Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Sep 25

Viability Of Hydrogen Transportation Markets

Posted in Energy Economy | Hydrogen Fuel | Transportation

Hydrogen Transportation When we keep talking about alternative fuels hydrogen often gets the center stage. It may well be the future fuel for vehicles. But it often faces the chicken or egg dilemma. Suppose you have hydrogen driven vehicle but where are you suppose to pull up and refuel your vehicle? Will hydrogen gasoline stations be enough in number and strategically located to inspire confidence among the consumers to buy such vehicles?

A potential consumer will be quite hesitant if certain marketing obstacles won’t be taken care of. Those hurdles will restrict the growth of hydrogen driven transportation system and its widespread acceptance will be difficult.

According to an article by James Winebrake and Patrick Meyer in Technovation: The International Journal of Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology Management, developing hydrogen-fuel infrastructure will not be a cakewalk. To make it affordable, efficient and acceptable to common consumer, there are a number of barriers to overcome. However, we have to believe that a 100-year dominance of petroleum as a transportation fuel is coming to an end. It might be due to escalating prices, shortage, and a need to cut down environmentally degrading emissions.

But the widespread acceptance of hydrogen fuel has to pass the test of the “chicken and egg” phenomenon. The manufacturers won’t be able to convince the consumers if refueling and service infrastructure is not well developed. And why would anyone be interested in developing the infrastructure if enough number of vehicles are not plying on the road?

In the study, the authors formed a computer-based model, called H2VISION. Here they simulated the dynamic relationships between vehicle purchases and refueling infrastructure. On studies based on this computer model, they pointed out, how the cycle of vehicle purchases and infrastructure development operates. They also make recommendations to policymakers who plan to give incentives to hydrogen transportation. Some of their recommendations are:

  • Initial investment in hydrogen refueling stations should support station “clusters” within urban regions so consumers can easily refuel vehicles with little additional convenience cost compared to gasoline.
  • Government policies should include both vehicle markets and refueling infrastructure. This will help in market penetration at the least cost.
  • Home refueling of hydrogen vehicles should be given due importance. It will create an atmosphere of trust among end users and encourage market development.
  • Tom

    It’s Incredible how the US govt., in an instant, can come up with an expendable US$700 billion to save the greedy hides of the banking fat cats. Imagine if we could prove, irrefutably, that switching to burning H2 in all our engines, in some sort of incredibly urgent military style operation would save the Earth from an imminent climatic disaster. Do you think all this money would suddenly become available?

    The governments of the world will NEVER be capable of solving the big problems with their inane bureaucracy and petty, short sighted politics.

    We need help from wealthy philanthropists. These people can MAKE it happen.

    BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME. Heard that one before?

  • Jess P

    I agree Tom!! When will our country understand how important it is for us to break free from fossil fuels?? European countries are already well more advanced in alternative energy than we are. I am truly disappointed in the good ol’ US of A… 🙁

  • Nflight

    You will find in this country that we are just as advanced as the rest of the world. In fact most of the world looks to the United States for its needs in scientific discoveries. The world waits on us to lead them, not them lead us. If you are referring to implementing materials like the wind turbines, The USA is not like Europe in implementing guidelines for installations.

    Hydrogen is of serious interest but, it is very difficult to handle this chemical element. It does not contain well in tanks of almost any material as it leaks constantly through Steel. It can not be compressed as most would think, yes you can pressurize it but you can not lower its size. Currently it takes heat or pressure of serious nature to convert Hydrogen from its water state to a gaseous state. And, if you desire to remove the element hydrogen from another stable state to just hydrogen the emphasis is on High Heat above 800°F with Pyrolysis or Gasification.

    Tom and Jess P. Yes the philanthropists are the founders of the Venture Capitalists they are the ones who put the monies out to those people who have the ideas and the fortitude to accomplish your desired tasks of a Renewable Energy United States. It is all centered around making money.

    Hope this helps

  • Jim

    Handling hydrogen is relatively easy and not the hangup for its acceptance.

