2007/03/13

BlognonyBITS - Hydrogen Sucks, Here's Why

Hydrogen production is expensive, too expensive to be practical.
Fossil-fuels, not renewables, are still the best source for hydrogen.
So why does Detroit push hydrogen over pure electric or pluggable-hybrid?
Because Big Oil tells them to. And why does Big Oil care? Two words:

Fueling stations!

Big Oil doesn't want you filling up your car at home.

31 Comments:

Dig it, Frog! Found that out a few years ago when I first heard BP was pushing H.

When Teh Decider decided it was the way to go .. well.

{shakin'head}
It's business as usual for the energy companies. In the early part of the 20th century, the oil companies engaged in a series of mergers, acquistions, buyouts, both legal and illegal, including simply running other companies out of business, until they controlled every single bit of the path of the gasoline from the ground, through the refineries, the pipelines, trucks, filling stations, etc. They controlled every single aspect of the production and use of gasoline, and was one of the prime reasons they were busted up under the Sherman anti-trust acts in 1911.
Michael...it didn't occur to me until I watched "Who Killed the Electric Car"--not the best documentary, I must say. But it does call out a number of issues with the so-called "hydrogen economy'.

Haris... Agreed, nothing new under the sun, but the level of ignorance about the impact and problems of wide-spread hydrogen use are, at least to me, truly astounding. There is still a lot about the issue that I don't know. I've gone so far as to dump on pure electric without fully realizing that it really does add efficiency to the system, and is therefore a good thing.
I know this is borderline heresy for Dubya's OilCo., but it's way past time to nationalize all the oil companies.
I don't think they need to be nationalized, Hill - I think they need to be RE-REGULATED.

Deregulation in the 80's was a good idea that failed to take into account that there are still "Robber Baron" mentality rich boys like the Shrub out there.

Those who will not study history.... etc.
I get a bit queasy thinking about riding around in a hydrogen car bomb, like I might end up being one with the universe earlier than I want to be. ~~ D.K.
We studied it for a while when I was taking chemistry courses. Besides not being cost effective, DK is correct and it is an explosion hazard. Ethanol also uses more oil to make then it saves for now.

I am all for going electric. As that prescient group of scientists said way back in the 70s, "It's electric, boogie, oogie, oogie."
Big Oil doesn't want you filling up your car at home.
And think of all the other companies that do business everytime we fill up our tanks, the junk food and soda pop merchants, tacky impulse items (Made in China), cigarettes and lottery tickets, newspapers, all he stuff they sell at what used to be service stations.
Hill, Sewmouse... I doubt that even the Democrats would go even as far as re-regulating the oil companies. But I have argued that, where energy is concerned, forcing Big Oil to lay off is entirely in our own hands. "Energy stingyness" is a matter of personal responsibility.

D.K... I don't have much of a problem with hydrogen. Gasoline is explosive too, and we've had a long time and a lot of experience in learning how to transport hydrogen safely.
Scott... I didn't know that about ethanol. Really? No wonder Bush is starting to push it. It's not efficient. ;-)

Ron... My god, the whole economy, tumbling due to the loss of gas stations!
Regulated? Oil companies have never been "regulated". Never.

Where does this nonsense originate?
Hydrogen? Let's see. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Unfortunately, almost every hydrogen molecule is already tightly bound into some compound that's not willing to release its grip on good old H2.

Good luck bringing down the cost of hydrogen production to the level of hydrocarbon production.

Of course, you could attempt to legislate parity between the two and bankrupt the country along the way.
Regulated? Oil companies have never been "regulated". Never.

Don't know enough about it myself, really. The anti-trust breakup is all I'm familiar with--doesn't matter anyway. Like I said, neither party would attempt that. Consumers are the last and only bulwark on energy efficiency.
Good luck bringing down the cost of hydrogen production to the level of hydrocarbon production.

Of course, you could attempt to legislate parity between the two and bankrupt the country along the way.


Ah...so we agree. ;-)
kvatch, you wrote:

"Hydrogen production is expensive, too expensive to be practical."

And it will remain so for decades.

You claimed:

"Fossil-fuels, not renewables, are still the best source for hydrogen."

Oh sure. Where do you get this nonsense? If that were true oil companies would have gone full-speed ahead into this endeavor. There's no downside to the industry when the only result would be a vast increase in demand for oil.

You wondered:

"So why does Detroit push hydrogen over pure electric or pluggable-hybrid?"

You answered:

"Because Big Oil tells them to."

Wrong. Based on the obvious, there's no downside for the oil industry from the development of hydrogen-powered or electric cars.

You then asked and anwered:

"And why does Big Oil care? Two words: Fueling stations!"

