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Retired Electrical Engineer Believes in Fuel Cell Vehicles

This is a guest post by John R.

Please take me seriously since I am. I am a retired electrical engineer. I began my career I as a technician at Bell Telephone Laboratories. I worked there from 1967 through 1970. I then went to Wescom (now Rockwell company) and worked there from 1970-1978 were I was promoted to design engineer, and finally a supervisor of analog interface design. I co-founded my own company started in 1978 namely Televation Telecommunication Systems, Inc. I sold my half of that business to my business partner in 1998 and retired to play with antique cars.

During my career I was granted 9 patents in the areas of power conversion using switch-mode power supplies, analog to digital conversion circuits and telephone interface circuits. I invented a transformerless telephone interface hybrid circuit that was patented by Wescom and was a significant piece of original thinking. 8 more patents followed with some in partnership with others.

I am known as a “think outside the box” kind of engineer and since retiring I have designed about 75 products for the antique automotive market place and have a company called “Fun Projects, Inc.” that makes reproduction parts for Model T Fords. I got my ham radio license in 1959 at age 15. I now use high tech to make low tech just for fun. I have built five 1/2 scale model electric model T Fords for my children back in the early 1970’s who are now grown. Those cars would go about 25 miles on a charge so about the same as present day battery operated “all electric” vehicles.

They used PWM type switchmode speed controls and were as efficient as any present day electric battery car. I see no future in that direction and I am distressed that the local clubs and other people think that a lead acid battery powered “golf cart” is the future. I see it totally differently and have followed at a distance the Honda Clarity and fuel cell vehicles and see THOSE as being the way to go for sure. I want to get involved in this enterprise in whatever way I can. I am 68 years old and am kinda looked at as the “grey beard” guy on electrical automotive stuff on antique cars.

My company is licensed by Ford Motor Company to put the Ford Script on things I make so I am not a newbie to totally original design ideas. I live on them. I have an idea of how you might make a big splash in publicity for free by going in a direction that might not seem obvious. I have even been called up by Jay Leno to help him fix his Model T Ford. He also called me back to thank me when my idea turned out to be what in fact was wrong with his antique T Model Ford. He is a genuinely nice man. We are NOT personal friends but I do have his personal phone number to call ha ha.

I STRONGLY feel that the fuel cell car is what our country should be investing in and that other hybrid cars are NOT stepping stones to that direction but will do what other hybrids have done in other markets and that is to delay the entry of the “real” technology that we need. I am not afraid to address a room full of people who think I am wrong because I am NOT wrong that electric battery power cars are NOT the way to go. We have been waiting for a “breakthrough” in batteries for over 109 years (1902 Waverly Electric car has about the same range as the Chevy Volt without gasoline).

It is time to stop betting on a battery breakthrough and start thinking about using a fuel cell. Maybe I am wrong but I can’t get much support around here from anyone. I was invited to join an electric car club but I frankly looked at what they were doing and see them as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Charging stations every 20 miles per car sold is hardly a practical idea given that copper must be MINED out of the ground and is not as plentiful as Hydrogen in nature.

Some copper for motors yes but a super heavy duty grid to charge up a whole population using electric cars is not a practical idea in my mind and it just moves the pollution to the power company smoke stack.

About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen car blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen cars, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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6 comments

  1. “I STRONGLY feel that the fuel cell car is what our country should be investing in and that other hybrid cars are NOT stepping stones to that direction but will do what other hybrids have done in other markets and that is to delay the entry of the “real” technology that we need.”

    I don’t agree with this entirely.

    The battery packs from Camry hybrids and Sonata hybrids can transfer direclty into fuel cell electric vehicles. The entire drivetrain of the volt can be used in a FCEV. And the experience that the OEMS are getting with mass producing and maintaining electric motors, controllers, etc. is definitely useful.

    GM is correct that current FCEVs still require too much platinum to be sustainable. And 10,000 psi tanks are not an optimat solution. In 10 or 15 years when these problems are solved, the OEMs will already have invaluable skills at building electric drivetrains that can be powered by fuel cells.

  2. Michael C. Robinson

    I’ve proposed a challenge, Los Angeles to Washington D.C. hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, support trailer acceptable. I really believe with nothing more than the technologies that exist now that this can be done.

    Rules:

    1) No fossil fuels may be used on this trip.

    2) Any trailer must meet Class C vehicle requirements.

    3) Calling Linde to bring out a mobile refuel truck is acceptable, but discouraged. The whole point here is to show how far a fuel cell vehicle can travel at a reasonable price and with zero emissions.

    I know building a one of a kind limited production vehicle is expensive, but maybe someone can do it and make a much needed example for others to follow. I feel there is a great urgency with Canada pushing to develop tar sands. This is important enough that I’d put up a significant prize if I could.
    One possibility is that GM, Ford, and Chrysler join forces to meet this challenge. I wish they would. When there is a need, that is the mother of invention where the point of having a challenge is to create a need.

  3. John R.

    I’m so pleased to learn of a fellow Ma Bell ex-pat who shares my commitment to fuel cell technology!

    Thanks largely to the generosity of “Hydro Kevin, …”Google:

    (hydrail OR hydrolley)stan

    the Internet is helping get the word out about rail as an easy, early fuel cell application.

    Re Ford, I live in Mooresville NC, AKA “Race City” for its NASCAR teams. With former Ford H2ICE experts, my colleagues and I tried for years to get a hydrogen pace car into the sport. Despite Ford’s help, the fuel sponsorship complication proved insurmountable.

    John, please reach me through our mutual friend, Kevin!

