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Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-11-2007, 08:34 PM   #1
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Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

We've touched on a few energy topics here lately, so I thought I'd pitch in with this web site. It's the most succinct rebuttal I've seen yet to the whole issue of using hydrogen as an energy "source." He misses a few small points (e.g. the hydrogen storage issue might be made much easier with some nano-matrix technology coming down the pike), but the biggest points are spot on. Widescale use of H2 makes no sense from technological, environmental, or economic perspectives.
http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/15/zubrin.htm

Te same author (link below) makes a pretty good case for methanol as the future automotive fuel. Step 1 is to mandate flex-fuel vehicles (costs about $200 extra per new car) which will create the demand for gasoline alternatives. Methanol is less expensive than ethanol (especialy after considering the ethanol subsidies) and less expensive than gasoline (methanol sells for $.80 per gallon today. Since it has about 1/2 the energy content of gaslone, the equivalent cost is $1.60 per gallon). You don't need to grow special crops to make methanol--it can be made from biomass, urban trash, or wood waste. So, using methanol doesn't drive up the price of food.
http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/13/zubrin.htm

The less oil we import, the better. Let the Chinese wrangle with the wackos in the Middle East for oil.
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-11-2007, 09:59 PM   #2
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Half-decent article, but towards halfway down the page, he starts talking about electrolysis at gas stations and I start to question his facts.

I saw on CNN (TV), and I can't find a link... where this guy and company built an energy efficient home, covered the garage roof with solar panels and it's totally self contained, according to the story. As in, pays no utility bills even in the dead of winter or heat of summer. In N. Carolina, I think?

The guy even makes hydrogen via electrolysis. And makes enough to run his car, and his house. He had 10 propane type tanks to store it.

This whole setup cost $500k. So, don't get me wrong, but it's not like it can't be done. Just not very cost effectively. Not today, anyway. The CNN piece didn't say how much of that cost was for the solar array, the converters, batteries, etc. and how much was for the H electrolysis. So the author of the H articles seems to take several factors and multiply them together and arrive at large numbers all the time. If one "small" solar array on a garage in NC can pull it off, I'd think economy of scale would work at a gas station.

The author of these articles is pretty doom-and-gloom if you ask me. For instance:

Quote:
In principle, a system of pipelines could, at enormous cost, be built for transporting gaseous hydrogen. Yet because hydrogen is so diffuse, with less than one-third the energy content per unit volume as natural gas, these pipes would have to be very big, and large amounts of energy would be required to move the gas along the line.
How is that any different than what we've done with nat. gas and/or oil pipelines. You think those are cheap to construct and operate? The author goes on and on about how hydrogen leaks through and makes steel brittle. Use another material then!

The solution he proposes is mostly political. As if that'll ever happen. I don't know what'd be harder to accomplish: getting politicians to agree on something or electrolyzing hydrogen.

Thanks for the article, I appreciate differing points of view on the energy issue.

-CC

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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-11-2007, 10:12 PM   #3
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

I once calculated that to replace the US daily consumption of gasoline on a heating value basis with hydrogen produced by electrolysis, based on solar cells, there would have to be solar cells covering all of Mexico.

How likely do you think that would be?

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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-11-2007, 10:15 PM   #4
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

What state do the oil rigs cover?

-CC
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-11-2007, 10:51 PM   #5
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

While a lot of what he says is probably right, I have a feeling that the amount of rain forest that would be cleared to plant the crops used for ethanol and methanol and biodiesel production might present something of a problem in itself. On the other hand, I'm glad he has gone through the exercise of writing this. I suspect that the ulterior motive of a lot of those promoting hydrogen power is to bring us back into nuclear power production in a big way. It has been clear from day one that hydrogen is only a carrier of energy, and cheap electricity is the only conceivable long-term source.
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 02:28 PM   #6
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

I agree, hydrogen is a hoax - it is sad that so many just accept these comments that it is so great. They do not understand that hydrogen is simply an energy storage system - you still need to create that energy. That is pointed out in your referenced articles.

I am struggling a bit to see how methane is so much better. Maybe I'm dense, but the arguments don't look that great. I think I need a better understanding of what it takes to produce methanol. How many acres of what kind of crops, compared to ethanol or biodiesel, or just burning the crop. If it really costs half of what gasoline costs, couldn't it be added to fuel in 5% or 10% increments like ethanol is? A 5% blend in all the gasoline would do more than having 3% of the cars on 100% methanol. It would be a start. Why would a free market reject a cheaper fuel?