    The fact is that there is no elemental hydrogen floating around for the taking unless we want to build a pipeline to the sun. It must be generated from other sources, currently natural gas, which is a hydrocarbon that is not renewable and also produces CO2. Electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen is very inefficient in that you have to throw away the oxygen that is simultaneously generated. If the electricity comes from coal or other hydrocarbons, you still generate CO2. If it can be produced from nuclear, wind or solar power, CO2 is not generated but a lot of energy is wasted.

    Hydrogen simply becomes an energy carrier, albeit a poor one. It reduces emissions on a local basis only. It simply makes no sense.

  • Tom


    I agree that the US has relatively advanced hydrogen and other alternative energy technology.

    However, if you think that your country is leading the way, you should remember that; Germany now has something approaching 60% of the world’s installed solar power capacity and Iceland is already operating hydrogen fuel stations for public use.

    Some of your facts about hydrogen come across as slightly dubious. Steel gas cylinders may well leak H2 but you have to remember that they were invented over a century ago. H2 can be contained perfectly by carbon fiber tanks which now have pressure capabilities beyond 10,000psi, are very light and safer than any other fuel vessel. Currently, they are expensive but that will end when mass production commences.

    When you compress any given amount (weight/mass) of a gas, you take it from a state where it occupies a certain volume and then squeeze it into a smaller volume inside a gas cylinder and HEY PRESTO…you have the same weight of gas, under higher pressure and in a smaller “size”. Its just like pushing down on a coil spring with your hand. You feel the pressure under your hand increase as the spring gets smaller.

    If I take a gas bottle with a volume of say 20 litres and compress H2 into it at 3000psi, I have a certain weight of H2 inside. If I fill the same bottle with gas at 5000 or 10000psi I am pushing more molecules of H2 (which have weight) into the same space. This is why you buy a gas by the kilogram not by the litre. Alternativley, you CAN buy a gas by the litre but at a known pressure.

    The “heat or pressure of a serious nature” methods of obtaining H2 are not the whole story. You’ve left out perhaps the easiest and least requiring of conditions “of a serious nature” method there is. Electrolysis. The simple process of passing an electric current through water to split the H2O molecules into H2 + O gases. Sure you need a fair bit of electricity but if you’re getting it from the sun, wind, waves…whatever, who cares?

    Energy consumption/efficiency becomes irrelevant when it comes from an infinite and non-polluting source.

    For me, the fact that engines running on hydrogen actually exhaust cleaner air than they take in outways any technical challenges in switching over to this “ultimate” fuel.

    Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, if we did, nothing would get done. They are very good at putting everything in the too-hard-basket.

  • Tom

    If H2 as a fuel is just an “energy carrier”, what is petrol, diesel, LPG, coal?? Did someone tell you they magically create energy from nothing?

    These fossil fuels are just carrying energy from the sun that landed on the leaves of plants many tens of millions of years ago. Already, fossil fuels are off to a bad start because plant leaves, via photosynthesis, are only about 0.1% efficient at creating energy from solar radiation. Then you have to bury it 1000 metres under ground for 50 million years in a pressure cooker. Once this is done, some poor fool has to trundle around the desert for years poking holes in the ground hoping to discover the resulting black stuff. Then it has to be sucked up to the surface, transported however many thousand miles in a floating bathtub that may or may not make it all the way to a distant land where it is refined in a process that uses almost as much energy that is contained in the stuff and then trucked or trained another few hundred miles to its destination.

    The result is an energy carrier with an efficiency of something like 0.00000000000000001%.

    Is this what you call efficient?

    In the face of this, H2 produced locally with the original energy from the sun created an just instant beforehand screams efficiency.

    If all our burning of these fossil fuels creates air pollution on a global scale, arguably causing global warming, why then do engines running on H2 and cleaning the air suddenly only have a local effect?

  • Dennis

    Hey Jim I like your comments “Electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen is very inefficient in that you have to throw away the oxygen that is simultaneously generated.”

