Hydrogen powered vehicle uses slightly modified engine


#1

Years and years ago, when I was just a kid, I remember reading an article in Popular Science (or maybe it was Popular Mechanics) that mentioned a hydrogen powered vehicle at M.I.T. At the time of the article, the vehicle had been running five years, and by now, it would have been running 30 years or more. My question is: since Tom (or is it Ray?) went to M.I.T., how is it you never heard of this hydrogen powered vehicle? The interesting thing about this vehicle was that it used a slightly modified standard internal combustion engine to ‘burn’ the hydrogen; no exotic fuel cells or hy-cost hybrid technology. And why is the action of splitting H2O into hydrogen and oxygen, and the process of permanently removing unwanted hair both called ‘electrolysis’?



d


#2

electrolysis, electro-using electricity + lysis, a Greek word that means remove or separate.

It’s no big deal to burn hydrogen (hydro, Greek word for water, + gen, to form) in a internal combustion engine. All you need is a carburetor designed to mix hydrogen with air in the correct proportions.

The problem is that water is hydrogen that already has been burned. If you can find a process or combination of processes that can go from water to hydrogen without giving back all the energy that was originally released when the hydrogen was originally burned into water, then the laws of thermodynamics will have to be totally re-written. It would be just as easy to build a road to your job and back that is downhill both ways.


#3

I would guess the answer is because they went to MIT they know that water is the result of burning hydrogen and any energy obtained by burning it would be less than the energy required to separate it so it is a net loss of energy, actually lowering the mileage.


#4

I remember that car from the Jimmy Carter era. It made its appearance soon after the Arab oil crisis of the '70s. This type of research and demonstration held tremendous promise as a solution to petroleum fuels. I actually had high hopes for it.

That particular car did NOT generate its own hydrogen from water. It fueled up on hydrogen gas and so it needed an external supply. That was its chief problem. You either had to pump in compressed hydrogen or switch fuel tanks.

As a major new development the MIT folks were also working on a rock-like material that could adsorb large amounts of hydrogen and then release it when needed. That system, if perfected, would increase the car’s fuel capacity without resorting to using high pressure storage. It all seemed so impressive.

So I waited patiently for this car’s descendants to turn up in our showrooms. I am still waiting…


#5

Back in August 2006 I wrote this to analog electronic guru Bob Pease:


Another reason why the pursuit of hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles is a
bogus political exercise:

ICE engines can be easily converted to run on hydrogen. Just change the fuel
supply system and replace the gas tank with a hydrogen tank.

This would be
an intermediate step to the switch to hydrogen driven transportation. The
fuel cells are only one part of the equation. The same vehicle tanks,
fueling stations and other infrastructure as needed for fuel cells could be
developed and put into place. But that’s not happening, is it?


Bob replied in agreement with me. I wont post his reply, since it was a private email, but he had a few choice words about the hypocrisy of G.W. Bush.


#6

One of the difficulties with using hydrogen as either a fuel for fuel cells or ICEs is that the hydrogen has to be made. If it is made by ‘electrolysis’, electrical energy has to be consumed. This electricity is being derived from power sources be they steam plants, nuclear reactors, wind farms, solar panels, etc. The ‘carbon foot print’ is just being moved elsewhere. Hydrogen energy is just a portable battery that allows that energy to be transported in a vehicle. High pressure hydrogen would be risky when exposed to collisions and other diasters. It would probably be more efficient to charge a capable battery.

MHO


#7

Very true. An unfortunately our infrastructures for electricity cannot handle the energy requriements of fueling transporattion as well as the current draws. To put it simply, we’d need to build MANY new power plants to be able to fuel either electric or Hyrdogen powered cars. If we do it with more nuclear power we reduce our need for oil, and our “carbon footprint”. But, it is a huge undertaking. To spend that kind of money on an entirely new infrastructure we would have to have the bottom line technology (the Hydrogen or Electric car) ready for mass market. It is not. Someday, perhaps, but you can’t expect anyone to invest masive amounts of money into the infrastructure to support an unproven technology.

Furthermore, circuitsmith, G.W. Bush is not responsible for everything. This energy crisis has been a long time coming and both sides are to blmae for not being ready. Everyone in government is following the money, and right now the money isn’t leading them to alternative energy.


#8

Ever heard the phrase “The buck stops here”?


#9

One other comment, H2 can be used in an IC engine but it much less efficient than using fuel cells and electric motors.


#10

Hydrogen has been proposed by many environmental writers to solve the greenhouse gas and global warming problem. These wrters, however don’t address the source of hydrogen; you have to make it from something. If you make it from natural gas, the energy cycle creates more greenhouse gasses,and takes more energy, so it makes no sense. Hydrogen is not a fuel in itsef; it is an energy transfer medium.

If you have unlimited hydro-electic power, such as Iceland, or build enough large nuclear electric generating plants, you could make enough hydrogen to power a large fleet of cars. And not create more greenhouse gasses.

Iceland has a number of busses running on hydrogen already; a good test bned for this technology. Singapore, a crowded city state of 3.5 million, is going with hydrogen derived from its many chemical plants to clean up the urban environment. They do not claim any overall improvement in overall energy efficiency. Just cleaner air downtown! They also don’t do it as a move to energy independence, since they still have to import all the oil or gas to make the stuff.

A hydrogen economy for the US makes no sense, as pointed out by others. It’s only good if a major city wants to clean up its downtown air, and move the emissions to somewhere else.


