The Next Step: Conversion to the Solar Hydrogen Economy - Part II
10.18.06 Warren Reynolds, Consultant
Article Viewed 33 Times
Do you feel that the debate over global warming will jump start the
Solar-Hydrogen Economy? What are the factors causing the transition
from the Petroleum Economy to the Solar-Hydrogen Economy?
Yes, it will certainly aid as one of the three factors in moving toward
the Solar-Hydrogen Economy.
Currently, there are three main driving forces for the transition. The
first and most obvious is the rapid rising cost of gasoline (100% in 2
years), fuel oil and the depletion of oil supplies. This is evident in
what Alan Greenspan (ret.-Federal Reserve Chairman) said in June
(2006): "The balance of the world's oil supply has become so
precarious that even small acts of sabotage or local insurrection has a
significant impact on oil prices" Although, the announcement of the
Prudhoe Bay oil pipeline shut down and its reduction in the U.S. oil
supply did not dramatically effect the price of gasoline. In addition,
the recent drop in oil price to $1 per barrel (September 2006) is only
temporary due to several factors both nationally and internationally.
We can see further increases in the price of oil with the cost of
gasoline at $.60/gal. next year.
The second driving force is our environment, i.e. global warming, and
air pollution. A recent poll (2006) of 25,000 U.S. citizens shows that
94% of the people believe that global warming is a problem and action
needs to be taken. The poll also indicates that 84% of the public feels
that the automakers can do more, e.g. hydrogen autos. A separate poll
has shown that 68% of the people believe that hydrogen-fuel cell autos
will be available in 10 years.
The third is our national security. In the earlier poll of 25,000
citizens, 56% believe that dependence on foreign oil is a growing
source of national security concern.
There is a sense of urgency in the transition. Subsequently, to make
the transition, it requires heavy monetary investment, Government
support and full public recognition. Thus, we are approaching full
public recognition as to the necessity for the transition. However, we
must be committed to the marathon of market transition that lies ahead.
How do you feel the development of Solar Hydrogen Economy as an
alternative to Petroleum Economy is progressing?
There are two parts to this question. The solar part of
"Solar-Hydrogen Economy" has advanced to the point of early
commercialization, e.g. wind turbines, PV cells and solar-Stirling
engines. The hydrogen part is lagging behind the solar part due to the
three remaining problems:
(a) the hydrogen storage tank for autos, (b) cost of fuel cells for
autos, and (c) hydrogen fueling station network.
Progress has been made on the hydrogen storage tank for autos. Safety
tests in 2002 of GM's 10,000 psi 3-layer composite tank was approved
by Germany's top safety institute (TUV) as meeting industry standards
in Europe and the U.S. These tanks are extremely rugged and safe since
they have come through unscathed in crashes that flatten steel cars and
shred gasoline tanks. This will certainly enable GM to reach DOE's
2010 goal of a >300 mile driving range.
The cost of auto fuel cells (FC) has declined from $75/kW in 2002 to
$10/kW in 2005. Consequently, a goal of <$0 and preferably $0/kW is
the target. The cost of platinum catalyst for the fuel cells has taken
a dramatic price increase to over $00/oz. But, only $0-80 of platinum
is needed per auto fuel cell. Consequently, R & D is being conducted on
other types of metal catalysts. Currently, all of the automakers have
their own time-lines for commercialization of the fuel cell auto
between 2010 and 2020. In just 7 years of R & D, GM has had a 14-fold
increase in the fuel cell power-density with a corresponding drop in
cost. GM expects to meet the $0/kW target by 2010. (A fuel cell auto
needs about 100 kW of power.) Honda expects to have a commercial viable
vehicle also by 2010 while Daimler-Chrysler expects to have their's
by 2012. UPS and FEDEX are planning on using fuel cell trucks by 2008.
