Saturday, November 22, 2008


[the Honda FCX Clarity]
The car in the picture does not have an engine. It has a fuel cell stack and electric motors and a large lithium-ion battery. It converts hydrogen gas into power and water vapor.

This presumably is the next thing after hybrids. Notice that it is available only by lease, not by sale. I assume the reason is that it is only available to buyers big enough to have their a hydrogen supply available at their own gas stations. An example of somebody that big would be the State of California.

[Interesting mental note - I thought of California rather than the federal government because by long experience the federal government has always been an obstacle and naysayer to green technology. Largely because Detroit is in the US but not in California. So much so that the measure of technological progress usually came down to a fight over jurisdiction. Invariably with the state's rights conservatives insisting on broad federal jurisdiction, and the statist liberals pressing state's rights.

Starting in late January that may begin to change. It will take a while to change mental gears and unconscious assumptions.]

An example of a corporation big enough would be Chevron. As in -- not bloody likely. Chevron and the other oil companies will fight desperately to prevent or delay anything that will make their refineries, supertankers, oil leases, and management expertise obsolete. And they have vast amounts of money to spend in Sacramento and Washington.

Getting back to the car, there are test drive reviews of it from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and some other paper. They all loved it, particularly because of its smoothness. Since it is electrically powered, it does not have engine vibration.

The EPA rates the fuel cell in the FCX at the equivalent of 74 miles per gallon. According to Honda a gas engine converts 18% of the energy in its fuel to mechanical work to power the car, a hybrid engine converts 30%. The FCX fuel cell converts 60%.

The current state of the technology is that hydrogen is obtained by removing it from natural gas, which is a fossil fuel and thus in eventually finite supply. It would also require drilling in wildlife reserves in Alaska and other such misbehaviors.

But if the politics of it were ever to be sorted out, unlimited supplies could be produced by nuclear plants dissociating water into hydrogen and oxygen. Nuclear plants used to produce hydrogen would have a huge advantage of over those now used to produce electricity. Because of losses in transmission, electricity producers must be within a moderate distance of the population centers consuming the electricity.

Hydrogen, like oil, can be cheaply shipped any distance in tanker ships. Which means the nuclear plants can be in the remotest, most seismically stable places on earth. Hydrogen tankers would be safer than oil tankers because there could be no spills, only gas leaks. Even leaks would be of no great importance. Hydrogen released in the air will soon oxidize into mist or rain.

But those are all thoughts for the future. First we have to develop hydrogen production capacity with current catalyst-based technology and a network of hydrogen supply stations. And then expand production of cars and light trucks like the Honda FCX.

But even before that we have to drink beer and watch the Big Game which is on right now. Go Bears!


  1. Here,, is a dark horse source of Hydrogen that would eliminate the need for a large energy distribution infrastructure.

    It is the kind of research that I hope the next administration will fund.

  2. I hope there will also be investment in research on increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic cells. And on increasing the efficiency and lowering the cost of manufacturing them.