#11

Glad to see a productive conversation! There are many hoaxes and false claims out there. There are also probably quite a few people that have stumbled upon things they can not explain but work anyway; just like many of the drugs we use in medicine. The bottom line is with our environment, and current economy in the state they are in, we all need to sift through whats out there and come up with the answers, not fold our arms and proclaim it impossible.

Along those lines I need to point out something I have not seen mentioned; it has been brought up frequently that according to the laws of physics it takes more energy to create hydrogen, than the caloric value of the hydrogen created. Here is where everyone may be missing the point. If energy produced by the current combustion system in a car is not all being used, and is therefore available for other purposes, then the use of that energy to produce hydrogen nullifies the original argument. However inefficient the hydrogen production process is, if otherwise wasted energy is used to supply the process, we may be on the right track.

As far as I am aware, placing a 1000w amp in my car to run my stereo, does not alter my gas mileage. Why not use the power to create hydrogen?

This may be a very simple view of a very complex problem, but can someone please explain to me what I am missing? I have an open mind and would really like to know.

Thanks,

Steve R. Ball


#12

A couple of points that may help;

“If energy produced by the current combustion system in a car is not all being used, and is therefore available for other purposes, then the use of that energy to produce hydrogen nullifies the original argument. However inefficient the hydrogen production process is, if otherwise wasted energy is used to supply the process, we may be on the right track.”

The unused energy in an internal combustion engine is in the form of waste heat. This included the heat the is removed by the cooling system and the hot exhaust gases. Unfortunately, it is difficult to extract useful energy from this heat because of it’s relatively low temperature. If you were to invest in the technology to recover a small percentage of this energy (possible, but not cost effective), you would probably be better off using the energy to power automotive accessories directly or charging that battery.

“As far as I am aware, placing a 1000w amp in my car to run my stereo, does not alter my gas mileage. Why not use the power to create hydrogen?”

Well, a 1000W amp does not actually use 1000W most of the time. However, if you actually added a 1000W constant electrical load to your car it would require about 1.3 horsepower of additional engine power to run the alternator. That additional power requirement would have some impact on your mileage (not unlike running your AC system).

Hope that helps.


#13

This is an excellent question. We should first note that the original post got derailed somehow. Sxfield was referring to an actual car that made its appearance some 30 years ago. It did not generate its own hydrogen, but instead refueled from an external source. Folks who did not read my initial response above assumed it was one of these self-contained hydrogen systems. We’ve seen too many of them here.

But what of your suggestion, that hydrogen be generated while driving by electrolysis using waste energy? Technically, it would work if we could do it. I might point out that your 1000w amplifier does not use waste energy, and that there is a drop in your fuel economy when you use it. Not much, but it is there.

All of your car’s electrical accessories are powered by the car’s charging system which, in turn, is powered by the engine. The engine “knows” how much additional electrical power is requested and works a bit harder to produce it. Those extra 1000 watts do not come free; you are not using waste energy. You are burning extra gasoline to generate those watts. The same would be true for your hypothetical 1000w hydrogen generator.

But your car does indeed waste a lot of energy, mostly in the form of heat. The heat energy is typically thrown away, mostly through the cooling system and exhaust. Hybrid cars recover some of this waste energy using a system known as regenerative braking, by which energy developed in the brakes is recovered by magnetism to recharge the batteries.

Automotive engineers have still not found a practical way to harness the heat energy that is currently just discarded. If they can some day develop such a system, not necessarily hydrogen generation, then fuel efficiency can indeed be improved.


#14

Automotive engineers have still not found a practical way to harness the heat energy that is currently just discarded. If they can some day develop such a system, not necessarily hydrogen generation, then fuel efficiency can indeed be improved.

It’s really more of a cost/weight/benefit issue than a lack of technology. The same condition exists in electrical generating stations where 50 to 70% of the energy is lost in the form of relatively low temperature waste heat. When you try to recover this energy, you quickly bump up against the second law of thermodynamics and find that there are significant diminishing returns. In theory, some type of heat engine could be used to recover some of this energy but it is unlikely to be cost effective over the life of the vehicle.


#15

More and more industrial power plants use this waste heat for industrial processes, before finally discarding it at much lower temperatures. This is called co-generation and works well in the chemical, paper, and other process industries. A Dow Chemical plant nearby generates its own power and with the heat reclaiming cycle, gets over 85% thermal efficiency. It also burns waste gasses that cannot otherwise be used.


#16

Absolutely, but that approach requires that the generation facility and the industrial facility are located together to utilize the waste heat. Another example: the Coors brewery has they own little power plant on site for generation of electricity and low pressure steam. The waste heat from the power station is at the perfect conditions for the brewery processes.


#17

Capstone Turbine makes electric generators that are becoming popular at hotels. The waste heat is used to heat water etc.

I’ve made some money trading their stock over the years.

www.capstoneturbine.com


#18

I can think of two reliable sources of energy that could be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen without creating any carbon footprint: solar and geothermal. Unlike windpower (you need something more reliable than wind) or hydro (you need a river and a reservoir) or nuclear (what to do with that waste! Why not just drop it into the ocean right into the subduction zone where it will be carried into the earth’s core?), solar needs sunlight, of course, and geothermal involves a little digging, sometimes. Has anyone read the article about Chena Hot Springs (an hour away from Fairbanks, Alaska) and their hydrogen generation plant? They have nice naturally heated swimming pools and spas, too!