Public traded hydrogen economy stocks have fallen from their peaks but
are coming back. Since companies like GE and Air Products have taken
leadership roles in the development of the hydrogen economy, others
will follow quickly. GE recently announced an electrolysis technology
that could bring the cost of hydrogen down to around $/gallon gasoline
equivalent(gge)(compare to $.87 below).
many different combinations of hydrogen supply chain options including
carbon emissions were examined and estimated. At that time, oil was
$0-35/bbl ($2, August 2006) and gasoline was $.90-2.10/gallon
($.65, August 2006). Of the big centralized generation of hydrogen
options, the "steam reforming" of natural gas was the least
expensive to produce including the cost for the CO2 by-product
disposal. However, it did not include the trucking and network of
distribution centers to move the hydrogen to the fueling stations,
which would be substantial. I feel the best and least expensive route
is the generation at the site of usage, i.e. at the fueling station. In
this category I believe that the wind-turbine generation of hydrogen is
the best solution at the then cost of $.87/kg hydrogen (vs. $.65 for
gasoline, August 2006). I feel that the report did not go far enough in
gathering all the cost data. This 2004 report needs to be reviewed and
edited with the current information and data.
In 2005, worldwide revenues reached $0 billion for PV, wind energy,
biofuels and fuel cells that is expected to grow four-fold by 2015.
Wind power alone had sales of $1.8 billion last year. Fuel cells and
distributed hydrogen will grow from $.2 billion to $5.1 billion by
My previous prediction of 2010 from Curve II for the 8% "transition
point" in the Solar-Hydrogen energy market was a little too early
(HYPERLINK to part I, previous interview). The year 2015 would be a
better target for the 8% changeover. We are still below my predicted 8%
transition point of $0 billion (in the U.S. energy market) before
sustained linear growth of the Solar Hydrogen Economy.
Recently, it has been have predicted that by 2034 hydrogen vehicles
will have 60% of the market and then by 2038 capture 100% of the
market. This is in line with my earlier estimate from curve II of 2040.
to the cost of hydrogen on an equivalent per mile basis.
For those hydrogen vehicles that run-out of hydrogen on the highway, a
small canister for hydrogen needs to be developed similar to the
gasoline can. It can easily be developed now. In summary, the
conversion to the hydrogen fuel and economy is moving forward. It is
not as fast as I had initially predicted from Curve II (see Part I).
What is the comparison of the energy conversion efficiency of
hydrogen-to-auto-power vs. fossil-fuel-to-auto-power?
For the standard gasoline internal combustion engine (ICE), the
conversion efficiency is typically 14% from oil-well-to-wheels.
Generating the hydrogen by "steam-reforming" of natural gas and for
the fuel cell auto, the natural gas-well-to-wheels efficiency is 42%.
Generating hydrogen by electrolysis of water, the
water-hydrogen-to-wheels efficiency is 44%. Both of these last two
processes are three times more efficient for the hydrogen-fuel cell
auto vs. the ICE auto.
What do you feel is the best solution for hydrogen in autos: fuel cells
or hydrogen/internal combustion engines and why?
I am glad you asked that. In 1995, I attended a local renewal energy
show in Riverside, California. At the show was a heavy duty pickup
truck with an internal combustion engine (ICE) that was converted to
run on hydrogen or gasoline by a local auto mechanic. It had a very
large pressurized hydrogen tank in the truck bed. On the floor board
next to the gearshift was a small valve that allowed the driver to
switch to hydrogen or gasoline for the engine. The owner- mechanic
mentioned that he had to modify the carburetor for the hydrogen. I was
allowed to drive it for a short test. It was very smooth driving. Yes,
there was only water dripping from the exhaust. It did not have the
acceleration that a gasoline engine has but who needs to "burn
rubber" from a stop sign anyway?
Since that time, the conversion to hydrogen for internal combustion
engines in conventional vehicles has been done in a number of auto
repair garages in the U.S. There are advantages using hydrogen for the
ICE such as oil changes every 500,000 miles and less engine wear.
Ford has been working on hydrogen ICE vehicles since 2000. In 2003,
several Ford V-10 H2-ICE vehicles were introduced at the U.S.
