Home » Competition » Natural Gas Fuel Cells to Compete with Hydrogen FCVs – Part 2

Natural Gas Fuel Cells to Compete with Hydrogen FCVs – Part 2

This is the second part of an email I received over the weekend from Tom B. of the Clearlight Foundation. The email was a bit long for this blog so I broke it over two parts. Here is what Tom B. continues to say:

“Natural gas today is primarily a non-renewable, fossil fuel. But people have already begun selling renewable gas into the pipeline. Landfills, manure piles and sewage plants that used to release significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere are now selling it as green gas. Biomass and garbage can also be gasified to add to the supply. The energy balance of grass biomethane production is 50% better than annual crops now used.

“Though the US power grid uses significant hydropower and other renewables, CO2 emissions are still almost twice as much per kilowatt-hour as a 60% efficient NG fuel cell. In 2007 the US power grid emitted 605 grams/kWh. A NG fuel cell emits only 327 grams. At 4mi/kWh that translates to about 151 grams per mile for a grid charged car verses 82 for the NG fuel cell car.

“Someday the grid should be cleaned up so that electric cars charged from it are cleaner than NG fuel cell hybrids. EIA data makes it easy to track our progress towards this goal: In 1996 we emitted 627 grams of CO2 per kWh and by 2007 this was reduced to 605 grams. That’s a 2-gram per year decrease. If we continue at that rate, it will take 139 years to equal what we can do now with a NG fuel cell. Recent years show even less progress. There was no improvement between 2006 and 2007. Plugging into the grid is, unfortunately, a bit like plugging into a lump of coal.

“Infrastructure expansion also favors natural gas. Gas pipelines cost half as much to build as ugly overhead electric transmission lines of the same energy capacity. Energy storage is also cheaper with gas. Depleted gas fields and salt caverns are already storing 4.1 Tcf of gas in the US. At 60% efficiency this could produce 840 GW of electricity. A very cheap battery!

“Fuel cell developers are in a race to commercialize suitable fuel cells. The first products using NG fuel cells are home CHP electricity generators that use their waste heat to make hot water. The fuel cells in these units produce only 2 kW but they can startup from an idle state in 5 or 6 minutes. Scaling up to 15 kW and adapting to the tough environment of a car could take years. Another company is developing a fuel cell range extender that is fueled by methanol. Methanol has only half the energy density of gasoline but, because of the high efficiency, fuel tanks would still be smaller than current gasoline tanks.

“’Price at the pump’ is the one thing that seems to get voters excited. Reducing fuel cost/mile by a factor of 18 with a fuel that is 97% from North America while using corncobs should generate some excitement. The hydrogen initiative should be immediately redirected to focus instead on a fuel that is plentifully available, transportable and storable.”

As in yesterday’s email I agree with much of what Tom B. has to say. In fact, most of what he says can be applied to hydrogen fuel cell cars as well. Hydrogen cars can use the existing natural gas infrastructure if we were to reform the NG at the pumps. Hydrogen can also be produced from landfills, manure piles and sewage plants.

In addition, hydrogen has the advantage of being produced from water via electrolysis during off-peak hours from the grid, of which prices have come down immensely over the past 5 years. There is also promising technology in regard to direct solar to hydrogen production, using algae and microbes to produce hydrogen, along with clean coal, nuclear and biofuels to produce hydrogen.

I disagree with the last point that the hydrogen initiative should be redirected to focus on natural gas or other fuels. When I look into my crystal ball, I see a future filled with all kinds of alternative fuel vehicles that have been mainstreamed such as CNG vehicles, hydrogen cars, electric vehicles, biofuel vehicles and even air powered cars. I think we need to allocate resources to all of these different alt fuel vehicles without robbing one program to pay for the other.

Developing alternative energy and alternative fuels is too important to wait or pick winners and losers at this point. Global warming is real, energy independence is a necessity and the creation of new jobs is mandatory and the creation of alternative fuel vehicles fills the bill on what we need so badly now and in the future.

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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3 comments

  1. admin

    Here’s a reply from Tom B. on this post:

    Hi Kevin,
    please post this:
    you said, “I think we need to allocate resources to all of these different alt fuel vehicles without robbing one program to pay for the other.”
    You are saying that we should spend money on all approaches, whether they make sense or not. What is the justification for spending billions on building a new hydrogen distribution infrastructure if it is less efficient than the natural gas infrastructure we already have? Hydrogen doesn’t even reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What good does it do producing only water at the exhaust if you are spewing CO2 from the reforming equipment? Biogas is renewable and much more efficient than anything suggested so far for making and delivering hydrogen. We must make good choices, not just throw money at everything. The progress made so far on hydrogen cars can be applied to natural gas fuel cell cars. The latest press release from the manufacturers recognizes this by dropping the word “hydrogen” and focusing on “fuel cell”.

  2. admin

    I’ll take some of these points one by one.

    “What is the justification for spending billions on building a new hydrogen distribution infrastructure if it is less efficient than the natural gas infrastructure we already have?”

    In the past, people were saying “Why build a cell phone infrastructure when it’s less efficient than the landline infrastructure we have?” The point is that building a hydrogen infrastructure if done correctly won’t model the current gasoline infrastructure, less fueling pumps will be needed, it will be less costly than most critics predict and it is cleaner than natural gas.

    “Hydrogen doesn’t even reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What good does it do producing only water at the exhaust if you are spewing CO2 from the reforming equipment?”

    Hydrogen produced by renewable resources such as wind and solar produce no CO2. The point of reforming natural gas (or create hydrogen from coal) is to not spew CO2, but to sequester it and use it for other purposes.

    Here’s an example of how CO2 when separated from hydrogen can be used:

    http://www.hydrogencarsnow.com/index.php/hydrogen-economy/hydrogen-production-w-carbon-capture-coming-to-kern-county-ca/

    “The latest press release from the manufacturers recognizes this by dropping the word ‘hydrogen’ and focusing on ‘fuel cell’”.

    I’ve already posted a similar link in an earlier blog. I don’t think people should read too much into the dropping of the word “hydrogen” from this press release. Germany is going full tilt on building a hydrogen infrastructure and it looks like Japan is doing this as well, which coincidentally sell quite a few cars in the U. S. marketplace.

  3. The idea is not replacing gasoline pipelines, but replacing NG pipelines. In fact Hydrogen pipelines will have higher demands on materials for construction since hydrogen embrittles steel and is a leaky medium due to its low molecular weight and resulting high mean molecular speed.

    “Hydrogen produced by renewable resources such as wind and solar produce no CO2”

    And of course the mining, refining, grinding, reduction of ore to metals, transport to factories, re-smelting, molding, cutting and transport to final installation sites releases absolutely no CO2 at all.

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