johnnyS Member

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    I went to a presentation by Mercedes on their fuel cell program in southern California a couple of years ago--before we had our model S. It must have been in 2011 or early 2012 before any model Ss were on the road. I asked about the cost of fuel compared to gasoline. I remember them saying when they have enough stations it should be equivalent to $8.00 per gallon of gas. I drove their prototype vehicle which was about the size of a mini van. The performance was lackluster to say the least. The German engineers were proud that they had spent only a billion or two on the development. At the time you could lease the vehicle short term for $900 per month if you lived close enough to a fueling station.

    I could not see why one would want a poor performing vehicle with limited interior space with fuel costs double of a conventional car. They thought I was nuts for having a model S reservation. It seems the manufacturers are catering to California incentives and building the minimum compliance vehicles.
     
  4. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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    #4 stopcrazypp, Feb 8, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
    I'll do a quick pros and cons.

    Pros:
    1) No tailpipe emissions (except water)
    2) Cars more efficient than ICE (50-70mpge)
    3) Typically more range than EVs (200-300 miles+ is typical)
    4) Fast refueling (under 5 minutes with pre-compressed or liquid hydrogen, 20-30 minute if compressed on the spot)
    5) Uses station based infrastructure as people are used to (a "con" for EV fans, but might be a "pro" for other people)

    Cons:
    1) No infrastructure and expensive to build (about $2-4 million per station even when converting an existing gas station)
    2) Fuel expensive (~$12-13 per kg right now in the Emeryville hydrogen station, kg is equivalent to about a gallon; projected to get to $4/kg in large volume)
    3) Car expensive (no real price tag yet, but estimated to be $50k-100k for fuel cell stack alone today; target sale price is $50k for a Leaf-level vehicle)
    4) Low performance (power limited by fuel cell, and price goes up with fuel cell power; so far industry is using 80-100kW fuel cells)
    5) ~3-4x less efficient from well to wheel than EV if hydrogen is made from electricity, slightly below an EV when hydrogen is made from natural gas
    6) Tanks take up a lot of volume and are in a less ideal shape (have to be round rather than flat like a battery pack)

    The simple reason they should take a backseat to EVs is they still have a ways to go in terms of car price and infrastructure. A profitable $20-30k EV is possible today, while it's not possible to make a profitable $20-30k FCV. Almost everything about it is more expensive than EVs while being less efficient. The only trump card it has right now over EVs is the fast refueling, plus a lot of the affordable EVs still having under 100 miles of range.
     
  5. ItsNotAboutTheMoney

    ItsNotAboutTheMoney Active Member

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    This is a frequently understated point. The performance of current HFCVs is relatively poor. A Volt is a car from a manufacturer that makes heavy cars, only has a 16.5kWh battery and can outperform a Clarity. You can bet the $50k Toyota (which will cost what to manufacture?) won't have great performance. Hyundai's compliance FCV will have sluggish performance. Personally, I don't care about performance, but there's a reason why the Prius isn't the top selling car in the USA.

    7) Owner will not be able to refuel at home, continuing the economic inefficiency of thousands of filling-stations.
    8) Swaps dependency on petroleum for dependency on NG.
     
  6. brianman

    brianman Burrito Founder

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    Isn't there a kaboom of some kind in the "cons"?
     
  7. PV4EV

    PV4EV Member

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    A Fool-cell car is basically an electric vehicle where stored hydrogen is the energy carrier. The hydrogen needs to be stored in a > 5,000 PSI tank to get respectable range ( .. good luck with that).

    Hydrogen does not exist naturally in nature, so needs extracting somehow.

    The daft thing is that making hydrogen needs high grade electricity for an electrolysis process that is LESS than 25% efficient, and that’s before all the energy needed to compress it is taken into account.

    Surely its far far more efficient to forget all the electrolysing and simply store the electricity in the first place … ? I've not found a single FCV fan who can argue against this.

    After all, synthetic hydrogen as an energy carrier cannot be more efficient than the energy from which is it produced !! Renewable energy is far better distributed by electrons than any hydrogen method.

    There's no rational engineering or ecological or energy argument that comes close to justifying fuel cell cars … except profit generation for existing petrochemical companies, and enslavement to tax raising methods for governments, using the existing petrochemical distribution infrastructure which will otherwise be redundant at some point in the future given reducing oil reserves..


    Additionally, I dread to think of how big the crater will be when random metal objects of the right geometry puncture the armour plating of an FCV.
     