International Auto Show. They recently announced (July, 2006) that they
are leasing a fleet of 6.8-liter SOHC V-10 H2-ICE shuttle buses. The
first group of buses are going to Florida and then to other locations
across the U.S. The engines were custom built for hydrogen service with
cast stainless steel exhaust manifold, twin screw super- charger,
compression ratio of 9.4:1, aluminum heads, hardened steel seats,
iridium-tipped spark plugs and other minor changes. The engine
generates 235 hp at 4,000 rpm.
ISE Corporation now has 50 hydrogen powered ICE buses in service in the
U.S., Europe and Japan with a 310-mile range. Unknowingly, the buses
are becoming a "billboard" for the hydrogen economy since the bus
riders are now hydrogen supporters. The buses have extensive
operational experience showing 7 kilometers per kilogram of hydrogen
using the Ford V-10 engine. The hydrogen-ICE buses have performed well
at 117 o F (Palm Springs) to -17 o F (Manitoba, Canada).
At the 2006 Detroit Auto show, Ford, BMW, Toyota, and Mazda all had
hydrogen-ICE autos on display. BMW has announced that their "bi-fuel
7" series autos will be on the road in the U.S. in two years using both
gasoline and hydrogen. Mazda plans on leasing 10 of their duel-fuel
RX-8 Hydrogen RE coupes by the end of 2006
I feel that this growing use of hydrogen in ICE vehicles and buses is
an excellent transition during the time the cost of the fuel cell is
being reduced and is moving closer to market realization. The use of
hydrogen-ICE vehicles will "spur" the growth of the hydrogen
fueling stations across the U.S.
What are your thoughts on the California Hydrogen highway project? What
do you think of its progress and planning?
The California Hydrogen Highway Network Action Plan was initiated by
Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004. This program is targeting 150-200
fueling stations with stations every 20 miles on California's major
highways by 2010. Thirty-three other States are following this closely.
To carry out this plan, three groups consisting of a Senior Review
Committee, Governor's Team, and Implementation Advisory Panel were
formed in early 2004. Over 50 outstanding leaders from Industry and
Government make up these three groups. During 2004, a series of public
meetings were held on various aspects of the Hydrogen Highway led by
the Implementation Panel and its sub-groups.
The siting strategy of the hydrogen stations is based on a combination
of factors to provide the greatest hydrogen usage and linkage. This is
broken down into three phases. Phase 1 is a 50 station network for the
major population centers for both northern and southern California.
There are nine current or planned stations already in northern area.
Ten additional stations would be sited in the Bay area and Sacrament
under Phase 1. The Southern area already has 21 existing stations or
currently planned in the L.A. and San Diego areas. Ten more stations
would be sited under Phase 1.
Phase 2 and 3 would enable a network of 250 hydrogen stations for
10-20,000 hydrogen vehicles. At this point, there might be a growing
number of homeowners having their own hydrogen stations for heating,
cooking and auto fueling. The network would focus on station
deployments along interstates 5,10,15, and 80.
Under California law SB-76, California's Air Resources Board provides
funding ($.5 million) for implementing the Hydrogen Highway network
plan. The money provides for co-funding up to three hydrogen fueling
demonstration stations and the lease-purchase of a variety of
As of June (2006), two fueling stations have been opened. One in Santa
Monica and the other in Burbank. Request-for Proposals (RFP's) are
available for the development of hydrogen fueling stations and
procurement of hydrogen vehicles. Several State agencies have already
received Ford hydrogen vehicles for testing. Public meetings have been
held on fuel cells and the SB-76 program.
As a side note, as of late May 2006, the Hydrogen Association has a
listing of all hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S.
I feel that good progress has been made toward the hydrogen
infrastructure within California in just two years. Planning appears to
be quite adequate and thorough. It will certainly lead the way for
other States to follow. It should add an incentive to "big oil" and
other investors to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations
within California. It also makes the public aware of the fact that
there will soon be sufficient hydrogen fueling stations for them to
drive the major highways in California. One can now drive a hydrogen
vehicle from San Diego to Los Angeles, fuel up and return.