    But I think you missed the point! If I release Hydrogen and Oxygen into the air it would be foolish to waist the energy but if I use the Oxygen and Hydrogen to generate electricity via PEM cells or “burning” (chemical reactions) to create energy for an engine or turbine, the Oxygen and Hydrogen are not wasted and the “pollution” after burning is water …pure water. No other energy source or carrier has the ability to claim clean operation. Not even atomic power plants. Gasoline takes a lot of energy to find, harvest and process to a useable state. Hydrogen from water takes no more energy than finding water and electrolysis and when spent its ready (almost) to be used again. The only reason no one wants to use it is its too easy to duplicate some one else’s electrolyzer and get free energy and it is untaxable. If the powers that be can’t make money we can’t have it!

  • Jim


    You fail to grasp the concept of the energy carrier nature of hydrogen. It is essentially the same as electricity in that it has to be produced by liberating energy from something else. Clearly both electricity and hydrogen gas are convenient forms of energy but they have to be produced from other energy forms in a wasteful manner.

    It does not matter how efficiently our fossil fuels were made, they are already in place and have a latent thermal energy which we have been using largely to run our planet. We do not have to put energy into them to get energy out like hydrogen and electricity.

    I agree that renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal must be utilized to a much higher extent because the fossil fuels are being depleted with a disastrous climate-changing potential. But renewables will primarily be used to generate electricity as an energy carrier. If electricity must then be used to create hydrogen with a huge efficiency penalty, then we are simply wasting energy to keep an inefficient transportation system in place.

    The only useful energy source of hydrogen is nuclear fusion, but that is so far off that it cannot be considered.

  • Jim


    Your point about using both hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell is correct, but we already have an abundance of oxygen that can be derived from the air much cheaper than generating it from water electrolysis. Hence the inefficiency. Hence we are generating something we don’t need. Adding water to a sinking ship, so to speak.

    Also, what comes out of a fuel cell? Electricity. So we have added a middle man and inefficiency to the process of using only a portion of the electricity that generated the hydrogen in the first place. Does this make sense? Only if we factor in the convenience of portability. A battery system may actually work better, although it too has a huge initial price tag.

    My point is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to make hydrogen from inert material (water)that has no useful energy of its own. That is why hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source. It is like using your energy to stretch a rubber band. The rubber band never had energy but you have transferred some to it temporarily.

    Also, the cost of producing fuels from fossil materials is minute in comparison to generating hydrogen. They already have high energy content. That is why alternative energy sources are so difficult to get into production. On a large scale, only wind is close.

    Furthermore, if we have to use electricity derived from coal (50% of US output) to generate hydrogen, then we simply generate polution in a different location. Nuclear makes more sense, but there is that nasty problem of long term waste.

    I wish we had an ultimate source of clean, low cost energy. We don’t. Clean energy from solar, the largest potential source, is coming–in the form of electricity–but it is still way too expensive. I am afraid that only a government mandate will speed up this process.

  • Tom

    It DOES matter how efficient the processes of creating fossil fuels are because eventually our technology is going to have to replace those processes and to get a REAL comparison of what it takes to produce a tank of petrol or a tank of H2 gas containing the same potential energy so that we know how we are performing.

    So when people whine and moan about how “inefficient” making H2 gas is, you can say to them “hey, would you like me to go and make you a tank of petrol from scratch instead? I’ll just go and expend the energy of five tanks of petrol and meet you back here in a week, that’ll be $50 per litre please”, as they look at you with a confused expression. “But they told me…”

    Yes Jim its very convenient to say that fossil fuels are already in place and how fantastic it is that we (typically lazy) humans hardly have to lift a finger compared to the real energy/effort required to produce such fuels.

    Now. Reality. We were given this stash of oil, gas, coal etc. which has been great for starting our industrial lifestyle when we didn’t have the science, technology and materials to do something smarter. Now we do and the fact is we will have to anyway when this stash runs out.

    I make the point here that “the Stone-Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones”.