Nonsense. Whether cars refuel with hydrogen, natural gas, gasoline, diesel or biofuels, all of it will flow from existing gas stations.

You concluded:

"Big Oil doesn't want you filling up your car at home."

The oil industry has nothing to say about it. If car-buyers want electric cars they can buy them today -- at a hefty premium to their gasoline-powered versions.

GM, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler would like nothing better than to sell cars profitably. If they could peddle profitable electrics and hybrids, they'd do it non-stop. But they can't. They can't because the demand isn't large enough and they don't have the manufacturing capacity.

If you think the US carmakers can convert their assembly lines to produce millions of hybrids overnight, you are sadly uninformed about the operations of real businesses, particularly large-scale manufacturers.

Furthermore, if oil companies felt compelled to manipulate the motor-vehicle market, they'd simply buy a car company and produce nothing but low-mileage cars. However, they'd fail because foreign competitors would dominate the market for high-mileage cars.

Meanwhile, you seem to know nothing about the oil industry in general. It's a global business. Not a domestic business.

It's divided into three major segments: exploration & production; gathering; and refining & marketing.

Very few companies tackle all three segments. As usual, companies do whatever they do best. Moreover, there is another industry that serves the Oil Industry. That's the Oilfield Services industry -- the guys who find the oil and operate the drilling rigs.

The price and demand for oil is a function of the 6.5 billion people in the world and their desire to purchase oil in various refined forms. You're dreaming if you think oil companies have any control over either demand or prices.
kvatch, you wrote:

"The anti-trust breakup is all I'm familiar with--doesn't matter anyway."

The anti-trust legislation was one of this country's silliest activities, especially as it related to growing domestic industries that had suddenly become international industries.

After oil was discovered in the middle east -- in the 1920s by British explorers -- the world was awash in oil. After that, it wouldn't have mattered how extensive the holdings of a few domestic oil companies were.

Now, of course, we buy half our oil from foreign sources which sharply reduces demand for our domestic oil-industry workers.

It is stunning that we spend billions to buy oil from foreign sources, particularly those in the middle east, when we have the capacity to meet almost 100% of our demand from domestic oil-fields.
ron nasty, you wrote:

"Big Oil doesn't want you filling up your car at home....And think of all the other companies that do business everytime we fill up our tanks, the junk food and soda pop merchants, tacky impulse items (Made in China), cigarettes and lottery tickets, newspapers, all he stuff they sell at what used to be service stations."

ron nasty, what point are you attempting to make?

Most junk food is domestically produced. You know, Made in America. That's certainly true for cigarettes, soda, newspapers, lotteries and most of the other items found at gas-station convenience stores.

That's good, isn't it?

Where I live -- Brooklyn, NY -- at least two major oil companies operate stations with large convenience stores. One of the chief items they offer to lure in customers is milk. A gallon of milk in Brooklyn costs more than $3 and less than $5 at most supermarkets and convenience stores. The competing gas stations sell it for $2.50 a gallon or less.

Meanwhile, gas prices fluctuate with the price of crude oil and localized demand.

Additionally, Exxon is now renting space in its NYC convenience stores to Dunkin Donuts.
If the fusion plant they are building in 2012 actually works, hydrogen won't be so expensive.

But all in all you are very correct. Energy Co's want to control the distribution.

How else will they be able to manipulate prices?

We'll have summer hydrogen mixtures, winter hydrogen mixtures, and every month before an election hydrogen prices will mysteriously drop.

Instead of OPEC we'll have HPEC
I haven't checked it out, but if you want to know the latest in the hydrogen matters, you should investigate of what's happening in Iceland. They might be already totally into hydrogen as the automotive fuel.
Oh look! Mr. "I think I'm so clever with my copy&paste writing style" is back. I suppose he's just too stupid to actually learn how to italicize to set-off his quotes. Either that or he just thinks it makes him sound intelligent. He's wrong.

*grabs popcorn*
Nonsense. Whether cars refuel with hydrogen, natural gas, gasoline, diesel or biofuels, all of it will flow from existing gas stations.

Brevity...once again, takes a holiday.

Perhaps you'd care to address the actual point? Pure electrics don't require fueling stations? nd a money-making part of the distribution chain (small compared to the refinery futures profits, but still in the low $1B's) goes away.

And as for this quote:

The anti-trust breakup is all I'm familiar with--doesn't matter anyway

Nicely taken out of context. Next time grab the next sentence since it's clearly related. Could have saved your self a lot of irrelevant ranting.
"Fossil-fuels, not renewables, are still the best source for hydrogen."