I heard Olah on 'Science Friday' - he didn't seem too convincing on methanol then either. He kept repeating how great it was, but I wasn't getting it.

-ERD50
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 02:52 PM   #7
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by CCdaCE
The guy even makes hydrogen via electrolysis.
Having run a few real live oxygen generators in my time, I'd hate to be this guy's neighbor. Or his insurance company.

I wonder how the homeowner's association feels about electrolysis plants in their neighborhood?

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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 02:58 PM   #8
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
I wonder how the homeowner's association feels about electrolysis plants in their neighborhood?
What's the problem? It's only some little wires running into a pot of water to create the most reactive and the most difficult to store elements in the periodic table. Come on...it's all natural!
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 05:41 PM   #9
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by ERD50

I am struggling a bit to see how methane is so much better. Maybe I'm dense, but the arguments don't look that great. I think I need a better understanding of what it takes to produce methanol. How many acres of what kind of crops, compared to ethanol or biodiesel, or just burning the crop. If it really costs half of what gasoline costs, couldn't it be added to fuel in 5% or 10% increments like ethanol is? A 5% blend in all the gasoline would do more than having 3% of the cars on 100% methanol. It would be a start. Why would a free market reject a cheaper fuel?

-ERD50

ERD50,

Here's another link from the same author, it goes into some of the issues you raised.
http://www.taemag.com/issues/article...cle_detail.asp
In a nutshell, neither ethanol nor methanol has a hands-down environmental, economic, or technical advantage right now. The main difference is that the base materials for methanol are much more widely available, particularly in the US, than the materials for ethanol. If we use methanol, we won't be driving up the price of food.

From the article:
"The United States uses 380 million gallons of gasoline a day. If we were to replace that entirely with ethanol we would have to harvest approximately four times as much agricultural output as we currently grow for food production."

Methanol can be made from a wider variety of biomass materials (including woody materials that are now just waste). If we use these materials, it will be cheaper to produce than ethanol and will reduce C)2 emissions (since the plants get their C from the air, we'd just be recycling it, rather than mining fomthe ground and introducing it to the atmosphere). Significantly, methanol can be made from coal, and North America is the Saudi Arabia of coal. Now, this route has the same CO2 emissions problems as if we were burning gasoline, but at least it's no worse. It gives us an option.

Mandated introduction of flex-fuel vehicles is the key to getting us off oil for vehicles. That's a bit of government intrusion i can accept. The modifications needed add very little to the price of a new car, and the vehicles can run on gasoline, methanol, ethanol, or mixes. Once these are on the street and there's a demand for these fuels, the market should take care of the rest.

And one political note from the article. Speaking of the relationship between energy and terrorism/the Mideast countries from where much of it springs:
"If we are to win the critical energy battle, there is only one way to do it. We must take ourselves, and the rest of the world, off the petroleum standard. Only by doing this can we destroy the economic power of our enemies at the very foundations. Only in this way can we transfer control of the future from those who take their wealth, pre-made, from the ground (and therefore have no need for education or freedom), to those who make their wealth through hard work, skill, and creativity (who thus must build free societies which maximize the human potential of every citizen).
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 07:46 PM   #10
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
Having run a few real live oxygen generators in my time, I'd hate to be this guy's neighbor. Or his insurance company.

I wonder how the homeowner's association feels about electrolysis plants in their neighborhood?
I assume he just vents off the O2, but yeah, the 10 hydrogen storage tanks arranged like parked cars in a Wal-Mart lot caused me to raise an eyebrow too.

He better look out for the environmental terrorists.

-CC
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 08:07 PM   #11
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Theres a hole in most alternative fuels or big ideas. I regularly get family/friends talking about new electric cars and then I ask the $64,001 question...where does the electricity come from?

Oh yeah, the coal fired plant in upstate...
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 08:44 PM   #12
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem

ERD50,

Here's another link from the same author, it goes into some of the issues you raised.
http://www.taemag.com/issues/article...cle_detail.asp
Thanks samclem, that had some great info, I bookmarked it.

Here are a few more:

http://www.iags.org/methanolsources.htm
http://www.iags.org/n052404t3.htm

I think your link answered my Q about a 5% or 10% methanol/gasoline blend. Looks like methanol is too corrosive, even at those levels - you do need a methanol/ethanol/gasoline flex-fuel vehicle.