Do you feel ethanol and other biofuels can bridge the gap between
fossil fuels and hydrogen or should we put more effort into a hydrogen
No. I can see that the biofuels and ethanol are just a short "stop
gap" attempt to get the nation off of gasoline. I feel that their
production should not be continued because we do not have sufficient
arable land to fuel all the nation's autos. They both still generate
CO2, which has an atmospheric "half-life" of over 10 years that
adds to the reservoir of global warming gases (half of the original
amount taken up by oceans and plant growth in >10 years).
Yes. We should put more effort into the hydrogen economy now.
Do you feel our current Government is doing all it can for the
development of a hydrogen economy?
No. However, during the past three years, there has certainly been a
change in the U.S. Government's approach to the Solar-Hydrogen
economy. A 5-year, $.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative was presented
by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address. In July 2005,
The House and Senate have held three hearings in both reviewing the
progress and the challenges ahead in the hydrogen economy. Bob Inglis
(R-SC) stated that the hydrogen economy "has the potential for being
the next giant leap for mankind".
The Government's DOE has stated that: "full commercialization of
the Hydrogen Economy is our national energy destination; assuring that
we accurately understand and intelligently manage its course and is, in
fact, our duty." There is the possibility of utilizing Title XVII
Loan Guarantees, which might enable the commercialization of the uses
of hydrogen fuel cells. The Government passed the Energy Policy Act of
2005 containing a number of targets and goals for the hydrogen economy
under several sections (805, 808, 811, 812). The DOE Secretary must
submit to Congress every 3 years a report describing progress in the
eight major task areas. One sub-task is reporting the progress in the
infrastructure toward the goal of 100,000 hydrogen vehicles by 2010 and
2.5 million by 2020. Another task is to report the goal of achieving
sufficient hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S. by 2010.
In 2003, the National Science Foundation has sponsored a fuel cell
center at the University of South Carolina. There are a number of major
companies that have joined the center including GM, Air Liquide, Boeing
DOE initiated, in 2004, their "hydrogen, fuel cells and
infrastructure technologies program" for advancing the hydrogen
economy. This program has many sub-programs including hydrogen
production, storage, delivery, fuel cells, safety codes and standards,
and technology validation.
Although, DOE has had a small fuel cell R&D program since 1990, it
recently has expanded its fuel cell programs. DOE, through three of its
National laboratories, have established three different R&D fuel cell
programs consisting of (a) PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cells,
(b) phosphoric acid and alkaline fuel cells and, (c) molten salt and
solid oxide fuel cells. Each National Lab has a cluster of 7-9
University research groups also working in those same affiliated areas
of fuel cell research.
Since 2004, the National Renewable Energy Lab has had a number of
hydrogen fuel R&D programs. In their V.C. Systems Analysis program,
they are to validate hydrogen vehicles with >300 mile range, greater
than 2,000 hour fuel cell durability and <$/kg hydrogen production
cost. Another task is to identify near-term strategies for developing a
There are a large number of programs on hydrogen R&D at DOE. I feel
that in some of the R&D areas, the Government could eliminate the
"far-out" research programs and tasks such as molten salt fuel
cells and others and to place more emphasis on the more applied
programs. I feel that the DOE should be more selective in its hydrogen
programs it funds.
In summary, it is encouraging to see that the Federal Government is
finally taking the initiative to making an effort in advancing the
hydrogen economy and giving this economy its public recognition.
The Government is developing many avenues for the production of
hydrogen for the Solar-Hydrogen Economy. Should the Government continue
to fund the development for the generation of hydrogen from nuclear
Definitely not. Hydrogen and nuclear power is a recipe for disaster.
The Chernobyl explosion at the Ukraine nuclear power station was
caused, in part, by a hydrogen explosion. I certainly do not want large
volumes of hydrogen being generated at any of the U.S. nuclear power
plants. In addition, the U.S. nuclear power plants are 30-40 years old.