    If I may Jim, I’ll use your “sinking ship” analogy for a different purpose.

    Wouldn’t it be smarter of us, at the first sign of the ship going down, to start making preparations to get everyone onto the life boats and back to dry land rather than waiting until the water is lapping around our ankles, listening to the captain sprouting his old line “she can’t possibly sink! She’s unsinkable! Aaaaarh! But I didn’t pass physics at Sailing College. Ooooohaaaaaarh!” at which point we get into a frenzied panic and most of us end up in the water and then either get sucked down by the ship, freeze to death or become live shark bait.

    Does THIS make sense?

    We’ve all seen how people behave when there is a fuel shortage.

    Nuclear fusion is completely unnecessary for such a simple process as making H2 gas and negates most of the benefits of using it.

    I Don’t mean to sound hot under the collar, but I do think we are having a good and meaningful debate here!

  • Dennis


    I hope you don’t mind these opinions pointed at you we are just focused on expressing our opinions. We have a problem in the world… hydrocarbon pollution is up and oxygen levels are down, not enough trees to generate oxygen and global warming. (Among others)

    I don’t want to keep going over the same issues but the way I see it is in the United States we need natural gas and electricity to operate our homes and industries and Gasoline for our vehicles. Besides the fact that the oil companies have us at their mercy, the process to get the gas and electricity is from coal and oil. (the molecular structure of which is hydrogen and other polluting elements) Now there are other ways to get electricity also …Hydroelectric, Solar and wind, tidal pools etc. for electricity (which are non polluting). (Even though the process to produce the equipment is polluting) I think we can all agree it takes a lot of energy to find, recover and process coal and oil into a useable energy. And when we have used the product its gone. And what is left is unhealthy pollution. But we have electricity and natural gas for heating our homes. This system has been in existence for 50 to 100 years and the antiquated equipment is cheap to operate and makes good excuses for oil spills and polluting the environment. The pumps that pump oil out of the ground run on gas or electric from coal and still pollutes oh and they use batteries . So the main process for getting energy that we have is expensive and Polluting (have you calculated the expense of clean up, air scrubbers, medical etc.).

    I am not a tree hugger but I would like to have trees to hug if I want to. And This country had trees, lots of trees, they where used up to build homes (ok) and burn for heat to make concrete, gasoline from oil and to make steam to power machines like trains and cranes to get coal out of the ground. Now we are destroying the rain forest that makes a lot of the earths Oxygen.

    We needed the resources at the time to reach another level of existence. Now let me give you a little scenario. Behind my house is a little creek that has water flowing from off the land water runs through it year round. Now I pump that water up to my house (property) and with it make Hydrogen and oxygen by using wind, solar, and algae farms, etc. (using the water). Now this hydrogen is used to generate electricity by PEM cells, burning to make steam to operate a turbine engine. Oh and I use batteries at night! I also use it for heating and cooling (Servel chiller) my house. This process of breaking down water to hydrogen (electrolysis) uses energy, lots of energy, but no more (overall) than making coal usable or crude oil usable. Oh and when the hydrogen is spent (used) the pollution is clean water which I put back in the creak for the neighbors down stream to use but this water is clean (NOT POLUTED) (sorry its my pet peeve). And no pollution in the air.

    The process I use to break down the water into hydrogen is also used in my car to break down water to HHO. The exhaust is either recycled or left to run to the creek. Now you say well it takes too much energy (electricity) to break down water (using electrolysis) into a useable energy. There was a man named Stan Meyers that disagreed with you and I think there are some other people (scientist) that could improve on Stan’s process or come up with better processes, if they haven’t already. The problem is there is no money in it, profit margins! Especially if I can replicate it in my back yard. Oh what about the oil economy…lets find another economy, there will always be a use for oil and coal. Yard ornaments, plastics?