In your link, they say there are 2.45B metric tons of biomass available in the US - that could produce almost twice the amount to replace all the gasoline we use in the US each year (accounting for lower mpg of methanol). But...., the other article (http://www.iags.org/n052404t3.htm) says the US has only 28M tons of biomass available That is less than 2% of the first figure. Funny numbers. They may be counting only wood pulp, not 'all' sources?

Quote:
Mandated introduction of flex-fuel vehicles is the key to getting us off oil for vehicles. That's a bit of government intrusion i can accept. The modifications needed add very little to the price of a new car, and the vehicles can run on gasoline, methanol, ethanol, or mixes. Once these are on the street and there's a demand for these fuels, the market should take care of the rest.
If there really is a plan behind it, and the numbers make sense, then IMO, this is a positive way for the govt to 'intrude' in our lives. But, I'm still a little skeptical of the numbers. If they are as good as they say, it seems the free market would step in - here's how:

Most new technologies get their start by 'cherry picking' good applications where the return is high for a nominal investment. So, if methanol can be produced cheaper than equivalent gasoline, I would start with a fleet of high annual mileage gas powered vehicles (local UPS delivery trucks for example). Convert them for, say $2,000 each to start, and begin saving money. You don't need a nation-wide system for that. If it works so well, more companies will want to convert, the cost per conversion comes down, and you expand to more business a bit at a time. Once it is seen to work on a small scale over a few years, it would be easier and less risky to make the leap to nationwide distribution.

-ERD50
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 09:40 PM   #13
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

ERD50,

Thanks for the links, good info.

Yep, I agree that the gradual introduction of flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) through fleets, etc would also probably work. Still, getting started in a big way with mandated FFVs has some solid rationale:
-- The impact of an individual's choice of vehicle (and fuels) go well beyond impacting that individual. On a geopilitical level, we're havign to play nice with some scummy folks because, a a nation, we need their oil. Also, possible global warming, yada yada
-- The cost of building-in the FFV capability during design/assembly is very small and the impact is long-term. Once the vehicle is sold, few owners would overcome their inertia and have the car retrofitted. 200-400 bucks all at once seems like a lot of money to many folks, but they'd hardly notice if the cost was spred over their 72 months of payments.
-- As one of the authors pointed out, vehicle makers would start exporting the same vehicles worldwide, putting a simlutaneous downward pressure on oil prices all over the world. That's good.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ERD50
In your link, they say there are 2.45B metric tons of biomass available in the US - that could produce almost twice the amount to replace all the gasoline we use in the US each year (accounting for lower mpg of methanol). But...., the other article (http://www.iags.org/n052404t3.htm) says the US has only 28M tons of biomass available That is less than 2% of the first figure. Funny numbers. They may be counting only wood pulp, not 'all' sources?
-ERD50
I don't know which figure is right. The figure for "biomass" is probably fairly squishy, depending on which "mass" is counted. I suspect the 28 million ton figure is just a small portion.

Here's what the Energy Dept and the Agriculture Dept said in April of 2005:
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/...on_report2.pdf

" Forest lands, and in particular, timberlands, have the potential to sustainably produce close to 370 million dry tons of biomass annually. This estimate includes the residues generated in the manufacture of various forest products and the residues generated in the use of manufactured forest products. . . Agricultural lands can provide nearly 1 billion dry tons of sustainably collectable biomass and continue to meet food, feed and export demands. This estimate includes 446 million dry tons of crop residues, 377 million dry tons of perennial crops, 87 million dry tons of grains used for biofuels, and 87 million dry tons of animal manures, process residues, and other residues generated in the consumption food products. The perennial crops are crops dedicated primarily for bioenergy and biobased products and will likely include a combination of grasses and woody crops. Providing this level of biomass will require increasing yields of corn, wheat, and other small grains by 50 percent; doubling residue-to-grain ratios for soybeans; developing much more efficient residue harvesting equipment; managing active cropland with no-till cultivation; growing perennial crops whose output is primarily dedicated for bioenergy purposes on 55 million acres of cropland, idle cropland, and cropland pasture; using animal manure in excess of what can be applied on-farm for soil improvement for bioenergy; and using a larger fraction of other secondary and tertiary residues for bioenergy.
In the context of the time required to scale up to a large-scale biorefinery industry, an annual biomass supply of more than 1.3 billion dry tons can be accomplished with relatively modest changes in land use and agricultural and forestry practices.
"

So, it looks like we can get 1.3 billion tons from agriculture (including forests). This figure does not appear to count the post-consumer waste stream, lawn clippings, etc. 1.3 billion tons per year x 186 gallons/ton = 660 millions gals per day (173% of present US gasoline demand). Note that this report talks about all biomass--I don't know if some of it (esp animal wastes) could be used for methanol production.
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-12-2007, 10:32 PM   #14
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
Theres a hole in most alternative fuels or big ideas. I regularly get family/friends talking about new electric cars and then I ask the $64,001 question...where does the electricity come from?