  8. Zythryn

    Zythryn MS 70D, MX 90D

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    #8 Zythryn, Feb 9, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
    Most hydrogen proponents favor the much more efficient generation of hydrogen from natural gas. Much more efficient than electrolysis.

    However, after driving with electric power over 70,000 miles, I will never go back to the inconvenience of fueling away from home.
    Why in the world would I stop in the middle of going somewhere when I could fuel up while sleeping and start with a full 'tank' each day?

    Hydrogen does have its place. I do believe it is a great solution for storing excess energy from solar and wind. Likewise, for stationary applications it should work much better than for small vehicle transportation.
    It MAY also work for long haul trucking, however you need a very wide distribution setup for that. Not nearly as deep/dense as for fueling cars, but it still would need to be available at truck stops across the nation.
     
  9. Robert.Boston

    Robert.Boston Model S VIN P01536

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    I disagree. As @PV4EV noted, the electrolysis process is less that 25% efficient. That's a horrible battery efficiency rating; even some very simple storage solutions do much better. Electrolysis also needs a source of clean water, but water is already in short supply in many wind- and sun-rich areas.

    The killer argument against hydrogen is really simple: it takes more electricity simply to compress 1kg hydrogen to required pressures than it would take to move an EV the distance that 1kg can move the FCV. So even if, magically, there were large clouds of hydrogen sitting freely available, FCVs are less efficient than an EV. I confess I don't have a link to back up this statement; I've seen it here on this forum before, though, so perhaps the OP can source it?
     
  10. Saghost

    Saghost Active Member

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    I really don't understand the logic involved in the design choices made on FCVs so far - unless the companies are still viewing them as technology demonstrators or it's all a PR boon-doggle.

    As far as I can tell, the big challenge for a FCV is the cost of the fuel cell stack - estimated at up to $100k for current cars, I think largely because it needs rare precious metals. And yet the car companies are building them with 100kW fuel cell stacks, for some reason.

    The obvious way to make a more practical and more affordable FCV is to build it as an EREV. With several kWh of high power lithium chemistry batteries, you'd only need a fuel cell stack to match average road load - maybe a third the size (and presumably cost) or a little less. But I have yet to see any car company make an FCV designed this way.

    If you're going to make an FCV to sell today, the way to do it is take an i3 REx or Accord PHEV and replace the engine with a 20-30 kW Solid Oxide fuel cell that converts natural gas directly. That way you can use the (still somewhat limited) existing infrastructure of CNG stations, and the existing CNG storage technologies. The solid oxide systems have high operating temperatures, but I think it could be managed - they aren't any hotter than the catalytic converter on your typical car I believe.

    I'm not sure you could make that affordable, but you'd come a lot closer than any other method, and avoid the whole question of developing a hydrogen infrastructure, while gaining the cheap refueling at home for most daily use. CNG can come from a number of renewable sources as well, if that's a priority.

    This seems obvious, but I have yet to see anyone pursuing it, which leaves me puzzled.
    Walter
     
  11. Robert.Boston

    Robert.Boston Model S VIN P01536

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    Call me a cynic, but I think a good part of the explanation for the persistence of FCV and the mis-guided attempts in that direction is that the sponsors of the research truly want it to fail. "Yes, senator, we've spent billions researching alternatives to gasoline, but in the end, nothing is better."
     
  12. ItsNotAboutTheMoney

    ItsNotAboutTheMoney Active Member

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    According to wikipedia advanced electrolysis has efficiencies of 60 to 80, which leads to methanation efficiencies theoretically 60% (I heard high 60s on a TED talk, I think), although demonstration projects are around 40%, since combined heat andnpower is needed to get to 60%. Properly implemented, the overall efficiency of methanation (more realistic than hydrogen storage) would be higher than 25%, and would have a closed chemical loop. I don't know the complexities, but to me it seems that methanation be a significant part of any sustainable system, despite the inefficiency. The first step is production of hydrogen, but I can't see it being of much value to transportation because hydrogen transportation is expensive, and transmission capacity for electricity is expensive, so either way you would add cost. Intuitively, methanation would seem to be most economically efficient when it's used to lower the peak output of a renewable electricity plant and the methane is used locally, either for on-site backup generation or for heat.
     
  13. dsm363

    dsm363 Roadster + Sig Model S

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    I think this is the most likely explanation. Also oil companies need a future liquid fuel to sell and a fuel network to build out for cars. EVs don't help them at all with this goal.
     