    Now I can use hydrogen to power the steam boilers replacing coal at the power plants and where the electric plants are using natural gas turbine jet engines to turn generators can convert to Hydrogen from water. Most power plants are near large sources of water and have large fields for coal that can be converted to use for solar panels. And their pollution is fresh water. You say Solar panels are still too expensive? They are only as expensive as our profit margin will allow. Water is a carrier of energy just like gasoline. Gasoline doesn’t burn the fumes from the gasoline burns. Water is more stable.

    I think we can agree there are no easy cheap and simple processes to get energy but water seems to be the cheapest (over all), production, delivery and pollution free exhaust. And if we allow mass quantities of steam in the atmosphere it might rain so capture and recycle. Oh and go plant a tree!

  • Charles Purkess

    Have read you posts with interest, across the water in England. I have been following a company called ITM Power who have developed high durability, low cost materials and processes for PEM membranes that are 1% of the cost of competitors. From this they have manufactured electolysers and Fuel cells and demonstrated applications for hydrogen in commercial, transport and home use. ITM have basically produced the “holy grail” technology for cost effective generation of hydrogen from renewable sources – thereby enabling pollution free, grid independent energy security – the basic building blocks for the hydrogen economy. ITM presented at the National Hydrogen Association in the USA.

    The problem with wind & solar is that they are intermittent & fluctuate, so alone they will not reduce our dependency on existing energy systems.

    However through storing that energy as hydrogen (using an ITM electrolyser) energy independency is possible. Domestic production of a clean fuel that can by used for electricity, heating, etc.. and transport has been demonstrated by ITM. The scale can be changed to village and eventually towns of cities.

    The hydrogen can be stored for reuse during peak times (at night)or for filling a bi-fuel vehicle (ITM have adapted a 2.0litre Ford engine to run on hydrogen for 25 miles (uncompressed before switching to petrol/ diesel, this is considered the short term realisable transport use, until fuel cells become affordable (also an ITM objective))

    For large wind farms hydrogen could be piped to where it is required.

    Strongly recommend a visit to

  • Jim

    Tom and Dennis:

    I applaud your motives concerning a hydrogen economy, but it simply will never happen on any kind of practical scale. It sounds so good–get hydrogen from water and then convert it back to water by burning or in a fuel cell. By the time this conversion is accomplished, however, 25% of the original energy is able to be used. If the original energy used to produce hydrogen (assume electricity from renewable sources) is used directly, the energy efficiency is about 86% and there is still no pollution. We simply cannot waste that much energy.

    I suggest you read conclusions from experts such as Ulf Bossel, a Swiss fuel cell expert: The physics and chemistry simply do not add up. I have seen similar conclusions from most chemists (with no ties to oil). I would also suggest you visit a website with energy presentations made by Nathan Lewis of Cal Tech: I have heard one of his presentations, and he sees no viable reason for hydrogen in our future energy development. He also shows the relative costs of all energy sources.

    I wish I was wrong, but hydrogen is not the future.

  • Dennis


    Thanks for the website links even though one didn’t work I did do an Internet search on Ulf’s name to find more info on him.

    Before I go too far I would like to thank Charles P. for his input …interesting reading.

    Ok. Jim… I would like to say I agree with you at the same time I point out that I think I disagree with you. I think this articles statement was “viability of hydrogen transportation Markets” and the issue of water for hydrogen. As my statement said before, I think Hydrogen is an excellent source for clean overall inexpensive energy. From water I did not say it would be the next “economy” to replace oil.

    On one of the websites I read Ulf Bossel stated “cheap energy is not a human right” and as I understand if I may miss quote him as implying if necessary only the rich in the world should be able to afford a source of energy for their cars and homes. In the United States and I would guess the world, affordable fuel for heating and cooling as well as transportation should should be available to the masses cheap. This would call for Hydrogen to be a cheap product. Not an “economy”. A product that can be made an “economy” is one that can be controlled by a few (at great profits) to enslave the masses into the need for the product. As an example gasoline(natural gas), grains, medical and pharmaceuticals, etc. It is clear Ulf indicates as an economy, an “electron” economy is more feasibly attainable. We can market ways to charge customers for electricity and a few can get control of the supply of electricity and thus a few can control the money flow. The problem is we make electricity by coal. Oil, natural gas and nuclear, All polluting.