Oh yeah, the coal fired plant in upstate...
Most plants are actually natural gas plants. However, even if the electricity comes from a coal plant, it is 4-5 times more efficient than gasoline, so you are still way ahead of the game.

The electric power for my electric car (ok, the one I expect to have in 2-3 years) is from solar. So the carbon footprint is miniscule compared to gas, ethonal or methonal powered cars.

Hydrogen is a hoax. You basically are using hydrogen to store power which is then turned into electric power to run the motor. Don't bother, stick with electric. You save the loss due to inefficiency converting electric power to hydrogen.
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-13-2007, 01:28 AM   #15
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zathras on February 12, 2007, 11:32:04 PM
Hydrogen is a hoax. You basically are using hydrogen to store power which is then turned into electric power to run the motor. Don't bother, stick with electric. You save the loss due to inefficiency converting electric power to hydrogen.
Instead you substitute the inefficiency of converting electricity to chemical potential energy in a battery and then back again when you operate the car. What's that second law of thermodynamics...there's no such thing as a free lunch?
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-13-2007, 07:04 AM   #16
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

My apologies, I did not to imply electricity stored in batteries is 100% efficient.
However, the transmition of electricity and storage of it in Lithium batteries is much more efficient than transmitting the electricity, then converting it to Hydrogen and then using a fuel cell to convert it back into mechanical energy again.

Add to that the need to build an infrastructure (from scratch) for delivering and storing hydrogen to be used in cars and the fact that the only advantage hydrogen gives anyone is the ability to charge high prices at the pump and it seems hydrogen is the unnecessary middleman.
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-13-2007, 08:52 AM   #17
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Hmmm...according to the DOE, the vast majority of electricity is generated by goal plants with nukes and natural gas plants slugging it out for a very distant second place. In fact, coal is more than 2.5 times as prevalent as natural gas.

Cleanliness of the coal plant is directly proportional to the age of the plant and quality of the coal. I think you'll find that in practice many coal plants dont quite live up to the numbers you mentioned.

Obviously, a solar charged electric car would be ideal. In about 15-20 years when the solar technology doesnt need two big square states converted to solar fields and the batteries are good enough to replace current commuter-technology gas cars.

Maybe half that if we put money into it that we're spending rather frivolously elsewhere.

Until then, theres no free lunches and some that are rather costly.
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-13-2007, 10:29 AM   #18
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

>>>WARNING!<<<
I am going to start rambling here. This is an area I know something about as I used to design methanol plants and other related stuff. I am also going to answer questions that were never asked. (Senility can't be far off.)

Quote:
I am struggling a bit to see how methane is so much better. Maybe I'm dense, but the arguments don't look that great. I think I need a better understanding of what it takes to produce methanol.
It is always most efficient to use energy directly in the form it is first available. Methane is natural gas. It is most efficient to use compressed natural gas as a fuel.

Methanol is made industrially from natural gas--at a loss. The only advantage is that methanol is a liquid and much easier to handle. More conventional fuels such as gasoline and diesel can be made from methanol--again at a loss. There was a natural gas-to-methanol, methanol-to-synthetic gasoline complex built in New Zealand many years ago. The gasoline plant did not run very long. Why spend a lot of money to convert one perfectly good liquid fuel into another at a loss of energy?

Methanol is made industrially from 'syngas', which is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Syngas can be made many ways from just about any hydrocarbon, but the least expensive both in capital cost and operating cost is from natural gas. Syngas from coal costs about twice as much. These relationships don't change very much with time. Capital costs and resource costs inflate together.

When I was in that business, the largest plant built (we built it!) was about 2,200 metric tons/day of methanol. If memory serves, this is about 700,000 gallons/day of methanol. This is about 16,500 barrels/day of methanol equal in energy to about 11,000 barrels/day of gasoline, which could be made from about 8,800 barrels/day of crude oil. Such a methanol plant might cost around $500 million dollars (WAG) today. (Maybe more; I have been away from that business a while.) Note that this is the most efficient, cheapest way to make methanol. If you want to make it by destructive distillation of wood or other agricultural waste, it gets more expensive.