  14. ItsNotAboutTheMoney

    ItsNotAboutTheMoney Active Member

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    I think that while there's a lot of lobbying interest, overall it's less conspiratorial than all that. People are looking for a sustainable transportation solution, and are mentally stuck with a single ICEV paradigm that includes very fast refueling. When HFCVs were first pushed battery technology was nowhere near the current state. Now modern lithium batteries technologies allow for HEV, PHEV and BEV solutions that reduce the need and expediency to have HFCV succeed. Tesla is crucial, because it has a real product, sold at real prices that shows a positive BEV paradigm that will depend almost entirely on battery cost reduction for success. Tesla's model would be able to take a very significant chunk of the market in developed nations, with indirect benefits in growing mid-range BEV, PHEV and EREV sales as well as potential to expand use of batteries as grid and off-grid energy storage. What would remain would be a significantly reduced number of ICEV miles, primarily in freight.

    That's why the State of the Union's pushing of NG vehicles doesn't overly concern me. NG appeals to value buyers, which includes the commercial sector and used car buyers, but not so much new car buyers, and therefore doesn't really threaten electrification, but it can kill HFCV, because it can cover the use cases that are hardest to cover with PEV at much lower cost. With higher CNGV sales you would also resurrect the "Phil" idea, which allows limited home refueling, which would further help shift the paradigm away from high dependency on the economically inefficient and exploitative distribution system that is currently in use.
     
  15. richkae

    richkae VIN587

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    FCVs are currently inferior to EVs on cost ( fuel cell stacks are expensive, compressed hydrogen tanks are expensive, hydrogen is more expensive than electricity and always will be because it is less efficient ), performance ( the expensive fuel cell stack limits power ), safety ( 5000 psi compressed hydrogen is dangerous ), utility ( that big hydrogen tank will waste your cargo space ). Some of those may eventually be solved with technology.

    The only advantage that an FCV has over an EV is the possibility of fast refueling, which if we spent a hundred billion on refueling stations - would make them as convenient as gasoline ICE cars.
    But what is poorly understood is that an EV ( even one without any charging infrastructure away from home ) is actually more convenient than an ICE for most people - not less.
    The supercharger network makes the EV more convenient for most of the rest.

    Even if we wanted to spend the money on a hydrogen infrastructure, it all needs to be done up front, or the car is useless to just about everyone. It can't be slowly grown, filling in the the last edges of range capability like the supercharger network.
     
  16. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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    An EREV only makes sense if the infrastructure is already widespread (like a gasoline ICE). It makes no sense to build an FCV as an EREV because the infrastructure is not there. Plus the people building the infrastructure would not appreciate FCV drivers using electricity instead. It only makes sense to build that infrastructure if they can lock you into the local station. If only a fraction of your driving will be on hydrogen, then a hydrogen station will never be a viable business (esp. given the high installation cost, plus probably high operating cost too).

    - - - Updated - - -

    I remember discussing with someone who spoke to Toyota executives about why they believe hydrogen is the only way forward (and not EVs). It's that they think anything that does not provide the same fast refueling as gasoline today will automatically fail in the market. They are so used to the station paradigm that they can't imagine how home refueling can work. I'm sure if you do market surveys you probably will get the same result (and they likely justified their thinking with such market surveys).

    And people pushing FCVs vs. EVs always seem to like to compare a future scenario where hydrogen infrastructure is completely built out and FCVs already being massed produced versus the current scenario of EVs (just starting with infrastructure and with only moderate volume).
     
  17. jerry33

    jerry33 S85 - VIN:P05130 - 3/2/13

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    Very likely. Those same marketing surveys showed that no one in the Prius market listened to MP3s so the 2004 Prius didn't come with any way to play MP3s. As far as I know, every 2004 Prius owner complained to Toyota about that and in later models it was included. Marketing surveys are probably the worst way to design a new product unless you are very careful of how you chose the respondents and even then you should discount about three quarters of the response.
     
  18. woof

    woof Model S #P683 Blue 85 kWh

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    #18 woof, Feb 9, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
    Fuel cells can work with fuels other than hydrogen--such as methane, propane or methanol. But then they emit CO2 as well as water. As a range extender it might make some sense, providing the benefits of pure electric with the benefits of fast liquid fueling with "unlimited" range.

    They aren't even that expensive: a 20 kW propane fuel cell is commercially available for less than $5000:
    FREE SHIPPING 6244 | Residential Standby Generators| Northern Tool + Equipment

    EDIT: Never mind the link...it's not a fuel cell. Bad dog, Bad!
     
  19. stopcrazypp

    stopcrazypp Well-Known Member

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  20. woof

    woof Model S #P683 Blue 85 kWh

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    Oops..I googled "propane fuel cell", this popped up. Didn't look that closely! Sigh.
     

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