    As Charles pointed out ITM has a product that may actually allow water to be used to produce Hydrogen and maybe at a price attainable for the masses. So it will not be allowed to become an “economy” because too many private individuals could be self supportive. Though Ulf indicated Hydrogen is a “wasteful economy” I find Gasoline a wasteful economy … ICE’s burn a portion of the gasoline injected into the engine and then we use a catalytic converter to burn the rest as wasted energy with a byproduct of many pollutants including SO3 and hydrocarbons. The cost of cleanup is very wasteful. But its not the responsibility of the companies that produced the gasoline to clean up the environment because they made the profit. Like the cigarette companies are now loosing in courts over cancer patients. Can you imagine people suing the Gasoline companies for polluting the air and causing health problems. I am just saying we “NEED” to make Hydrogen a resource available for inexpensive energy available to the masses. For the most part it is non polluting. It is possible to achieve an affordable hydrogen infrastructure even if it is by using water as the carrier. By the way I think technically we are in a hydrogen economy already its just hydrogen is mixed with carbon to make gasoline, natural gas and Propane, and lots of pollution. Oh and using pure hydrogen and oxygen for power generation supplies the world with pure water of which Ulf stated was a dwindling commodity.

    It is only as attainable as the profit margin will allow!

  • Jim


    I think we can agree that something must be done about energy and climate-changing pollution or we are all in trouble. While we agree on the problem, the solution to solving our growing energy needs without destroying our enevironment becomes the issue.

    The hydrogen vs. electricity argument is not valid. It takes electricity to make hydrogen in a renewable energy economy. Therefore, efficient electricity from solar, wind and geothermal sources would be diverted to inefficient hydrogen generation. Hydrogen does not spontaneously come from water. Water is a ‘burned’ state of hydrogen where all its energy has been removed; energy, lots of energy, must be pumped back in to break water down to hydrogen and oxygen during electrolysis and that energy comes from electricity.

    Electricity is much more ‘controlled’ for profits and service by states than most other energy forms, but considering the Enron debacle of years past, more monitoring of all our energy sources will have to be made. We cannot, however, remove the profit motive in these areas or we will have nothing.

    Present day sources of hydrogen come primarily from the conversion of natural gas (methane-CH4) because it is much cheaper than electrolysis. Unfortunately the byproduct is CO2 and wasted energy. It is therefore better to burn methane directly and get all the energy without using a hydrogen intermediate if you are going to get CO2 anyway. T. Boone Pickens is advocating this, I believe, as a stop gap measure until we can get alternate energy sources to compete with imported oil. Methane is also a much better energy carrier than hydrogen and could be considered as an energy carrier in the future if is derived from CO2 using renewable energy sources.

    Our present energy economy is dominated by fossil fuels. While they continue to be cheap in price, they will continue to be used. The associated costs of long term climate-changing pollution are not factored into these prices, although legislation is starting in that area. Eventually, we are either going to run out of fossil fuels or decide that their use is too environmentally costly. Unfortunately, there are no hard numbers on this projected greenhouse problem, so we sit and wait while the clock ticks.

    I looked at the links I posted. For some reason the Nathan Lewis link at Cal Tech does not go to the energy section of his website. Just click on ‘energy’ at the directed page and then look at his presentations. They are enlightening, but sobering.

  • Jack Brody

    Thank you for your discussion here. I came looking for the reality of Hydrogen fuel, after watching miracles on you tube. Seems everyone these days is burning hydrogen in their garages. However, before I looked into the”water engine” I came across the compressed air car. According to what they are claiming the efficiency of energy use is much better then burning gas to move a vehicle, and I am excited to see what this Italian engineer will get out of his design. Even if we continue to burn oil for energy it seems that our vehicles may be made more efficient in this way. No special fuel just a different way of using the energy available!

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