Hmmm...perhaps I should have said cheapest? Source? DOE. Hydrogen from methane reformation is currently 3 - 4 times the cost of gasoline production when consumed early in the production chain. From electrolysis...4 to 6 times the cost (depending whom your reading).
We'll have summer hydrogen mixtures, winter hydrogen mixtures, and every month before an election hydrogen prices will mysteriously drop.

PoliS... you mean like H2 for winter (you know, it's thinner) and H3 for summer? :-)
Is there a way to power our cars using crystal meth? Any jackass with a couple dollars can make that.
kvatch, you wrote:

"Perhaps you'd care to address the actual point?"

Which is:

"Pure electrics don't require fueling stations?"

Electricity doesn't grow on trees and we don't collect it from lightning bolts. If the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine were replaced by electric motors, the demand for oil would shift. But it wouldn't decline.

Oil demand for use as roadway transportation fuel would decline while oil use at power stations producing electricity would increase.

There is no chance coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, tidal and whatever else you can conjure would produce enough electricity to replace the oil-based energy that our national motor vehicle fleet currently consumes.

You conjectured:

"And a money-making part of the distribution chain (small compared to the refinery futures profits, but still in the low $1B's) goes away."

Again, you show that you know nothing about the economics of the oil industry.

Exxon, usually the whipping boy of the anti-oil-industry crowd, nets about a dime of profit for every dollar it collects. A 10% net after-tax profit isn't much.

It's way below Microsoft's profit of about a quarter per dollar.

The financial returns for the oil industry have never been high. Nevertheless, there's an insane screech every time crude oil prices and profits rise.

Meanwhile, I'm sure no one at this site knows any oil industry history. Boom and bust describes most of it. There have been periods when the companies of the Oilfield Services industry have prospered.

Schlumberger, the company that shoots sonic waves through the ground to test for oil is one. The companies that own and operate drilling rigs have had some good and bad times.

The best and worst times occurred for the off-shore segment of the drilling business.

There are about 550 off-shore drilling rigs in the world. There are some shallow-water rigs too, but only about 550 rigs that operate way out there in the Gulf of Mexico, off the west coast of Africa and in the North Sea.

After the oil price collapse of 1983, it has been uneconomical to build new offshore rigs. Only in the last couple of years has that changed. Thus, very old rigs are creaking away around the world, drilling for oil and gas.

Another boom-and-bust segment of the oil industry is refining. Believe whatever you want, but refiners usually operate on thin margins.

However, individual refiners benefit when eco-nuts prevent the construction of new refineries. That simply means the existing refineries must operate at full capacity all the time, which does improve the profit picture.

Even so, bottlenecks develop that reduce total output.

As for the marketing end -- the gas stations themselves -- well, that's yet another erratic business.

If selling gasoline was as profitable as so many think, station operators wouldn't have to peddle food and other convenience store items to earn a few bucks.

Pump sales of gasoline yield small profits. Gas stations earn their real money from all the other junk they sell.

Plenty of oil companies have no interest in the retail sales of petroleum products. They stick to other parts of the industry because they earn the most doing what they know how to do.

Think of it this way: you can buy a personal computer from Dell on via the Internet or you can buy some other brand at Best Buy or
Circuit City.

Oil is just a volume of potential-energy. Either you pick up your energy at the corner gas station, or you collect it from your wall socket. Either way, oil will produce the power you use.

And because a conversion to electric cars would reduce demand for gas stations, the oil companies would see big declines in some of their expenditures tied to delivering gasoline to those stations as well as the costs of maintining them.

Thus, like cigarette companies no longer allowed to spend money advertising cigarettes on TV, the oil companies would see profit margins increase.
Personally, I'm waiting to see if GM brings out the new electric car they're developing for 2010 as promised. The Ann Arbor area is being used in an experiment to see if wind turbines are good in small areas. If successful, they may allow subdivisions or small towns to install wind turbines. Voila! Wind turbines and electric cars.
Lots of wind turbines in the NE part of Oregon near the Washington border. I took a scenic route back home from Richland, WA on Tuesday, and the road wound its way up onto a high ridge. From one point there had to have been several hundred wind generators visible. I find them kind of pretty, in a way... very restful to sit beneath them and just enjoy.

Those I saw on Tuesday are about 90 miles from where I live, but there are going to be some put up about 15-20 miles from my town during the next year or two. Our valley has to be one of the windiest places on Earth... It's about time we found a way to take advantage of it!
kathy, you wrote:

"Personally, I'm waiting to see if GM brings out the new electric car they're developing for 2010 as promised."

GM might might decide the profit margin is too low in an electric car in addition to the possibility that the market for fully electric vehicles is too small.

While it's possible electric vehicles would function acceptably in and around cities, they are not yet attractive to drivers going longer distances at high speeds.