These "aging dinosaurs" will have to be dismantled costing the
consumers billions of dollars in their electric bills.
Do you feel that "Big Oil" will slow or help the further
development of hydrogen fuel and why?
"Big Oil" is still dragging its feet. During the 2000-2004 period,
some of "Big Oil's" early plans for the Solar-Hydrogen Economy
did appear to hamper the transition away from petroleum. For example,
Shell had done R&D for on-board auto gasoline converters to hydrogen
for the fuel cells and had proposed their usage. This has been dropped
in favor of the hydrogen-ICE auto. At Shell's home base of operations
in the Netherlands, they will soon see a hydrogen public transportation
project. Shell Hydrogen has agreed with MAN Truck & Bus Company, N.V.
to make an economic study of the project with investment in 2007. Buses
will be fueled from a Shell combined gasoline-hydrogen service stations
with the buses expected to be operational by 2009.
However, Shell says that "caution may be the watchword" right now.
They believe that the time-determining step is the development and the
mass production of the competitive fuel cell applications. Shell still
has to make that big leap of faith.
Chevron's hydrogen boss, Rick Zalesky, is in charge of the hydrogen
business for Chevron Technology Ventures. Chevron is spending $00
million per year on clean and renewable energy projects. Chevron is
opening three more hydrogen fueling stations in 2006, with two in
California and one in Florida, for a total of five. Zalesky states that
the "old ways" do not work, i.e. centralized fueling networks. Both
he and Chevron believe that the method of producing hydrogen where it
is consumed makes more sense. Chevron proposes to use the "steam
reforming" of natural gas process for producing hydrogen at each
station, which requires CO2 sequestering. "Steam reforming" is too
energy intensive and that electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen is
a better choice. Recent progress on the photocatalytic process using
sunlight to produce hydrogen from water has great potential to lower
British Petroleum's (BP) Alternative Energy company and GE have
teamed up in 2006 to jointly develop and deploy hydrogen power projects
for electricity generation. They, too, are using the "steam reforming
process with capture of the CO2 by-product and storing in deep
geological formations". One can see that this is a "stop gap"
measure since the CO2 will eventually leak back out of the storage
formations. They plan on two initial hydrogen power plant projects in
Scotland with 475 MW hydrogen fired power plant and California with 500
MW. BP's Alternative Energy company is their second venture into the
Solar-Hydrogen Economy with BP's first company, BP Solar. BP, in
conjunction with Ford Motor Company plans to build a network of fueling
stations to support Ford's fleet of hydrogen-ICE buses in Sacramento,
Orlando and Detroit.
By using the "steam-reforming" of natural gas process, the net
savings to the Big Oil companies would be on the average about $5
billion per year worldwide. However, I feel that "steam reforming"
is not the best way for generating hydrogen since the by-product is
CO2. It would be better to use either wind-power or PV electricity to
generate hydrogen by electrolysis. This the cleanest and most
environmentally safe way to go.
In summary, we still need "Big Oil" to convert their stations over
to hydrogen. They will have to dismantle their vast network of gasoline
and fuel oil distribution systems. They are not going to do that easily
and it will take time. Big Oil is entrenched in their running petroleum
business and do not see any immediate threat by the Hydrogen Economy.
However, they do see the profit incentive but they are waiting for the
fuel cell autos to be produced. Thus, in the future, changing Big Oil
would be like getting "an elephant to turn on a dime". There would
have to be some massive downsizing of Big Oil.
I believe that Ford has the best business plan in their hydrogen-ICE
auto and that should "spur" Big Oil to downsize and concentrate on
hydrogen. I also believe Chevron has the correct idea in their approach
to generate hydrogen where it is used, i.e. at the fueling station.
But, they should plan for using solar electricity and water
electrolysis to generate the hydrogen and not the "steam-reforming"
process since the by-product is CO2.