Today's oil refineries are usually not smaller than about 400,000 barrels/day of crude in the front end. If I recall correctly, the US consumes about 30 million barrels of oil per day. A large portion of that goes into road fuels. You can see that replacing any substantial fraction of that with alternative fuels is wishful thinking.

We once got paid to design a methanol plant for Brazil that started with eucalyptus trees. Never got off the ground. One of the huge costs for such ag-based plants ithe the collection costs of rounding up all the organic material. This also applies to ethanol plants, which are a little cheaper because the corn (etc.) was already collected for other purposes.

About 30 years ago, we eye-balled a methanol-from-garbage plant for the Seattle area. At the time, there was hardly enough garbage in the whole Puget Sound area to make 50 tons/day of methanol.

By the way, hydrogen is made from syngas, too. The front end of a methanol plant is a very big hydrogen plant. Again, an expensive plant that makes the product hydrogen at a loss of energy. So, why would we make one gaseous fuel (that is also harder to handle) from another at a loss of money and energy?

Bottom line: I don't see any alternative fuel except compressed natural gas as a practical alternative to petroleum-based fuels. As a matter of policy, the most effective thing we could do is to put a huge tax on road fuels, but I don't see the US ever doing that. This would also make alternative fuels more attractive.

Oh, yeah--you can't make hydrogen from hydrocarbons without making carbon dioxide. It also uses a lot of water; natural gas takes less, coal takes more.

OK, lesson over. Resume deviant behavior.
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-13-2007, 10:56 AM   #19
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
Hmmm...according to the DOE, the vast majority of electricity is generated by goal plants with nukes and natural gas plants slugging it out for a very distant second place. In fact, coal is more than 2.5 times as prevalent as natural gas.

Cleanliness of the coal plant is directly proportional to the age of the plant and quality of the coal. I think you'll find that in practice many coal plants dont quite live up to the numbers you mentioned.

Obviously, a solar charged electric car would be ideal. In about 15-20 years when the solar technology doesnt need two big square states converted to solar fields and the batteries are good enough to replace current commuter-technology gas cars.

Maybe half that if we put money into it that we're spending rather frivolously elsewhere.

Until then, theres no free lunches and some that are rather costly.
I agree with your point about the cleanliness vs age of coal plants.
According to the information I found:

And you are correct about the rates. Seems coal plants supply about half our electricity while natural gas is about 20%. Of the plants that came online in 2005 though, many more were natural gas than coal, so I would guess that proportion will change.

I believe the information I had was from the electrical production in the state of California. I should have continued to dig to find the rates for the entire nation, thank you for correcting me on that.

You don't need to wait 15-20 years. Advances in solar are being made all the time. And it certainly doesn't take 2 big square states to supply energy for one car. As for the area it will require, check out this blog for their estimate of how much land is required to supply enough electricity for 50% of the driving miles in the US (using solar panels): http://www.teslamotors.com/blog1/?p=22
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars
Old 02-13-2007, 11:04 AM   #20
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Re: Hydrogen Hoax and real Alternative Fuels for cars

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed_The_Gypsy
As a matter of policy, the most effective thing we could do is to put a huge tax on road fuels, but I don't see the US ever doing that. This would also make alternative fuels more attractive.
Ed, thanks for that input - it is so great to get a view from people with experience in the field ( I get blank stares when I attempt a discussion like this with family/friends).

As I understand it, the US does not have big reserves of natural gas, so converting NG to Methane (while it may be the most efficient method) isn't really addressing our energy problem. I certainly makes sense if you are generating methane for chemical use - might as well do it the easiest way. And, as you point out, converting fossil fuels to methane does nothing to reduce greenhouse gases, we need to create a fuel/energy from non-fossil sources to accomplish that goal.

I agree 100% with you that placing a tax on fossil based fuels is the best way for our govt to bring about change. I really dislike these piece-meal subsidies for ethanol, wind, solar, hybrid cars, etc, etc, etc.

If we agree as a nation that we need to reduce greenhouse gas, then tax greenhouse gas directly. Then the free market can decide which combination of alternative energy sources are the most effective. Right now, Congress is deciding that based on the votes it will get each of them in their district, not on any actual economic, technical, or environmental value.

And since the behavior of 'politicians chasing votes' is not likely to change anytime soon - we are doomed

-ERD50

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