    In the meantime, Google these:

    “tale of two metals”hydrail

    “copper rip-off”hydrail

    “iron-horse”hydrail

    You’ll see we’re singing from the same hymnal! And, I’m an antique car buff too.

  4. Michael C. Robinson

    We can’t wait 10 years to care about the environment nor can we wait ten years if we are at all serious about preventing development of Canada’s tar sands to increase the supply of cheap Oil. We don’t have to wait. While 10k PSI high pressure tank storage may not be an optimal solution, this isn’t a stumbling block for commercialization. Platinum free fuel cells exist now where even GM has reduced the amount of platinum needed in fuel cells substantially, so platinum really isn’t a stumbling block any more.

    Lithium ION batteries are a problem. Zinc air or some other chemistry is needed when it comes time to replace ALL internal combustion vehicles. While it is true that experience in building and maintaining electric motors is helpful, hybrids allow us to postpone major infrastructure upgrades that are needed. Hybrids unfortunately are NOT a stepping stone, they are a millstone.

    Hybrids create a false impression of being the next step or an interim solution because they are not cost effective and they don’t require much needed infrastructure changes to support them. Charging stations, because of the cost of copper, are not practical. Putting in charging stations everywhere does not bring the day that fuel cell vehicles can replace ICEs any faster. If we are willing to shell out a ton of money to put charging stations in every city, it is high time that we bite the bullet and invest in high pressure hydrogen filling stations instead.

    Every cent spent on promoting hybrids over fuel cell vehicles is a penny wasted. The public is being sold a bill of goods that battery electric vehicles will be practical let alone affordable. The Chevy Volt hybrid is almost a $40k vehicle and please realize that it requires premium gasoline. So much for flex fuel. GM is betting with the Volt that people won’t travel more than 40 miles a day, which isn’t realistic either. Another bet, the bet that the Volt’s battery will last through multiple recharge cycles is a dubious one. The Volt is the best that hybridization has to offer, there isn’t a magical show changer around the corner. The cost of hybrid vehicles, the large batteries, is not coming down. The battery electric car has existed for 109 years and it is still essentially a golf cart. Edison couldn’t build a practical battery electric commuter car and nobody has solved the problem of long recharge times to this day. Battery exchange is possible, but this is an expensive and dubious solution if it is a solution at all. Most people don’t want to stop every 100 miles on a long trip, but with a battery electric vehicle, it will likely be worse than that.

    Battery electric cars and hybrids are NOT an interim step to fuel cell vehicles. They cost too much to be a mass produced profitable short term solution. An interim solution needs to take into account the decommissioning of gasoline and diesel as automotive fuel. The segment of the population that is poor is growing. A new energy industry built around hydrogen, solar, wind, and possibly nuclear is needed now. The failure in leadership in the U.S. from Steven Chu specifically is becoming glaringly apparent. How ironic that mister, “hydrogen is a distant future direction,” Chu lit the national Christmas tree using a hydrogen fuel cell. Oops! Sure, ignore an industry that can solve the nations energy crisis and create millions of new jobs at a time when depression is entering people’s vocabulary.

    Kevin, you talk about enough breakthroughs on this site that a hydrogen based economy is far more realistic than when Bush proposed this in 2003.
    The problem I see right now is a major lack of support from Washington.

    As far as the Volt being such a big deal, I’ll be surprised if more than 100 are sold. These vehicles cost too much, GM is depending on the sale of conventional vehicles which means business as usual. The Volt doesn’t have a positive impact unless you rip out the premium gasoline engine and replace it with a hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be mass produced and sold at a profit, but there is little to no infrastructure to support them thanks to Chu and Obama dragging their feet on this issue.

  5. To John R. and Stan Thompson:

    I am glad to see that there are others that see the viability of a Hydrogen powered world.
    ——————
    The problem as it is now is that there is no inexpensive way of mass producing hydrogen at the ‘usage site’. The present-day commercial production of hydrogen is mostly done through ‘reforming’ of what is left of some of our fossil fuels.

    To be able to utilize Hydrogen we encounter a storage and transportation problem where it has to be stored under high pressure or cryogenically cooled so as to become a liquid. Neither of these storage methods is safe or convenient for use in or refueling of the present day automobile.

    Here are several links to some sites involved with the chemistries of oxidizing Aluminum with Water whereby it releases a great amount of Hydrogen which can be used directly in an internal combustion engine or can be converted by a fuel cell to electricity in order to power electric drive motors.

    http://keelynet.com/energy/cornish.htm

    http://www.physorg.com/news98556080.html

    http://www.energyrebels.com/blog/2011/09/15/aluminum-hydrogen-splitter/
    ————
    As a side note — I had the pleasure to work with a retired gentleman who had worked at one of the major aerospace companies and early as an electronic technician when television was first being set up.

    He mentioned to me that as a kid he had helped a guy who had invented a “Carbide Carburetor” and was using it on an early model small marine engine and also on a Ford Model A engine. This ‘carburetor’ as he referred to it held Carbide pellets upon which water dripped thus producing Acetylene. (hydrolysis of calcium carbide). This ‘carburetor’ had a means of filtering the gas so it was clean and when ‘unscientifically’ tested on the 2 engines as compared with gasoline of the time resulted in very clean engine oil and very clean exhaust as determined by putting cotton wadding in the exhaust pipes.
    My friend said that this inventor was subsequently “visited” by several people and then he never heard anything more of the carburetor.

  6. I also believe in Fuel Cell Vehicle. This technology is only having merits and no demerits. The best thing i like about this process is that the residue is pure H2O.

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