Batteries simply do not contain much energy. Moreover, due to our knowledge of chemistry, we know there are no batteries under development that will contain as much energy as a tank of gas.

You wrote:

"The Ann Arbor area is being used in an experiment to see if wind turbines are good in small areas."

Wind is a very poor and unreliable source of power. Wind turbines unquestionably convert wind power into electric power. But unless it's possible to get the power when it's needed, it's value is diminished.

You wrote:

"If successful, they may allow subdivisions or small towns to install wind turbines. Voila! Wind turbines and electric cars."

The best bet is piping the electricity derived from the wind into the power grid serving the area. This is already happening. The power companies buy the electricity from the wind generators at a discount from the producers and re-sell it at the market rate.
snave, you wrote:

"Lots of wind turbines in the NE part of Oregon near the Washington border....about 90 miles from where I live, but there are going to be some put up about 15-20 miles from my town during the next year or two. Our valley has to be one of the windiest places on Earth... It's about time we found a way to take advantage of it!"

Yeah, well that's one of the big drawbacks with wind. There's not much of it, and even when you find a windy area, it blows at changing speeds all day.
no_slappz, I was referring to the GM Volt that they're developing.

The vehicle is designed to run purely on electricity from on-board batteries for short trips up to 40 miles (64 km) in the city—a large enough distance to cover the daily commutes of most Americans. With use of a small internal combustion engine hooked to a generator to resupply the batteries, the vehicle's range is potentially increased to 640 miles (1030 km) on the highway.

The car has a 12 gallon gas tank, but the battery does recharge due to the onboard generator. Nothing is perfect, but for people who do most of their driving around the city this is a good start.

By the way, you're a pretty verbose person, but I haven't read your solution for weaning us from oil dependency. Do you have one or do you just prefer to let things remain status quo?
kathy, you wrote:

"With use of a small internal combustion engine hooked to a generator to resupply the batteries, the vehicle's range is potentially increased to 640 miles (1030 km) on the highway."

Wow. And good for a laugh. This strategy is equal to sticking a fan out the window while the battery is powering the vehicle in the mistaken belief that spinning the blades this way can recharge the battery at the same time the vehicle is zipping about.

You added:

"The car has a 12 gallon gas tank, but the battery does recharge due to the onboard generator."

It is possible to convert kinetic energy into electricity by connecting the motor/generator to the brakes and recharging the battery while slowing the vehicle.

Nevertheless, there is an energy equation and an energy reality that is inescapable. Now matter how you slice it, power derived from oil will remain as an input. Whether you put oil (gasoline) in the gas tank or ship it to the power station to drive the turbines, it's the chief source of energy.

Of course, the revival of nuclear power could change all that.

You claimed:

"Nothing is perfect, but for people who do most of their driving around the city this is a good start."

It's nothing of the sort unless you find a cheaper source of energy than petroleum. Electric cars are not powered by lightning bolts. Every form of energy that is converted into electricity comes at a cost, and so far, petroleum is cheapest.

You observed:

"By the way, you're a pretty verbose person, but I haven't read your solution for weaning us from oil dependency."

The best is the natural solution -- we use oil till it's gone.

You asked:

"Do you have one or do you just prefer to let things remain status quo?"

Stick with the status quo? NO. We'd do much better by exploiting all the oil reserves in North America, both on- and off-shore.
That alone would end our need for imported oil.

Second, get over the fear of nuclear power. Build nuclear plants.

Third, improve coal-burning technology. We're already pretty good at scrubbing the flue gases emitted by coal combustion, but we can do better. And coal is cheap and it's domestic.

Fourth, make more use of natural gas. It's clean burning and domestic, though we do get some from Canada, and we could get more.

Fifth, smack Mexico upside the head and tell the leadership to start REALLY exploiting Mexican oil reserves. That country and its ruling aristocracy have held back on oil forever.

Mexico is as oil-rich as a few middle-east islamic theocracies, and at least as corrupt. Full exploitation of oil reserves would increase Mexican prosperity measurably and induce a lot of Mexicans to stay home instead of sneaking into the US.

Sixth, get serious about ethanol. Repeal the tariff on imported ethanol and begin a process of increasing the amount mixed with every gallon of gasoline in the US. We're currently at 10% ethanol/90% gasoline. If we reduced the bottleneck caused by the tariff we could move the percentage up to 15% easily.

Even if ethanol is a little more costly than oil, every gallon of ethanol consumption displaces some oil consumption. Thus, the price isn't too high.

These ideas do not rely on far-off technical advances or huge tax-payer expenditures. They are achievable now, mostly through some common-sense political efforts.

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